Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference Tuesday coming off the team's win over New England. Here's what the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers had to say about that game and the team's upcoming contest against the Dallas Cowboys:
Opening statement: I'll start by reviewing our performance on Sunday. Needless to say, we were pleased with the outcome of the football game and some of the things that were done to produce that outcome. I thought we had outstanding efforts in all three phases. I think more importantly, as we move forward, are the lessons learned from that game to use as fuel for the battles that lie ahead. A couple of areas, in reviewing the tape, that we need to continue to grow in, is red zone efficiency offensively. We've been good in that area all year, top five in the league. But we kicked a couple of field goals in that surge of turnovers in the second half. That could prove costly. That's part of December football, particularly when you are playing the quality opponents we are going to play. When you get close to the end zone, you've got to be able to put seven on the board because invariably when you play quality people, those things come back and bite you. The self-inflicted wounds on the penalties, particularly the post-snap penalties, we don't desire to be that kind of football team. We expect to correct that and I expect us to correct some of those things quickly. When you give up 15-yard chunks of real estate after the whistle is blown, that's not going to help you win football games against good people. Those are two of the things, two of the significant areas we hope to improve in and address as we move forward because we've got a big-time challenge this week in the Dallas Cowboys.
They're an 8-4 football team and that's respectable in itself, but they're much better than an 8-4 football team. I think they're a different team when their quarterback is playing and, of course, he's playing this week. I'm talking about Tony Romo. This guy is a good football player, great quarterback, completing 64, 65 percent of his passes, throwing touchdowns at about three to one as compared to sacks. He's got 21 touchdowns, he's only been sacked about eight times; he's only thrown about seven picks. He's very good. He's mobile. He's got escapability. He includes a bunch of people. He can make all the throws on the field. Leading the charge of guys he throws to, of course, is Terrell Owens. He's got eight touchdowns. He gets behind people. He's a vertical threat. But he's also; he does the dirty work. He runs the crossing routes, runs the dig routes. He's a big man, he plays big. But he also has the kind of speed to run away from you. The tight end, Jason Witten, is very good. He's a vertical threat as a tight end. He's got 50-plus receptions. I think he actually leads them in number of receptions. The rookie (Martellus) Bennett, as we turned the tape on here in the last month, this guy has been in the end zone just about every week. That's the other tight end. Of course they acquired Roy Williams from Detroit. He seems to be fitting in nicely. They're starting to utilize him and you're seeing continuity with the group that includes him. Probably as big as anything that they do offensively is their running back, Marion Barber. This guy is a violent runner. He's downhill; he's got the speed to get the ball to the perimeter. When he gets in you secondary, you've got big-time problems. He kind of makes them go, no doubt. Aside from what he does running the football, he's got about 47 catches. They attack you vertically and they throw him check-downs and screens and so forth. When he gets in some open grass, he's tough to deal with. Their big men up front, of course this is as big and as physical a front as we'll see. Flozell Adams, Leonard Davis are two of the big-name and big-bodied headliners up front for them. Defensively, of course, we have our hands full as well. DeMarcus Ware is kind of the bell cow for that outfit. He is, without question, the best pass rusher we've seen this year and probably will see. He's a special player. But also up front, they've got a great and deep and talented front. (Jay) Ratliff at the nose is an awesome player; (Marcus) Spears, (Chris) Canty, (Jason) Hatcher, Tank Johnson. They've got a three-man front but they've got a variety of bodies and they roll guys in there and collectively, those guys wreck havoc. At the linebacker, Brady James has played a bunch for them and Zach Thomas from Miami is a very good, above-the-neck player, similar to the kind of player that we saw in Tedy Bruschi last week that you just don't trick or fool those kind of people. In the secondary, they have talented and aggressive corner play. Leading that group is (Terrance) Newman. They've got (Mike) Jenkins, the rookie first-rounder who's very talented. Adam Jones is back in action for them, we expect to see him. The other bookend over there is another South Florida player, Anthony Henry, a veteran player who has been around for a long time in this league and has done it at a high level. Those are many of the reasons why they have our attention and we've got to prepare for another top-notch opponent coming into Heinz Field.
What's your injury update?
Looking at our injuries, this is as good as we've had it coming out of a football game. The majority of the injuries are the pre-existing ones. Brett Keisel, we'll continue to evaluate him week-to-week, he's out this week. Marvel (Smith) is status quo. Bryant McFadden has a chance to come back. He was pretty close last week and I think he's going to get over the top this week and it will be good to get him back into the mix. Willie Parker continues to get better. We'll see what his practice availability is tomorrow. Travis Kirschke was the only in-game injury to speak of. He experienced some back discomfort, back spasms. We'll see where he is in terms of his practice availability tomorrow. Injuries won't be an excuse, they never are, but at the same time, we're excited about getting some of our bodies back.
What about James Harrison?
James is fine. James is great.
How does a guy go from hardly being able to walk to doing what he did in the second half?
I'm really not up to speed on some of the things that are being reported about his back. I know he hurt himself on a field goal attempt there at the end of the half and I spoke with him briefly at halftime and he said he was going to be fine. Really, that was the extent of the discussion I had with him. And based on his performance in the second half, I don't think we need to list him with the injured players.
