RAVENS RB RAY RICE (with Cincinnati media)
What changes do you see in the Bengals’ defense since the season opener?
RR: “They're the most improved team in football. I knew they were a talented team. We always said once they put it together, they were going to be tough to compete with. They made the playoffs and the reason why is they're playing good football right now. They're going to be tough for years to come. It's a very young team and they're playing good football right now.”
Did the Bengals-Steelers game film remind you of a Ravens-Steelers game? Are the Bengals in that mode now?
RR: “I knew from last year when we faced them that they were right there. They were right where they wanted to be coming into this year. They added some pieces to the puzzle. And yeah, they might have started off a little slow, but it's all about how you finish. That's where they're at right now. They're finishing strong. And obviously you don't become a playoff team for no reason. They beat the teams they were supposed to beat, they knocked off Pittsburgh and knocked them out. And they're in the playoffs now, which is well deserved.”
How has your offense changed under new coordinator Jim Caldwell?
RR: “The biggest difference is just getting back to the simple things. That's easier said than done. We didn't change much. We didn't change our plays. We didn't change our personnel. What we did was eliminate some things, keep it simple, and that's where we're at right now. We executed at a high level last week.”
Did you guys need a game like last week for confidence?
RR: "Yeah, we needed that. We needed that especially coming off that three-game skid. For us to come out there and execute the way we did, that's definitely a confidence builder.”
Was the Denver game a real low point?
RR: “Naw. I mean, you understand, a loss is a loss. The low moment is us losing in the playoffs last year. That was a regular-season game against Denver. That meant nothing. When you get to the AFC championship and you're right on the cusp of going to the Super Bowl, that's a low moment. That hurts. But Denver, we knew what that game was. We had just switched offensive coordinators. We were trying to find our timing, and we didn't have it right there.”
What does this game mean to you guys,Ray Lewis Youth Jersey, given that you've clinched the division title?
RR: “We want to finish the season strong. We want to win the game. This is a divisional opponent. It doesn't matter if it's the playoffs or not. You want to be able to sweep your division. Obviously we didn't sweep it, but we want to be able to say we controlled the whole division. We swept Cleveland, split with Pittsburgh and right now we're 1-0 against Cincinnati. Any time you go into the season, No. 1 you think about winning a division, which we've done. But you also think about controlling it.”
As a running back, do you have to think about when you're getting ready to take a handoff?
RR: “Geno Atkins is a force out there. He by far is one of the best D-linemen around. As a running back, you want to know where he is at all times, because you don't want to cut back into his lane and let him make that kind of play.”
What are your thoughts about the Bengals linebackers?
RR: “, No. 1. I’ve been playing against him for a while. He's a force. Their linebackers are very fast. That's one thing that sticks out to me is that they get sideline to sideline really fast and they can cover. The way their defense is playing right now, they match up with anybody. You want to come out in space, they match up well. So that's one thing. They play downhill. They're very physical.”
Do you still play up-tempo on offense? You used a lot of no-huddle in the first game:
RR: “We've changed over the course of the year. When you're in another team's stadium, it's hard to go no-huddle because of the noise. We try to implement that in there where we want to get up-tempo, we want to change the pace a little bit. So it's something that we have, but it's not something that we always have to use.”
Have you guys looked at the possibilities of who you might host in the playoffs, including the chance the Bengals could go there?
RR: “Yeah, we've thought about it. We've seen it. We know all the scenarios. But the playoffs is two weeks away. Our main concern right now is next week. So we know what this game is, we know what it's about. It's a divisional opponent, we'll treat is as such.”
How close are you to (Bengals RB also from Rutgers?
RR: “Aw, man, that's my man. He and , great people. We'll always be brothers for life, bonded with the Rutgers shield. And I always want to see those guys do good. Obviously we're playing against them, I'd love to win against them, but I always want to see them do well.”
Were you sad when Sanu got hurt?
RR: “Yeah. You don't like to see anybody go down, but Sanu No. 1 is a great person, one of the hardest-working people I know. He's going to be a great player in this league. To see him go down like that, especially when he was on the cusp of making plays ... he added a different dimension to their offense. With and all of them, he was just another addition to their receivers.”
RAVENS COACH JOHN HARBAUGH (with Cincinnati media)
Taking your playoff situation into account, what is your approach to this week’s game? Isn’t this the first time since you’ve been in Baltimore that you’ve had everything wrapped up prior to the final regular-season game?
