Mike Tomlin, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Good afternoon. Of course this is a big week for us coming off of two very disappointing road losses. You know, I’m not even going to attempt to make any explanations or excuses for the results of those games. It’s often said – and probably too often in our business – it is what it is. That being said, we’re excited about what we can control, which is our preparation and ultimately our play this week when we play the San Diego Chargers, an opponent we’re very familiar with. It’s probably the third time we played these guys in the last 10 months. You’ve got a division feel when you play these guys from a familiarity standpoint, from a matchup standpoint. Of course they’ll be very fundamentally sound and well-coached. Coach (Norv) Turner is very consistent in that way, as is (defensive coordinator) Ron Rivera.
Talk about their people, it starts with their quarterback Philip Rivers. He has an extremely hot hand right now. He’s passed for over 700 yards passing here in the last couple weeks, really making them go. Antonio Gates is probably one of the best tight ends in the world. He is a match-up problem. He’s a match-up problem when you have a guy like Troy (Polamalu), so needless to say when you don’t have a guy like Troy in a week like this we’ve got to get in the lab a little bit to figure out a way to slow this guy down. Vincent Jackson of course is an emerging superstar, has been. He’s coming off back-to-back 100-yard games. In the backfield of course they have (LaDainian) Tomlinson and (Darren) Sproles. Singularly they’re tough to deal with. Together they’re very dangerous, of course Sproles being very good out of the backfield – screens and checkdowns and so forth – particularly on third down, and L.T. being L.T.
Defensively, they’re a 3-4 defense. That being said the linebackers drive the group. The marquee name in that group of course is Shawne Merriman, but they have several players who I think distinguish themselves. (I’ve) grown to really respect this guy Steven Cooper, the man inside for them the last several times we’ve played them. He plays with a great deal of intensity, is very instinctive, a very physical football player. To go along with those two, Shaun Phillips of course is a very accomplished player. Larry English, a first-rounder, is settling in nice into a rotation outside with Merriman and Phillips. The corner tandem is spectacular: (Quentin) Jammer and (Antonio) Cromartie are two of the best at what they do. The return game led by Sproles -- and their kickers -- is top notch.
We do have some injury issues to talk about. Matt Spaeth has a hip pointer which could limit him early in the week but he should be OK. Justin Hartwig has an ankle that could limit him early in the week, but he should be fine. David Johnson, who got injured in the first half, has a high ankle that could be a number of weeks. He’s questionable to say the least this week. Willie Parker came out of the game with a turf toe that’s going to limit him somewhat potentially early on. Troy, I like Troy’s progress. (I’m) hearing good reports in that regard. We’ll continue to move forward with him. Frank Summers is at the doctor, as we speak, getting his back looked at. (It’s) somewhat of a mystery. We’ll have more information regarding that hopefully later on today.
Q: Ellis jumps out of gate, again, with long question about defense.
A: I can’t speak to the fear factor of our opponents, but I will say that part of playing great defense is getting turnovers, shortening the field for the offense, standing up in situational football, applying pressure to the quarterback. Those are some of the things we need to improve in.
Q: Is Troy getting close to doing anything? And is Summers’s back problem part of the reason he didn’t play?
A: No, his back problem is not related to why he didn’t play. I let two hats become one and played David Johnson and played another tackle, and got another special-teams player up in Arnold Harrison. The answer to the first part of your question, I just mentioned Troy because I knew you guys would ask about him and figured I’d cut to the chase.
Q: What do you do if D.J. and Summers can’t play? Similar to what you did Sunday?
A: Yes, but we’ll also potentially explore acquiring a body that could potentially help us. I’m going to wait and see what the results are before I rush to judgment.
Q: Considering the way you lost the last two games late, do you feel you have the full attention of your football team?
A: I do. I don’t think it’s a lack of focus or a lack of attention on any of the parties involved. I just think it’s a lack of production on all our parts, coaches and players. We’ve just got to get it fixed and fixed in a hurry. The story of the NFL is finishing out football games and in order for us to be what we desire to be we’ve got to do a better job than what we’re doing to this point.
