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Coach Talk: Interpreting Marvin Lewis' pre-Week 1 press conference

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Marvin Lewis gave us a chance to look at his words from a different perspective with two press conferences this week

NFL: Preseason-Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals
Marvin Lewis gives us 2 press conferences to digest
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

This week Marvin Lewis graced us with two press conferences. This time around we look at Lewis’ skill of saying something without directly saying it. Such a skill is one that he has had years to master as a head coach for over a decade. Let’s take a look...

Lewis’ opening comments: On offense they have added a lot of parts from other places around the league...

Taking a deeper look at Lewis’ comments: This is a pretty masterful stroke by Lewis, pointing out that the Jets are inept at drafting offensive players.

Over the last four years the Jets have drafted four quarterbacks (Geno Smith, Tajh Boyd, Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg), including burning a pair of second round picks. And still, their quarterback situation was such a mess that they had to turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick yet again.

Over that same four year period, the Jets have drafted 17 offensive players. Only one of them, Brian Winters, has turned into a starter for the Jets. Many of the others didn’t even become top backups for the team.

Looking at the Jets’ starters, you’ll notice that the Broncos have actually drafted more offensive starters for the Jets than the Jets have drafted for themselves. And the Bears have drafted just as many as the Jets:

  • QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick (Rams)
  • RB: Matt Forte (Bears)
  • WR: Brandon Marshall (Broncos)
  • WR: Eric Decker (Broncos)
  • TE: Kellen Davis (Bears)
  • LT: Ryan Clady (Broncos)
  • LG: James Carpenter (Seahawks)
  • C: Nick Mangold (Jets)
  • RG: Brian Winters (Jets)
  • RT: Ben Ijalana (Colts)

Lewis sums it up with the innocent sounding comment that they have added a lot of parts from other places.

Jacksonville Jaguars v New York Jets Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Lewis’ opening comments (continued): It’s a special opportunity to go to New York to do the opener on the anniversary of 9/11...

Taking a deeper look at Lewis’ comments: Essentially Lewis is saying he is glad the Bengals did not draft Colin Kaepernick – for more than just football reasons. But Lewis says this without actually coming out and directly saying it. Remembering back 15 years ago, after the events of 9/11, the NFL cancelled Week 2 of the 2001 season (moved to the end of the regular season). When football returned in Week 3 it was filled with red, white, and blue patriotic pride on the field and in the stands. No doubt, MetLife Stadium will be filled with symbols of patriotism on this anniversary, and Lewis, like most coaches, wants to focus on the game.

New England Patriots v New York Giants Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Interview question: Ryan Fitzpatrick had a pretty good finish for you in 2008. Can you talk about that, and how it may have affected 2009, even though he wasn’t here then?

Lewis’ comments: I think the thing that Ryan did was, once he settled in at quarterback, we got better as a football team...

Taking a deeper look at Lewis’ comments: Lewis does a good job of correcting a foolish question without making the interviewer look foolish. Fitzpatrick played 12 games for the Bengals in 2008. In the first six games he had a 63% completion percentage, averaged 175 passing yards per game, and completed five passing touchdowns. Over his last six games he only completed 55% of his passes for 143 yards per game, with three touchdowns. Apparently the interviewer thinks getting worse constitutes a “pretty good finish” for Fitzpatrick. Lewis corrects the interviewer, pointing out that the TEAM got better. They started 1-4-1 with Fitzpatrick, but finished 3-3 with Fitzpatrick, but that was only because they took the ball out of Fitzpatrick’s hands. See his nine attempt game in Week 15 as evidence of this.

Jacksonville Jaguars v New York Jets Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Interview question: Has there been any evolution to his game that you’ve seen?

Lewis’ comments: His first opportunity to ever play was here, which led to a lot of other opportunities for him, which he’s made good on.

Taking a deeper look at Lewis’ comments: Sometimes revisionist history is our favorite kind. Since Fitzpatrick has become an NFL starter, it’s understandable that Lewis would want to claim some credit for this as the coach who gave him his chance. But one has to overlook the 135 pass attempts he had for the Rams in 2005 – three years before he got his “first” opportunity, as Lewis claims.

Ryan Fitzpatrick fumbles vs. Ravens
Fitzpatrick played his first NFL game for the Bengals?

Interview question: Does he still extend plays as effectively?

Lewis’ comments: Yes he still does. He’s a guy that can still move, and move around and up in the pocket. He’s one you always have to stay conscious of.

Taking a deeper look at Lewis’ comments: Will Clarke and Margus Hunt will play sparingly. Both are players who struggle with play awareness, and a quarterback who can move is not a good fit for a defensive lineman who struggles to get to a stationary one. Again Lewis shows masterful tact, by saying this without actually saying this.

Indianapolis Colts v Cincinnati Bengals
Margus Hunt to spend Sunday on the sidelines?
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Interview question: The Jets blitzed often last year. Does it take a certain level of experience for quarterbacks to read teams that blitz a lot, and catch them on it?

Lewis’ comments: You don’t catch them. You have to be able to hold the football long enough and do the things that give you the opportunity to win the one-on-one matchup somewhere...somebody is going to be one-on-one. It’s up to the offensive football team to figure it out and then have the opportunity to deliver the football in that position... there’s a perceived strength and weakness to everything that you do.

Taking a deeper look at Lewis’ comments: Lewis’ answer really carries two separate messages. The first, more obvious message is that basically any defense is beatable if you recognize what the defense is doing, and execute the appropriate countermeasures.

His second message takes a deeper digging to understand. What Lewis is pointing out is one of the aspects of the NFL game that separates good quarterbacks from the rest of the pack, and why Pro Days and measurable are pointless tools in quarterback evaluation. A quarterback needs to recognize the defensive formation, interpret what it means for his offense, check into the correct play and determine which receivers will be primary targets, and execute at game speed. Combines and Pro Days are fun for media pundits to have talking points, but totally useless in evaluating any of these aspects.

New York Jets v Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton reading the Jets’ defense and finding the opening
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Interview question: Matt Forte leads the NFL in total yards from scrimmage since he’s been in the league. Is he a player you keep an eye on?

Lewis’ comments: He is...

Taking a deeper look at Lewis’ comments: Obviously the question is rather ridiculous. Why would the defense not keep an eye on the opposing team’s starting running back. Granted at age 30, Forte isn’t exactly Todd Gurley, but you don’t tell your defense to completely ignore any opposing player. Lewis is able to give an accurate answer without making the questioner come across as asinine.

New York Giants v New York Jets
Will the Bengals be looking for Matt Forte, or ignoring him?
Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

Interview question: What does an opening win on the road do for the team?

Lewis’ comments: It makes you 1-0...

Taking a deeper look at Lewis’ comments: Sometimes the best answer is the obvious answer.

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns
Bengals winning on the road
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Interview question: What do you tell your guys to prepare for the away openers?

Lewis’ comments: We’ve prepared. We spend a lot of time. Our guys understand it.

Taking a deeper look at Lewis’ comments: If you notice, Lewis does not answer the question regarding what he tells the players. It’s a polite way of saying “none of your darned business.”