Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference Tuesday. Here's what the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers had to say about the team's win over Houston and it's upcoming game against the Cleveland Browns.
Opening Statement: We came in yesterday and reviewed our performance. Today we're moving forward. Hopefully, we're getting better this week. That's always what you try to do between game one and game two. Maybe that process will be a little more difficult this week because we had a lot of success. Hopefully we're smart enough and professional enough that it won't be an issue. We'll come to work. The challenges that lie ahead this week will help with that in the form of the Cleveland Browns at their place in front of their people. A lot has been written and said about what that team is capable of here in ‘08 and deservedly so. They've got six Pro Bowlers from last year. They went out and got some big-time players in free agency. Offensively, Derek Anderson leads the charge at quarterback. They've got Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow at receiver. Jamal Lewis is, of course, a tough guy to deal with. It starts there defensively. Their left tackle, Joe Thomas, is as good as advertised when they selected him in the first round of the draft. Defensively, they really made what they think are improvements, and I have to agree with them, up front in Shaun Rogers, who is a big, powerful, athletic man. We'll get to know a little bit more about Justin Hartwig pretty quickly here this weekend. He's going to be a force to be reckoned with, as is Corey Williams, who they picked up from the Green Bay Packers. Robaire Smith, Shaun Smith, they've got big people up front that they play behind. Those guys are capable of dominating the line of scrimmage. You guys know how we like to play football, so that's going to be a tall order for us. (Kamerion) Wimbley, of course, is a very capable right outside linebacker. And Willie McGinnest as been doing it for a long time at a high level at the other outside linebacker position. Sean Jones, or course, is a capable safety. He directs traffic for those guys in the back end. What's kind of been lost in the midst of some of the high-priced free agency, big names that they've gotten guys like Terry Cousins who can play and who can play football on their team. They also picked up Travis Daniels, who's got starter experience for the Miami Dolphins, here of late. The special teams game starts with Josh Cribbs. He's arguably the best in the world and there's only one other guy that's got an argument when you talk about what he's capable of doing as a punt and kick returner. We roll our sleeves up and go to work. It's a big game for a lot of reasons. More than anything, we're going to play a good team in a hostile environment Sunday night.
Is there something you think you need to do better?
I'm not going to complain about winning by 21 points. Some of the things that you get into in a game that goes down to the wire are still unanswered for us. We talk about situational football and it defines us. It defines individuals and teams. Two-minute drills and so forth. Four-minute football and things of that nature. Those questions remain unanswered for our football team. When the rubber meets the road, how will we respond? We're probably going to see on Sunday night because this is a very good football team we're going to face.
Do you anticipate that Cleveland won't have trouble focusing because of the lack of success they had Sunday?
Invariably, people get better from week one to week two. We have evidence that they're capable of putting behind them what happened in week one behind them and getting better. We were fortunate to beat those guys in their place in week one last year. They came out and hung 51 points on Cincinnati in week two. I think that's all the evidence we need. And the guy under center was Derek Anderson. That will be the guy under center when we play those guys on Sunday night. I know coach (Romeo) Crennel. They won't blink because they're professionals. They're good at what they do. Based on what happened to them, it will be a winning edge for them. It will have their attention. They will come ready to play. We expect that.
The four-minute drill, is that the time when you have the lead that you can grind down a team?
How do you think he did at that?
We didn't do very well. We had some three-and-outs in the fourth quarter. That is what it is. Hopefully we'll have some more opportunities to do that in the weeks ahead. That means you're ahead. We're a team on the rise, hopefully. We're a team that's looking to get better every day. He's not a finished product and we're not either. That's the way we'll approach it.
Is Ben (Roethlisberger) healthy?
Let me run down the whole list of potential guys since you brought that up. Ben has a sore shoulder. He's probably going to be limited tomorrow. We'll see what he looks like tomorrow. He was just in here today and got treatment. It's just a little sore from playing in the game. Marvel Smith has got what could be characterized as a groin strain. He'll probably be limited in the first part of the week. Deshea Townsend has a heel contusion. The same goes for him. Other than that, we're a pretty healthy football team.
Your No. 3 tight end, he's OK?
Yes, he's going to practice tomorrow. The guy you're referring to is Sean McHugh.
Cribbs had a major impact on last year's game. He didn't play last week, but he'll play this week I would imagine.
