Coach Lewis: "We have a great challenge ahead.”

Coach Marvin Lewis addresses the media as the Bengals prepare to take on AFC North foe, the Cleveland Browns in week 16.

Initial comments … 

“Obviously the task at hand is to go up and put together a good plan this week. Go up, prepare well, and go play a good football game and win up there in Cleveland. They’ve done a nice job in winning four of their last five football games. They’re playing productive on offense and doing a good job limiting on defense. They’ve really turned things around with playing fast on offense. Their skill players are being productive. We have a great challenge ahead.”

What are your thoughts on DT Geno Atkins making the Pro Bowl for the seventh time?

“He’s had an outstanding year. He’s played productively throughout the season, prepared well, played hard and got rewarded again. It’s great.”

Is it a testament to those other guys who were alternates? None of them were in the top ten in fan voting, so that means the players and coaches must’ve really respected what they do to get them up there as alternates … 

“I guess --- I don’t about any of that (laughs). But it is. They’re all young, hard-working guys, and they’ve done a nice job.”

LB Malik Jefferson went on IR yesterday. What do you look for with him in the offseason to help him carve out more of a role next year?

“He’ll get an opportunity when football starts in April to understand assignments, gain opportunity and gain trust. Gain confidence in himself and confidence in what he’s doing all of the time. He has the physical tools to do it, he just has to put it all together and get the correct opportunity. We got him on the field a little bit. He grew a little bit this season on special teams, which is generally a start for becoming a good NFL linebacker.”

That has traditionally been the way it’s worked. Guys will play really well in those spots on special teams, and that seems to earn trust for them to play linebacker. Is that kind of where he’s still at?

“He has to gain confidence in himself too. He needs to just go out and play, and that’s what the preseason is all about — to go out there, play productively and not have errors in assignments.”

To be out of the playoff picture for a third straight year at this point, how challenging has that been for you as the head coach?

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s where we are. We just have to get ready to play and win this football game this week.”

What’s been different about what the Browns are doing this year, compared to the last few years?

“The quarterback is playing really well — they’re getting great quarterback play from Baker (Mayfield). The young guys around him (have played well) — (Jarvis) Landry, (Nick) Chubb, (David) Njoku, (Breshad) Perriman has come on, (Antonio) Callaway, and their line has settled in and is doing a nice job. That’s been big. Defensively, you have all of those guys they’ve been adding time and time again. They’re all fitting together well right now.”

Is there anything you notice from Browns head coach Gregg Williams that’s different and has been a spark?

“I don’t notice anything different. Again, they’ve done a nice job.”

Is LB Vontaze Burfict still in concussion protocol?

“I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about that (laughs).”

Any update on WR Tyler Boyd’s knee injury?

“No.”

You talked about what Malik Jefferson did in the preseason. What about LB Chris Worley? He’s been on the practice squad all season, but what did you see from him in the preseason and what do you expect to see from him in these last two games?

“He’s hungry to get an opportunity. Sometimes you get a chance to go in and play. We’ll see what happens on Sunday, whether he’s up and active, and maybe he gets a chance to replace Malik in some of things on (special) teams.”

You’ve had your added role as defensive coordinator for about a month now. Is that something you could see yourself doing long term, or do you like it when you have a break from that?

“I feel further away from the offense and special teams. Everybody has had to do a little bit more hours-wise in order to fit into my schedule. I think that’s hard on everyone a little bit. The hardest part of this is you becoming the play caller, and that takes a lot of time. It takes me away from adding input with Bill (offensive coordinator Bill Lazor). Bill, as well as Darrin (special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons), have to carve out time with me at different times. It puts a little more stress on them. Just the reinforcement of technique in those phases. We’ll be watching the tape later at night or early in the morning, or whenever it may be, so I can reinforce to the players about their responsibilities. Obviously the defensive guys are getting that firsthand. Hopefully we’ve gotten a good direction on defense, and that was the main reason (for taking on that role). But they have to go out and do it again this week.”

I guess there’s a reason why Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer is one of only a few guys that serves as head coach while still calling defensive plays. There don’t seem to be enough hours in the day … 

“There’s too much going on on the field during the game as well. He has George (Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards), who has been with him the whole time and was with me in Washington. George understands him. They coached together in Dallas, so there’s a confidence level that George can help make the corrections that way. With the defensive coaches here, they’ve done a good job of extending themselves.”

