"First off, from a roster standpoint, we waived quarterback Sean Canfield and signed linebacker Ramon Humber. He'll wear jersey #54 and he was out there today. On an injury note, it's a pretty short list: linebacker Anthony Waters (ankle) was limited; running back Pierre Thomas (ankle) was limited; and lastly running back Ladell Betts (neck) did not practice."
Are you thrilled with such a short injury report on December 1?
"One of the positives to this point of the season is that we've been able to gradually get guys healthy, factoring in the bye and then we had a short week for a Thursday game and then some extended time before we got into this week's practice, so that's encouraging."
So you're expecting Jeremy Shockey and Darren Sharper to play at this point?
Can you elaborate on how Pierre Thomas is coming along?
"We kind of targeted this game as a goal date. He moved around pretty well today and I was encouraged. He's certainly turned a corner and is progressing. We'll just keep monitoring where he's at each day this week."
Was the reason he didn't practice last week just because you knew he wasn't going to play in that game?
"There were a couple of things. There wasn't any setback but as much as anything else, with the short week that we had we just wanted to continue the rehab process and we targeted this game. We'll take it day to day this week and see where he's at come game time."
What has been different for you during this four-game winning streak than in the 4-3 start?
"You start with just some of the fundamental things. We've been better with ball security; we've gotten our share of turnovers. The ball was out in Thursday's game when we had five caused fumbles and a sixth was listed because of the muffed punt. From that standpoint we've been better. I think we've been more consistent in our protections and in our ability to run the football. I think defensively we've done a real good job – especially in the red area, forcing teams to kick field goals. Overall, all the little things that allow you to play better we've been better with this last month."
Your red zone offense probably isn't as good as you'd like it to be. What things do you go through to try to improve that?
"Number one, you start looking closely at your ability to run the football. What are your aggressive, or shot, plays once you're in the red zone? Then really it's staying on schedule, whether that's a third down play or a first-and-10 call. You really look closely at your own personnel and if we're doing the things that we want to do. And each week is different because of what we see defensively. You start by looking at your run options and your pass options. The things that can really prohibit you from having success are turnovers and penalties; those are the things that immediately can be drive-killers in the red area."
You had talked about improving your third down efficiency and you turned that around. Where do rank red zone efficiency in terms of priorities?
"It's something that we clearly pay attention to. We've had opportunities. The good news is that we're first or second in the league in red zone drive opportunities, and now it's just being more efficient with those drives and coming away with more touchdowns than field goals. Each week when teams are held to field goals, a game that you might feel like should be in hand is not because you haven't really taken advantage of those opportunities. So we look at that closely in the gameplanning and making sure that we have a good practice when we emphasize the red zone period."
How wide open do you feel the NFC playoff picture is, given that there's not any one team way out in front and everyone seems bunched together?
"It is bunched together; I think that's a good way to describe it. The key is – and I think it gets somewhat redundant for you guys to hear from me – but the key is to focus on the immediate game that you can control and prepare for. There are so many other variables that come into it, but you see a lot of teams playing good football. We're Chicago playing well; we're seeing Atlanta; we're seeing New York and Philadelphia. You could go through all the teams that are at the top of their divisions and you really can't control the outcome of any of those games. The one thing that you can control is the game you play and the focal point that week in your preparation. That's the only way to handle it."
The Bengals are 2-9 and have lost eight straight games. When you look at them, what gets your attention?
"When you watch the games that they've played, in seven of the nine losses they've either had the ball to score and go ahead or tie the game. They've been in a ton of close games. When you look at the opponents that they've played, they beat Baltimore who we think is a very good football team. This is a team that is one season removed from winning every one of their division games and playing a home playoff game. Certainly the wins haven't stacked up the way they would have liked this year, but I think our players recognize the talent level. You see that on film. There's a lot of effort and energy and there's a lot that concerns you when you watch these guys. They have very good skill people, they're real aggressive defensively in their blitz packages and they do a good job in the kicking game. This is a game where we need to have a great week of practice; our preparation has to be thorough and we have to play a very good football team on the road and our players know that."
Do you have to stay on top of the players all week and keep hammering that?
