Mike Tomlin, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Good afternoon. Big week for us. Challenges are what we seek and I think that of course we’re getting that this week in the form of the world championship New Orleans Saints, not only that but at their place in prime time. Our team gets excited about these kinds of challenges. They embrace these kinds of challenges, but attitude is not going to get it done.
Looking at these guys, they’ve got a great deal of talent, are extremely well-coached, they’re opportunistic and have all the characteristics of a world championship-caliber team. It starts with Drew Brees at quarterback. This guy’s completed over 70 percent of his passes, has got over 2,000 yards throwing. He throws the ball around to a bunch of guys. That’s probably the most disturbing thing as you look at him. They’ve got three or four receivers that have more catches than Mike Wallace. They’ve got two tight ends with more catches than Heath Miller. They’ve got three backs with more catches than (Rashard) Mendenhall. You’ve got to defend all the eligibles when you play these guys. They do a nice job with the distribution of the ball. Offensively, they appear to be very unselfish. It doesn’t matter who the running backs are. (Chris) Ivory’s over 5 yards a carry and over 300 yards on the season. Given the opportunity, he’s performed well for them. They do a nice job of protecting Drew. He’s the No. 1 quarterback in the NFL on third down. So, needless to say, we have our hands full with them offensively.
Defensively, they’re led by (coordinator) Gregg Williams. They’re very aggressive. They’re very opportunistic, but they create their opportunities. They apply pressure to you in many different ways. They’re capable of applying pressure with their down people. Like most 4-3 teams, they have quality people up front: Sedrick Ellis, Will Smith, Alex Brown. (Anthony) Hargrove comes in in a rotation. He’s a tough guy, from an interior standpoint, to block in passing situations. But they also have a myriad of pressures that coach Williams employs and they execute at an extremely high level. They get you behind the chains because they’re very aggressive in terms of some of their run fronts and stunts, and then when you are behind the chains they’re capable of really getting after you. They do a nice job of disguising their coverages and pressures, particularly when they’re in the dome at home. Silent count and things of that nature are an issue. They’re usually advantage defense when you’re using things such as your foot to indicate snap count. They break disguises on the quarterback’s foot and so forth. They’re just a well-coached and opportunistic group.
We’ve got some injury things to report. Flozell Adams appears to be doing pretty well with his ankle injury. He may be limited somewhat here in the early portion of the week, but we expect this guy to make it. Brett Keisel’s going to be limited in the early part of the week, as is LaMarr Woodley. We’re hopeful that those guys can play. We’ll see where the week takes us. Aaron Smith had surgery yesterday on his torn triceps. It was partially torn and fixed. He’s going to be out an extended period of time and at this juncture we intend to wait that out. Aaron’s a quality player, a veteran leader for us. If there’s hope for his return, then of course we’re going to be hopeful as long as we possibly can. That is our mentality as we sit here today. The rest are just bumps and bruises.
Will you need to add an end?
We will, but chances are we’ll find those answers in-house like we always do. Steve (McLendon) has stepped up when given the opportunity. (Chris) Hoke has proven he’s capable of playing the end. We’ll have a mix-and-match concept that hopefully will see us through.
Have you been given any indication how long he’ll miss?
No, not at this juncture. It’s going to be an extended number of weeks and we’ll see how it goes.
Will Trai Essex play this week?
Yeah. Trai was extremely close last week. We look forward to him practicing and participating in this football game.
If Keisel returns, who will start on the left side?
That’s a big if. More than anything right now we have Ziggy Hood and Nick Eason ready to play either. Until we get further information we have to proceed with that mentality and hopefully at the latter part of the week we can ponder the possibilities of Brett Keisel’s participation.
If Woodley can’t go, who will play his position?
(Larry) Foote is a veteran backup who’s logged many man-hours at the mack linebacker position. Lawrence Timmons is a talented guy that has a chance to affect the game regardless of where he plays. We’ll probably be more inclined to slide Lawrence outside and play Foote inside, with an eye on potentially playing Jason Worilds some in passing situations just like he did last Sunday.
What did Worilds show you?
He made a significant play when we needed it. There’s big-time room for growth when you’re talking about a young man, detailed assignments and so forth. But along the way he’d better play winning football. He delivered a timely play for us last week. We expect more of the same this week.
Even though you’ve won five games, are you dissatisfied with your pass defense?
We’ve been up on some people and some people have gotten one-dimensional. We’ve been very strong against the run. I’m not overly concerned with stats. When people are behind and can’t run the football, they’re going throw the football on you and will probably pick up yards. The thing that’s most exciting is we don’t allow people to score touchdowns. We lead the league in scoring defense. Even in red areas we make people kick field goals. That’s the formula for winning defense. I’m less concerned about what stats may potentially tell us because we all know, in many instances, they lie.
Are there reasons defending champs struggle?