Is Marvel one of those things where you're just hoping that he's able to play at some point?
I'm hopeful, but at the same time I'm just going off the information that the doctors provide us and really he's not prepared to play at this point. We'll just continue to support him and see what direction it goes in.
It's not a question to put him on injured reserve then?
That's not a question at this time. Marvel is a veteran football player, a high-quality person and player. If we have an opportunity to get a contribution from him going forward, then, of course, we're going to try to pursue that if we can.
Do you anticipate using Willie and Mewelde (Moore) the same way you did against New England?
We'll evaluate that this week. No doubt it was a successful venture for us last week. Mewelde is a good player. He's shown that he's capable of helping us win. We all know what Willie is capable of doing. I'm sure we're going to continue to see those guys in some shape or fashion. The minute details of the rotation haven't been figured out this week.
Max Starks really seems to have settled into that left tackle position.
He had a winning performance, as did everybody on our offensive line, this week. They did a nice job from a pass protection standpoint and from a run blocking standpoint. Max has done a nice job. I think he's been in about seven games for us at tackle. We're just interested in moving forward. For him, a big measure moving forward is going to be determined how he competes and plays against a guy named DeMarcus Ware.
Will they move Ware around?
He moves around in their base defense. He is primarily the open-side outside linebacker and Greg Ellis is the tight end-side outside linebacker. In their sub-package football, you will primarily see him on the offense's left side; the defense's right (side). They are capable of moving him around but he has done quite a bit of damage from the offense's left side.
Do you change your preparation when you go against a top quarterback?
Truthfully, we prepare the same way. We acknowledge when we face quality opponents; make no mistake, Tony Romo is that, and is as formidable of a quarterback as we have seen, and will see, this year. He resume lays credence to that. We focus on what it is that we need to do to prepare ourselves to play, and to play collectively from a rush and coverage standpoint; both underneath and deep. That always has been and always will be our mentality.
Is there a value in seeing Randy Moss prior to facing Owens?
I prefer not to see either one of those guys, but you have to play them. It just so happens that we play them in back-to-back weeks. They are in two different schemes in terms of how they use people when you talk about Randy and TO. We have a great deal of respect for both because they are both capable of beating you, both guys are big guys and both guys are capable of running by you. Their resumes are their resumes. They are capable of ringing up scoreboards. We have to do the best that we can. When you say that, you talk about neutralizing or minimizing a performer like that; not eliminating a performer like that because we all know that is tough to do.
How did Ike Taylor do against Moss?
I thought that he did a nice job. Again, we are not about to make it out to be something that it is not. We did not put Ike out there on an island over there and tell him to shut down Randy Moss. People that do that generally get beat. We did a nice job collectively as a defense minimizing the big-play. Ike was a big part of that.
How has Lawrence Timmons been progressing?
He is a splash-play maker for us. We recognize that he has a lot of talent and is capable of doing a lot of things, so we ask him to do a lot of things. We rushed him quite a bit and tried to feature him in some matchups with their running backs last week. We asked him to cover Ben Watson, who is an athletic, vertical tigh end; he did that. He is a big component of defense and he has been. He just continues to get better week in and week out. That is what we ask second-year players to do.
Why did you not challenge Timmons' interception return?
He was down in the field of play. He fell in pieces; his knee hit and then his body hit. He was down in the field of play.
Can you evaluate Willie's knee?
It is not an issue and it is probably not 100 percent either. That is December football. We expect him to be able to play for us. We need to do whatever we can to let him get to the game in the best condition that he can be in. Whether or not that includes a Wednesday practice remains to be seen.
Was the performance of the running game the best sign to come from that game?
I think that the biggest thing was that we were in a hostile environment and we went into the half at 10-10 and we didn't blink as a football team. Things came together for us in the second half; we were given some opportunities and we created some of those, and then we capitalized on them. I think that is the most encouraging thing about the outcome of the game; people just hanging together and producing plays that helped us win in all three phases. Really, that is what we need as we move forward, particularly this week. We will probably be in a similar matchup this week; you are not going to crack this nut in 30 minutes of football. They are a great football team, and I do use the word great because when Romo plays for them, that is what they are. It is not going to be an easy task this week; we are going to have to show our mettle. We can't blink; we are going to have to be prepared to play 60 or 60-plus minutes of football.
How do you react to the injuries to Ware and Barber?
We are going with the assumption that those guys are going to play. This is December football. If you take a poll of every team, their feature runner and their feature pass-rusher probably do not feel great at this time of year; us included. Their two will be there and so will ours.
Can you talk about some of the post-snap penalties that you mentioned earlier?
I am not talking about the hit by Ryan Clark. I am talking the taunting and the skirmish that (Keyaron) Fox was involved in after the opening kickoff.
Can you talk about Romo's mobility?
