Mike Tomlin held his weekly Tuesday press conference Tuesday. Here's what the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers had to say about the team's win over Cincinnati, injuries and the upcoming game against the New York Giants.
Opening statement: It's a big week for the Steelers this week. The New York football Giants come to town, defending Super Bowl champions to play us at Heinz Field, so we're excited about that. There's a lot to be concerned about as you prepare to play this football team. I'll start offensively, they're second in the league in offense. They have a guy whose last name is (Eli) Manning who plays quarterback. That's always cause for concern. He's always good with the football. He's completed 61 percent of his passes. He's only thrown four picks. And probably the most critical thing is that he does not get sacked. He's only been sacked six times this season. He spreads the ball around, they've got three guys with 20-plus catches. Of course that group is led by Plaxico Burress, who is a physical matchup problem. The guy is 6-5, 230 pounds. He can catch the football; he plays big; he can run after the catch. We've got to do the best we can to contain him. Of course guys in Pittsburgh are familiar with that guy. They run the football extremely well. They're the No. 1 rushing team in football. They've got a stable of backs that do that. That group is led by Brandon Jacobs, who is bigger than Plaxico. He's 265 pounds. He's got over 500 yards on the season. He's plus-five yards a carry. He's got a nose for the goal line when he's intent on scoring. He's got six rushing touchdowns this season. The most impressive thing about their offense is their offensive line, led by Chris Snee. The most impressive thing about these guys is that they get hats on hats. They block all looks. They sustain blocks. They all can get out and pull and get out on the second level. They play very well together. It's obvious why they're very successful, aside from the perimeter people. This group is spectacular. It's fun to watch. It would be more fun to watch if we weren't playing them this week. Defensively, they're fourth in the league in defense. They generate pressure with their front four and the guys feed off of those guys. It's (Justin) Tuck and (Fred) Robbins and (Barry) Coefield and company. They get after your passer relentlessly. They have 21 sacks on the season. The linebackers shoot gaps extremely well. They make these guys tough to block and double team because they run through gaps pretty doggone good. In the secondary, they've got a young secondary with guys like (Corey) Webster and (Aaron) Ross and (Michael) Johnson and (James) Butler. They're all playing extremely well. And the unique thing about this bunch is that they have unique depth, they're backed up by some veteran football players who can play good football and don't require a lot of reps to be ready to play – Sam Madison, R.W. McQuarters and Sammy Knight. Those guys have done big things in this league. In the special teams, they're rock solid. They've got a veteran group in (Jeff) Feagles and (John) Carney. This is a rock-solid football team, very talented, very disciplined. Like I said, they don't turn the football over, they've only got four turnovers all season. They dominate the time of possession at plus 32 minutes. We've got a lot of work to do. It's an exciting challenge and we look forward to getting about that business tomorrow.
From an injury standpoint, Willie Parker continues to progress, he'll practice in a limited capacity or maybe not a limited capacity tomorrow. But he is slated to practice. We'll continue to push him toward game day. Troy (Polamalu) had a concussion in the game. Tests are favorable at this point. He's slated to practice tomorrow. We'll see how he goes. Keyaron Fox is probably not close enough to playing. He could be listed as doubtful with his hamstring strain. Bryant McFadden had surgery yesterday. Of course he has a broken arm. He had a plate inserted, had that thing fixed. He'll be in a sling here for a couple of weeks and then we'll progress from there. After that, we'll take it week by week and see where he is in terms of casting him and his potential play. Marvel Smith is recovering nicely from his back spasms. We'll see where he is not only tomorrow, but as the week goes on. Dallas Baker with his shoulder sprain will start practicing tomorrow. Carey Davis will practice tomorrow. I anticipate him playing, as will Casey Hampton, who practiced in the latter part of last week. He's going to practice tomorrow and we anticipate him playing. That's the injury report. We've got a variety of bumps and bruises that come with playing football. But there will never be an excuse. We'll field 11 guys on the field and compete against the defending world champs.
Do you take extra care with Troy with all the concussions he's had in the past?
That decision's very easy. We do what the doctors tell us to do. The tests are favorable and we'll continue to test him throughout the week like we did Andre Frazier, who had a more significant concussion the other week. Those decisions are easy because we leave it up to the professionals.
Do you talk to him about leading with his head on some tackles?
He's not any more reckless than anybody else who plays the safety position. This is a guy that runs to the football and sometimes violent collisions happen. He has his share of them. But it's not any negligence on his part in terms of technique.
Does William Gay become the nickel back. Who plays in the dime?
Deshea (Townsend) is going to have to play more and he hadn't played a bunch of snaps. He's been nursing that heel contusion and has been limited in terms of how he practices. And maybe he'll be limited again this week in terms of how he practices. He has to step up his performance. William Gay, of course, has to step up his performance. We've got a great deal of confidence in him and really kind of champing at the bit to prove that he's worthy of being in the group. He's in that second-year player group that we've placed a lot of pressure on to make the jump. Some of those other guys have had opportunities to make the jump, Matt Spaeth, (Lawrence) Timmons and (LaMarr) Woodley. He's ready to jump in that group. We feel comfortable with where he is in terms of being able to do that. And, of course, Anthony Madision, who's been a special teams stalwart for us, is going to be ready if called upon.
