Audio from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin press conference on Tuesday November 3rd. Tomlin addresses the upcoming week 9 Denver Broncos game on Monday night. As far as injuries go, tackle Ramon Foster (back ), defensive end Travis Kirschke (calf) and linebacker Lawrence Timmons (ankle) could all be limited early in week of practice. Safety Ryan Clark will not have a decision made on his playing status until later in the week. Transcript to follow shortly.
Mike Tomlin: Good afternoon. A lot of reasons for us to be excited this week. Monday Night Football road game in a tough environment in Denver versus a very good football team of course. Excited to come back and get back in the cycle of competing, coming off a rested bye week as a football team. Really anxious to get back to work and really, that’s what’s going to be needed as we prepare for this game. When you look at Denver and what they’re capable of doing or how they do what it is that they do, they’re very efficient offensively. I think it starts at the quarterback position with Kyle Orton. This guy doesn’t throw interceptions. He’s thrown one this year, he doesn’t get sacked, he’s only been sacked 11 times. He does a nice job of taking care of the football and spreading it around to a variety of people. Their screen game is rock solid as well is their misdirection passing. Brandon Marshall is the leading target. We know the physical skill set of this guy and the matchup issues that this guy creates. He’s big, strong and fast, he can drop his weight, he’s very tough to get on the ground after he catches the football. Along with him, savvy veteran [Brandon] Stokley, Eddie Royal of course is an emerging young guy who plays similarly to how Wes Welker played in New England for Coach [Josh] McDaniels, they do a nice job of featuring him in some matchup areas, getting him against linebackers and working in tight spaces. He does a nice job of that. Their running game is handled by a quality first rounder in [Knowshon] Moreno and [Correll] Buckhalter who they picked up in free agency. They’ve got a rock solid offense. Defensively, right now statistically they have the number one defense statistically in the NFL. The tape bears that out. They put a bunch of pressure on the quarterback, they’ve got 23 sacks, [Elvis] Dumervil has got 10 alone himself but they’ve got some other quality men they’ve picked up in the off season. Darrell Reid has three sacks, Vonnie Holiday had a big sack the other week for them up front. In the back end they’ve added Brian Dawkins who not only provides top quality leadership, but really is playing at a high level when you watch the tape, makes significant plays, particularly on off downs, you’ve got to be conscious of where he is. That’s one of the things that they’re excelling at as a unit. Their third down defense is really awesome and really that’s a part of playing good defense as they spend quite a bit of time on the sideline because they do a nice job of getting themselves off the field on third down. Eddie Royal is equally or more dangerous in the return game as he is offensively. He single-handedly dominated a football game there for them a few weeks back. So for those reasons and for many others, we’re preparing with an edge this week as I assure they are. We’re a quality football team that’s kind of been through the things that they’ve been through and coming off of a performance that they’re coming off of, we can fully expect that they’re going to be preparing with an edge as well. Very tough to beat in their place, they’ve beat some top quality opponents already this year in Denver. Dallas and New England for example, in both of those games I think they were behind 10-0, this team has shown a great deal of resolve and resiliency they’ve found ways to win football games, they won late against Cincinnati. That’s what 6-1 or winning football teams do. We’ve got a lot of respect for what’s waiting for us in Denver, with that being said we got a lot of work ahead of us this week. Looking at some of our injury situations or health situations like we talked about yesterday with Ryan Clark, he’s received medical clearance to participate in this game from a team of doctors. We still have yet to determine if we’re going to allow him to do that, he has yet to determine whether or not he is willing to do that. What we’re going to do is just continue to prepare this week with he and others and make that decision at an appropriate time. What we don’t want to do is come to a decision too early in the week and then have second thoughts later in the week. We’re going to make the decision once, and then we’re going to play football. Regardless whether or not Ryan [Clark] participates in this game, the standard will be the same for not only our secondary but for our football team. Also, guys that are dealing with situations, Ramon Foster has some back discomfort, it may limit him at the early part of this week. Travis Kirschke has a calf strain which he sustained in the Vikings game, he’s questionable. Lawrence Timmons has an ankle sprain which he sustained in the Vikings game, other than that, we’re doing pretty good. It’s exciting to get into the thick of this thing, to move into November, to play top quality opponents, to cut to the chase if you will to find out if we can play football. That’s really what we’re in the process of doing right now, playing teams like the Vikings and now preparing to play a team like the Denver Broncos, it’s a good thing, it’s something that really stokes your fire, but that being said, we’ve got some work to do.
