Mike Tomlin, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Good afternoon. Back to business for us this week on the South Side preparing for the Cleveland Browns. I always view the bye week with mixed emotions. It’s always good to step away and reflect a little bit, self-evaluate, make potential corrections, and grow. But at the same time you’re always somewhat nervous when you miss out on some action. There’s always some anxiety that comes with getting back to action, so we’ll have to sort through those feelings this week.
When you watch the Cleveland Browns, they’re a 1-4 football team, yes, but they probably played the toughest schedule to this point in the NFL, when you look at the games they played, the teams they played. Tampa Bay, of course, they lost that opener by three points; they’ve proven to be a good team. The Baltimore Ravens, we know what they are; they lost that game. They beat Cincinnati. Kansas City’s proven to be a good team; they lost that game. And of course Atlanta is a good team. They’re battle-tested. They’ve got some new components that we have to worry about.
Offensively, it starts with Peyton Hills, their feature ballcarrier. He’s a rough-and-tumble guy that wears you down. That is their personality. They’ve pounded some teams with him, Baltimore Ravens included in that. Of course we’re always worried about Joshua Cribbs, whether as a wideout or return man, both punts and kicks. He’s always been a thorn in our side. He’s a very good player. It doesn’t look like much has changed in that area. At tight end, Ben Watson appears to be a feature target for them regardless of who’s playing quarterback. He’s a vertical threat, a very athletic guy that’s been around some really good football, ex-New England Patriot. He provides big plays for them. They’ve got a young receiving corps that appears to be getting its feet on the ground – (Mohamad) Massaquoi, (Brian) Robiskie and others. Up front their left side is a big time strength with Joe Thomas at tackle, (Eric) Steinbach at guard and (Alex) Mack at center. They’re really doing a nice job of waging a war of attrition on opponents. It’s been particularly impressive. (Lawrence) Vickers, their fullback, is a big part of that.
Defensively, they’ve got some new guys, particularly on the linebacker level, that we have to be ready for and contend with. (Matt) Roth at outside along with (Scott) Fujita are veteran guys that’ve been around. Fujita of course is coming of a world championship season in New Orleans. They’re playing really good ball for them. The guys up front, Robaire Smith, (Ahtyba) Ruben, and (Kenyon) Coleman, play rock-solid football and gap control, and of course they’ve got a sparkplug, a big one, in Shawn Rogers. This guy’s very disruptive. They’re playing him in some sub-package ball. They move him around, getting him in some one-on-one rushes versus people they believe will be a formidable matchup. He’s got a big-time resume in terms of blocking kicks. He’s always big-time trouble for us. Maurkice Pouncey, of course, will be introduced to some more AFC North football this week when he tries to block that man. In the secondary, they got something old, something new. Sheldon Brown is a veteran guy who’s been around. T.J. Ward is a young guy that’s playing safety for them and really smashing people. He’s playing good, physical football kind of reminiscent of Ryan Clark and the way he plays the game. Eric Wright of course holds down the corner spot and is always competitive week in and week out in terms of challenging guys and taking the calculated risks that come with that position. So we’re excited, nervous at the same time. That’s what coming off bye weeks are all about. I like our preparation to this point. I think we’re a relatively healthy team. Really, the only injury of note at this juncture is probably Trai Essex. He went through individual [drills] a little bit yesterday. Chris Hoke doesn’t appear to be limited in any form or fashion, which is good news for us. So we’ll just keep pushing towards Sunday and continue to work and hone our skills and prepare for an opportunity here to get back in the race, particularly against an AFC North opponent like the Cleveland Browns. Questions.
Q: Who do you think will start at quarterback for them?
A: I have no idea. And I’m really not overly concerned with it. Those are their issues, like our quarterback issues have been ours. They’re a professional football team. I’m sure whoever they put in there is going to be capable. We’re going to have to respect them whether it’s Seneca Wallace or (Jake) Delhomme or Colt McCoy for that matter, or Josh Cribbs. They’re going to snap it to someone and we have to be prepared to stop them.
Q: How will you approach Josh Cribbs in the return game?
A: Weather is an element. It always is. We faced him at times where we’d like to keep the ball away from him in the climate as dictated that we weren’t given that option. Of course I don’t anticipate the weather being that severe this time, but that’s a plan that we developed throughout the week and of course with the elements being an element of it.
Q: What happened last year in Cleveland?
A: I think the play of Cleveland was the ultimate determinant of the outcome of that game than our play. They played well. We didn’t.
Q: Do you have any plans to change the way you play offensively with Ben Roethlisberger back? And who will be the No. 2 quarterback?
