MIKE TOMLIN, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Opening statement: I’ll start with a quick review of Sunday’s performance. Again, much like after the game, the performance wasn’t good enough. We didn’t put together two quality halves of football. And you’ve got to be prepared to do that if you want to beat good people. We did not. Specifically in some areas, in phases of our game, we were penalized on special teams, we had three penalties on special teams, and you can’t do that. It changes our course of field position. We negated a 40-yard return that we had with a penalty. We ran out of bounds I think as a gunner. We had three penalties in that phase of our football. We can’t do that. When you play good people you’ve got to be good in all three phases. That’s where we fell short and of course, we allowed a 39-yard return offensively, our inability to convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns is critical. Even in the half of football where we were competitive, you don’t feel good when you’ve got to kick two field goals when you march down the field. When you play good people you know you always have to answer for that. We weren’t successful in that area. That cost us. Always feel good sending Jeff Reed out there. He’s doing a nice job kicking the ball for us. He’s having a great year. But we prefer him to kick extra points. Defensively, big plays, two big plays, 122 yards, two touchdowns, or you can talk about two additional plays that were significant chinks in scoring drives. Hadn’t been our personality, don’t anticipate it continuing to be our personality. But what we put on tape we stand by. That was the story of that game. They did a nice job of getting the ball out of the hand quickly, with some quick passes. We were able to apply pressure but we weren’t able to sack the quarterback because of how quickly he got the ball out. They did a nice job of putting the ball in the hands of some guys that could create some yards after the catch. Two-yard catches became 10-yard catches, when you put the ball in the hands of guys like Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk. We roll our sleeves up and we move on and that’s what we intend to do this week. We’ve got a very good team coming in here in the Jacksonville Jaguars who are 9-4, like us. It’s that time of year when you need to continue to grow and I think that is what our intentions will be.
Before I do that, let me talk quickly about some injuries of note. Aaron Smith has a bicep tear, which of course is not good. We'll decide a little later in the day how we proceed with that. But that’s a big loss for him and for our football team. But again like I always say it is the nature of this game. It’s an attrition game. People get injured, other people have an opportunity to step up and that’s the way we will approach it. But I am sorry for Aaron because that guy loves to play football. He is an extremely tough worker and a good leader for our football team. Willie Colon has a calf strain, could limit him somewhat early part of the week. Santonio (Holmes) is still coming back from the ankle sprain and may limit him early part of the week but we expect him to be available as well. Andre Frazier has a groin that could limit him somewhat. Bryant McFadden, an ankle. These are all minor injuries that may affect guys at the beginning of the week. Ben Roethlisberger has a sore shoulder, which may limit him some on Wednesday. Some of the guys that have been hurt we anticipate having back. LaMarr Woodley is scheduled to practice tomorrow. We’ll see where he is, as is Troy (Polamalu).
Quickly moving onto the Jaguars, this is a big physical football team. They run the ball very effectively. They have two backs. Taylor of course, has a very impressive resume. He’s up over 10,000 yards. He’s closing in on a 1,000 yards this year. He’s been doing it at a high level for a long time. Just had an 80-yard touchdown this past weekend, so nothing surprises me in terms of what he’s capable of. (Maurice) Jones-Drew is a great complement to him, does a lot of things well, can run inside, can run outside. He can catch the ball extremely well and is a quality kickoff return man. This is a young guy, it is his second year and I think he’s got plus 25 career touchdowns already in less than two full seasons, so he is a big part of what they do. Marcedes Lewis is a big tight end. David Garrard at quarterback is playing extremely well for them. He is making great decisions, not turning the football over. He’s big, he’s strong, and he’s mobile. We’ll have our hands full in regards of containing him. They’ve got some very big receivers. Williams is a big man, Jones is probably 6-5 or 6-6, Wilford is 6-4, 6-5 as well. They create some match-up problems with the sheer size of their people. Doesn’t much change on defense. They have (John) Henderson and (Marcus) Stroud inside, who is as big and dominating as a tandem of tackles as you’ll see. They supplement those guys with Grady Jackson, who is a big man in his own right. Spicer is a solid guy who applies pressure off the end. They’ve got some young linebackers running around. Durant is making some plays and having the opportunity to play for them. Mathis is a big physical stand up corner, Bryant Williams, they are very physical in the cornerback position. Those guys are rolled up and on the line of scrimmage a bunch. They play a physical style of football. We’ve got to be ready to match that intensity. Sammy Knight is a very headsy veteran safety man who’s done good work for them. I think he has four interceptions. In the kicking game, Northcutt is a dangerous punt returner and as I mentioned earlier Jones-Drew is a dangerous kick returner. We’ve got a lot to focus on as we move forward this week. The new challenges await and we look forward to meeting those. I’ll answer any questions.
