Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was highly expectant of the order of questioning in his weekly news conference at Paul Brown Stadium, and precluded a bombardment by getting straight to the point about the play of quarterback AJ MCarron in Sunday's win at San Francisco.
"First of all, we were pleased with A.J. McCarron’s play," Lewis said. "I thought he did a good job of managing the offense and getting us in the right looks. He did a good job of throwing the football when he had opportunity. And, when he didn’t, not having a negative play.
Lewis said the mobile McCarron was able to get out of the pocket and run, and "get down and protect the football, which was one of the main emphasis going into this game for him."
For a first-time starter in the NFL in his first season in the league, the coach said it was something to build upon, not to mention an exciting development as starter Andy Dalton nurses a broken right thumb. "It was his first time out there full time, and he was excited," Lewis said of McCarron. "But I thought he played composed, and we were pleased with that.”
Lewis said McCarron will start against Denver on Monday night.
“I think he’s going to become more comfortable in everything, and I think we’ll become more comfortable with him,” the coach said.
Denver has a top defense, though the Broncos looked as feeble as everybody else the past few weeks while trying to stop the juggernaut that has become the Pittsburgh Steelers. For the second week in a row, Lewis suggested that it would be nice if the suddenly slowed Bengals running game could live up to its potential this week and take some of the load and a whole bunch of pressure of McCarron's shoulders. The coach said the offensive line has to cooperate.
“Offensively, we didn’t create much space in the running game. We did some, but brought ourselves back with penalties," Lewis said. "We have to correct that with our hands. I thought McCarron was able to dig us out of a hole with some throws, which was big."
Upon further review, Lewis said he approved of his team's all-around effort Sunday, while offering the usual cavils. He looks forward to Denver with the hope that positive things continue on the road for the second week in a row.
“Defensively, we played a fairly good ball game throughout," Lewis said. "There were a couple of plays we need to fix; we missed one tackle on the perimeter, and didn’t get outside when we needed to be once. I thought it was a consistent game with good effort. I thought guys got to the right spots. If you don’t give up explosive negative plays in those areas, and manage the game and field position, you have a good opportunity most of the time."
Lewis said the Bengals "left things hanging around for a little bit, but we were able to right it with turnovers created by the defense, and the offense taking advantage of it; scoring and scoring, and scoring again. Then, if you come out the second half, and move the ball down there in the third quarter, it’s a different game. They’re forced to do different things. Then we’re not going to be throwing it around a lot. That creates a difference in the run game."
Regarding the kicking game, Lewis said: "We were pretty sound; did a good job of coverage throughout the day. We still haven’t created as much space in the punt return game as we’d like to, and we were just a tick away on the two kickoff return opportunities. Obviously the onside kick, we have to do a better job of fielding the football. Guys did a good job of execution in front of Mo (Mohamed Sanu), and he just has to make the catch. We could have relieved a lot of angst we had at the end of the game with that.”
Lewis did not provide a timetable for tight end Tyler Eifert's return from concussion protocol, although Eifert is expected to continue his chase for the NFL touchdown crown with an appearance Monday against the Broncos. But the coach did say a few words about the other Tyler at tight end, rookie Tyler Kroft, who started in place of Eifert and split time with fellow rookie C.J. Uzomah.
“I think he’s really fit what we expected. I had expectations of him, how he’s grown and continued to develop and have things not get too big for him," said the coach. "That’s what we saw from him during his time at Rutgers. That Rutgers 2014 schedule was against some very good teams and very good players, and he did a great job against all those guys, a lot who were taken early in the draft or have started at DE for teams. It was impressive."
With regard to Sunday, Lewis said Kroft "had a handful with those (San Francisco) guys. Those four edge guys do a good job; they’re here, then not here, they jump around, jump under. They’re not conventional in what they do, so it's a good experience for him.”
The Bengals had an answer for all of the jumping around.
“They (the 49ers) did some things a little differently, but we had guys break down across the board," Lewis said. "Sometimes you zig and zag and you hit some runs up in there, which we did, then we jump around and get a holding call and it’s called back. Those are the things you have to do in the run game if you’re playing a group that is doing things differently. Everyone has to see it through the same eyes, get on it, and roll it out of there.”
When asked if there is a common denominator for the road success the team is having, the coach drew a laugh when he said, "It's all coaching." He added, more seriously, that team-wide consistency has been a key.
"I think you try to maintain the same thing. Right from the start of the week or virtually the end of the game, you want to get a focus of what’s going on the next week," said Lewis. "We want to get our guys’ minds in tune when we have to travel. Whether it be Sunday after a game, to Monday Wednesday and Friday, we always have a couple of nuggets of things that are important to get done. We have to accomplish these things to be successful.
“We’ll try to continue to lay that imprint and blueprint on them all the time. How they play and how they approach is helpful. It's everything. And, obviously, the players. That’s probably the most important part, that you have a good football team that expects to win when you go on the road. They expect to win all the time. They’re able to block out the noise, whatever it is, and focus on the task at hand play to play.”
With the possibility of a playoff bye on the line amid some of the injury woes encountered in the second half of the schedule, the coach did not deny the importance of Monday's game.
“For us it would be good, because we have some guys who have gritted it out, that are playing with some injuries; some bumps and bruises," Lewis said. "They’re gritting it out, still in there playing. We’re trying to spell them as much as we can in practice and getting as much of the mental stuff as we can to allow for their injuries to heal and feel as good as they can on Sunday."
And, yes. The Bengals still have work to do. "Obviously, an opportunity to clinch the division race and earn a week off, so it’s big," Lewis said. "And we’re playing against another very good football team. That’s a key element. If you want to be the best in the NFL, you have to beat the best. We’re playing another team that is excellent.”