Tomlin Press Conference

Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference on Monday this week as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for their game Thursday in St. Louis. Here's what Tomlin had to so about Sunday's loss to Jacksonville and the upcoming game.

MIKE TOMLIN, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers

Opening Statement: I'll start with a quick review of yesterday's performance, and really in some ways, it's similar in ways to other games where we haven't played well. I thought we sputtered initially offensively. A lot of the adversity was self-induced. Penalties, we got some pressure on the quarterback early in drives and weren't able to sustain drives. We had a few three-and-outs. We were able to get that going at some point and rally, which was good, but it was not enough. Defensively, we were not able to stop those guys from running the football. They played our style of football. They did it better than we did. We've got to do a better job of tackling. We've got to do a better job in our assignments of being where we need to be in gaps. That's the nature of it. Sometimes you think there are some mystical solutions and really, there aren't. It's fundamental football and your ability to do it under duress. You've got to acknowledge that you play good people and they're going to make plays on you from time to time. That was the case yesterday. Our response to those plays, really is going to define you. When you go back and look at the game, we didn't respond to situations as well as we would have liked as coaches and as players. We're in this thing together. With that being said, we push on. We don't have a great deal of time to do that, we have a short week, as does our opponent. We intend to push forward and prepare ourselves to play the St. Louis Rams.

Before I get into that, I'll give you a quick injury update. Clark Haggans has a left knee sprain. We don't know enough right now to know his availability for Thursday. Needless to say, with a short week, that could be difficult. We'll see where he is, but he's questionable at this point. Travis Kirschke has rib cartilage, an injury in that area. We'll know where he is as we move forward. Again, it's stll early in that process. Clint Kriewaldt has stinger issues that will make him questionable on a short week. Allen Rossum is going to be fine. Tests were positive in terms of the mild concussion he received yesterday. Some other guys have some discomfort. Marvel Smith is dealing with the inflammation of his back. It's very uncomfortable to say the least. You'd have to consider him potentially out at this point. Again, we're working with a short period of time. I'd appreciate your understanding with that. We'll know more this afternoon, tomorrow morning. That's usually the case.

Looking forward to the St. Louis Rams, they've got a running back that's capable of doing what Fred Taylor did to us yesterday, no doubt. Steven Jackson is a very, very talented runner. We've got our hands full there. Again, as was the case yesterday. We better be sound in terms of what we're doing. We better be on our Ps and Qs in terms of executing our assignments and you can't lose the physical element of the game in doing that. We've got to be physical, we've got to turn him around, we've got to tackle him. If we don't, he'll fall forward, he'll bounce off tackles and he'll make us pay the way Fred did. So we're getting ready for him. They've got some experienced, capable receivers and tight ends. They've go (Randy) McMichael, who they picked up in free agency, Dominique Byrd is anothe guy that plays for them. Dane Looker, (Drew) Bennett are the other wideouts. They've got offensive skill people that we have to be very, very concerned about. Defensively, they throw a myriad of looks at you. They really do. They've got a lot of fronts, some movement. The linebackers are very active. Will Witherspoon is in the middle. He's a run-and-hit guy. (Brandon) Chillar is an outside guy. (Chris) Draft is doing some good work for them outside in place of Pisa (Tinoisamoa), who went on IR. At safety, they've got some guys they spin down. (Ronald) Bartell is doing some good work for them at corner and inside at times in the nickel spot. This is a team that's very dangerous because it's the next team that we play. We've got to play better than what we've been playing here of late. We haven't been playing winning football. Those are our intentions this week as we move forward and get ready to go to St. Louis. We put ourselves in a frame of mind to do that. Correct the errors that we've been making and get better and get a win.

What about Ike Taylor?

I think Ike's injuries are really minor. He hasn't been examined downstairs yet, but I don't think it will prohibit him from participating on Thursday night.

Ben (Roethlisberger) came through all right?

He did. He was no worse for the wear, as was Troy (Polamalu), which is encouraging. Those were two guys going into the game in less than ideal circumstances, as are a lot of people in this business at this time of year. But for those guys to come out of the game no worse for the wear was a good sign for us.

