Mike Tomlin, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
(TV still in commercial break as he begins; radio picks up Tomlin talking the evils of turnovers and returns) … If we address our ills and really don’t blink in the face of adversity and really let that guide our energy and decision making and continue to do the things well that we’re doing well, we should be fine and should be able to correct these issues. In the short term? Uncomfortable? Absolutely, because this is a competitors’ business and we’re competitors, but Redemption Sunday, if you will, is coming for us in the form of the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football, so we’re excited about that. That medicine is just what the doctor ordered when you look at where we are, having the opportunity to play our rivals on prime-time television.
Along with that, I thought I’d discuss some injuries. The big one of course is Ben (Roethlisberger). As you guys know, Ben sustained a concussion in the game. To give you a little background in terms of what happened with him after that, Monday, yesterday morning, we brought him in and he took a battery of neurological tests done with our medical staff. He was asymptomatic. He was fine. He passed all those tests. He felt fine. So, given that information, we can anticipate him practicing and preparing to play this week, provided he remains to be symptom-free and he remains to feel fine. I met with Ben yesterday. He felt normal. He felt fine. The battery of tests he took showed that he showed no symptoms. We’ll continue to monitor his symptoms and let that guide our decision-making, but as I sit here today he’s symptom-free and feeling fine so we should anticipate Ben practicing (Wednesday).
Charlie Batch’s injury situation is something that occurred after I visited with you guys after the game, or else I’d have given you that information. He sustained a break in his arm or his wrist area. He’s going to have surgery (Wednesday) morning. They’re going to insert a plate in his wrist or arm and he’s going to be down anywhere from two to four weeks, based on the outcome of the surgery. I’ll have more information in regards to his status after he gets that surgery done (Wednesday) morning.
Travis Kirschke continues to come back from his calf strain. He’s going to get some work this week. Hopefully, he’ll be able to help us. You know we’re going to need the services of Travis, if we can get it in a game like this the way the Baltimore Ravens are capable of running the football. Troy (Polamalu) is still questionable at best with his knee sprain. We’ll continue to monitor him. Chris Kemoeatu will definitely be out for this game. He has an MCL sprain. Carey Davis should be fine after missing a few weeks of games from his hamstring injury.
Now, talking about the Baltimore Ravens, you know it’s fireworks every time we play these guys. We’re excited about preparing for them. They’re a similar team that we remember competing against. They can say similar things that we’re saying at this point. They’re a 5-5 team and not happy where they are. When you watch them on tape, they don’t have the appearance of a 5-5 team, but that’s how it goes in this game. We anticipate those guys to be at their best and it’s going to be fireworks as usual when the Ravens and Steelers get together.
Offensively, they’re led by their quarterback Joe Flacco, who does a nice job administering Cam Cameron’s offense. He’s very efficient. He’s got a great arm. He can make all the throws on the field, particularly the sideline throws, the 15 to 17-yard comebacks he continues to excel at. He’s throwing the deep ball very well right now to a group of receivers led by Derrick Mason. Their running game is exceptional. They’ve got three quality running backs. Ray Rice is a darting, powerful, small-hitting-surface runner who does a nice job of finishing off runs. He can stick his foot in the ground and change directions on you. He’s doing a lot of things well for them. He’s a security blanket for Joe Flacco in the passing game. This guy has caught a bunch of checkdowns. And they do a nice job of understanding where he is in the passing game. (Le’Ron) McClain is a guy we know is capable of being a feature runner. He ran for over 900 yards last year. Now he’s playing fullback and plowing open holes for Ray Rice. He’s also catching balls out of the backfield and at times he’s a runner himself. And of course Willis McGahee has distinguished himself as a short-yardage, goal-line, backup, situational runner who of course is capable of carrying the load. Up front they’ve acquired Matt Birk who I’m familiar with; savvy, veteran, Pro Bowl-caliber player, Harvard man, extremely smart. He’s going to be a tough guy to trick in terms of making declarations and attacking protections. There’s a reason why they went out and acquired Matt Birk. He’s going to be tough to fool. Can’t go in assuming you’re going to fool these guys. You’ve got to be prepared to beat them physically from a rush standpoint. This guy is that good at getting fronts and potential blitzes declared. Of course, Michael Oher is their extremely talented young right tackle who is fully capable as a run blocker and a pass blocker. He’s going to present a big-time challenge for LaMarr Woodley.
