Mike Tomlin press conference

Mike Tomlin opened up to the media, which asked all the appropriate questions Tuesday, and some that were inappropriate.

Mike Tomlin, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers

Good afternoon. I'll start with a quick review of our Thursday night performance in Cleveland. Of course, it was a losing one. Detailing some of the things that really contributed to that outcome, I think first and foremost we were ineffective on third down, not only converting third down but protection of our quarterback. We weren't able to establish rhythm at least definitely early because of that. It really put us behind the eight ball in terms of our plan and what we really wanted to do in the game. We didn't capitalize on the red-zone opportunity at the end of the first half. We knew potentially the red-zone opportunities would be limited in this game due to weather and game circumstances. When we got those opportunities we had to cash in. I thought we missed one there and it proved to be significant. I thought our tackling was below the line at points in this game, particularly on the perimeter. Joshua Cribbs hurt us in a variety of ways, and that big punt return provided field position and a score for those guys early on, and it was kind of a field-position game, definitely in the first half. Our inability to convert third downs, plus with the conditions and that big punt return, we played quite a bit of the first half on our side of the field and we weren't able to overcome that as the game unfolded. We didn't make significant plays at significant moments. That's why we lost the game.

Moving forward, from an injury standpoint, Troy (Polamalu) won't play this week either. We got an MRI done on him Wednesday before we went to Cleveland. Not enough healing there with his PCL. Probably going to MRI him again, but just based on last Wednesday's MRI he won't be playing. Chris Kemoeatu will not be playing in this football game. Really have studied him quite a bit these last two weeks, and it's an accumulation of injuries that are rendering his play ineffective. He's got the right wrist that's forcing him to play one-handed at times. He's got the right knee of course which he missed the Baltimore game on. And when you really look at his play, this is a guy who's playing one-sided. I've got a great deal of admiration for his willingness to play amid the circumstances, but just because he's willing doesn't make it the right thing to do. This guy's out there playing one-handed and one-legged at times. We're going to try to get him at a better physical state before we proceed with him, so at this time we're taking him out of the lineup and Ramon Foster will be our left guard this week. Justin Hartwig got his knee drained yesterday. It may limit him the top part of the week, but we expect him to play. And Hines (Ward) will continue to try to get better with his hamstring injury, which he played with last week.

We've got a good football team coming in here in the Green Bay Packers, a well-balanced team. Seventh in the league offensively; second in the league defensively. On offense, their feature runner (Ryan) Grant is over 1,000 yards – slashing, zone-scheme runner who does a nice job finishing off runs. They supplement him with Ahman Green and some others. Their quarterback (Aaron) Rodgers is really playing well. This is really where he's distinguishing himself is on third down. It shows on the tape and in the stats. This guy has a 130-plus quarterback rating on third down. He's been sacked quite a bit but it hasn't forced him into interceptions and bad decisions and so forth. He's really managed the game well. He's got a corps of receivers that are seasoned and well-rounded. They're very good at hand-to-hand combat; they're very good down the field; and very good after the catch. I'm talking about Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, (James) Jones, their tight end (Jermichael) Finley, (Jordy) Nelson their fourth receiver. They've got a good receiving corps.

Defensively, under Dom Capers, they're very similar to what we do, but they've got some guys that are doing it at a higher level. They've grown over the course of the season in the Coach Capers defense. Up front they've gotten big-time contributions from (Cullen) Jenkins, who's a very talented, high-motor player. A young guy, B.J. Raji, is a good player that's playing both nose and tackle for them. Their linebacking corps when you watch them is very active and productive. (Nick) Barnett inside along with (A.J.) Hawk are very good at the cross dogs, applying pressure. They're both active tacklers, sideline to sideline. The young first-rounder (Clay) Matthews is really coming on at right outside linebacker. He's rushing the passer. He's doing a lot of things well. Their secondary is led by (Charles) Woodson, who's probably having a Player of the Year caliber year. Along with their free safety (Nick) Collins, those two guys are the ringleaders back there for them and they're providing a bunch of plays; they got a bunch of turnovers; they're getting off the field and providing short fields for their offense. So, needless to say, we've got a lot of work cut out for us. We started that process yesterday with our football team reviewing the Cleveland performance, making corrections, and introducing the Green Bay Packers and some of the things they do. Questions.

