Audio from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin press conference on Tuesday November 10th. Tomlin addresses the upcoming week 10 Cincinnati Bengals game on Sunday and takes questions on the Monday night game as well. As far as injuries go, Tomlin said it is too early to know if defensive end Travis Kirschke (calf) and linebacker Lawrence Timmons (ankle) will be available this week. Tomlin did expect several veterans to be rested on Wednesday as well. Fullback Carey Davis will likely be out this week with a popped hamstring. Tomlin said he was happy with the play of Rashard Mendenhall and Ziggy Hood last night. Tomlin would not comment or discuss recently released Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson or any free agent for that matter. Transcript to follow shortly.
Mike Tomlin: Good afternoon. As I stated last night, that was a big win for our football team. Something that’s absolutely necessary. You’ve got to be able to go on the road and win against quality opponents, that’s something we haven’t done until last night. Thankfully we were able to get that done. Solid contribution by a lot of people, perseverance. Not the kind of fluid start that you look for offensively or defensively for that matter. They went down and kicked a field goal to start the game. Guys were resilient, they didn’t blink, they hung together and as the game wore on I think they imposed a will on the game. That’s what good teams have got to do. Hopefully that’s a signature moment for us. Hopefully what we do from here on out will kind of define that, which brings us here to today. We’ve got a big AFC North matchup this week versus the Cincinnati Bengals who are top of the division. A very hot football team, I respect those guys. Carson Palmer’s the guy that directs them. He’s a winner, he’s a competitor. When you look at what they’re doing offensively, they’re running the ball with Cedric Benson and Carson’s [Palmer] moving the chains on get-off downs and scoring touchdowns in the red zone. I think they’re number one in the NFL in red zone offense. When you’ve got a guy that’s running the ball the way [Cedric] Benson’s running the ball and you’re efficient in terms of putting seven points on the board when you’re in the red area, you’re going to win a bunch of football games. That’s going to be a big challenge for us. This week, when they get down there, make them kick field goals. Of course we’ve got to do a good job of tackling. Cedric Benson is running with a mission. He ran through Baltimore pretty good and that’s not something you hear said too often. Very durable, tough, great pad level. They’re feeding him and feeding him well. Guys like [Andre] Caldwell are emerging. If you talk about some of the differences and things that you see since the last time we played them, I think [Andre] Caldwell’s really emerging as a go-to target for Carson Palmer. Defensively, I think the young corner tandem is playing really well. Leon Hall, [Johnathan] Joseph. I think they have four picks a piece. Aside from the interceptions, they’ve been rock solid in coverage, it’s allowed them to put a bunch of people in the box, they’ve gotten after peoples’ run games, made them one dimensional; playing spirited and together. We’ve got our work cut out for us. We got a short week in which to do it. Preparation is going to be quality based instead of quantity based. Coming off a road game on Monday night, might exercise some precaution and protect some veteran players tomorrow, I can anticipate doing that, but we’ve got to get ready. We’ve got a big game at home. We’ll be back in Heinz Field in front of our home fans, AFC North critical matchup. Not much clarity in terms of injury issues, just hadn’t been back in town long enough, I’m sure as the afternoon wears on we’ll hear about minor bumps and bruises during the football game. The only significant injury was Carey Davis. Don’t have an update on him but I can pretty much imagine it’s going to be tough for him to participate this week. Usually when you pop a hamstring and you’re unable to come back in a football game, very rarely are you capable to participate next week.
Question: You mentioned this briefly in your opening statement. Do you take the time to differentiate not just what you did last night but how you did it? The way you closed out the game, the way you took control of a game on what you say a big stage?
Mike Tomlin: It’s encouraging, but it’s only going to be significant based on what we do from here on out. It’ll be a game or a moment that we’ll be able to point back to of significance if we use it and move forward and let that become our consistent personality in terms of how we finish football games. We’re going to need to those kinds of performances as we continue down the road because each week, with each win, these games get bigger.
Question: Do those kinds of things tend to serve as building blocks to get you to where you want to go?
Mike Tomlin: I always proceed with caution with that mentality. I’m less concerned about what we’ve done in the past and more concerned about what we’re going to do in terms of meeting the challenges that lie ahead. I think it’s great for the group, I think it builds confidence, but what we do is ultimately going to determine what that moment or how that game closed out is going to be perceived.
Question: Can you talk about the performance of your defense and the importance of Dick LeBeau and the adjustments he continues to make and made last night?
Mike Tomlin: I don’t know that we made any adjustments last night in the midst of that, really. I just thought we had a pretty good plan, they had a pretty good plan. Denver you have to give those guys credit. They came out and made some plays on us early. We stuck to that plan, we respected those two runners and what they were capable of doing with those two guys. That was first and foremost, to slow down [Correll] Buckhalter and Knowshon Moreno. Once we were able to do that, I thought we were able to get consistent pressure up the middle of the pocket with some of our blitz packages. Guys like James Farrior and Keyaron Fox really created a lot of disruption. Even though neither guy registered a sack, they created disruption. They broke the pocket down. Guys did a nice job of complimenting that with solid coverage on the back end. And as the evening wore on, we were able to gain a significant advantage in that regard.
