Good afternoon. Big week for us here on the South Side coming off a disappointing performance of course in New Orleans and in preparation for a great opportunity Monday night in Cincinnati. Been studying these guys quite a bit and looking at our issues as well as we prepare for this football game. We've got a lot of work to do. They're a good football team from our perspective. They swept the division a year ago. Core players are still the same, of course they've added to that mix. Coaching staff is in place. They've got great familiarity with us. They've already proven this year that they're AFC North ready. They beat Baltimore at their place in Week 2. I know what their record is. They've been in some close games. They lost to Cleveland by 3. They lost to Tampa by 3. Quite frankly they had control of that Tampa game and it got away from them late. We realize sometimes games play themselves out like that. We're not going to read too much into their 2-5 record. We recognize what they're capable of, and that's getting after us. We have video evidence of that. They did it twice a year ago.
Offensively, they've got some usual suspects. I'm not going to waste your time talking in great detail about what Carson Palmer, Cedric Benson and Chad Ochocino are capable of. We know that they've added Terrell Owens, and again no need to talk in great detail about what he's capable of. Probably the most interesting thing about them offensively is the awesome contribution they're getting from two very young players, some rookies. The tight end [Jermaine] Gresham is doing a really nice job. They're asking him to do a myriad of things. He's in the backfield; he's a move guy; he's on the line of scrimmage; he's a vertical route runner. He's a very talented guy and is playing extremely well for them. Also, Jordan Shipley is playing really good football for them as a third wide receiver in the slot. He's got over 20 catches. He's playing like a savvy veteran. Those two young contributions I think are big contributions that they're getting offensively. Those are two guys we're trying to familiarize ourselves with as we prepare for this game.
Defensively, they're a very talented group and of course they're well-coached by coach [Mike] Zimmer and company. Up front we've had issues in the past with Tank Johnson and [Domata] Peko. They're still very disruptive people inside. I like the edge rushers, the situational rushmen, a rookie in [Carolos] Dunlap – they're getting quality play out of him – and of course [Michael] Johnson, the young man out of Georgia Tech. Those are two formidable guys from an edge-pressure standpoint that are going to provide big-time challenges for our tackles and the people we choose to assist our tackles in the passing game. The linebacker corps is a good group led by Dhani Jones and his two cohorts from Southern Cal. They do a nice job, but it's important that you also recognize Brandon Johnson when you're talking about their linebacking corps. He plays in all sub-package football. He's a big, long, rangy guy. He covers a lot of ground. He's good at blitzing. He's got long arms. You see him touch a lot of passes. He's somebody to be recognized and dealt with as well. The corner tandem, of course, we talked about those guys a year ago, that we thought they were on the cutting edge of being breakout guys. I think the league knows that now. Those guys are playing really well. They challenge throws. They can play on the line of scrimmage, off the line of scrimmage. They're equally as good in man and zone. They play some Tampa-2 and they're great at re-routing. They're both consistent, physical tacklers. We've got to deal with those guys. And of course they've got a veteran group of safeties, guys that've played, and they've added Reggie Nelson of Jacksonville to that group.
From a health standpoint, we're a relatively healthy group. Isaac Redman had an ankle sprain in the game. He came back in the game and finished it, as did Flozell Adams. Those guys might be limited somewhat here initially – don't know that – in the early part of the week. But it shouldn't be an issue because they came back in the game. And other than the known issues, Aaron Smith and so forth, we're a relatively healthy group, which is good because this is a big week for us: back in AFC North action, and more importantly AFC North road action. If you're going to be a dominant team, you have to be able to go in other people's place and play winning football. It's a tough thing to do – easy to say, tough to do. That's why we're going to take the approach of saying very little and getting about the business of preparing to do the job.
Do you expect Brett Keisel back this week?
Yes we do.
Do you have a sense how long Aaron Smith might be out? And how did Ziggy Hood play?
It's an extended period of time, a number of weeks with Aaron Smith. Once we get down this road a number of weeks we'll be able to evaluate the recovery progress and then be able to nail down a range. I thought Ziggy played well in the game, as did Nick Eason. Did a nice job, was in his gap, made the necessary plays when presented to him. Been pleased with his performance, and really he needs to continue and move upward as we proceed.
Considering the numbers Drew Brees put up, do you have concerns about your pass defense?
I do, but for the sole purposes of winning. We recognize that Drew is a talented quarterback and he has a variety of weapons. He made some great plays, particularly in the second half. I liked what we were able to do against him in the first half, but he settled down and got going. He made some plays. … We acknowledge that we have some work to do.
What's the process for your team for replay challenges?
If I see it on the film and think it's a challenge-able play, I'll challenge it. If I get information from upstairs when we think it's a challengeable play, we will. If we don't, we generally rely on the players that are on the field. I've been here long enough and have a decent enough rapport to know when I'm going to get legitimate information or emotional information. That's our general process. In the first instance, we thought that was a challenge-able play. Obviously we were wrong. It had no bearing on whether or not we challenged the second play. Quite frankly on the second play, which since the game I found out was a potentially challenge-able play, we didn't deem it to be one. Of course there wasn't a bunch of video evidence available to us, and the guys on the field didn't seem to think it was a challenge-able play, so we didn't. We're not going to make that an excuse. We had more than that opportunity to get the ball in the end zone down there, and we take responsibility for our inability to do that and we're not going to let a judgment on the field be a crutch for us in that particular instance. We've got to score touchdowns when we have the ball down there, so I'm less concerned about that element of the play – whether we challenged it or didn't challenge it – I just want to see a score in those situations.
