Mike Tomlin, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
We let Jeff Reed go here today. Jeff has had a distinguished career here. He’s had a lot of individual success and contributed to our success as a team, but at this juncture we thought it was appropriate for us to make a change on our football team at that position. We worked out Shaun Suisham, Bowling Green man, NFL-experienced guy, kicked the last several years in D.C., finished last year with the Cowboys. He worked out today over at the stadium, had a productive workout, had a solid level of comfort with what he’s capable of. His background is attractive to us. Of course, he’s kicked at Bowling Green and is from Canada originally. He’s no stranger to the elements and things that are critical components of kicking for us. So we’ll move forward with that change. Those changes never come easy. It’s a unique situation at times when you make those kinds of changes. Obviously we deemed it necessary at this juncture in terms of moving forward.
Of course coming off Sunday’s performance, it was not a good one. We were beaten soundly by a good football team, similar to how they were beaten by Cleveland a week prior to that. Hopefully we’ll respond the way they did. I know that’s going to be our intention here as we evaluate and make adjustments and prepare for the Oakland Raiders coming in here. Of course, we played them a year ago here at Heinz Field. We get another opportunity at them this week. You’re talking about a team that’s as hot as any team in football. They’re 5-4 and stacked with talent as the Raiders always are. They’re a big and fast outfit, 13-14 former first-rounder on the team.
Offensively, the signal-caller right now is Jason Campbell. He’s produced three straight wins for them. He’s making great decisions. We’re familiar with him. He’s got a great long ball, makes good decisions, a good above-the-neck veteran quarterback. He’s distributing the ball to a variety of people. Louis Murphy, who made some critical plays against us a year ago, is the leader of that receiver group [with Darrius] Heyward-Bey. A young rookie in [Jacoby] Ford from Clemson had a big game the other week. Their tight end [Zach] Miller from Arizona State is as good and complete a tight end as there is in football. This guy’s capable of doing it all, similar to our Miller. He’s good on the line of scrimmage, good at blocking. They move him. He’s a vertical threat. He can create space on short routes. He’s a good football player. He missed the last game. I’m sure they anticipate getting him back coming off a bye week. They have a stable of running backs led by [Darren] McFadden, who’s having as good a year as anyone. He’s running some wildcat football. Of course, he is the original wildcat, going back to his days in Fayetteville, Arkansas in college football. He’s accompanied by [Michael] Bush, a Louisville man, that’s a power runner, a big man. They’ve got a fullback [Marcel] Reese who’s multi-faceted. He’s capable of catching screens and going the distance. He runs some routes out of the backfield, slants and slant-and-gos and so forth. Really got a unique skill-set for a fullback and they utilize his skills very well. They pound you with the run, they throw the ball vertically, they’ve got a myriad of tricks – reverses and flea-flickers and so forth, similar to what they’ve been here in the recent past.
Defensively, boy they’ve really been impressive of late. You start up front when you’re talking about 4-3 defenses and you start with Richard Seymour. This guy’s having an All-Pro caliber year. They move him around and put him over a variety of people. He can play inside; he can play outside. He’s a big, power player who happens to be extremely athletic. He’s accompanied up front by Tommy Kelly, who’s also very disruptive and having a quality year. A young second-rounder, Lamarr Houston out of Texas, is playing end for them. They’re getting a lot of production out of that young man. Their first-rounder, at the linebacker level, [Rolando] McClain out of Alabama, is doing some great things for them. You know their secondary is equipped with big, fast men who can run. [Michael] Huff and [Tyvon] Branch at safety are doing some nice things for them. They’ve got a myriad of sub-package players that allow them to cover just about whatever personnel group you put out there.
They made some critical splash plays in special teams. It really broke open the San Diego game for them. They had a kickoff return to start the second half versus Kansas City that got them back in that football game that really set the table for the dramatic victory they had. They’re playing really good football. They went through Seattle relatively easy, and of course Denver is well-documented.
This is the kind of opponent we need, quite frankly, coming off our last performance. We’ve got to get back in the world of the competent and the competing. This is a great opportunity for us, one that I’m sure that our guys will be excited about taking advantage of. When we looked at our tape yesterday we started with being accountable. What we looked at and what we put out there, players and coaches, was below the line, and of course New England took advantage of it like good teams are capable of doing. We’re definitely not going to dwell on it. We’re going to learn from it. We’re going to make our corrections and move forward and get ready for this next opportunity.
Looking at some injury things in preparation for this week, Will Allen is still a question mark. Saturday morning he got up and he still had a headache or two from his concussion the other week. So we didn’t play him. We’re getting further testing there to make sure he’s OK before we proceed. Crezdon Butler had a quad strain in the game. He can be characterized as questionable. Brett Keisel is still working with his hamstring. We’ll see where he is later in the week. Chris Kemoeatu of course has an ankle sprain. We’re going to get him going and hopefully he’s probably going to be available to us. Lawrence Timmons has a hip contusion that may limit him in the early portion of the week. We expect him to come back. Troy [Polamalu] has a right Achilles’ [tendon] strain. We’re probably going to slow him down here in the early portions of the week, just like we did with Heath Miller, with an eye toward practicing in the latter part of the week. We expect him to play. Aaron Smith is a week closer; thought you guys might like that.
