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 Cleveland and its upcoming game with Philadelphia:
Opening statement: Good afternoon. A quick review of Sunday night's performance. (We had) similar thoughts to what we had Sunday night. It was a gritty performance by our football team. It was a very physical game. I was pleased with how we played in the trenches on both sides of the ball. I thought our coverage units were outstanding in containing what we believe is a special guy in Josh Cribbs. We had a bunch of guys step up and make critical plays at critical times. It's a sign of potentially being a good football team. I think that's encouraging when you can go into a hostile environment, which it was Sunday night, deal with some adversities and weather conditions and find a way to be successful. It's a good sign.
As we move forward, hopefully we use this experience to get better and one that we can grow from because we've got a new week and some tremendous new challenges. We've got to go on the road again into another hostile environment in Philadelphia versus what, everyone is aware of, a very good football team. If you watched the game last night, you saw what the guy under center is capable of. It starts with him when you talk about Philadelphia. Donovan McNabb is obviously very good and obviously very healthy. He's throwing the deep ball as well as I've ever seen him throw it. We've got to contain this guy. When plays break down, he's special. The guy behind him in the backfield is one of the best in the business. He can kill you running the ball. He can kill you receiving the ball, in the backfield, out of the backfield. The guy's got five touchdowns in two weeks. He's leading the NFL in scoring. He's got a cast of characters of receivers that he's capable of using and he does. L.J. Smith at tight end is a guy who's a tough matchup because he's big and athletic. DeSean Jackson is proving that the NFL stage is not too big for him. He's over 200 yards in two games and is a splash play waiting to happen. They've got some injuries with some of their known guys like (Kevin) Curtis and I know Reggie Brown hasn't played yet, but he's potentially going to play against us. Hank Baskett is a big-play guy. They've got two veteran tackles in (Jon) Runyan and (Tra) Thomas that are going to be very capable of matching up with our edge people. I think that's going to be one of the games within the game. Defensively, of course, they're led by Jimmy Johnson. Their blitz package are very tough to deal with. When you've got a guy on the back end like Brian Dawkins, he kind of brings it and ties it all together. He's very good. Coming off our left side is Trent Cole, who's a very dangerous guy, Pro Bowl caliber. It will be the third straight week for Marvel (Smith) to have a premium matchup, if you will. He goes from Mario Williams the first week to the other night and (Kamerion) Wimbley and now he's got at Trent Cole. Such is the life for a left tackle in the National Football League. In the return game, Jackson is a very dangerous return man, he's already proven that. He ran one back against New England in the preseason. He had a 60-yarder in the opener versus St. Louis as a punt return man. He's very dangerous. (David) Akers, their kicker, is a veteran guy who can deliver under all circumstances. Needless to say, we're ready to roll our sleeves up and get to work because we need to. We've got some tough challenges ahead in the eastern part of this state at the end of the week.
Can you update us on (Brett) Keisel and what are your plans if he's out for a long time?
Sure, I'll hit you on all the injury guys. Brett Keisel has a calf injury, he's out this week. We'll take it week-to-week. Specifically, we followed the rotation principle and suited six and played six. Now, it's an opportunity for Orpheus Roye to step up into the rotation. It won't be one guy, it will be a collection of guys that get and opportunity to play at his spot. As always, our standards of expectations won't change. We expect those guys to play and play at a high level. Some other injuries: Ben (Roethlisberger) is still nursing the sore shoulder. He could be limited here in the first part of the week. Hopefully he progresses like he did last week. I just met with him and he said he feels better this week than he did a week ago, which is good. Donovan Woods has a hamstring. He's going to be out this week. Deshea (Townsend) is going to be day-to-day. We'll take a look at his heal contusion. Hopefully he can go tomorrow, don't know at this point. James (Farrior) has a sore back. He might be somewhat limited tomorrow. William Gay has an ankle sprain. Although minor, he'll be somewhat limited tomorrow. Santonio (Holmes) has a knee bruise, he could be limited tomorrow. Travis Kirschke has a back, he could be limited tomorrow. All of those guys are not questioned for the game, just limited here early in the week. All in all, considering how physical the game was, not a bad laundry list of injuries and we'll move on.
How big of a deal is it if a quarterback can't practice fully?
It really depends on the quarterback. Some guys need a lot of snaps to be ready. Some guys can learn visually in the film room and so forth. Some guys need physical reps. Thankfully with Ben, he's a pretty quick study and sharp guy. He can learn in a variety of ways, film study and visual reps. It doesn't take him a great number of reps to be ready to play. At least that's been my experience with him. I thought he played pretty well the other night. Hopefully that will be the case again this week. I know it won't be an excuse.
What about the pass catchers working with the same quarterback?
You know, they get open, you throw them the ball, they catch it.
Is there concern about Ben doing any further damage by playing?
Does he have any sort of separation or is it just sore?
I have no idea where that report came from. It didn't come from me or my medical staff. If anybody has any information in here about where that report came from, send them to me. I appreciate it. The guy has a sore shoulder.
Did it happen in a production meeting?
Again, I'd like to hear from someone who got that information first-hand. That did not come from me or my medical staff.