Do coaches upstairs have time to call down and ask you to challenge?
Generally we do, but of course when you're on the road in different environments, and different set-ups, and different sources of information, it takes a period of time to get adjusted to that. Of course the familiar places that we travel to, such as division games, you're more familiar with the set-up. But it's just a natural process that everyone in the league goes through.
Is it possible they were showing the scoreboard replays in the coaches' box rather than the TV feed?
Yes, that's possible.
Because that's what they had in our [press] box and we had to get it changed.
Isn't that set-up unfair for the visitors?
It's extremely fair because eight games a year probably weighs in our favor and eight games a year it doesn't. Everybody has the same issues there. Those guys got tough jobs, man. I respect the work that they do.
Shouldn't all of the replays be available to someone on your staff in order to review them quickly?
I like the process right now. I think it's a good one. Time is of the essence when you start talking about some of the possibilities that you're suggesting. I don't think the process is broken. Maybe we missed an opportunity there, but I don't think that's the reason we lost the football game.
Was it execution, or recognition and reacting to what they were doing?
It was probably a little bit of both and I'd like to preface that by saying it was probably in the early portions of the game. I thought we settled down as the game wore on, but quite frankly not soon enough. I thought they had similar issues early in the game. It was an excitable, hostile environment. I thought it was an environment dominated by both defenses early. Drew Brees and company got going quicker than we did in the second half of that game, so it put us behind the eight ball and made the margin for error very slim.
How does Cincinnati rate on the noise meter?
It's a hostile environment. We expect it to be Monday night.
Any concern about the way Brees beat Troy Polamalu and whether other teams will pick anything up?
No. When you're talking about two perennial All-Pro-type players, there's always a little cat-and-mouse, a little mental warfare if you will. That's part of the game within the game. I'm sure there's mutual respect between those two men. Drew won, and you've got to tip your hat to him for that. I'm sure Troy will be the first to do that.
There's a report that James Harrison will be fined for a hit on Brees. Did you think it was worth a fine?
I don't know that he's going to be fined or there's been any kind of discussion so I'm not going to speculate on that. I haven't received any information of that nature. He was penalized on the play. We accept that and move on. It wasn't the difference in the outcome of the game.
Do you think James is being targeted by the league at this point?
Did they do anything that surprised you with their blitzes?
No, I don't think it was anything that we hadn't seen or anticipated or had rules to deal with. I just think in the early portion of the game we didn't do a good job of dealing with it. I don't think they did a good job of dealing with us. I think the first half of that game was dominated by defenses. I think that the halftime score bears that out. I think New Orleans got started a little quicker in the second half offensively than we did. It put us behind the eight ball. It made the margin for error very slim. And then when Heath [Miller] fumbled, it was an error that we couldn't afford because New Orleans got started quicker offensively than we did in the second half of the game.
How much do you put in Jeff Reed's prior performance before deciding whether to let him try a long field goal?
I've got a high level of trust in Jeff. I base my judgments in terms of range on what happened in pre-game. He was pretty consistent in pre-game. And I acknowledge from time to time you're going to miss 51-yard kicks.
Are you more concerned about the Bengals because they're losing more games this year?
I don't think in division plays it's an issue. I think there are a lot of things to motivate both teams. There's a high degree of familiarity and competition between the two teams. They pulled the brooms out on the entire division a year ago. They've already beaten Baltimore at their place this year. We know what we're going to get from them, which is good football so we'd better be prepared for them.
Are they spreading it out more with Shipley and Owens?
No, I think they're playing to their personality. I think they still feed you a lot of Cedric Benson. They're 2-5, and I think that dictates some of the things that occur as opposed to last year. I'm just being honest with you. When you're winning, you're going to feed Cedric Benson. When you're 2-5, there's probably going to be more passes thrown. That's just football.
Were you disappointed to lose Thaddeus Gibson to San Francisco?
I'm disappointed, but I recognize it as a big part of our profession. We knew there was a strong possibility of him getting claimed by someone when we put him out there. Usually when you're a 5-1 team and you let a man go, there are some teams whose records aren't as good that are going to assume that yours are better than theirs. That's just today's NFL.
How much did Steve McLendon play the other night? And if you had to do it all over again, would you have taken the risk of losing Gibson?
Absolutely. Had to. This is a young man who's been called upon for a third time and has played good football for us. It's not necessarily about the pure number of snaps that he played; it's more about his availability. You don't want to go in short, and particularly at the defensive line. It was a definitely necessary maneuver, one that if I had to do over I'd do it again.
Does McLendon have a long-term future in the league?
Yeah, I think he's got an upside and that's why we're working with him and that's why we call on him and give him the opportunity. A lot of people, when they get injuries at a position, go outside the organization for potential solutions. We like the young men that we work with. We believe that if they prepare themselves and they're ready, we like to start there in terms of giving them an opportunity to answer the bell. I think he's provided a nice platform for the other young men about how to prepare yourself and how to put yourself in position to answer the bell. I think the work he has done and is doing is creating opportunities for others.
How did Trai Essex play Sunday and is he still your right guard?
Solid. I think he's got room for improvement. Of course, he hadn't played in several weeks. We expect him to do that as we move forward.