Steelers AFC Championship Thursday Press Conference Transcript

Head Coach Mike Tomlin

January 15, 2009

Head Coach Mike Tomlin: I thought we had a good practice today. We took the necessary steps that you are looking for between a Wednesday and Thursday. We were a little more crisp in all areas, a little better understanding. Hopefully we will do the same tomorrow.

Did Troy Polamalu practice today?

Yes. As a matter of fact he wasn’t limited in any way. He had a pretty good day.

What is Justin Hartwig’s status?

The same as it was at the beginning of the week. He is going to practice tomorrow. He participated on a limited basis today. It’s not going to prevent him from playing in the game. It didn’t prevent him from playing in the last game. We’re being cautious at the end of the week and trying to put him in the best physical shape we can get him in, but at the same time be prepared to play. He is a veteran player. We are a few weeks into this thing now. The physical reps he will get tomorrow hopefully will be enough for him.

Do you think you have a health advantage or is everyone banged up at this point of the season?

The 11 on the field represent us. The 11 on the field represent them. Our standard won’t change in terms of what we expect from ours and I’m sure theirs won’t either. Injuries won’t be a factor in the football game.

Was Willie Parker full-go today?

Yes he was.

The locker room has been quiet this week. Do you say something to the players about watching what they say?

No. It’s how we do business. You don’t wait until you get in these kind of games to make those coaching points. I’d be negligent if I did. It’s the things we talk about along the way, the kind of personality that we want to have, not only inside the white lines but outside.

Now that you have been here for two years, do you have a heightened sense of the excitement and what all of this means to Steelers fans?

I don’t. I know that I don’t because the people I know tell me their perception of it. I live kind of an insolated life here in Pittsburgh. I go to work and go home. Not that I don’t appreciate it. I just don’t get an opportunity to witness it first hand. It’s humbling to know that what we do is important to people, that we can entertain them and give our fans what they want. I have a sense of pride in that. Do I witness it or am I aware of it, probably not.

Can you talk about Sean McHugh’s journey – from being cut by the Lions before the season to now playing in the AFC Championship game and what he means to the team?

Of course we are glad that we have him. He has been a good addition to our team. He has a unique ability to play on the line of scrimmage as an in-line blocker, as a tight end and in the backfield as a lead blocker. It is really kind of a unique skill set, one that you look for. He is a willing worker, he is a good teammate. I know the guys enjoy him. He had been a nice addition. We are glad he was available. His story is like a lot of stories in the locker room. There are fewer first-round draft pick, fanfare guys. There are a lot of guys that have stories like Sean McHugh and James Harrison and so forth. That’s what makes this game and this league special.

What have you learned about Dick LeBeau since you have been here?

I don’t have enough time. Dick cares about people. He doesn’t take that ingredient out of his recipe when he comes to work. Because of that it’s special along with all of the other outstanding characteristics he has.

Dick LeBeau

January 15, 2009

What kind of challenges do the Ravens give you?

They put the extra offensive lineman in there so that they are big; they have a big running back and a big fullback; they are a big, powerful team. That increases their ability to use that power. We have a good thing in that Cleveland runs the same offense with the unbalanced line; so does San Diego. This is really the seventh time that we have played this kind of offense so our guys are used to finding the true center of the line and getting lined up. It still keeps you alert and on your toes.

Do you match up?

Our numbers are fairly decent against them; we will see how we do on Sunday.

Your guys say that they move down one?

Yeah, it really is. You just move over and play your defense. They’re shifting and moving so the true center is hard to identify. Again, this will be our seventh time playing against an unbalanced line so that is a plus for us.

What are your thoughts on Joe Flacco?

I think consistent growth and the fact that they have become more and more confident with what he can do. I think that their record is testimony to that. He does remind me quite a bit of Ben (Roethlisberger) when he was in his first year. He has a tremendously strong arm, he has the size factor that Ben has and he has the ability to create plays with his legs that Ben has; there are a lot of ties. Both quarterbacks won an awful lot of games in their first year. Big Ben only lost one but this guy hasn’t lost very many either.

How hard was it for Troy Polamalu in the game against San Diego? How will his calf limit him?

You would have to ask Troy how hard it was. I am sure that he went through some discomfort but it is that time of year where, if a guy can go, they are going to go. The same thing would be true with Baltimore. If Troy is on the field, we are not limited at all. If he is not, that changes what we do a little bit because he is a very special guy. That is not news to any of us because we have seen what he can do. If he is not there, we go to a little bit different style. It has been pretty good over the years when he has missed a few games and Tyrone Carter has stepped in and played tremendously well.

