MIKE TOMLIN, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Opening Statement: Two days later, it’s still great to get a win. A quick review of Sunday’s performance: We were pleased with the way we dealt with adversity, some of which was self-inflicted. But that’s the nature of football. I like what this team showed us in terms of its mettle in the second half, marching back. Some of the contributions are well documented. Ben (Roethlisberger) is a special guy. He has the potential to be a special quarterback because of what he does in terms of moving our football team. James Harrison played well. Defensively, I thought we got stiff in the second half. There’s plenty of acknowledgement to go around. The reality is that we’re a 7-2 team. We fall short of perfection in a lot of areas. But we’ll accept where we are at the time and we’ll move forward. At this point in time, I’ll at least acknowledge that we had a critical stretch of games there from a division opponent standpoint. We did. When the schedule comes out, the hair on the back of your neck stands up a little bit when you look at that run. I’d like to congratulate the team on doing a nice job of addressing those one game at a time. When you play known opponents, it’s an emotional game. There were heated rivarlies in that stretch. To muster the energy and enthusiasm and kick it up and go 3-0 in that run, speaks potentially of what we’re capable of. Again, it’s no time for us to breath a sigh of relief. Our next challenge is right around the corner. We acknowledge that. But that was a nice run for us and we move forward.
On the injury front, we have the normal bumps and bruises that come with playing ball at this time of year. There are some potentially some guys who could miss some time at the beginning of the week, Ben being one of them, Willie Parker being one of them, Deshea Townsend potentially being one of them. Those are injuries that are normal for this time of year. Hopefully, we’ll get those guys rolling. We’ll be prepared for those guys to participate this weekend. Guys that potentially could miss this game: Jeremy Tuman and Ryan Clark, there’s no news on their situations. Those guys are essentially out at this point. There’s been no progress, really, on either front to the point where those guys are ready to play. We’ll continue to support those guys and monitor their situations and when the situation changes, we’ll give that information to you. Andre Frazier has a groin strain that’s going to make him potentially questionable for this game. We’ll see what he looks like as the week unfolds. But that groin injury does make him a question mark. LaMarr Woodley has a hamstring strain from covering a kick. His injury makes him questionable for the game. Those are two young guys who need practice reps in order to perform. Their ability to participate during the week will determine their status for the game. We’ll take those two issues day to day. For the most part, we have not complaints in the injury department. All of us are less than 100 percent at this time of year and the people we compete against. We make no excuses along those lines. We’ll take the men that are healthy and march into the weekend.
Specifically as we look at the Jets, they are a team that’s hungry for a win. They’re coming off a bye. Teams that come off a bye always create a cause for concern because of the unforseen. As always, the issue will be us and our preparation. Again, they do have some quality people that we have to be prepared to play against. Thomas Jones, their tailback, is a legitimate ball toter. I worked with him in Tampa Bay. I competed against him in the NFC North when I was in Minnesota and he was in Chicago. He’s capable of winning football games. He can do a lot of things well. He catches the football. He can be a perimeter runner. He’s a good zone scheme runner because of his ability to cut the ball back. Leon Washington is a great third down back that they have, a young guy, emerging player. They throw him a lot of passes. His hands are excellent. He is a legitimate kick returner, punt returner. Given our performance in that area of our football team recently, we had better be prepared to be at our best in terms of getting after him. He needs no assistance in terms of what he is capable of doing. His stats speak for themselves. This guy has returned three kicks this year. He’s a dangerous player. At wide receiver, (Jerrico) Cotchery and Laveraneus Coles are a great one-two punch. Both guys have caught a bunch of passes. Coles has six touchdown catches, Cotchery has 50-plus catches. Regardless of who plays quarterback for them, those guys find a way to perform. They’re legit receivers and we’ve got to be prepared to go after those guys. They’ve got young quality men up front. D’Brickashaw Ferguson at left tackle is a very good player, a young player, highly touted draft pick. (Nick) Mangold at center is the same. Defensively, they’re a very young football team, but they’ve got some talented players leading them. David Harris at inside linebacker has stepped in and done a heckuva job since (Jonathan) Vilma has gone down. He’s a guy that we knew a lot about in the draft and had a lot of respect for. He’s a thumper. He’s got a bunch of tackles. He can find the ball, he’s an instinct player. He’s very physical. We’ve got to be prepared to deal with him. (Darrelle) Revis at corner is what we thought he was. He’s playing good ball for them, holding down the corner spot, as it Hank Poteat. At safety, Kerry Rhodes is as good a young safety as there is in football. But as usual, we’ll go into the week focusing on the things we need to, getting our game in the direction that we want to move it. There’s so many areas that we need to improve in and we acknowledge that. At the same time, it doesn’t weigh us down. We take each day of this journey as we should, and that is an opportunity to get better. We realize the challenges that lie ahead for us and we’ve got to meet them.