(Stop, Ellis time) The question is about five minutes long, but it deals with depth.
Ultimately, your quality of depth is the determining factor in the quality of your football team because we all acknowledge that injuries are a big part of this game. People's ability to adjust and plug people in and keep the train moving, ultimately, those are the teams that are going to be successful. Probably a lot has been made of our story because of guys like Mewelde (Moore) stepping up and Darnell (Stapleton) stepping up. But really, that's just football. Those stories can be told about anyone's that's winning. Anybody that's winning has people stepping up and making plays for them. We take it all in stride. That's why training camp and offseason is so important for us. That's why practicing is so important for us. Not only the guys you hear about that are headline performers, like Hines Ward, need to prepare, guys like Limas Sweed need to prepare to play. Dallas Baker and so forth, you could pick names across any position. Sometimes the star players dominate so much of our thought as people who appreciate this game, that you fail to realize that there are young and developing guys who are trying to master their craft because they know that their opportunity is going to await. That's what it's about for us.
(More Ellis time) What's the value of having veterans reinforce that?
Veterans reinforce a lot of things for the young guys. That's part of being a veteran football player. But there is a value to having veteran quality backups. It's one of the reasons why we went out and acquired a guy like Orpheus Roye later in the process and were glad to do it. A guy like Byron Leftwich, those are been there done that guys. They know what games like Sunday at 4 p.m. are about. They're ready to make the charge if we should call on them.
If Parker's ready to play, does he start and how will you use Mewelde Moore?
If he's ready to play, he'll definitely start and we'll give Mewelde his looks. But a lot of that is going to be determined on Willie's level of conditioning in the flow of the football game.
Will it be series or just third downs for Mewelde?
Really, he's our third-down back. Nothing has changed in that regard. The series, that will be determined by the flow of the game. If we've got long sustained drives, and I hope we do, he may be intermingled throughout a series. We'll play that by ear depending on how we're moving the football. But Mewelde is going to play, if Willie Parker should come back, Willie Parker will start.
Can you talk about Hines Ward's value and how it goes beyond what shows up in box scores?
He's a sparkplug for us. He's a tremendous competitor. He's a leader. But all of that is unique and important because he makes plays. When we need a play made, he makes it. Not only is he a leader on game day, he's a leader in the locker room, on the practice field, in the meeting rooms. This guy's a good football player. He's a great professional.
What about his hit on Keith Rivers, can you talk about the legality of it?
It was a legal block. The guy was getting ready to make the tackle. I think we're making too much out of this. Next question.
What is it about their offensive line that's not allowing many sacks?
They block people. Quite simply that sums it up. These guys are great run blockers. They're great pass blockers. They do throw some quick passes, but a lot of the time Eli is back there patting the ball and looking for receivers too. They do a nice job. I think they're not only the best line, arguably in football, but best line I've seen in quite some time.
Can you talk about how Timmons and Woodley have helped your pass rush?
Those guys are capable of winning one-on-one battles. Those are things we preach. As coaches, we work our tails off to provide quality looks and hopefully design blitzes where hopefully people come up free. But invariably, getting home is about people beating people. Woodley is capable of beating people. Timmons is capable of beating people. And that's what they've been doing. They've been kind of following the lead of James Harrison, who is doing great work on the right side for us.
Was Hines fined for the Cincinnati game?
Of their 21 sacks, 18 are from their interior linemen. Are they a blitz team at all?
They do blitz. They're capable of blitzing, but they've got some guys who are capable of attacking, penetrating and being upfield rushers. That's what it is that they do. They're a 4-3 team and a lot of 4-3 teams build their defense around their rushers. It's similar to the Houston Texans, when we were preparing to open for those guys, we spent a lot of time talking about (Amobi) Okoye and (Mario) Williams and those guys. This is a classic 4-3 team that just is very disruptive. They've got a bunch of talented people up front. They play a lot of people, rotate guys in. In passing situations, Tuck moves inside and boy, he's a tough assignment for tackles, let alone guards, from a pass protection standpoint. They do a nice job.
Is there something special about playing the Super Bowl champs?
I'm sure it is. They're the defending world champs and they hold that title until somebody else wins it. It is special.
What was your impression of Burress when he was with the Steelers and has that changed with the Giants?
It really hasn't changed at all. He's a problem and he's a problem because he's big and he plays big. He's great after the catch and he's tough to get on the ground. When he runs those skinny posts and those balls come out on time, you're a tackler. They're very tough to break up. If you transition and get there, he uses his body like a rebounder. Those are tough to stop. He can get 18, 20-yard chunks every time they throw it to him on those routes. He did it here in Pittsburgh and he's doing it in New York. But those aren't the only routes he runs. He's a complete wide receiver. He makes splash plays for them.
Did he get more complete in New York?
I don't have enough knowledge of that situation here to make that assessment. I respected him when he was here. He beat us pretty good when I was secondary coach down in Tampa. We played these guys down there and he probably had 80 yards on the first series of the game on us. Then we spent the rest of the day trying to tackle the Bus. I respect the guy.