So you wouldn’t do it if you had a choice … 

“I don’t need to talk or speculate about anything.”

You’ve steadied the ship defensively the last two or three weeks. What are some of the elements that have helped them?

“The players have done a nice job.”

Do you care to elaborate?

“(Laughs). It’s not about me, it’s about the players.”

What about the players has been good?

“They’ve done a nice job of staying assignment-sound in running the football and tackling. That’s how you play defense — 11 guys fitting together. You just have to keep doing that, day after day.”

You seem to be getting a lift from your cornerbacks. They seem to be playing pretty well … 

“Again, every week is a new challenge. I want them to continue to respond. They have to respond. It takes 11 guys on defense all playing together and playing correctly.”

It’s been about a month since special assistant to the head coach Hue Jackson got here. What impact have you seen him have here?

“He’s done a really good job of inputting with me on what he sees. Most of his time is with the defense, so just what he sees that way and giving me the input. He sees the opponent’s defense as well, and things we do on offense. Just giving me a little feedback and bounces things off me. He’s able to respond to the players and pull a little bit more out of some of the guys. He has a relationship with some of the guys that are here, and some of the young guys. Also behind the scenes more on the analytical part, he’s been helpful that way on offense and defense with some things he was comfortable doing. He’s been able to help us in that direction more.”

Does that at all influence some of your decisions to go for it more on fourth down?

“Hell no (laughs).”

I didn’t know if he was pushing you more to do some of those things … 

“There are studies on those things — their bracket of plays. It’s not realistic. It’s easy to say that because one team’s ahead or one team’s behind. That practicum of plays — I can’t think of the word I want to use — but you have to base (those decisions) on your feel, your team, that game, where you are with your people and what you feel good about. I have to feel confident in what play we’re going to call, and how I felt it looked against what we think they’re going to play defensively. Those kinds of things. It’s situations in the game. Sometimes it’s the wind, ball placement, field placement or hash marks. There’s a lot that goes into the decisions you make. I do look at it, I read it, and I understand it. But when it doesn’t work, they can say, ‘Well, it was here’ (laughs). I don’t want to be the one person on the other side of that. You don’t want to be the person on the other side of that all the time. I respect what they’re saying. When things work, you guys never ask any questions about it. But when they don’t, you have four or five questions. Not one person said, ‘Why did you go for it on fourth down last week?’ (laughs). Not one of you. We went for it twice, but if we missed either one of them, you would’ve asked those questions. That’s the part the people who put this stuff out there, they never have to answer to. It’s more answering to those (players) in there. They say the right things. I have confidence in them, and they’re right.”

It does seem that players unanimously have responded well to that aggressiveness, even when it hasn’t worked on fourth down … 

“They do.”

Is that part of the equation for you, with the excitement it brings to the players?

“It should be an excitement of execution, I hope. That’s the thing. If you’re an offensive lineman, you should want the head coach to feel good about you picking up a half yard, four inches, six inches, or whatever it may be. When things don’t go well, ‘We aren’t running the ball enough.’ That’s the first thing that comes out of their mouths. We’re giving you a chance to run the ball, now let’s make something happen. Conversely on the other side, you have to stop them. Those are big plays when you can stop them and turn the ball over there.”

What has impressed you the most about HB Joe Mixon and his production this year?

“What impresses me about Joe has nothing to do with his production. Joe is going to continue to produce in the NFL the more he settled he becomes. But his attitude, youthfulness, character of hard work, jubilation and his care for his teammates — that’s what’s impressive about Joe, and that never wains. I hope throughout his career it never changes. You want to continually remind him, ‘Don’t ever change and go to a different guy than you are right now, because this is what makes you who you are and people will rally around you that way. Never to lose that part because you’re a young, talented player. Keep ascending with those great qualities you have internally.’”

It’s interesting in that running back room. You have Mixon, and then HB Giovani Bernard, who is a different type of personality but a hell of a leader in his own right. Two good leaders in that running back room … 

“They uplift the football team, because people respect their toughness and how hard they work. That’s a good thing. Mark Walton fits the bill, Q (HB Quinton Flowers) will eventually get an opportunity that way. That’s fine when you have the great mentorship Gio has been able to lead with.”

You mentioned Mixon’s enthusiasm. Do you ever see that with guys, where the league jades them after a while and it does wear on them?

“It does. They don’t figure it out until it’s too late, unfortunately.”

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