Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference Tuesday. Here's what the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers had to say as the team prepares to play the San Diego Chargers.
Opening statement: I thought I'd start with the injury update, I know a lot of people are interested in those things. Willie Parker came in today, has been evaluated and is scheduled to practice tomorrow and hopefully play for us this weekend. But he is scheduled to practice tomorrow. Marvel Smith is going to potentially practice this week, we'll see where he is. He worked out a little bit this morning. I thought it was a favorable workout. We'll see if he's capable of practicing for us. Heath Miller is questionable, probably at best. It may be another week or so with his ankle injury. Bryant McFadden is recovering nicely but he will be out this week. It's starting to look optimistic that he will return soon. Deshea (Townsend) will be out this week with a hamstring injury. LaMarr Woodley worked out this morning and looked good. We'll see where he is in the morning, how he recovers from that workout, whether or not he'll practice. At the latest, we expect him to be on the practice field for us Thursday and get him toward playing this weekend. The rest are kind of bumps and bruises along the way, status quo things. Along those lines, mentioning the two corners, McFadden and Deshea, we've signed Fernando Bryant to help us and provide depth in the secondary. We worked Fernando out a couple of weeks ago, had a very good workout. We wanted to be prepared a couple of weeks ago to have a name to go to. It did happen. We were able to get him. He got here last night. He's in here today trying to learn in a hurry. We feel optimistic about his ability to do that. He's a sharp guy. He's a veteran football player. He'll spend some time with out staff big-time today and tomorrow and start the practice process and hopefully, he'll be able to help us this weekend.
San Diego, looking at these guys, of course offensively, they have some weapons. Phillip Rivers is playing great football. He has a 106 quarterback rating. He's thrown 21 touchdown passes. He's playing great football. We'll have our hands full dealing with him. Of course the guy he hands the ball off to, LaDainian Tomlinson, is arguably the best in the world at what he does, not only running the ball, catching it, throwing it. He's capable of doing a lot of things and has and will for their football team. It's another great feature runner challenge for our defense this week and we've had some of late. We've got to prepare ourselves and respect what he's capable of. I'm sure we will as we prepare. At receiver, they've got some legitimate weapons. I'll start first with Antonio Gates, who is probably the premiere route runner at tight end in the National Football League. He's great versus zones. He's great versus man to man. He can box people out and separate at break points. He's a security blanket, if you will, for Rivers. They've got some big receivers outside; Vincent Jackson is a 230-pound guy; (Malcolm) Floyd is a 6-5, 6-6 guy; (Chris) Chambers. They've got some big guys to throw to that create matchup issues on the perimeter. Defensively, they've gone through some transition, staff issues and injuries. But they've got some guys we've got to deal with and block. Jamal Williams is the man in the middle for them. I think it all starts with him. He's a dangerous man. Shaun Phillips is a guy that applies pressure. He's their pressure specialist since (Shawn) Merriman is injured. He's a very capable rusher, double digits last year. He's probably got four or five this at this point. He's a guy we have to deal with. In the secondary, they're led by (Antonio) Cromartie and (Quentin) Jammer, a rock-solid corner tandem. Of course we're aware that Cromartie had 10 interceptions a year ago. Probably one of the bigger things that we'll talk about this week is that this is a quality special teams unit in the Chargers. They're one of the best in the world. They've got guys that compete for and play on Pro Bowls year-in and year-out. They've got a return man in (Darren) Sproules who's dangerous not only in terms of returning kickoffs, but punts as well. That element of the game has to be a winning edge for us. We've got to be ready to negate that element of their game. We've got our hands full as we sit here today. That's what the coaches are preparing for today and the players are working out and getting their personal business attended to so we can have all systems go here in the morning as we push forward toward the weekend.
Who did you let go to make room for Bryant?
Will he go back to the practice squad?
Provided he clears waivers, yes.
Does Willie Parker have a torn labrum?
To my knowledge, Willie Parker has a shoulder subluxation. That's his understanding of it, his understanding of it, the staff's understanding of it. What that is the shoulder popped out briefly during the Redskins game and popped back into place. Adrenaline didn't allow him to recognize it during the course of the game. We came in on Tuesday, took a look at it. It was very sore at that time. We weren't able to let him go last week. It's our intentions of letting him go in practice this week and play for us this weekend.
Will he have to wear anything special?
I think we're fitting him with a shoulder harness similar to the one Ryan Clark is wearing. Essentially, what happened to him is the same thing that happened to Ryan Clark. Ryan Clark missed a week, came back and played for us and played pretty good football. We're hopeful that Willie is capable of doing the same thing.
How's the knee?
The knee is a non-issue. The knee is well.
How is Ben (Roethlisberger)? Will he practice Wednesday and Thursday?