JH: “Actually we had it last year, too, with the playoffs, but we were still playing for the division. You’re right, it’s the first time we haven’t really had, I guess, significant things to play for. The approach right now is business as usual. Our approach is to compete and win the game. There’s really not a lot you can do with a 46-man roster and a 53-man roster. We’ll just have to see how it goes with injuries and things like that. Our intention is to do everything we can, play as well as we can against a great Bengals team.”
Is there any chance you limit snaps for some players?
JH: “Well, yeah, it’s got to be a consideration. We’ve just had so many injuries and we’re still battling back from a number of those right now. We’ll have to take that into consideration.”
How do you feel your defense has played?
JH: “Really I do feel like we’ve played really well. You look at, even statistically, the last five, six, seven games,Patrick Willis 49ers Jersey, we’ve been right up there in scoring defense. I do feel good about it. It’s been an opportunity for a lot of young guys to get experience, valuable experience. It should pay off and also build some depth for us. We’re not going to get completely healthy. Guys like Lardarius Webb aren’t going to be back,Ray Lewis Purple Jersey. Just some of the nicks and bumps that guys are playing through, or guys like Ray Lewis coming back – things like that would be valuable for us.”
Has the offensive coordinator transition from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell been pretty seamless?
JH: “I don’t know if I could put a tag on it like that. But I think those guys have all done a great job, all the coaches, starting with Coach Caldwell, and the offensive coaches have done a great job. We haven’t reinvented the wheel or anything like that. We’re running the same offense, but I think they’ve made some adjustments that have been good for us.”
What’s been the biggest change the past couple weeks offensively?
JH: “I don’t know. Without getting into any kind of specific things, we probably were a little more efficient this last game. I actually thought we did some good things against Denver, but we had the bad turnovers. When you have a fumble on a quarterback sneak and you have a pick-six from the 3-yard line, those are things that are devastating plays, no matter what kind of offense you’re running. Eliminating those things is probably the best thing that we did from one week to the next.”
When you look at last week’s Giants game, it looked like your guys dominated them at the line of scrimmage:
JH: “We played (well) up front on both sides. There’s no question. That was probably the difference in the game. And the playmakers found a way to make plays.”
From the first week to now, what’s the biggest difference in this Bengals defense?
JH: “You know, I don’t know if I see a big difference. We’ve just had such tremendous respect for their defense. I’ve always thought the last three years, four years, that they’ve been one of the premier defenses in football,Patrick Willis Red Jersey. They’re playing that 4-3 scheme. They mix coverages. They mix pressures. They give you every difficult pressure that challenges every protection that is known to football. They’ve got, obviously, a bunch of high-quality corners. They’ve got four guys that can get to the quarterback. The linebackers are big, physical guys that play downhill and also have coverage ability.
“They’re really well coached by Coach (Mike) Zimmer, and really the whole defensive staff. Yeah, this is a defense that we know really well. We have not had a great deal of success against them. The first game, a few breaks went our way, I guess. But generally speaking they do a great job against us over the years.”
With so many young players coming into the NFL ready to step in and play right away. Is that because the styles of play between college and pro have become so similar?
JH: “That’s a good question. I don’t know if they’re more ready to play or they’re just more forced to play, maybe, than they have been. Obviously in the old days you had those offensive lines that stayed together all those years. Another guy we have is Jah Reid, who has played a bunch of football for us as well, and he’s also a young guy. He missed all of training camp and he didn’t even really start until I think he was practicing the third or fourth week of the season.
“You’ve got talented guys, and you really can’t afford to have those guys sit for two or three years and then all of a sudden you get one year out of them and boom, they’re free agents. That’s just not a good investment. As coaches, it’s kind of incumbent on you to get them out there and play them. And you usually have to because someone’s left the year before. Like for us, Ben Grubbs left and we really had no choice but to start playing young guys.”
Do you see any changes out of Ray Rice, or is he still the same player?
JH: “I’d say still the same player. Better. The stretch zone scheme that we kind of put in last year or emphasized more last year, he’s learned how to run that a lot better this year. That’s the No. 1 thing. I would say from the pass protection standpoint, he’s just got a really great understanding of pass protection, and that’s something that usually takes a few years to develop.”
Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs came back a lot faster than a lot of people expected, with the exception of maybe you and your staff. Was there any surprise there for you guys?
JH: “Definitely incredible. I’m not surprised, because I know the two guys. Ray’s getting real close to being ready to play. We’ll activate him today because we’ll have to. Whether he’ll play this week, I don’t know. Suggs coming back quicker, in my understanding, than anybody ever has in football from an Achilles tear says a lot. It says a lot. You’re right.”