Question: How difficult is it to stay patient when it looks like, they keep converting, yet somehow you guys know that it’s eventually going to run out?
Mike Tomlin: You know, that’s the name of the game. You’re not always going to have it your way in the National Football League. I wish that were the case, but we’re realistic people. Those other teams-they work too. They’re prepared. Every now and then, they’re going to move the chains or run up the scoreboard on you. We’ve got to trust one another and our plan, and generally, as a football team, we do that.
Question: Speaking of being patient, you struggled offensively for two quarters, and then the four-play, 80-yard drive-was it the no huddle? Was it the bunch formation? Was it getting the running game going? What changed?
Mike Tomlin: I really just think it was finding our rhythm. I’m not naïve; we’re a team that was coming off of a bye. I thought that it was really important that we find that rhythm. It probably took us longer than we would have liked. We didn’t possess the ball that much in the first half. Whenever you have a pick-six and the other team is moving the ball some offensively, you’re going to spend a lot of time watching. We did that. We were able to establish our rhythm and get some things going and move the chains a little bit. We fell into a comfort zone. Even with that first drive of the second half being a sack-fumble which they returned for a touchdown, I still felt pretty comfortable that we were finding our rhythm and moving the ball. And the subsequent drive confirmed that.
Question: As far as [Cedric] Benson goes, what do you see now that maybe was not apparent when he was with Chicago?
Mike Tomlin: I really didn’t study him that much when he was in Chicago. I know that he’s a talented guy, he was maybe the 4th pick in the draft. So pedigree is not a question. He’s experienced some adversity, I think all men grow and learn from adversity. It’s obvious that he’s done that, and he’s matured, just based on the result of his performances. He’s an inspired, motivated runner, and it shows up on tape and I’m sure that they’re glad to see that he’s in that state of mind at this point.
Question: Is it maybe a similar story to what you guys have seen in Rashard [Mendenhall], maybe finding his way through the NFL after having success in college?
Mike Tomlin: Two totally different guys, I think, and two totally different scenarios. Rashard is a young guy that came onto a good team. Young guys don’t get their turn right away when they come to good teams. They have to earn it, they have to wait. He’s done both, and now, he’s taken advantage of it.
Question: Was last night a statement game, in your opinion?
Mike Tomlin: Again, I think it’s only a statement game if we run with it. It was a good game, I’m not going to make more out of it than what it is, to be honest with you. If we proceed and continue to grow and get better, it’s a game that we can point back to when the dust settles in March or February. But at this point, I’m not ready to say that.
Question: How much different are the Bengals on defense from what you saw on tape last season and if they’re a lot different, who do you think made the biggest difference?
Mike Tomlin: I don’t know that they’re very different in terms of what they’re trying to do. I think there are a couple things. Number one, I think continuity is big. Coach Zimmer’s been there now, and anytime you’ve got continuity, it’s a plus. The better that you understand the minute details in your assignments, the better chance you have to execute them. It creates flash plays, which of course is what they’re creating. But they’re also added some high-quality players. Guys like Tank Johnson, high-round draft picks, getting good corner play. Their corners are growing into veteran players-I think it’s year four, year three for their young first-round corner that they have. I think all those things make them an emerging, rock-solid group. It’s just part of rolling your sleeves up and going to work every day. And obviously, they’ve done that.
Question: If there’s one thing that you guys absolutely have to do better than last time to beat these guys, what would it be?
Mike Tomlin: Just play 60 minutes of football. I hadn’t really pondered that thought at this point. More of an information gathering mentality, looking at how they’ve changed and emerged since the last time we played them. But knee-jerk reaction would be just to be prepared to play 60-plus minutes of football, which, of course, is what we did not do last time.
Question: What do they have behind Chris Henry? What will they go with behind him?
Mike Tomlin: I’m sure they’re going to answer that one, but they’re getting contributions from a lot of people. Laveranues Coles, [Andre] Caldwell, like I mentioned-of course, [Chad] Ochocinco is one of the top guys in the league in terms of catches and yards. He’s scoring touchdowns for them. They’re not going to have a shortage of potential targets for Carson Palmer. They have a high-round draft pick in Jerome Simpson, I think from Coastal Carolina, that’s a young guy about the same age as Caldwell. I imagine he’s working hard every day and might be ready to seize an opportunity. Carson’s going to have somebody to throw it to.
Question: Does a win change the way you approach this week? From how much time you spent on last night’s game, or do you move right into Cincinnati?
Mike Tomlin: Right into Cincinnati, you have to. Time is of the essence. We’re on a running clock. We’re 30-plus hours behind those guys from a preparation standpoint, and you have to respect that. Not going to complain about it, we have no control over that. The standard will be the standard for us on Sunday, so we better work today and tomorrow of course moving forward when we get our guys back in the building. But make no mistake, we have to work hard. But we also have to work smart, quality over quantity. You have to be very thoughtful about the looks and reps that we provide our guys, because we acknowledge the wear and tear that playing on Monday night does to you.