Question: What did Baltimore do to beat the Denver Broncos?
Mike Tomlin: The story of the game is less about Denver and more about Baltimore. Baltimore started out 3-0, they had dropped three games. We know that that’s a prideful group, that’s a talented group, well coached, great players. They went to the bye week, they were scolded if you will, they came out fighting. Not a surprise from my standpoint, just like it won’t be a surprise from my standpoint if we get Denver’s best absolute shot because they’re a quality team that’s well coached coming off a sub-par performance.
Question: Do you worry about losing your edge because of the bye week?
Mike Tomlin: I don’t. I’ve never been a part of a bye week that didn’t come at an appropriate time. It seems like it’s always on time and when it’s over, you’re ready to get back at it and such is the case this time.
Question: You gave the team an off week during the bye week, is it because the bye week was later this year?
Mike Tomlin: It was a function that added some other things. We’re a veteran group, it’s been well documented we had a short off season, etcetera, etcetera. I’m always going to try and do what’s appropriate for the 53 men that we work with and I’m really not going to subscribe to any theory or approach in terms how to deal with each individual decision that we make. We’re just going to try and do what’s best for the team at that appropriate time, that’s what I thought was appropriate for this group of men last week.
Question: What did you do with the rookies during the bye week?
Mike Tomlin: No we did some fundamental development, we got some individual instruction, we went out and worked on elements of their game, technical things that they need to improve in, we hit some weights, we got some classroom instruction. It’s still about growing and developing, not only individually those young men but as a football team and the more individualized time we can give a young football player, I think the better we’re going to be for it. We’ve got some young guys that are contributing mightily to our efforts at this point and I would imagine that that’s going to increase so we’ve got to continue to keep those guys game ready.
Question: Percentage-wise, you’ve been running low, is it because of the way that the season’s going?
Mike Tomlin: It’s really how the season’s unfolded, we’re just trying to do what’s required for us to win at the same time we’re interested in maintaining some semblance of balance so people can respect all the elements of our games and ways we can attack them.
Question: What’s Willie’s [Parker] status?
Mike Tomlin: on’t know yet, hadn’t talk to he or the training staff in regards to him but again, he’s just a little under the weather, he should be fine.
Question: You’ve had a lot of success in prime time games and coming off the bye week, is this doubly good for you?
Mike Tomlin: If you like challenges, this one has just about everything you’re looking for. You’ve got a great team in their venue, Monday Night Football, it’s going to be awesome, all we need is Howard Cosell.
Question: Pittsburgh and Baltimore both play physical. Do you think Denver doesn’t react well to physical teams?
Mike Tomlin: No I don’t want to paint with a broad brush in regards to that or what happened in Baltimore, I just think the Denver Broncos ran into a buzz saw. Any team that would’ve come into Baltimore this past Sunday would’ve had a heck-of-a time winning that football game. Baltimore is a veteran savvy football team that’s well coached who had come off a streak of a couple games that they didn’t believe was satisfactory and had a chance to gather themselves, fine-tune some things, get an edge to themselves, come off a bye week at their place. It was going to be tough sledding if the All-Madden team came into Baltimore last weekend.
Question: Talk about how halftime breaks can affect teams.
Mike Tomlin: There’s a flow in every football game and if you’re a good team it doesn’t affect you very much other than the fact that you spring into action. You don’t react to those situations you respond to them. What I mean is respond with a thoughtful approach. There’s going to be ups and downs in a football game, teams that usually win find a way to push through those things and give themselves a chance in the end and then the moments not too big for them. That’s what Denver’s done for the vast majority of the season, Dallas, New England, Cincinnati, high quality wins versus top quality teams, they don’t blink in the significant moments at the end of football games and they’re a 6-1 team because of it. Again, what happened last week is what happened last week. As we prepare and as I look at them, I look at the total picture and I think that’s the prudent thing to do. More importantly, when I look at what happened to them last week, if anything, your sense of urgency picks up because you know they’re the professionals that they are that they look to bounce back from that performance.
Question: It’s been said that Denver doesn’t try a lot of deep shots. Is that what the tape shows, and if so, without Ryan potentially, if he can’t go-how much will that ease your burden in that regard?