What about Troy's performance yesterday?

Troy was active. He really was. He made some plays. We saw some of the things you miss when you don't have a guy like him. (David) Garrard broke out of the pocket and seemingly was going to scramble for a first down. Troy came across the field and tackled him short of the first down. He's capable of plays like that. It's good to have him back and we expect him to get better and better as he continues to play.

Was the defense different with Aaron Smith out of the game?

It's tough to speak of Jacksonville's intentions. They ran the ball a bunch and ran it well yesterday, which is what they've done. They were No. 2 in the league coming into the game, which is how we approached it. I don't know that they changed at all based on whether or not Aaron Smith was available or not. In terms of our approach, you know we don't make excuses. The 11 guys on the field represent us. The standard of expecations does not change and cannot change. We acknowledge that injuries are part of the game. Every team that we compete against deals with the same things we do. We could spend a bunch of time talking about the unavailability of Aaron Smith. They played without (Marcus) Stroud and (Mike) Peterson on their defense. That's the nature of this profession, of this game. We're never going to make excuses about that.

Are you worried about the defense's confidence?

I'm sure it's a factor, but we have to shake that element of it off. That's really a big reason why we approach this the way we approach this. By that, I mean we live week to week. We stay focused on the task at hand and get ready to play the St. Louis Rams and get ready for those guys. The reality is that we're a 9-5 football team searching for our 10th win. We've got to go on the road and do that in St. Louis. Do we feel good about where we are right now? Absolutely not. Would we feel better if we had started the season 1-4 instead of 4-1 and were sitting here at 9-5? We probably would. That is the mental toughness element of this game. That's why you have to stay singularly focused and in the tunnel. This is a long season. Every team faces tirals and tribulations, ups and downs. You cannot ride the emotional roller coaster. The reality is that we are what we are. We're 9-5. Some people would love to feel good about it had they started slow. Some people would love to feel bad about it if they stumbled of late. We've stumbled of late. So be it. We've got to go to St. Louis and seek our 10th win.

Is tackling guys being out of position or the tackling itself?

It's a little bit of both. So much of tackling is being in proper position. It's nothing we can't solve. We have to do that. That's the nature of this game. I wish I had something profound and interesting for you. I don't. We need to be where we need to be. We need to see what we need to see. We need to coach them to do that with great detail. We intend to do that.

Where is the line between missed assignments and getting beat physically?

You're going to get beat physically some. Everybody's got outstanding talent. You focus on the things you can control and the things you take ownership over. We do distinguish the difference. At times, people do get physically beat, just like at time, we physically beat people. When I talk about some of the things we do fundamentally, I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about assignment execution.

Were you beaten physically yesterday?

At times. But we've been physically beaten at times where we've beaten people. When you line up and play football snap in and snap out, you win battles, you lose battles. It's 11 one-on-one battles. Sometimes people get beat, sometimes people win. You'd better win more than you lose in terms of the physical matchups.

What was the impact of the offense sputtering early on?

The impact was that we fell behind and we felt like we had an opportunity to run the football on these guys and we didn't get to do it as often as we would have liked. In terms of it being a determining factor in the outcome of the game, we recognize the ebb and flow of football. We live snap at a time, just like we live one week at a time. We focus on the snap that is ahead. I thought the guys did that. I thought they got going. I thought they made a few plays, but not enough.

Which is the greater concern for you, the pass rush or pass protection?

I don't know if I've thought very deeply about prioritizing which is more of a concern than others. We have a myriad of concerns. We've got to do a better job of rushing the passer. We got home at times. We missed him in the backfield one time. People have gotten the ball out on us pretty quickly. It's been some things. When people run the ball as well as they ran the ball yesterday, it makes it tough to pin your ears back and generate a rush. That's why they play ball the way they play ball. That's why David Garrard is very good with the ball and doesn't throw interceptions, doesn't get sacked a bunch, because of their ability to run the football. In terms of our pass protection, it's an 11-man job and we've got to do a better job of getting off and reading routes and getting open. We've got to do a better job of getting the ball out of our hands. We've got to do a better job of blocking, whether we're talking about offensive linemen versus defensive linemen or whether we're talking about running backs chipping people in blitz pickup, we've got to get better.

