Mike Tomlin, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Good afternoon. It’s great to be back in the single-elimination tournament and of course to be part of the remaining eight teams. Our goal like everyone else’s is to move on to the field of four. I feel good about the work that we’ve done to this point in preparation for this opportunity. We had a great week last week of both meetings and practice. It was a week that was catered toward the needs of the group individually and collectively. Those that needed work got work; those that needed rehabilitation got that. That being said, I think we got a pretty good bill of health.
* Aaron Smith is going to get scanned again at some point this week to see where he is. That will be our guide for us as we move forward.
* Troy Polamalu appears to be in pretty good shape. Like always, we’ll limit him at the early portion in the week, get him the necessary work at the end of the week so he can be in the best shape possible on Saturday.
* Bryant McFadden appears to be progressing nicely. He might be limited at the early portion of the week but won’t limit him in terms of play.
* Jason Worilds and others appear to have a clean bill of health, so we’ll be able to kick this thing off tomorrow with a normal in-season Wednesday, if you will.
Quickly about the Ravens, we’re familiar with them, they’re familiar with us. Not much has changed, really, since the last time we played them. I’ll highlight some of the things that I think make them a little different from the last time we played them.
Offensively, I think it starts with Todd Heap. He got injured very early, maybe the second or third play of the game, when we played them last time. He’s back, he’s healthy. Those of you that saw the game this weekend saw how he’s capable of impacting a football game and helping their offense. He’s a multi-talented guy. He’s capable of splitting out and running receiver-type routes. He’s a matchup issue and problem for a lot of people. Are linebackers athletic enough to cover him? Are safeties, or DBs in general, big enough to cover him? I saw Kansas City going through some of those issues like we have in the past. He’s a really good player. He’s a red zone threat. He’s averaging 15 yards per catch. I think he’s their leading receiver in terms of yards per catch and that speaks to what he’s capable of and his unique skill set at the tight end position. The rest of the cast of characters are just that, the regular cast of characters.
Defensively, not much has changed, other than the fact I really think they’re getting rock-solid play at the cornerback position. I know a lot was being written and said about maybe what was going on in their secondary leading up to the last time we played them. It seems to me they really kind of solved those issues. Josh Wilson is playing really well, won a game for them in overtime with an interception. It always helps to have Ed Reed in the mix. Fabian Washington, (Chris) Carr, (Lardarius) Webb, they’re really getting nice contributions from a lot of people at the cornerback position – all can run, all are very aggressive tacklers and make aggressive plays on the ball. Turnovers have been big for this outfit. They’re really doing a nice job of creating fumble opportunities as well. It’s always been a group that’s been very ball aware. They’re taking advantage of those opportunities and they’re coming away with the football. This is a turnover-driven outfit. Their defense scores or provides great field position for their offense and their offense is very adept at taking advantage of it.
From a special teams standpoint, they’ve got great specialists. (Billy) Cundiff is a legitimate weapon. I think he’s a Pro Bowl guy. If he’s not, he should be. He leads the league in touchbacks. When you’ve got a great defense and you’ve got a great kickoff man that kicks a bunch of touchbacks, it’s an awesome weapon. He’s also very good and consistent from a field goal standpoint. (Sam) Koch, their punter, specializes in red-area punts. They down as many balls inside the 20 and 10-yard line as anyone in football. It marries nicely with the style of ball that they play as a football team.
Of course, we’re excited about playing these guys, as always. But more than anything else we’re excited about being in this single-elimination tournament moving forward in our quest to be world champs.
How do you keep the players from practicing too hard?
That’s a tightrope that we walk all the time. I live by a cliché that I’d rather say whoa than sick em. I’ve had to say whoa a little bit and that’s OK.
Is it easier to put a game plan together against a team you’re more familiar with? Or is it more difficult?
It’s difficult every week. It just presents a different set of difficult circumstances. Knowledge of one’s opponent and your opponent’s knowledge of you creates a different set of circumstances than the unknown. All are challenging, just different.
Do you take into account weather and field conditions when you put together the game plan?