How do Jeff Reed's kicks factor into your coverage? It's kind of like pass rush and pass coverage. They go hand in hand. Jeff has done a nice job for us, particularly last week, spraying the ball around a little bit. Houston had a very reputable guy in Andre Davis. But there's one Josh Cribbs and we're going to see him on Sunday. Jeff needs to be at his best and we need to be at our best as coverage people. No question what he did to us in the past was very crucial in how the game played out. But, we have a big windshield and a small rearview. We're going to focus on what lies ahead and prepare ourselves for this weekend. Some of the guys on those coverage units weren't here last year or had different roles. We're going to leave those bags behind and go compete against somebody who's one of the best in the world. It's a big challenge, one that we look forward to.
Who are some of the guys who stepped up on your coverage units?
It's very early. Guys that played well for us the other day, I like what 22 (William Gay) and 37 (Anthony Madison) do as a tandem. They have very similar jobs, whether it's kickoff return or punts, really they're the same guy. And they're coming into their own in terms of embracing those roles. They're much better as we sit here today than they were a year ago. I like the direction those guys are moving. It was a good start for our rookie, Donovan Woods, but it's week to week with him. Will see how the rookie roller coaster treats him this week. Keyaron Fox has been a nice addition to us. Andre Frazier is a steady, dependable guy. Carey Davis has been a core special teams guy for us. We like our cast of characters. We got some questions to be answered that are only going to be answered with quality play.
What makes Cribbs such a good kick returner?
He's got great vision. He's got very nice quickness. He can stick his foot in the ground and chance direction. More than anything is that he's fearless. He's fearless as a kick returner, fearless as a punt returner. This guy is used to having the ball in his hands and he's a competitor. He's used to having the outcome of games being decided on how he performs. You're talking about a quarterback that dominated the MAC conference for the four years he played in that league, running and throwing. He loves it. He eats it by the pound. He loves having that on his shoulders and it shows when he plays.
Can you deliver an early knockout blow to a division opponent or is it too early for that?
Yeah, we're not interested in knockout blows and statements. We're working week to week here. We're trying to prepare ourselves for Sunday night to go out and win.
Were you pleased with your special teams Sunday?
Jeff's squib kick, was that by design?
No, that wasn't by design. That was a nice coaching plan. We worked on that. No, sometimes that happens.
Do you try to get different looks?
With the popup kick, the direction in terms of where the ball landed, some of the things you do when you play quality kick returners. He did a nice job.
Then we could see that again this week?
Hopefully, it's not in the middle because we've seen what he's capable of with the ones right to him.
How does your passing game match up against them?
Romeo Crennell and coach (Mel) Tucker, their coordinator, I know those guys. They're good defensive coaches. What they did against Dallas is no indication of what they're capable or willing to do or going to do against us. We've got to be prepared for whatever they might throw at us. There's going to be some unexpected, for sure. It comes with the territory when you play a team that you play as often as we do in Cleveland, and you play them this early in the year. There's some element of their plan that they've been working on that didn't show up against Dallas and didn't show up in the preseason. It's going to show up against us, defensively, offensively and on special teams. We accept that. That's why we play rules football. We've got to have a general understanding of how we come together and play the unforeseen. That's going to probably be a big part of the outcome of how this game unfolds.
How far does (Limas) Sweed need to come before you feel comfortable playing him?
It's day to day. He has to continue to get better. When we get there, I'll let him know and I'll let you guys know.
Does he just need to show more in practice?
It's really nothing complex at this point. We're trying to win games. We're putting the best players that we feel give help us win on the field. Dallas Baker is better right now.
How exciting are the bookend linebackers?
It's exciting because those guys, they've got the everlasting hunger that you appreciate. They're going to compete against each other. They're going to compete against the people that you play each week. They're going to compete here in practice. That's what they do. You like to have those kind of guys around. I think they feed off of each other. I know I draw energy from guys like that. It was a good game. Let's see if we can have another one on Sunday night.
There's a great deal of optimism because of how your team played and other guys getting hurt around the league. Do you buy into that?
I'll let the players speak for themselves. It all evens out in the end. Injuries are as much a part of this game as blocking and tackling. We had a good performance on Sunday. We're 1-0. We're glad to be, but we've got a new challenge as we're trying to search for another win. In terms of injuries, it happened to some significant people in other cities this week. It's going to happen to us. It's part of football. We're all defined by our ability to make quick adjustments and move on and have an understanding that expectations don't change. I know those guys in New England intend on playing to win this weekend.
