Tomlin Press Conference: Jan. 13

Mike Tomlin held his first press conference of the week as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to play the Ravens in the AFC Championship Sunday. Here's what Tomlin had to say:

Mike Tomlin held his first press conference of the week as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to play the Ravens in the AFC Championship Sunday. Here's what Tomlin had to say:

Opening statement: We're excited and rightfully so. This journey started months ago for 32 teams; 32 became 12 and 12 became eight. Now we sit here today as one of the four. That's exciting. We're playing for hardware this week, the LaMarr Hunt Trophy, we respect that and what comes with that. We take a great deal of pride that it's an AFC North championship game. I'm pretty sure that Baltimore joins us in that. We take a great deal of pride in our division and how we play football. It's awesome that the conference championship comes down to two foes from the AFC North. We've got a lot of work to do this week for the Baltimore Ravens. We're very familiar with them. But I'll preface that by saying that familiarity doesn't breed comfort. The process that we need to go through this week is a very important one. We won't take anything for granted as I'm sure they will not as well. It's going to be a tough, hard-fought football game, one that will be very entertaining to fans, whether you support the Steelers or Ravens or you're just a football fan. It's going to be high-quality football. These guys, their story is not much different than the last time we played them. They play great defense. They're solid in the kicking game. They win by attrition on offense. They pound the big back at you. They make timely throws. Their play-action pass is very effective. They've done the same things in the playoffs. They're plus-seven in two games in the playoffs. It's quite simple, in January, if you're on the plus side of the turnover ratio, you go on, if not, you go home. Four out of the top five teams in the turnover ratio in the playoffs are still playing. Everybody else has gone home. These guys are plus seven. The Arizona Cardinals are plus seven. So we respect that. They've done a heck of a job of that, taking care of the football and getting it. We'll prepare with those things in mind and we understand how critical that element of the game is this week. And it's really no different than any other time of the year, truth be known. When you turn the ball over against good people, you generally lose. In January football, everybody is pretty good. When you turn the football over, you lose. When you get the football, you win. They've done that.

From an injury standpoint, we feel very good about where our team is. We had a few minor things that crept up in the game and even prior to the game. Troy (Polamalu) strained his calf in pre-game warmups this past week against San Diego. He was able to go in the football game, which was good. We tempered that because we wanted to see what he felt like in the days that followed the performance. All indications are that he will be able to play in this game. I may limit him some at the beginning of the week and err on the side of caution. But he played above the line in that football game and he feels pretty good as we sit here today. Justin Hartwig tweaked his knee in the second quarter of the football game. He was fitted with a brace at halftime and really, played at a higher level in the second half than he did the first, so I don't imagine that will stop him from seeing any action. Again, that may limit him some early in the week. The guys that came into the game with known injuries and issues were fine. Ryan Clark is fine. James Harrison is fine. And of course like we talked about at the end of the game, Ben (Roethlisberger) was fine.

You walk past those five Lombardi Trophies every day, what does it say about the expectations here?

I love the high expectations that come with this job. I'd rather have high ones than low ones. It's a sense of pride. The tradition is awesome, you can't put a price tag on it. It's inspiring, not only to me but I think everybody who's in this organization. Standards are great. As parents, we try to hold our kids to high standards. Those who have come before us set the standards for us. We understand that when we come in the building, we understand that when we take the field. We try to honor those guys.

On Tony Dungy.

I haven't had an opportunity to talk to him. I don't have enough time to talk about the impact Coach Dungy has had on my professional life, my personal life. And I'm sure there's a bunch of people that feel the same way I do. At this time, as he walks away from football, I tend to focus on his contributions to the game. A lot of time people appreciate what he is as a person, and I'm among them. But, at time, when we appreciate him as a person, we diminish what he's done as a coach, what he's done for this game. He's the ultimate coach, the ultimate motivator. Often times, he's expressionless in the midst of battle, but those that work with him, understand what he is as a motivator, in preparation and in play. He's a great leader in that way, great football coach. He doesn't need an endorsement from me in that regards. What he's done for the game, schematically, what he's done from the game in a coaching standpoint, giving men an opportunity and training them, giving them a chance to go out and do their best, he's a special person. When I say that, I say that for me personally.

On Joe Flacco's evolution.

He's no longer a rookie. This guy has the hardware that says otherwise. He's led a football team. He's obviously gained the respect of a very veteran football team, particularly defensively. They ride with him, as the guys say. He's won playoff games, he's won on the road in hostile environments. He's delivered. I knew that about when we were up on them the first time we played those guys and he took them down the field and forced overtime. I saw enough at that point to realize we were going to have our hands full with this guy for a very long time. He's done nothing to disprove that. He's got his team in striking position for a world championship.