As you look at film, how different is Baltimore’s defense from what you saw at the beginning of the year? Is it different because of the players they lost to injury?
AD: “There are some different guys because some guys have gotten hurt. But it’s similar stuff. They’ve been doing the same kind of stuff all year. You’ve got to look at all the looks and prepare for it, because you know they do a lot of different stuff with the different blitzes and moving around and things like that. Just all the stuff we have to get ready for.”
How much different is your preparation this week, considering you can’t improve your playoff position?
AD: “We definitely don’t want to come out and be flat; we want to have some momentum going into the playoffs. We’ve got to come out and we’ve got to play our best. We’ve got to execute a lot better. I know the focus is going to be on the run game because of how things ended up last week. We need to come out and improve in that aspect. But we’re treating it just like any other game. We’re going out and preparing, and we’re going to do everything we can to put give ourselves the best momentum for the playoffs.”
How does your experience of making the playoffs last season help you these next couple weeks?
AD: “It’s big. We have that experience. Going in last year, I think we were hanging on pins and needles waiting to find out if we were going to make the playoffs because we needed a lot of help. Now, knowing that we’re going no matter what is big for us. The biggest thing this week is that we have to execute well, play well, and get some of that momentum going into the playoffs.”
The last eight quarters have been a bit of a struggle at times for this offense. Do you feel that you need to execute better in these next few weeks?
AD: “We definitely do. We’ve been able to win these last two games, but it hasn’t been our best play offensively. We’ve got to improve. We’ve got to seize the signs of improvement in the way we played this week.”
last week seemed to play the best he’s played so far this season:
AD: “Yeah, he’s done well. We’ve got to keep getting him out there, keep letting him do his thing, because he’s a talented guy. I was pleased with how he played. We’ve got full confidence in him. He’s done a lot of good things. He’s shown it in practice, and now it’s good to see that that’s showing up in the game.”
It seemed like you got in a little bit of a rhythm in the fourth quarter on Sunday. What was different in that fourth quarter?
AD: “That’s the time that you have to go out and win the game. I felt like I was seeing everything well and I knew exactly what I was getting at all times. That’s the time that you have to be at your best. For us to get a chance to go to the playoffs and all that was riding on that game, we did just enough to get the win.”
What do you remember most about the season-opener this year in Baltimore?
AD: “We were in the game going into halftime. Then we turned the ball over a couple times and did some things that they took advantage of, and it got out of hand. We definitely don’t want anything like that to happen again. Especially playing at home, we’ve got to come out and play our best.”
Marvin Lewis said you are working on the deep ball this week. What are you working on?
AD: “Just timing and different trajectory of the ball, putting a little more air under it and stuff like that. I've definitely got to hit some (deep passes) because if I hit a couple of those in the game last week, it's a different game. So I've got to get better, I've got to improve, and it just comes with practice,Ray Lewis Purple Jersey.”
You were 0-3 against Pittsburgh going into last week then you got that monkey off your back. You’re in the same situation this week, entering the game 0-3 against Baltimore:
AD: “Yeah. Hopefully we can come out and get a win and I don't have to worry about any of those comments anymore. The biggest thing is we have to come out and we have to play well, we've got to execute. And if we do that, good things will happen.”
Do you feel you have something to prove, considering how your last game against the Ravens played out?
AD: “You never want anything like that to happen. For us, we're treating this like any other game. We want to come out, we want to play our best and we want to win. It just happens to be a team that beat us pretty good last time. So we've got to come out and we've got to do everything we can to execute like we know we can. If we do that, I don't think it will turn out anything like it did the first time.”
Why was Pittsburgh’s defense able to be so successful at stopping the run?
AD: “They did a good job of taking away the run. They were putting a lot of guys in the box, and they did a good job blitzing when we were running the ball. We’ve got to either find ways to get out of the runs or find ways to have runs that are going to work against the different looks that we're getting. They had a good plan going in and they weren't going to let us run the ball.”
When you played Philadelphia, they did a lot of twists with their defensive line, causing a lot of sacks. The Steelers last week did a lot of run blitzes, causing some problems in the run game. As you head into these next few games, do you expect teams to copy those defensive game plans that worked so well?
AD: “I'm sure they're going to watch the tape and find areas where we didn't do things very well. That's what teams do. Everybody watches the tape, everybody knows what other teams are doing as well. So we expect them to have a good plan going in, but we feel we're going to have a good plan as well.”
