Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin held his usual Tuesday press conference this afternoon down on the South Side to discuss the win the past Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals and look ahead to the New England Patriots game this week at Heinz Field. Tomlin gave an injury report update on several players and fielded several questions from the media. Below is the audio from the press conference along with the main talking points from today.
As far as injuries go, Tomlin said Curtis Brown (back) has been experiencing some back spasms and he does not know how that might limit him this week. Being he is a young guy he needs the reps and that might end up affecting his game status. Tomlin believes in reps for young people. James Harrison (eye), Chris Hoke (necK), Jason Worilds (quad) and Doug Legursky (toe) are all status quo this week per Tomlin. Hines Ward (ankle) will be looked at hard this week in terms of his participation and they will let that be their guide in terms of his readiness along with Casey Hampton (shoulder). Tomlin says Hampton has taken a step in the right direction and he is scheduled to practice on Wednesday. Could get him back in the fold this week.
Tomlin liked overall since of urgency this past week against the Cardinals in all 3 phases of the game. Says closest thing to 60 minutes of football the team has put together this season.
Tomlin said that answering their offensive surge in the second half was big and he liked overall since of urgency this past week against the Cardinals in all 3 phases of the game. Says closest thing to 60 minutes of football the team has put together this season.
Tomlin thought Steve McLendon represented himself very well in his first start at nose tackle. Says he is growing into his role and working hard in the weight room in an effort to get stronger.
Tomlin praised the special teams and return units and coverage teams play this week in addition.
Says Patriots doing what they usually do with Tom Brady. Tomlin loves their running backs and the way they use them and called their tight end crew, outstanding. Says what they did last year against the Steelers is well documented.
Tomlin praised Wes Welker and the Patriots receiving unit and says he expects to see more of Chad Ochocinco coming off of the bye week.
Tomlin is not ready to commit to Ike Taylor following Welker around all day on Sunday, since Welker lines up so much in the slot.
He is not expecting Brady to have the type of game he had against the Bills a few weeks ago and says that only happens about once every 5 years. He does not expect him to throw 4 interceptions. Tomlin says they better be prepared to get off the field the hard way and that is just stopping them.
Tomlin said Patriots defense plays good situational football and built to stop the run in certain packages. He went on to praise veteran front and said he expects linebacker Jarod Mayo back this week as well. Says special teams do not beat themselves.
Tomlin says sacks do not determine success against the Patriots and that it depends on how they choose to attack us. If they are throwing the ball down the field, then they need to pressure Brady and sacks better be in the equation. If they are spreading the ball around short then it is not as important.
Tomlin says Patriots offense is very multiple and because of that the Steelers defense needs to be multiple as well. Says they can attack in a variety of ways.
Tomlin likes what his offense has been able to do the last few weeks and said it is moving in the right direction.
Tomlin refuses to talk about spot in standings and playoffs right now. Not phased by it.
Tomlin says if you think Patriots are the 32nd ranked defense, you are wrong. Says it is a product of them whacking people and being way ahead and other teams forced to pass the ball on the.
Says he will encourage Chris Kemoeatu not to take those stupid penalties and says the pre snap penalties of David Johnson and others will be addressed as well.
Mike Tomlin: Good afternoon. I will start with a quick assessment of Sunday’s performance. We were pleased with some of the things we saw on tape. I think largely, the thing that stood out the most, was that I liked the overall sense of urgency of our football team in all three phases. I thought we played with a positive attitude. I thought we played with great energy. I just thought we felt the urgency of the moment in all three phases. I think that’s the closest thing to 60 minutes of football that we’ve put together at this point. That’s not to be confused with putting together 60 minutes but it was closer than any of our other performances. Hopefully it’s something we can build upon. Some of the positive things I saw on offense was that we answered their offensive surge in the second half. That was big for us. Good teams work in concert. They were able to put a play together there and score on a check-down to LaRod Stephens Howling. Our offense responded appropriately, like good offenses do, to put out that small fire. I thought that was the most positive thing about our performance. I also thought it was very positive the way we ended the game. After they put together another scoring drive, we gained possession and maintained possession of the football throughout. We gained the necessary first downs in our four-minute-like offense. That’s a sign of an offense that’s on the come. Defensively, I like the way we started. We created a short field for our offense early in the football game. I thought we put consistent pressure on the quarterback, led by LaMarr Woodley. I liked the contributions of some guys that were given the opportunity to expand their roles, such as Steve McLendon. I thought he represented himself very well inside and up front for us. We are going to need those types of performances moving forward with him and others. On special teams, I thought our coverage units did a nice job of making sure that Antonio Brown was the best return man in the stadium. They did a nice job, and we have a great respect for their return game and people on both kickoffs and punts. I thought our coverage units did a really nice job. And of course, the snap, hold and kick on our PAT unit was rock solid. We banged three field goals in the football game. There are a lot of positives to build on. Hopefully we’ll do that with a good, solid workweek here in preparation for New England. Some medical situations: Curtis Brown has been experiencing some back spasms. We don’t know if or how that will limit him but being a young guy, if he is limited throughout the week, that could affect his potential participation. We believe in reps, particularly reps for young people. James Harrison’s situation is status quo, as is Chris Hoke’s, Doug Legursky’s and Jason Worilds’. We are going to look hard this week at Hines Ward, in terms of his participation. We will let that be our guide in terms of his readiness, along with Casey Hampton. Casey has taken a step. He is scheduled to practice on Wednesday. We will see where that participation takes us. We would get him back into the fold. That would be a nice shot in the arm for us up front on defense. We are playing the New England Patriots. They are doing what they usually do. They are a top-quality team, led by Tom Brady and what they are doing offensively. They are averaging 475 yards per game on offense. Tom