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Smartest football man in Pittsburgh tackles all of the tough questions

Feisty Steelers savant remains hopeful, but honest.

Q: Let's start with a status-report type of question. Anything foremost on your mind today?

Answer Man: That's pretty broad. Let me think a second. (Pause) I'll start this way. There is a formula that, if this team follows, it could beat anybody anywhere. I have yet to see it actually happen. For example, since the New England game is so fresh, Mike Tomlin referenced this in his post-game, that he told the team about the way the game needed to unfold for them to win based on the reality of their situation, which was no Ben, no Heyward, the other injuries, whatever percentage you have of Shazier, all of those things, no Wheaton, no Marcus Gilbert. And again, I think that when you look at how that New England game unfolded, that was there. The Steelers, in my mind, they commit, still, Steelers-on-Steelers crime. I mean, there's just too much stuff going on like a false start on the play right after your backup quarterback hits A.B. with a big play. The play after your No. 1 pick, who's getting so much heat as a right outside linebacker, comes flying back after a pass completion, drills the receiver, rips the ball out and recovers it. OK? You got some stuff going your way and you false start. Really? I mean, we used to have a coordinator here who used to say 'There are teams that ha've lost championships because they couldn't count to two.' When the snap count is two, it's two. Understand that. And, so, instead of third-and-6, it's third-and-1 and does that interception even get thrown? Or do you give the ball to Le'Veon there? There are too many ifs, and a lot of the ifs, I believe, they can eliminate. It's on them. There's nothing about knowing the snap count -- and I'm just using this as an example because there are other things like this -- but there's nothing about knowing the snap count that you can tell me is difficult in any way -- in a home game! But there's too much of that kind of stuff.

Q: No doubt about that.

AM: You asked a very broad question, but to me it's way too early for that. To me, right now it's: What do you have to do today to beat this team at this site? What you need are the numbers. You need to get into December with numbers that make you relevant because the big-picture questions can be whatever they are, but if you don't have the numbers to be relevant, you're not. It's wins and losses. If you don't have the numbers to be a division champion or compete for homefield advantage or a bye in the playoffs, it won't matter. So my complaint is -- and we already talked about the New England game -- the Miami game, people are talking about whether they were prepared, etc. OK, this is how the game went: The Steelers got the ball first and punted, then the Dolphins got the ball and settled for a red-zone field goal, and the Steelers then went right down the field and scored a touchdown with a two-point conversion, and the Dolphins got the ball and go three-and-out.

Q: So, they weren't prepared?

AM: Right! They were not!

Q: You're being sarcastic, right?

AM: Yes. I am. You have them by the throat. So with 67 seconds left in the first quarter, third-and-10 from the Miami 29, you have Jesse James blocking Cameron Wake. Crap design. It just is. And your veteran quarterback has two things he can't do in that situation, Kent Graham: Don't take a sack!

Q: What's the second one?

AM: Throw a pick!

Q: Yep.

AM: OK, again, these are things I think I'm reasonable to expect; or, of the people that you're asking, unreasonable to expect. And if it's some sort of route that doesn't promote getting the ball out quick, then the design is messed up and it shouldn't be called in that situation. So that's the kind of stuff that needs cleaned up. If they do, this is a really good team. And again, it's not Mike Munchak's fault that Chris Hubbard jumps offsides. You can't blame the head coach for that.

Q: That was a loud sigh. You're not exasperated are you?

AM: No. There's something missing but it doesn't mean it's out of reach, either. There's a lot of football to be played. I remember seasons that ended with parades downtown that had some stretches when I HAD given up, in terms of what I'm watching and what you're telling me is going to happen two to three months from now.

Q: John Mitchell was just mobbed by reporters downstairs and he referenced a four-and-three start that ended in a Super Bowl.

AM: Three and four.

Q: Exactly. I was going to correct him but he was on a roll.

