Mike Tomlin, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Good afternoon. I’ll start with an injury report. Dennis Dixon has a left knee injury. It is meniscus related. Right now we’re tentatively scheduled to have surgery (Wednesday) morning. I don’t know how long he’ll be out. Usually you get more information once you go in and look at those things, so we’re going to wait and see. Rest assured he’s not going to play this week. Casey Hampton has been in the building the last several days and has looked really good in terms of getting himself ready to go this week. Same can be said for Emmanuel Sanders. He’s doing well. Byron (Leftwich) is back in the building and doing well from a workout standpoint. Max Starks should be a full participant, as should Jason Worilds. So some of the things that were injury-related leading up to last week appear to no longer be an issue, but we do have new issues with Dennis Dixon and Trai Essex. Trai Essex has an ankle sprain. We’ll see what he can do throughout the week and make our judgments from there. From a health standpoint, we’ll take it. Such is life in the National Football League.
We’ll play Tampa, a good football team that’s 2-0, in a hostile environment, one that I am very familiar with, particularly in September. One o’clock kickoffs are what they are down there. Weather is a factor. Conditions of that nature will be a factor in a football game. We’ve got to acknowledge that. We’ve got to do the best we can to prepare ourselves for that. Ultimately, how we play is going to determine how that wears and tears on us.
When you look at Tampa, there are a lot of reasons they’re 2-0. I just finished watching the full games again this morning and looking at how they flow and pull the three phases together. They’re playing off themselves, they really are. They create turnovers; they’re plus 4 in two games. When they create those turnovers, the offense scores with them. They’re playing really good in teams. Their coverage units, I was really impressed with what they were able to do versus Joshua Cribbs a couple weeks ago in Cleveland. They really got after that bunch with their special teams units.
They’re really good on third down. They’re about 41-42 percent conversion on third down, and that’s pretty special with a young quarterback. He’s using his legs to get some of them done. He converted two big ones Sunday with his legs, third-and-10, third-and-11, third-and-9 -type conversions, but he’s also using some known commodity guys, guys like Kellen Winslow, who’s the No. 1 third-down receiver in the NFL. This guy’s got 8 catches on third downs. We know about him; we’ve competed against him. We know he’s a tough, physical matchup, very athletic, a tough matchup for linebackers, and big and powerful, a tough matchup from a coverage standpoint for safeties.
Defensively, Ronde Barber is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions, delivered a timely one here in the last two games, set up a scoring drive against Cleveland that put them back in that game. I know what he’s capable of. Aqib Talib is back in action for them. He missed the first game. That’s an awesome corner tandem that they have. He had a pick also last week to close that game out. They’re stingy, they’re multiple, they run a variety of packages, they get after people, but more importantly than any of those things they warm up to the action. Nobody’s scored against them in the second halves of football games this season. That speaks to how they evolve over the course of the game, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.
Byron Leftwich’s knee is no longer an issue? If so, will he or Charlie Batch start?
We don’t anticipate it being (an issue). He’s been able to comfortably get through some workouts. Now workouts are different than practice, of course, and games, particularly the unanticipated movements that come with football, but we feel comfortable with where he is. We’re going to proceed through the week and see how this thing sorts out. Those are the two candidates. You’ve got to say Charlie’s in the pole position, because he’s got a clean bill of health at this point. We don’t anticipate Byron’s health being an issue, but you at least at this point in the week acknowledge that that could be a factor in determining how the reps sort out and who ultimately plays.
Will you bring in a third quarterback?
Not at this juncture, no.
Is Dennis a candidate for injured reserve?
It’s really going to be determined based on what they see when they go in and perform the surgery.
When and how did Dennis get hurt?
I think it was the 22-yard scramble on third-and-2 earlier in the game. He said he planted his leg in the ground and cut back inside, said it felt a little unstable at that point, but adrenaline and things of that nature kind of sometimes, particularly when it’s a non-impact injury, it takes a while before you realize that something’s amiss.
Considering what happened with your offensive line, with the dehydration and the cramping up, might you dress another one this week?
We have the same issues with our defensive line if they can’t get off the field. It wasn’t an issue with our defense in the last game because we created turnovers. So those are natural issues and questions you ask yourself as a head coach going into a game. The reality is you can’t carry extra bodies at all positions. So based on the matchup, our level of comfort in our preparedness, our health, those are the things that will determine where we distribute the helmets.
Does having gone through that weather environment Sunday prepare you for this game?
