Audio from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin press conference on Tuesday September 22nd. Tomlin addresses the upcoming week 3 Cincinnati Bengals game, injuries to both safety Tyrone Carter and wide receiver Limas Sweed and who can step in at strong safety should Carter be down. Tomlin also addressed the lack of sacks, the running game and the psyche of kicker Jeff Reed among other things. The transcript will follow shortly.
Mike Tomlin: Good afternoon. I will start with a quick synopsis of Sunday’s performance. Really, I still feel the same way about it today as I did a few days ago. I thought our guys played extremely hard, we played a physical brand of football and we made some plays. Chicago made more significant plays in significant moments, if you will, in the areas we call ‘situational football.’ They put together a drive at the end of the first half where they converted some third downs – they hadn’t converted very many until that point. I think we started the game with a couple of three-and-outs. They put a drive together and put seven points on the board just prior to the half. We were able to move the ball offensively in the fourth quarter and convert some third downs and move the chains. We weren’t able to convert third downs when we got down in scoring area, so drives stalled. We missed a few field goals. They were able to put a couple of drives together late in the second half. They made plays at the end of halves that we weren’t able to make – particularly get-off down – third-down football. They were able to gain victory because of it. We have some work to do and we accept that. We are looking forward to the new challenges that this week holds for us playing a divisional opponent in the Cincinnati Bengals on the road. We are excited about that, actually. They have a very good football team. I will start with what is going on those guys defensively. I think they are playing at a high level defensively behind their front (four). Antwan Odom has seven sacks or so, which at this point in the season, is an amazing number. I think he had five against Green Bay the other day. They have some other guys who are playing at a high level. Tank Johnson is an addition that is a force in the interior for them along with (Domata) Peko and (Pat) Sims. They play a four-man front where they use a lot of people – six to seven people. They get after you like a lot of the teams we have been playing recently with a disruptive front-four. They have a bunch of people so they use strength in numbers. On the second level they have some exciting young linebackers in Keith Rivers and Ray Maualuga. In the middle is a savvy, veteran in Dhani Jones. The secondary brought in Roy Williams. He is a veteran, top-notch playmaker who has some experience in Coach (Mike) Zimmer’s system. He seems to be meshing nicely with the corner tandem of (Jonathan) Joseph and (Leon) Hall. They also have (Chris) Crocker at the other safety position. On offense it starts with Carson Palmer. They have him up and running. He is a Pro Bowl-caliber player who has a top-notch arm in terms of strength and accuracy. He is an extremely smart player. He has a couple great receivers in (Chad) Ochocinco and Laveranues Coles. Cedric Benson has been running the ball extremely well, as he has was last year once they acquired him. Coach (Marvin) Lewis is familiar with us as we are with him. It is going to be an old-fashioned AFC North battle – one we have to prepare for and ultimately playing.
Question: Is there a value in familiarity with playing in a defense for a while?
Mike Tomlin: I think continuity is big whether you are talking about offensive systems or defensive systems. That is something they are establishing there. Coach Zimmer is getting comfortable working with the people he is working with. He has added to that along the lines. He has added a couple players like a Roy Williams who has experience with him and how he does business in his system. There play is indicative of what happens when you get a little stability and you put some pieces in place. When you look at it, they have acquired different pieces on every level of that defense in the past year and a half who are playing well for them – Odom, Dhani Jones, Rivers, Roy Williams and Crocker. They have a nice unit.
Question: How has Odom’s sack total built up so much?
Mike Tomlin: It is actually happening in a couple of ways. A couple of his sacks have come in sub-package football where he is an interior rusher. He is playing the defensive tackle position. He is very athletic to play inside. He has a relentless rush. Some of (his sacks) have been created simply because of hustle. Some of his edge sacks have come because he has a nice combination of rush moves. I think Green Bay was playing with a backup left tackle there the second half of that game and it showed. Boy, he went to work on that guy. He is an effort guy, he plays inside and outside – it has been happening in a variety of ways. Regardless of how it has been happening, seven is a pretty impressive total two weeks into the season.
Question: Is only having two sacks thus far indicative of your pass rush?
Mike Tomlin: I don’t necessarily think it is indicative of the type of rush we have been getting. We never use sacks to measure the quality of our rush. We want pressure applied to the quarterback. Ultimately, it is how the quarterback plays. Obviously we didn’t do a good enough a good enough job last week because Jay Cutler was effective. We need to do better.