It's our intent right now that he'll practice. The shoulder is what it is. It's something that he has dealt with and will continue to deal with. We'll see where he is when he comes in here and gets in here today. He spends time with the coaching staff on Tuesday, gets treatment and such. We'll see what his availability is for practice after that.
How did you view his play looking at the video?
It wasn't a winning performance and I think I expressed those thoughts after the game. That's the reality of it. We've got to take care of the football. We didn't do it. They had interceptions and turnovers and we didn't. When you play good people, that's the outcome of the football game.
How much do you think it will benefit him on Wednesday and Thursday if he's able to practice?
I think it's important that you practice and get physical reps. One of the things we've been dealing with because of his injury is short-term misery, if you will. When people are dealing with injuries such as his, you miss practice time. But they're veteran players and you get them to the stadium and you play. But that's only a short-term solution. But the longer that goes on, you start to see issues come up with timing and cohesion. I think that's the spot that we're at at this point. He was able to play last week because, quite frankly, Indianapolis is a very easy team to be prepared for schematically. They don't try to trick you. What they do is what they do. If there is a game that you can go in and play on a limited number of reps, it's a team like that. That was part of the process and decision making that we went through last week. This week is a new week. Some of the things that we've done in terms of getting him ready to play were short-term answers and solutions. The reality is, as we go on, we recognize the value of practice and what the physical reps mean to us as an offense. We'll live day-to-day and go through that process this week.
Is he having some communication issues with Santonio (Holmes) the last few games and if so, why?
No communication issues as far as I know. Maybe some cohesion issues for the reasons I just mentioned. It's a stretch that we're going through. All teams go through it. We believe we're a good football team. We believe that we're capable of being a good offense. We won't blink. We're going to continue to prepare ourselves to play. The reality is that there's nothing we can do about it today other than prepare ourselves for this weekend and that's what we intend to do. Hopefully, we can go out and play the San Diego Chargers and have a winning performance.
Was Ben's ability to throw downfield affected as the game went on?
No it was not.
Is operating more out of the pocket this year and if so, is that by design?
I'm not ready to characterize it in terms of '08. I haven't evaluated it in regards to '07. I know that we are prepared to do what we need to do on a week-in, week-out basis to give ourselves a chance to win. Some weeks, that's pocket movement. Some weeks it's not.
He's run for fewer yards or it just happening like that or is it a concerted effort not to have him do that?
I'm sure it's happening like that. But he's aware of his health and what he means to us. I'm sure he's exercising a little bit more caution than what he did in the past.
Do you have a deadline where he needs x-amount of reps and practices that he has to have to play?
I do, but I'm going to remain hopeful and see where he is in the morning. Hopefully he practices for us tomorrow.
Does that mean Byron (Leftwich) will get more work with the first team on a standby status?
Byron will get first-team reps if Ben does not practice and that has been the case here in recent weeks and that is why he's gotten first-team reps.
Was it the Colts that did something with your running game or did you guys not do something with your running game?
I think ultimately, when you get shut down, it's a little bit of both. I don't want to shortchange them any. They had a nice scheme for us. They had a guy named Bob Sanders who was back and in the box and he was active as usual like he's capable of being. They did a nice job. But at the same time, we've got to do some things better.
Ben blamed himself for both of those interceptions to Santonio. Would you agree?
There's always something more. I appreciate Ben's mentality in regards to his play. We are an accountability group. I'd like to think that we are mentally tough group out there, one that accepts responsibility for the outcomes of games, individually and collectively. I appreciate that approach that he has. I'm hoping that we have 52 other men in that locker room that take that same approach. I think that we do. Because I think that's what we need to do to right this thing. That's what is going to allow us to win this week, guys looking within and making the necessary adjustments and changes so that we have a winning performance as a team this week.
Re: Why more interceptions this year?
In terms of stats, I don't get overwhelmed by stats. He hasn't thrown as many touchdowns this year as he did last year, but we've run for probably twice as many touchdowns at this point than we had all of last year. We're running the ball into the end zone as opposed to throwing it.
Were the interceptions because of poor reads, poor throws or was his arm affected?
It's probably a combination of those things and others because the blame doesn't fall solely on him.
How important is it for Willie to strengthen the muscles around his shoulder so it doesn't happen again?
As far as I understand it, it's very important. That's why we have a strength coach and weight program and why we have an inseason weight program, not only for him, but for everybody's shoulders in terms of the ability to sustain throughout the season, lifting and maintaining strength is important.
Why has San Diego been inconsistent?
They've been in some close ball games and come up on the short end of them. Some of them are well-documented, the call associated with their loss earlier in the year. They're a 4-5 team and there's not much difference between being a 4-5 team and a 6-3 team. They're a good football team. They've got some weapons. We respect those guys and we'd better be prepared to play this week.
Will Anthony Madison be your nickel guy or will Bryant get enough time to work out?