A: We’re going to do like we always do this week in terms of catering a plan, our strengths versus their strengths, try to minimize our weaknesses, of course. Ben has many strengths that we’re going to utilize, but we also have 10 other men in that huddle who are capable of helping us win so we’ll utilize them as well. In terms of the No. 2 quarterback, we haven’t decided on that at this juncture, just like we haven’t decided who’s going to return punts and kicks for that matter.
Q: Do you expect to see more of Cribbs in the wildcat formation?
A: I think we should expect to see a great deal of Cribbs in the wildcat, regardless of their quarterback situation because he had such success against us a year ago and that’s usually the nature of this league. When you show areas of deficiency, usually you’ll continue to see those challenges until you fix it. And we didn’t fix it in that football game. We’ll have an opportunity to maybe fix it in this one. If we don’t, we’re going to see quite a bit of it.
Q: Are you thinking of putting Emmanuel Sanders back on kicks?
Q: He wouldn’t return punts, would he?
A: He is a punt returner, yes. I think he settled under one or two in the preseason, has worked extensively at that once the season’s begun.
Q: Will Roethlisberger provide a boost to morale?
A: He always does because he’s a ridiculous competitor. When he has an opportunity to compete, you feel him in the room, or in the stadium. It’s one of the interesting attributes about him as a player and a person. When faced with adversity, when given an opportunity to compete, man he does. I think guys feed off of that.
Q: In regard to your quarterback circumstances, did you alter your normal bye-week regimen?
A: No, we didn’t. I think any alterations to our bye week plans were done more so to acknowledge the early bye week. We’re still very much in the early stages of this season and we’re very much a developing football team.
Q: Can you sense Mike Holmgren’s imprint on the Browns?
A: I haven’t because I don’t know Mike Holmgren that well personally, in terms of what’s important to him from a football standpoint. I know that they made some changes. With change at the top usually comes change. They’ve got some interesting players, some veteran players. They put together a nice mix of guys. They’ve acquired people who are making them better. They’re doing a nice job.
Q: Why is Rogers only in their sub-packages?
A: I can’t speak to why he doesn’t play. Of course, talent isn’t an issue. Usually when you’re talking about men of that stature, a snap count is a relevant issue. I know that he has a big-time opportunity to affect the game in some sub-package football, passing-down things. If a guy that size is going to play 30 to 35 snaps, maybe they feel he’s got an opportunity to affect the game more in sub-packages. I don’t know that. I know that winning the game, we’d better be prepared to deal with him because he’s a very disruptive, powerful, athletic man, similar to the guy that was so disruptive against us last week in (Haloti) Ngata.
Q: What did they do so well defensively against you?
A: They’re not out of place. They play smart. They have a nice sub-package, pressure package, that we didn’t contend with very well a year ago. And guys made plays at opportune times. There’s really no secret to playing good defense, whether you’re talking about the Cleveland defense or our defense or anyone’s. When guys are where they’re supposed to be, guys make timely plays, and they play together and hustle, you’ve got a chance to play good football. They’re doing that.
Q: Do you expect the fans to react positively to Ben’s first game back? And ultimately does that matter?
A: Of course it matters. We’re a professional sport. We get so much energy off our fans. We work hard to entertain and please them. They really kind of make us go. I expect him to get a warm reception. I really do. I really think that’s the nature of Steeler Nation. I know we’re excited about having him back. I know he’s excited about getting back with his teammates and performing for our fans at Heinz Field.
Q: Will you introduce the offense before the game?
A: I haven’t decided who’s returning kicks, so you know I don’t care about who we’re introducing [reporters guffaw].
Q: Have you, or do you anticipate, talking to players about the pitfalls of tweeting, social media, that sort of thing?
A: We’ve got a general rule here: I don’t care whether they tweet; I just don’t want to tweet business in any form or fashion. And I think if you stick to that rule then you eliminate any potential things that you have to deal with, or at least you have an understanding in case something happens. I’m not opposed to guys tweeting or facebooking or doing whatever it is that they do now, just don’t talk about my business.
Q: Without Ben the first four games, did things go as you expected them to go?
A: No, I thought we’d be 4-0 but we’re 3-1. We’re moving forward.
Q: Did you see the arm strength in practice?
A: It looked like he’s rested. Some of those deep balls to Mike Wallace are entertaining. He’s had a good week of practice, but it’s just that. Good practice puts you in position to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves in stadiums on game days and you’ve got to take advantage of those. He’s no different than anyone else from that standpoint. I’m sure there’ll be some anxieties, some excitement, some nervousness that comes with playing after an extended period of time off. I’m sure he’ll quickly kind of get through that as he warms up and gets his competitive juices flowing. All of those are interesting and fun things to kind of be a part of. It really is. We’re excited about the opportunity we have this weekend.