Opening statement: We're ready to get started this week coming off a well-needed bye weekend. We feel like we're a better team from the injury standpoint. I'll quickly talk about some of those things. Dallas Baker will be out this week with a shoulder sprain, or separation, depending how you look at it. Carey Davis has an ankle sprain, he'll be out again this week. Keyaron Fox has a hamstring strain, he won't make it this week. Some guys that have been out who are returning for us, Brett Keisel, like we talked about, is ready to go. Casey Hampton, we'll see how he goes this week. He ran yesterday and looked pretty good. He'll probably run again tomorrow. We'll target Thursday as a practice day and see where he is. Some other guys that experienced some discomfort: Jeff Reed is much improved, we'll see where he is; Willie Parker practiced yesterday, he's just going to get better with confidence as we push forward toward the weekend; Marvel Smith was held out yesterday due to back spasms, we'll see where he is tomorrow. All those things aside, we're getting pretty healthy.
Let's talk about the challenges we have this week. We're going on the road against another division opponent. We know how important those are against the Cincinnati Bengals. This is a team that we're very familiar with, but looking at the tape, there are some people playing some key positions that are new to us. I think that's where we're spending out time in terms of preparing for these guys. Offensively, of course, you know about the receiving tandem in C.J. (Chad Ocho Cinco) and T.J. (Housmandzadeh). Those guys, it's well-documented what they're capable of. We're spending a lot of time looking at Ryan Fitzpatrick. This guy is very mobile, has shown capabilities of making all the throws. I think the biggest difference between him and Carson Palmer is we have to be very conscious of our rush lanes. This guy's running at about 6.8 yards per carry. He'll pull the ball down and escape on you. Some of the things you've done to combat T.J. and C.J. in the past, two mans and such, you have to be very conscious of with this guy because he can hurt you with his legs. Of course, Rudi Johnson is no longer there, so the feature back position is new to us with (Chris) Perry and they acquired Cedric Benson a few weeks ago. He's looking very comfortable. Both of those backs are slashing, tough backs that can run downhill. In their receiving corps, Ben Utecht is a new acquisition in free agency. He provides a unique matchup. He's very athletic. He can split out from the core. You've got to make some tough decisions about who you put on him. They've thrown him jump balls in the red zone and things of that nature. He's one of those unique tight end body types that you have to consider. They're using Antonio Chatman more on offense. He's working in the slot. Of course we know what he is as a punt returner, but as a receiver, he's a very quick guy working in the slot much like T.J. has done in the past. But he's very different. T.J. is a big, powerful position guy and he's a tough matchup because of that. Chatman has great short-area quickness. He can escape people inside and get open in the interior. They're using those two guys very well. Up front, their big people, they're anchored by what I feel is a very good tackle tandem in (Shawn) Andrews and (Levi) Jones. They felt good enough about Andrews that they let Willie Anderson go back in the summer. He's proven them right in how he's played and, of course, Levi Jones is a very highly regarded first-round pick. Defensively, we're talking about things being new, coach (Mike) Zimmmer is a new coordinator. They've got (Antwan) Odom up front, he's leading them in sacks, as a free agent acquisition from the Titans. He's a new guy that we'd better get familiar with in a hurry. He can bring pressure from the edge. The linebacker, Keith Rivers, a first-round pick out of Southern Cal, has proven that the NFL game is not foreign to him. He's making plays all over the field, sideline to sideline. He's shooting gaps. That's a guy that you have to be concerned about backside. He's getting his hands on some balls. He's got an interception. In the secondary, they've got a rock-soild tandem in (Jonathan) Joseph and Leon Hall. Young guys, but guy that are quickly proving that they can play this game. At the safety position (Chinedum) Ndukwe is stepping up big for Dexter Jackson. He's got a sack, he's got a pick. He's playing around the line of scrimmage, very active and you need to know where he is at all times. On special teams, very rock-solid return game. Antonio Chatman is averaging over 10 yards per punt return. And (Glenn) Holt is about 26.6 as a kick return man and, of course, he's hurt us in the past. We'll have our antenna up in that regard. And, of course, Shayne Graham is a very accurate kicker. I think he's nine for 10 on the season and they'll expect to have him back.
That's where we are. We've got to knock the rust off, if you will, and we intend to do that. We had a good practice yesterday and we'll continue to do that as we prepare today and get the troops back tomorrow. I'll answer any questions.