Q: Is Rashard Mendenhall still in the doghouse? What steps does he need to make to see the field?
A: He is not in the doghouse. I don’t have a doghouse. A doghouse is something you have when you let things stew and you don’t take action. I intend to take action and I’m done with it. He lacked a little detail in his preparation last week so I chose not to play him offensively, and really was quite frank in dealing with him. It’s a little different when a veteran football player potentially makes mistakes in preparation for a game. If Hines Wards misses an assignment on a Thursday, you kind of ‘hmm’ and you move on. Young guys have to earn their opportunity. They have to make coaches comfortable with their ability to execute details of their assignment. They need to make the other guys in the huddle very comfortable with their ability to execute the details of assignments. He didn’t do that to my satisfaction last week so he didn’t get a chance to play offense. That being said, I took action. I’m not carrying baggage into this week. If he plays above the line in preparation for the game, he’ll be given an opportunity to play for us.
Q: Limas Sweed has dropped a number of big passes. Is it something he’s not doing? Is it concentration? Have you been able to work with him on that?
A: He’s quite frankly not catching the football when he’s deep downfield. He’s got some tape that shows that. He’s got to shake that off. If and when he’s given the next opportunity to make a similar play, he’d better make it.
Q: Are you concerned whether he can shake that off?
A: I am. I am.
Q: Your run game was productive in the first half. What changed in the second half?
A: When David Johnson went down, and we had gotten into some of the things we had designed to attack them with from a run standpoint, we had to put Ramon Foster in at tight end and he got beat a few times on the backside of some plays and so forth, those are natural things that happen during football games when attrition sets in.
Paul Alexander: You said focus wasn’t a problem, but Santonio Holmes doesn’t appear to be himself. What would explain that?
A: I thought he did some great things when the ball wasn’t in his hands. It was one of the most physical games he’s played since I’ve been here. I think he had four or five knockdowns in the game. I was pleased with that. I don’t worry about whether or not his numbers are his numbers. I don’t care who the ball goes to. I want the ball to go to the open guy because the guys we put on the field are the guys we feel are capable of helping us win, so I didn’t necessarily see his performance in that light.
Q: (No follow up from Alexander about Holmes’ blown hot read for Bengals TD. But Ellis asks about kicking field goals as opposed to scoring touchdowns.)
A: (Paraphrase) Blah, blah, blah. We need to improve in the red zone.
Q: Did you opt for the field goal from the one in part to get Jeff Reed’s confidence back?
A: No, I just wanted to take the points. We had a couple of unblocked guys at the point of attack there on third down and one. We did a nice job of getting out of a negative situation to start the game because they had a nice kickoff return. We stopped them. We marched down the field. I wanted to make sure we got some points and moved on with a good vibe, a good feel. I thought we did that. We built upon that as we moved forward and three became 10. We just didn’t finish the job in reference to the football game.
Q: You used your QB on a lot of short-yardage situations. Will teams start keying on that?
A: No. It’s not like we’re using Ben to run the football on 3rd-and-1.5. It was 3rd-and-inches. That’s what everybody in the National Football League or college or high school does when it’s inches. They let the quarterback sneak it.
Q: Are you worried about your vulnerable secondary late in the game against a great quarterback?
A: No, quite frankly I don’t. This is what you live for. Even when it’s bad in this business, it’s great. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do. I think members of our secondary feel the same way. I know they’ll be chomping at the bit for the challenges of facing a guy the caliber of Philip Rivers. When you do what we do for a living, that’s what you love. We’ve got a dangerous quarterback coming in here who’s extremely hot. You like to try to slow those guys down if you can.
Q: Are you satisfied with the pressure you put on Carson Palmer? And are teams scheming you differently?
A: I wasn’t satisfied with the pressure last week. I thought he was able to stand comfortably in the pocket and deliver the ball at significant moments. We’ve got to get better at that. To a degree, it is how people play us, but that just comes from being us. We don’t run away from that. The ball’s going to come out quickly. People know we’re capable of applying pressure to the quarterback, so we’ve got to get to them quicker. We’ve got to cover better. All of those things come together and make up who we are. We intend to improve.
