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Transcripts: Week 2 at Cincinnati (9/14)


Opening Statement: "[It's] good to see everyone today. [I] hope you guys [are] all doing well. It was a nice day. We had a good two days of practice. We're just looking forward to this divisional game. We know what kind of game it's going to be. We're just trying to get out guys in the right mindset. Questions?" 

There were some penalties on special teams vs. the Texans. Do you chalk that up to it being your first game, or do you think it's a little bit more than that? (Jamison Hensley) "I don't necessarily chalk it up to first game because a lot of those penalties that we had, they were self-inflicted. We had the blocking the back on the kickoff return to start the game, which we had pretty good return. Then we had the running into the kicker for a five-yard penalty. So, chalk those things up to really, just self-inflicted penalties. Then we had the false start on the punt. We have to sit in there and be a little bit more patient. We might have had a bit of nerves going on, but those things you try to eliminate throughout the game. You guys know how I am about the penalties, so we look forward to seeing a better week."  

League wide, kickoff returns are down about 20% total. How do you analyze that? What do you make of that with the league rule changes? (Kyle Barber) "I don't think too much into it. It's nice. The weather's nice. We've talked about this before, earlier in the year, when you're just getting started. If your kicker can go out there, and he can kick touchbacks, I think guys would prefer to do that. At this time of year, I know it's one of the things that we've considered. Then as far as us returning the ball, again, if we think we have a good ball, a good opportunity to return the ball, we're going to do that. I can't really speak for everyone else, but I do kind of contribute that to, 'Hey, let's just go out there, maybe hit a couple touchbacks.' Those things will change as the year goes on."  

Looking ahead to Cincinnati in Week Two, what challenges are you expecting heading in? (Brian Wacker) "[Cincinnati Bengals Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator] Darrin Simmons is a really good coach. He's been with that organization for about 21 years now. He's faced the Ravens a lot. So, when you go out there … And their teams are always pretty good. The Ravens [and] Bengals special teams games, they're hard fought. It usually comes down to really just playing physical football with guys doing their job and not really giving the other team anything. [It's] really making them having to earn everything. It's just one of the things we're talking about and not really giving those guys anything and go out there and try to play our best football game." 


We saw S Marcus Williams go down, and he might be out for a while. What does that loss mean for the defense and for the guys behind him who will get an opportunity?_ (Kyle Barber)_ "Obviously, [it's] tough to lose a guy with caliber player like Marcus [Williams]. My answer is probably similar to when we thought that Marlon [Humphrey] was going to be down for a minute. You have faith in the guys that are going to step up. Geno [Stone] and other folks will step in. We have 100% confidence in Geno, but [there's] not a lot of time to sit around and wait about it. We're going to put a great plan together, and the guys have had a great couple of days, so we're excited about Sunday." 

You guys had success against the Bengals defensively last year. Obviously, they have a really good offense, skill players and quarterback. What can you take from those three games with the success you had, and how will you carry that into this game?_ (Garrett Downing)_ "I have a hard time saying we had success. We lost two of the three [games], and they ended our season. Our mentality is, 'Play well enough to win the game.' There are things that we need to do better, situationally, and that's the focus this week – specifically, [we're focusing on] third-down [and] red zone [situations] where we can get off the field and get our offense back in those situations – so we can emerge victorious unlike the end of the [2022] season." 

How much do you look at those games from last year and what you did well in those games versus what Cleveland did in terms of putting together a plan? (Brian Wacker) "Cleveland obviously did a great job executing their plan [at] all three levels. It's definitely tailored to what they have, personnel-wise. I just think we're not really in the business of … It's hard to look at gameplans and say we're going to copy what this guy … There's so much more that goes into a call than just what you see on tape situationally, who we have out there, personnel-wise, things that you're setting up [and] things like that. So, we're just going to focus on how we think we need to best attack this [Bengals] offense this year with the people that we have given the things that they're doing. It's really just an independent sample size, and that's the mentality. I'm sure there are some parallels along the way, but it's definitely a different gameplan." 