Q: What's the state of mind of the team?

A: Anger would be one. Disappointment, definitely. But like we talked about yesterday, it cannot rule us. We've got to focus singularly on the opportunity which is in front of us. Excuses and explanations for what has happened, particularly recently, is kind of irrelevant. You want to know what kind of team you are, look at your record or turn the tape on. The tape hasn't been pretty and neither is our record, so our focus is what's in front of us this week. Of course it's natural to have the myriad of emotions that come with failure, particularly in a competitive business, but it has to have its place. And when it's time to work, we've got to focus on the work. I thought we did that yesterday. I'll be watching it very closely as we move forward in the week.

Q: Are you guys a bad team?

A: Like I just stated, explanations really are irrelevant. We are what we are. We're a 6-7 team, which is a losing record at this point, so it's disappointing. It hacks you off. I think the team itself shares those same feelings because they are extremely competitive and want to do well and want to play winning football. But the reality is we aren't at this point, so it's important that we channel those emotions and feelings into productive action, which leads to preparation and ultimately a change in some of the outcomes of these performances.

Q: Do you forget about what you've done, or do you remind them that what they've done is unacceptable?

A: There is a delicate balance there, and it's a tightrope you have to walk. The reality is, in the totality of all the things that's happened here recently, first and foremost, we have a desire to play dominant football. We haven't done that. When you don't play dominant football, you have to be opportunistic and make timely plays. We haven't done that, either. When you're not dominant and you don't make timely plays, you lose football games. We've lost five in a row to this point. Again, (we) desire to be dominant, but not a requirement in terms of winning. We've lacked dominance in the past and found ways to win because we've made significant plays at significant moments. This year, specifically in this run, that has been the case.

Q: What are the challenges in having 10 days between games?

A: I really don't see any negative in 10 days.

Q: Was effort or desire part of the problem?

A: When you're making mental mistakes, I put that in the category of effort, really, because it's discipline. We're not playing well enough to win right now. We've got some errors and some lack of communications, and yes at times we're physically being beaten, but that speaks to what I talked about earlier in that we're not playing dominant football. I thought about the game we played up there a year ago in similar adverse weather conditions. That wasn't a dominant performance, but we had a possession there in the red zone before the half and we connected with Hines Ward on third down and 11 from the 11-yard line and scored a touchdown. We tackled a little better in that game. We won that game 10-6. We lost this game 13-6. It's a fine line. We've got to walk on the right side of it this week against Green Bay.

Q: Will you make more adjustments this week?

A: We may. And let me say this. I think it's important that you guys understand that I don't have ulterior motives in terms of making moves. I'm not a guy that tries to send messages in terms of making moves or to stir things up, if you will. They're done with the emphasis on winning football games. The changes I made last week were done with the emphasis on winning the game in Cleveland. Any changes that we make this week will be done with the emphasis on winning this opportunity against Green Bay. Some of the things we did last week, we played quite a few people in the secondary, looking for some guys to make some splash plays in that area. We played several corners. Ike Taylor, William Gay, Joe Burnett, Deshea Townsend. We'll continue to play those guys in an effort that someone will reveal themselves, steps outside of the group, if you will, and can show some playmaking ability. If somebody makes a play, they're going to stay on the field. We're doing the same thing at the safety position. Ryan Mundy's playing quite a bit along with Tyrone Carter. We're playing Deshea some at safety in a package or two. We're trying to find a combination, or find guys who can make a significant play for us, get us off the field, (and) provide us with a short field. Same thing offensively. Rashard (Mendenhall) has played consistently well since the latter part of September or October. We want to increase his opportunities. He's playing on third down now. We want to continue with that. Of course we tried to get Santonio (Holmes) going as a punt returner, but that never materialized because … of the weather. So those are some of the changes that we made. We'll probably continue with some of those. We'll probably add to some of those.

