Mike Tomlin, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Good afternoon. Very disappointing defeat of course yesterday. I think it’s appropriate at this point to acknowledge we have an undesirable pattern of behavior, which produces a series of outcomes that are not what we’re looking for. Moving forward this week and beyond, we can’t continue to do what we’ve been doing and assume that that pattern of behavior is going to change and those outcomes are going to change. So we’re analyzing all aspects of what we’re doing here, specifically this week, and are going to be aggressive in terms of looking at potential changes in not only what we do schematically, but who we have do it in all three phases, because it’s appropriate. I think that is evident. We have some things from a personality standpoint that are occurring continuously that are not acceptable. We’re not making plays at the end of the game, particularly defensively on the back end – opportunities to close the game out from an interception standpoint, allowing people to get big plays on us. Offensively we’re squandering scoring opportunities. We had two opportunities in the red area that were unsuccessful yesterday. We got stopped on fourth and half a yard on a quarterback sneak. We threw an interception on first down in the red area that took other points off the board. We were in very reasonable field goal range, got sacked on a third down that put us on the outer perimeter of field goal range, which of course we missed. When you’re squandering scoring opportunities offensively, you’re giving up plays and not making plays at critical moments defensively, you have a pattern of behavior that’s unacceptable that’s going to produce losses, which is what has happened. We acknowledge and accept responsibility for that. We’re going to take appropriate action. At this time I think appropriate action is looking at doing some things differently and potentially with different combinations of people. So, it gets increasingly difficult because we’re working with a short week – we understand that – but so are the Cleveland Browns. We’re going to proceed and prepare and ultimately try to find a formula that produces a win for us, which is what we desperately need.
From an injury standpoint, in the game William Gay sustained a concussion. We’ll take him through the procedures we take guys through coming off a concussion. He’ll take a battery of tests which will determine whether or not he’s able to practice. If he’s able to practice, we’ll check him for levels of discomfort and see where it takes us here early in the week. Hines Ward had a mild hamstring strain on the second-to-last play of the game when he caught that out around midfield. So, he’s going to be very questionable for this game. The hamstring is mild but we’re working on an extremely short week. We’ll see where it goes, but not favorable for him. Some existing injuries, we’re going to size Charlie Batch up for a soft cast and I think we’re going to get some participation out of him at practice, or at least attempt to. Travis Kirschke appears to be ready to go from the calf strain that he sustained a few weeks back and was able to play, and then wasn’t able to play in this game. Hopefully that’s one that’s behind us. Rashard Mendenhall has a minor ankle sprain or swelling. It may limit him tomorrow but he’s going to be fine and ready to play in the football game. Troy (Polamalu) is continuing to be evaluated. I don’t think he’s going to play in this football game. Questions.
Q: Who starts at cornerback in place of William Gay?
A: It’s going to be Joe Burnett. Keenan Lewis is going to get an opportunity to play. We want to see both of those guys. They’re young guys; they’ve been working. We want to see both of those guys play.
Q: You want to leave Deshea Townsend in the dime?
Q: What about some of the other changes?
A: You know, it’s very early in the week. If we were at the normal Tuesday press conference I’d probably have more information for you in that regard, but we’re in the early stages of development of our plan as I sit here right now, but I assure you there are going to be some.
Q: Will there be many?
A: Whatever we think’s appropriate in terms of giving ourselves a chance to win based on the matchup with the Cleveland Browns, so subtle in some areas, maybe not so subtle in others. But I am acknowledging that I am very open to that.
Q: On defense?
A: All three phases.
Q: Could you talk about the mental wounds that need to be healed?
A: You’ve got to acknowledge that the potential that this can be kind of a shaken group. We’ve swallowed a lot of late. We’re going to have to become one with ourselves, if you will, individually and collectively. I’m going to be looking very closely at these men and it’s going to provide quality information for me in terms of who legitimately is mentally tough and who can stand the test of some adversity, because we have some, and who’s going to lead the charge more than anything, in terms of getting us out of this and winning a football game. I’m going to be very interested in who those people are, and who those people aren’t.
