Good afternoon. Coming off a unique weekend for us. It was awesome to have some time off and rest up this time of year and spend the holidays with our families. With that we get back to business in preparation for our regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns.
Looking at us from an injury standpoint coming out of Thursday night's game, (it is) normal bumps and bruises.
• Bryant McFadden has a hip pointer that may limit him in the early part of the week.
• LaMarr Woodley has some swelling on his left knee; same thing there.
• Jason Worilds has some swelling on his knee. It may limit him during the early portions of the week and, particularly with a young guy who's limited from a practice standpoint, that would put his participation in question.
• Mewelde Moore has a right knee sprain. He could be characterized as questionable at this point.
• Troy Polamalu's improving. We're going to look at him and watch him move here a little bit this week. It's not out of the realm of possibility that he could play this weekend, and if he's healthy he will.
• Aaron Smith's a week better. We scanned him and he's healing nicely. Again, he's pushing and lifting weights and so forth and is inching closer to practice participation, and of course hopefully game participation, here at some point.
We're excited about the opportunity to end our season against an AFC North team in the Cleveland Browns, one that we respect. We understand what's at stake here. What better way to have to go about winning the division than to go on the road and have to do it in a rival's home.
When you look at them offensively, it starts with Colt McCoy. This young man debuted against us the first time we played them and represented himself extremely well in that football game. He threw for over 280 yards against us, had a touchdown to Ben Watson, showed awareness and savvy beyond his years, and he continues to do those things. We've got to do a better job against him than we did last time, to be quite frank with you. He spread the ball around; looked like he had a pretty comfortable time digesting the things that we threw at them. He's helped in his effort by what Peyton Hillis does for him, not only rushing the football … but equally important is this guy has 60 catches. A lot of football goes through Peyton Hills offensively for the Cleveland Browns, whether he's running it or receiving it. Their leading receiver happens to be Ben Watson, who's an athletic vertical threat at tight end, veteran player, former New England Patriot, is doing some really nice things for them. Brian Robiskie, a young wideout, has done some nice things for them recently. He scored a touchdown the last two games. He's catching fire. We need to contend with him. Up front of course they're anchored by [Eric] Steinbach and Joe Thomas on the left side.
Defensively, I think the biggest thing you look at when you look at them is the number of people they're playing. They've got a deep rotation of people, particularly in their front seven. It makes them a fresher unit. They play with energy. Their nose guard Ahtyba Rubin is highly productive. I can't imagine a defensive lineman having more tackles in the NFL than him. It shows up on tape. He makes a bunch of plays for them. They've got bunch of guys at the linebacker level with position flexibility, particularly in their sub-packages. Those guys do a variety of things. It's a tough time locating Matt Roth and getting a bead on what he does and where he plays. David Bowens does similar things. He plays inside; he plays outside. He's a rushman some in sub-package football. Eric Barton, their linebackers are very versatile. Marcus Bernard, he's got 8.5 sacks on the season. He moves around quite a bit, plays some inside linebacker, plays some end in rush situations. Just locating these men and particularly identifying the number of people they play will be extremely taxing for us. And then of course they have Shaun Rogers. We know what kind of game-changer he is from a talent standpoint. What's going on in the secondary has to be pretty pleasing to them. They've got two young players who are playing really well for them. At the safety position, T.J. Ward is their leading tackler. He's consistently aggressive and aware. He's a really good football player. And their No. 1 pick at corner, Joe Haden, has six interceptions on the year. He picked us off in the red zone early in the first quarter the last time we played them. He continues to make play after play, not only in the passing game but he's a consistent run-support man. He's just playing the game extremely well. He's playing off; he's playing on the line of scrimmage. He's a good player, like a lot of guys who came out of that Florida program last year. We went down there and watched their Pro Day. It's not surprising what many of those guys are doing.
From a special-teams standpoint, and also offensively, you know we always have to deal with Joshua Cribbs, whether as a kick returner, a punt returner, as a wide receiver, as a wildcat quarterback. When he's got the ball in his hands he's capable of doing damage to a defense or a special-teams unit, and of course he has a history of big-time success against us, one we hope don't continue in the stadium this weekend.
With an older team, how big has this break been?
I think this break is beneficial to any team. When you've got 15 games in your rearview mirror, anybody would take advantage of a 10-day window.