Q: How did Lawrence Timmons play in his first full game?
A: I thought he was solid in his performance. I thought the Cincinnati Bengals running back did a nice job blocking him when he rushed the passer. I thought one of the signatures to the matchup when we played them a year ago is that Lawrence consistently beat the back when we sent him to get after the quarterback. The back consistently blocked him in this performance. But from a health standpoint, and how he moved in regards to his injury I like where he is.
Q: Will you consider dressing Shaun McDonald instead of Sweed this week?
Q: How does San Diego look without Jamal Williams in the middle?
A: He of course is a force, a guy we have a great deal of respect for, but they’ve got a lot of great players. You breathe a sigh of relief because 76 isn’t playing and 56 hits you in the side of the head, or 95, or 54, or 31, or 23, or 32 for that matter. This safety is making a bunch of plays for them. He had a pick six there last week. Everybody’s got tools in the toolbox. We respect them.
Q: On Darren Sproles.
A: The most distinguishing character he has is his short-area quickness, his zero to 60 if you will. His stop-and-go ability makes him a tough guy to corral. His stature makes him a tough guy to find at times in the draw game and in the screen game. We’ve got a guy with a similar body build – (Stefan) Logan – that might be able to provide us with a good look this week. Hopefully he does.
Q: In the backfield?
Q: Is he going to play in the backfield or on returns?
A: I’m just talking about scout-team offense and providing us a look this week in practice.
Q: Have you restricted your blitz package, the amount, because Polamalu’s not back there?
A: No, we haven’t changed what we’re doing schematically in terms of how we attack people because Troy’s not back there. It may look different because he has a unique skill set and he’s able to do unique things, but our call selection hasn’t changed at all.
Q: Are turnovers a product of good defense?
A: I believe all great defenses get the ball back and at times score. That’s what we desire to be; that’s what we desire to do. To this point we haven’t done that. That usually has something to do with winning or losing, but we’re not going to try to paint a picture on what we are based on three games. We acknowledge we haven’t done it the last couple of weeks. We acknowledge moving forward that if we want to be successful this weekend, we’d better find a way to get the ball from Philip Rivers and company.
Ellis: Philosophical question about a miserable period.
A: I am always surprised when we don’t win.
Q: Can you take us through the 4th-and-10 pass to Brian Leonard and the touchdown pass the following play?
A: Sure. On the 4th-and-10 play, we had very good coverage downfield. I thought we had the makings of good pressure. I think (LaMarr) Woodley fell down or tripped over someone. He was able to step up into the pocket and drift to his right and find a check releasing running back, who really in general you don’t think is going to move the chains on 4th-and-10 being it’s a 5-yard route. He did and was able to just get far enough away from James Farrior due to a great effort. I think he put his left hand down and extended as he was being tackled and moved the chains. So credit those guys, and particularly Brian Leonard for making a great play.
Q: Was Farrior responsible for the checkdown guy coming out?
A: He is in that particular instance and call. On the touchdown play, we were in zone coverage, he read it, probably got a nice pre-snap read and anticipated the coverage, and delivered the ball before we could break on it.
Q: Ben will be in Wilkes-Barre Monday night for a wrestling show. Do you have a problem with that?
A: Man, next Monday is so far away right now I haven’t even pondered that thought at this time. The world ends on Sunday, as far as I’m concerned.
Q: Will he have to run that by you?
A: I’m aware of it. I just don’t have a comment at this time.
Q: What are the difficulties in covering the big San Diego receivers?
A: Their stature make them a difficult matchup, but one of the featured things that make them a difficult team to defend is the fact that their tight end is a tough guy to defend one-on-one and their running back on third down, Sproles, is a tough guy to defend one-on-one. Their receivers of course are really good players. But when you start talking about defending these guys, the matchup issues that an alien like Antonio Gates creates for you is an issue, and the matchup issues that a guy who’s cat-quick like Darren Sproles is an issue.
Q: Is traveling cross country something that’s more difficult to do than playing close to home?
A: I’d rather play at home than on the road. I have a couple weeks of evidence that confirms that.