It looks like those Browns' cornerbacks did a pretty good job of not only getting in the face of those wide receivers but also getting their head around and being able to play the ball. I know that's a tough skillset for some guys to master, but what are the kind of words of wisdom that you're going to offer especially when QB Joe Burrow throws so many passes that you need to have eyes on?_ (Jonas Shaffer)_ "Well, yes. The Bengals are the best at back-shoulders and axis throws and nine balls. They're probably the best in the business at doing it, so when you are in those situations, your technique is at a premium. It's one-on-one football, so [my] words of wisdom [are], 'Play your technique [and] execute your technique.' There's certain catch points and things that we're playing through the back shoulder until we play the 'go' ball and stuff like that, but we'll let that stay in the locker room and how we're coaching it." 

When you're playing zone coverage, what's the biggest key to being successful? (Jamison Hensley) "There are lots of types of zones. There are some where we're closer to routes by design. There are some where we're trying to get our feet in the ground and break on the football. So, whatever world you're in, it's eye discipline, and then when the ball does come out, you want a feeling of the whole defense getting to the ball so you can eliminate extra yardage and ensure a tackle where they're not falling forward and bleeding you for yards. So, I'd say that's probably the biggest thing." 

When you see an offense like that have such a poor game the way they did last week, how much stock do you put into that film that you're watching? (Cordell Woodland) "It's a tough sample size with the weather, and it's just one game, so we've had games on defense where you would hope that they'd put more stock into it than you want. We're not making too much of it. We know what this offense is and the players that they have and the coaches that they have and the system, and we know what's at stake. We're definitely not overlooking anything. I can assure you of that." 

A lot of players said that communication has been a point of emphasis this offseason and preseason. How much of an improvement did you see in the first game? (Melissa Kim) "That's something that we're chasing. Being at home and the operation that Houston provided was a little bit different than what we had seen in training camp with the noise and things like that. So, that's something we're attacking this week. [It's] a point of emphasis of trying to stay more ahead of the play coming out of the huddle and things like that, so definitely expect a jump in that situation. Playing on the road, it's a little more quiet. Communication is a little bit simpler, and this is definitely a different operation than Houston is. It presents different challenges, but it's just different, so it's something that is definitely a point of emphasis moving forward." 

There was a lot of talk about your pass rush going into the season. You guys were able to get pressure on QB C.J. Stroud. What did you think of the pass rush and how you'll have to get QB Joe Burrow off his spot to try and limit his success? (Cliff Brown) "I thought our get-offs for the most part [were] good. What we wanted to see were guys humming, which I told you maybe a week or so ago, talking about David Ojabo. [I said,] 'Just throw your fast ball.' I thought the communication with the pass rush and executing the plan – in terms of just the lines on the page – was on track. But we talked about this on Tuesday with the guys, we're still chasing, marrying the rush and coverage. There are reps on tape where we don't quite get the quarterback until the second hitch or off his initial read, and the rush was there, and then there are plays where the quarterback may have the held the ball a little longer than he wanted and working through his progress, and the rush wasn't there. That's something that we want to be elite at, in addition to our pressure package and things like that. I'd say we're off to a good start. It was good enough to get the win, but it's definitely something that we're trying to improve on." 

Along those lines, is DT Michael Pierce asking for more snaps as a pass rusher? (Jonas Shaffer)(laughter)"He didn't look bad out there." 

You talked a lot about emphasizing and not allowing explosive plays and came away among the league's lowest in allowing them. Do you see the Bengals as a big test in continuing that? (Kyler Barber) "Absolutely, it's a big test. There are a lot of plays where these guys are breaking tackles and creating explosive plays on catch-and-throws and slants and screens [and in the] perimeter run game. So, again, it's a point of emphasis for us. I sound like a broken record, but it's Week 1, and there are a lot of things that we need to improve on. I think we gave up three explosive passes by our metrics, and two of them were because of missed tackles. So, that's something that we're chasing. How do you improve that? Well, you have to be better at tackling, but you have to get more hats to the ball and create more angles so you can throw more bodies at them. So, absolutely, it's a challenge, and that's something that we're stressing very much this week." 


