I guess we've diagnosed it as a sports hernia at this point. He is going to go in tomorrow to see the doctor and have some laparoscopic surgery done and the application of some mesh that will hopefully allow him to feel better. The time frame for this basically is we're looking at him being out definitely the next couple weeks. And then we have the bye week and we'll see where he is at that point. That's the time frame. I would not say there's been any kind of misdiagnosis on it. I think these are very hard things to diagnose. We've tried to use a very conservative approach with him by shutting him down and trying to bring him back slowly. But we just feel at this point that this is the best thing to do for his standpoint and also for ours.
Tommy (Maddox) is also out for this game, and there are three players who are probable for this game: Hines Ward (wrist), Duce Staley (toe) and Travis Kirschke (mid-foot). So really we're pretty healthy for the most part going in.
This will be a big game for us. We're playing a Cleveland team that's been in every game. They won their two home games, lost their two on the road, playing Dallas very good. Both the teams they lost to have one loss. I think you're looking at a team that came in here a year ago and beat us pretty good at our place.
Was Duce diagnosed with a concussion when he game out?
He was just a little groggy but he's fine. He passed all the tests, him and Ben (Roethlisberger) both. There's no concussion on either one of them.
How's the right side of your offensive line playing?
They're doing fine. They're getting better all the time. That's the biggest thing. You see them working together, making calls. So much of that is working with one another and sometimes having to feel things, like where the other guy's going to be. There's so much continuity that's developed with an offensive line that the longer they play together the more comfortable they'll become. … I just think they're getting better each week and they both had solid games last weekend.
How's the offensive coordinator doing?
We've got some guys who are playmakers. Like I said you want to keep everyone involved. I think 82 is pretty good with the ball in his hands and you try to get the ball in his hands as much as possible. Kenny (Whisenhunt) has done a very good job of developing a mindset within our offense that's utilizing the people we have and trying to keep everybody involved and it's not an easy chore to do. I've watched Plax (Burress) and Hines, the way those guys block, I mean those guys have certainly been unselfish in their efforts week in and week out to doing all the little things. And Antwaan Randle El is just a special player. You give him touches so that you give him an opportunity at some point to break one. Like I said, there was a play the other day that didn't work but if it would've worked you would've said 'Great call.'
Was it a challenge for Kenny with the change at quarterback?
It's been a challenge for everybody. Kenny's done a good job. Mark (Whipple) has done a good job working with Ben, being patient with him. I think our players have done a very good job, too. You lose a guy like Tommy, and the rapport he's developed the last couple years with Plax and Hines and El, now you're coming in with a young player. There's a degree of patience you have to have with that and they've done that. There's a patience that has to exist between not just coaches and players but players and players. I think we all understand that. The one thing I've liked about this team to this point is it's been a very unselfish team. They've done whatever you've asked them to do, accepted roles. Certainly a lot of them would like to have expanded roles but that's not the way it is right now and it can change week to week. But I like the mindset they have and the unselfish approach that they've taken.
What does being in first place after four games mean to you?
How are you forcing so many turnovers?
It's hard to say. Those things come in bunches. We played four preseason games and I don't know if we had a takeaway. There was talk about concern. Now all of the sudden - and we've left a lot out there too. Travis Kirschke must've hit the ball about six times before he dropped it. Joey (Porter) had two in his hands. James (Farrior) had one he dropped the other night against Miami. There were a couple balls on the ground against Oakland. I think what's happening is they're playing fast, and you have speed out there, and so consequently you're seeing some balls being tipped, some balls on the ground, players are consciously trying to strip the ball, not at the expense of missing tackles and that's the one thing I like, the judgment that's being used in those situations. We're coming up with some big plays. We've given up some yards. We've played pretty good red-zone defense, and I think those are the factors that are important. I've always said with defense, the number one goal is to take the ball away in one play. That's your main goal. Secondly, it's to try to keep them from scoring and hold them to field goals when they get down there. The third thing people can look at is yardage because that will probably be indicative of areas that you have that are weaknesses and maybe areas that are strengths.
Can you have a special season if the players keep on the path to success?
We need a special week, and I mean that. We've just got to worry about this week. Everything else will take care of itself. We have to play better than what we've been playing. We're winning football games. We're doing what we have to do at times when we have to do it. We have not played very consistently through the course of this first month in any one phase. There are a lot of things we have to do a better job of. They know that. They understand that. We're still growing. The only thing we've got to worry about is this week.
