Tunch Ilkin, X's & O's Week 9 - Pre-Game Seattle

<b>George Von Benko</b>: Tunch Ilkin, the Steelers getting set for a road trip to Seattle in the midst of a four-game losing streak. It's only natural that some frustration would be setting in. Some comments after the ballgame about some of the things that they're doing offensively, some of the things they're doing defensively. I don't know if they are detrimental or a bad thing, your thoughts on some of the comments that were made.


Tunch talks about the keys of the game to beat the Seahawks

Transcript: Tunch Ilkin: I think it is, George. I don't think it helps the team at all when you hear a player spouting off about not getting the ball or that he's not sure about the strategy of the offense. It's an unwritten rule that you don't air your dirty laundry, you keep your mouth closed after a loss, and give it the company line. When they ask you if there's something wrong with the offense you reply, "I have enough trouble doing my own job and that's what I worry about." And if they say, "Are you running the ball enough?" You go, "Hey, I'm just a grunt. They send the play in and I carry it out." I think that's always been the unwritten rule. When you start questioning the coaches, questioning the philosophy, the strategy, the system, it doesn't do anything but hurt your football team.

GVB: I thought it was interesting that Hines Ward, who might have been vilified for some comments that he had made, he said he's though making speeches. He's just going to do his job.

TI: Hines shouldn't have been vilified because Hines called everybody into account. That's the kind of stuff you should have. You do it behind closed doors and you say, "Hey look, everybody on this football team has to look at himself in the mirror and make sure we doing what we can to get ready to play." That was what a leader should do. That's being assertive. That's holding your teammates accountable. What I heard last week was whining. Whining does nothing to help a football team.

GVB: Looking ahead to the test in Seattle, it will be a formidable one. They've been playing some pretty good football.

TI: Yeah, Seattle is on a roll, on both sides of the ball. They're a football team that is very explosive with big plays offensively and defensively. They have a staff that I am very familiar with. I was with Mike Holmgren in Green Bay during '93 and they [Seattle] have the same offensive line coach, Tom Lovat there, as well as Nolan Cromwell and Ray Rhodes, their defensive coordinator. It will be good to see those guys and Holmgren has got them playing well.

GVB: Is it safe to say that they do a lot of the things that Holmgren did when he was in Green Bay?

TI: Yeah, it's the same offense that Mike learned under the tutelage of Bill Walsh when he was with the 49ers. He was the quarterback coach there and then the offensive coordinator before he took the head job with the Green Bay Packers. It is a 49ers West Coast offense. It puts a lot of pressure on your quarterback. You have to have a quarterback who makes the right reads and gets the ball where it needs to be. He's got one in Hasselbeck. When he had Kitna, I don't think he played the position like Mike wanted him to. I just remember my days in Green Bay. Mike puts a lot of pressure on his quarterbacks. He's very demanding. He was a former quarterback himself and he spends a lot of his time with the quarterback himself. I think that playing in his offense you have to be able to withstand the pressure of his scrutiny. I don't think he's dictatorial about it, he's actually a positive guy. By the same token, he's in your ear all the time, "Did you see the safety? What did the corner tell you?" You have to be able to deal with his scrutiny, his teaching, and his mentorship. If you can do that, you can deal with the pressures of playing in the National Football League at that position. I think that Hasselbeck has done a nice job of doing just that. He really seems to grasp the offense. He makes the right throws, especially on the short and intermediate routes. He's not a guy that's going to stretch the field on you, although he will put it up, but that's not his strength. His strength is getting rid of the ball quickly, making the right read, and running that offense.

GVB: Speaking of quarterbacks, that brings me to something you and I touched on the other day talking here at the Steelers complex. We were talking about Tommy Maddox and when I walked into the locker room after the ballgame, I saw Mike Mularkey sitting down and talking with him. I overheard a little bit of what was going on. He was trying to bolster his quarterback's confidence. I guess that is a danger that he could lose confidence. He could press, your thoughts on Tommy Maddox's psyche at this point.

