The Answer Man

The smartest football man in Pittsburgh once again shows off his understanding of the Steelers organization.

Q: This was going to be a more interesting interview about a focus on the problems, but apparently the problems are all fixed.

AM: Well, I wouldn't say that. They were fixable, and they're working towards that. I mean it's not always one end or the other. What problems were you referring to anyway?

Q: The coach had to go. The GM had to go. The owners were even being questioned.

AM: OK, so let's start at the most basic then. This team does what it does. It's been proven to work in different generations. Once it worked when there was no free agency and once it worked when there is. I read on the Internet the other day that the Packers, the great Green Bay Packers, cut their number one draft pick from 2011, which was the year they had to pick 32nd. Gee. I guess it's not that easy drafting 32nd, is it? Those guys just got a contract extension.

Since 2007 to this very moment, there are only three teams in all of football that have a better record than the Steelers: New England, Green Bay and the Colts. OK? Since that time, the Steelers won a Super Bowl; the Packers won a Super Bowl. The Steelers were in two, which is the most of any of those teams.

(Chuckles) Is it really that bad? That's not good enough? That means you should get fired? I'm just going to go by what Joe Greene said from the microphone. No. Go talk to Joe about it.

Q: Put them over the knee?

AM: Put them over the knee and give them a spanking. I mean, love ya, but, seriously.

Q: You weren't offended by the loss to Tampa Bay when the team wasn't prepared?

AM: Oh, absolutely. Hey, man, I've been offended by a lot of things. I sat and watched AFC Championship Games where the team wasn't prepared. I mean, let's remember all. If we want to remember it, let's remember it all. And there's no excuse for that but it happens, and it happens to teams that should be more mature and too talented for those kinds of things. This team is in transition, OK? And if the Pittsburgh Steelers remake their roster to the degree that they have, and get back into the playoffs after the run of success that they had from 2005 through 20010, and only miss the playoffs two years doing that and never go below .500, that's the model. That's not something to complain about. The only team -- the only team -- hey, Indianapolis was 2-14. They picked first in the draft on merit. New England is also a team that has maintained a level of competitiveness at the top of the standings and been to a couple of Super Bowls. Lost them both, but been to a couple of Super Bowls. They're the only one. Everybody else was under .500. Can we understand or accept that that's the way the system was created? It's hard drafting 32nd. It's hard.

(Reaches for reference material) In '06, drafted 32nd, and so in order it was 32nd, 15th, 23rd, 32nd, 18th, 31st, 24th, 17th and 15th. OK, and in doing that over that over that time, you went to two Super Bowls and won one. Only missed the playoffs four times and were never under .500. I mean, let's get the big book out and see who's better at it. Let's see. And again, I'm not saying that mistakes aren't made and you can't be better and you to clean this up. Whatever. But (chuckles) fire people over that?

Who do you get? Who do you get? OK, let's fire the GM. I just laid out what has happened here. Who you going to get to be better than that? Is there some sort of savant somewhere?

Q: They should know the best people, right? The Rooneys should know somebody.

AM: Who's better than Kevin Colbert?

Q: But he's such a mean guy to work with.

AM: (Laughs) That's another thing that's very real here. You're working for the Pittsburgh Steelers here. This is not working for the Packers and a lot of other places. There is a boss here. There is one. And he will be heard in all matters when it suits him. That is it. I don't know. Just about every business really is like that. There's some notion that grew in football that the coach needs to be deciding what music is played on the scoreboard during timeouts of games, you know, that concept of the totally in-charge guy. That's not here. Kevin Colbert is not Mike Tomlin's boss. Kevin Colbert cannot fire Mike Tomlin. Mike Tomlin cannot fire Kevin Colbert. That's what it is and that's what works here. That has always worked here. Then the boss at the end makes the call. So there's that. And it makes this place unique. Again, you can say you don't like it. People looking at this can say 'That's not the right way to do it. It's stupid.' Whatever. Everybody can have their opinion on that, but what I'm telling you is look it up. Look it up and look it up league-wide and tell me something that works better. Sports is not about giving the fans what they want all the time. You cannot fulfill expectations with performance on the field all the time. You try and compete, and you stick to your business plan, and you kind of do things the best way you can. But the vitriol is just ... (chuckles) Joe Greene, you can take over for me here.

Hey, this is a guy who played it, he coached it, he worked in personnel. He knows what it's about, the effort and work that goes into these things. You miss some. You do. But, again, that doesn't mean that you throw everything away and start over. Like I said, it's a pretty good system. History has shown it to be.

Q: The turnaround this season, is that because the young players stepped up?

AM: No. It's because that you can't evaluate it at 3-3. You know, that's part of it, too. This is still the entertainment business. The whole hype machine needs to be in high gear. You need the TV ratings. There's more to the NFL than just watching video and counting play participations and doing that (stuff) that Pro Football Focus does. There is that. That's part of it. But make no mistake, the NFL is not about just that. I mean, the football people think it is, but it's not. OK, so, yeah, there's a lot of analysis and prognostication and all of that stuff that goes on. And that's fine. It can. But, if you want to talk about what's real, what's real is you can't say what a team is after 3-3, or six games. You can't. You can guess, and maybe you're right, but that's what it is, it's a guess. It's playing the stock market. Which stocks are going to rise? And which stocks have reached their peak? When do I sell? When do I buy? You can do OK at that, but you're going to be wrong. You have to be.

