Q: OK, the Steelers are 3-1 at the quarter pole. Would you describe yourself as satisfied? Or maybe even elated?
A: I'm going to be honest with you, the loss to the Ravens, I mean, 3-1 as a number is fine, it's great, but I can make the case that 1-3 and beating the Ravens is better down the road than 3-1 and losing to them. Those two NFC teams don't matter at all in the tiebreakers. So we're 1-1 in the AFC right now, with a loss to a division team. I'd rather be 1-1 in the AFC right now, with a win over a division team. If you go 5-1 in the division, I think that wins the division, and then that's a home game in the playoffs and whatever happens happens. I'm not by any means saying this is a disaster and the season's over, but losing to the Ravens, even at 3-1, is not something I'm willing to slough off.
Q: So you chose none of the above. What irritates you most about the Ravens game?
A: The giveaway. I understand you're playing without your quarterback and all that stuff, but Steelers-Ravens, to me, is a rivalry in which you really should throw out the records. That cliché is true. If you look at the Ravens, they played like garbage the week before. Then against the Steelers, focus is everything and it becomes, just by nature, a tight game. The history of the rivalry is that. So Steelers-Ravens, I thought that not having Ben (Roethlisberger) was certainly a handicap, but by nature of the rivalry, you play the games to beat that team that one time. I thought the Steelers had enough to get that done. Eleven penalties? (Mike) Tomlin said you want to play physical but if you're getting penalized you kill yourself. And the thing that bothered me the most – and this to me represented what kind of total team failure it was – were the two takeaways in the third quarter. On the first, the offense actually lost ground and on fourth-and-14 he missed a field goal. On the next, the only positive yards gained – after either turnover – came off a hard count by the quarterback when the Ravens jumped offside, and then he missed another field goal. So the offense and special teams failed in those situations after the defense set them up, and then that sets you up at the end of the game when they only had to go 40 yards on your defense and you lose. Again, I thought it was a game they gave away.
Q: It seems like everyone wants to blame someone, or offense or defense. Do you fall into that?
A: Well, certainly right after the game you do. That's just the way it is. It's a frustrating thing. You've invested a lot in this thing. You're angry, first of all. So, yeah, that's a natural blame thing. The two guys who false-started right before the two-minute warning, those are the two guys that bothered me. In the grand scheme of all the mistakes that were made, pinning it on those two guys seems ridiculous but that's where my head was. So, yeah, you can play that a little bit. It goes away quick, or it needs to if you're going to analyze it with any merit.
Q: Did you take any positives from that game? Or a better question, how would you assess this team at the quarter-pole?
A: There's a lot to like about this team at this point in the season. Number one is Troy (Polamalu) is still healthy. Let's not underestimate this anymore. That particular discussion can be put to bed forever, how important he is. And (Lawrence) Timmons has been playing to the level I hoped we would see from him. Rashard Mendenhall is playing to the level I hoped we would see from him. (Maurkice) Pouncey, he is so far above that level already that, I don't know, and he won't and has no chance, but he should be in the argument for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Q: Talk to people who watch this team every day and you'll hear that conversation.
A: I know, but without any statistics the voters will never vote for him. But the offensive line as a unit, beyond Pouncey, has been – I wouldn't say better than I expected – but a pleasant development. I really like the new coach. I think he's good for this particular makeup of players in that he's a teacher. He shows them how to do things instead of just telling them what needs to be done. And –
Q: Sorry to interrupt, but while you're on the offensive line, do you think it's a matter of Pouncey making others look better?
A: There could be some of that, but Flozell (Adams) I think has been very, very serviceable. He hasn't stood out in any kind of negative way. With (Doug) Legursky, the right guard play has been fine. Max (Starks) is Max. Sixty-eight (Chris Kemoeatu) learned to count to two.
Q: Are you sure about that?