Mike Tomlin: I’m not concerned about whether or not Ryan doesn’t go at this point. That decision hasn’t been made. They choose to attack people how they choose to attack people. They spread the ball around, I think efficiency is their motto. The stats bear that out. They don’t turn the ball over, they don’t get sacked, they’re playing great defense, there’s a formula for winning. And one that they’ve won quite a bit with.
Question: Is that the biggest strength of Orton, that he’s efficient and doesn’t make mistakes?
Mike Tomlin: I really think so. If you really have to pinpoint what he’s doing extremely well, he’s not throwing interceptions and he’s not getting sacked. And when you don’t do that, coupled with a great defense, you’re going to be about 6-1.
Question: Is their offensive line-do they do anything special since he’s not getting sacked?
Mike Tomlin: They’re very athletic; they’re a very athletic group. Their left tackle, a young guy, [Ryan] Clady, is one of the best in the world. Ben Hamilton is a good player. They have some top-quality linemen who are athletic people, who get after it and hustle, are pretty good at spacing the screen game, really good in the misdirection passing game. They do a lot of things well, and they’re built to do what it is that they’re doing.
Question: With Travis and some of the health issues he’s had, do you have to limit or monitor the number of snaps as you move forward? If so, how does that impact things?
Mike Tomlin: We hadn’t worried about limiting his snaps in football games. At times, we’re very conscious about limiting his snaps during the course of the work week. But when we step into a stadium, we come to play. And if he’s good to play, he plays.
Question: Is [Elvis] Dumervil doing more than winning one-on-one battles with his folks?
He is, and I think the scheme of what Coach Nolan is doing over there is very helpful to him. He’s one of those unique body types. He’s moving around some, attacking different people, dropping into coverage and so forth. Of course, they’re playing a 3-4 scheme now, they’re playing some 4-2 stuff and sub-package ball. It’s tough to get a beat on where he is, he’s got 10 sacks. Sometimes he’s coming off the right side, sometimes he’s coming off the left side. Sometimes he’s gaming. He’s getting it done in a variety of ways.
Question: Is he comparable to anybody?
Mike Tomlin: Nothing really comes to mind at this point. I know he’s a very skilled tactician in terms of how he approaches his rush. His hand usage is very good, he’s a good leverage player, he’s extremely quick.
Question: Do you guys go into a game with a set amount of no-huddle offense scheduled to run? What goes into the decision making in terms of how much to run the no-huddle?
Mike Tomlin: We really don’t go in with a set schedule of how much no-huddle we’re going to run. We might go in with a set schedule of when we’re going to run it the first time, initially. Really, it’s a feel of the flow of the game, how the afternoon is unfolding, what the physical matchups are-the normal decision-making that goes into game planning, if you will, and then game plan adjusting as you proceed through a football game.
Question: Is Ben [Roethlisberger] as good, from what you’ve seen, on buying time and being able to make plays? Is that something that not just anybody can do? It seems easy to say that he can run around and buy time, but you have to know what you’re doing, is that correct?
Mike Tomlin: It’s definitely a strength of his game, physical strength and mental strength. He has a lot of physical attributes that lend themselves to those things. He’s a big guy, a strong guy, he’s surprisingly mobile. He’s a competitor. He’s pretty good in that area, but also good in other areas.
Question: You mentioned about schemes defensively, with Dumervil. When you take a look at McDaniels, a lot of folks may be surprised with [Kyle] Orton’s numbers based on what he did in Chicago. Are you seeing him fit into what McDaniels did in New England?
Mike Tomlin: It looks very similar to New England to me, at this point. When I talk about some of the things that Eddie Royal is doing, it’s very similar to how Wes Walker attacks people. They personnel you, they formation you, their wide receiver screen game is very good, their running back screen game is very complex and developed, their misdirection passing, and when necessary, they’re very capable of taking shots downfield. It really looks a lot like New England, of course, other than the fact that they don’t have Tom Brady playing quarterback. They have Kyle Orton.
Question: How much, if any, improvement have you seen in Ziggy [Hood] in the weeks since Aaron Smith got hurt, and could he take on an even more increased role if Travis [Kirschke] can’t go?
Mike Tomlin: It’s less about in the weeks since Aaron Smith got hurt, and it’s more about the development and growth of a young guy. He comes in every day with a mindset to get better. He’s a very hard and diligent worker. He’s showing improvement on the practice field. He’s a tough guy to block on Wednesdays and Thursdays, which means that at some point, he’s going to be a tough guy to block on Sundays. We’ll see when that happens.