Q: Will you continue with Holmes on punt returns? What about kickoff returns?

A: Yes, we will continue with him as a situational return man. I like some of the things we've done as a kickoff team. I think we've been consistently above the line for the better part of the year, so don't expect a great deal of changes there.

Q: Did you use Mewelde Moore on kickoff returns because of the weather?

A: Yeah. What we did was we wanted to have three returners back, not only in the punt return game but in the kick return game. So we put Mewelde back in the middle in kick return because he was the central communicator in the punt return game as well. We wanted the communication to flow in one direction. Mewelde of course is a very reliable guy from a communication standpoint. He wasn't reliable in terms of fielding the ball in the game, but from a communication standpoint and due to the weather conditions, we deemed it necessary to have multiple return men back there and he's a good, consistent judgment guy and communicator.

Q: How does your team get its mental edge back?

A: By making plays. I think anything else is false enthusiasm or bravado. So we've got to knuckle up and swallow some of the things that we're swallowing right now in preparation for this game. We've got to stay singularly focused on the preparation and ultimately we've got to step into the stadium and make plays.

Q: What are you looking for out of Rashard on third downs?

A: Rashard has done a nice job from a blitz pick-up standpoint. He's of course an established runner. Mewelde has not been consistent from a blitz pick-up standpoint so it's created an opportunity for Rashard to expand his role.

Q: How did Joe Burnett play Thursday?

A: He did OK. He didn't distinguish himself, so that's why at this point we're continuing with the rotation that we have with a lot of people. He played four possessions in that game and will probably have a similar role this week unless he makes a play, or someone else makes a play and whoever the playmakers are will get an opportunity to stay on the field.

Q: Does Keenan Lewis factor into that?

A: Keenan Lewis hadn't factored in because he hadn't had a helmet from a special-teams matchup standpoint. If he's able to get a helmet due to a special teams matchup opportunity this week, then of course I'll put him into the mix as well.

Q: Have the Packers surged because they're adapting to the new defense?

A: They've adapted to the defense over the course of the year. They've gotten a bunch of turnovers and I guess that speaks to their understanding schematically, but they've also improved as a third-down offense. Their protection of their quarterback has improved and they're getting hot at the appropriate time. Aaron Rodgers has gotten hot at the appropriate time. I think his third down quarterback rating speaks to that.

Q: Because of the weather and the depleted state of your opponent, one play that stood out was the third-and-1 shotgun call. Why not have a power formation there?

A: No question in hindsight we probably should have, but we were preparing for a big third-and-1 to 2 menu from a game standpoint. Our intent was to run the football in that football game, so when you do that you end up with some 1s and 2s and 3s, like we did on the first two possessions of that game. In that particular instance in the first quarter, we were going with the wind so we had an opportunity in our estimation to probably pass the football. We didn't expect to get sacked, of course. So with how the game potentially was going to unfold in mind, with the fact that we could be in a bunch of third-and-1 to 2 to 3 situations, at that point we deemed it appropriate to maybe hold on to some of our run-down calls for the second quarter maybe when we'd be going against the wind, for later in the game when maybe we'd have the opportunity to maybe protect the lead, to keep the clock running, to run the ball on third down, so in those instances we passed the ball and really it was ineffective and not a good way to start a football game, of course.

Q: Did Ben Roethlisberger have an off-night changing protections?

