There's no question it's a unique week for us as we sit here 48 hours from kickoff. The good thing is, like I told the football team, it's a unique week for both teams. The playing field is level. We're doing the best we can to prepare ourselves. We just had a quality walk through, laying the basis of our game plan down. We're going to go out and execute some more this afternoon.
Specifically, about the Bengals, things that we're focusing on at this point. We're acknowledging that they're a team in transition. They're a different team than the one we faced a few weeks ago. By that, I mean it appears that they are finding rhythm in all three phases. They've settled on a feature ballcarrier and that guy is Cedric Benson. He's doing a nice job. He appears to be running extremely well right now. It's obvious that he has shaken the rust off as evidenced by his performance of late, particularly the one against Jacksonville. His performance was central and key to their victory in that game. (Ryan) Fitzpatrick at quarterback appears to be settling in nicely. He's rediscovered T.J. (Houshmandzadeh). We're talking about a guy there who has over 70 catches. You know what a third-down threat he is. He's throwing the ball to Chad (Johnson). Chad has scored some touchdowns here in the last few weeks. He's stretching the field vertically with (Chris) Henry. He's a mobile guy, a guy that has some escapability the first time we played them. He definitely appears to be settled and using those powers for good at this point. Defensively, I think the biggest thing is that they're applying a lot more pressure than they were a month ago. They've added to their blitz packages, but at the same time, they've got some guys playing better football for them. Robert Geathers is a guy that jumps out when you study the tape from recent weeks. This guy, he had a sack-fumble last week. He had a sack against Jacksonville. This guy is playing good football for them at the left end position. It's really kind of ignited them defensively. On the second level at linebacker, Brandon Johnson is a guy that is taking advantage of an opportunity. Of course, he got that opportunity when Keith Rivers went down. This guy is an every-down football player. He's running around, making plays, intercepting passes. He's very athletic and a guy that you have to be conscious of. He's a run-and-hit guy. In the secondary, they continue to get solid performances from their young corners, particularly Leon Hall I think is playing good football for them. Chris Crocker is a guy they picked up off the street when Dexter Jackson went down with the injury. He's a veteran football player. It's obvious he has picked up on what's going on quickly. He had an interception last week and a sack when (Chinedum) Ndukwe went down. Of course (Glenn) Holt didn't play for them in the return game the last time we played those guys. And they had some success in the return game against us. We've got to sure up that element of the matchup and respect the fact that they have their primary return man back. We've got a lot of work to do in a short time. That's what we're in the process of doing.
What has Gary Russell been able to do in the third-and-shorts that some of the other guys haven't?
I don't know if he has a large enough body of work to make an assessment at this point. I know that he converted two solid third-down-and-one opportunities in our last game, which was a much-needed lift for us at that point.
Friday, Bryant McFadden practiced for the first time. He said he wouldn't mind playing Thursday night. Where's he at?
He's not going to play.
Is (Darnell) Stapleton OK? I know he went back into the game.
He's fine. He just got rolled up on, which happens sometimes in the back of piles.
Can you give an injury update?
Really, we're a team in relatively good health at this time. We came out of Sunday evening's game pretty good. The guys that had known injuries are dealing with them, but no one new was added to the list. We could potentially get Heath Miller back. We'll take a look at Heath here over the next couple of days. Other than that, we're in pretty good shape.
What about Marvel (Smith)?
Marvel is still status quo.
Is he going to have surgery?
I don't know at this point.
You had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver and did not score a touchdown. How do you explain that after viewing the film?
It's tough for me to really delve into that. It's like Friday for me. I know it's Tuesday for you guys, but I'm closing in within 48 hours of a kickoff. Our attention and focus is on Cincinnati. I will say that when you have 13 penalties in a football game, that can negate production.
Is there a level of concern about the lack of points?
We're just focused on playing winning football and that's just scoring one more point than our opponent.
Is Deshea (Townsend) OK? Will he be back?
No, it doesn't look like it at this point. He's not going to be ready yet.
Did the penalties on Hines Ward look legit to you?
I'm not going to delve into the officiating. I'm glad we were capable of winning the game even though we were highly penalized. We had better not be highly-penalized again as we move forward. You don't win many game when you are penalized the way we were on Sunday.
You started with Anthony Madison in the nickel and then went to Fernando Bryant. We you satisfied with how he played?
I thought he did a nice job. Of course there was some concern about him because he had only been here a few days. I think he's only going to get better in that regard. No question, we're going to need efforts from both of those guys. With Deshea and Bryant out, those guys have got to ante up and kick in. So far, so good for those two.