Q: Did they lose equity they may have earned after winning a Super Bowl?
A: Certainly, but I didn’t carry the equity into this season. I think I’ve been pretty clear about my mentality in regards to that. I’ve said since day one that each season is one that’s very different and that what we do stands alone, even if a lot of the people are the same people. Nothing stays the same in this game. Players are ascending players or descending. People catch up with schemes; schemes evolve. Playing and coaching, this thing is ever changing. We acknowledge that, so you’re always slow to talk about equity from season to season in terms of some of the things that lead to discussions of decision-making. I’m more concerned with the equity that’s built over the course of a season.
Q: Are you satisfied with the leadership you’re getting?
A: We’ve got quality leaders. We do. We’ve got quality guys. It’s not about the type of leadership that we have, the type of people that we are, or the type of football character that we display, it’s about making plays. It’s about the performance. Who we are and what we do are two different things. I’m going to call on that leadership and really look for others outside of those known leaders to provide quality leadership. At times such as this, everybody’s capable of being their best selves and positively affecting an environment or work situation.
Q: How is Mike Wallace progressing? And is he capable of taking on an expanded role if Hines can’t go?
A: Mike is a reliable young guy. He doesn’t blow a lot of assignments. He’s proven repeatedly that the situation isn’t too big for him. I imagine that will continue and, I imagine that if Hines doesn’t play, his role will be expanded in some form or fashion, but I also acknowledge that we may use Limas Sweed in some of the big-body things that Hines Ward does, because Hines Ward is a unique guy in terms of what he does for our football team in both the run and the passing game. It may require more than one person to fill that void.
Q: Why is the fourth quarter the problem after three good quarters? What changes?
A: I don’t know if anything changes other than the fact we’re not making the necessary plays to close out games. I think that that is the story of the National Football League. I think most games are close or move in a certain fashion for three, three and a half quarters, and I think the cream rises at the end. Obviously we’re a very average football team as we sit here today, and our recent record might indicate that’s a kind assessment of it. I’m just being very realistic about where we are and I think we all need to do that because that’s going to give us the necessary clarity to change it.
Q: Will you go with three wide receivers or add a fourth?
A: We’ll possibly add a fourth depending on Hines’s availability.
Q: Do you get involved a lot schematically? And will you increase that?
A: I do and I will because it’s appropriate at this time.
Q: What was the cause of the miscommunications in the secondary?
A: I think there were maybe one or two instances, which is probably normal for a 65, 70-play football game. I’m not going to let that be an excuse for our inability to close out or finish games. We’ve got to put guys in better position to make plays. We’ve got to do that.
Q: Will the lineup changes be finalized shortly?
A: Maybe Thursday 6:30. The hay’s not going to be in the barn this week. We’re going to keep baling it until the 11th hour and some change if possible.
Q: Will Troy’s availability depend on playoff possibilities?
A: No, his availability is based on his health and we’re not going to let circumstance change that approach. That’s not the right thing to do, so when he is ready to play we’ll play him.
Q: Would you consider not playing him the rest of the year depending on how his health coincides with playoff chances?
A: (Shakes head sideways, chuckles) I play to win. I play to win. If that scoreboard’s on, we’re playing to win. Last I heard they’re going to have it on.
Q: As defending champs, have you seen more determination from opponents, particularly in the fourth quarter?
A: I think it’s something that comes with being a Steeler, that people understand how we play the game. I don’t know that it’s necessarily championship-driven. I’ve always felt that way. I know when I worked with other teams, the week you played the Steelers you knew what kind of football game you were going to be in. It’s something that you can’t put a price tag on. It’s legacy. So I don’t know how much the championship itself weighs into that. We always prepare with the anticipation of people being at their very best and us getting their best shot. Ultimately we like to think that that doesn’t determine the outcome of football games, that our plays does. I’m a believer in that.
Q: Did Limas have a chance at that last catch?