Troy said that you are like the Marlon Brando of the team – you treat the guys like family:

Well he wouldn’t accept his Oscar; I would have gone up and gotten mine. We are a pretty close bunch.

Does your personnel this year mean that you don’t have to rush as many guys?

Maybe we are a year older and hopefully just a little smarter in the selection of the defense. The part of it that he is definitely correct about is that we have pretty good personnel. We have a very special group and they make a lot of plays. He is right-on about that. Basically, I just try to stay out of their way.

How important is Flacco’s poise to his success?

I think that success feeds itself; he has been successful from the first day. He has the physical attributes that are necessary to be successful as a quarterback. He has good height which gives him good vision; he has a tremendously strong arm; he is fortunate to have three really excellent receivers in their two starting wide receivers and their tight end; you get the ball anywhere near those guys, they are going to come down with it. Consequently, they have had a pretty consistent run-pass offense that has been pretty much the same every week and every game.

How would you describe their offense?

I would describe it as very effective. They run for four yards per snap; they average-snap for five yards and they pass for six. They do that week in and week out. They can score a lot of points in a hurry. I think that their average reception is about 11.8 (yards); that means that they are getting the ball up the field. That is an impressive number. There have only been five teams to beat them, and the five teams are the (New York) Giants, Indianapolis (Colts), us and Tennessee (Titans). None of those teams have lost many games either. They have not lost to anyone that does not have a really strong record.

Is it impressive that Flacco has not turned the ball over yet in the playoffs?

I think that during the playoffs, they have no turnovers; on the other side they have been creating turnovers a lot. That is why they are getting ready to play again. Really, you play 16 regular-season games, and this will be Flacco’s 19th game; that is almost two college seasons; so he is comfortable with what he is doing now.

How well do you know Rex Ryan and what is your impression of him?

I know his father better than him. I think that he is a great coach; he does a great job. I see some of his dad’s stuff in what he does; he does a great job with it. He has some pretty good players too; they play good defense.

Do you watch their film and learn or borrow from them?

I look at everybody’s film; if they are doing something that I think is a good idea, I have been known to try it myself every now and then. We are like Ford Motor Company; we are not afraid to borrow from a good idea; we will take it.

Would you have imagined 10 years ago that you would have been in the NFL for 50 years?

No; we just take it one snap at a time. I have been blessed; if our defense wasn’t as good as they are, I probably wouldn’t have 50 years. When you get good players, you are a pretty good coach. The players have kept me very interested in continuing to coach. This is a special group; because of their performance, I am sure that nobody is saying ‘this is an old guy,’ they are just saying ‘this is a veteran coach.’ No, it doesn’t seem like 50 years.

Has Le’Ron McClain been their biggest surprise this year?

Yeah, I think that he has probably been a surprise to them, to be honest with you. He is no surprise to the guys that go against him now. He has done it and he is a special guy. He is going to do it for a while. There is nothing accidental about the way that he runs and his success. He has vision; he has power; it doesn’t take him long to get running north and south; yet he has that inate ability to find the soft spot. I am a fan of 33 because he is a good player and he will be for a while. We are going to have to wrestle with him for a while.

Can the wind be a 12th defender this week?

I think that the defense always likes to see a sturdy wind. We will take some wind and take some chances. He certainly has the arm strength to throw into and with the wind. If you ask me my choice, I will take about a 50 miles-per-hour coming south to north.

Can you compare McClain to anybody that you have seen?

He reminds me of Jerome (Bettis). I don’t think that you should put that on him right now in his first year. I remember when Jerome first came out of Notre Dame and we went out to play the Rams during his first year; we had an awful time with him. When we had a chance to get him, I was asked my opinion; I said ‘by all means bring him on our side of the field.’ I see some of those things; a big, thick, powerful, hard-running back with great feet. Jerome is probably, in my opinion, the best big back for making cut adjustments into the holes. I see some of that in this guy.

Do you take steps to foster a close-knit defense?

I just be myself and I hope that it gets across to them that I care about them and our performance. I just try to tell them what I think will enable us to be able to do that. The way that it has worked out, we are a pretty close group.

Why has LaMarr Woodley become a good linebacker in your system?

He is a very good player; we saw on video that he could rush the passer; he was strong. The first time that we played a preseason game during his rookie year, he took a tight end on a crossing route and reached out and swatted the ball out. I turned to Coach (Keith) Butler, our linebackers’ coach, and I said ‘we are in business.’ We are willing to take a chance; we have had players like Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd and Levon Kirkland who were down linemen, but they played pretty good for us (as linebackers). They got a lot of pressure yet they could still handle the space requirements. LaMarr is going to get a lot better at that; I wish I could give you a magic formula for what we have done with him.

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.