Everybody wants it to be black and white right now. Right now. I want to know right now, 3-3. Everything's definitive: You stink, you're great, whatever; fire you, build a statue, whatever. But it's not like that. So you can't do this business checking your timeline on Twitter, because what's going on there really has no bearing on what needs to happen here. That would be my advice for players, too, but they're young and they grew up with this. But reacting to social media or message boards, that's for other people to do if they care to. I think that nothing is gained by that inside these walls.

Q: So what has accounted for Ben Roethlisberger's gigantic leap forward?

AM: I think everybody's getting more comfortable with everybody else. And maybe everybody trusts everybody else now, in terms of being open-minded. I think you have a coaching staff on offense that is together more than you have had in years here, probably since (Ken) Whisenhunt was here as the coordinator. Todd Haley and (Mike) Munchak are of the same mind on a lot of things. That helps. James Saxon, Richard Mann -- Richard Mann is an old-school fundamentals guy, and with what you have in there that's kind of what you need. You need somebody to teach them how to play. Antonio Brown is an obvious exception, but he's such a maniacal worker you can just leave him alone in that respect. But the other guys, they need some direction in some basics. So, I like the coaching staff on offense. And Ben's a pretty good player (chuckles). I think the way the game is legislated now, if you are open to the quick-game stuff, that's what it is in this league now on offense. If you get it out quick, you tire them out, they get frustrated, it allows you to do a lot of other things. It neuters the pass rush.

Go get the film of the opposing offenses against the Steelers' defense. What were they doing? Getting the ball out quick, running the outside zone. I mean, going back to (Bill) Cowher I never understood when he would talk about the problems a mobile quarterback presents to a defense and why none of that was ever integrated with Kordell Stewart. That doesn't make any sense to me. Everybody's grown up a little bit, and I don't mean that in a negative, adolescent kind of way. I mean growing up in this altogether. The offensive linemen are an example. They all kind of came here at around the same time. They all got their ass kicked, in terms of 'You guys stink' or whatever, took some lumps, had some injuries, got through all of that, and now they're grown up together. I think that is helping.

Q: Kind of like the way Haley and Roethlisberger have grown up together. I don't think either one of them care who's calling what. They both just want to make it work.

AM: I don't know that it's either one or the other of them, either, which to me is OK, too.

Q: Don't you sense that neither has an ego anymore?

AM: One of the things I've kind of learned over time, there's a lot of Kumbaya sung when you're winning. You know what I mean? There just is. So to me what this shows is it shows everybody -- players, coaches, front-office people, fans, media -- that this can work. This can work. Now you don't have to worry about anything except working on it, because you know it can work. So now it's not 'What do we think of this offense?' It's 'Everybody work on their job to be the best that you can be' because what the (stink), 14 touchdown passes and no interceptions and a three-game winning streak over three teams that at the time were all in playoff contention.

The Colts. Everybody's talking about the Colts again. They beat the (stuff) out of the Giants and everybody's saying 'Oh, they're great.' They got their (butt) kicked here. Again, I'm not saying this is a Super Bowl team, but what has happened is everybody sees this can work. This can work. (Dick) LeBeau knows what he's doing when guys are in the right spot and they understand it. There's nothing wrong with the scheme. Understand it and execute it and it's OK. Obviously there are places you need to get better. You need better players. Do you know how good the scheme would be if you could put Woodson and Lake back in the secondary? There's nothing wrong with the scheme, and it can work. So now, to me, what this team has accomplished is everybody should know that it can work. Now we just try and do it as well as we can.

Q: You said you were not saying it's a Super Bowl team, but I don't hear you saying it's not a Super Bowl team.

AM: No, and I wouldn't do that because this is the NFL. I mean, anything is possible. Who's any good? Who? And that's another thing that a lot of Steelers fans might not spend a whole lot of time doing. How many Steelers fans know what's going on in San Francisco right now?

Q: I don't even know.

AM: There are things going on with teams, those that your perception of them is 'Wow, they're really good. Couldn't beat them.' Well, let's watch a little bit. They're not that good and they are dysfunctional. Pete Carroll, man, he had the big Delta Chi house up there last year when he was breaking stuff and just having a great old time. Now, they're on double secret probation.

Q: I do think Denver has a much better defense this year.

AM: Didn't look so good last week. That was pretty ugly. They're really good at home, Denver. So is Indianapolis. Not so good on the road. So I don't know. I would be very surprised if the Steelers even won the division -- pleasantly surprised. I think that this can be a playoff team. I think that's a reasonable way of looking at it. And who knows? Maybe the way that AFC picture shapes up when you end up with, what, 9-7, 10-6 kind of record, maybe that gets you in as a division champion as opposed to a wildcard team. I don't know what's going to happen with the Bengals, etc., going down the stretch, but I think this can be a playoff team. I think that that's a hell of an accomplishment.

Q: And then with this quarterback, anything can happen.

AM: Right. Right. Look at Ben's performance against the Colts two weeks ago, and this is not a statistical comparison in any way, but to me it's an impact comparison: The '05 division-round game in Indianapolis, Ben's stats were middling looking. But, early, when the Steelers took control of that game -- or I should say when they took control away from the 14-2, Peyton Manning Colts who played that year in the dome, get the lead, turn your defense loose with the piped-in noise, and just bury the opponent, well that doesn't work when the other quarterback completes 11 of the first 14 and takes his team into the end zone, bang, bang, and you're down 14-0 real fast. Impact. That's what he had, and that's what he is having now, an impact. He has that capability and I'll tell you this: If he keeps playing like this, like he has against Houston and the Colts and the Ravens, can't lose. You can't lose. You just don't.


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