What are you impressions of Tom Coughlin?
I appreciate coach Coughlin because he makes no bones about who he is and what he does. His track record speaks for itself. He's been successful in two cities now. I've got a great deal of respect for him as a person in this business.
What happened to the Giants in Cleveland?
Cleveland played a great game and that's probably the only game this year where the Giants turned the football over.
How often will you test Troy?
I don't know the answer to that in terms to the number of times we test him during the week. As of right now, we anticipate him playing.
Ben said he called a bad game in the first half. How much did he call?
I don't have a percentage. He calls quite a bit in the no-huddle. But when we are in the no-huddle, there's quite a bit of coach-to-player communication. I don't keep a tally of the plays that he specifically calls. He generally does a nice job. He does a nice job mixing the run with the pass and spreading the ball around. Ben's going to be his worst critic and he should be. He's got a desire to be great. I thought he did a nice job of moving the team. We had a lull there in the second quarter because we had a lull in the second quarter. We didn't take advantage of the field position. We botched a third-down situation. We pushed ourselves out of field goal range with a penalty. That's football. We fall short of perfection. But we seek it.
How has Nate Washington advanced from early in his career?
Nate has been very consistent in the way that he practices and I think that shows up in games. I can speak for the last two years with him because that's been my experience with him. I've been challenging him to be a factor in every game. I think last year he showed us flashes of being a guy to be reckoned with. He could step up and have a big game and then three or four weeks later, step up and have another big game. I've been personally challenging him to step up and be a guy to be reckoned with every time he steps into a stadium on weekends. He's been doing that. But more than that, he's been doing the things throughout the course of the week to prepare him to do that. He's a consistent practice guy for us. He's getting more opportunities to do that because, of course, we don't practice Hines on Wednesday. That may have something to do with his growth and development of timing with Ben.
So he has stepped up?
How has your offensive line been able to keep things going with the changing parts?
We feel like we're continuing to get better and hopefully that continues to improve as we go forward. We acknowledge where we are, not only as an offensive line, but as an offense. We're only in year two. Hopefully we're gaining some continuity, players among players, coaches among players and hopefully that's the direction we're going. Those guys have responded to challenges. I think they're a little chaffed at being identified as a weak link. Nobody wants to be that. If that motivates them, great.
Is eight DBs enough?
That's enough to play with. It may merit roster considerations. I think more than anything right now, we're concerned about practice. We'll see how that goes throughout the week. Eight DBs suited in a game is enough to play with.
How confident are you about the injured guys coming back now that they've been able to get an extra week off?
I'll know more as we progress throughout the week and watching them practice tomorrow, particularly Thursday for some of those big people because we carry our pads Thursday in practice.
Did you see how McFadden broke his forearm?
Yeah, he was attempting to tackle Cedric Benson and Cedric got his shoulders square and got him. Then he got Troy.
He got two guys on one play.
Now you know why we're concerned about Jacobs this week.
Some of the Browns defenders were saying he doesn't play as big as he is, have you seen any of that?
Did they say that before or after they played him. Good for them. I saw him turn square against the Cleveland Browns and run about three people over from eight yards out and get a touchdown early in that game. That's the guy I'm worried about as we sit here today.
Do you have to get him before he gets his shoulders square?
Ideally, that's what you like to do. But I think that's what makes their attack so potent. They get hats on hats and they sustain blocks. It's very difficult to get him before he gets started. A lot of times, he's long-striding through holes three yards into the line of scrimmage. You've got a problem there. That's what makes them a great offense. It's not only him. (Derrick) Ward averages six or seven yards a carry and the other guy (Ahmad Bradshaw) averages about six yards as carry also. This football team averages 5.6 yards a carry. They're very good up front.
Are you surprised there's been no dropoff from losing (Michael) Straham and (Osi) Umenyiuora from that Super Bowl team?
No, really I haven't. As a guy who follows what goes on around the league, I found it funny when people questioned their moves in the draft. They went and got the first rounder from Boston College when they had quality ends. They got Tuck when they had quality ends. They got Coefield when they had quality people inside. They stockpiled men up front because philosophically that's how they want to attack people. So when injuries and retirement set in, they just dialed the next guy up.
Do they run a lot of twists and stunts?
They do both, but no question, they have a nice vertical pass rush.
Is it safe to say it's all keyed by what happens on the offensive and defensive lines with them?
On both sides of the ball, they do. They're a great team because they're great up front offensively and defensively. They went 7-1 last year on the road. When you're good in the trenches, you win games regardless of game location. We respect that. We know what's coming in here. That's why our antennas are up.
Is this something different with Marvel than what he had surgery for?
It's totally different. It's nothing specifically to do with the surgically repaired area of his back.
Do you have any comment on Terrell Suggs' comments that the Ravens have a bounty on Hines Ward?
I'm not worried about what's said by anybody. A lot of people do a lot of talking in this league and it's funny to me. It's not about what you say in this league, it's about what you do. We respect that. That's why we to say very little and just practice and play. If he chooses to say that, so be it. We respect that guy. He's a heck of a player. I saw him run with the ball on somebody last week. We don't lose any sleep over what anybody says.