AM: When you look at that particular season (1995), and what was going on then, to be three-and-four, you would think those were fatal flaws. The same thing in '05. What were we, seven-and-five with a couple, three losses in a row? Totally lost their identity? Anyway, nothing is out of reach or impossible, but if you're asking me what I think right now, that's kind of what I'm feeling. I'm feeling a little pissed off at squandered opportunities, because they could've beat New England, they could've beat Miami. Like I said, if it's 11-3, or 15-3, after that second series, what do you think the Dolphins do?

Q: Quit?

AM: Maybe not quit, but they're thinking 'Wow, they're really good.' And then everything rolls for you. But there are times people, I think, are trying to do too much, and the coordinators are trying to make too much of a difference with a call. Certainly in the defensive coordinator's situation, there's really no one he can lean on to make a play, but Haley can at least say that when Ben's playing he has an ice-cold murderer of a quarterback who can hit Sammie Coates on a 74-yard touchdown pass on third-and-6 from our own 24. Butler doesn't have that.

Q: Does that concern you? Has there been that much mis-drafting?

AM: I'm not going to say that. There are too many guys I don't know about yet. I mean, Artie Burns, there's really nothing from him that suggests he isn't what you're going to need him to be. He (laughs) he gets his hands on the ball a lot. It just hasn't happened in the game. Or, when it has, he hasn't been able to hold onto it. Sean Davis, I don't think you can talk about what he is yet. A guy who was supposed to be a difference-maker in the takeaway area is Senquez Golson. He's like Jarvis Jones. I mean, how do you not look at Jarvis Jones coming out of Georgia, led the NCAA in sacks, back-to-back years, against SEC offensive linemen, and this guy cares. I mean, you talk to him.

Q: He cares quite a bit.

AM: Right. I mean, he's not a space cadet, an I-don't-care kind of guy. But, I don't know. Same thing with Senquez Golson, only his thing is injuries. You lose someone, or someone that you picked to alleviate the two very problems that you're having now the most on defense -- sacks and picks. I mean, these are two guys who were very statistically productive in a very high level of competition. I understand that it's a big leap but if you look at what they did, you're expecting some sort of transfer. I don't know that Senquez Golson is going to give you 10 picks in a year, but you would expect him to be someone who's active enough in the short-to-intermediate areas where it maybe complicates some routes and combinations for the offense enough that maybe the quarterback starts thinking of different areas and he's taking a little more chances, maybe holds the ball a little longer, lets the pass rush get there, whatever. It all works hand in hand. So, I don't know that it's over yet, in terms of this ever happening, but there are some things that have happened that I never saw coming. I thought Jarvis Jones, I mean, watching him in college --

Q: But he tested so poorly as an athlete.

AM: I don't care.

Q: With pass-rushers it does matter.

AM: Not with Jason Gildon it didn't.

Q: He was a down lineman in college.

AM: But Jason Gildon did not test well as an athlete. That's my point.

Q: The scheme, though. What do you think of the scheme? It's had to evolve.

AM: Fine. You all can talk about that. I see a lot of talk and chatter about that stuff. I don't think that matters anymore. What makes New England good? What did everybody say about New England's defense last week?

Q: After watching them, I don't know what's good about them.

AM: It's a hybrid.

Q: A lotta hybrid, yeah.

AM: Hey, it's good enough to win with and that's all it has to be. That's my point. It's not an overall picture that you ever want to take. You've only got to beat who you're playing. It's not a standard that you have to play up to. You don't have to be the '85 Bears on defense to win a Super Bowl.

Q: This is a defensive-minded town.

AM: Who cares about that?

Q: I'm just saying why we talk about it.

AM: I prefer to talk about contending for trophies and winning them. That's why they unlock the doors here every morning. I'm not interested in that narrative, really. And it's OK to be interested in it. But for me, that's not something the football team should be concerning itself with. You don't have to be the Seahawks. You don't have to be the '74 Steelers. You just have to be good enough defensively to put together your half of a winning performance enough times with this offense. That's what you need to do. Before Ben was here, it was the other way around. You were looking for the offense to just do its part to help the defense win the game. There's nothing less manly about doing it the other way, or less 'Steeler-like.' It makes no sense to me. So that's what I'm looking for from the defense.

Q: Against New England, I think they showed it's do-able, that it can be done if you don't do stupid things.

