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 victory over the Cowboys and their upcoming game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Opening statement: It's a very big week for us playing the Baltimore Ravens. They're a 9-4 football team. But if you look at what they've done recently, I don't know if that record is an indication of what they're capable of. They've won seven out of their last eight. They're an extremely hot football team. And we have to go to Baltimore and play they at their place, which is an added challenge. The only people that have been successful there this year are the Tennessee Titans. I think everybody in this industry knows what kind of team the Tennessee Titans have. They have our attention. We've got a lot of work to do in preparation for the game. I don't want to waste a lot of time talking about the known profile players. We all are very familiar with Baltimore. I think they are very familiar with us. I think a couple of things have jumped out at us as we have begun to prepare this week, and some new things, some changing things, developing things, for their football team. Running the football, they still do that, they control the clock. They average 34 minutes a game in time of possession. But it's obvious that (LeRon) McClain has become a featured ball-toter, at least one of the featured ball carriers for them. He leads them in carries, he leads them in total yardage rushing. He's a 260-pound man. We weren't able to keep him out of the end zone the last time we played them. That's going to be a big-time challenge for us. We know what Willis McGahee is and what he's capable of and have a great deal of respect for him, but this McClain guy is going to cause some problems for us, ones that we need to be able to address. From a wide receiver standpoint, Derrick Mason is Derrick Mason, we know about him. It seems that they're finding some flow with (Mark) Clayton and he's been a big-play generator for them. Whether he's running the ball, catching the ball or those kind of things, he's a big-play guy for them. He's really provided a spark for them in that regard. (Joe) Flacco at quarterback just continues to look more and more comfortable. He's proven time and again that the stage isn't too big for him. He's a big reason why they're 9-4. Defensively, Ray Lewis and company is Ray Lewis and company. When you watch the tape, this Jarrett Johnson, 95, is playing as good or better than anybody on that unit and that's saying a lot as you know. Ninety-five, he's been with them for some time, has been a starter for them since (Adalius) Thomas left. This guy is wrecking havoc right now. He's got our attention, along, of course, with the rest of those guys. It's going to be one of those games like it always is. One of the exciting things about playing these guys is that they play football the way that we desire to, which makes it exciting and interesting, the close proximity and history and so forth. We haven't won there in the last five attempts. We understand the daunting task that's in front of us. All we can do is what we can do today. That is as a coaching staff is prepare ourselves to meet with the players tomorrow and lay the fundamental basis of the plan together with them. I'm sure they're excited. We're excited. But excitement is not going to get it done. We've got to be prepared to execute at a high level in a hostile environment versus a hostile and very good football team.
To that end, we're sitting pretty good from an injury standpoint. The only in-game injury that occurred was Carey Davis with a calf strain that will put his availability into question this week. We'll see where he is when he comes in tomorrow. It's unlikely that he'll be able to participate tomorrow. We'll continue to monitor his situation and hope that it gets better. Brett Keisel is getting closer, probably closer enough to warrant some consideration to participate. We'll see how the week develops with him. And Marvel (Smith) is status quo with his back injury. Other than that, we have our normal bumps and bruises after a tough, physical football game. It may limit a person or two tomorrow. I may give a couple of veteran football players and extra day, that kind of thing, like we normally do.
Has the performance of the Ravens this year kept your team sharper?
I really don't think it's had any effect on us whatsoever. I think the quality of opponents that we've had to face week in and week out has helped our team more than anything. When you're in a five-star matchup of the week just about every week, that gets your attention and that's kept us on edge. It makes you better. Thankfully, though it all, we've been successful for the most part. What the Ravens' 9-4 record does for us this week, it helps us from that standpoint once again. I wouldn't imagine that we'll have a tough time getting their attention at 9 o'clock when we start introducing the Baltimore Ravens.
Is it tough to keep their attention? Can you talk about the trust you have in that regard.
We've got a veteran football team. We've got a team that's humble and grounded through all of this, that's one of the things I'm most excited about. But again, the fact that we have to play quality people week in and week out helps us big time in that regard. You don't have time to pat yourself on the back over victories. The next challenge is waiting for us. The same could be said of that victory on Sunday. We know who we play this week. About 10 minutes after we got back into that locker room, everybody was aware of who we were playing this week. That's been good.
Has Flacco evolved even more so than when you played them the first time?
I think it's a process like any young guy; comfort, trust in the system, the coaches and him. He's just growing and their offense is growing because of it. I think we're all a product of our experiences. And no doubt, he's a better quarterback than the one we faced a few months back. That's usually how it happens.
You've been more successful on the road this season. Is there any reason for that?
No, not really. I really can't point to that. I know it's one of the things we talked about in the offseason, if we wanted to be one of those kind of teams that are vying for the Lombardi, we had to be capable of winning in all environments, different circumstances, game times, etc. I did point out and acknowledge to the group that last year's Super Bowl champions, the Giants, were 7-1 on the road in ‘07. I just think that's a sign of great teams. Great teams are capable of winning in hostile environments. But in terms of what we're doing to prepare, how we're preparing, nothing has changed.
Can you talk about what Ed Reed is doing?
