Audio from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin press conference on Tuesday December 22nd. Tomlin addresses the upcoming week 16 Baltimore Ravens game on Sunday and takes questions on the past Packers game as well. As far as injuries go, wide receiver Hines Ward (hamstring) experienced a setback with his hamstring against the Packers and is day-to-day. Safety Troy Polamalu (knee) is having another MRI on his knee today and the results will determine his availability. He has not been ruled out yet. Wide receiver Mike Wallace (knee) suffered a laceration contusion to a knee, running back Rashard Mendenhall (hip pointer) suffered a hip pointer and defensive end Brett Keisel (stinger) suffered a stinger last game. All injured may be limited in the early week of practice. Transcript to follow shortly. Tomlin also announced the signings of wide receiver Joey Galloway and long snapper Jared Retkofsky.[audio:http://www.steelersdepot.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/mike_tomlin_12_22_2009_press_conference.mp3]
Mike Tomlin: Good Afternoon. I guess I’ll start recapping some of my thoughts there from the other night. Like I said the other night, it was great to provide some positive excitement for our fans, to get a win for those guys, to keep a pulse in this thing. That’s what we have. I like the way the men fought, we persevered through a little bit of adversity like always, like each Sunday provides. This time we came out on top , made a significant number of plays, in which to do that and hopefully we can build upon that this week as we get ready to play the Baltimore Ravens. Along those lines, a couple of announcements. Greg Warren was placed on IR, with an ACL injury, he’s been replaced by Jared Retkofsky. Of course, Jared [Retkofsky] snapped for us quite a bit of the season last year, through the playoffs and then the Super Bowl so it’s fortunate for us that a guy like that is available with that kind of experience but also, that kind of experience that comes with being a part of this thing and being in our locker room and kind of knowing how we do business. Jared’s [Retkofsky] ready to go, we’re looking forward to moving with him. Also, we placed Limas Sweed on the Reserved List, Non-Football Injury/Illness List, which will effectively end his season. He’s been replaced by Joey Galloway, who’s a guy of course is a guy that I have a background with, have some familiarity with, having worked with him in the past, but also, more recently, we’ve explored the potential of signing Joey [Galloway] last offseason. Of course, he went on from there to New England. He was available to us, he’s a veteran player whose resume speaks for itself. He’s one of those unique guys in that he’s in great physical condition for a seasoned veteran, he can run, he’s done just about all there is to do in this business other than win in the postseason which is what he told me. Hopefully he can provide us some energy and spirit for us in that regard, some savvy veteran leadership in a position that’s been depleted somewhat, that’s significant for us. Looking at the injury situation coming out of the game, Mike Wallace has a knee laceration or contusion that may limit him at the top of the week. Hines [Ward] may have experienced a minor setback with his hamstring injury, it’s probably definitely going to limit him at the earlier part of the week, we’ll evaluate him on a day-to-day basis. Rashard Mendenhall has a hip contusion, it’s probably going to limit him at the top part of the week. Brett Keisel has a stinger. Troy [Polamalu] is getting his MRI done today, I was hopeful that I could have some information for you by the time I got in here, but as you see in the recent weeks, I don’t always get what I want. We’ll update you when I get that information, the rest of the things appear to be minor bumps and bruises. Looking forward here to our challenge that we face here this week, the Baltimore Ravens, a familiar opponent. They have their personality, we have ours and when the two come together, it’s always pretty exciting. We’re fired up about that, we’re fired up about getting the opportunity to play in front of our home fans again. We’re fired up about having a pulse in this thing. That being said, we’ve got some work to do and a short period of time in which to do it. A lot of times, familiarity doesn’t breed comfort when you’re talking about a matchup such as this, they are who they are. Ray Rice kind of makes them go, running and receiving, we’ve got to contend with him better than we did the last time. Joe Flacco continues to get better and better in terms of leading them from the quarterback position. Derrick Mason is Derrick Mason, his usual body of work. Defensively, I think the key element of it is [Terrell] Suggs is back in action and we didn’t face him last time. We know what a game changing football player this guy is. That’s going to be a significant change in terms of preparing to play these guys particularly in and around the line of scrimmage from a run game standpoint and from the protection of our quarterback standpoint because this guy lines up in a variet of places, does a lot of things extremely well and a lot of what you do kind of starts with identifying where he is and what he’s capable of. Ray Lewis is still of course playing at a high level, Jarrett Johnson and the other cast of characters, [Haloti] Ngata, [Kelly] Gregg. Like I said, familiarity doesn’t necessarily make you comfortable. We’re excited about the opportunity. The staff’s working hard at putting together a solid plan. I met with the guys yesterday, reviewed our performance from the other day, took a little peek ahead at what we’re going to be facing this week and we’ll continue with that process starting tomorrow.
