Opening Statement: Here's the injury update going into the game on Sunday. We have Andre Frazier with the hamstring and Travis Kirshke with his back. Four players are probable: James Harrison with a heal; Chidi Iwuoma with a shoulder; Ben (Roethlisberger) with his thumb; and Deshea Townsend with his knee. We're about as healthy as we've been all year going into the game.
We're excited about going into the playoffs. We recognize the journey we have in front of us. That's the way it is. Everybody starts 0-0 and we're going to play Cincinnati for the third time. It's a good football team. They won our division and beat us here in Pittsburgh and we were fortunate to win down there. I guess this is the rubber match. It will be a big challenge for us because they're a good football team. Obviously this time of year we all know what's at stake. We'll see what happens. We've got to have a good week of preparation. We've got to play better than we did last week and better than we did the last time we played them. We all understand that.
Is there a different psychology working this year as opposed to last year when you knew you had a week off and were going to be at home?
It's a different psychology certainly. You don't sit back and reflect or heal any wounds. Certainly we just got to keep playing. We're playing a good football team. We know them very well. They know us very well. Certainly at this time of year you've got to be playing good football. The last time we played them we had four turnovers and our kickoff coverage gave them the ball at the 3 one time and midfield another time. We weren't very good covering kicks. You do that against this football team, as explosive as they are, it's an uphill battle. We were fortunate it was only a seven-point game considering all of those things I just talked about. I don't know if there's any kind of psychology that goes into it other than that we're playing a very good opponent.
Can you talk about the difference in Ben Roethlisberger now as opposed to last year?
Just the experience factor, No. 1, having been through it last year, having played in big games. Last year, the first year for any first-year player, it's a long year. For a rookie it's even longer from the draft. There was no question the degree of fatigue that was there for Ben that he was fighting through. This year, I think there's a world of difference in terms of how he feels and where he's at mentally and where he's at from a health standpoint.
Is there an advantage to playing a team that doesn't have a lot of playoff experience?
They've got some players who have been in the playoffs before, certainly their coach has been there before. We understand what it's like to play in the playoffs. It goes up even further. The speed of the game is faster, the intensity, the magnitude of each play becomes greater. Certainly our play this week has to indicate that. It's hard to say, but I think they have enough experience over there to negate any advantage we would have.
(Stop, Ellis time) How would you measure the team's improvement over the last four games?
I think it's been pretty dramatic. I don't have the actual numbers here in front of me, but I know it's on the plus side in turnover-takeaway. I know penalties have been down. What can I say about the special teams? I know they have been improved. Last time all of those things reared its ugly head. Tab Perry is a good returner as we well know. Their offense is too good to leave a short field. They're playing at a very high level. If we shorten the field on them it makes it that much tougher as we proved the last time. The turnovers led to some very good field position the last time and we weren't able to take the ball away. All of those things we just talked about were at an all-time low as to how it unfolded that particular day.
How much better is Carson Palmer since the beginning of the year?
I think he's played well all year long. He's a Pro Bowl player. His numbers speak for themselves. He's playing with a lot of confidence. He's without a doubt the catalyst for what they do. They've gone a lot with the audible system, allowing him to check off on certain things. Our ability to try to create some indecision with him will be very important for us. There's no question he's playing at a very high level.
Can you talk about Willie Parker and what you saw in him?
Willie's just got the one thing we've never had, the speed. The other elements of Willie is that he's a young back and he needs to be able to go through plays. He needs to run plays to see them unfold. Maybe now and then he misses a cut, but he's had a chance to watch Jerome (Bettis) this year run. But there's no substitute to getting out there and running. To do it in practice is one thing, but to do it on game day and experience that and then come back in here on Monday and see, now he sees maybe a cut he's missed here and there. I think that was something you had to be patient with. The one thing he does have is that ability to give you big plays. For a team that runs the football the way we want to run the football, to have a big-play player back there is a bonus. He shows the ability to do that. It's nice to have the quartet of backs that we have and we've needed all of them, even Duce (Staley). We had a period of time there where we needed him and he came off the bench and gave us a big game at Green Bay or we wouldn't be sitting here right today if it wasn't for that. Verron (Haynes) has filled in admirably in that third-down role and certainly we all know what Jerome (Bettis) gives us on game day. It's a makeup that kind of unfolded the way it did. They all accepted the roles they have and consequently, it's been a very productive backfield.
Have you seen that development in Willie even in the last couple of games?
I think if you put it on early in the season to where he is now, there's no question. One thing you see now is when he makes a decision, he's going north and south. You see him hitting the pile and going forward. I know one of the questions was can Willie Parker run inside, I think he's answered a lot of that. I think a lot of that has been him watching Jerome. He's able to watch Jerome make some of the cuts he's made and be decisive. Willie's watching that and he's hitting it. At times he's maybe a little too patient and other times you want him to be more patient. There's that fine line. Don't try overcoach him. Be careful. Just let the kid run. He'll learn. He'll get better the more he does it. I don't think there's any question that if you put on tape from the beginning of the year until now, there is a significant difference in his reads of certain plays. His style of running has improved dramatically.
Can you go back to that Bengals game where he fumbled a couple of times. What did you say afterward?
