Audio from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin press conference on Monday December 7th. Tomlin addresses the upcoming week 14 Cleveland Browns game on Thursday night and takes questions on yesterday\’s Raiders game as well. As far as injuries go, Tomlin said Troy Polamalu (knee) will likely be sidelined once again. He reiterated that Troy\’s health will dictate when he returns. Defensive end Travis Kirschke (calf) could be back this week. Backup quarterback Charlie Batch (wrist) will be sized up for a soft cast and will try to work this week. Wide receiver Hines Ward (hamstring) is not looking good to play this week after suffering a hamstring strain late in the game on Sunday. Running back Rashard Mendenhall (ankle) has left ankle sprain and swelling and will likely be limited on Tuesday, but should be good to play this week. Cornerback William Gay (concussion) is going through test, but does not seem like he will be ready. Regardless, rookie cornerbacks Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis will see time this week. Also Tomlin noted a change schematically in the secondary defense. Also receivers Mike Wallace and Limas Sweed will see their roles increase this week, especially if Ward is down. Transcript to follow shortly.
Mike Tomlin: Good Afternoon. Very disappointed in the defeat yesterday. I think it’s appropriate at this point that we acknowledge that we have an undesirable pattern kind 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 behavior’s 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. 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 a fourth and half-a-yard on a quarterback sneak. We threw an interception on first down in the red area that took other points of 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, of course, which we missed. When you’re squandering your scoring opportunities offensively, you’re giving up plays and not making plays at critical moment defensively, you have a pattern of behavior that’s unacceptable that’s going to produce some losses which of course is what has happened. We acknowledge that we accept full responsibility for that. We’re going to take appropriate action and 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 dealing with a short week, we understand that, but so is 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 of course what definitely need. When you look at us from an injury standpoint, in the game, William Gay sustained a concussion. We’ll take him through the procedure that we take guys through coming off a concussion. He’ll get 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 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 mid-field, 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 here for a soft cast and I think we’re going to get some participation out of him at practice or at least attempt to and we’ll see where that goes. 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 left 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’s [Polamalu] continuing to be evaluated, I don’t think he’s going to play in this football game, and all the other bumps and bruises are just that, bumps and bruises. Including the emotional ones, we’ll mend those as well and we better do it quickly, because we have a game to play Thursday night.
Question: Is it at the point, “make a play give yourselves a chance, don’t make the play, basically go home?”
Mike Tomlin: Certainly, it is.
Question: Who starts at cornerback assuming William Gay doesn’t play?
Mike Tomlin: 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.
Question: You want to leave Deshea [Townsend] in the dime?
Mike Tomlin: Yes.
Question: Can you tell us what some of the other changes might be?
Mike Tomlin: You know, it’s very early in the week. If it was a 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 playing adjustments right now. But I can assure you, there are going to be some.
Question: Will there be many changes?
Mike Tomlin: Whatever we think is appropriate in terms of giving ourselves a chance to win based on the matchup with the Cleveland Browns. Subtle in some areas, not so subtle in others, but I’m acknowledging that I’m very open to that.
Question: Will they be on defense?
Mike Tomlin: All three phases.
Question: Talk about the mental wounds that need to be healed.
Mike Tomlin: You have to acknowledge the potential that this can be kind of a shaken group. We’ve swallowed a lot here 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. It’s going to provide quality information for me, in terms of who, legitimately, is mentally tough and who can stand the test of 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 the football game. I’m going to be very interested to see who those people are, and who those people aren’t.
Question: Have they lost some equity some what they may have earned after winning a championship? Are you re-evaluating people in that regard now?
Mike Tomlin: Certainly, but I didn’t carry the equity of a championship into this season. I think I’ve been pretty clear about of my mentality with regards to that. I’ve said it since day one that each season is one that is very different, and that what we do stands alone even if a lot of the people are the same people. Nothing stays this same in this game, and players are ascending and descending; people catch up with schemes, schemes evolve. Playing and coaching, this thing is ever-changing. And we acknowledge that. You’re always slow to talk about equity from season to season in terms of some of the things that lead to discussion and decision-making. I’m more concerned, or more focused, on the equity that’s built over the course of a season, particularly as we sit here with this one.