Question: Do you have an injury update?
Mike Tomlin: Sure, I’m sorry. The only significant one of note is Tyrone Carter. He has a thigh contusion that may limit him in the beginning of the week. He should be fine by Thursday or so at the latest. Limas Sweed ran today and looked relatively well. He is going to go tomorrow. He may be limited in some form or fashion, but he is going to practice tomorrow. All other things considered, we are in good shape.
Question: Is Lawrence Timmons fine now?
Mike Tomlin: Yes he is.
Question: What would be the contingency plan is Carter cannot go?
Mike Tomlin: If he can’t go Ryan Mundy immediately steps up. He has been playing some for us in sub-package football. We also have some veteran corners who have position flexibility in Deshea Townsend and Keiwan Ratliff.
Question: Were you easing Timmons back in on Sunday?
Mike Tomlin: Yes, we were worried about his pitch count, if you will. We wanted to keep a snap total on him. The way we chose to monitor that was to let Keyaron Fox play in base and (Timmons) played in nickel. Then we balanced it out by playing Lawrence some in base if we wanted to get him some work. I thought it went relatively well. He played a decent amount of snaps. Both men were able to contribute on special teams. I think with another week of work he is going to be ready to go and we will be able to proceed with no worries about watching his snap total.
Question: Did you see Cutler make some changes from Week One to Week Two?
Mike Tomlin: No, I don’t necessarily think they were changes. Like I was talking about a week ago, when you have the kind of talent that Jay Cutler has, you are going to be a risk-taker. You are going to put some balls in tight places. He was able to do it against us successfully and he wasn’t able to do it successfully against Green Bay. Ultimately, that is the difference in the outcome of the two performances.
Question: Did the Bears make significant adjustments after the first quarter?
Mike Tomlin: I really think they were able to make some critical plays on third down. We were able to get them into third-down situations and then they made some plays – subtle movements in the pocket, Jay buying time, drifting and putting balls in difficult locations. Let’s face it, they had some receivers that made some nice plays for them. The rookie (Johnny) Knox played a rock-solid football game for them. The tight end, (number) 87 (Kellen Davis), stepped up and played well for them. They had Desmond Clark down. They had some guys respond and make some plays. That’s how we desire to play and win. We weren’t able to do it and they were.
Question: Can you talk about Carter saying he should’ve come out when he was hurt and they scored the tying touchdown?
Mike Tomlin: Really it’s no decision. When he gets medical clearance and is ready to go, we put him back in the game. That is what we did. We won’t second guess that decision or use hindsight in any regard. We trust our medical staff and we trust Ty. He is a professional. Maybe any comments he made after the fact was hindsight.
Question: Were you pleased with the improvement of your running game?
Mike Tomlin: I wasn’t pleased because we didn’t win, and ultimately, that’s going to be the approach that I take. I think the longer that I have this job, I’m less concerned about storylines or personas, if you will, and I’m more concerned about winning. I think that the great teams are capable of winning in many forms or fashions and playing to their strengths on a week-to-week basis based on the matchup. I thought a great deal about that, quite frankly, this off-season. You study a team like New England, and you watch them walk into a stadium offensively week-to-week; they can be whatever they choose to be. They can beat you with four wides, three wides, three tight ends, and it makes it very difficult for them to prepare for and ultimately beat. We have a desire to win a bunch of games. We have some guys who are capable of making plays. We have three or four wide outs that we’re comfortable with, two or three tight ends that we’re comfortable with, two or three backs that we’re comfortable with. We want to kind of create that same persona.
Question: Along those same lines, what does Cincinnati look to you to want to be like offensively, particularly those young guys still getting settled in up front?
Mike Tomlin: Honestly, they’re using Cedric Benson and using him well and controlling the clock. By that, they’ve won the time of possession, I think, in both football games. And of course, when the rubber meets the road, they have a good quarterback in Carson Palmer.
Question: Is balance still a goal offensively? Or is it whatever it takes to win?
Mike Tomlin: Ultimately, absolutely. You can’t truly be successful unless you have some form of balance. You can’t be a one-dimensional outfit with no intent to do those things. Ultimately, though, we’re interested in winning football games.
Question: Is the running game as important in the league as it once was, or seemed to be? Is it a passing league now?