"We watch enough film where when you're playing an opponent like this, you can see that on tape – the skill level that we're talking about, whether it's a Terrell Owens, who's having a very good year; whether it's the running back or Chad Johnson or the tight end that they drafted from Oklahoma (Jermaine Gresham) who is having a very good season. Their offensive line has played well. When you look at their defense, they give you a lot of looks so it's going to take a lot of preparation on our part; we're going to have to be ready to handle the linebacker dogs, the safety blitzes. That's something that they're very comfortable with. So when you put the tape on, that's the first thing that our players look closely at and the message is more the talent level of this team, a team that is accustomed to winning just being one season removed from being a playoff team."
What were you looking for in signing Ramon Humber? Is he more of a special teams guy?
"He's a guy that can run. He's a guy that played last year for Indianapolis predominantly on all of their special teams. He was a four core special teams player for them and that was the one thing that we saw when we evaluated him."
Were you targeting that style of player or did he just have a high grade?
"We were looking for someone that we felt like could contribute. Really it's in the absence of Stanley (Arnoux). If you go back through the transactions, Stanley Arnoux was put on IR last week; Sean Canfield came up on the short week. It's trying to find someone that we felt like is able to contribute in the kicking game."
What do you like about Alex Brown? He's a guy that goes unnoticed a lot because he doesn't make flashy plays.
"He's a consistent player. I think he has adjusted and adapted to what we're doing from a scheme standpoint real quickly. He's versatile in that he can play the run and give you the pass rush snaps that you'd like. His transition to our defense has been relatively smooth."
Is the Will Smith situation out of your hands at this point?
"The club has issued a statement and the player has issued one. That's where we stand with it."
Marvin Lewis mentioned the possibility of a big winter storm hitting Cincinnati this weekend. What are your thoughts on playing in that kind of weather?
"We'll pay attention to it, just like we always for an away game. We'll get outside and get our work done, but I think this is a team that is battle-tested. Whatever the conditions are, we understand that both teams will have to play in those conditions and we'll have to be ready for them."
Do you buy into the talk of dome teams struggling playing outside late in the year?
"Fortunately for us, we've been able to get into some cold weather games. We've had success and we've not had success; when we've had success, we've taken care of the football and when we've not had success, we haven't. The turnover battle is important; protecting the football is important. I think that it really gets more to away teams than it does to whether it's a cold team coming into a dome or vice versa. I think if you want to be a good football team, you're going to have to be prepared to play in any conditions and we understand that.
Would weather like that change your gameplan at all?
"It wouldn't change it today but if the weather conditions changed…you always pay attention to that aspect, no different than when went to San Francisco and we felt that there was a significant wind advantage in that game going one direction compared to the other. So you're always paying attention to that as it pertains to what you do. Weather can impact a gameplan and you have to be able to adjust when that's the case."
Does it make things harder on a quarterback throwing the football?
"I think generally that wind is more of a challenge for a quarterback than precipitation or temperature."
How did your snapper do the other night?
"He did pretty well. He had one that was high, but I thought he graded out pretty well. It was good to see him respond in a big spot. He didn't seem to get rattled; he was calm, cool and collected and handled it well."
When Mat McBriar fumbled that snap and kicked it, what was the ruling on that?
"It's a muff. It was never secured. We checked on this after the game, that when the ball is muffed, you have a penalty. We could have backed it up 10 yards and replayed the down or we could take it where Tracy (Porter) gave us the progress. Obviously we were hoping that we would get the penalty either on top of or from the point of infraction, but we chose then just to take the spot rather than get closer because for the punt team, I don't think the penalty was really going to be significant with where they were at on the field. But the key element there was that it wasn't fielded cleanly."
Did the idea that you can't fumble forward on fourth down come into play at all?
"The way I understand it and the way that it was explained to us is that it started with the idea that it wasn't fielded cleanly and then kicked."
So Tracy Porter recovered a fumble, not returned a punt?
"Correct, technically. At that point, we just chose to get the ball there. Statistically it shows up as a fumble."
Could you send something to the Competition Committee about wanting to see that ruling changed?