Question: Are there any signs of [Travis] Kirschke and [Lawrence] Timmons coming back?
Mike Tomlin: I don’t know at this point, and really, don’t know because we haven’t had an opportunity to visit with those guys since we’ve returned from Denver. I’d imagine that they’re going to be closer. When I get that information, I’d be happy to share it-or not.
Question: This was kind of a two-team race last year between you and Baltimore. How much more interesting is it in the north now that the Bengals are a player this far into the season?
Mike Tomlin: It’s really not surprising that they’re a player in the game. They got their franchise quarterback back. They’re gaining continuity on defense. They picked up Cedric Benson, who ran very well over the second half of last year. He’s back. So it’s not surprising that they’re in the mix. We know what Baltimore is about and what they’re capable of. I think that everybody in this division takes a great deal of pride in the quality of the teams in this division and how we play football in this division. I’m sure I speak for the entire division when I say we’ll put what we do up against any division in football. It’s going to be an exciting game inside of Heinz Field, one that we’re going to be excited to be a part of. Classic AFC North warfare.
Question: Does Stefan Logan have the green light on every kick, or maybe would you like him to use a little bit more discretion?
Mike Tomlin: We’re going to play to win. And as long as he’s catching the ball, above the waist, inside of the framework of his body with a forward movement mentality, he’s got the green light to play to win. And that’s what he did last night.
Question: What do you like best so far from what you’ve seen about Rashard Mendenhall’s running style, and what are some things that he still needs to get better at?
Mike Tomlin: I think he’s doing a nice job of seeing blocks develop, and very rarely is he missing holes. The vision aspect of the game that has very little to do with physical skill, I think he’s doing a nice job of. I think he’s finishing off runs. I think that when he gets into the second level, into the secondary, he’s doing a nice job of making what could be 8 to 10-yard runs into 20 to 25-yard runs. That speaks to his pedigree and what he’s capable of doing. But I’m sure Rashard will agree with me when I say that he can grow in all aspects and areas of his game. This is a young guy. The more he plays, he’s going to improve. The more he walks into this building, right-minded, ready to work, on a daily basis, the more he will improve. We like what we’re getting from him with regards to that.
Question: There was one that he broke last night that he took out of bounds at the end of it. Is that a good play sometimes, or would you prefer that he gets every yard he can?
Mike Tomlin: It’s not as significant as one might think. It wasn’t inside of five minutes, so the clock continued to run. But that kind of speaks to what I was talking about earlier. Everything is a learning process for young guys, but we like where he is.
Question: With Carey [Davis]’s injury, there’s now a former Pro-Bowl guy from Penn State who always wanted to play here and is now available. If this guy called you and came to your door on bended knee and said he was a changed man, do you guys have interest?
Mike Tomlin: I don’t discuss free agents, because that opens Pandora’s Box. We could be talking about anybody that’s unemployed. I tend to focus on the guys who are in our locker room and on our team right now.
Question: Unlike past years, Carson Palmer (at least on two occasions) has made huge fourth down runs-one won the Cleveland game, and he had a big fourth-and-one run. Is that something that you just have to give to a quarterback, or is that something you can prepare for now that he appears willing to take off if he has to?
Mike Tomlin: You have to respect that, and you have to rush with that in mind. I was just looking at the Baltimore game this morning, he pulled down a third-and-six. This guy’s playing with an edge. He’s missed some football. He’s committed to driving this team. Guys of that mindset will move the chains by any means possible. So we have to respect that element of it as we prepare, and ultimately as we play and rush them.
Question: Did you like what you saw out of Ziggy [Hood] last night?
Mike Tomlin: I did. I thought it was above the line. Like Rashard and like young guys like Mike Wallace who are playing a bunch for us, their best days hopefully lie ahead, as long as they remain humble and continue to work. I thought he was disruptive last night. His pressure created that interception return that Tyrone Carter had. But he’s still a guy in development, a guy who will be the first to tell you that. He’s working extremely hard, and I’m more pleased with what he does in here throughout the week than I am with what he does inside of stadiums at this point.
Question: Has the emergence of Wallace-do you see any other defenses having difficulty deciding who they’re trying to take away, as far as your receivers go?
Mike Tomlin: No, I think they’re still committed to taking away Hines [Ward] on third down, and not letting Santonio [Holmes] get over the top. He’s still earning his stripes, his reputation doesn’t precede him in that regard. He’s got some Super Bowl MVPs that he plays with, he’s got a rock-solid veteran tight end that he plays with. I’d imagine that he’s down the to-do list for a lot of people when they play us, but he is making plays when given the opportunity.
Question: With Champ Bailey going on Santonio and Santonio catching all six balls his direction, what does that say about him?
Mike Tomlin: You know, Santonio’s a competitor. He probably would’ve been insulted if Champ hadn’t looked him up. That’s the mentality of those guys that play the game. He’s doing a nice job for us. And I’m equally as pleased with some of the things that he’s doing that don’t necessarily show up. I think he’s playing a complete game, I think he’s doing a nice job of blocking in the run game and some of our perimeter screen game for Hines and others that we throw the ball to. He’s really maturing as a player.