How different are the Browns with Jeff Garcia at QB?
Playmaker. He's going to challenge your discipline. He can improvise with the best of them. He's not always looking to run to run, but he'll look to run to throw. He'll do a little bit of both. He's a guy who's been to Pro Bowls and he's won a lot of games in this league. And he's got a good collection of skilled players around him. Getting Lee Suggs back gave them a big lift last week. They've got William Green and Lee Suggs. Those are two contrasting backs but they're both very, very productive backs.
How are they shutting down good running backs?
Playing very sound defense. If you play the Cleveland Browns you'd better be very patient. They're not going to beat themselves. They're rarely out of position. They've got very good team speed. And they create a lot of turnovers. They create some indecision. They can create some impatience on offense. You could say they don't have a collection of great talent but they play hard and they're making plays. It will test our patience and our persistence because they're not going to beat themselves. We're going to have to make sure we take a patient manner-like approach to this ball game.
How much better is Larry Foote since the preseason?
Larry's played very well. He's played very solid. He's had a lot of playing time. Unfortunately, since Kendrell's gone down he's stepped in with James from the second preseason game on. They've played a lot together. You never want to lose a player but if it's going to happen you'd like to have it in the preseason so you can have groups start to work with one another because you still have to develop that continuity. It's like in the offensive line and the secondary. You've got to have guys work together and talk together and that's true throughout your football team. So it was good from that standpoint that he was able to work a lot with James, and really from Game One he's played very, very well. He's been very solid. He's made plays for us. He's been a good football player for us. He's been very productive.
Your safeties rank very high on your team in tackles. Is that good?
They were making way too many tackles the other day. That was not a good thing. But I will say this about those guys: They can run. You see them around the ball. Troy (Polamalu) is everywhere. A play that really stands out in my mind is we ran a blitz and he was supposed to be in a hook. Carson Palmer scrambled the other way and (Troy) came from a hook position, 12 or 13 yards deep, and ran him down out of bounds. I looked up and it was second and 10. This guy, he can run. Another time he thought Rudi Johnson was going over there, so (Troy) ran behind the line to meet him there, well Rudi came back to where (Troy) left from and got about eight yards, so sometimes patience is a little bit of a virtue that you have to be able to apply. So there's a fine line again there with him in terms of slowing him down at necessary times but allowing him to be a free-flowing active guy. But those two guys have been involved in a lot of plays. And Chris (Hope) needs to do that. I told him a couple weeks ago he should make one or two big hits a game. That's what a free safety needs to do is make their presence felt and really he's done that the last couple games.
Being in first place means nothing now. Is that a message you had to give to your team and was it a tough thing to do with young players?
No, I don't think so. I think it's probably a little easier with young players because they're just trying to get better. Yesterday when I talked to them it wasn't the case. Is there more excitement this morning because Baltimore lost? Oh, geez. But, my gosh, we're four games into a 16-game season. There's so much football. The only thing we have to focus on right now is this game because we do have to play better. We're not to the point where we can start looking at all the other peripheral things because it will take away from the focus that needs to be done on us executing better on all three phases.
Don't you feel better that so many young players are getting on-the-job training and you're still winning games?
There's no question. One of the things that's glaring to me is the last two games we've had 12 penalties in both those games. There is a fine line between being aggressive but we have to be a little more disciplined and that has bothered me. At the same time, winning a football game breeds confidence and you can overcome some things. One of the things we did the other day for the first time this year was we came from behind. We were behind 7-0 in the first quarter and 17-14 late in the third quarter, and that's big. You get behind in this league and there's a tendency to think, 'Oh, boy, here we go again.' Even though it wasn't a big come-from-behind victory, it was very important in taking the next step in being a team that expects to win, finds ways to win, and when the game is on the line finds ways to make plays. The last couple weeks we have done that. We maybe have squandered some opportunities in the first three quarters but when the fourth quarter has come along we've played pretty solid football and that's when the game a lot of times is in balance. Certainly it's no excuse for what takes place the first three quarters, but that's the ebb and flow of the game. That happens. There are pretty good teams we're playing too.
Is that the case with Ben since you've got the mandate of him managing the game instead of doing too much himself?