Question: That said, some of the players publicly talked about how this season contrasts with last year. Is that the type of thing that you can do without, and maybe something that you view as a red flag, something that you just can’t have at this point?
Mike Tomlin: I think they comment on those differences because they ask those questions. Those are just questions that you’re asked, those are just questions that I’m asked, so I respond to them. I think a lot of those discussions are generated by questions that aren’t printed or aired, or given appropriate recognition. Those guys are going to be professional. They communicate with you guys, they answer questions; sometimes, those answers involve discussions that I’d rather not have. But they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.
Question: Are you satisfied with the leadership that you’re getting and do you challenge guys to step up?
Mike Tomlin: To this point, we’ve got quality leaders. We’ve got quality guys. It’s not about the type of leadership that we have or the type of people that we are; 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 some of those known leaders, to provide quality leadership. I think that at times such as this, everyone’s capable of being their best selves and positively affecting their environment or work situation.
Question: How is Mike Wallace, and is he ready to take on an expanded role on Thursday if, in fact, Hines [Ward] cannot go?
Mike Tomlin: 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, opportunities to play and make plays. I’d imagine that that will continue, and I’d 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. That may require more than one person to fill that void.
Question: There seems to be a disconnect here in so many of the losses; you throttle a team for three quarters, and then the fourth quarter, it seems like a whole new game. Is it the defenses you call, the plays that the opponent runs-what changes?
Mike Tomlin: I don’t know if anything changes other than the fact that 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 that most games are close, or move in a certain fashion for three, three and a half quarters, and then the cream rises at the end. Obviously, we’re a very average football team as we sit here today. Our record indicates that, and our recent record indicates that that might be a kind assessment. I’m just being very realistic about where we are, and I think that we all need to do that. Because that’s going to give us the necessary clarity to change it.
Question: You mentioned emotional wounds with the players. How difficult has this been for you to go through, and what do you do with your emotional wounds to try and lead this team down the stretch?
Mike Tomlin: I’m very thoughtful that I display the attributes that I ask my guys to. I think that’s part of leadership. I love the challenges that this profession provides, even when it’s miserable. It’s awesome, it really is. I love it. I don’t like where we are, I don’t like losing football games, particularly in the manner in which we’re losing them. But I love what I do. I love coming in here, I love building it, and I love the challenges. That hasn’t changed, and I doubt that’ll ever change. That’s just my perspective that I have on this game and my relationship that I have with this game, and one that I hope spills over to other people.
Question: Will you go with three wide receivers, or possibly add a fourth?
Mike Tomlin: We’ll possibly add a fourth, depending on Hines’ availability.
Question: Are you they kind of coach that gets involved a lot schematically, and will that change? Will you put more of your handprint on some of these things?
Mike Tomlin: I do, and I will, because it’s appropriate at this time.
Question: Was there a miscommunication yesterday in the secondary?
Mike Tomlin: 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 and finish games. We have to make plays, we have to put guys in better positions to make plays. We have to do that.
Question: When do you anticipate having those lineup changes finalized?
Mike Tomlin: Maybe Thursday at 6:30. The hay’s not going to be in the barn this week; we’re going to keep bailing it until the eleventh hour with some changes, if possible.
Question: As far as Troy [Polamalu] goes, are you going to re-evaluate any position on his availability given your playoff position?
Mike Tomlin: No, his availability is based on his health. 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.
Question: I’m talking either way-would you consider not playing him the rest of the year, depending on how his health coincides with where the playoffs are? Or will he definitely come back?
Mike Tomlin: I play to win. I play to win. If that scoreboard is on, we’re playing to win. Last I heard, they’re going to have it on.
Question: There’s a lot of talk about teams, after winning a championship having a target on your back. Have you seen other teams giving you their best shot, particularly in the fourth quarter?