What do you attribute the improved play of the offensive line to?

I accept responsibility for all the things that go on around here, particularly the things that aren't good, because it comes with my job. We performed better as an offense because we blocked people and ran the football. Everybody wants to zero in on our offensive line as a source of why we play well or why we don't play well. We've got 11 guys on our offense. We've got 53 guys on our football team. We play to win. We did enough to win last Sunday. We tend to leave it at that and let our performance speak for itself.

(This is a long, rambling question that I really didn't understand, but has something to do with having four new guys and somehow having to quantify that)

Not really. We're a 13-4 football team trying to be 14-4.

Do you rely on what's worked against them in the past or is there a danger in outsmarting yourself and changing things up?

All of these matchup unfold differently and you can anticipate it because you learn from your experiences. We have better familiarity with the matchups, as do they. You prepare with those things in mind. Every time you play somebody, you're different in some ways. I'm sure we're different in some ways. I'm sure they're different in some ways. All of those things factor into how the game is potentially is going to unfold and how you prepare. Those are the things that we're weighing today and yesterday and we'll continue to weigh as we prepare.

There was some talk that Troy was fighting off a stomach virus as well, was he ill before the game?

I was unaware of that. What I was aware of was that he strained his calf during warmups. That's why he was not introduced with the defense when the defensive guys were introduced before the game. He was in the back getting treatment and getting taken care of and getting prepared to play. We were really not sure he was going to be ready to go until we put the defense on the field and he went by me going onto the field.

The game in Nashville was a brutal game, a lot of guys limping off. Everybody knows the enthusiasm will be there for this game, but could that be a factor in the second half?

I think it potentially could be a factor but I'm sure they're going to do everything in their power to be sure it's not. It's the time of year where everybody is beat up to a degree. I think it's always a factor when we play Baltimore that attrition is going to be part of it. That's something that we're well aware of, but it doesn't dominate our thought. The same thing could happen to us, quite frankly, because that's the way these two teams play football.

You said you made decisions because you always want to be aggressive. Is there a little debate that goes on inside you and do you always fall on the side of being aggressive?

There is a debate and no I don't always go on the side of aggression. Specifically, about last Sunday, I thought our opponent had momentum. They had the momentum that was required for them to get into the playoffs. They won a game against a football team that was extremely hot, as hot as any team in football, the Indianapolis Colts. We were coming off a bye. I wanted to get our guys going and let them know that we were playing and playing to win. I wanted them to have that same kind of momentum and energy that our opponent had and that's why I chose to take the approach that I took on some of the decisions I made in that football game, particularly in the first half.

Are you sensing the same thing with Baltimore?

I do. Really, that's why I'm not very surprised that sixth seeds are playing in this final four segment of the playoffs. To be quite honest with you, what it takes those teams to get into the playoffs is a great deal of resolve and momentum. And if they're able to push through the first week of the playoffs and have some success, I think that ball is rolling downhill. I think that's why Philadelphia and Baltimore are playing the way they're playing.

The turnovers they force, is it because they hit harder or get there faster, or is it scheming as well?

It's really quite simple to me, they're making the plays they need to make, they're making the plays when opportunity is presented to them. So often, you see teams throw a deep ball and it's caught by no one. Very rarely do you see that versus the Baltimore Ravens because they've got a guy, No. 20, who's the deep guy back there. Very few balls hit the ground when you throw deep against those guys. He's got that kind of range. He's got that kind of intuition. He's that kind of playmaker. The fumbles are caused because they're a big, strong, violent team that runs to the football. A lot of times when you have those ingredients, on contact, the ball is going to come out. There's really nothing mystical about how they're doing what they're doing. You respect it nonetheless because it's how we all desire to play.

Some of your veterans after the game said you're a much better coach now than you were last year, do you agree with that (this question has only been asked 100 times)?

I'm not interested in evaluating my performance and, particularly, I'm not interested in my players' evaluation of my performance. I'm paid to evaluate them. How's your editor doing?

In these games with two teams with so much history, do you use emotion, or is that something you have to guard against?

It's a slippery slope in that regard. I think that you spend a lot of time during the week, making sure you set the stage and use it in a positive way. If you're not careful, you can peak too soon. If you're not careful, you can channel it in the wrong direction. I think those are the challenges that lie ahead for us, not only as we prepare schematically, but as we're readying our team for what we're going to see when we come out of that tunnel from an emotion standpoint and how we channel that into getting what we need to get done and what we want to do.

Are Brett Keisel and Willie Parker more rested because of some of the time they missed?