Question: Do the two TD returns against you prompt any changes in your kickoff coverage?
Mike Tomlin: Not necessarily any changes, but an emphasis. And the emphasis is geared around fundamentals, always has been, always will be. When things aren’t going well, when something’s broken, that’s how I know to fix it. To get back to the minute details in terms of how schemes are built, or adjusted and played; that’s what we’re doing. We’re looking at putting together the best combination of people, maybe moving some people around, maybe inserting some people, removing some people. That’s what you do when you’re not having success. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s any better than the original plan; if it was, you’d have probably done it the first time. But when you’re not having success, you make changes. And that’s what we’re in the process of doing.
Question: How big a part is Andre Frazier on those teams?
Mike Tomlin: He’s a big part of not only those teams but all of our special teams units. But you guys know that we’re not in the business of making excuses. I’m not going to take part in that.
Question: How fine a line is it when you have returns for touchdowns against you? Is it usually one breakdown, or does it happen all at once?
Mike Tomlin: You’d be surprised at how close each individual kick is to going to the house. That’s just the National Football League. We have a young man who we believe is an exciting return man, he’s had a few that were close. We’ve had some that have been close against us, we’ve had some that have gone the distance. There’s a fine margin for error in the National Football League, not only on kickoff coverage units but every time that ball is snapped and put in play.
Question: Has the League wanted or offered any communication on Ryan’s status over the past week or so?
Mike Tomlin: I haven’t communicated with anybody in New York with regards to that, no.
Question: Even with the injury report?
Mike Tomlin: Hadn’t thought about it. Really, don’t have to list anything until Thursday. That’s a few ticks down my road. You guys know I’m a “one foot in front of the other” kind of guy. I’ll worry about that about Wednesday night.
Question: You mentioned your kick returner and Logan being close. Is he on the verge of doing a little bit more with the punt return game as well?
Mike Tomlin: Again, we’ve had some moments of encouragement, some things that are close. But until we do, we’re just a unit in development and he’s a man in development in that area.
Question: With the success of the no-huddle, what would be the potential drawbacks of going to it too much?
Mike Tomlin: Of course, when you’re in the no-huddle, you don’t have your full arsenal in terms of ways that you can attack people. You have a sufficient amount of plays, but you have a limited number of formations, shifts, audibles, and so forth. A lot of times, game environment has a lot to do with it; weather, crowd, game location, etc. There’s a lot of things, a myriad of things that go into the decision as to whether to execute no-huddle or how much of it to execute. It’s just a part of what we do, just like wildcat is a part of what some other people do. It’s an element of our game, not something that we get overly enamored with. It’s a toolbox. Every now and then, we pull it out.
Question: Some coaches have gone into Denver earlier, some have gone in later, trying to combat altitude. Do you have any changes in your travel plan?
Mike Tomlin: None. We’re going to refuse to acknowledge that that’s going to be a variable in the outcome of the game. We acknowledge that it exists, but we’re not going to acknowledge that it’s significant enough to determine the outcome of the game. We’re going to go play, and let that determine the outcome.
Question: Do you change your substitution packages because of it?
Mike Tomlin: Potentially. That’s something that’s part of the in-game adjustments that we’ll deal with, if necessary.
Question: It seems like there’s a lot of franchises right now that are having trouble even winning a game. I wondered, with this franchise, what is it about ownership is it that you’ve noticed that lends itself to such stability and consistency?
Mike Tomlin: It’s tough to win games, I can acknowledge that. Every week, it’s a grind. We’ve got quality ownership. I think that’s no secret; the stability, the vision, the singular focus. It’s easy to come to work here. Really, I don’t have a comment with regards with how they are to other owners. Don’t know a lot of other owners, haven’t worked with a lot of other owners. A good place to be is Pittsburgh, Pa.
Question: You were asked about some of the variables with the no-huddle and teams that have struggled winning in Denver. Is that place any different than others in terms of how that impacts the huddle? Or is it again, like any other place, when you get up by two touchdowns, it’s less of an issue?
Mike Tomlin: I think that the mystique, in terms of playing in Denver, is that they’ve consistently had good teams. And good players and good coaches. And those places are generally tough to win in when you’re a visiting team. No different than Pittsburgh, Pa., or New England, or Indianapolis, or anywhere else that’s consistently fielding good football teams. When you go in there, you’ve got problems.