Was there something that led to the field goal for San Diego instead of a touchdown late?
No, it's nothing mystical. The guys did a nice job. If we've got a blade of grass to defend, we're going to defend it. Ike Taylor had a big-time breakup. But guys stood up and made plays. But that's what great defenses do. They make people kick field goals when they're in scoring position. That's what great offenses do, they score touchdowns when they're in scoring position. That's some of the things we've focused over the course of the season. That's why we're at the top of the league in defense in red zone play and we're at the top of the league offensively in terms of red zone play. That's really one of the main reasons we're 7-3 at this point.
It seems ironic that the tight end would catch more passes over the last couple of weeks without Heath in there.
It's really more a function of the defenses that we've seen the last couple of weeks that have created the umbrella defense, if you will. We went for a spell that we were getting behind people, Nate Washington was catching balls behind people. Really, I just think people that have played against us have made a conscious effort to keep things in front of them. Part of smart football sometimes is taking what the defense is giving you. Not only have we stepped up production at the tight end position, but Mewelde Moore has caught quite a few balls in recent weeks. I really think it's a function of what defenses have been giving us and we being smart enough to take advantage of it.
Do you expect to see that more Thursday and beyond?
I've learned to expect the unexpected. We'll take it if it's presented to us. If not, then we'll do what we can. You've got no control over what your opponent does schematically defensively. We have all the control of how we respond to it. We've had the appropriate response to those two defenses over the last couple of weeks. What Cincinnati is going to do against us is up in the air at this point. I guess we'll see Thursday night.
Do you have to be more patient as an offense when they do that to you?
To a degree, absolutely.
Is this game more dangerous with Cincinnati having nothing to lose?
They are all dangerous. They are. Ask Jacksonville. They are a good football team. They have Pro Bowl caliber players and they have good coaches. For whatever reason, they are what they are from a record standpoint but we respect those guys. We respect this match-up. This is a division football game. One that is played at home in front of our fans. It's dangerous but so are we.
Did you expect opponents to respond to your deep passes with cover-two defenses?
It happens. I think as a guy that has coached defense, when you prepare for the opponent and you look at their last three or four games and they are consistently getting behind people, it is shame on you if you allow that to happen. So it is just good solid football, some of the things that people are doing. But at the same time, it is about moving the football, maintaining possession of the football, controlling the clock and ringing up the scoreboard and we have been able to do most of that. I was pleased with the time of possession last week. I think it is a function of taking advantage of what they are giving us, throwing the balls to the tight ends and backs.
Do you believe in the Tampa-Two?
I believe in stopping people. No one defensive structure is the answer for anything that people throw at you. The quote un-quote Tampa Two team, they play a heck of a lot more defense. That is just one defensive call. It happens to be somewhat of a signature call because at one point it was somewhat unique. I don't think it is unique anymore. I think there are 32 teams that have elements of that defense in their packages. It is becoming less and less unique as we move forward.
Do you see a change in Ben Roethlisberger's approach verse those defenses?
I don't know if it is a change. I just think in recent weeks we have seen more of it. At least what we have seen in earlier points of this season. I think that story is still left to be told as we move forward.
Do your players know a game can end in a tie?
I assume that they do but obviously that is a dangerous assumption at this point. They are capable of ending in tie. Actually, a few years ago when I the defensive coordinator at Minnesota we ended the last preseason game in Dallas, in a tie. Try doing overtime in the fourth preseason game and playing to a tie. That wasn't much fun.
Will you address that with your team?
I'm not going to address it. I assume that if they didn't know then, now they do know and they won't say that they didn't.
How did Willie Parker respond physically?
Willie really ran the ball extremely well and hard for us. He gave us a Willie Parker type performance. His health is his health. I think he is doing fine. The standard is the standard. I know he is excited. Willie is the guy that wants the football and wants to be the reason why we win. I enjoy that part of dealing with him. In the short week we will go out there and play again and proceed.
Are opponents taking Santonio Holmes out of the game?
I don't know that it necessarily takes Santonio out of the game and I don't know that we approach it that way. We are trying to get open people and we have a bunch of guys that are capable of helping us win. Viable options if you will. The big thing for us is that we throw to open people and we move the football. What Santonio ends up with is what he ends up with. We acknowledge that he is a viable candidate in terms of helping us do that.
Is T.J. Houshmandzadeh doing well a product of defenses paying more attention to other receivers?