Ed, nothing surprises me. When you turn your TV on Sunday night and see him running with the football, it's just OK, you get used to seeing him doing that. He's an unbelievable football player. The Ravens have got six touchdowns when their offense isn't on the field this year. That's just Ed Reed and company. This guy is a ballhawk. He's very instinctual. Obviously he's extremely well prepared because there's not the rollercoaster in terms of his performances. You don't see him not be where he's supposed to be, really, ever. It's not that he's a gambler or high-risk taker. He's simply the best in the world at what he does.
How would you compare this rivalry with some of the others you've been involved with around the league?
This is big time. I can't think of one that compares to it as I sit here today.
Do you think it's underrated on a league-wide scale?
I don't get caught up in the league-wide thing. That's irrelevant to me. I know that this is a big-time football game for us. More than anything it's because they play football the way we play football. It's a heated rivalry. I think it's born out of mutual respect, or at least I can say that it's born out of respect on our standpoint. We respect those guys. They're a physically tough, mentally tough football team. Those are things that we honor and desire to be and in order to do that, you've got to line up and play these guys and play that style of game. I'm sure it's going to be that style of game. I'd be shocked if it's not.
How did Bryant McFadden play this week and what do you expect your rotation to be at corner this week?
I thought he did a nice job. He knocked the rust off rather quickly. It looked like he was decisive. He moved around fluidly. He made the plays that he needed to make. But I think William Gay is continuing to play well. Those are good problems to have. We're going to address those as the week unfolds, but we feel good with either one of those guys, or both of those guys on the field for us.
Does Travis Kirschke's play allow you to even take a longer look at Brett?
No, we're not going to base Brett's availability on how Travis in playing, whether he's playing great or poorly. He's playing good but Brett's health is Brett's health. But Travis is doing a heck of a job for us. This isn't his first stint. Brett's been down before and he's stepped in and played quality ball for us in the first part of the year along with Chris Hoke and some other guys. That's just part of it. We like that group. We play a lot of those guys. The standard doesn't change. Those guys perform and play winning football for us. We're going to need big-time contributions from Travis and company this week as they pound that 260-pound back at us.
The offense struggled for three quarters against Dallas. What do you think that means and what happens if it does it again versus Baltimore?
The big thing about the struggle is the fact that we turned the ball over twice in the first half, once in their territory, once around midfield. We knew it was going to be tough sledding. Dallas has got a good defense. Let's face it, when people play us, their defenses come in prepared to play. I remember when I first came into the league, I used to laugh at how our offense played so well when we played the Rams. They had the greatest show on turf. When you play somebody that has that kind of a unit, I think the team that you're playing against, you're going to get their best. We got their best. Thankfully, we were able to move it at the end when it was of the essence at the end of the football game. That's one of the things I'm kind of proud of that we've been able to do through it all, especially recently. Regardless of how the game has unfolded or what troubles we've had, we've moved the ball down the field in those moments that you've got to do it if you're going to be good. We did it on Sunday. We did it against San Diego. I find comfort in that. Now, do we need to get better and play consistently for 60 minutes? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean that it's going to get done this weekend because we acknowledge what the Ravens are. The big thing is that we come out with one more point than they do. Hopefully it's not 3-2, but I'll take it if it is and be happy.
On one of those fumbles, Ben (Roethlisberger) came out holding his left hand. Did he reinjure his thumb?
No issue with his thumb whatsoever.
Is there one thing you can identify with the inefficiency of the running game to help it get better?
Again, the only reason that it's a concern because it decreases our chances of winning. Down the stretch, you've got to be able run the ball in December football against good teams to close out games. We'll continue to work on it.
Re: the punting?
Hopefully, the weather conditions won't be as bad as they were last Sunday, but they probably will. The good thing about it from Sunday's standpoint was that their punter struggled when he punted in that direction as well. I thought it was one of the reasons why we thought it was important that we kept the game close and weathered the third quarter. We knew how significant those weather conditions were going to be. That's why we deferred when we won the coin toss. Thankfully, we got to the fourth quarter within striking distance and were able to get the ball moving offensively. They weren't. They, I think, hit a 25-yard or so punt under those circumstances. We weathered the storm literally.
What did Dallas do better against your defensive front that allowed them to run the ball?
They popped a couple of runs. I didn't feel like they were pounding us at four and five yards a pop, which would indicate an issue. They popped some runs in chunks. Usually, that doesn't happen. It happened on Sunday. It better not happen this upcoming Sunday. I don't want to take anything away from those guys. I thought the young man, (Tashard) Choice did a nice job, they got after us a little bit and had some success.
Does the way you attack Flacco this time, now that he's gotten some experience, change?
It may. Right now, it's not a complete enough body of work to talk about, in reference to our game plan. But it definitely may.
Does Baltimore play it's 3-4 significantly different than Dallas does?
They do. They have quite a few more fronts and movement. Let's face it, there's one Ray Lewis, Bart Scott and (Terrell) Suggs, and (Haloti) Ngata, and Johnson, and Reed. Want me to go on?
What have you seen from your screen game in recent weeks?