Question: Talk about how your team stacked up against the standards of being dominant and making timely plays.
Mike Tomlin: I think that’s where it starts for me, you’ve got a desire to be dominant, but at the same time I’m a realist. I acknowledge that every time you walk out of that tunnel, you’re not going to be a dominant team. When you’re not, you like to think that you put enough pieces in place and have a solid enough plan and enough understanding of your strengths in the matchups that you can make timely significant plays to win. Thankfully, we were able to do that on Sunday. I think it became increasingly clear as the game unfolded that the familiarity of the defense that the both offenses held was going to play a part in the outcome of the game, that’s how it unfolded. The offense that had the ball last one.
Question: Are you able to say what’s wrong with Limas [Sweed] and will Joey Galloway be your fourth guy?
Mike Tomlin: I think it’s appropriate right now that we say very little in regards to his personal issues. I will say this, it’s a non-football illness. He has our full support and anything else that I’ll say will be in regards to protect his privacy. Joey [Galloway], whether or not he’s a fourth wide-out or an active fifth wide-out or an inactive wide-out really depends on the speed in which he learns our football as we proceed through the week. He’s in the building right now working on those very issues. He’s played a little bit of football, it wouldn’t surprise me if he is capable of learning what to do.
Question: Regarding Joey Galloway, Corey Ivy, talk about the familiarity in the league.
Mike Tomlin: I think that’s just the signature of today’s NFL. There’s very few secrets from a personnel standpoint, you get exposure to a lot of guys. The information that you get leading up to the draft is so in-depth and significant that it starts there and as guys proceed through their career, you remain familiar with them either by playing against them or either studying them and evaluating them as they enter free agency. When you talk about some veteran guys that have been around and have been through free agency quite a bit and have played football in several cities, you’ve had an opportunity to come in contact with them professionally or informally. You understand what they’re capable of, you have a baseline understanding of their body of work. I really just think it’s a signature of today’s NFL.
Question: If Troy’s [Polamalu] MRI is positive, is there a good shot he plays this week?
Mike Tomlin: It is. The results of his MRI is going to dictate which direction we take like it has in recent weeks and we eagerly await those results.
Question: You played Joe Burnett a lot against Green Bay, do you anticipate any more changes in the secondary?
Mike Tomlin: We’re analyzing that as we put together this plan. I think each week, the matchup that your given dictates a lot of what you do. A week ago, we were playing Green Bay. Their signature’s multiple wide receiver sets three and four wide receiver sets. Their tight end is a big-time vertical threat. Baltimore likes to bring in an extra offensive lineman or tight end and fullback and things of that nature, so a lot of the decisions that we make in terms of the people we utilize will be based on the nature of the matchup and what we anticipate them doing.
Question: Have you gotten any feedback from the onside kick call, from around the team, around the league?
Mike Tomlin: You know I don’t look for feedback. I just try to win football games. My eight-year-old asked me what I was thinking. Other than that, I make no apologies. I try to get a feel for the flow of the game, try to decipher how it could potentially unfold, and how to increase my team’s chances of winning. What I told you after the game really was the thought process in the latter part of the third and all the way up through the fourth. I felt like both offenses were capable of moving the football, and making that decision to kick the onside kick started first and foremost with the belief that we could get the football legally. We weren’t able to do that, but even if we weren’t able to do that with four minutes and some change left in the game, if we were not able to stop them, I felt like we’d have a significant amount of time to navigate down the field. Now, that thought process of mine was geared toward them maybe kicking a field goal and being up by one and us having to kick a field goal to win, not necessarily with those guys scoring a touchdown, which is of course what they did.
Question: Based on that thinking and what’s happened in recent weeks, do you adjust what you feel it’s going to take on offense to win a game anymore because you’ve given up more on defense?
Mike Tomlin: I really approach it with how the game unfolds inside the stadium. I think a plan is one thing, but we all understand that games unfold differently than plans. I didn’t necessarily anticipate that game unfolding the way it did, but as you watch the game and watch it unfold, you realize that that familiarity that both offenses had with both defenses was going to be a factor in the outcome of the game. So you adjust plans and approaches accordingly, which is what we did.