How are you better as a quarterback right now than you were a year ago at this time?
AD: “I feel like I've got more control over everything we're doing. I feel if they're to make an in-game adjustment, it's not going to affect me at all. I feel like they're asking me to do a lot more; I feel like I want to do a lot more. I think that's just kind of where this offense has gone and how I've grown as a player.”
ANDY DALTON (with Cincinnati media)
MARVIN LEWIS (with Cincinnati media)
ML: “In preparation for Baltimore, with (Joe) Flacco and with Ray Rice’s ability to make people miss, it's important we do a fantastic job of staying on our feet and tackling this week. You have to factor their ability to throw the ball to (Anquan) Boldin and (Torrey) Smith, and the tight end position is playing real well – having (Ed) Dickson back and (Dennis) Pitta. Last week they were on fire and played as well as they probably have since the first game of the year against us. They're back in stride.
“Defensively, they've been without some guys, but having Terrell (Suggs) back gives them a fine player on the outside that can apply pressure. They've done a good all year replacing Ray (Lewis) and having to play with the younger guys, and those guys have filled in well. But they're minus some guys in the secondary, and that has probably led to them falling down a little bit on defense.
“On special teams, they're well put together. Jacoby Jones is hot right now. He's doing a great job returning punts, and he's had some big kickoff returns, so we have to a great job on special teams.
Their defense is 24th against the run, something that hasn’t happened since your first or second year there. How much of their defense has changed?
ML: “Schematically there's not lot of big changes. But they have new guys, and they’re trying to get them into the right spots and fits. And they've had one guy who’s been the catalyst of the group for so long (Ray Lewis), and they've been without him for most of the year. The safeties have been in and out. That makes a difference. The middle of the field has been a little different, and that can take a toll on you. It makes tackling and everything on the perimeter and all those things more difficult.”
Injury-wise, are you still in good shape?
ML: “Yeah, we're about good as we can be. We've got guys that are a little sore, but we'll keep working today and as the week goes on we should be able to work through it.”
You signed yesterday. How much can you get him up to speed in four or five days?
ML: “We'll see. There's no urgency. We have no voids to fill that way.”
What were you able to learn from 's first season?
ML: “I think he'll have a fine career. He's got the mental toughness, he's got the physical ability, he can learn. There's a lot of positives we’ve got over the five, six weeks from the bye week, when he had an opportunity to practice and play in some games and kind of get his feet wet. It's disappointing for him, but as I told him yesterday, for me it's exciting. I told him, 'I wish you were out here playing, but you're not. We can address what needs to be addressed right now, get you healthy and ready to go next year and move forward.' He learned a lot this year. Another thing I know is he wants to be very, very good, and he has that kind of drive internally, which is good.”
There is luck involved with injuries, but the fact your team played a long, taxing type of game Sunday at Pittsburgh, it says a lot about their conditioning. Do you feel good about the mix of conditioning and rest?
ML: “We're trying to do a good job of keeping them fresh. They have to keep themselves fresh mentally, too. Because as I change and alter things, they have to understand that it is changed, and what we take off them physically, they have to add back mentally. Everybody has to understand that.
“I’m saying, ‘As a coach, as a position coach or a coordinator, you can't keep doing the same things you've been doing because I'm changing the schedule. Tighten things up here, so we have to add to it down the line cerebrally, and make those adjustments.’
“So if you're a player used to breaking the meeting at this particular time, it's not going to break at this time. Don't be looking around and getting antsy, because what we're taking off you on the field we're adding in the classroom. Guys have to understand that. I've tried to make that point over the last couple of weeks. If you want to go to the end, you've got to go to the end. It takes special people and a special toughness in order to do that. I thought we did a great job of that last week. and we have to keep doing it each and every week, because each and every week presents a new problem.”
What is the approach this week? Do you go more mentally and less physically to keep them fresh for the playoffs?
ML: “We'll be fresh. We're not worried about the playoffs, we're worried about the Baltimore Ravens. The playoffs will take care of themselves next week. We'll address whoever we're playing next week. Sunday night, I guess we'll know who we're playing. This week is this week.”
Looking to the big prize (Super Bowl) eventually:
ML: “Nobody needs to look beyond this week, so I don’t even talk about that.”
You were fortunate to be part of a team that went all the way and won a Super Bowl. How beneficial is it to have all that experience firsthand?
ML: “It will be good.”
Too early for that question?
ML: “Yeah, we're not worrying about that.”
When and how did moving practice (to the University of Cincinnati's bubble) go down?
ML: “Last week.”