Mike Tomlin, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Good afternoon. I'll be as brief as I can be in introduction this morning. That way I'll leave appropriate time for questions. I'm sure there are some of those.
Of course, we're a 6-5 team in the thick of things with a lot of other teams with a similar record. It's going to test our mental toughness. I think the big thing for us as we prepare for this week and ultimately move through the month of December is that we don't carry the baggage of recent weeks. When you're sitting where we sit, a lot of it's about momentum and attitude and willingness to work. I think some teams that might be sitting at 6-5 might have a different perspective on their 6-5 record than we do. For instance, the Ravens dropped three games much earlier in the year, in a row, and they've rebounded to 6-5. Of course, a few weeks ago we were sitting at 6-2 and now we're sitting at 6-5, so it leaves somewhat of a nasty taste in your mouth. But if we're going to get what's done in front of us, we cannot carry that baggage. We've really got to exercise mental toughs (sic). We've got to prepare to play winning football this weekend and ultimately play it and move on, if you will. I think that is very critical. When you look at a team like the Tennessee Titans, they're sitting at 5-6. I'm sure they're feeling a lot better about their 5-6 than we do 6-5 because of how they got there. We're going to have to be a mentally tough group, shake off some recent failures, and prepare and ultimately play winning football. We've got a veteran group, a group that's faced a lot of adversity individually and collectively. I would expect that they're capable of doing that. I'm going to make that point with them tomorrow.
Quickly, about the Raiders, the significant thing with them is they have a quarterback change. Bruce Gradkowski, a Western PA man, is now their signal-caller. He's done some nice things for them in recent weeks. I think accuracy and mobility are his strengths. They were able to win a big game at home against our division leader, the Cincinnati Bengals. Zach Miller is a very capable and exciting young tight end who's capable of stretching the field vertically and has really seemed to be developing a rapport with Bruce. They have a three-headed running back monster. All three men are very talented. Michael Bush is a power runner. (Justin) Fargas is a slasher. And the first overall pick, (Darren) McFadden, has breakaway speed. They've got a zone-blocking scheme up front. They're very consistent and good at it. They get hats on hats. They find creases and those three men hit holes in a variety of ways, playing to their individual strengths.
Defensively, they have big people up front. (Tommy) Kelly's enormous. Richard Seymour is Richard Seymour. They have this young man, (Matt) Shaughnessy, who in breakdown games the last three or four games is really distinguishing himself. He plays with a hot motor. He's got some sacks. He's got chase plays in the screen game, etc. Good, solid player, one that we're going to have to be aware of. The linebacker in the middle, (Kirk) Morrison, of course is a good player. They've got great corner play. They play an aggressive L.O.S. game with bump-and-run coverage. Their specialists, (Shane) Lechler and (Sebastian) Janikowski, are renowned for what they're capable of, two of the more talented specialists in the world of football.
Quickly, some injury things with our team, Chris Kemoeatu (knee) is going to get some limited action tomorrow in practice. He's going to go through individuals (drills). We'll see how he responds to that. You'd have to list him at questionable at this point, but there is a little optimism that he can potentially play in this game. Stefan Logan has some rib cartilage separation. He's going to be limited early in the week. We expect him to play. Mewelde Moore has swelling in his ankle. He might be limited in the early part of the week. We expect him to play. Charlie Batch (wrist) is on schedule. Again, we're hopeful that this guy can come back to us here in a couple of weeks. Travis Kirschke, although he represented himself relatively well in the game, is experiencing some soreness today. He's going to be limited in the early portion of the week. We hope to continue forward with him and continue to get the contribution that he provided us on Sunday. Troy (Polamalu, knee) is still a week or so away. I'd characterize him as doubtful for this game. And Ben (Roethlisberger) hadn't experienced any resurface of any discomfort from his concussion, really, since Friday. All indications are he'll be a full participant tomorrow and ultimately play in the game on Sunday. All the rest of the things are minor, bumps and bruises that come with playing football. With that, I'll open it up to questions.
Q: How much were your post-game comments related to the performance of the guys?
A: Truth be known, it was Russell Crowe-inspired. I watched "Gladiators" the night before the game in the hotel. Seriously. That's one of my favorite movies. But, no, I got a great deal of respect for this group. I like the way they fight. I know they won't blink. Adversity's adversity, injuries and so forth; we've dealt with it successfully in the future. I know that they won't let go of the rope. I know they're going to fight. I know that how we got to 6-5 won't kill our spirit as opposed to maybe some of the examples I made of teams that got to 6-5. The reality is we are what we are. We have an opportunity. We also have some challenges and it's very important that we see it with great clarity. I think the men are capable of doing that. That's why I spoke with the optimism that I spoke with after the game.