That is starting to characterize a lot of quarterbacks in this league, particularly the good ones. It seems like every week we have to acknowledge the mobility of the passers that we prepare for. It was the same with (Matt) Cassel a week ago; (Jason) Campbell in Washington; (David) Garrard in Jacksonville. A lot of people have quarterbacks that are capable of extending plays and making plays when things break down. I think that is just part of today's NFL. Luckily, we have a guy who is capable of doing that. That helps us I think. We have a big task this week in terms of Romo. He is unique and maybe different than most because this guy's vision and ability to see the field is not reduced in any way when he starts to move, particularly when he steps up into the pocket.
Have you faced a more balanced offense?
No, at least that is how I feel as I sit here today. I probably usually feel this way on the Tuesday before a game. It is easy to feel that way this week when you turn on the tapes and you see these guys. They are very explosive; they can score from anywhere on the field. They are capable of beating you in a lot of ways. They are capable of pounding you with the run with Barber and their big people. They are capable of throwing the ball over top of your head. They are capable of working the ball down the field to guys like Witten, Barber and Bennett. They are capable of doing it in a lot of ways and I think that is probably what makes them so dangerous.
Is this month about positioning yourself for the playoffs?
No. I am not a big-picture guy; I really am not. We play the Dallas Cowboys this week and our focus is to beat those guys if we can. We have no other way of looking at it really. I don't understand the positioning mentality.
Why do you have a better record on the road then you do at home?
We lost two at home and we lost one on the road.
Do you feel compelled to talk to the team about decisions off of the field?
We talk about that all the time because it comes with being who they are. We are very blessed to be involved in the National Football League and to be able to do what we do. We understand that there is a responsibility that comes with that. Recent events don't affect that. They really never have and they never will. That is something that we need to continue to remind ourselves. I acknowledge that some of the men that we work with are young men and that is part of growing and maturing into adulthood. I think that we in society need to realize that these guys are young men. It doesn't excuse inappropriate behavior, but I think that as a head coach, it is my job to educate them not only inside the white lines but off.
Do you or the Steelers have a gun policy?
The NFL has a policy on carrying guns and gun-play and conduct. It is pretty effective, so we tend to follow those guidelines.
Can you talk a little bit about Witten?
We have seen quite a few tight ends in our division who are tough to handle when you talk about (Todd) Heap and (Kellen) Winslow. We probably have more experience at it than most, but it doesn't lessen the challenge that lies ahead of us this week. Witten is as good, if not better, than those guys that I mentioned; I think that his production verifies that. We have to do the best that we can. We are going to have to try cover him with some people; we are going to try to play some zone coverage and mix things up like we usually do. He is a formidable opponent and I think that his ability to stretch the field vertically and Romo's comfort at putting the ball into tight spaces is worrisome at this point.
Do they use both tight ends at the same time?
They do. They are committed to keeping Witten on the field and Bennett has really as the season goes on, is etching out a role for himself. I think that he has four touchdown catches; one in the last three or four games or so. That is what young guys do; they find their seat on the bus if you will. It is obvious that he is doing that and they are valuing his contribution. When a team can put those two tight ends on the field, it creates problems for the defense.
Can you talk about Harrison and LaMarr Woodley as a tandem?
We tend to give Woodley a hard-time because he is complementing Harrison; I don't know how much Harrison is complementing him. That is a Batman and Robin operation there. They are doing a nice job. In order to be great you have to be able to rush and apply pressure on the quarterback. We are getting it consistently from both edges; that is a big part of it. I think that just as James starts to get the attention, LaMarr find a way to bring some of it back to him and balance it out. I think that a lot of their success is really a function of our entire group of rushers. We talked about, and worried about, Matt Cassel's ability to step up and escape in the pocket because we had seen him do that quite a bit on tape. Our interior rush-men did a nice job of collapsing the pocket and eliminating escape lanes, allowing James Harrison to come from around on a couple of those sacks. It is easier to get an edge rush and sack-fumble the quarterback when he can't step up into the pocket. Yes, we appreciate the contributions of James Harrison and what he does, but those two plays are not possible without the interior push and rush-lane awareness of our interior people. James gets the headlines but it is a lot of work from a lot of people.
Does Casey Hampton play better when he is angry?
tell you what; we just need to get him angry more; that was pretty good. That was one of the critical points of the game looking back at it in hindsight. They were in second-and-one and he gets a sack that pushes them back into third-and-long; basically is pushed them out of field goal range. We kind of went on from there. Casey has been providing us with quality play. We like it when he rushes the passer though; that is pretty good.
How do your tight ends do as lead-blockers?
I think that more than anything, it is about flexibility in terms of ways that you can go about attacking people. When you have a tight end that is capable of playing in the backfield, that presents a certain number of issues for the defense. When you have a guy that is capable of playing in the backfield and on the line of scrimmage, that multiplies the number of concerns that the defense has to deal with. We value position flexibility and flexibility in general. I think that what are tight ends are able to do from that standpoint makes things tougher for people defensively. That is why we pursue it and that is why we value what they bring to the table from a skill-set standpoint.
Does playing good teams help you down the road?
Hopefully; it only helps us if we win. That is what we are focused on: trying to win. We understand that if we win and have success under adverse circumstances, that strengthens us for the battles that lie ahead. It is always good experience if you win, so that is where our focus is.