Was there a final straw with Jeff Reed?
No, it’s probably just more an accumulation of where we are. Of course, like I said earlier, this guy’s had a great deal of success. It’s not a decision that comes easily. The kicking position is one that bears special consideration. It’s unlike other positions where you can simply bench someone and go to their backup. There’s only one kicker on the football team, so you don’t take these decisions likely. We’re very respectful of the body of work he has here, but at this time we thought it was appropriate that we make a change. Shaun was available; we worked him out; we like his resume; we like how he performed today. He’s been here before. I think he was in camp here in ’05. He’s a veteran guy. He’s no stranger to NFL competition. So we’re extremely comfortable with the change and moving forward.
Did anything Jeff say or anything he did off the field play into your decision?
No, again, we just looked at the cumulative body of work and where we are and how we move forward. We felt like at this time it justified a change.
Did his miss the other day happen because his foot slipped on the field?
I don’t know that.
Is Hines Ward available? And what was the impact of him leaving that game?
I expect Hines to be available for this game. Of course there’s an adjustment process that you go through from an offensive-unit standpoint when you lose a guy like Hines during the course of a football game. We ask him to do a lot of things, a lot of unique things. But the guys who took his place are capable men. They’re capable of doing the job. Injuries are as much a part of this game as blocking and tackling. We embrace the challenges that the game of football presents, including injuries.
Is Shaun the only guy you worked out?
Is he a kickoff guy?
And did a nice job of it, yes.
Was Hines Ward ever diagnosed with a concussion? And if he was, did he undergo testing yesterday?
He was diagnosed with a concussion, and he cleared post-concussion tests. Of course, we’ll continue to be cautious as we move forward.
He said he cleared the test on the field and wanted to go back in. Is there a strict rule against that? Or was it the doctor’s recommendation?
I think we’re all pretty familiar with the climate that we’re in right now in the National Football League in regards to concussions. A competitor like Hines, you respect the want-to, of course. He was able to pass a test at the stadium. But if we’re going to err, we’re going to err on the side of caution. Sometimes you’ve got to protect the extreme competitors from themselves, and Hines is that. We love and respect him for that. It’s part of what makes him who he is. But we had to act in his best interest on Sunday night.
Did the drops indicate a lack of focus to you?
No, it indicates that we’re not catching the football. We’ve got to catch them.
Do you anticipate any changes at cornerback?
No, not at all.
What do they have to do to play better?
Our pass defense is a combination of a lot of people, not only corners but safeties and linebackers and rush. A lot of the things that went on in that game, many of them were underneath throws that aren’t directly involving cornerback play. We all accept responsibility for our inability to consistently stop the New England Patriots, coaches, players, everyone, not only the cornerback position.
How did your new linemen on the left play? And will they stay there?
They will. [But] we anticipate having Chris back. I thought those guys did a serviceable job, but of course being a results-oriented guy it wasn’t enough. The same could be said for my performance.
Tom Brady had a lot of time to throw. How do you view that?
There were points in the game where he had a lot of time and there were also points in the game where we were rushing three. The vast majority of the game I thought he was making quick decisions and getting the ball out of his hand on a myriad of short routes and underneath throws where rushes are less of a factor. So I would point to that as the central reason we were able to slow those guys down.
Did the Patriots show anything they hadn’t shown? What was central to your defensive performance?
They’ve got a time-tested body of work. That core group of guys has been together a number of years. To say we saw something we hadn’t seen before would be a stretch. Their personality changes from week to week but it’s still them. They did what they do better than we did what we do. That’s why they were successful.
Is there a correlation between what Brady did and what Drew Brees did in New Orleans?
No, really not. They’re two different schematic systems and really two different guys in what they bring to the table. Drew Brees is a movement guy, play-action pass guy. He changes his launch point, whether it’s rollout or re-setting the pocket behind tackles. His effectiveness is based on his mobility and the way that he moves. Of course, Tom’s strengths are in his decision-making and getting the ball out of his hand.
How could the Patriots get to your QB so often?
We got behind in the football game. When you get behind, you’ve got to take some shots. They probably benefitted from that some. Your personality changes some given game circumstances, and I acknowledge that, but I also acknowledge that they did a nice job rushing the passer.
Do you expect the Raiders to borrow from the Patriots this week?
I’m not going to try to anticipate what it is they’re going to do, in terms of their decision-making and how they match up against us. They are a team that’s coming off of a bye week. I’m sure they’d put together a portion of their plan prior to us even playing New England. I would imagine a team that’s hot and won its last three games is going to continue to do what it’s done, but I’ll also acknowledge that we’ve got some unflattering tape out there that might be a window into how to attack us, maybe, if they’re looking. We’ll see on Sunday I guess.