Q: Does the baggage of recent weeks that you spoke of give you concern over discontent in the locker room?
A: No, I'm not overly concerned with discontent in the locker room. Any time you get 53 guys in a locker room, there are going to be disagreements and misunderstandings and miscommunications and so forth. I think it's highlighted by losing, and it becomes a story at times in the midst of losing. So I tend to focus on the real root of our ills, if you will, and that is searching for and ultimately finding a winning formula and playing winning football. I think a win would solve a lot of issues, and not only on this team but on most teams that I've ever been associated with.
Q: Are you unhappy that some of the discontent in the locker room made its way out of the locker room?
A: I wouldn't necessarily acknowledge that it's discontent. I was disappointed that my workload increases. When I've got to field questions that are not relevant to winning and losing, I get annoyed. So from that standpoint, it is unsettling, but not overly, no.
Q: Do you consider the matter closed? Did you talk to Hines Ward?
A: I wasn't about to seek those two veteran players (Ward and Roethlisberger) out. I was more concerned about putting together a plan that's going to produce a win for us, and being ready to address those men tomorrow. I trust that both of those men, or anyone else potentially involved in this thing, would be professionals and quell whatever potential problems or issues may have occurred. I've been informed that those two men spoke extensively. I spoke to Hines last night. He called me. It was a good, clean conversation. He assured me that this football team will be ready to prepare for and ultimately play Oakland when we come in here tomorrow.
Q: In terms of communication, would you have done anything differently last week?
A: Shoot, hindsight's great. Sure, I would have, but you don't always have that opportunity. At times when you compete and got to make decisions in a timely manner, you proceed with assumptions, and assumptions at times can be a dangerous thing. Evidently, potentially in this case, it was. Not worried about it. More concerned with preparing to play the Oakland Raiders.
Q: How and when was the team informed that Ben would not play?
A: Bad news travels fast. When I had a meeting Saturday morning with Dr. (Joseph) Maroon and he suggested that we not play Ben, and we brought Ben in and informed Ben of this decision, needless to say he was unhappy. Ben left. I had a further discussion with Dr. Maroon and our medical staff. Specifically I asked them would it be safe to have Ben as a potential third quarterback in this game if a disaster happened, and could he take snaps from the center and hand the ball to a runner. They informed me as long as he wasn't exposed to any contact, hits, that that would be OK. By the time I left the room and that meeting with the doctors, that information was out. That's what I mean by bad news travels fast. So that's how it got to the football team.
Q: Is there still a level of ignorance about head injuries with the players?
A: I think it's a very sensitive matter. I think not only specifically in this instance but in football, and in all sports, boxing and things of that nature. It' a very serious thing and I don't think it should be taken lightly in any form or fashion, but I think there are codes that come with playing tough games like football that kind of conflict at times with things that are of utmost important like head injuries. I think that continued education, exposure is the key to that. I understood the gravity of the decisions that we had to make on Saturday, the potential of that. I understood that if we allowed Ben to play that we'd be open to questions in regards to that. I thought that if we didn't allow Ben to play that we'd be open to questions in regards to that. So really it was irrelevant in terms of my decision making. I was more concerned about doing what was right. Medical experts suggested that he not play, so we didn't play him.
Q: As for the codes, is there a disconnect between what the coach and then the teammates expect in terms of honesty from an injured player?
A: It's part of being a guy, if you will. My eight-year-old falls down the driveway playing basketball. I tell him not to cry. Those are pretty poor instructions when you think about it. He probably hurts. That's life. We're going to rely on the experts. We're going to continue to educate our men. I think our guys understand and know that this is a competitive game, we've got competitors. At times things are said out of frustration that may be misinterpreted. Sometimes misinformation leads to misunderstandings, etc., etc. It is what it is.
Q: Will you follow the same path if Ben has headaches this week?
A: We're not anticipating him having headaches this week, but if he does of course we'll act quickly.
Q: What changed with Ben from Wednesday to Saturday? Was it that you had to coax it out of him?
A: No, I didn't think it was anything we had to coax out of him. He had passed all neurological tests prior to Wednesday, so we were encouraged. The next thing was he was going to have to practice and not experience some of the post-concussion discomfort, headaches, etc., that comes with it. He practiced Wednesday; he experienced some headaches. He practiced Thursday; he experienced some headaches. We consulted one another. They said it's normal, ( but) if they don't subside, though, we'd potentially have an issue. At that point our concern increased. But in order to continue to evaluate his status he had to work, he had to practice. He was cleared to practice. So it mounted and all came to a head roughly on Saturday morning.
Q: You brought the quarterbacks in because he was having headaches?
A: Thursday, yes.