I'm sure it feels good to be getting healthy at this time of year. We're all fortunate at times, we're not part of this final four at this part of the season because we're without fortune. Sometimes, injuries that may appear to be a detriment to a team, actually help a team. I think that can be said for us. Some of the injuries that we had early in the year let us know that some other guys were capable of providing plays for us. But also, you gain a level of appreciation for feeling good and playing when you don't get a chance to play. I know Brett is one of those guys, he had a different bounce in his step when he came back from his injury. All of those things are part of it. We acknowledge it. But at the same time, it can't change the bottom line and the bottom line for us is playing well enough to win.

(Another rambling question, this time about confidence having beaten the Ravens twice, even though both were close games)

I don't control the confidence. I think the confidence is born out of experience. We have that in our hip pocket. I tend to focus on the things that lie ahead. That's why I make the statements that I make in regards to each game standing on its own and where I spend my time and energy is channeling that toward readying ourselves to do this one. The positive experiences that we have from the other games, that's in the bag. That's part of who we are at this point, just like our negative experiences as a team are part of who we are at this point.

Did you do a better job defensively against them the second time? Did you do some things to Flacco that maybe you didn't do the first time around? Did you confuse him more or was that just individual game circumstances?

I really think a lot of time it's individual game circumstances. If you remember the first time we played them, we generated some turnovers. We scored on them defensively. A lot of times the score isn't a good indication of the game from that standpoint. I think that field position is going to be big in this game like it's been in a lot of games we played those guys. There was a lot of uneasiness when we played those guys in Baltimore because we played that first half, essentially, on our side of the field because their punter did an excellent job and (Jim) Leonhard popped a return on us. It's very difficult to go the long haul against a defense that's the quality of their defense. They were able to score some on us and kick a few field goals because they had a short field. I think all of those things weigh when you talk about the kind of football these two teams play. It leads to an unpredictable Sunday. That's why we respect this process and we're preparing ourselves for whatever as we move forward this week.

Has there been a more physical team that you've faced this year and how much of what they bring is because of Ray Lewis?

They're extremely physical. We've played some physical games. As I sit here today, I say they're the most physical because we play them this week. Of course Lewis is a big reason why they play the way they play. It's obvious that he is the heartbeat of that bunch, of that organization. He's an awesome football player. His resume speaks for itself. He's spectacular. He still is.

Is Willie running better because he's healthier or are there any other factors involved?

I think it's a lot of things. With physical health is also mental health and not only in an individual. I think that's what makes team sports so spectacular. We feed off of each other. Willie has that personality that when he feels good, he has a bounce in his step and it permeates throughout a football team. So him feeling good physically and mentally may be rubbing off on a lot of people. Hopefully, it is. He has that kind of personality. It's tough to measure. It's really something not something that's very tangible, but if you're part of it, you appreciate it.

Will the trash talking surface in this game?

I don't know that there's a bad side. Talk is just that, talk. It's entertaining leading up to a football game. It adds to the excitement of football game. But when the ball is kicked off, these are two teams that play extremely hard and play disciplined football. I expect it to be just that. I don't give much credence to the talk, really.

You believe the rivalry is based on respect other than anything negative?

Absolutely. I believe that.

Can you explain your appreciation for gaining or stopping somebody from gaining a yard?

When I was a coordinator, I used to have a statement – and I'm not a big signage guy – I had a sign up in our room, it said ‘Defend every blade of grass.' I brought it to this group and I say it to this group often because it's football. You've got to be willing to acknowledge that and have that mentality because so many games come down to inches. That's just a colorful way I choose of describing that mentality that you need to have, not only to play great defense, but to play great football. You can flip that statement and turn it over to an offensive statement. You can turn it over to an offensive statement. The mentality of field position and high intensity are a big part of football, particularly in the National Football League.

Can you talk about what Ben brings to this football game?

Ben has been at his best, and not necessarily what you see in the stadium. I just like the way that he is preparing. I thought he had a great week of practice last week. He was extremely sharp on deep balls, play-action, communication, just being a great leader and being comfortable and exuding the quiet confidence that comes with his job. I think the guys feed off of that. I think they did last week and I expect that to continue this week.

How did the bye help him with the concussion?

It was a luxury for us because we had an opportunity to rest him, not just from a concussion standpoint, but from an arm standpoint. I was impressed at how he threw the ball, the liveliness in his arm on Sunday. He launched a couple of those deep balls. It was good for him and good for our team. At the same time, we had some work we needed to get done. For him, it was rehabilitation. For others, like James Harrison, it was rehabilitation. For others, it was about getting right and getting on the same page and moving forward.

Was it a spinal concussion or a head concussion?

