Mike Tomlin, head coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
The morning came fast today. We slept fast last night, as I like to say. Quick review of our game:
Again, it was a special atmosphere. It was great to be a part of it. I was glad we were able to perform and get the win. Special evening. Those are the kind of moments, at least for me, that remind me that's it's special to be a part of this. To see some of those guys that I grew up watching and admiring, and having the opportunity to perform a little bit for them and be a part of that legacy. I think is special not only for me but for all of us that are involved in that. The game specifically, it was a splash game. We made splash plays, and by splash plays I mean significant plays – the sack-fumbles, the turnovers, and big plays in the passing game. Sometimes, when you have splash games, you can trick yourself into thinking that it was a great execution game. It was not. Not that it was poor, but we made spectacular plays. We made the splash plays. We're glad to get a win. We'll do like we always do: We'll make corrections in some execution things that are evident when you take the emotions out and you watch the tape and move forward. But like we talked about last night, spectacular performance by Ben (Roethlisberger); spectacular performance by James (Harrison); and a cast of others – guys rising up and seizing the moment. That's part of being a great player; that's part of being a good team. That was done. Still searching for perfection, in terms of the details of our execution; still searching for perfection, from an assignment standpoint; still growing as a football team in the things that probably aren't attractive for people that don't dwell inside these walls on a day-to-day basis, but that's just the nature of this thing. We intend to move forward and we need to do that quickly this week because we have a short week.
Specifically, injuries from the game:
• Arnold Harrison had what can be characterized as a stinger. I think he's going to be fine. He may be limited from a contact standpoint (Wednesday).
• Dan Kreider had a concussion. I think he should be fine. He'll be limited from a contact standpoint during the week, but we'll see. Of course, we exercise great precaution when it comes to injuries of that nature.
• Clint Kriewaldt had a calf contusion. We've got to take a look at him and see if he's capable of running (Wednesday). He could be listed as questionable for this week's game.
• Willie Parker had a little inflammation of the knee. He might be limited in the early part of the week, specifically (Wednesday), but we don't expect that to keep him out of action.
• Ben Roethlisberger has a hip contusion. He might be limited (Wednesday). I fully expect him to participate and play this weekend.
• Ryan Clark is continuing to improve. What does that mean in regard to his play this week? We'll see as the week goes on, but there have been encouraging reports from him.
• Jerame Tuman continues to struggle with his back issue. We'll continue to look at that on a day-to-day basis and decide what course of action to take in regard to that, but you guys know that when you're dealing with a back sometimes it's a touch-and-go thing. It's a day-to-day thing. I characterize him as questionable at best for this upcoming week.
Moving forward, talking about the Cleveland Browns this week, we're familiar with them; they're familiar with us. This is a good football team. (Derek) Anderson is playing great ball – quarterback rating of 91, thrown 17 touchdowns. The ball comes out his hands extremely quickly, on rhythm. He's using the known weapons, the guys we talked about, were concerned about, when we played them in the opener: Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, Joe Jurevicius. Those guys are delivering big-time plays for them. Braylon Edwards has nine touchdowns, 700-plus yards. We have our hands full in regards to trying to contain those men. They are a team that's extremely hot, on a three-game winning streak. You've got to respect that. Jamal Lewis of course is a very capable runner. Defensively, they're improving in big ways. They're stepping up and stopping people at critical times, particularly in the second half of football games. Those things happen when you have a veteran leader like Willie McGinest back, which they didn't have the first time we played them.
For us, like always, the issue is us. We respect our opponent. We have to prepare to be at our best. I'm interested to see how this team responds to the natural adversity that scheduling presents us this week. We've got a short week, but the standard of expectations will not change. When we walk into the stadium this upcoming weekend, we've got to play and we've got to play at a championship level. That's what we intend to do – focus on us, how we prepare, and put ourselves in position to do what we do. I'll take any questions at this point.
Q: Mike, is Willie's knee the same knee that caused him to miss those preseason games?
A: It is not. It's just the natural bumps and bruises of the football season that may cause him to miss some time (Wednesday) in practice, so I thought I'd mention it. But it's really nothing major.
Q: You didn't mention Aaron Smith. Does that mean he's going to play?