We're still working to get better in that area. Part of that is being able to run it consistently and establish rhythm and throw it. I think if we take care of the football, we'll have an opportunity to bring all those things together.
Did Dallas do much different defensively since they had some extra time? And does it help because you know Baltimore so well?
They did. But that's football. That's the National Football League. I'm sure coach (Rex) Ryan and company are in a dark room somewhere drawing up some sick scheme as we speak. We'll see them at the stadium, I guess.
When Jason Witten says it was Christmas Day for the Steelers, does that become motivational or is that just talk?
That's just guys talking. That's funny to me. When the clock strikes zero, either you've got more points than your opponent or you don't. We could have said the same thing about the Indianapolis game, but we didn't. We acknowledged that we didn't' finish the job. That's what winning is about, particularly winning in December. Hopefully, you won't hear any of our people making those kind of statements. We understand that we've got to play 60 minutes of football and when it's done, it's done.
You've talked about run-game alternatives. Might that be something that comes into play against Baltimore?
It may and it may not be an alternative. It's tough to run on this crew. The big thing is that we find ways to move the ball and control the clock and not allow them to have the time of possession 34-26 like they've done to this point this year. Usually, if it looks like that, it's not a good day for the Steelers.
Will they bring an eighth guy to the box or do they think they're good enough with seven?
They're thoughtfully non-rythmic. You'll see some of that. You're going to see some four down (linemen). What they do with Suggs makes them unique. They can be a three-down team, they can be a four-man team. You're going to see a seven-man box, you're going to see and eight-man box. They do a nice job of keeping you off balance and I think that's one of the things that makes them so difficult to deal with.
Are you surprised at what they've done with a rookie coach and rookie quarterback?
No, I'm not. If you talk about surprises, I'd probably say I was surprised by their lack of success a year ago. This is football and teams that are physical and teams that are tough physically and mentally, usually win. That's one thing that has been consistent about that group for a long time. When they step in stadiums, they're capable of beating you up. Those type of teams win more than they lose usually.
When you look at the running game, is there more success when a fullback is in there?
I think our lack of run-game success Sunday was because we didn't get to run it as much as we would have liked, more than anything. You can shape it however you want to shape it. Willie (Parker) got 12 carries. Mewelde (Moore) got four carries. We didn't have enough opportunities to run the football. Why? We turned the ball over some in the first half. We weathered the third quarter when we were going against the wind. We didn't have enough opportunities to make it happen. We got behind. We did what we had to do to win the football game.
What did you learn in your first year as a head coach and how have you applied that to this season?
I'm probably not at that point yet and I'm trying to handle this business that I've got in front of me today. I really very rarely take those kind of moments. I'm too busy. I've got too many issues. Maybe when it's all said and done, I'll evaluate it from that standpoint. But right now, I'm just so consumed with what's in front of us and what we need to do this week.
Was that first game (against Baltimore) as physical a game as you've seen?
It was. We limped out of there with a victory, thankfully, but we limped out of there. You can anticipate it being a similar game, I would imagine. There's a price you pay for being in these kind of matchups. Hopefully, we don't pay too big a price. Hopefully, we can walk out with a victory.
You mentioned defenses matching defenses, is that a message that you've preached?
No, we're not selling anything to our defense or preaching messages. We're just trying to play to our capability. We've got some special people. We've got great continuity. Guys understand what's at stake. We tend to focus on those kind of things as opposed to the mentality that people are going to come in here and try to match that. That's their deal. We focus on the things that we can control; our preparation; our quality of play. They've done a nice job of doing that. We acknowledge that some of those things exist. But we don't spend a great deal of time collectively sitting around and talking about it.
Does hostile describe what you're going to face in Baltimore? It seems like it's gone beyond that.
It's football. It's great. A lot of colorful words could be used to describe it. I hope that the fans appreciate the level of mutual respect and I think that's what makes this such a heated rivalry more than anything else is the desire to play the brand of football that both teams do. It's great.
Do you consider silent counts this week?
Yes and that's always the case on the road, but particularly this week. We know what kind of environment this is going to be. The fact that we're fighting for divisional standings and all of that, that's just icing on the cake. This is a big week because we're playing the Ravens.
You shared a moment with Deshea (Townsend) before he made the pick. What did you talk about?
Deshea's a veteran player. He sees a lot. He does a nice job communicating to the guys. He and I interact a lot during the course of a football game. It might be things that we're seeing situationally. We like to predict what plays are coming at us. He's right as often as I am. He's a very savvy, mature football player. You can have discussions with him during the course of a football game and he finds unique ways of relaying it to the guys or taking that information and going with it. We have many of those conversations. I really don't know which one is being referred to.
Do the bounties add to the mutual respect?
I'm not playing the bounty game.
Deshea said that was the first time Sunday you guys were in that defense. Does that show how Dick LeBeau is pushing the right buttons.
Yeah. Dick is the guy. Make no mistake, Deshea's being humble. Dick will tell you, those calls are great because they're being executed at a high level. Guys like Deshea making plays, guys like James Harrison and company making plays, players make the call quite a bit. He made that call happen.