Question: So that’s more a reflection of what went on than how you feel about your defense, sitting here right now?
Mike Tomlin: Absolutely. It was reflection upon how that game was unfolding inside the stadium on Sunday.
Question: Is that what you told your eight-year-old?
Mike Tomlin: No, I just told him to be quiet.
Question: Your familiarity with 3-4, did that in any way help you knowing some of their tendencies because their defenses are basically the same?
Mike Tomlin: I think it helped us in terms of indentifying potential blitz pickups, and finding holes in coverage, if you will. Of course it didn’t help us in terms of running the football; I think that Green Bay did an awesome job in defending some of our run formations and personnel groups. They brought in an extra defensive lineman and put in a 300-pounder in that C and D gap area, which made sledding tough in that regard. But that’s just the ebb and flow of football games and the strategy that comes with trying to play winning football. They did some nice things, we were able to do some nice things, and we were able to put together enough plays to win the football game.
Question: Rashard [Mendenhall] caught a lot of passes this Sunday. Can he be that triple-threat factor?
Mike Tomlin: I think that’s what we envisioned a few weeks ago when I said that his role would be expanding. With each day, this guy gains confidence and really, we gain confidence in what he’s capable of. He’s rock solid from an assignment standpoint and from blitz pickup, and I think it starts there. But he’s also increasingly sharp with regards to being where he’s supposed to be in terms of route distribution. He can catch the football; he’s been able to do that since the day that he walked in here. But he’s rounding out a complete game and really is becoming a guy that can help us in all areas, similar to what Ray Rice is doing in Baltimore.
Question: You mentioned about persevering in the face of adversity. That final drive seemed to have more negative plays of sacks, penalties, ineffective plays, and ultimately, plays that work. The plays that worked obviously, we see, cashed in. Talk about that last drive, please.
Mike Tomlin: It’s really kind of how our season has been. Some negative things, but guys persevered, made a significant, timely play. I thought that guys like Heath Miller were big-Ben [Roethlisberger] going to him on 3rd-and-15 with two deep men under coverage kind of speaks to the level of comfort that he has in that guy. I thought that was a significant play. We went back down to him in the middle of the field, which set us up around the 18-yard line where we utilized our last time out. We knew we could use the interior portion of the field because we had a time out, got us down to about the 18 where then we started taking shots at the end zone. Not easy shots to take based on the coverage we were looking at, and it was going to take the kind of throw that we had and the kind of catch that we had from Mike [Wallace] to be successful.
Question: Did Ben call all of the plays on that drive or did he receive those plays from the sideline?
Mike Tomlin: He received those plays from the sideline.
Question: You talked about the tight ends in this game-Heath had a good game against Chicago, you just talked about Heath having a good game- what kind of difference makers can they be in this kind of matchup?
Mike Tomlin: I think that’s an element of today’s NFL. These tight ends are unique animals. They’re tough men to cover, they’re usually too big and strong for secondary people, safeties and such, and just nifty enough and with enough vertical speed to create problems for most linebackers. I think those words can be used to describe both Heath and Todd Heap. They’re difference makers. They know how to work open spaces, they can find those spaces in zone, and they can create separation in man. A lot of what we do centers around Heath’s ability to work the inner portion of the field, and I think the same can be said for Baltimore.
Question: Has the game plan for the last two games been to get the ball to Heath a little bit more?
Mike Tomlin: No, we don’t necessarily respond to stats in terms of guiding us from a game plan standpoint. We want to play to our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. Obviously, Heath is a strength. Sometimes, he’s going to get more balls than others just based on how others formulate their plan.
Question: James Farrior said after the game that in the midst of a five-game losing streak, these guys question some of the things that they’re doing and second guess. Did that ever happen with you and the coaching staff?
Mike Tomlin: There’s an element of that, but I think that it’s constructive. I think that it wouldn’t be sharp not to deeply analyze what you’re doing and how you’re doing it when you’re in the midst of failure. So there’s an element of that. But is it manifesting itself in the form of mental weakness or anything of that nature? No. It’s just being committed to turn over whatever stone is necessary to win football games.
Question: When you game plan and identify certain guys defensively for the other team, I know Ed Reed is certainly one of them. Is he more so maybe than any other player than you guys face? Or is he just one of the guys right now?