Does Aaron Smith’s injury require surgery and is it season-ending?
There is a strong possibility that the answer to both of those questions is yes.
What do you do at defensive end?
We play Travis Kirschke. We play Nick Eason. It is going to require more than one man to man-down Aaron’s spot, which is what we dealt with when he missed a couple games earlier in the season. The standard of expectation is not going to change. Those guys are quality players. Travis has played a long time in this league at a high level and he has starting experience. Nick is a guy that has been an emotional spark plug for us. He is a guy that comes to work every day. I am excited about seeing what those guys are capable of doing for us, but at the same time saddened by for Aaron on a personal note, because he is a quality person, a quality player and he loves to play the game. It is something we will have to deal with.
Can LaMarr Woodley play defensive end?
LaMarr is an outside linebacker.
When did Aaron Smith get hurt?
It happened during the course of the game, but being the guy he is he continued on. He came out a few times and that was worrisome because you know that this guy doesn’t come out of football games. Maybe it was partially torn in some form or fashion prior to it. We don’t know any specifics in regard to that.
Which shoulder did Ben Roethlisberger hurt?
His right shoulder. I don’t want to make more out of it than what it is. It is just sore.
How is Deshea Townsend?
Deshea got hit by James Harrison. Friendly fire if you will. He is going to be fine. He came back and participated in the game.
Was the first half a quality half?
I think I said competitive and it was competitive. It was 17-13. I would call that competitive.
When you evaluate a performance, can you separate what you do from what they do?
You try to do the best you can at that. You realize they are interrelated. We tend to focus on the things we can control. That is what we do, how we execute, the quality of our play and the quality of our preparation. We acknowledge that other teams do the same, but we have no control over that, so we focus on what it is we can control.
What did you think of your short-yardage offense?
I thought we had some success; some spotty success in short-yardage. Najeh (Davenport) has been good for us all year. He converted a couple of those opportunities for us. We just didn’t make enough critical plays and that was one of them; the fourth-down and goal. If we had a do over, you put the ball in Hines Ward’s hands again. They made a nice play. Sometimes you have to give those guys credit for doing what it is that they do. None of us are above that in this game.
You’re leading the division. Do you still feel good about where you are with three games left?
I live week-to-week. I really do. I don’t feel great about where we are. I seek perfection like everybody else. I don’t feel bad either. It is what it is. We live in the moment and we prepare for the next opportunity to play.
After the game, Bill Belichick had some less-than-complimentary things to say about your safeties. What’s your reaction to that?
I don’t care what Coach Belichick has to say after the games, regarding our performance. I compliment them for a great game and we move forward. His opinions are irrelevant to us, because we focus on what it is we do and how we prepare in moving forward. Do we need to get better play? Absolutely, but it won’t be because he said it.
Why hasn’t Cedrick Wilson been more involved in game plans?
Cedrick has delivered for us in big ways at times when those guys (Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes) have been down. We spread the ball around. We throw the ball to multiple tight ends. We deliver the ball to our backs. That is just how we operate. We want to make sure all eligibles are legitimate threats. When given the opportunity to participate, he has participated at a high level. We have a level of expectation for him in regards to that, as we do Nate Washington and Willie Reid. That is the way we approach it. I have no problems with his level of contribution when given the opportunity at this point.
Have you seen a difference with Jacksonville with Marcus Stroud and Jacksonville without Marcus Stroud?
The standard of expectation doesn’t change for those guys either. They’ve missed Stroud for a significant period of time and they are a 9-4 team. They’ve got guys like (Rob) Meier and Grady Jackson that fill in admirably. Big men, but we all know Stroud is a special player and they are probably better with him, than without him, but they are still playing winning football.
Why did you resign Marquis Cooper?
Marquis is a quality special teams performer. We were pleased with the way he performed in the preseason for us. He got injured, which unfortunately is part of the game. This was our first opportunity to get him back in the fold and put him in the mix to see if he could be of help to us in that area.
What has Jacksonville done to minimize mistakes by their quarterback?
First and foremost, they are running the ball effectively. When you do that, it makes passing the football easier. They have nice pocket movement and the quarterback himself has made great decisions, in terms of taking care of the football. It is a combination of all those things.
Is it the styles of their running backs that’s the challenge or is it that they’re two?
It is both. They are very different runners but great in their own right. They do have the added dimension of running a fresh guy at you when you see two. We live one snap at a time and respect that element of their game.
Is Aaron Smith’s injury career-ending?
How has Willie Colon played and would it be safe to say that he had a tough day Sunday?