Part of managing the game is not handcuffing him. Managing the game means he may have to lead us on a drive and take the game into your own hands. That's what the quarterback does and to an extent the last couple weeks he's done that. But it doesn't have to happen right away. Sometimes it doesn't happen right away. Sometimes you do come out the gates and boom you score on the first drive. But there will be some situations that come up. Each situation becomes a learning experience. At the end of the first half last week, I wish we had that second call back. That was not a good call on my part. But we talked to him about what we were thinking about doing in that situation so we could all learn. You still grow as coaches, grow as players, you're sharing and you're having a back-and-forth rapport. It's part of the growing process.
Does it surprise you where Ben is in those terms?
Everyone keeps talking about surprise. He's our quarterback. I'm not reflecting on what should be or shouldn't be. We need to go out and win football games. We'll talk about everything when all's said and done. He's our guy. And we've got to keep rolling with it and learning from it and growing from it.
What does the Patriots' win streak say in this day and age?
It's amazing. What they've done up there, what Bill Belichick has done, is phenomenal. It says a lot. It's obviously a very special group of players they have. I think it speaks volumes. They seem to win every which way. We get an opportunity to play them in another month or so. But I think it does speak a lot. It's a hard thing to do in this business. They're certainly setting a model about what teams are trying to accomplish.
Have you noticed Marvel Smith's extra work from being injured paying off?
Well, Marvel, I've never noticed him approach anything any differently. He's just a workmanlike kind of player. He's had a very solid year to this point. Like I said, Marvel doesn't speak often. Very quiet in voice but speaks very loudly with his play. He's had a very solid season.
Does the return of Suggs change the way you approach defending the Browns?
I don't know if it changes how we would approach it. I don't think it changes them. I just think he gives them a dimension. He's more of a speed guy than William Green is. You can't underestimate how fast he is in terms of angles you may have to take when he hits a corner. It's not like he bounces it out to try to get outside. He's still a slasher. He's a very explosive kind of guy. William is more of a punishing type of guy. So it's more of an awareness that you would have.
Has Verron Haynes earned more opportunities?
I think Verron's a very solid player. He's another guy who's accepted his role. We feel good about what he brings to this football team, not just on offense but in the kicking game. I think he had three or four tackles the other day. He's a solid guy. That's a good group of backs that we have and they've all kind of accepted a role at this point, not that it couldn't change. But I think all of them have been very productive.
Are they calling pass interference too closely?
It depends if we get it called against us or for us. I don't know. I know it was a point of emphasis. Those are judgment calls and you've got to live with it.
Randle El has been more effective as a kick returner than punt returner. Has he changed his style?
Nah. Nah. Nah. Punt returns, I'm telling you, punt returns it's hard to say. Kick returns are a timed play. You know pretty much what it's going to be. Punts can be short and Randle's done a great job, really, of catching a bunch of punts before they bounced and they've negated his yardage. And then we've had some good returns but we've had guys use bad judgment with penalties. We've had too many penalties on punt returns. That's what I tell these guys: Why would you even think about hitting a guy in the back when you've got Randle El back there. He's going to make a guy miss anyway. I'm just going to keep saying it. I'm not going to stop until these guys get it in their heads.
Has he changed his kick return style?
I don't think so. We've blocked it pretty well. The big return we had after they scored was huge. We did a great job of executing that return. I don't even think he got touched until the 45-yard line and the kicker made the tackle. We've done a good job. We really have. I think Jeff (Reed) has kicked the ball well on kickoffs; we've done a good job on our returns on kickoffs; we had a better net punt the other day than the opponent did. We just haven't had those big plays that I think we're accustomed to, and that we expect to have. We've just got to keep plugging away. El didn't get a lot of those things last year till late in the season.
Would you support a rule change that if pass interference was committed in the end zone, it would be a 15-yard penalty?
Fresh off the last week, no. No, I don't know. Let's just see where it goes. You're going back to the college rule and I've never been a proponent of that. My concern is a guy that's beat poorly you'll teach him to interfere because the penalty's not as severe.
What if it applied only to the end zone?
Those things never have a way of passing. Your concept sounds good; I'd really have to think about it. Right now I couldn't answer you; it doesn't sound that bad. But are you promoting more interference? That's my initial thought to your suggestion, but certainly it's worthy of conversation. Let's see how many are called this year as compared to years past. There seems like a lot more four games into it, but let's see how the 16-game numbers pan out.