Regardless of the injuries, a lot of the top contenders in the AFC lost. Can you use that as motivation in terms of the conference being wide open?
We focus on the Pittsburgh Steelers. We play the Cleveland Browns this week. They won 10 games last year. They've got a bright, young star-studded lineup. We've got enough to worry about.
How was your return game, particularly Rashard (Mendenhall)?
I thought he did a nice job in the kickoff return game putting the ball where it was supposed to be to placed in terms of the return game. He took the ball, he ran vertical. He ran hard. We were just a couple of blocks from doing something significant. I like where he is. I like where our kickoff return is. We played a veteran punter in (Matt) Turk who sprays the ball around pretty good and we weren't able to get the punt return game going. I don't have a clean evaluation of where we are in that regard, but I like where Rashard and our kick return game is at this point.
When (Mewelde Moore) took the knee that time, that's giving himself up, right?
I was concerned about that. Thankfully, the official blew the whistle. It's kind of like boxing, protect yourself at all times. I didn't think he did that on that play. But the whistle is what brought the play to an end.
Was he thinking of the college rule?
I don't think he was thinking that. He's a veteran. I'm glad they blew the whistle.
What did you see of the two sacks you did allow?
One, we made adjustments to pick up pressure that we identified and we didn't get the job done. We turned a guy free. As much as you sit in here and talk about a guy like Mario Williams and not letting him beat you, you make it easy for him when you turn him free. That's what happened on one. On the other one, he just made a nice rush. That's football. He's as good as advertised.
Did you like what you saw of Nick Eason?
He made some nice plays for us. We played a lot of people. That was our intent. Nick is a valued member of this team. He's got a nice upbeat personality. He comes to work every day. I thought he reported to camp in much better shape than he was a year ago. I think his game is going in that direction because of it. He's got some comfort with the techniques that we coach and the things we ask him to do. He's a better player than he was a year ago for us.
Did Troy (Polamalu) appear tentative to you at all?
When he came up and hit Ahman Green in the flat, I quit watching him. I knew he was back. He ran around and was Troy. We need that from him and he delivered.
Did the offseason talk about the Browns motivate your players? Do you think you are still the team to beat?
I was one of the ones that said they were the team to beat. Whether or not people agree with me or not, it's a tall challenge. Hopefully, it motivates us. It had better motivate us because it's real. That team won 10 football games last year and got better in the offseason with some free agent acquisitions and trades and the like. You've got to respect that. I believe that we do.
Why didn't Anthony Smith dress for the first time in his career?
It really wasn't about Anthony per say. It was about September football and being able to wage the battle of attrition in the lines of scrimmages. At times we've dressed seven offensive linemen. We dressed eight on Sunday. At times we've dressed five defensive lineman. We dressed six on Sunday and we play six a bunch. That's what it was about for us. We didn't want to die on the vine in the fourth quarter of the football game with our big people. A lot's been written and said about maybe the age of our defensive line. Maybe there's strength in numbers. Maybe we can keep the old guys up if we play a bunch of them. That was the approach. It really wasn't about Anthony Smith or any of the other guys we chose to deactivate.
Did that affect your special teams personnel?
Really it didn't. When you talk about dressing a bunch of big people, it really doesn't help your special teams. That's one less cover guy, one less guy such as Anthony Smith running down. We felt it was that important given the battles we face here in September.
Will you continue to take that approach through this month?
We'll play it by ear. We'll see what happens.
Are you comfortable dressing just three safeties?
We talk about position flexibility. William Gay has played a bunch of free safety for us in preseason and even dating back to last year. We had three safeties suited by position, but we had a fourth guy capable of finishing the game out at the free safety position if the unforeseen happened.
Would Ty Carter have played free or would William Gay had played free?
Ty Carter was the third safety, so two things would have had to happened for William Gay to play.
Willie Parker joked that he needed more conditioning.
Is that something you can take care of this week? We'll see what we can do. If that's what he needs, we'll provide what he needs.
Did you expect him to have that fourth or fifth gear in the season opener?
I did. Hopefully, he runs enough this weekend so he's tired.