You mentioned the defense getting better in the second half. How did that happen without adjustments?
Sometimes, people tend to panic when faced with adversity and they want to change. I’ll always be resistant to that because I trust our men and I trust our preparation. The reality is that Cleveland made some plays in the first half of that game because they have good people. Schematically, I thought we were sound. Fundamentally, technically, I thought we were sound. We were close on a lot of plays. They converted some third downs on that first drive, but there was a defender right there and we tackles immediately. Some of the first downs were converted on second efforts, Joe Jurevicius stretching out, moving the chains. They were put on some short fields and put some points on the board. A lot of times when you change, you create new problems. We knew what our issues were. We needed to continue to do what we were doing and do it a little better. That’s what we did.
How will you address the kickoff coverage this week?
I’m taking a similar approach to our coverage units that I did to our defense. Just because things go bad, I don’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction and be emotional. We’re not in that business, we’re professionals. We’ve got some guys who need to do a better job of shedding some blocks and tackling. We’ve got to do a better job of getting into position to do that. There won’t be drastic changes. That’s not how we operate. We respect the process. We understand that there’s a fine line between success and failure in this league in all phases. We’re not doing well right now, but the answers are probably right in front of us and the adjustments are probably minor. That’s the way we’re approaching it. I thing everybody knows that we need to get better in that area. I think we’ll get a concerted effort. I think we’ll get the best that the men have to offer and we’ll move on.
You’ve got a couple of guys on that unit who are questionable right now. Will you use some starters back into those roles?
Those are possibilities. It’s early in the week and we’ll look at all of those. We’ll have more information as the week unfolds. At this point in time, I’ll always proceed with caution in terms of the men who are questionable for the game. I don’t like to rule them out. Medical expertise doesn’t always tell about the will of a man. We’ll give those guys an opportunity to see if they can perform for us.
Has James Harrison played on some of the coverage units the past two weeks?
More on kickoff, punt or where?
He’s been pretty stable on punt in terms of punt protection, he’s as good as we have. We have spelled him some on kickoff because he has played so much on defense. Those are decisions that you have to make. The things that happen because of decisions that you make are what they are. Those aren’t excuses. The 11 that we put out there for kickoffs represent us. And whether or not James Harrison is out there covering kickoffs for us, the standard does not change.
Lawrence Timmons is among your special teams tackles leaders. Is he doing well on those coverage teams?
Individually, we all kind of mirror our overall performance. I’d have a tough time saying anybody is doing well on kickoff coverage right now, including me. We accept that. We look forward to having an opportunity to improve on that this week. The football gods are always kind to you. When you’re struggling in an area, you get an opportunity to defend the best guy in the world at returning kicks right now in Leon Washington. Great. And I mean that. This game, this profession, is about challenges and responding. I look forward to see what we’re willing and capable of doing this week.
Coach, you mentioned the emotional charge you got in that three-game stretch. How do you guard against losing that?
I think it was more about the stretch. Now that we’ve pushed through that stretch, we have our eyes moving forward. We’re just beginning this fight. The things that we’ve done to this point have put us in a position to compete. That’s the reality of it. I think everybody in our locker room understands that and knows that. Everybody on our coaching staff definitely does. We’re just beginning to get into the mix of this thing. We’ve got a lot of questions about ourselves that we have to answer and we look forward doing that. This week is going to provide another one of those opportunities. Any time you play on the road in this league, the ultimate parity league, you’ve got an issue. We’re going to New York to play the Jets. It’s a tough place to play. I’m sure it will be a hostile environment. We’d better be at our best or close to it if we expect to be successful.
Difference in the two quarterbacks?