We didn't have to talk. I think the message was real clear when he was standing next to me. You can't do that. You can't turn the ball over. Some things around here won't change. You have to have an understanding. You have to be accountable. He's done well. We can't beat ourselves. We don't beat ourselves, we'll be a tough football team to play. That's the one thing we've got to do is take care of the ball. That's looked upon in a very important light around here.
Over the last three weeks, have Cincinnati's struggles been because they were secure in their playoff spot, or have there been some things they haven't been doing well (like he's going to answer this truthfully)?
I don't worry about them. They've earned their right to a home playoff game. Last week's game, I've seen that happen before. I wouldn't put too much credence into that. It's a good football team that's playing at home. It's a playoff game and they will have everybody healthy. They know us, we know them. We're not going to get caught up with people's perception of how they're playing. The last time we played them they beat us pretty good.
In your experience, how important is it to have been playing good the last few weeks before the playoffs?
Certainly you'd like to, but everyone's starting 0-0. That's the bottom line. I don't think you're going to sit there and look at what you did in previous weeks. It's quality opponents. There's only 12 teams that make the playoffs, six out of each conferecence. They got there for a reason. It's been the sum of what they've been able to do over the course of 16 weeks. You earn that right. You get to the playoffs in the National Football League, you've got to play your way into it. I don't look so much at the last couple of games so much as what this time has done the past 16 weeks to put themselves into a position to do this. They won our division and beat us here to do so.
How about your team? Are you happy where you're at going in? (Pittsburgh?)
We're happy to have the chance. We had to fight very hard to get into this tournament. We're in it. It's single elimination. We've kind of been in that the past few weeks. We have to play better than we did last week. We have to play better than we did the last time we played these guys. That's the only think I'm looking at and I think our players understand that. I know they do. We'll have a good week of work and go down there and give it the best shot we can.
Having gone through those four games, can that wear down a team or energize a team?
I think you've got to be energized this time of year. You're in the playoffs, it's a very clear path. Our guys haven't been around the past two days, but there have been a lot of guys in and out. I think they're all kind of energized. If you can't get energized this time of year, then you're in the wrong profession. I don't think that will be a problem.
You've got to be able to do that. It's all part of the kicking game. At times we may do that. At times we may squib it. At times we may bloop it. Whatever we can do to disrupt their return game. It's whatever we feel will give us the best field position we can get.
Your record is 13-3 the last two years on the road. What have you drawn on on the road?
We've been a pretty good team the past two years. I don't know that we're any better on the road than we've been at home. We've probably got the same record at home that we do on the road. It's a football team with some experience. We know it's going to be loud. We've experienced that next level of loudness in Indianapolis, I'd never experienced anything like that before. It's going to be loud in Cincinnati. We understand that going in. It's a challenge. You go on the road, you're an underdog and we're going to be an underdog in this game (they're actually three-point favorites). As we should be. Tht being said, you go out there and have no margin of error. But you have to play together. The players understand that. The preparation has to be better and they understand that.
Does the close-knit nature of the team lend itself to an us -against-them mentality?
Yeah. And you have to have success. Success brings a team closer. Getting through adversity brings a team together. And there's a lot of guys who have accepted roles and have embraced those roles even though they'd like to play more or want things done in a way that would be more condisive to what they can do. There's an unselfishness that has permeated down through this team. They also understand what it take this time of year. What it takes on the road. We're going to need that same kind of mentality this week.
(Stop, Ellis time) Since I've only gotten my face on TV once, here's a rambling question about familiarity between the two teams.
I don't know if it has any bearing on it whatsoever. Certainly when you look at their team, they are an explosive team. Obviously we need to be able to take away the big play and slow down that offense to allow us to stay in the game as long as possible. Keep it a four quarter game. I don't know that familiarity will have any role in that element of the game. That has nothing to do with their offense. Their offense is pretty good.
I guess you realize we're in a performance-now business. You have three coaches who were in the playoffs last year get fired the next year, there's no margin of error. I understand that and I guess what keeps you going is just not to be a part of Black Monday. If you don't win now, you can easily be there. We all understand that getting into this business. They are good football coaches. There are a lot of people affected by that. You're talking about staffs of 15 or 18 assistant coaches who got along with those seven or eight guys. That's a lot of people who's lives are affected. You've got to win. You've got to perform. You talk about players having to do it, but coaches have to do it too. I understand that. You sit there and start to get complacent as a coach, you're going to be one of those guys. I know that's what keeps me going every year.
I think he's done it more the second half of the season. He did it in our game. I think he'll do it again Sunday. He's good at it. He's done it more the second half of the year and more so than in the first game we played them down there.
They're very opportunistic with Deltha O'Neal, Torry James, Odell Thurman. They've got some playmakers there. (David) Pollack has played well, played very well against us the first time. Justin Smith can rush and create pressure. When the ball's in the air, they catch everything. They catch everything like we drop everything. It seems like we drop every opportunity there is. We bat everything down and they catch it. They've taken the ball away with fumbles and interceptions. Their turnover-takeaway is like 24 or something. It's unbelievable. And they're not turning it over. The quarterback is making good decisions. You have to be patient against them.
Dan, in my opinion, plays that way every Sunday. He's a good football player. He's an integral part of our football team. We give him a couple of runs a month and he doesn't say a word. He goes about his business. He's a very good football player and I think all of the players have a tremendous amount of respect for him and the job that he has.