If you go by coach Cowher's definition, that until it is a game that eliminates you from playoff contention or from the playoffs it's not a must game, but think it is a must game for a number of reasons. First of all, because there were these great expectations coming into this season, they lose versus Kansas City, they lose versus Tennessee, that's acceptable. You can live with that. Those are two good football teams. You figure if you win the ones that you are supposed to, you split the ones you are questionable about, and you get lucky about one that nobody picks you to win, then you're going to have a pretty darn good football season. The fact that they lost to Cleveland, they lost convincingly and embarrassingly, that gives you kind of a mental thing to overcome, George. So I think "yes" this is a must win for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their backs are against the wall and they play better in situations like this. So, I'm going to say yes, must game.
GVB: Looking at some of the things that transpired, a lot of publicity in the papers about Hines Ward getting up in an offensive meeting and talking to the offense, giving them a pep talk. I guess Jason Gildon, who was on the defense and wasn't part of that, didn't particularly appreciate what was said. Is there some finger-pointing going on or is this blown out of proportion?
TI: I think it is blown out of proportion. But to be honest with you, if I'm Jason Gildon and that's the offensive meeting, it's none of my business. Because here's the deal… in offensive football, unlike defensive football, if what Hines did was just to stand up and challenge everybody to do the best that they can, to make sure that they are doing the mental prep, going over the plays and making sure you understand the game plan and what's happening, watch extra tape and work on technique, those are things you got to do. If you're not in tune with what's happening, if there's any question mark in your mind on what you're supposed to do on a given play, you may block that right guy but that indecision will cause hesitation and that hesitation will cause a broken play. So, it is incumbent upon everybody on the offense to know exactly what's going on and know what the blitz tendencies are. For instance, if this defensive team blitzes in the red zone, when you cross the 20 you better start going, "Okay, everybody be looking for a blitz." Steelers have these tendencies. They always know what their opponents do. It is very important that if I have these tips that are provided for me by the coaching staff, I need to study and be aware of them. I think that's what you do, especially in one of these player-only meetings, you challenge each other because there's an accountability that comes from one player to another that doesn't happen between coach and player. It's very easy for a player to turn a coach off with the coach is given them ‘the let's get better' challenge. But if you and me, George, are teammates and you tell me, "Hey Tunch, you better make sure your doing everything you can and I'm going to make sure I'm doing everything I can" there's an accountability there.
GVB: Looking at the Denver Broncos, they're playing pretty well this year. Jake Plummer seems to be fitting in with they're doing out there. They've got a nice running back in Clinton Portis. They've got some excellent wide receivers. The offense looks pretty good. Now, I understand Plummer has got a little bit of a shoulder problem, so he's questionable at this point and that would mean if he didn't play that Steve Beuerlein, they veteran would play, but look at the Denver offense for us.
TI: The thing that really jumps out at you about the Denver offense first of all is their offensive line. These guys, they're smaller, they're all under 300, they come off the ball, they're very very aggressive, they keep their pad level down because they're not 300, 340 pounders. They really come off the ball very hard. They kick, they scratch, they hold. They cut, they'll roll up the back of your legs. It's old school. I love to watch them play. They're very aggressive. The next thing that jumps out at you is Clinton Portis. This guy is a big-time running back. He's a squatty guy. He actually looks like a little more slender Amos Zereoue. But Amos is put together and he [Portis] is not quite put together that big, but he does a great job finding the crease. He's a smaller guy, so he'll hide behind those bigger offensive linemen. Then he'll spring out. You don't have to give him too much room. They've got a couple of big-play receivers in Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie. These are their big-play guys. Rod Smith doesn't have the speed he once did, but he can still burn you if he's got… he's so clever. He does a great job of lulling you to sleep and then he'll give you a double move. If you're not focused as a defensive back, he's six points. I just think that Jake Plummer does a nice job. They run lot of play-action pass, they love play-action. He runs a lot of boots. He's very good out of the pocket, Jake Plummer is. He dive for that extra yard and that's probably why he's got that bad shoulder.
GVB: Defensively, Bill Cowher went out of his way in his press conference this week to praise their linebackers.
TI: Oh, they're fast. You've got Al Wilson in the middle. He's big, fast, very athletic. You've got John Mobley, he's the veteran, also very very athletic. Then Ian Gold, he's the weak side linebacker. All three of these guys, they might be as good a threesome as the Steelers will see. They're very fast. They just get to the ball in a hurry. Their defensive line is pretty darn good as well. They've got Bertrand Berry. He's their defensive end, a really good pass rusher but not so great on the run. Trevor Price, he's the left defensive end. He's good against the run and pass. The inside guys, just kind of… Daryl Gardner has not played yet. If Daryl Gardner is healthy, he had strep throat and he's just coming back from surgery, and he wants to play, Daryl Gardner can be just as good as anyone in the National Football League. That's been the wrap on him his whole career. If he comes to play, look out. But if he doesn't, he disappears and becomes just a guy.
GVB: Let's boil it down for everybody, keys to victory for the Steelers.
TI: I think the Steelers really need to run at them. I think that's going to be the key. They do rush the passer well, especially their outside guys, especially if Daryl Gardner plays.
GVB: If they definitely need to run at them, that brings me to an addendum to the question. As banged up as the Steelers are up front on the offensive line, are they do that?
TI: Banged up or not, George, you know as well as I do that this another Sunday in the NFL. You've got to play with 5 so you've got line up 5 and make sure that they come off the ball. Addendum or no addendum, banged up or not banged up, you still have to come off the ball. I don't think this front four is nearly as good as Cleveland's. I don't think this front four is nearly as good as Tennessee's, the week before. I think if there's ever a time that the Steelers can run the ball at somebody, I think it's these guys. Remember, these linebackers are very athletic and they'll hit you, but if you capture the line of scrimmage with the down guys and you get a push, you push those guys back into the linebackers, then the linebackers are not nearly as effective.
GVB: Okay, continue… so they need to run at them. What else do they need to do?
TI: Obviously, they've got to protect Tommy Maddox. The outside guys, Price and Berry get after you. I think defensively, they've got to contain Jake Plummer. He likes to get out on the perimeter. He can hurt you. He can scramble to run. He can scramble to make time and pass. You got to stop Clinton Portis. The guy can play. Then you've got to contain Shannon Sharpe. Well, this is a good football team. Keys to victory? Play well.
GVB: Alright, let's get to our fan question and this comes from steelersSB1: "Tunch, Denver's defense is quick and pretty good. What are the keys that help teams beat a quick defense?"
TI: Well, that's a great question. I think that I touched on that a little bit. You want to run at them. These guys are very good at getting on the perimeter. I'm not sure how effective the Steelers can be on their toss stuff, stuff they try to get outside on the end. I think as I look at them, I'd really like to see Jerome hammering at them in between the tackles. Get a push on those down guys and take away what makes those linebackers so good, their athleticism. So, I think the keys for the Steelers are going to be to run right at them and playing physical. I mean bending guys backwards, stomping them when you got them on the ground, giving them an elbow, playing physical.