TI: I think anybody's psyche when you're 2 and 5 is very, very fragile. I think the real challenge for the entire coaching staff is to, #1, not allow your players to get down and start dwelling on negative thoughts. It's easy to start when things aren't going to well to go, "What's going on here? Maybe we aren't very good." #2 is that you don't want them to start playing too carefully. When things are going badly, one of two things can happen. You either start pressing and you try to make plays that you shouldn't or start playing too carefully because you're too afraid to make a mistake. Both those things can be equally paralyzing to a football team. When you go to practice this week, you must make sure that your guys are thinking positively, confidently. You've got to coach them up on playing lose. Don't worry about the score. Don't worry about being 2 and 5. Go out there and make plays. That's the kind of confidence that you need to instill in your football team and it is a very fragile thing.

GVB: Let's turn our attention to the nuts and bolts of beating the Seahawks, the keys to victory as you see it for the Steelers.

TI: #1, the Seahawks are going to come after you defensively. Ray Rhodes is a very aggressive defensive coordinator. He loves to blitz. They blitz you coming out of the tunnel. It puts pressure on the line and the quarterback. It puts pressure on everyone, George. It puts pressure on the receivers because if you're the slot receiver, you're Antwaan or Hines in dime, you know a lot of those zone blitzes are going to be coming off of your slot. So, if you're the hot receiver you've got to look right now, there's pressure on the quarterback. He's got to see the blitz and where it's coming from, make the correct read. The offensive line has to identify in their protection, they get the four downs and which linebackers they are responsible for. The running back as well, he's got to check his linebacker. If his LB doesn't come, he can go out. Everybody must be on the same page. There's a real premium on identification and mentally understanding what the Seahawk's defense is going to try to do.

GVB: Defensively, against the Seahawks, we didn't even mention the running back. He's a pretty good one.

TI: Shaun Alexander, he's got great speed and is strong. You know what really impresses me about him? He finds the gap and he is through it quick. He's not as good as Jamal Lewis in that respect, but he's very, very similar. He'll cut back and if you're not gap-sound, he's got such good speed that he could be gone.

GVB: Do the Steelers have to come after them? We keep on hearing, "What happened to the blitzburgh defense?" Stuff you hear from the fans. You pointed out when we were at lunch that they did blitz a couple of times against the Rams and they got burned.

TI: That's the whole thing about the blitz, George. You're going to make some plays and you're going to get burned. What St. Louis did is that they max-protected a bunch of times. They kept their running back and both tight ends in and sent two and three guys out in routes. When there are less guys in coverage, there are holes in the defense. Once again, you have to balanced. You have to pick your spots. You want to go after Hasselbeck a little bit and make him a little jittery in the pocket. See if he can withstand that pressure. Seattle won't do what St. Louis did. They won't max-protect like St. Louis did. St. Louis had problems early with protection. When you have Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt out in patterns, you figure that those guys are good enough to get open. So, they'll do a lot of max-protecting. I don't think the Seahawks will.

GVB: That brings us to our fan question this week. It comes from Mike Haxby from Hampton, Il. "Tunch, what's your opinion of the best 5 guys we can put on the field? The more I sit and analyze our situation, I'd like to see the following situation: Faneca, Hartings, Okobi, Simmons (providing he becomes the Simmons of 2002), and Smith. This is the order from left to right. Let me know what you think. We just need to get 5 to help us win. There's still a lot of the season left to be played and I like the attitude of a lot of the players on this team. Hopefully, we get this ship turned around. Thank you for your time. Go Steelers!"

TI: I really like that offensive line that you have in there, Mike. The only problem is that Marvel Smith is still hurt. So, he's down. I'm going to go with what they have right now. Although, they are probably going to start Oliver Ross Sunday, I'd start Todd Fordham over Oliver Ross, if it was me. Keep Keydrick Vincent in there. I think Keydrick's going to get better. He just needs some playing time. It is kind of a double-edged sword. The only way you get better is by playing. But to play, you have to be better. For Keydrick Vincent, the whole learning process has to escalate, if you know what I mean. He needs to play at that level they're hoping for and he's got to do it quickly. I think the fact that he's playing that he will get better.

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