That's to be determined. That's why it was important to get him signed and get him in here and start this process that we're taking him through to be ready to play. We'll make that decision later in the week.
Offensively, what is the identity of this team? What do you want it to be?
When you're not being successful, you're probably lacking an identity. That's us at this point. But that's not going to be our story. We won't allow it to be. We're going to continue to work. We're at week nine or week 10. We're going to prepare to play and play winning football offensively and as a team. We're struggling a little bit right now. We accept that. We're not going to be mentally weak. We're going to continue to work. Our standards are that we want to be a great football team. We're looking to be a great offense that's preparing and playing and ultimately stepping into stadiums and doing it.
Did Indianapolis do anything differently at the goal line than they did the previous two times?
No, actually they didn't. They're a pretty simple team schematically. They had a guy, their three-technique, do a nice job in that last goal-line sequence to keep us from scoring. It was the exact same defense, the exact same play that we had success with earlier in the game.
How did Gary Russell do on kickoffs?
I thought he did a nice job. He caught the ball clean, he got vertical, he was decisive. I thought he did a nice job.
Will he keep the job?
Is the quarterback sneak out of the arsenal because of what happened to Ben in Washington?
The situation in D.C. was inside of a yard. This was longer than a yard, actually, just under two yards. It wasn't under consideration because of that. As far as his injury, no, we haven't taken it out of consideration because of that.
If Heath Miller is healthy does it change your play-calling on the goal line?
Yes, potentially. Heath is a valued asset of our football team.
Any reason why San Diego has struggled running the ball? They have fewer rushing yards than you do?
I don't have the answers to that. When I watched the tape, I see what they're potentially capable of being and doing. We respect it. They have some talent and some big, strong people up front. (Kris) Dielman at guard is one of the best at what he does. (Marcus) McNeill at left tackle is very good. LaDainian, of course, is LaDainian. We're concerned about them from that standpoint. When I look at them, that's the vein that I look at them as.
Do you have final say in the plays that go in or are you not in on that loop?
I have final say on the plays that go in on all three phases. Is there a specific play that you're asking about?
You used the same play three times at the goal line. That can make a lot of sense or it can make no sense.
I think if you're going to be a good football team and have the personality that we strive for, in those instances you've got to be committed to and capable of running the football over people and running it into the end zone. They knew what we were going to do and we scored two sequences prior to that. And actually, on the second one Mewelde (Moore) went in standing up. I see no reason why we were not capable of doing that again provided we had quality execution. We executed on the play in the earlier two instances and we didn't on the later two instances.
What about the interception at the end of the first half, is that a play he called or did it come in from the sideline?
That's a play that I approved. It came from the sideline.
Having two games in five days, will that affect how you look at some of these injuries?
I think it will in regard to how we prepare for Cincinnati. But at this point, we're focused on what we'll have for Sunday. We can't see Cincinnati at this point. We're not worried about that, we're worried about Sunday.
How much does Marvel have to show you this week?
He's got to show us quite a bit, he's missed quite a bit of time. Not only in terms of health, but technically, he's got to be up to speed. He's got to knock the rust off quickly if he's going to play for us this weekend.
Have you been pleased with how Max (Starks) has filled in for him?
I think he's done a solid job, all-in-all. Collectively, as a group, we're not doing what we need to do, so nobody is performing great.
Can you put your finger on the complete reversal in how your coverage units have performed this year?
We've got a little continuity. It's year two, you've got to acknowledge that. Also, we've got some continuity with the core players. Guys like Anthony Madison is in his second year on the coverage unit. Lawrence Timmons is in his second year in the coverage units. They're making plays for us. The addition of Keyaron Fox is big. Young guys like Pat Bailey are kicking in. More than anything I think it's the continuity of year two. It has been a winning edge for us and it needs to be a winning edge for us this weekend because San Diego is very good and it starts with Sproules on both punts and kicks.
Why not just run it at the end of the first half and let the defense finish the half?
We were backed up inside the 10 or 12-yard line. We had a new punter. We were concerned about attempting to punt backed up in those circumstances. Even if we did execute a punt, we were giving Indy a short field. It was my goal and desire not to give them the football back. I didn't want them to get any points. Had we punted that ball, you're pretty much assured that Peyton Manning has a chance to get a field goal at the end of the half with a minute or so with some change and 50 to 55 yards of field. That was the intentions at that point. We had been in a third-and-two earlier in the game, actually on the first series of the game, and we had hit Santonio on a similar play for 23 yards. Indy is a small menu team. We expected them to be what they were in just like they were on that third-and-two sequence earlier in the game that we executed successfully. We didn't execute it successfully in those circumstances, so it backfired. Instead of retaining possession of the ball and not allowing them any points, we gave them the ball right there with the short field and they did we knew they were capable of doing, which is punching the ball in.