Mike Tomlin: 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 that when I worked with other teams, the week you play the Steelers, you know what kind of football game you’re 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’d like to think that that doesn’t determine the outcome of football games, that our play does. And I’m a believer in that.
Question: Six games losing streaks also seem to follow championships with other teams. Any idea of why that could be a trend?
Mike Tomlin: I don’t want to make excuses. I think that when you ponder those things and you look for a pattern of reasons why, it becomes excuse-making. And I’m not in the business of that. I don’t live in that world. I know it might be reasonable to some, but I’m not a reasonable person when it comes to football. I try to win at every opportunity.
Question: To that point, a lot of focus is on the fourth quarter, but the whole second half of the year’s gone backwards. Is that the type of thing that can potentially go back to the lengths of last year, the demands of the off-season? Or is this the deal right now that it comes down to scheme, execution and players?
Mike Tomlin: Scheme, execution and players. I’m not playing that game in terms of what happened last year. The reality is that over the second half of the year, the cream rises. The good teams show themselves. And the teams that aren’t show themselves. To this point, we’re showing ourselves to not be a good football team. And that needs to change.
Question: Did you think that Limas had a chance at that last catch?
Mike Tomlin: I thought he did, but of course the play wasn’t made. Given the circumstances, that’s about as reasonable of an opportunity that you’re going to have to make that play. When you talk about Hail Maries, 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.
Question: You mentioned Keenan Lewis before. Some fans were wondering why we haven’t seen him as much as earlier. Can you talk about where he is and why he hasn’t been on the field?
Mike Tomlin: Sure. He played in our opener and sustained an injury, missed the next several games due to that injury. He worked his way back into another opportunity to play. And really, in recent weeks, he hasn’t dressed the last two games because we’ve been making sure that we had 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 rush and 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 that Keenan has done; he’s been consistently on the rise since coming back from that injury. But due to matchups, he hasn’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.
Question: Even if William (Gay) plays, is he necessarily a starter or is that position kind of wide open with Joe [Burnett] and Keenan?
Mike Tomlin: I think at this point, we need to see what those young guys are capable of doing and seeing if they can make a play for us. Of course, Joe had an opportunity to make a play that should have finished that football game and didn’t. But we’ll give him some more opportunities.
Question: Were there missed assignments on the winning touchdown pass, and if so, what happened?
Mike Tomlin: 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 wanted from a blitz entry standpoint, and it created an opportunity for the quarterback to step up in the pocket and find, I think it was Louis Murphy, in the left corner of the end zone.
Question: Shouldn’t have one of those corners been back with [Ryan] Mundy?
Mike Tomlin: Certainly, yes.
Question: Ike [Taylor] had some chances to make some plays and hasn’t. Will he be part of this equation where you’ll be looking at possible changes?
Mike Tomlin: Certainly, certainly. I think that it’s appropriate, that we look at giving some guys some opportunities to see if they can play. What that means, or to what extent that means changes should be made, I think that’s a little bit premature. But I acknowledge that that’s taking place.
Question: It looks like you used more of the fullback in David Johnson. How’s that been going?
Mike Tomlin: 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 and he just needs to jump in. And 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 I think that he did yesterday. It got better as the game wore on, and I think that 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 has 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.
Question: You talked about injuries being a part of football, and if someone goes down, someone has to replace them. But is it possible that Troy’s presence is that important, if you look at the losses early in the season when he was out, same story as now?
Mike Tomlin: 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 is 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 on Monday Night Football 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 that are unavailable. You can waste a lot of time worrying about guys that are unavailable. I don’t want to waste that kind of time.
Question: This is a veteran team. How do you think they will respond if there are sweeping changes?
Mike Tomlin: 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 with regards to this approach, to be quite honest with you.
Question: Cornerbacks who don’t have interceptions perhaps can be explained by defending, very well, the receiver. Have you ever seen anything like cornerbacks going through 12 games without any interceptions?
Mike Tomlin: First time for me. And of course, I’ve been around some secondary play. Not good enough.