A: His inconsistency, I don't know how much longer – if it was my determination – I don't know that I could put up with that. I would rather have someone there give me something I could expect on every play. Yes, he looks spectacular when he's blowing up two or three defenders on the move, yet he's jumping the snap count and costing me a tough 3-yard gain against the Ravens' run defense in the last two minutes while I'm trying to kill the clock to win the game. But I'm pleased with the unit as a group. It was by necessity that those other guys had to play against Tennessee and/or Tampa Bay. Everybody played, and they played different positions, sometimes on the fly. I think that experience, and getting those guys in the game like that, and having some success, only helps you down the road when you have injuries.
Q: My concern with the team is wide receiver opposite Mike Wallace. I realize this kind of condemns Hines Ward, but I think of him as the third receiver. So I'm concerned about the lack of speed opposite Wallace. Are you?
A: I think all of this changes once you add Ben back. Hines Ward without Ben is old and slow. Hines Ward with Ben is a guy who, with Ben's ability to put the ball places that can give him a chance to make a play, I think he'll become more of what we've come to see from him in the recent past. I mean, people who watch video, and get paid to do it, told me he was open all over the place against the Ravens – all over the place. For whatever reason, Charlie (Batch) wasn't looking at him, or he got flushed, or it wasn't a throw he was comfortable attempting, or whatever. So I'm not so worried about that. Look at Indianapolis' receivers. If you take Peyton Manning out of the game, how good is Austin Collie? I don't know. But that's the thing to me: If you have one of those top-five quarterbacks I think you're in good shape. The Patriots won two Super Bowls with Troy Brown, David Patten and Deion Branch. None of them are in any danger anytime soon of getting any Hall of Fame votes.
Q: Speaking of No. 7, people are writing that there could be problems re-integrating him in the locker room. Do you buy any of that?
A: No. I don't think that ever was a factor down there. I don't know that NFL players view other players' conduct, personal conduct, because I personally heard some guys just discussing those kinds of situations that Ben found himself in, and some have said, ‘but there for the grace of God go I,' or ‘that could've been me.' All the rest of it is on the field. Seriously. These guys are professionals. This isn't some college fraternity where they all hang out. Yes, you need to have a professional rapport, and some guys are friends, but I don't think it has to be a Kumbaya thing down there every Monday. That's really not what it is. You have guys from various backgrounds and parts of the country, all that stuff, so expecting all of this fraternity atmosphere, it's just not real. Now winning, if you start winning and playing well, then all of that takes care of itself. If Ben goes out against the Browns and throws 3 touchdown passes, his performance is going to speak. If he was such a bad guy, why didn't that matter in '08?
Q: Might you see this team, in the long run, benefitting from his suspension?
A: Oh, absolutely. Hey, look, they're professional athletes and therefore they're in a very minute percentile of people who are capable of doing what they're doing. But yet there are insecurities there as well. What I think these four games showed everybody is that no one individual is irreplaceable. I don't want this to sound like ‘Ben needs to be taught a lesson,' but maybe it wasn't so much Ben, maybe it was the coaching staff that needed to see they could win three out of four without him. It doesn't have to be everything about Ben all the time in terms of how they approach an opponent. I think that that's good. I also think that the guys who are responsible for putting that 3-1 record together also know that ‘whew, that was a struggle.' So I think in that way it kind of let everyone know they need each other. Ben knows he needs the rest of the team and the team knows they need Ben if they really want to win a championship. Here, that's all that really matters. Three and one at the bye might excite a lot of people in Cleveland or in some of those other places, but here you're 0-1 in the division. How does that get you where you want to go?
Again, there are some good things. I think it opened up eyes, not only that you don't have to revolve around the quarterback all the time, but you don't have to throw it all the time. I mean, what's been established in the first four games is that either this running game has to be respected by opponents in the future or you can use it to punish them if they don't. It can put up the numbers. It scored two rushing touchdowns against the Ravens. Look that up. When's the last time that happened? They found out there was something else in the drawer that they could use.