Mike Tomlin: No, I truly believe that teams that are capable of running and stopping the run are going to be consistent winners in this game. And I think that’s timeless.
Question: Your first two games you’ve thrown maybe forty-some passes more than you’ve run. Is that because of the circumstances? Would you like to get more of a balance?
Mike Tomlin: I think two weeks in is too early to tell or place a persona on anybody. I think, over time, it’ll become more obvious what we are. We’re not interested in giving anybody a heads up.
Question: Any concerns with Jeff [Reed]’s psyche as you move forward?
Mike Tomlin: None.
Question: Did you talk to him at all?
Mike Tomlin: I chit chat with Jeff, but kicking is not in my area of expertise. I’ll leave that to him. I’m extremely confident that he’s capable of doing the job and doing it at a high level. I think we carried him off the field a week before. But that’s the story of the National Football League, isn’t it? If he’s a professional, and I know that he is, he’ll bounce back and deliver winning performances for us again.
Question: Santonio has been far and away Ben’s favorite target these past two weeks. Can you talk about what’s going into that?
Mike Tomlin: Nothing. He’s open, Ben’s throwing him the ball.
Question: On the second-and-12 play, you threw a pass to Mike Wallace on that last drive. It looked like the guy fell and he went out of bounds, but maybe it looked like he could have gotten a few more yards and set up a third and two. Was he getting out to stop the clock? Did you talk to him about what happened?
Mike Tomlin: No, I remember the play, but I didn’t ask him specifically what he was thinking. The footing was somewhat questionable over in that area. The defender slipped, Mike slipped, and I think a function of him not getting off the field was more of the fact that he was probably trying to regain his balance and get his bearings after catching the football. By the time he did that, the guy was closing on him and he got what he could get.
Question: There were a few key penalties in that game. I know you don’t like to speak to officials necessarily, but what did you tell your guys to do differently in some of those situations?
Mike Tomlin: Play smarter.
Question: You often used the phrase “September football”. Can you explain what you mean by that and how that impacts how you look at things right now that others may consider to be a shortcoming?
Mike Tomlin: I think truly in September football, teams are in a big phase of growth and development, and along the way, you have to find ways to win. I think you develop in personalities and roles, divisions of labor, over 60 or 60-plus minute football games, you start people getting used to playing that length of time. You start to get an understanding of what other people are capable of. Sometimes people show what they are in the preseason, sometimes they don’t. I think all of those things kind of make September football what it is. But the bottom line is the bottom line. Everyone’s going through those similar issues and you play, and you play to win. And that’s our job. And along the line, we answer some of those other questions or concerns. That’s what we intend to do. We better get back to the business of winning along the way.
Question: [James] Harrison has gotten so good at using his power and his leverage underneath some bigger offensive tackles over the years. It seems like this year, in the first couple games, the tackles have started using it against him by falling on him. If that’s not going to be called a penalty, what can he do to combat that?
Mike Tomlin: Well, I’m not ready at this point to consider that to be a trend, to be quite frank with you. We’ve just played two games. He’s applied some pressure. He hasn’t gotten home and gotten a sack yet, but maybe we’ll change that this weekend.
Question: You talked about the sack total, but it was obvious that Cutler was taking three, five short drops. I know that’s nothing new, but how do you combat that?
Mike Tomlin: We have to play good short defense, underneath defense. That rhythm, quick passing at times is a run game alternative. I thought we did a nice job of shutting down their running game. And really, what it became was a running game alternative. And of course, the minute you throw an incompletion or you don’t complete one of those passes, you’re behind the chains and ultimately, that’s what it’s about. You get them to throw an incomplete pass, you get them behind the chains, you get off on third down, and you go about your business. They did a nice job of completing those short passes, and even when they didn’t, they did a nice job at significant times of the game of converting those third down situations and moving some chains, and scoring a touchdown near the end of the second half and then also putting themselves in the position to kick the game winning field goal.
Question: Rashard Mendenhall made a couple big plays for you, particularly the 39-yard run. Are those the kinds of things that can give him some confidence? Can they make a difference in a player’s performance?
Mike Tomlin: I really don’t believe he’s lacking confidence at this point. He got an opportunity to play, and he delivered, which is what we expect him to do, and really, I think what he expects to do. And really, as we continue on, he’s going to get more opportunities, and he better produce more of those plays.