They have experienced a number of injuries. Playing a month longer than most may have something do with that – shorter offseason and so forth. But those are there issues and not ours. We accept responsibilities for our ’09 failures and we know where those responsibilities lie – with us. How they’re addressing their season is up to them.
What was Cleveland able to do against New Orleans that was so effective?
They probably weren’t as familiar with the kind of damage that Shawn Rodgers can do. That’s probably the thing that jumped off the tape to me more than anything. Of course we’re very familiar with the kind of damage Shawn Rodgers can do because unfortunately we see him twice a year. He was a disruptive force in that game. But you turn the ball over, you open yourselves up to games such as that, and really that’s what happened in the game.
Will Essex go back to right guard?
We’ll see how the week unfolds from a preparation standpoint. A lot of it has to do with his health.
Do you teach playing beyond the whistle?
Well, you let me know when you hear a whistle. That’s one of my contentions. There’s been a de-emphasis on the whistle, as far as I’m concerned, in the National Football League and I don’t agree with it. We talk about player safety, yet we don’t blow whistles at the end of football plays. So that’s kind of a misnomer when you’re talking about the whistle. What we want to do is play till the action ceases.
Are they doing that because they’re unsure and are looking to replay to answer the question?
They have an opportunity for replay to get called right, and I’m not opposed to that by any stretch. But there has been a de-emphasis on whistles in the National Football League.
Can the loophole in the call that happened Sunday, with the fumble at the goal line, be fixed?
No, I don’t know that it can be fixed. I think the rule is pretty clear. We were aware of the rule as that situation was unfolding. They’re pretty clear on it. They’ve got to have clear recovery by the defensive unit to award them the ball in a situation such as that.
Why not just hold the whistle on a play like that?
Potential injury to players.
The NFL praised James Harrison for his restraint on Ronnie Brown in the fourth quarter. Do you share their feeling?
I think what Ronnie Brown did had more to do with it than anything else. James took his normal approach and angle to the football. Ronnie Brown caught the ball clean and got down like a savvy veteran does when he’s in harm’s way. I’m less concerned about Ray Anderson’s evaluation of James’s performance than I am just evaluating James’s performance myself.
Are you OK with guys from the NFL commenting on your players’ performances like that?
It would be tough for me to care less about their opinion, to be honest with you.
With that in mind, did you coach differently going into that game?
Not at all. Not at all. We just play football, man. We’re trying to get out of stadiums with wins.
Did you see other defensive players pull back? Like Troy Polamalu?
I didn’t see anything of that nature. If I appear short, it’s because it’s somewhat insulting to me to assume we’re doing anything under any normal circumstances other than trying to play within the rules. That’s how our guys play; that’s how we coach. Number one, first and foremost, is it conducive to winning? That’s what our intentions are when we step in stadiums to play, whether it’s last weekend or three weeks ago or a month ago. Or a month from now.
Did you consider going for the touchdown at any point after the fumble?
No, we were going to put points on the board and take the lead. They had utilized all of their timeouts at that point, so we were going to give it to our defense and give them an opportunity to win the game.
Coach, beyond the obvious, what makes it difficult to play without Aaron Smith?
Any time you lose a player, and particularly a player such as Aaron, others have to step up. You know the philosophy that we buy into, as far as the standard being the standard, and what we mean by that is those who step in for him have to play winning football. There are no excuses. Our intention will be the same and that is to play winning football. Do I expect the guys that take his place to play like Aaron? Or to make similar plays? Maybe not, but they’d better be above the line. They’d better play winning football.
What kind of improvement is Ziggy making?
He’s had a great training camp and preseason. He’s not had the kind of production he’d like thus far, but the season is still early. Boy, he’s got a big-time opportunity to work on that this weekend. Knowing him, I know he will do what’s necessary in the process. I just saw him downstairs getting a little extra work on a Tuesday. Not that that’s out of the ordinary. He’s not the kind of guy who’s responding to an opportunity. That’s just Evander Hood.
What would you have done differently with the clock at the end of the first half?
I may give Jeff (Reed) an opportunity to bang that one. I know it was a far kick but we did have the wind at our back. It was a nice climate, nice day. We were in South Florida. In hindsight I might give him an opportunity to bang that one.
Are they a different offense with Reggie Bush?
He’s a dynamic playmaker, not only in the running game but in the passing game. He’s a special, special player. I would imagine that what they call will not change, but the manner in which it unfolds probably would be because he’s that special of a guy. You’ve got to acknowledge him and how he’s capable of changing a game, not only offensively but in the punt-return game. Reggie Bush is a special, special player.
Do you alter your defense and assignments because Aaron Smith will be out?
Those are questions we ask ourself on a week-to-week basis, whether we have backups in there or not, based on the physical matchups of people we play.
Ike Taylor was on Brandon Marshall a lot last week. Does New Orleans even have a specific go-to guy among their receivers?
They do. They’ve got some really good players. They just have a number of them.
How much of a factor has the ankle injury been to Ziggy Hood?
None. He hasn’t missed a practice or game.