On defense, it’s still Ray Lewis and company, Ed Reed. Jarret Johnson is playing in my opinion better than he’s ever played. He’s playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber level. He’s an impact player. The rest of the guys fit in nicely. They’ve got great continuity, even though Coach (Rex) Ryan is now in New York. It appears to be the same group with the same mentality and the same approach to attacking people. So we’ve got our work cut out for us there. We respect those guys. It’s going to be a physical, physical football game.
In the special-teams game, they’re rock-solid. Coach (John) Harbaugh has big-time special teams experience. They’ve got a bunch of talented guys in that phase of their football team. Lardarius Webb, a rookie, has distinguished himself as a return man, a special teams-capable guy. Of course, with the injury to Fabian Washington at corner, I would expect that he’s going to play quite a bit of defense. There doesn’t appear to be anything that he can’t handle. He performed well against Cincinnati a few weeks back as a defender and as a special-teams performer.
We’re preparing with an edge because we’d better. The situation dictates it and definitely the opponent dictates it. Questions.
Q: How are you going to replace Charlie Batch?
A: What we’re going to do at this point, I think we’re going to sign a practice squad-eligible quarterback to provide an arm, if you will, in preparation for the Ravens in terms of practice. In terms of playing in the game, we’re simply at this point going to go with Ben, provided he remains symptom-free from his concussion and feels fine, and of course Dennis Dixon.
Q: How do you work on lessening the turnovers?
A: We’ve turned the ball over 19 times in 10 games. We have to work at being more efficient in terms of protecting the ball. Our WRs alone have put the ball on the ground three times in the last two football games. It’s fundamental, it’s an awareness, it’s an understanding of what our ills are. … We just need to prepare with an edge and really prepare with efficiency in mind and limit the number of opportunities that maybe we expose ourselves to turning the ball over. By the same token, our defense has gotten 14 turnovers in 10 games, definitely not enough for a No. 1-caliber defense. … I don’t think opportunity has been the issue in regards to getting turnovers. I really just think we haven’t taken advantage enough of the opportunities. We’ve had our hands on balls. We’ve had balls on the ground that we didn’t come up with. We’ve had tipped passes that just fall harmlessly to the ground. We have to work with those things in mind as we prepare to play this game and others to turn the tide in regards to that. If we do that, and we stop getting kicks returned on us, we’ve got a chance to be a good football team.
Q: Did Ben officially suffer a concussion?
A: It could be characterized as a mild concussion. I hesitate to use the term mild. Concussions are not anything to be taken mildly. He was symptomatic at the game. That’s why after the game he was down with concussion-like symptoms. When we were able to do appropriate testing yesterday, he was symptom-free. He felt fine. So we’re proceeding with caution, but we will monitor him each and every day this week as we push forward towards game day, because if any symptoms re-occur, or he feels less than fine, we’re going to act appropriately.
Q: Would Dennis start in that case?
Q: Would that change your strategy in terms of a practice-squad quarterback?
A: It would definitely change our strategy in a lot of ways.
Q: If Dennis plays, what are your thoughts on his progress here and how would the offense operate?
A: I’ve been very pleased with Dennis’s progress as a third quarterback. That’s different of course than playing against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night television. No question that we would have to do some things to help him. If he plays in this game, and plays extensively in this game, we have to do some things schematically. His teammates would have to be at their absolute best to assist him, but in terms of where Dennis is as a second-year player and a third quarterback, the arrow’s pointing up with him. We’re extremely excited about where he is as a young quarterback.