Mike Tomlin: I don’t want to downplay the significance of Ed Reed. He’s one of those special guys, and he doesn’t need my endorsement. His body of work speaks to that. He’s a game-changer. He’s a defensive guy that’s capable of ringing up the scoreboard or getting the ball in his hands. It’s significant. He changes the way you attack the field vertically because of his range, and the cat-and-mouse game that he’s capable of playing with your quarterback, his understanding of route concepts. I think that he has physical talent that enables him to cover a lot of grass, but you don’t want to underestimate the mental capacity of a gentleman like that, because that’s required to cover the amount of grass that he covers as well.
Question: How did you evaluate Chris Carter as a corner? Do you expect him to do anything difference schematically in light of that throw?
Mike Tomlin: I’m not certain of their plans at this point, so I’d be speculating. I know that he is a viable both corner and return man, and that’s why we had an interest in him in the off-season.
Question: How have things changed psychologically now that you have a playoff pulse? Had this season been rendered over, would it have been a more difficult sell?
Mike Tomlin: I never pondered the possibility of losing, I never do. I don’t plan on failure. We had a pulse last week; we have a pulse this week. And that’s kind of my mentality.
Question: Your mentality is always to focus on the next game. How do you do that, balancing all of those issues out there about possibilities of the playoffs?
Mike Tomlin: Hey, if we don’t win, those possibilities out there are irrelevant. So it’s really kind of easy. It really is. We have to win. So that’s where our focus will be.
Question: Do you follow the possibilities?
Mike Tomlin: I have to; it’s the nature of my job. But really only from that standpoint. I haven’t looked at all of the playoff scenarios and things of that nature. I just know that we need to win to stay in the hunt. And that’s where my focus is. Usually, when I get those moments toward the end of the week where the plan is starting to take shape and you have a few moments to yourself, I’ll catch up on what’s transpired around the league over the course of the week. But as I sit here today, I have no idea what’s going on in the NFL this week.
Question: You talked about the familiarity of both teams with the 3-4. How much, if anything, do you think that played into them throwing the ball a lot, they didn’t have as much pressure?
Mike Tomlin: Very similarly to how we were capable to picking up their pressure and how we were able to attack those guys. I think they were able to do similar things to us. They didn’t throw the ball vertically down the field as much as we did, or as frequently as we did. I think their response was the quick game. I talked about them having some catch-and-run capable receivers. I think that was displayed in the game. But no question, I think that the familiarity from a schematic standpoint in terms of what the offenses were looking at was a factor in the game.
Question: With all the rules, changes, and the way they’re calling the games this year, is it tougher to play defense?
Mike Tomlin: If it’s tough for us, it’s tough for everybody. So I hadn’t analyzed it in that way. As long as the game is called the same way, I could care less how they call it.
Question: Last year, they said that [Jared] Retkofsky was moving furniture when he got the call. This year, he played in the UFL. Do you know his personal story since the season ended; do you know if he’d gone back to that furniture store?
Mike Tomlin: No, maybe he took a couple of weeks off after the UFL season. I’m not certain. I’m just glad that he was available because it is comforting to know, when you start talking about losing a long snapper- we’ve been down that road before here in Pittsburgh. So it’s good to have Jared available.
Question: In light of that familiarity with Green Bay and the changes that the respective offenses make, are you a little surprised at the lack of running with Green Bay? Did you anticipate more of that?
Mike Tomlin: I don’t control their play calling. They put their plan together to attack us, and let’s face it, the scored 36 points. So it’s tough to question.
Question: Is the running game becoming less significant also around the league? It seems like the top running teams are not the ones that are in the playoffs.
Mike Tomlin: I don’t know if that’s a new trend. People have their personality and they gear their personality towards how they want to play football. As long as it fits your people and there’s a level of belief in it, I believe there are many ways to skin a cat. Minnesota has a commitment to running the football, and they’re a winning football team. New Orleans has a commitment to running their offense through Drew Brees, and they’re a winning football team. I think it’s a level of commitment in terms of how you want to do football based on who your people are and put them in the best position to do what it is that they do.
Question: Have you changed your thinking over the past three years? Before you came in, you said how significant the running game was, a game of attrition, that sort of thing.
Mike Tomlin: Depends on when you ask me. Sometimes, when the plan is successful and we’re able to win by attrition, that’s the plan. When you have to make adjustments or when you’re unsuccessful like we’ve been of late, it doesn’t necessarily look like you intend it to look. That’s the nature of this thing.
Question: Did Santa pass over the South Side?
Mike Tomlin: Christmas is cancelled.