I don’t think their games are that different. First and foremost, I think they’re both capable guys. I think the change was made simply because a change needed to be made. They needed to potentially spark something. They haven’t had a great deal of success as a team. A lot of times a quarterback is measured by the success of a team. We all acknowledge that, coaches and quarterbacks. They’re trying to get something going. Chad Pennington is a good quarterback. (Kellen) Clemens is a good quarterback. We’re expecting to see Clemens. Potentially, we could see both. The reality is that schematically they don’t change very much when either guy is in there.
Are you going to kick the ball to Washington?
I’m not going to make any Lane Kiffin declarations. We’ll decide later in the week.
When you look at the film on the 100-yard return, what happened?
It’s a head scratcher. I’m still trying to figure out what happened. You know, the guy misplayed the ball. He thought the ball was going to roll into the end zone, it didn’t. He fielded it and made the best of his situation. It was at our expense. One thing I don’t want to do in terms of us covering kicks is devalue the performace of Josh Cribbs. He had a whale of a football game as a kick returner. He’s a talent as a kick returner. There’s a bunch of talented kick returners in this league, led by Devin Hester, but he’s one of the guys who probably doesn’t get enough attention for what he’s capable of doing. That being said, we missed tackles. We can’t miss tackles. Great people are going to make you pay for it and he did.
Are you happy with your kick and punt returns?
No I’m not. I’m not happy with much that’s going on right now. We seek perfection and we’ve got to do better in a lot of areas.
Was there indisputable evidence on (Braylon) Edwards’ TD catch?
I’m stil not certain he got both feet down, but I coach the game, I don’t officiate. We’ve got to learn to live with the deicisons that are made in regards to that element of the game. The reality is that whatever they decide, we have to move on. We will not acknowledge that officiating calls affect that outcomes of games. The quality of our play decides the outcomes of games. That’s the ruling they made and we move on.
Does the inconsistency of the replay rule cause you any head scratching?
None whatsoever. When you acknowledge that how games are officiated can affect the outcomes, you’re not putting enough responsibility on yourself and what you do. We like to keep the focus on ourselves and what we do. Whatever decisions they make in terms of calling a game and the decisions they make, we’ve got to be professional. We’ve got to get a sense of how the game is being called and play accordingly.
Are you in favor of replay?
Yes I am.
On Darrelle Revis and the difficulty of a rookie playing corner?
When you’re a young guy in this league at any position, you’re going to have a bullseye on your back. That’s part of it, probably even more so at corner. He’s wearing it well. I’m sure he’d like to do better, as would a lot of players, most guys who are competitive players, particuarly knowing what kind of guy he is with the kind of talent that he is. That’s just the nature of the beast. That’s why so many times, particularly at corner, you’ll see a guy leading the league in interceptions because he’s getting so many opportunities to play football. He’s doing a nice job. We respect him as a football player.
Ellis Cannon asking a rambling question about the Jets that I listened to three times and still don’t understand.
The Jets are dangerous because they are an NFL football team. Everybody has got legitmate personnel that can hurt you. Everybody comes to play regardless of record. Reputation and resume mean very little in this league. That’s why everybody tunes in on weekends to watch these football games. That’s the reality of it. That’s why we choose to focus on what we do. We’ll assume the Jets will be ready to play. We’ll assume that the Jets are capable of beating us because we know that they are. They’ve got good people, they’ve got good coaches. We’ve got to be ready to do what we do.
On Willie Parker’s shoes.
If I start talking about footing and the quality of the field, those would be excuses. I like to keep the dicussion between myself and Willie on what he sees, his tracks and his decision-making. We’ve got to get better in that regards. We’ve got to get better at sustaining blocks for him. We are running the ball effectively. He did run for 100 yards. I’m excited that he feels like he left some yards out there because I believe that he did. We’ll got back to work this week and search for the ceiling. In regards to the surface and the field, these guys are professionals. I’ll trust that they’ll put appropriate footwear on to play football. In regards to the field, as long as we deal with it better than our opponents, I like it.
Sanontio Holmes as a punt returner?
Not at this time.
(Here comes Shumway) How do you see the atmosphere on this team, the camaraderie? Where are you and where would you like to be from that standpoint?