Did it come from Roethlisberger?
Not to my knowledge, no.
So it's just a sore shoulder, not a separation?
It's an AC sprain. It's a sore shoulder.
Do they still bring all out pressure or has that changed over the years?
No. It hasn't. When you're successful with any scheme, be it offense, defense or special teams, people copycat it. I think that's what happened. People see some of the things that they do more often now because other people copy it. It's not quite as foreign. It doesn't make it any less effective. They're on the cutting edge schematically, defensively. You've got to run your antenna up when you're preparing to play a Jimmy Johnson defense. We respect those guys. They're still capable of lighting you up.
With other guys not playing because of injury, may it be a chance to get (Limas) Sweed dressed?
We don't have any injuries at the wide receiver position, so that may not affect Limas' status for the game. Those decisions will be determined later in the week. At this point, we're very pleased with how Hines (Ward) is playing, how Santonio (Holmes) is playing and we've got to spread the ball around a little bit more to some other people to make people respect those other threats that we're comfortable with.
What does it mean for a team to have a running back so capable of catching the ball and running with it out of the backfield?
What he is an extremely tough matchup problem, similar to what Marshall Faulk did when he was in St. Louis. When Marshall used to line up outside the backfield, you were very cautious about who you put out there, linebackers, safeties, etc. Not only because he's dangerous, in terms of his pass-catching ability, but because of his route-running ability. I view Brian Westbrook the same way. This guy has an expanded route tree for a running back. He's got great hands. And Donovan obviously has a great deal of confidence in him. He can break you down out there. You'd better be conscious of the people you put out there on him.
Have you seen the progression in your offensive line you wanted to see from them, particularly the new guys?
So far so good. But we're going to be judged on a body of work that hopefully expands through February. I like where we are. I see growth. The guys played with an edge. It's a physical group. It's different than we had in the past because we have different players. But they're playing to their strengths, one that I happen to like because it appears to be very physical.
What about (Chris) Kemoeatu?
What I said to describe the group describes him. He likes to pull, he stays on his feet, he finishes people. He's doing a nice job.
What was the difference between the hit (LaMarr) Woodley had and the one (Shaun) Rogers had on Ben?
I don't know. I'm not the official. They looked very similar to me. I don't cry about calls. You can't change them. Ask Norv Turner.
Do you alert the league and say look at this and look at this?
The league is very aware of the issues and they do a good a job as they can. I trust their judgment in that regard. They know who plays quarterback for us. They know how vital he is to us, as is everybody's quarterback.
On Orpheus Roye.
Based on our experience with him, he's been a good teammate. He's been a very good professional. He's competed. He's given quality looks. For a guy with his resume to compete the way he's competed on look squads throughout the week has been quite impressive. He gets along well with his teammates. We think he still has something left in the tank. He flashes that in practice. He'll be given a shot to do that in games and I know he's looking forward to that.
With Keisel out, will teams go after James Harrison differently?
In game, no. Cleveland is a left-handed running team anyway. They've got (Eric) Steinbach and (Joe) Thomas over there. So they played to their strength, they didn't change whatsoever. What Philly does remains to be seen. We'll see.
Is there some portion of your defense that you have to abandon or do you have someone who can play that role?
We should be able to stick to the plan and be able to maintain all of our packages. Our defensive staff does a good job of teaching same as, same as, same as regarding position flexibility. So we don't anticipate any reduction in scheme this week.
Is the plan to start with Kirschke?
That's to be decided. Of course, you'll a lot of Kirschke, a lot of Nick Eason, and we'll see how Orpheus fits into the picture as well.
How about in your sub package? Same deal?
Same thing. Yes.
Was the plan to use (Rashard) Mendenhall more and that's how the game played out?
Yes. That was the plan. Willie had that look in his eye. He's a competitor. It was one of those environments. It was a knock-down, drag-out game, if you will. We didn't get a bunch of snaps. It took us a while to get going, both teams, in the first half. We never gained that much of a rhythm, so we weren't able to get him in. When we're driving the ball and Willie gets fatigued or we need a change of pace, it's our plan to mix him in. But there, initially, we were three-and-out, five-and-out. We weren't able to get it going. That's how the game played out. Down the stretch, we're in a four-minute offense and Willie's running the ball well. He's got a great repoire with the offensive line, we like how the game's going, we just continued to feed him the ball. Rashard's participation was just what it was based on game circumstances.
What happened on the kickoff, were they confused, was it the wind?
Both. The wind made it difficult and we had questionable decision-making back there.
It looked like a couple of players were interacting with the Cleveland fans. Is that something you have to talk to them about?
These guys know that you've got to play. It's not about what you say, it's about what you do. It was a hostile environment. I was pleased that our guys put a positive spin on it and used it as motivation. It's the kind of right approach to take rather than be intimidated. I'd be more concerned if they were intimidated.
Do you want to keep McNabb in the pocket and do you give some things up by keeping him in there?
He's the kind of quarterback you attempt to keep in the pocket, but if he's committed to exiting the pocket, he's got a good chance of doing it. We've got to deal with him. His talents are special. He can throw in the pocket. He can throw on the move. As I mentioned, he's throwing the deep ball extremely well. He's got great touch. He's a great player.