A: That's because it's wishful thinking. No. Aaron is doing well to the point where we're going to use him some (Wednesday) in practice and he's going to go at a limited basis and we'll proceed with caution from there. Aaron has a chance to play this week.
Q: What's a hip contusion?
A: It's a bruise.
Q: Do you have a report on Clark Haggans?
A: Yeah. He has a minor knee bruise of some kind. He went back into the game and played. It's a non-issue. It may cause him to be somewhat limited tomorrow, given it's a short week, but it shouldn't limit him in any game.
Q: Will it be difficult convincing the players this is a different Browns team, considering the first game you played against them?
A: No. It's not a tough thing to convince. We respected these guys the first time we played them. Some things went our way early: We got a turnover or two, Deshea (Townsend) had an interception, they had a fiasco involving the punting situation, and Ben hit a couple of big plays. Sometimes the score doesn't tell the nature of the matchup, just like the score of our matchup (Monday) night doesn't tell the nature of our matchup. That's a good football team we played last night. Sometimes you walk in stadiums and things happen for you, and you better be prepared to take advantage of it. Those are just two instances where we were capable of doing that. But we respect these guys. This is a 5-3 football team that's run through some people and rung up some scoreboards. They don't need my endorsement to know they're a capable team. We'd better be at our best if we're going to win this weekend.
Q: Mike, beyond their change at QB, where's their next greatest area of improvement?
A: Just the ability to seize the moment. A lot of that has to do with the quarterback, but it's a game, a team game. (Phil) Dawson steps up and is banging game-winners for them. Josh Cribbs, who was a guy we recognized as a legitimate threat in the opener and somebody that was worthy to be reckoned with, has proven that since the last time we played them. He's a dangerous return man, both as a punt returner and kick returner. The bottom line is -- you can look for cosmic explanations and things of that nature – they have playmakers that are making plays and it's resulting in wins. We have to make sure our playmakers do the same thing.
Q: No team has gone undefeated in more than 30 years. Can it be done? And what are the difficulties facing a team trying to do that?
A: I believe it can be done. One thing this profession has taught me is that anything is possible. Somewhere in the back of my mind I'd like to dream about that being us one day. So, it's definitely possible. The things that stand in a team's way in terms of doing that are the same things that stand in a team's way on a week-to-week basis: the ability to prepare, the ability to perform, the ability to deal with distractions, and the ability to stay singularly focused on a week-in and week-out basis. If you intend to go undefeated, you've got to beat them one at a time, so that ability to focus is a big part of it. So, I would agree that it's possible.
Q: How do you avoid a letdown?
A: Because we're professionals. That's what I talk to the guys about. When you go out and don't perform the way you're capable of performing, you swallow it, you move forward, you make corrections, you prepare, and you move on. The same thing when you have successes. I'm bluntly honest with the men in regards to that. We cannot ride the emotional roller coaster. We should expect to perform well, and when we do we're glad that the work culminated in the result, we make corrections, and we move on. That's just the nature of this thing. There's not a lot of time to wear your hands out patting yourselves on the back. This is the National Football League.
Q: You met the guys you grew up watching. Were there any in particular you idolized?
A: All of them. Joe Greene. I mean, I'm a soda-commercial kid of that era. That's Joe Greene. That's Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and on and on and on. Man, I can't believe Mel Blount's that big. I have the same reactions that any kid who grew up in my era has when it comes to those men.
Q: Mike, Santonio Holmes seems to have taken his game to a new level. Could you talk about his progress?
A: He has. We've challenged him since the first day I walked in this building to do that. I think it's important, and not only him, but all second-year players, that they step their game up. They're capable of doing that. This is their second lap around the track, if you will. They know what lies ahead. They have some understanding of levels of expectation. He's wearing that and wearing that well. He's got desire to be great. The stage is not too big for him. He wants to be a reason that we're successful. And aside from the things you see him doing with the ball in his hands, he has desire to play a complete game. He's doing a nice job perimeter blocking and trying to be a complete receiver.
Q: Mike, while James Harrison's game obviously was over the top, can he consistently approach being that player game-in and game-out?
A: He's been a dominant player for us this year. It doesn't always manifest itself in those kinds of statistics, but I'm sure his peers will tell you he is somebody to be reckoned with. He's a good football player. He has a unique combination of strength and athleticism, so even when he has a bad body position he has the power to get himself out of it. He doesn't lose many one-on-one battles because of his physical talent. He's a good player.