What were the fines for Hines Ward for?
I join him in being bewildered on the second one. That's how this guy has played football for a long time now. Neither one of the instances were penalties. Don't get me wrong, I understand what the league is trying to do from a safety standpoint and I am for that. We've got to be competitive, we've got to be professional and put a good product out there for our fans. But, boy, it's starting to cost too much money to come to work for these guys. We've got to get a little clarity in regards to that and I think that's something we're working on as a league.
What did he do in the Jacksonville game?
He played football. I intend to make a phone call and get some clarity this week and relay that to him. More than anything, we want to be a team and he wants to be a player who plays the game the way it's supposed to be played, the way our league wants it played. We respect that. But we need a little clarity in that situation.
Are you concerned they're targeting him?
I think he probably plays the position different than a lot of people play the position. You could say target, but I don't choose to use those words. Make no mistake, he plays the wide receiver position different than most people play it. He's probably viewed a little differently because of it. He's a physical player. He's a football player first and a wide receiver second. But like I said, it's our goal to play within the rules of the game. We believe that we're doing that. He hasn't been penalized. But by the same token, we want to share the commissioner's vision in terms of player safety, so we need to get a little clarity on those issues.
Is the league obligated to tell you on which play it happened?
I think he's familiar with what play they're talking about. I'm familiar with what play they're talking about, I just don't know what merited the fine.
Was it that first play?
It was early in the game, I don't know that it was necessarily that play.
You referenced C.J. a couple of times, how do you refer to No. 85?
Whatever No. 85 chooses to be recognized as. If he wants to be known as Ocho Cinco, that's what we'll call him. We respect that guy. He's a talented guy. He needs no endorsements from me. His resume' is his resume'. The bottom line is that when he steps onto the field to play ball, he's somebody to be reckoned with.
When you look at them on tape do you see 0-6?
No you don't. But that's the story of the National Football League. And I know people say this all the time and it becomes cliche'-ish, but it's not much difference between being 0-6 and 6-0. These guys have played good football in pockets of time. I just think they haven't put it together in terms of finishing 60 minutes and winning a football game. They took the Giants into overtime. They're a capable team. They've got some new people in positions as I mentioned. They've had some instability at the quarterback position. When you have that, you don't have a healthy Carson Palmer, it makes life tough. There's a lot of reasons why their record is their record. We're not concerned about their record. I'm sure they're not concerned about ours. This is going to be a hotly contested battle. You throw records out the window when we go to Cincinnati or they come to Pittsburgh. There's familiarity. It's going to be a rough-and-tumble football game like it always is, I'm sure.
Will you limit the playing time of any of the guys coming back to get more playing time for the backups that proved themselves?
I think it's important that we're conscious about how we're doing that, at least in some instances. But probably in most instances, when guys have been out for an extended period of time, they've been conditioning themselves. But conditioning and football conditioning are two different things. We'll be monitoring their reps. The men that stepped in for them have proven that they're capable of playing winning football for us. But that specific plan will become more clear as we push forward in the week and see how they hold up during practice.
Has Mewelde (Moore) earned more touches?
We know what Mewelde is capable of. Mewelde is a guy who is going to deliver. Mewelde is never going to get the number of touches that he feels he desires and what he's capable of having. But this is a team player and he's always ready to go. This guy has helped us directly win two football games. We know what he's capable of when we call on him and we know he'll deliver.
Re: Happy to see the upsets over the weekend.
It's not just this weekend, it's every weekend. We respect that. We understand what that's about. We're the same team that went to New York and got beat by a Jets team that probably had one win. That's what this National Football League is about, it's the ultimate parity league. I think that's what fans love so much. If you prepare and play well and play to your capabilities, every team has a chance to win in this league on any given Sunday.
Fitzgerald is 0-5 as a starter in his career and thrown a ton of picks. Is that the kind of guy you want to make throw the ball?
We're going to apply pressure because that's what we do. We're going to play our game. There's no question he's experienced some problems under pressure, but that's any quarterback that lacks experience. The thing you have to be conscious when pressuring this guy is that maybe than it usually is when they have Carson Palmer in there. These guys are changing the launch point. They're running misdirection passes, boots, sprint outs. You can also get yourself if trouble with some of those things when they change the launch point on you. We're going to do what it is that we do defensively, offensively and special teams, for that matter. We're trying to establish the personality and win football games. But at the same time, we're respectful of what those guys are capable of doing.