The starters didn't play in the preseason. Did you feel the timing of the passing game was just a little off especially in the first half? (Jamison Hensley) "I would just say we were just off. I would just say that it's a work in progress. The best thing we have is another opportunity to correct it [and] fix the things that are controllable. What's controllable? The things we do every day in practice. The things we design that give our players a chance, so we don't have the drag. There was too much drag. For us to score what we scored and yet played not like we're capable of ... So I anticipate we'll play a lot better. 

It's fair to say that a lot of teams didn't do well in Week 1. How much of that is a product of it being Week 1or it being a new system for this team? (Brian Wacker)"I'm sure there's a lot to do with all the above. It's a new system. [There's] a little bit of rust, probably. The communication part of it, the anxiety of playing. Lamar [Jackson] for the first time ever in a game hearing my voice when he has to do it. It's one thing [in practice] to hear it, and everybody else has to do it. It's now communicating those things that are not hard, it's just diligent [and] continue to work at it so it gives the best chance to stack plays because, crazy enough, I think we only went three-and-out twice. The first drive and second drive, and half the battle is getting the first first down, and we just found ways to have more drag. Really, the beginning part and then at the end, we just didn't do it very well. But again, the good news is we get to fix it. We get to improve. We still got the win, and now we get to go on the road and see where we go from here each week as we continue to improve."  

The offensive line was struggling at times in the game. How more challenging is that going to be with a possibility of not having T Ronnie Stanley and C Tyler Linderbaum?_ (Kyle Barber)_ "I would say everybody's a part of whatever the perceived protection might have been, which, to me, was fine. You're going to have, against the best in the world, some leakage. You're going to have some pressure. We can do it better schematically. We can do it better in terms of timing, in terms of where our eyes as quarterback are, our route timing, so we don't have to hold the ball. All those things are a part of everybody. We have … [Patrick Mekari's] played a lot of football here. That's why he's on our roster playing left tackle and so is Sam [Mustipher]. Sam played last week. Again, Sam played in the preseason, [he] played a lot at center, so we have a lot of faith in those guys. Everybody has injuries throughout the year, and bottom line is we expect them to play well, the expectation of the position."  

How do you think they did in one-on-one battles?_ (Mike Preston)_ "We were fine. It wasn't … Again, it's hard to say, at times, one-on-one battles when there were times we didn't give ourselves a chance. We did some things that are uncharacteristic of what we wanted to look like. It's probably the best thing. One-on-ones, I think we were fine. Really, at all positions, I think we were fine. I'm not going to speak to anyone in particular. I think we were fine. It's just a matter of everybody taking their turns – including me – in terms of not being at their best or what we're capable of, and that's why you practice. That's why you continue each week to do the same things and get better each week, like a lot of teams are doing right now. A lot of teams that won feel that way. A lot of teams lost. Everybody's feeling that way of, 'How do we get better? How do we improve as we continue. What team are we going to be in Week 2, Week 3 and every week beyond?' The only reason you look back is to correct [stuff]. That's what you do. The reason I'm looking back is we don't want it to look like that. They don't look back to feel sorry for yourself. You look back and say, 'That has to be fixed. That has to be better.' That's what the word coordinator means. It means fix it."  

We saw WR Zay Flowers be the busiest out of all the wide receiver group? Was that the plan going into the game? Was it for him to be as involved as he was?_ (Cordell Woodland)_ "It kind of worked out that way, didn't it? I don't know. I mean sometimes the ball finds players, sometimes the calls kind of go that way in the game. Do we want to keep Zay [Flowers] involved? Yes. Do we want to keep all of our skilled players involved? Yes. Sometimes, it happens to go that way a couple more times than others. Was I anticipating getting misaligned and a bubble thrown to him? No, absolutely not. So, there's moments where the ball finds him, and you're not actually thrilled with how that worked out. We have a lot to work on, starting with me."  