No. (Laughs) No, it’s a unique thing. We have to play in it. It’s going to be hot on their sideline as well. I’ve coached football down there. This time of year, when you coach down there, you like to feel good about the climate and that it’s a winning edge, but the reality is if you don’t get off the field and make the necessary plays that you need to make, it could hurt you. I’ve been a part of that, so we’re not going to get too caught up in it.
Why did the offense have so much trouble Sunday?
We didn’t operate very well on third down. I thought Charlie made some plays, particularly in the second half, and we had an opportunity to make some plays that we didn’t make. They were competitive catches, no question. There wasn’t really one guy; if you look at it, all of our guys – very reliable people. Heath Miller, I thought, had an opportunity to deliver a play or two for Charlie. Mike Wallace had an opportunity to deliver a significant play that would’ve put us in scoring position on a third down. I thought Hines (Ward) was capable of maybe catching that touchdown on that little short fade. Those are the kind of plays that need to be made. Competitive plays, yes; combative plays, yes. But those are the kind of plays you’ve got to make for a quarterback, particularly when you’re playing with one who hasn’t played a bunch or is in a backup situation. We weren’t able to do that. That’s why we haven’t been able to ring the scoreboard up by 7s. We’ll continue to work at it. Hopefully we produce some this week.
Is Antwaan Randle El your third quarterback if needed?
We also have Arnaz Battle, who was a quarterback at Notre Dame. And Hines threw for 400-plus yards in the Peach Bowl one year. We’ve got options.
Are they lobbying?
Every man’s capable, man. Guys want to ante up and kick in. I appreciate that about them.
You said you were annoyed by media predictions. Doesn’t that contradict what you always say about ignoring that kind of stuff?
Certainly it does. But we are emotional beings and sometimes we lose out to that. It was probably unwarranted, really, but that’s where I was at that point. It’s a tough game. It requires a lot. You’ve got to put in a lot. You’ve got to be 10 toes into this thing to win, and at times things that shouldn’t annoy you annoy you because of that fact. GMAC, awesome man, we’ve got a great relationship with them. But we were their Never Say Never Moment of the Week candidate a week ago because we won our home opener. We kind of took offense to that. Such is life in our league. We’re going to try to have a thicker skin and proceed with our business this week, and I’m talking about myself.
If Essex can’t pay, will Doug Legursky step in at guard?
Yes. He’s played really good ball this preseason and into the regular season. Happy with where that young man is.
What happened with the fumbled center snaps?
It was probably an issue with Maurkice (Pouncey). It was probably an issue with the cadence, or the fact we had to use silent count. It was probably an issue in that we were playing multiple quarterbacks, some he hasn’t taken a bunch of snaps with. Probably got limited exposure to exchanges between Maurkice Pouncey and Charlie Batch, especially considering the limited amount of 11-on-11 snaps Charlie got at Latrobe. Not making excuses; they are what they are. We’ve got to snap the ball.
Has Lawrence Timmons increased his level of play?
I really thought he was kind of on that course a year ago. He missed four-plus games and was limited in some others due to the high ankle sprain he had. The play he’s exhibiting right now is really no different than his play last year, when healthy. I thought the light came on for him a year ago.
Does Antonio Brown get another chance this week?
He made a pretty good case for himself, but you know I can be a tough guy to work with sometimes. We’ll see as the week unfolds.
Could you go on and on about the importance of special teams?
(On and on about the importance of special teams) … and really more excited about the fact that some of the contributions came from some very young people. Antonio Brown made some plays for us. Stevenson Sylvester made some plays for us. When you get some young guys making plays for you, it’s encouraging.
Did the KO return alter your offensive game plan?
It really didn’t because any comfort, if that’s the appropriate word, went away pretty quickly when they sack/fumbled us on the first third down of the game and went down and kicked a field goal. It kind of balanced out the kick return and the game kind of went on from there.
How soon before the game did you know you were going to try that trick kick return?
Pretty much all week. We worked it pretty good. If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it extremely early. If we had waited until the second kickoff return, they might’ve noticed that Antonio Brown was the off-returner instead of the returner.
Their onside kick, is that what you want your players to do, go aggressively after the ball?
Absolutely. You have to. You’ve got to play aggressively, particularly in those situations. He had a clean play on the ball; he’s got to take it. He did everything right, other than possess the football.
Had you ever seen that design of an onside kick before?
Yes. I’ve had some obscure jobs. I’ve worked at VMI, Arkansas State. I’ve tried just about everything.
What’s your team’s identity?
Hopefully our identity is winning and doing what it takes to win. It’s probably too early in the season to try to put teams in a box or talk about identities.