Are you worried that Hines might change his style of play if this keeps up?
I don't think you have to worry about that. The big thing, like I said, is we want to do what's right and play the game the way it's supposed to be played. I need to get him that information. I need to get us that information in terms of what the exact issues are with his quality of play.
Were there others who were fined? I know Ryan Clark was fined.
I'm not interested in talking publicly about fines. It's obvious in this league that there are quite a bit more fines that are doled out than are talked about publicly. I'm not interested in adding to that. What I am interested in is playing the game the way it's supposed to be played.
Limas Sweed will, I guess, move up to No. 4. What has been holding him back?
He's doing well. He'll get an opportunity this week to be the No. 4 receiver. He just needs to have consistency in route running, catching the football and assignments. It's just that simple. He has improved and, really, he's been on the brink of deserving an opportunity. But the other guys playing in front of him have done a nice job. With this injury to Dallas Baker, it's a window of opportunity for him, one that he needs to take advantage of.
(Stop, Ellis time) Mike, I know the Jacksonville game was a long time ago (but I haven't asked anything yet to get my face on TV), do you sense that your team took it upon themselves and fought through the injuries?
I've kind of moved on from Jacksonville.
But the intangibles of fighting through the injuries …
You would hope that we've learned some quality lessons from that. But ultimately, moving on, we'll see if we have. We'd like to think that we have, but we've got to go play football. What lies ahead is most important. Hopefully, some of the things that have happened to us in the past, positively, like Jacksonville, and negatively, like Philadelphia., we learn from.
How is Willie's lateral movement?
He's not 100 percent. He's probably better capable of answering about his level of confidence than I am. He looked pretty good yesterday and we'll push forward.
If Marvel can's play, who will start at left tackle?
Is that a matchup situation?
The performance by (Trai) Essex was exactly what I said it was. We were late in the football game. We were going to do a lot of passing. They had an undersized, very fast, defensive end over there in Quentin Groves. We felt like he gave us the best matchup under those circumstances. But that was a specific game circumstance late in the football game where we needed to throw the ball virtually every down and that's what he provided us.
Are you sticking with (Darnell) Stapleton?
Yes we are. When you think about the six quarters he's played, you measure his performance because we've been effective as an offense. We've played a half of winning football in a half against the Ravens when he was in there. And we played a game of winning football in Jacksonville when he was in there. He's more than held his own. He's a pretty good communicator. Guys seem to have a level of comfort with him playing at tackle and at center around him. He's doing a nice job. Of course, he's going to continue to get better with reps, that's our hope, but he's OK right now.
If Reed can't go, what are your options at kicker?
Jeff better go is my mentality. I don't want to think about Jeff not going.
Will you consider Mitch (Berger) kicking off?
Yes we will and that's something that we'll take a look at. Really, Jeff's recovery as the week goes on will determine our direction in regards to that. Jeff's a veteran player. That's something that could be decided as late as Sunday.
Will you look at kickers in case he can't go?
Again, I don't even want to consider those things. I just looked at Jeff and crossed my fingers and told him to get well. I think the biggest thing is how he felt the day after the game. He felt markedly better. I think there was potential to do that last week, but he immediately felt better the next morning after the Jacksonville game. It kind of put us at ease and we knew that he would be headed in the right direction and he has done that.
How much did not have to play help Ben (Roethlisberger's) shoulder?
Ben will probably be more equipped to answer that than I am. Ben is playing winning football for us. He hasn't missed any game action, so I haven't thought that much about it.
What did you see last year that you liked that you kept Stapleton last year?
This guy has performed, first and foremost, from an assignment standpoint, from an execution standpoint. He plays with nice leverage. He appears to be a quick study. He doesn't make the same mistakes repeatedly. If he makes mistakes, they're new mistakes. He's got position flexibility in that he's guard-capable and center-capable. Those things keep us coming back to him and keep him hanging around. And when given an opportunity, he's seized it. I think what he's done over the last game and a half have proven some of those things.
In that sense, what made you keep (Bryant) McFadden in the starting lineup?
Again, Deshea (Townsend) is less than 100 percent at this point. We're just trying to push him to game day. But there's not denying that Bryant McFadden has played winning football for us. We're happy with his performance. He needs to continue to deliver that and we need to continue to get Deshea well.