Is that weird to see, a quarterback who's been around as long as he has to have a great deep ball this late in his career?
I think if you've got it, you've got it. I remember when I got into the league as a position coach, you'd watch Randall Cunningham warm up and he'd drop 60-yard balls in the back corner of the end zone. It was kind of intimidating. He was at the end. This guy's not at the end. This is just a good veteran player who throws a good deep ball.
How did Justin Hartwig do?
I thought he did extremely well. Shaun Rogers is Shaun Rogers. He's a dominant player. I wish Detroit hadn't traded him to this division, but so be it. Justin did a nice job.
How good of a measuring stick will playing the NFC East teams be?
We're not concerned with measuring ourselves versus that division. We're concerned with measuring ourselves versus the Eagles. I'll let you know Sunday night.
You mentioned Norv Turner, what are your thoughts on the league looking at that rule?
I'm always in a wait-and-see mentality when it comes to things coming from out of New York. I think that's the best approach to take.
Is there room for them to manipulate that a little bit?
Those are changes that usually occur during the offseason. I'm sure some of the events that happened in the first couple of weeks of the season and things that will happen throughout will dictate some of the decisions that are made during the offseason, but that's probably more of an offseason discussion.
What's you philosophy on the two-point conversion that (Mike) Shanahan did?
It was an awesome call because it worked. We understand what comes with this hat that we wear. Great call by Mike. Great call because they scored.
What about you?
I'm for it if it works.
What did James (Farrior) do that brought the taunting penalty?
It was an inappropriate gesture.
When your upcoming opponent plays Monday night, do you watch it?
I really don't change my routine. Most of the time I have the Monday night game on in my office on mute while I'm watching tape. I didn't have it on mute last night, that was about the only change. You're still watching tape and going about your business. We'll break that tape down today in detail like we normally do. It doesn't change that much.
What's it like coaching a game in Philadelphia?
I coached in the last game played in the Vet and I coached in the first game played in the new stadium. The environment is not very different. It's the same. You're going to Philly. You respect that team, you respect their fans because of the passion that they have. It creates a challenging situation, one I hope we're ready for, but one that's also very exciting. I love going to Philly. It's a tough place.
On Jeff Reed kicking in poor weather and field conditions.
I will say it's unusual, but it's surprising what you can get used to. More than anything, Jeff has hardened himself over the time he's been here to kick in unusual circumstances and conditions. Quite frankly, it's a weapon for us, one that we value and appreciate.
On Mewelde Moore letting punts hit?
He and I did (talk about it before the game). The big thing was gaining possession of the football. Those winds were tough. I said if you're going to err, err on the side of caution, which he did. We were able to gain possession of the football. Would you like him to field it? Absolutely. But I'll take what happened as opposed to muffs. It was extenuating circumstances to say the least. One element of the game that you've got to acknowledge was in that phase, they dealt with it better than we did. Their return men fielded the ball for the most part. They let a few hit the ground as well. I thought their punter did an excellent job punting into the wind and really kind of negated the decision I made to defer, for the most part. He had a special night, hat's off to him.
Were you concerned when you didn't take advantage in the first quarter?
Not overly concerned. What I was looking for was field position. I knew the weather being what it was, it would be difficult. What we were able to do was gain field position. For the most part, we played the game on their side of the field. That was for a lot of reasons. We played good defense and got off I think on their first four or five possessions. Mitch Berger had some punts that were downed not only inside the 20, but inside the 10. Offensively, although we weren't scoring, we were getting a first down or two just about on every possession. It kept the ball down there and it became a ping pong game sometimes when you're playing under those weather conditions against a defense that's playing well, which I believe both were.
Did you consider taking the wind in the fourth quarter?
It was their decision in the second half. We chose the ball, so they chose to defend what goal they wanted to defend. They chose to take the wind in the fourth quarter, which was a good decision. They got the ball moving a little in the fourth quarter. But it wasn't our decision after the half.
But you could have chosen a side.
We were going to take the ball.
You mentioned Mewelde returning in a dome. Did he have experience in Chicago and Green Bay?
I don't think any normal weather conditions would have prepared you for what we faced in Cleveland Sunday night. That was a unique circumstance, one I hadn't been exposed to in my eight years in the league.
Is Rashard still your deep man?
How has Troy (Polamalu) looked compared to what you saw last year?
He's playing at a high level. But he's healthy. That's always got something to do with it. The standards are what they are. We make no excuses. He was elected to the Pro Bowl a year ago, but he's healthy. I like him healthy.
Mike (apparently, since I wasn't paying attention) did you list Deshea on your injury list and what's his status and how did Bryant McFadden do?
I did list him. He's got a heal contusion. His participation is questionable. We'll see tomorrow. I thought Bryant played very well. He has practiced very well, not only last week, but over the last several weeks. He's practiced extremely well, so it's not unexpected that he performed at a nice level. We're very fortunate at the cornerback position. We feel we have some guys that can play winning football for us. We feel the same way about William Gay. I think that group does a nice job. I think coach (Ray) Horton does a nice job of preparing those guys.