Mike Tomlin, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Good afternoon. Big week for us. Looking for an opportunity to rebound from a sub-par performance, of course, as we get ready to go to Kansas City. In review of Sunday’s game, really it’s quite simple: We didn’t play well enough to win in particular areas. Such is life. We’ll make proper adjustments and move forward. There were some positives. Defensively, I thought we really played well against a hot offense. Cincinnati has been very, very hot in the red zone. We responded to the challenges put to the group earlier in the week, made those guys kick field goals for the better part of the game, even without Troy (Polamalu). Conversely, I didn’t like what we did with our red-zone opportunities. When you kick field goals against good people, you expose yourself to losing. We’ve got to get much better in our kickoff coverage and we intend to do that and make the necessary adjustments moving forward this week. Anytime you fall short, you’re always reflective in terms of how you review those games, and we’re in the midst of that.
Talking about the Chiefs, they’re a team in transition with a new front office and coaching staff. They’ve transitioned and changed some throughout the course of the year, acquiring guys on offense like Chris Chambers. They’ve won two out of their last four games. Quarterback Matt Cassell’s leading that charge. They have a change at tailback. (Jamaal) Charles is now their feature runner. He went over 100 yards Sunday in their victory Sunday versus Oakland. (Dwayne) Bowe is a top quality talent playing opposite Chris Chambers at the wide receiver position.
Defensively, they provide you with a myriad of looks. They’re mixing some draft picks, some free agents. The first thing that stands out to me is the veteran safety play that they have from Mike Brown and (Jon) McGraw, eight and 10 years in this league respectively, playing with some high-round draft picks like (Brandon) Flowers. Up front, Tamba Hali is really a high-motor productive guy. He’s an impressive guy. We have to be ready to account for him. They rush him from a variety of locations. He’s an outside linebacker in their base 3-4 defense. When they get in some of their sub-package rush things, he can come off the right edge, the left edge, and operate as a d-end, a really talented football player. The guy in the middle is (Ron) Edwards, a veteran guy from Texas A&M about nine years in the league. He’s a stout immovable force who they built their run defense around.
In weeks like this, when we’re trying to come back from a sub-par performance, I think really the issue is focusing on the things we need to do to to re-establish a rhythm that we had in the month of October and really get back on the screws in terms of playing winning football. But it’s one step at a time, one day at a time.
On the injury front, Troy’s status for this game is probably questionable at best, although we’ve had some favorable information in regards to where he is from a health standpoint. We’re going to take it day-to-day with him. I spoke and visited with him yesterday, as he did with the doctors. He’s in a great frame of mind. He feels really good, but we’re going to follow the expert advice that we get from our medical staff in terms of how to proceed. In the short term, we’re going to take it day-to-day and see how he feels when he comes in the building tomorrow. But really encouraging, more encouraging I think than initially anticipated. We’re going to put one foot in front of the other with him. Keenan Lewis has a rib injury. We’ll see how he feels as the week progresses. Some guys who’ve been out like Travis Kirschke are going to work in individual (drills) tomorrow and see where he is, as is Carey Davis (hamstring), who’s going to work in individuals tomorrow to see if he can get back.
Q: What did the MRI show on Troy?
A: It’s a PCL strain as opposed to last time it was an MCL injury. This is a PCL injury. It happens to be to the same knee. But there is no setback in regards to his MCL. This is a PCL strain. We’ll let that run its course, see how he feels, and of course listen to the expert advice of our medical staff.
Q: Doesn’t look like a long-term problem?
A: Again, I don’t know that. Everyone’s initial response was it was a re-injury and that appears not to be the case. It’s on the same knee, but it’s not a re-injury.
Q: Ben Roethlisberger seemed to underthrow his deep passes. Was it because the Bengals were in his face?
A: No, I just think they were mis-connects. That happens from time to time. I’m sure that Ben will bounce back as will we.
Q: Are PCL injuries easier to treat?
A: It’s not PCL vs. MCL, it’s just the nature of the injury and it doesn’t appear to be as significant as the MCL that he sustained earlier in the season. But, again, we’ll live day by day with that.
Q: You used Mewelde Moore and Rashard Mendenhall in the same backfield and gained 12 yards. Will you look to expand on that?
A: Potentially, yes.
Q: Is that the Pony backfield?
A: You know I don’t get into specifics of what we call things. I call it Two Tailbacks in the Game.
Q: Any personnel changes on kick coverage? Or is it more schematic?
A: I think when you’re experiencing the kind of difficulty that we are in that area, you’d better turn over every stone. We’re looking at schematics and potentially making some changes in that area, but we’re also moving some people around, putting some new people in position to play. We brought Donovan Woods up from the practice squad (released Arnold Harrison) and he’s going to have an opportunity to run down the middle of that unit to see if he can bring some energy to the group. But it’s not just about the addition of a Donovan Woods. Donovan Woods is not all of the sudden going to make us the most dynamic kickoff coverage team in the NFL. It’s detail. It’s about shedding blocks and making tackles and being schematically sound. We’re in the process of looking at all elements of that unit.
Q: Has there been a common thread in the three kickoff returns for touchdowns?
A: No, they’re all head-scratchers. You can just say it’s an epiphany. You can say, ‘Wow, that’s an interesting play.’ But I don’t choose to have that response. I look at it scientifically, if you will. For those things to happen, there must be other elements at work where we’re falling short. That’s why we’re working to make those necessary corrections. Very rarely do you see a guy run a kick back in the nature with which that kick was run back the other day. The ball was put in the corner, he started to the field, he stuck his foot in the ground and came to a complete stop, and then re-directed and went vertical and continued in the direction which he initially started. Usually when a kick returner comes to a stop, the play’s usually dead. It wasn’t in that instance, so we have some work to do.