Q: Did you sense this big performance coming on?
A: That's always a hindsight thing to me. After you get a win like that, ‘yeah, I felt it all week.' I always feel good. I always feel good. I can trick myself in that way. The reality is that you prepare to do the best you can, you lay your head down at night, you get an opportunity to perform, you do it, and it is what it is. I thought they were focused in preparation, yes. I thought they did practice hard. I thought there was great attention to detail. But I also thought we had that kind of week when we were preparing to play Arizona. It's football. That's why you play the game.
Q: Any second thoughts about putting Ben back in the game?
A: No, none. He got complete medical clearance from our medical staff. He had a desire to do it. He's a competitor. This is a competitive game played by competitive men, coached by competitive men. Guys walk on the field; they desire to walk off the field. I wanted to give him that.
Q: Mike, what's happening with Jerame's back and how is Max Starks doing when he plays tight end?
A: Specifically, in terms of his back, he has what can be described as a lumbar spine disc problem. I'm reading it off the sheet. He's got some disc issues in his back. Is rest going to be a healing factor? That's what we're trying to see. Is a procedure necessary? Maybe at some point. We just have to exercise some patience and seeing how it unfolds. In regards to Max, he's doing a heck of a job part-timing as a tight end, giving us a big man on the edge, giving us an opportunity to move the line of scrimmage with the other tight ends. You know how we like our three-tight end personnel groups. He's a rather large one. Max is a sharp guy, he's a team guy. He's willing to do whatever to help us win and we appreciate his efforts in that regard.
Q: Mike, are you getting to the point where you have to bring in another tight end if Jerame's back doesn't improve?
A: We're pleased with what Max is doing in that regard right now. That's where we are right now.
Q: Are you going to throw to Max?
A: That'd be a stretch. You can write that we will not throw the ball to Max. (Laughs). And then if we do, I'll come in and apologize for lying.
Q: The way the passing game is developing, could you go more to the pass the way other teams are doing it?
A: We're going to do what we feel like we need to do on a week-to-week basis to win games. Ultimately, that's all that matters. If we lose, our methods are under question. If we win, they're not. So we need to stay focused on what's relevant, and that's winning football games. The manner in which we go about it doesn't matter. We've got to look at the matchups, put our guys in position to be successful, whatever that position is, and try to get wins. That's the way we've approached it to this point. I know sometimes over the course of weeks a personality shows itself, and that's part of it, but we're going to look at the matchups week to week. A lot of the times, the matchups are similar. We feel good about our capability to run the football. But when they're not, we're going to throw the football because we desire to win.
Q: Do you look at the inactive list before the game and does that alter what you're going to do?
A: It does because you get a sense of what they're going to do from a personnel-packages standpoint. You get the injury report last night 90 minutes before kickoff last night and you see Todd Heap is not playing, that Danny Wilcox is not playing. It changes what they're capable of doing from a tight-end standpoint. But they do similar things when they look at ours. There's a natural cat-and-mouse when you're preparing to play.
Q: Did you expect both of them not to play?
A: It became evident that they weren't going to play. That didn't reveal itself when those sheets came out, no.
Q: How did the offensive line hold up against their front seven and how did it help you get the ball down the field?
A: We didn't run the ball well enough. We didn't. They did a nice job. Not for lack of trying: Najeh (Davenport) had 11 carries; Willie had 23. They did a nice job. As coach (Dick) LeBeau says, sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you. In that regard, the bear got us. They did a nice job defending the run. But again, it's our goal to win. Our inability to run the football will be less of a story this week because we won.
Q: Did you pass block well enough?
A: We were able to deliver the ball down the field because we had short fields. The defense gave us the ball in the short areas. Ben does what Ben does. It was a splash-play game. I don't think you could take what transpired and say that it was a dominant effort from an execution standpoint, where we won by attrition. No, we had some guys make some splash plays and it ran the scoreboard up and we were able to win.
Q: How have you seen Ben grow as a leader?
A: He's been the same guy really kind of every day. I've only been here one year. Those leadership kinds of things don't really show themselves during the offseason. Live bullets have to be flying for those things to be showing themselves. I sensed those characteristics in him back in the spring, but he's confirming them now.