WR Odell Beckham Jr. called the offense an undercooked appetizer. How do you like that phrase? (Valerie Preactor) "What was he calling it?" (Reporter: He was talking about the wide receivers) "He said the wideouts were an under cooked appetizer? You mean the game?" (Reporter: Their performance last Sunday.) "[It] was an undercooked appetizer." (Reporter: You haven't heard that before?) "Absolutely not. First of all, he must order a [heck] of a lot more … Like, it's hard to have potato skins undercooked, like fries with bacon on it. He must have some really exquisite appetizers to be able to judge the difference. I don't know. Whatever that is. The bottom line is we all can play better. Hey, I was an undercooked appetizer, alright. Screw it. I have to be better."(Laughter) 

What is specifically the biggest thing you need to fix from Week 1? (Brian Wacker) "It's hard to really say one thing or another. It's the start of the week in terms of your plan, so the players 100% understand what's expected of them when they take the field, so they can play fast, and you don't have the drag. That starts with me and our coaches. Then from there, it is the ability to get in and out of the huddle, get to the line of scrimmage with enough time on the clock, so you can operate. That's part of what we do. It's not like you can spend all day up there, right? So that's the next part. Get lined up once we break the huddle – how do we get aligned that allows us to play fast – and then make sure that we're constantly looking at how do we get things done. Not just from a … Then once you get the assignment alignment, how can we really function athletically and take it to the next level – where we want the ball to go, when, how, what the defense is doing which is what everybody's doing. We're just at a point we've got to continue to embrace those challenges of how we continue to do it better. Again, so we can live with the result." 

What jumps out at you about the Cincinnati Bengals defense on tape? (Jamison Hensley) "[They're] aggressive. I think that's the biggest thing. You had better be prepared as an offense, because you are going to get a dose of a lot of things that give you issues – that challenge you, challenges your communication [and] challenges your ability to react. They do a good job of pressuring edges. They do a good job of challenging your protections. They do a good job of making you think about any play call that you may have in the game – if we get this then what, right? [It's] almost a little bit different than last week where [the Texans] were a lot more stagnant. They're going to make you play to a certain standard. This [Bengals defense] tries to be the aggressor. That's what you have to do a great job of – identifying where your issues are and having answers for where you want to go with the ball." 

How confident are you in the rest of the running backs at your disposal after the loss of RB J.K. Dobbins to a season-ending Achilles injury? _(Cordell Woodland) _"Oh, very confident. Man, what a tough deal for J.K. [Dobbins]. I know a lot of guys are thinking about him, but that's what you do in this league. It's part of it, but I feel really good about the guys that we have that are going to carry. All of them have played. Gus [Edwards] has played a significant role over the years, as Justice [Hill] has and then Melvin Gordon. Having Melvin here, how cool is that? That guy has played a lot of snaps in the NFL and is eager to continue to play and show that he can still play at a high level." 

Does not having RB J.K. Dobbins available impact how you go about play calling? (Brian Wacker) "Maybe in terms of the rotation – in terms of specific skillset of a player, but not really in terms of the things we liked. It wasn't like when we were installing things we said, 'Well, we really like that for J.K. [Dobbins] We would've liked it for that,' just like if one of the other players would've gone down. Sure, there's certain things that he does well that I think from his skillset, but we certainly have plenty." 