How do you see the rivalry?
It is what it is. Any time in the National Football League you're getting on the bus to go play a game, man, that's a pretty heated rivalry. Not many bus trips in the National Football League. Just from proximity's standpoint it's unique. History is what it is: two storied franchises, the fans. I think the close proximity and history makes it what it is.
With Troy, will you wait until Friday?
Yes. We're going to practice him on Friday and see where that takes us.
Has the rivalry heated up?
I'd like to have a rivalry with everybody that we play. That's just the nature of it. We have a rivalry versus the Ravens, versus the Bengals, and the Browns as far as I'm concerned. That's the nature of AFC North football. Their perceptions of the rivalry I can't control.
Will last year's loss at Cleveland have an impact on the team's approach?
I think what's at stake right now and right here is enough motivation. We're trying to secure an AFC North title. In order to do that, we have to go into an AFC North city and do the job, and I'm sure they're not for us doing it so it's going to make it interesting and exciting.
McCoy struggled last week. What have you seen from him since you played him last?
He really didn't struggle. Playing against Ed Reed is something that all quarterbacks gotta learn how to do. There's no manual for playing against Ed Reed and I'm sure it's a lesson well-learned. Other than the plays made by Ed Reed, I thought he played pretty well in the football game and pretty consistent with how he's represented himself all year, starting with when he debuted against us. This guy has got good pocket presence. He distributes the ball to a number of people. He's elusive and mobile. He creates plays with his legs. He doesn't panic. Situational football is not too big for him. There's a lot of reasons to be optimistic about what this guy brings to the table, and I'm sure they are.
Is he improving?
I imagine he is improving. They're probably the best evaluator of that, but I saw enough the first time we played them that I'm not surprised by anything he's done to this point.
Did they use the sub-package without defensive linemen in the first meeting? And how much of a problem was that?
They used some of it. They're using more of it. I think it's made increasingly difficult simply by the number of people they're playing and the variety of positions that they're asking them to play. It's situational. It's third-down oriented. It's red-zone oriented. It's in line with the personality coach [Eric] Mangini and coach [Rob] Ryan have displayed since they've been together there.
Because of the Ryan brothers, are there similarities to what the Browns and Jets do?
No, not specifically defensively. I think if you coach football, particularly defensive football, you do what your guys are capable of doing and doing well. They're working with two different units and outfits and I think they cater their assault to fit their people.
Are you contemplating change at left tackle?
Has Maurkice Pouncey hit the rookie wall?
No. As a matter of fact, I think he, along with some others, have been getting better. That's a good sign. Obviously we need contributions from our younger people and we've been getting it. Young people like Maurkice and Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, Jason Worilds, Stevenson Sylvester, they've been improving of late, which has been encouraging.
If Moore can't play, will you dress Jonathan Dwyer?
Yeah, that's a possibility. I'm not ready to count Mewelde out yet.
Are teams allowing the rookies room by paying extra attention to Hines Ward?
I think that's a fair assessment, but also the attention earned by Mike Wallace as well. When you've got guys like Mike and Hines on the field along with Heath Miller, I think it provides opportunities for other eligibles. In the cases of those two young men, they're taking advantage of those opportunities and maybe getting a little attention of their own.
Are teams coming in with the purpose of taking Ward away?
Situationally, and I think that's always been the case. Hines' reputation is what it is and it's well-deserved. He's a big red-zone threat. You see that people are willing to put multiple people on him in those instances and some third-down instances, but it's probably more situational than anything else. And that might be one of the reasons you see a guy like Emmanuel Sanders catch three or four passes on third down like he was able to do a week ago.
Do you still need to keep Mike Wallace's confidence in check?
I'm not trying to keep his confidence in check. I want him to be a better football player. Whatever I do with him from a coaching standpoint is geared toward him being the very best player that he can be. He's capable of being a better player. He needs to grow in some areas. We've been pretty upfront about that.
What are the areas he needs to grow?
Detail and route-running and coverage recognition; playing without the ball in his hand – blocking and so forth; a lot of the things that young receivers need to grow and develop at doing.
The hot route last week? Did he run it right?
Touchdown. I liked what I saw.
Get everything you want for Christmas?
No. Such is life.