Q: He's halfway to 40 touchdowns. Did he look like a guy who could throw 40 to you when you took over this football team?
A: He has all the physical talent. He's big. He's strong. He's mobile. He can make any throw on the field. He's a smart guy. He looks like the 11th pick in the draft. Those guys have all the physical skill. Then the question is: Do they have the intangibles? That's what I was interested in and that's what I've been impressed with thus far from him.
Q: Were you trying to get him a sixth touchdown last night for the record?
A: No. I wasn't aware of the record. We were trying to win. We're not trying to entertain. I know we're entertainers to a degree, but, no, we weren't trying.
Q: Was he looking downfield on the late play when he got sacked?
A: He was.
Q: Those intangibles, do they become even more apparent on third down?
A: As the kitchen gets hot, the chefs display themselves. Third down, fourth quarter – that's why they keep those stats, to define those men. Every week you get a compilation of NFL statistics. There's quarterback ratings, and then there's quarterback third-down ratings and there's quarterback fourth-quarter ratings. Their ability to rise up in those moments define that position, and ultimately their ability to rise up in those moments determines whether or not their teams win or lose and that ultimately defines that position.
Q: Does Ben's elusiveness surprise you?
A: I'm getting less and less surprised every week. He's mobile. He's a big guy. He's a strong guy. He can feel the rush and still keep his eyes downfield. He has a lot of physical talents that allow him to do that.
Q: Are you concerned he's coming under a little bit too much pressure?
A: We're always going to be concerned. That's just the nature of it. This is a dangerous game.
Q: Is he being protected well enough?
A: You can never get enough protection. Any time a quarterback gets touched, we don't like it as coaches.
Q: You called him a football junkie. What did you mean by that?
A: He asks the critical questions. Not only does he want to know what to do, he wants to know why. He wants to know how it's built as opposed to what it is. Those are signs of guys looking to go beyond the stuff that's right in front of you. That's what I characterize as a football junkie. Deshea (Townsend) is a football junkie in that way. We've got quite a few football junkies.
Q: Did Chris Kemoeatu play?
A: We just wanted to get him in. When I say we're a developing football team, we have to continue to find ways to get guys opportunities to play and perform. Sometimes those opportunities happen because of injuries. Sometimes you thoughtfully roll guys in, like we've done with Anthony Smith leading up to his opportunity to play. You don't like to do it as much in the offensive line because of the continuity issues. He hadn't played as much as maybe we liked. We took it as an opportunity to get him some snaps. Max has gotten some snaps. Although it hasn't been at tackle -- it's been at tight end -- he's played the game. I think it's important that we try to keep everybody moving forward. The only way to improve is to practice and ultimately to practice to perform, so we were trying to give guys an opportunity to perform.
Q: Did you get a good view of Hines Ward's two big blocks? And what does that do to an offense?
A: He's a very physical football player. The team feeds off of those kinds of plays emotionally. He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. I think some of those legendary players that were there last night probably have an appreciation for how he plays the game, and that's why he's part of that group. Yes it is uplifting for a football team because that is the nature of the sport that they play. I didn't see the hit on (Ed) Reed. I saw the hit on Bart Scott. But that's Hines.
Q: How many points in your book does Willie Parker get for stepping up into Ray Lewis's grill on the second touchdown?
A: It's funny because guys get recognized for what they do and rightfully so, but there are a lot of great individual efforts that don't get recognized because they aren't measured by statistics and things of that nature. Willie Parker played a rough and tumble football game (Monday) night. He carried the ball 23 times. It was rough sledding. Wasn't great footing. Wasn't necessarily an ideal setting for his style of play. But he played one snap at a time. He stepped up and picked up blitzes. He hit people high. He was a competitor. But that's Willie. That's one of the elements of his game that he identified during the offseason when I first met him that he wanted to work on. We provided an atmosphere for him to do that with some of the drills and so forth that we did in training camp. He's taking it to the action and it's good to see.
Q: What was your reaction to the rain?
A: Weather doesn't matter to me unless it's only raining on our team. If it's raining on both teams, it's a variable that doesn't matter.
Q: How was your meeting with Cowher?
A: Brief. He wished us well and I thanked him for being there and the support. That was it.
Q: There was an early report that the rain would affect Ben more because he supposedly has a soft grip. Anything to that?
A: I have no idea. I don't.