It was a concussion. I don't know where these potentially erroneous reports come from, to be quite honest with you. I tend to trust and believe in our medical team. They put me at ease, they put him at ease, prior to the game. His performance speaks for itself. I commented after the game that it was a non-issue, so I see no real reason why I should confirm or deny a potentially erroneous report at this time. It's behind us.

Any thoughts of using Willie Parker in goal-line or short-yardage situations?

There is. We ponder that every time we get down there in those situations. What we've done in the past might not be an indication of what we'll do in the future.

On Baltimore's unbalanced line.

It's really a signature of Cam Cameron football. What they do is they go unbalanced and primarily it's for the function of having a power, tight end-side run game. They run power football, three-man surface football at you. They do other things to keep you honest, bootlegs and things of that nature. But the primary purpose of it is to pound the tight end side run game at you. As opposed to having a 260-pound guy, whatever (Todd) Heap is, they've got a 310-pound guy at the point of attack.

Do you anticipate a down-tempo kind of game from them?

At least initially. I say that because that's kind of what the tape tells us. I've been wrong before, I'm probably going to be wrong again. They do a nice job of managing situations. They pace themselves. There's an eerie calm about the bunch because they know they've got a great defense and it's OK to punt one, two, three times, because invariably, sooner or later, 20 is going to come back to the sidelines with the ball in his hands. Or, worse than that, at least from my perspective, he's going to go into the end zone with it. They play like that. They have that understanding of what they're capable of. Then, they're also capable of striking and striking big. I think that was also evident in the Tennessee game when they went on third-and-12 and hit Derrick Mason down the sideline for a touchdown. You've got to be extremely cautious when you're playing this football team. They're a great team. They're well-coached. They don't necessarily play it close to the vest, even though from a fan standpoint, it may appear so. And by that, I mean, for instance on that third-and-12, one would think you've got to play the chains in those circumstances, routes breaking in and around the chains. They went over the top of them and put seven on the board. They do that quite often. You'll see double moves on third down-and-eight. They'll stutter at about nine yards and go by you. Maybe it's not interesting to a viewer, but from a coach's standpoint, this is not an overly conservative bunch. They play smart. They play to their strengths.

Do you anticipate Troy missing practice time this week (since apparently, I wasn't paying attention when you said he might).

Potentially. We're at the point in the season where it's about getting ready to play and being at the best you be on game day. If that means sacrificing a little bit of physical preparation from him and from Justin, I'm willing to do that.

What does (Terrell) Suggs bring to their team and what kind of dropoff is it if he's unable to play?

He's a Pro Bowl player. He's one of the few guys in this league that can legitimately put his hand on the ground and be a 4-3 end and legitimately take his hand off the ground and be a linebacker in a 3-4. What he does from that standpoint makes them unique. They can be a 3-4 team if they choose. They can be a 4-3 team if they choose. I think it's because of the physical talents that he brings to the table. As to him playing this weekend, I don't know him personally, but I'd be shocked if he doesn't come running out of that tunnel in a uniform on Sunday. We're expecting to see him.

What does the unabalanced line do to your base defense. Do you shift?

Our reaction to it is different at different times. For us, it's important that we don't allow it to reduce what we're capable of. We're very conscious in regards to that. So sometimes we slide people and sometimes we don't.

This is Ben's third AFC title game in five years, what are your thoughts on his ability and what he's done to get this team to three title games in five years?

This is the first one that I'm involved with him in, but Ben is Ben. He's a great quarterback. He's physically gifted. He's smart. He's a professional. You've got to have guys like him to be in this thing and not only him, but if you look across the teams that are still standing, I think that Joe Flacco has proven to everyone quickly that he falls into those categories or description. We know what the guy in Arizona is capable of, he's got the hardware to prove it. And Donovan (McNabb) has only been in five of these things. It's really no secret when you think about it.

How helpful is it to have veterans who have been in this to tell the younger guys not to take it for granted?

You can say it's helpful because it is. But at the same time, if you've got a football team that doesn't appreciate the gravity of the moment, chances are you're going home. Hopefully, we've got a team that appreciates the gravity of the moment and it won't require a bunch of communication from savvy veterans like James Farrior to appreciate it. We put a lot into this to get to this point, as has the other three teams, I'm sure. I'm sure everybody, young and old, has an appreciation for that.

Was there a particular philosophy the Rooney family imparted in you that would help continue the success of this franchise?

I think the Rooney philosophy is no secret. They want to win and they want to do it with good people. They want to do it the right way. That's what was imparted on me when I became a part of this. Those are philosophies that I happen to agree with and embrace. That's how we do our business here.

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