Q: Stefan Logan said someone has left a lane on each touchdown, but that on returns we never seem to get guys out of their lanes. Is there a way you can coax them out of their lanes?
A: That’s the perspective of a kick returner who hasn’t run one back yet, so that perspective may not be reality.
Q: Do the returns have anything to do with you running a 3-4 defense?
A: (Laughs) Hey, it’s been my experience, at least since I’ve been here, that’s been one of the welcome additions to being a part of this thing. You have more special teams bodies when you have 3-4 personnel than you do when you have 4-3 personnel. Special teams is built around 230 to 250-pound men. When I was part of 4-3 defenses, you might have five or six of those guys in uniform on a game day. And you’d look across when you’re playing a 3-4 team and they’ve got eight or nine of them suited. Immediately you’d feel like you’re disadvantaged from a special teams standpoint.
Q: Could you compare the number of changes on coverage teams you’d made leading up to Sunday’s game with the number you’re going to make now?
A: There are changes in kickoff coverage every week and in all areas of the special teams. When you start talking about responding to injury, and who gets the 42nd through the 45th helmet on game day, those new things usually mean people are in new positions on the teams. Very rarely does it affect or change what happens offensively or defensively. When you’ve got a guy like Keenan Lewis in a helmet, he’s going to be on the kickoff team. When you’ve got a guy like Tyrone Carter, who’s playing 30 snaps of defense, he’s not potentially going to be on special teams. There are always changes in positioning on special teams. That’s just the nature of this league. It happens every week. I’m not going to draw any parallel between those changes and our performance because we had changes a year ago when we had the best kickoff team in the NFL.
Q: Bernard Scott said that was a bad kick. Do your share that opinion? Or have Jeff Reed’s kickoffs been adequate?
A: They have been adequate. We’ve got to do a better job covering. I liked the position and location of that kick to be honest with you. When you can pin somebody down in the corner and converge on the ball, usually you feel pretty good about it.
Q: Do you ask your kicker to kick more for spots rather than distance?
A: It really depends on game circumstance, field conditions, weather, wind, the nature of the return schemes that we see. A lot of things go into that decision making, and not only on a game-by-game basis but on a kick-by-kick basis.
Q: How has Logan performed as a return man? Might Mike Wallace get more opportunities?
A: He’s been above the line. I think he’s averaging 25, 26 yards a return. It’s been the best we’ve had since I’ve been here, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable, man, we’re trying to search for the ceiling. We want to be the very best in the world in all areas because it increases our chances of winning. Mike is a guy who’s shown an aptitude for that. He ran three or four back at Ole Miss. He’s handling some of the other tasks we’re giving him to do, so as a guy shows he’s capable of handling things we ask him to do, we potentially are going to give him more things to do. We gave him an opportunity to return a kick and he may get some more opportunities in the future.
Q: Should Jeff Reed have done more as a tackler on the last two returns for touchdowns?
A: Man, I am not going to go down to evaluating Jeff Reed as a tackler. When it comes down to that, we have failed as a coverage unit. I don’t lose any sleep on the quality of Jeff Reed’s tackles … or tackle attempts.
Q: What went wrong on the final offensive series?
A: We had an opportunity to make a play on first down. We had Hines (Ward) running around midfield on a deep cross. We had a little pressure come from Ben’s left. He stepped up in the pocket and it affected his throw. That was the only play of the four where we had a significant opportunity to get a chunk and get that drive started. The rest of the plays kind of mirrored our day. We weren’t able to find rhythm and get the thing going and put ourselves in position to win.
Q: Does Ben call those plays in those situations?
A: He didn’t in that instance, no.
Q: Has Brett Keisel played better since Aaron Smith went down?
A: No, he’s been playing well all year. He really has, even when Aaron was available. Brett is a solid, solid professional. He does a lot of dirty work. He’s really underappreciated. I think it’s the nature of the position he plays in our scheme, similar to Aaron Smith. There are a lot of people that ride the wave of destruction that he provides. I think on both of those sacks he was disruptive, but that’s nothing new for Brett Keisel. He’s appreciated on our team and in the locker room. That’s all that’s important to him.
Q: Were you surprised by what Bill Belichick did the other day?
A: No, I wasn’t surprised. I heard his comments after the game. He made a decision he felt was appropriate for his team and gave his team the best chance of winning, and for that I applaud him. There are only 32 of these jobs. We have decisions to make that are not always going to be popular. I always appreciate men that are bold enough to do it even when it’s potentially unpopular. Obviously Bill has the stomach to make those decisions.
Q: Does a coach worry how a decision might affect, say, the defense down the road?
A: I think it’s a myriad of considerations you make when you make any of those decisions, but you’ve got to do it and do it quickly. I’m sure he’s accustomed to that.
[Aw, man, another dopey ‘Could you talk about Ty Carter’ question. This is a good place to stop, particularly since we’ve already left out four or five clichéd questions that elicited no information.
Tomlin feels same say and rejects the next question, and then tries to tell the next two questioners that his team desires to run the ball better. Someone finishes by asking how the Bengals were able to keep Ben in the pocket and Tomlin told him to go ask the Bengals. Mercifully, it ends.]