A: I think we all had an off-night. And I know I say that often and maybe it becomes clichéd, but it is very true. You look at the first third down in the football game, his primary receiver Hines Ward trips over one of the interior nickel guys and falls coming out of his break or else he's going to be open for an out route. His secondary receiver, Heath Miller, the guy took an inside position and really did a good job covering him. And then our center, Justin Hartwig, got beat pretty cleanly by Corey Williams. If you look at the second third down of the game, we were backed up in the Dawg Pound so communication is very difficult and we were working on a silent count. Ben was scanning the secondary. The snap came before he was ready to receive it. They brought a guy off the open side. It's a catch and throw. You move the ball versus the hot in that situation on a first down. But because the snap came before he was prepared to get it, it surprised him, he spun out versus the edge pressure guy. We got sacked again. So, a lot of explanation, a lot of excuses, and really it's irrelevant. The protection of our quarterback and the conversion of third downs is an 11-man job. It's also a staff job. And we all failed. And I could go down the list of third-down plays just in that fashion. But, really, when you think about it, it's irrelevant, isn't it? We have to be more functional in those situations. We've got to operate at a higher level. We can't have the popcorn of breakdowns. … Until we do that we'll continue to struggle. It's not our intention to continue to do that. We're going to work our tail off this week to win more than we lose.

Q: Is there a value in imposing your will, in saying we're going to run the ball? And does throwing on third-and-1 indicate a lack of confidence in your offensive line's ability to get movement?

A: I think it does, particularly when you throw on third down and you don't move the chains. It does, and I can understand that assessment of it. We haven't been as dominant as we'd like to be running on third-and-1 or third-and-2. I think Rashard is 6 of 12 on the season in less than 2 on third down. Fifty percent is not good enough. It's not. So we're not running away from that assessment of the situation either.

Q: Was there further damage with Troy's knee?

A: I really just think the healing process is maybe a little slower than we anticipated.

Q: Do you worry that your messages such as ‘Unleash Hell' haven't worked? And does the phrase ‘lost this team' upset you?

A: No, it doesn't upset me. I think those kind of judgments come with losing. That's a by-product of losing. If you're in this industry and you're a competitor, you wear that. I wear that. I accept that. I'm always less worried about what's said from an outside standpoint and more concerned about what I see from the people I interact with and deal with and coach on a day-to-day basis. So some of those things hadn't been a bigger concern of mine based on my interactions with them. I understand that maybe those feelings or sentiments can be relayed through the media or from the outside, but that comes with losing. We don't like that. We need to win a football game.

Q: What do you see when you look at your players now?

A: I still see a determined group. I see a group that's frustrated. I see a group that has a desire to win. I see a group that's willing to take all the decisions that I make in an effort to win. I think they've done a nice job of that. We haven't put together enough plays to be dominant, and at least opportunistic. We've done neither. That's why we're where we are at this point right now.

Q: How many touchdowns has Ike Taylor given up in man-to-man coverage? And is there a chance he'll be released after the season?

A: To answer your last question first, we haven't pondered any off-season decisions on any level at this point. I don't think it's the appropriate time to take that approach to anything that we're doing. Our goal as an organization, as a football team, is to be singularly focused on Green Bay and what it takes for us to win this game. In regards to your first question, I don't have an answer to that. I don't know how many specific touchdowns Ike has given up this year.

Q: Are players playing for their jobs? Could the next three games cost players their jobs?

A: No, I think that's a natural assessment. Everybody understands the nature of this business, that when you're unsuccessful, changes come with that. I think that is a natural assessment from a big-picture standpoint. But from a football team standpoint, from an organizational standpoint, that is not our focus in any form or fashion as I sit here today. But from a players' standpoint, if asked questions along those lines, we have enough veteran players that understand the nature of this industry and this business, that when you don't win, changes are part of it.

Q: In the last two games defensively, have there been a fair amount of times when it's not about scheme, but about guys who aren't physically capable of doing their job?

A: That's a fair assessment. I guess it's highlighted by the fact we've lost. And I mean that. Win or lose, people get physically beat in every football game. You get schematically beat in every football game, particularly when you're not dominant. But if you find ways to make significant plays, some of those failures are distant memories. If Joe Burnett catches the ball in Oakland, we probably wouldn't think about some of the physical failures or schematic failures that happened defensively in that game. He didn't. We lost. So it's etched in your memory. That comes with coaching or playing in this business, particularly at this level.

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