Q: In 2006, Ben struggled after his injuries. How convinced do you have to be about his health this week?
A: I’m not acting on Ben convincing me of anything. We have independent medical experts, Dr. (Joseph) Maroon and company, who are recognized internationally. People in our business in this league fly players in from other cities to see those men. We listen to them first and foremost. We’ve got a great deal of confidence and comfort in their expertise, and at this point if they’re comfortable in saying he’s symptom-free that will be the utmost determinant in terms of how Ben’s capable of participating in leading up to this game and also in this game.
Q: Has there been increased levels of what and what’s not acceptable in terms of concussions? He was cleared back then, too.
A: I don’t want to compare this situation to those situations.
Q: What happened on the kickoff return? Are further changes going to be made this week?
A: We missed a couple tackle opportunities. Could we have been in better position based on the schematics that they presented to us? I would agree with that. But we also had several opportunities to get that man on the ground. I just left a workout. We worked out several men who are potentially capable of helping us from a special-teams standpoint. I have another man flying in this afternoon that we also believe could fit the bill in terms of helping us in that area. We’re going to be aggressive about solving our ills, from a turnover/takeaway-ratio standpoint and from a touchdown-while-our-defense-is-on-the-sideline standpoint. I can assure you that.
Q: Are you considering using more starters on that unit?
A: Yes I do.
Q: Will Ramon Foster start for Chris?
A: Yes, and if you look at the number of snaps that he played this past Sunday, for a young man he represented himself relatively well. We can proceed with even more optimism this week in terms of his readiness because he will be getting more physical reps with the first group in practice this week. Under the circumstances, I thought he performed well. Here’s a guy that prepared as a multiple-position backup with not a lot of continuity working with Max Starks and Justin Hartwig. He’s going to get those opportunities with a full week of preparation this week. Fully expect him to be above the line and give us a winning-caliber performance. For a young guy, he’s shown remarkable maturity as a professional.
Q: You said the team lacked preparation last week. Will the preparation change? Will you be harder on the guys this week? Maybe take some of the fun things out of the locker room?
A: I based my judgment, I evaluate preparation, on performance. We did not execute winning football so obviously we did not prepare well enough. As a head coach, that’s the way I look at it, so of course I will make changes I deem necessary in terms of preparation to become a more edgier, more efficient, more productive football team inside stadiums.
Q: The secondary guys said they got the call late on that 61-yard play. What happened? Has that been a recurring problem?
A: Dick LeBeau told those guys what we were going to call on third down before we even took the field that series. OK? So, as far as I’m concerned, knowledge of the call was not an issue in that circumstance. They were given that call before the defense took the field to start that series. ‘When we get in the third down, this is the call we’re leading with,’ was the communication that was given. Also, after the second down play, that very call that was given to them before the series started was given to them again. If we were playing without a call, that’s knowledge to me.
Q: Was the third-and-2 pitch to Mewelde Moore an audible?
A: No, it wasn’t. It was a huddle call. As I stated after the game, we were about a yard, if you will, outside of what we felt was comfortable field goal range, so there were a couple of things going on there. We had a third down and 2, but we also had a situation where we were pretty comfortable, if we gain anything, at attempting a field goal. We thought based on the down and distance, based on the information that we had, that they would be in a man coverage. We thought we could out-leverage them with a crack toss. Our puller got picked off by penetration. We lost our puller. When that happens, they’ve got a chance to destroy the play. They did. We lost several yards on the play. At that point I made the decision to punt the football, even though we potentially could’ve taken an opportunity – maybe it was what, a 57-yard field goal or something? – we could’ve taken an opportunity at that. I felt good enough about what had transpired defensively in the game to that point to kick the ball, maybe pin them down inside the 20. Even with the ball on the 20-yard line, I felt comfortable putting our defense out there on the field and playing defense. Obviously the things that transpired after that were not good and we lost the game.
Q: When did Batch get hurt?