"I think that play has come up twice in 10 years, and generally for something to be changed it comes up more often than that. But I think it is something to look closely at and evaluate in the offseason. It might start with a meeting with a member of the Competition Committee and then seeing if there is a sentiment to make a change."
How is that differentiated between that and a drop-kick?
"A drop-kick is secured; it's caught. I think the first question from everyone was, 'What if that had gone through the uprights?' It was never secured from the snap, so the difference was that if you caught it cleanly and then it was a drop-kick, you're talking about a different animal then."
You mentioned the Competition Committee. Do you think that home teams have an unfair advantage about seeing replays on the big screen of plays they might want to challenge?
"I think generally the bigger challenge is that when you play a game that's a primetime game, there are more cameras, more angles, more shots. Just after watching the college game this weekend – which I haven't had a chance to do in a long time, the efficiency with which they replay plays was very impressive. It seems – and I understand how we started on this and where we're at now with it – like that's something that I would be in favor of us looking closely at. Forget the JumboTron or the booth feed, generally when I err with a challenge, it's in an aggressive fashion and we don't win it. My concern always is missing one that could have been challenged and changed. That happened with a number of games this weekend; you can look at the Atlanta-Green Bay game. Certainly when you're at home you're able to get that feed, but hopefully you're getting that information from the coaches' box, but that information can maybe be not as quick as you'd like. If the offense comes to the line of scrimmage quickly, often it's what you literally saw on the field. It just seems like the college game has figured it out to some degree of really overturning calls in a quicker and more efficient manner, without having to go through all the things that take place on our level – going underneath the hood, you get two and you get a third one if the first two are correct. That's just my opinion after having a chance to watch three or four college games over the weekend and seeing quickly and efficiently it was done. I think there's concern that it would take longer and I would say that it took shorter in the games that I saw. There wasn't a three-minute delay; it was quickly down to the official and it was very efficient. Right now, I think everyone clearly understands the system but when games are over and there are plays that weren't challenged and could have been and all those things factor in, that becomes an issue."
While we're asking your opinion on things, Jon Gruden brought up on Monday night that he thinks that teams with losing records shouldn't be allowed in the playoffs. Potentially you could be playing at a team with a losing record. How do you feel about that?
"When the season starts, everyone understands what the parameters are for success and how the seeding is done. I think the only thing that has been discussed recently is the matter of seeding, as opposed to a division winner. I think the topic has been the way in which the seeds are handed out. Again, we still have a third of the season left. There's a lot of discussion about that and I think that all of it sorts itself out."
Where did you fall on the topic of a 5-seed with a better record getting to host a 4-seed that was a division winner?
"I don't know if it came to vote as much as it was something that was discussed and tabled. But it is something that has been looked at. They handed out eight or nine years of information where it would have potentially impacted teams that won a division but would have played a road game because of it. I think it all sorts itself out in the end."
Chad Ochocinco reminded us today that he still owes you for tickets from 2006. Was that a rookie hazing thing?
"We're even. He doesn't owe me. It was very simple. My phone rang at the desk one day and I picked it up, which generally I don't. It was a Friday and he was on the other end and said he needed tickets and so we got him the tickets. He has paid me for the tickets so we're in good shape."
What do you think about guys like Ochocinco and Terrell Owens with the big personalities since you don't really have guys like that on your team?
"The personalities in our league vary. At receiver you see a lot of guys that have that flair. The one thing in common when you talk about those two players is that they love football. They enjoy the competition; they enjoy what they do. I think that when you look at our receivers, although their personalities are different, they enjoy it as well. That's just what makes our game interesting and unique. It's just the manner in which they go to work and prepare, but certainly you can tell that they have a love for the game."
Would you like to have those guys on your team?
"You can't help but see when you look at the course of their careers the success that they've had. Those are guys that are explosive and bring a lot to what you do offensively and have had success with playoff teams and winning teams. I like our guys. But we're talking about two very good players; two guys that have played in a lot of Pro Bowls, guys that can run, that have size, that have different strengths and are guys that you have to be very mindful of where they're at on each play and you see that when you put the tape on. That's not just a persona, that's a fact. That's something that's been done over a long period of time."