I do more of that in the stadium, in terms of in-game adjusting, than I do from a preparation standpoint. I don’t pay too much attention to weather forecasts. Those guys got great jobs – 50 percent chance of rain, you know.
When you look at their game plan, will it be difficult staying patient defensively?
I’ve got no control over how they formulate their game plan. One of the things that I’ve really been attuned to is that they’re capable of changing speeds, if you will, or flipping the script. I thought that they did it in terms of how they came out in Kansas City. They threw the ball quite frequently in that first drive and were able to easily march it down the field. We’re not going to presume anything. We’re just going to acknowledge that they’re a very capable outfit. They have a personality. They generally play to that personality. But we won’t be surprised if we see a surprise or two.
How do you block Terrell Suggs?
We weren’t very successful the last time we played them. Suggs was in our backfield a bunch. He’s a very disruptive guy. He received a very deserving Pro Bowl nod. But he’s not a one-man gang. (Haloti) Ngata, (Kelly) Gregg, (Terrence) Cody and (Jarret) Johnson and others, they’re just a really salty group, and of course the man in the middle Ray Lewis. They’re a salty group and I don’t care where you play them, when you play them, under what circumstances you play them, you know what you’re going to get from them from that standpoint. They’re going to run to the ball, they’re going to hit people, they’re going to turn the ballcarriers around, they’re going to give ground very grudgingly.
Is Joe Flacco more adept against man or zone?
He’s adept at making throws in any circumstance, in my opinion. He’s very flat-line emotionally. The game is slowing down for him, has slowed down for him, over the last several years. He can be quite effective against both.
Was their game plan yesterday devised for Kansas City? Or does that represent a change in philosophy?
No, I think they were just playing to their strengths. I think they realized that maybe Kansas City was going to have a tough time covering Heap and they exploited that. They probably assumed that Kansas City would have a pointed emphasis on stopping the run, at least initially, and they took advantage with the scripting and some of the plays they called early in the game. And the rest of the game was played on Kansas City’s side of the field due to the turnovers created by their defense.
How does all of that running yesterday by Flacco change your approach?
He has escapability. In my opinion he’s still a thrower. He buys time to find eligibles down field. … He’s not an immobile target. His escapability is underrated.
How can the emotion surrounding Ed Reed’s family situation come into the game? And where does the game separate from life?
I don’t have the details of that situation. I’m not a part of their group. Obviously personal tragedy is just that. It’s personal. I don’t know how it’s going to affect their approach or his approach to play. It’s really not my concern. Our readiness and our play is.
Is there any situation in which you would not take the kick in overtime?
We’ll see if we end up in overtime.
Has Aaron had any setbacks? Why the scan?
No, we’re going to scan it weekly since the initial one we did a couple weeks ago, so it’s kind of going according to plan. You know, it’s been good to get him back out on the field, at least for me personally. I like seeing Aaron in a helmet and giving him a hard time.
Do those OT rules change anything in preparation?
We go over the rules, but I’m not going to get concerned too much with it because so much of it is coaching decisions and not necessarily playing decisions, so I’m not going to bog them down with decisions that I have to make in preparation for the game.
Do you like the rule?
I could care less, as long as it’s the same for everyone else. I would’ve preferred that it would be the same as the regular season, but you don’t always get what you want in this business, particularly me.
Does Ben Roethlisberger look different since he came back? Or is he making quicker decisions?
I think he’s the same old Ben. I think he’s playing extremely well, but he’s the same old Ben.
How do you explain his lack of interceptions?
I think he’s always been generally very careful with the football, at least since I’ve been here. All great competitors and great guys at the position are, just like Joe Flacco is. We’ve been fortunate this year that we’ve been good at maintaining possession of the football and really quite frankly getting the football. Turnover ratio has been one of the key recipes for our success so far.
Three road teams won this weekend. Is home field advantage becoming less of a factor anymore in the playoffs?
I wouldn’t read too much into it. Those road teams that won were very good teams. I think everyone understands that and I don’t think anyone’s particularly shocked by those things.
Do you feel it’s an advantage to play at Heinz Field?
If given the opportunity, I would play at Heinz Field in front of Steeler Nation, no question.