What was happening when Tyrone Carter replaced Anthony Smith?

They were playing in a big personnel group. At times we wanted to play three safeties and take a corner out. Sometimes we wanted to play bade D. In the end, those two guys ended up being on the field a lot with Troy. We played three safeties.

Coach, what were the positives you can take forward against the Rams?

I'm not really searching for positives in terms of us needing a pick me up. I expect these guys to be more mentally tough than that. It's a black-and-white business. It's a bottom-line business. You play well enough to win, great. You don't, you've got to get better. We didn't. There were positives in the game and we know that. This team will fight. They've shown that. When we're down, we compete. We march back. But there are no moral victories in regards to that. I thought we were capable of running the ball. But we didn't have an opportunity to run it enough based on the circumstances. We got behind. I thought our specialists dealt with the weather very well. Our snapper, our rookie punter, I thought dealt with it really well, our placekicker. We're getting some guys doing a better job from a coverage unit standpoint. But those are things that we expect. We've got a level of expectations. We expect to perform well in all areas. When we do, we're not surprised by it. We're more surprised when we don't play well and that tends to be our focus.

Third downs have become a problem lately on both sides of the ball. How will you address that against St. Louis?

It's really early. I haven't watched a bunch of St. Louis tape in terms of situational football. We're in the process of developing those plans. We know we have to perform well in that area for a lot of reasons. It usually determines the outcome of football games, time of possession and so forth. It's heightened when you're on the road and we know we haven't played as well as we'd like to on the road at this point. We need to do that and do it well.

What about the pass drops?

We've got to catch the ball, we're professionals, regardless of weather conditions. We don't make excuses. The balls are thrown, we've got to catch them. We didn't. We've got to catch the next one.

What about Steven Jackson?

Boy, he is a load. He's a big guy. He's a strong guy. He's a fast guy. He can catch the ball extremely well. He has a very good stiff-arm. He's a young talented runner. He really is. There's nothing he can't do, physically, in terms of running the football.

Do they look different with (Marc) Bulger back?

Yes they do. They've gone through their issues in terms of playing people in terms of (Gus) Frerotte, (Brock) Berlin. Make no mistake, there's a level of comfort when Bulger is in there, particularly with the receivers in terms of understanding of where people are going to be and the timing of throws. He has a great relationship with (Torry) Holt and (Isaac) Bruce, an nd Dane Looker, for that matter, and Bennett. They're definitely a better football team when he's in there and we've got our hands full.

What about the big plays that have been happening?

When you win, chances are you don't give up big plays. When you lose, chances are you did. Last couple of games, we've given up big plays. We've got to get that corrected. We can't allow that to be a consistent pattern. We can't allow that to happen in St. Louis if we want to win in St. Louis.

(LaMarr) Woodley will start if Clark can't go?


Where do you feel he's at in his rookie season?

The good thing is we feel like we've gotten to the point where he's healthy again. He played some snaps on defense yesterday, which is good. Of course he's back contributing on special teams. We like what he is capable of being. But he has to be that. He has to show improvement. Potential means little in this business. He is a guy with a lot of potential. We're not displeased with how he approaches his job, how he works. He's got to produce for us. If Clark can't go, that will provide him with an opportunity to do that. You watch with a little bit of anticipation.

On St. Louis' offensive line.

I guess my perspective would be a little spotty at this point. I know there have been some injuries and lineup changes and you see that when you watch the tape. Some of the guys I'm familiar with. Todd Steussie is a veteran guy. (Alex) Barron is a high-round draft pick at tackle. (Brett) Romberg at center has missed some time of late. I really don't have any strong opnions of what their personality is. I'm sure they're trying to put some things together as they deal with the adversity the game presents.

Willie Parker said after the game he wasn't sure the offense had an identity. Do you share that sense?