We won three games in a row. We’re 7-2. Usually when you win, camraderie and that stuff is great. I’m more concerned about the mutual respect in the locker room. The level of accountability in the locker room. The standard of accountability these men hold each other to in the locker room. Those are the things that concern me. Those are the things that push our performance as we move forward to meet the challenges that await us. That’s my focus and what I relay to them. Camaraderie and things of that nature are good. These guys spend a lot of time together. They put a lot into what they do. You’ll find teams that are losing have great camaraderie. I know a lot of times we like to point at that as a deciding factor when teams win. The reality is that it’s about accountability – they’ve got to be accountable to each other – and it’s about respect. They’ve got to respect the job that everybody does. They’ve got to respect the fact that everybody has got to put their best foot forward, that this is the ultimate team game. So I put the focus on accountability and respect as opposed to camaraderie.
On the Browns’ pressure?
No they didn’t bring it more than we anticipated. They did get home a few times. They did a nice job in that area.
On corner blitzes.
One time specifically they brought a corner because he sacked Ben. But if it was an abnormal amount of blitzes, I can’t say.
On the Jets overall stinkiness following a 10-win season.
To me, that’s what I enjoy about this league. That’s what I enjoy about competing in this league. It’s very fragile. I say all the time that this is the ultimate parity league and it is. Everybody’s got good players. You just got to respect that element. The thing that’s exciting to me is that I know our guys do respect that element of it. We better.
On the league being quarterback driven.
It is. It takes all 53. But I’m glad we’ve got the quarterback that we have.
On Ben running the ball.
These guys are competitors. They compete and you’ve got to feel comfortable with that. Ben’s a capable guy from a running standpoint. The funny thing is, probably the most impressive run in that game was Ben. Probably the most impressive throw was Willie Parker because I’m glad he put that halfback pass in the red zone where he put it, where the defensive guys couldn’t get it. That’s football. We do what we need to do to win. We needed Ben to run to a certain degree for us to win and he did.
Is his injury a hip?
It’s a lot of things. It’s a hip, it’s a shoulder. He’s banged up a little bit. But that’s the nature of it.
It is Willie’s knee?
Deshea has some swelling in his ankle that may limit him in the early part of the week.
When did that happen?
I don’t know exactly what that happened. I know that Deshea is a competitor and he didn’t miss much time.
Was Revis high on your draft list?
He was high on our list. He would have been a consideration had someone picked Timmons.
Another rambling Ellis question, this time on a replay at the end of the Indianapolis-San Diego game.
I acknowledge that it is disruptive to rythym and all of that. But when the ball is snapped, you’ve got to execute. I’m sure that coach (Tony) Dungy doesn’t make excuses about that in terms of the outcome of the football game, so I won’t help him.
On the comeback win.
I’m sure there’s something to be learned from that. You go in hoping that everybody assumes you’re capable of playing a 60-minute football game and you’re capable of pushing through adversity. But some people need evidence. That’s just the reality of it. I think if we do have people that needed evidence, that game provided it. Then if we move forward stronger as a football team, then great.
On the Browns using two timeouts to challenge Heath Miller’s touchdown.
I’m nine games into this thing. I learn every day when I come in here in terms of putting my head coach’s cap on. Everything that has happened thus far has been a learning experience for me. But at the same time, the standard of expectation doesn’t change for us. I’m learning, but we’ve got to win. That’s what makes it fun.
On Ike Taylor.
I think he’s playing winning football for us. I have no problem with the way he’s been playing. Is he capable of playing better? Absolutely. I think there’s a lot of guys capable of playing better. Do we need more splash plays from him? Absolutely. The standards that he has for himself are higher than those anyone else could put on him. I know that because he and I have in depth discussions about that, often. This guy wants to be a great player. He’s willing to do on a day-to-day basis what’s needed to become a great player. In terms of what people say about him or feel about him, that’s not our concern that’s not his concern. It’s about pushing him toward greatness because that’s what we need from him.
On Anthony Smith’s penalty?
It’s fine line in this game. You can’t get taunting penalties, that’s a dumb penalty. Maybe we get off with a field goal there if we don’t get that penalty. That’s what I talked to Anthony about. At the same time, these guys are professionals. They understand that. There are a lot of tightropes that we walk in this business. We’ve got to walk them.
Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.