I think that was the line of thinking what people had in regards to his play a few years ago. But this guy is a Pro Bowl caliber player and alright at this point. You are picking your poison when you are matching against the quote un-quote top receiver. They have two top receivers. That is the level of respect we have for him. This guy is one of the best in the world at converting third downs and has been not only this year, but the last few years. He has 73 or 74 catches, he is a big-time play maker.
Are you doing more with Troy Polamalu?
No, we aren't doing anything different schematically. I would imagine that his health is allowing him to be more productive but that doesn't change anything in how we approach what we do schematically.
Is Troy Polamalu unique in way he's deployed?
There is no question that he is unique, but all of the great ones are unique. I had the pleasure of coaching a great one that retired here recently, John Lynch. He was special. All of the great ones are unique and there as a coach you are doing your job where you are trying to find ways to use their special talents to help you win.
Is that position evaluated differently?
I really believe that it has. The game, of course, is ever-changing. You have to acknowledge the multiple receiver sets and the things that offenses are willing to do to get a match-up edge and if you have a guy that can run and as ball skills and is capable of playing in the box, capable of playing deep, that is helpful to you. I think that the days of the one dimensional safety are past us at this point. Guys that are capable of doing a lot of things, covering like a corner, hitting and playing in the box like a linebacker, allows you to be a good defense.
Is your defense a great defense?
I think at this point that is a fair assessment. But it is an incomplete body of work. Great defenses are made in November, December and January and hopefully late January. Those are the true great ones. I think our unit has the mindset that they want to be great and it is going to require them and us to continue to do what we are doing at this point.
How much can you improve the offense in a short week?
I don't know if our mindset at this point is to improve the offense. I think our mindset right now is to win the game. That is where we are. Again, some of the things that we talk about as we sit in here are evaluation things. Things that are definitely prudent to do at the appropriate time. I don't think that now is the time for us to worry about improvement per say, and let's just gear towards winning. That is where mindset is. Preparing to play the Cincinnati Bengals and playing them well enough not only in offense, but in defense and special teams.
Can players play at a top level on a short week?
I think for me, my mindset and the thing that I am trying to relate to the team is that it is relative, meaning that both teams are dealing with the short week. When we were back in Latrobe at training camp, I called the team together at times and asked how they were doing and I said it was important that they were doing relatively well. Relatively to the man standing next to them as they were competing for jobs. I think that same thing can be said when you are dealing with this situation being the short week. W need to play well, we need to play relatively well and that will allow us to win.
Do you back off physically in preparing?
You have to. There are two things that we are trying to balance as we prepare for this game. One is the mental preparation that is required to executing a t an acceptable level and also two, allowing their bodies to physically recover and get ready for the next battle. It is a balancing act and it is a tight rope, one that we are walking. We need to prepare, they need the in-helmet perspective as we prepare to get looks in all three phases, but at the same time, we have to cut down on the mileage that we put on the wheels as we prepare.
Will you substitute more during the game?
We will play that by ear. We will be open to it, hopefully it won't be a factor. It wasn't last year when we played on Thursday night on a short week and that was on the road, so that added another element. It wasn't a factor in that game and hopefully it won't be a factor in this one.
What did you learn from playing Thursday night last year?
My thoughts about that game quickly changed once it started. It was less about playing on a Thursday night and it was more about playing without Willie Parker about two plays into it. The fact that we played on Thursday quickly became a non-factor. The big thing for us was that guys stepped up and played for Parker and ran the football and we were able to get out of there with a victory. We will write this story. This is a different team. It never remains the same. Hopefully we will prepare ourselves and be above the line in terms of our ability to play on Thursday.
Which is most important practice?
I think tomorrow's practice is probably the most important practice because that is the element of the game that we will focus on, the situational football, the redzone, the goal-line, the short yardage. We will put the finishing touches on our plan. Today of course is important because we are laying the base on the mental stuff, but ultimately when you talk about these games and the National Football League, they come down to situational football and tomorrow is a big practice.
When you challenged your Pro Bowl players, was that just for the San Diego game or for the season?
Hopefully it was both. At the moment, as we were in that room, getting ready to play the Chargers, it was for that moment, but hopefully it is a message that they will carry with them throughout the season.
Is Willie Parker a goal-line option?
Are you protecting his shoulder?
I didn't have that conversation with Willie Parker. Maybe his running back coach did. I am for ringing up the scoreboard and if Willie can get it in there I am going to hand it to him.