You have those feelings when you're unsuccessful. That's what we were yesterday. His perspective may be a little different today, tomorrow or Thursday if we play well. That's the nature of this game. You can't deny that emotions are part of this game or perceptions are part of this game. You try to stay as mentally tough as you can and continue to chip away and try to put together good performances. The nature of yesterday's performance will put that taste in your mouth. I try not to ride the emotional roller coaster in terms of that. We've done some good things offensively, not as much as we'd like. You could say the same thing about us as a football team. It is what it is. We accept who we are and what we are at this point. We'll try to correct our problems and move forward and get a win.

Have you ever been a part of a short week like this?

Yeah, we did the same thing in the preseason in preparation for Carolina. We modelled that week as a dry run so that as we sit here right now, so we would get an opportunity to do it and do it for real. So yes, I have been a part of that in the past. The reality is that you have to be ready to play. Some of the physical things you do in preparation for playing, you can't do because their bodies aren't ready to perform at this juncture in the week in regards to that. You've got to get them ready to go on Thursday night. It's definitely a mental week. But our opponent deals with the same thing, so the playing field is level.

Turnover differential is often cited in terms of wins and losses. What about sack differential?

The sack differential lends itself to other things, to third down issues. You get sacked on first or second down, it puts you behind the chains and makes it tougher to convert third downs. It all tells a story and you can take different elements of it and tell whatever story it is you choose to tell. That's why, personally, I focus on few of those things to tell a story and focus on the bottom line, which is trying to seek victory. When you win, all of those things are irrelevent.

Coach, are you masters of your own destiny?

We always feel like we're masters of our destiny because it's about what we do, not what happens around us. If we go to St. Louis and win, we'll feel good about it and we'll move on. We focus on things we can control. In terms of playoff picture, we determine that by how we play. It's no different this week. It's no different in week 2. All of these games are weighted the same. It's funny to me how people put a different emphasis on these games as the playoff picture becomes clear. That would be mental weakness if you ask me. You need to have the same urgency in week 2, because those games are factors in where we are right now. That's what I've said repeatedly over the course of the year. We play 16 games. They're all important. We've got to be where we are, live in the moment, prepare to be the very best that we can be in the opportunity in front of us. That's the nature of it. I also understand human nature. When people see the light at the end of the tunnel, they dig harder. I don't want to create that climate or atmosphere here. I want to dig hard all the time, whether we see the light or no. That's what good, hardened, top-caliber football teams do.

What about an offensive player yesterday being critical of the defense?

I don't know what you're referring to.

Santonio Holmes said in the locker room afterwards that the defense didn't stop them.

He told the truth. We didn't score enough points either.

If Kirschke can't go, will you make a roster move?

It's tough, particularly on a short week. We hope he's going to be fine, but we have to make preparations if that is not the case. We're in the process of doing that.

Is this what Troy had earlier with the ribs?

I don't know if it is as significant as what Troy had. I'd be speculating to say that. We'll see where he is. I just know he won't go tomorrow and didn't want you guys to be shocked by it.

Will you have two full practices?

Full practices would be with pads, so no we won't. We'll go through our normal proceedures in terms of hitting situational football because we need to do that in terms of getting looks and being ready to play football. But you do have to cater and monitor what you do on the short week.

How much more can you know about the Rams on a short week?

More than I know now? A bunch. The tape is going to run when I walk out of here. But so is there's. The playing field is level. I'm not going to make out of this short week than what it is. It's a short week for them as well. We have to deal with it. We're professionals, we have to deal with it.

More teams going on fourth down this season?

I think when you run the ball and run the ball effectively, you feel good about that. We do and that's why we go for some things. I know that they do and that's why they go for things. It's probably the mentality of the football team. It wasn't surprising to us that they had a fourth-down mentality. They had gone for 29 prior to our game in 13 games.

They made a lot of them too.

Oh yeah. Yesterday was not a shock in terms of what they've been doing in those situations. The big thing is to keep them out of fourth-and-one. A team like that who gets in fourth-and-one or less than that knows they've got a chance to move the chains. You try to keep them out of those situations.

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