Q: Was Ben expecting to play even after explaining his headaches?
A: I think the entire week Ben was prepared to and expecting to play. He was experiencing discomfort. He realized that that was a part of the process. He'd been through that before. But based on Dr. Maroon's suggestion, we did what we felt was appropriate. Whether or not he agreed with it really was irrelevant at that point. We had a game to play.
Q: Will you use the same three quarterbacks this week?
A: As I sit here today, I'm comfortable with the three men that we have. But that may change as soon as Wednesday. We'll see.
Q: At first did the doctors suggest he shouldn't play? Or did they hint this might play out this way?
A: No, as the week wore on, there became an increasing concern that that might potentially happen, but not to the point where we were in panic mode. We were just monitoring the situation and ultimately after he experienced a headache after Friday's practice we realized that we need to put heads together and have a legitimate conversation, and that occurred first thing Saturday morning.
Q: What did the doctors say about Batch?
A: A maximum of four weeks I think is what we've been told in regards to him being able to participate with a soft cast on of some kind. That being the conservative estimate, so we're hopeful that he'll return sooner than that.
Q: Has Ben done performed any physical tests since the game?
A: He works out following every Sunday game on Monday and/or Tuesday, so he has worked out and hadn't experienced any discomfort.
Q: What's your assessment of special teams in Baltimore?
A: I thought our special teams game had its moments. I thought we had opportunities potentially in the return game, potentially with some explosion plays. I thought kickoff coverage was adequate. At times there was some concern regarding punt coverage, some of which occurred because of blocks in the back. It was a wash when you look at it from a special teams standpoint, and when you're playing with your third quarterback you can't have a wash in special teams. We needed to be dominant in that area. We needed to produce turnovers and/or points defensively, so collectively we didn't do enough to win.
Q: How did Ramon Foster grade out?
A: I thought he was above the line. I thought he represented himself well. It wasn't too big for him, if you will, in terms of he got hats on hats. I'd like to see him finish better and play faster, but those are common comments you would have regarding a young man playing for the first time with extensive action, particularly against a defense the quality of the Baltimore Ravens.
Q: You've had so many late drives against you defensively. Have you changed things schematically?
A: We haven't. We do what it is that we do. We try to play to our strengths and minimize weaknesses. Although we've given up drives at the end of games, it always appears to be this and that, something a little different. The reality is we're not getting it done in those instances. We've got to acknowledge that. I know that our group will and do and prepare for the next opportunity to hopefully deliver.
Q: Were the Ravens expecting Dennis Dixon to run and did they want him to beat them with his arm?
A: I think they were prepared for elements of his game. The number of pressure men that came off our right side – boot readiness, if you will, or naked readiness, if you will – was evident. That's why it was important to be selective about trying to attack the edges and things of that nature. I think they were intent on keeping him in the pocket and making him throw from the pocket. I think they were intent on stacking people against our run game. I was pleased with how we were able to run the football into adverse circumstances, situations, based on the way they were playing. But that's just the chess match of football, if you will. They acted appropriately in approaching us in that manner.
Q: Was there a thought of using Dixon to run a little more?
A: There was, and we did, but for the reasons I just stated it wasn't necessarily prudent. If we ran him on a boot or a naked and he ran into one of those edge men coming off the corner, we might've been looking at Tyler Palko playing quarterback in that game, and that would've been more unpleasant.
Q: They called timeout before the fourth-and-five play. Was that just a good play by Ray Rice? Or were you in a bad defense?
A: No, we felt comfortable with the defense we were in. It was a heckuva play by Ray Rice. Any time people make a play like that, you acknowledge that they executed, and you also acknowledge that you didn't. I thought after the first down we had some poor tackling attempts in our secondary. We've got to get better in that area. That pushed the ball and made it a 44-yard gain. Their execution alone and Ray Rice's specific execution probably produced a 10, 15-yard play, but we've got to do a better job of getting guys on the ground when they get in the open grass in our secondary in those critical moments.
Q: Would you consider using Dixon in spots from here on out?
A: I would.
Q: Is the compressed schedule (?) the reason you list Polamalu as doubtful?
A: His health is going to dictate when he comes back. Nothing else.
Q: When teams target William Gay, does that necessitate help from a safety? How do you deal with that situation?
A: It does. But ultimately, particularly at the cornerback position – and this is speaking as an old secondary coach – if you're going to play corner in the NFL, at times you're going to have to stand up in the face of adversity. There's not always going to be safety help over the top. I think that's what makes it one of the unique positions in sport. That's what makes it a unique group and awesome group to coach. The confidence and swagger, if you will, that those men must display in the midst of successes and failures is unique. They may target him again this week. He better not blink.