I’m pleased with where Willie is as a player. As a second-year man I think he is growing. I see professionalism and things from him, in terms of the way he approaches his job. He is one of the consistent presences in the building on days like today, which is a player's off day. His performance on Sunday was not good enough. His performance on Sunday mirrors all of ours. We win together, we lose together. It’s part of the game. We did not function at a high enough level as a football team or as a coaching staff to win that game. I never look to make excuses. I never look to point fingers. We are all in this together. That is the way we approach it. He has to get better. We have to get better. We have to do better than we did on Sunday.
Is he solidly entrenched at right tackle?
None of us are solidly entrenched in anything. That is the nature of this business. You better be prepared to prove it every day. That is the nature of the National Football League. Anybody that takes the approach that they are solidly entrenched in anything won’t be solidly entrenched. He doesn’t take it for granted.
Are there any positives to take from the New England game?
If you are looking for positives, I guess you can. We don’t look for positives, because we don’t feel like we have to pat ourselves on the back or find something to feel good about. We play games to win and we play them to compete. We fell short. Our performance is our performance. There were some positive aspects of the performance, but not enough to earn a victory. That is why we go back to work and continue to seek it.
Do you think the game turned around on the gadget play?
I don’t know if there was a specific turning point in the game. If you have to point to one, that may be one. It would be tough to say. I think it was more of a gradual thing more than anything else. They consistently moved the ball. We moved the ball, sometimes consistently, and when we did we didn’t always put sevens on the board.
On third-down and goal, do you decide then if you are going to go for it on fourth down?
Yes, in that instance we did, but not always.
Do you call plays accordingly?
We had a general idea that was going to be the play. They ran their goal line people out on the field, so anytime you see goal line people on the field you know they are prepared to defend the run.
Does Troy Polamalu start with Anthony Smith if he returns?
Is it dangerous to be predictable? Vince Wilfork said he picked up on an audible that led to his sack.
There is a danger in being predictable. He made a heck of a play. He spun off of a double team and sacked our quarterback. He is a great player.
When offense is spread out and throwing quickly, what are the options on defense?
Because they had done it in previous snaps, there is no insurance they are going to do it again. Sometimes they would get it out of their hands quickly, it was quick game and sometimes it was the vertical passing game, so it is tough to come up with a theme for how you deal with that. Specifically, how you deal with the ball coming out of his hands quickly, you have to tackle. It is run-game alternative. You throw a two-yard pass, if you tackle him it’s second-and-eight. If you don’t, it is an explosive run. When they spread and go empty and they’re throwing bubble screens to Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk, it is a perimeter run. It is a run-game alternative. It is a high completion percentage of passing, so it is a perimeter run and that is how you approach it.
Were you pleased with your pressure?
It was sufficient. You are not going to get home when they get the ball out of his hands as quickly as they were at times in that football game. At other times, it wasn’t sufficient. You don’t have a crystal ball and you don’t know what they are doing at the line of scrimmage prior to the snap.
Why wouldn’t LaMarr Woodley play for Aaron Smith?
The biggest issue with LaMarr is his health. He has been struggling with an injury. He hasn’t been available to us for play, so the possibility of exploring positional changes for us is a mute point right now, until we get him back on the field playing outside linebacker.
Does the loss of Aaron Smith change the defense schematically?
I’m sure it will, but more subtle is the sweeping changes. We will put that together as the week moves forward.
Is there a smaller margin of error versus good teams?
There is a small margin of error when you are playing good people. We are playing a good team this week in Jacksonville. We understand that. We accept that and that is why we focus so much of our energy on the quality of our execution.
Are guys like Maurice Jones-Drew rare?
He is not that rare from a body make-up standpoint. He is not a small (running) back, he is a short back. He is a big man. He packs a lot of power in a short frame. He is strong. He bounces off tackles. He is like a lot of other backs. At the end of the day, whether he is 5-7 or 5-10 doesn’t matter. He is a tough guy.
How do you help Anthony Smith get through this tough period?
Ultimately, he has to find the answers for that himself, like we all do. That is the battle of being a competitor in this league. You are going to play subpar; you are going to have bad days. You have to dust yourself off, stand up and continue to fight. A lot of the guys in this league have been through it. That is one of the reasons they are in this league. They are capable of dealing with adversity and failure. A lot of times people envision these athletes of not having experienced failure. Part of the reason they are what they are and do what they do is their ability to cope and deal with failure. Those who can’t cope don’t end up in the locker room. I imagine he has some survival skills in that area, like the rest of our football team. We will all move forward.
You are 7-0 at home and 2-4 on the road. What do you take from that?
I like the way we play at home. We have to play better on the road.