QB Lamar Jackson saw a lot of heavy pre-snap blitz looks in Week 1 against the Houston Texans. What has to improve operationally, especially if the noise from the road fans can make communication complicated in Cincinnati? _(Jonas Shaffer) _"Sure. One, I think the second week will help from a first week to a second week. I think every day that we practice in the same system, I think the more he hears the calls, what the expectations are. As we get better with our communication across the board, because everybody had a hand in that. Everybody had a hand in – including myself – in terms of mistakes and how we do it better. I think that's the first thing. He'd be the first to admit that we can all do it better, and he can do it better. That's part of it. The difference is the ball's in his hands every snap, and the play call's in my hands every snap. So, you're constantly trying to evaluate what you can fix, what he can fix, what offensively we can [fix]. And it's not broken. We just need to get better at the simplest of things to allow yourself to function at a high level, because that's the drag. That's all the drag that stops you from 'Almost, God, if we just would've done this.' That's not where you want to be. You want to get out of that zone of the almost or, 'Boy, if we just would've done this. Hey OK, that's the way it looks. OK, make them beat us.'" 


On if there has been any improvement with rehabbing his injury:"I'm just continuing to get better day by day probably similar to last week. I think we have a good plan. [I'm] excited for our offensive gameplan and what we're going to do. We have a big game this week, so all eyes on Cincinnati." 

On how tough it was being on the sideline during the Week 1 game against Houston:"Just being a competitor and being around these guys and wanting to be able to fight and go to war with them – it's tough to [miss the game]. At the end of the day, I'm happy to get this group of guys back no matter what in any capacity, just be there for them. It was tough, but I'm excited for the upcoming games." 

On how close to 100% he feels and what the issue is with his quad injury:"I'll just leave that ... That's a personal deal. I'll leave it at that." 

On what he thinks his chances of playing this week are: "God-willing." 

On what he remembers about last season's AFC Wild Card loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and what is pushing them with this Week 2 matchup: "I think for us … Obviously last year, we played them a couple times and two times in a row. They're a very good team. They play hard. It's a divisional game in a tough division. Personally, I don't get emotional about this one. I'm excited about it." 

On if facing the Cincinnati Bengals three times last season adds more fuel to the rivalry between the two teams:"Like I said, it's two good organizations – two good teams. Anytime we play a team in your division, it's going to be tough. They have a lot of great players [on] offense [and] defense. As a team, we just have to be ready to go – locked in, focused and just play together, be together. At the end of the day, that's what counts." 


On the team's mindset after the injuries in Week 1:"It's just the same mentality. It's next man up. Everybody has each other's backs, and we know that if one goes down, the next man has got to fill the void. It's just a mentality thing that I think the very good teams have, and I know we have that here. So, I know we're confident with the guys that we have going into the game; I know everyone is capable of doing their job. And that's just how you've got to play it; that's how the cards are dealt. We've got to keep this thing rolling until we get those guys back. So, that's really it." 

On his emotions heading into this divisional matchup against the Bengals:"Well, you know, I was on the other side already, so I know what it's like in the AFC North – definitely tough, physical football. So, I can't say that I don't know what it's like, because I've been on the other side and seen it. But [I'm] just excited that this is a very important game within the division. We always used to say, it counts for two. So, we've just got to [do] very small things – know what your assignment is – and do your role to the best of your ability, and everything else will handle itself." 

On how close the offense is to performing at the level it would like to:"I feel like we had a good first, sloppy game, and you still put up 25 points. So, the bad thing is there were a lot of mistakes, a lot of miscommunications, a lot of those things; the good news is there is room for improvement. And that's just how you have to look at it. I think this week was a lot better [of a] week, as far as being locked in with each other and on all the assignments, and you've just got to know that the sky is the limit with that, and we'll go as far as we want to go. So, I definitely feel like it was a much better week. Rome wasn't built in a day, and we've just got to continue to get better." 

On if he's superstitious about the fact that he's suffered injuries the last two times he's faced the Bengals:"No, but … It's crazy [that] you bring it up." (laughter)"But yes, you're right – resulted in injury. So, [it was] one in injury and one in a Super Bowl, so I'm good with that."