A: He probably wasn’t necessarily aware of it until after he got out of the shower after the game, but going back and looking at the video the only instance in which it could’ve potentially occurred is when he threw incomplete in the flat to Rashard Mendenhall and he had late pressure up the middle. He was knocked to the ground. He stuck his left hand out to brace his fall. It didn’t appear to be anything. He hopped up immediately and proceeded on. After the game he felt it. We had it looked at and it was determined that he had a break.
Q: Who’s the new quarterback for the practice squad?
A: I’ll discuss that when we sign him, provided he passes medical tests and so forth. I think it’s appropriate for me to handle it in that manner. I don’t want to give you bad information. A lot of the moves that we make, whether it be the quarterback or some of the special-teams men that we’re working out, these moves are contingent upon these guys passing a physical and so forth, so I always err on the side of caution in mentioning names.
Q: Will you hold a roster spot open for Charlie?
A: We’re going to wait till after the surgery, but at this point I’m comfortable in saying that, yes, I am.
Q: On the Chiefs’ big play in overtime, were you happy with, not necessarily the effort, but how hard everyone was pursuing the ball?
A: Um, you know, were they running at top speed? Probably not. That’s not going to occur 70 or 80 plays into an overtime game. I was more disappointed that they went 61 yards on us at a significant point in the game. We’ll look at the tape in regards to that and let each man be the judge of what he did from an effort standpoint. I’ll be very hesitant to question the effort of our men, because I know what these guys put into it and I know what they’re willing to do. But when you look at a play like that, you’ve got to acknowledge the length of time, where we were in the game. At times people are not going to be at top speed. That’s just the reality of it. The other reality was that Chris Chambers had a little bit left in his tank, so we have to acknowledge that.
Q: Who’s your emergency quarterback?
A: Don’t have the answer as I sit here right now. Obviously, if we get down to that, the situation’s going to be dire and our personality’s going to change quite a bit. Regardless of who it is, we’re not going to ask him to move the chains throwing and catching the football.
Q: Will that guy take snaps this week?
A: To be determined.
Q: How much player accountability is there?
A: Those are things I address with them on a weekly basis, win or lose. That’s not something I’m into as a coach, standing out here and airing business in the public. We’re an accountable group. We’re accountable within our team. What I will say is I’ll be that same kind of guy and take accountability for my actions as a guy that’s the head coach of this team, and that’s why I said what I said following the game, and I meant it.
Q: How will Rashard anticipate returning to play the team that broke his shoulder last year?
A: I’m not concerned about that at all. Injuries are a part of the game. It happened. That’s big time in our rearview (mirror). This guy’s toted the ball quite a bit since then, had some successes, had some failures. I’m sure some of those successes and failures will be more in his mind than what happened a year ago. I’m sure it’s going to be a story line but we have no control over that. Not concerned about that. We’re going to line up and play football.
Q: Why didn’t he carry on third-and-2?
A: Mewelde (Moore)’s done some nice things for us, not only in that game but since he’s been here. He converted a third-and-two-ish earlier in the game as a runner. He’s our third-down back. That is the division of labor, that’s his job description. We’ve got a great deal of comfort in what that guy’s capable of doing in those situations and circumstances, so it was with no hesitation that I sent him on the field. And I’d do it again.
Q: When you’re passing way more than you’re running, does that open you up to more turnovers?
A: Potentially, but we’ve turned the ball over in every form or fashion, and I don’t think that speaks to why we’re turning the ball over. We’ve fumbled balls as runners, we’ve fumbled balls as receivers, we’ve had interceptions bounce off people’s helmets and so forth. I think it’s more about that than it is about the play selection. We’ve got to be more conscious and diligent about protection of the football and understand that when you’re carrying it, you’re carrying the livelihoods of everybody when you do so.
Q: What happened on their big pass plays?
A: It was disturbing. We were out of place. Not keying and not keying properly in those instances hadn’t been a signature of our football team and hopefully won’t be a signature moving forward, but in the fourth quarter and overtime of that football game, it was us. We accept responsibility for it.