AM: Right. It would've certainly been more of a longshot and would've required a much finer attention-to-detail and really performing at a high level in a lot more areas against New England than it would've been against, say, the Dolphins because of the personnel that you did and didn't have in those two games and all of that stuff. But it's there. You can see it. Right now it's very frustrating that it's not happening. I don't know what the answers are but they have to find them in that locker room. There's nowhere else to go. Ladarius Green started practicing this week. So, what. I mean, really. Nothing against the man. Nothing at all. I don't know that situation, the whole of it. Anything that happened to get him to where he is this week that he's just coming off the PUP list, or what kind of impact, I mean, is he going to start against the Ravens? Are you kidding me? And if he does, what do you expect? I'm just using him as an example, but if Ladarius Green is starting at tight end against the Ravens, the tight ends really must have sucked. And I'm not saying it because he sucks. He hasn't taken a snap here. So that's why I'm saying the answer's got to be in that room now.

Q: Isn't Bud Dupree a potential answer in there? You're not going to dump on that parade, too, are you?

AM: Well, I think that if your stomach is empty, and you're walking past the bakery, you're looking at anything. And, again, there's nothing wrong with Bud Dupree. I'm not talking about his pedigree as a player or anything. But you're talking about a guy who had his stomach opened up, what, six weeks ago? Now I'm not saying it was any big, major surgery, but apparently something happened. I saw the photo on Instagram, his Instagram, of him sitting in the hospital bed after it happened, so I'm assuming it did. When you close your eyes and think of Bud Dupree, what do you think? Think about the Bud Dupree highlight reel. And he's going to be that when he comes back?

Q: I really don't have any highlights. There are the four sacks.

AM: OK, to get those.

Q: I remember him hustling after Brady and getting a sack for zero yards.

AM: But you still at least can look at the stats sheet and see four sacks.

Q: There's a guy who tested well, a guy with potential who could all of the sudden get better.

AM: You know who tested really well? Steven Conley. Remember him?

Q: (Laughs) He was a nice guy.

AM: Yeah, I know. But you scouts give me that 'He didn't work out well.'

Q: I don't base everything on that, but it gives you hope. Whereas Jarvis keeps being blocked.

AM: Again--

Q: He has been playing better. I'll give you that.

AM: You're right. He does get blocked, but--

Q: When he's next to Cam, it's not so bad. But when he's next to Ricardo Mathews, who's also being blocked, and it opens a path to Artie, I mean?

AM: Can't we say that about Le'Veon, too? When Heath Miller was leading him around on that counter? Did you see any of those against New England?

Q: I saw Jesse trying one.

AM: Yeah, I saw Jesse trying one too. Again, this is not the bash Jesse James session. It's not the bash Chris Hubbard session. But that's what it is. That's who they are at this time. That's who they are.

Q: You believe there's hope, and I believe there's hope, so let's not bog down in pessimism.

AM: No, because let me tell you this: That New England game, the fact that I'm sitting here telling you that within this building, as that game was unfolding, there was realistic -- I won't say expectation -- but realistic hope that we could've won. Now give me Cam and Ben, ahhh, that's a whole different dynamic. I understand how good New England is. I understand. But there was nothing there that I saw was unbeatable. I mean, Gronk's gonna get his. Gronk's gonna eat. Brady's gonna eat. That's going to happen. But if you keep them under 30? Give me Ben, A.B., Le'Veon, you know. Give me David Johnson coming around on that counter instead of Jesse. It doesn't have to be Heath Miller, but I'll take my chances. There's nothing about that that scares me. This New England team, I mean, in '05 we had to play the Colts there and we played New England here. I understand the difference in venue. But there's nothing about this New England team you saw Sunday that makes you think that they're any more unbeatable in the playoffs than Indianapolis was that year, is there?

Q: True. Probably a little more cheating going on up there.

AM: But what I'm telling you, in that second '05 game, we dominated them. We dominated them. A helmet on the football and a garbage call on an overturn of an interception, I mean, that game was a rout. So, yeah, there's hope. 


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