A: I thought he did. Of course, the play wasn’t made. Given the circumstances, that’s about as reasonable an opportunity as you’re going to have to make that play. When you talk about Hail Marys, if you will, a bunch of bodies coming to a point in the end zone, we had a 6-4 guy at the point with a pretty clean look at it. You like your chances under the circumstances, but let’s face it, those aren’t very good circumstances when you’re doing that.
Q: Why haven’t we seen Keenan Lewis earlier? How’s he progressing?
A: He played in our opener and sustained an injury, missed the next several games due to that injury, worked his way back into another opportunity to play, and really, in recent weeks, he hadn’t dressed the last two games because we wanted big-bodied special teams guys available and suited – Carey Davis, for instance, who we thought was critical as a punt-protection guy to block Ed Reed and his up-and-under punt rush. Each week we evaluate the matchups in all three phases. Some of them are special teams. Sometimes the nature of the matchup dictates that we have a big-bodied special teams man suited as opposed to a little-bodied special teams man. We like some of the things Keenan has done. He’s been consistently on the rise since coming back from that injury, but due to matchups he hadn’t been suited the last two weeks. Obviously, if William Gay doesn’t play that won’t be a factor in determining whether or not he plays this week. He’ll have an opportunity to play.
Q: Even if William’s healthy and plays, is that position open?
A: You know, I think at this point we need to see what those young guys are capable of doing and see if they can make a play for us. Of course, Joe had an opportunity to make a play that should’ve finished that football game, and he didn’t. But we’ll give him some more opportunities.
Q: Were there missed assignments on the winning touchdown? If so, what happened?
A: Yeah, we did. We had a couple guys out of place in terms of applying pressure to the quarterback with a blitz package. We did have all the eligibles covered. It wasn’t anything from that structural standpoint, but we didn’t get what we want from blitz-entry standpoint, and it created an opportunity for the quarterback to step up in the pocket and find Louis Murphy in the left corner of the end zone.
Q: Should one of those corners have been back with Ryan Mundy?
A: Certainly. Yes.
Q: Ike Taylor also has had a chance to make some plays and has not. Will he also be part of this equation of possible changes as well?
A: Certainly. Certainly. I think that’s appropriate that we look at giving guys some opportunities to see if they can play. What that means or to what extent that means changes will be made I think is a little premature, but I acknowledge that that’s taken place.
Q: You used David Johnson more at fullback. How did he do?
A: It’s been good. I like how he finished the game. I’d like him to start faster. He’s a young guy that I think early on in the game appears to be testing the waters, if you will, and he just needs to jump in. That’s part of youth at times, but he’s got to grow up. He’s got to come out of the tunnel with a higher tempo than maybe he did yesterday. It got better as the game wore on, and I think our results got better because of it, but early on not enough of what we’re looking for. The third-down play before the fourth-down quarterback sneak being an example of that. He’s got to punch holes in fronts, particularly in third-and-one situations to allow us to move the chains. We don’t see any reason why we can’t always move the chains on third down and one.
Q: Is it possible that Troy’s presence is that important?
A: I’m not going to make excuses for my level of expectation. I think that we’re capable of playing winning football with or without Troy. Are we different? Yes, because Troy’s a unique individual. He brings a unique skill set. Maybe the ceiling is different, but the floor, the standard of expectation, is the same, that we’re capable of playing winning football. We’ve played winning football without him. We went and played winning football in Denver without him [?] on the back end. So, I don’t worry about that. I tend to focus my energies on the guys that do play and their level of preparation and their level of play, as opposed to the guys who are unavailable. You can waste a lot of time on guys who are unavailable. I don’t want to waste that kind of time.
Q: How will this group respond if there are changes?
A: They’re pros. I think they understand it and I think to a degree they’ll agree with me. That’s the nature of this thing. We can’t stay status quo in terms of how we’re approaching this thing and expect the pattern of behavior or outcome to change. That’s unrealistic. That’s hoping. This is not a hope business. I’m not a hope mentality person. I think our guys are of the same mindset, so I don’t expect any surprise or discontent in regards to this approach, to be quite honest with you.