Brady and company are a big part of that but that’s not the complete story. They are 10th in the league in rushing, 125 or so a game. I love their stable of running backs and how they utilize them. They have BenJarvus Green-Ellis. They have a young rookie from LSU in Stevan Ridley, who complements him well. They are both very one-cut, decisive and tough runners. Danny Woodhead distinguishes himself as a check-down guy and a screen guy. He’s pretty good at running the football as well. They utilize those three backs, and they are a very good stable. They do very good work there. Their tight end crew is outstanding. They have a couple of young guys, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who continue to emerge. What they did last year is well documented but they are taking off from where they left off, even moving forward in some areas. They have a great rapport with their quarterback, not only in open grass but in the red zone. Gronkowski lit us up for three touchdowns a year ago. He has continued that. He has 15 now in his career. Tom, I am sure, feels real comfortable throwing to that big target down there in those closed spaces. Hernandez is a top-quality athlete. Their receiving core is a talented group, a deep group led by Wes Welker. We all know what Wes is capable of, in terms of turning short passes into big ones. They also have been doing some nice things in their play-pass game, getting him on those deep-over routes that are associated with play-pass. That’s another facet in how they utilize him. You would expect to see more of Chad Ochocinco with those guys, coming off of a bye week. He’s a top-quality guy. He’s capable of taking the top off of the coverage. He’s new to them. Under the circumstances of how the offseason unfolded, I am sure he had a productive week with those guys last week. We expect to see more of him than what we’ve seen on tape. They have other savvy veterans, such as Deion Branch and Julian Edelman. He’s a guy that has done some nice things for them. Brady spreads the ball around to all the eligibles. They do a nice job of protecting him. Their group up front is led by Logan Mankins. It’s a really rock solid group. They really don’t turn the football over. There was a game a few weeks back with Buffalo, where they got their hands on some footballs but let’s be honest, that probably happens once every five years. So we have about four years and nine months before we see that again. We are not anticipating Brady is going to throw us four footballs. We better be prepared to get off the field the hard way, and that’s simply by stopping them. They do a great job, other than that Buffalo game, of taking care of the football. Defensively, they’ve had troubles at times stopping people but they play great situational football. They are opportunistic. They are built to stop the run. In certain packages, when you look, Vince Wilfork is who he is but he’s complemented by Kyle Love inside. They have a nice collection of veteran guys on defense, up front particularly: Shaun Ellis, Albert Haynesworth and Gerard Warren. These guys have had distinguished careers with other teams. They are probably just interested in winning. They’ve put their hand in the pile and come aboard. They’ve done some nice things. I like their linebackers. We anticipate Jerod Mayo being back. He practiced last week. He’s a great player, not a good player. He’s arguably one of the top inside linebackers in the game of football. He’s accompanied by Brandon Spikes, a second-year man out of Florida. He’s quickly establishing himself as a run stopper. He’s distinguished himself really well, I think, in blitzes and getting on running backs. He utilizes his length when rushing the passer. In the secondary, they’ve done a nice job of playing situational football and taking advantage of opportunities when presented. They really get after people, and they take advantage of things that come with playing with a lead, turnovers. Kyle Arrington leads them with four interceptions. Devin McCourty has been solid. They have a solid, veteran group in that area. They are their usual selves in special teams, meaning that they don’t beat themselves. They are extremely solid. They average double digits in their punt return game. They’ve been real solid in their kicking game, both on field goals and punts. Needless to say, we have our work cut out for us. We are glad to be back at Heinz Field. We look forward to a great week of preparation and ultimately play. We will keep it as simple as that.
Question: (Regarding getting sacks.)
Mike Tomlin: I don’t know that sacks determine success against this group to be honest with you. It just depends on how they choose to attack us. If they are throwing the ball vertically down the field then we better pressure the quarterback and sacks better be an element of the equation. If they are in empty and they are spreading the football around with short passes then that might be something that is not an element of the equation. So we are not going to measure success by that stat alone. It largely depends on how they choose to attack us.
Question: How different are they?
Mike Tomlin: If you look at their complete body of work they are very similar. They are very multiple. They can attack you in a variety of ways. They can line up and play empty no-huddle football. They can put two or three tight end type bodies on the field and pound you. They are very multiple. They have been together, of course, for a long time. They have great continuity between core players and coaches. It just depends on what personality they choose to be this week, that will determine if they are very similar or very dissimilar to how they approached us a year ago.
Question: Are they unique in the league?
Mike Tomlin: No, I think what they do comes from continuity and I think you can point to other teams that have great continuity on offense particularly. Of course a franchise-type caliber quarterback, you can point to New Orleans and teams such as that and see similarities.
Question: Are they still a pass-first outfit?
Mike Tomlin: I think they attack how they choose to attack you. We know they are capable of moving up and down the field passing the football but we are not going to underestimate what they are capable of doing running the football, like I mentioned earlier. They are tenth in the league with running the football. They have a nice stable of guys. They are good enough to determine how they want to attack you and have a strong chance at being successful.
Question: (Rgarding the personality of their defense.)
Mike Tomlin: I really think it is their whim of the week in terms of how they choose to attack you or maybe what’s toughest for you to block, dictates their personality. You would have to ask those guys what ultimately dictates that. I know they are very multiple, similar to how they are offensively.
Question: What makes (Tom) Brady so difficult to stop?
Mike Tomlin: He is just very good physically and mentally. He is very talented in both areas. He is tough to trick, he makes quick decisions, he has pinpoint accuracy and he has the arm to do the things he desires to do.
Question: Do you look at tapes from games where teams were able to take them down?
Mike Tomlin: I don’t want to make more out of that than what has already been made but that is what we do every week. We look at what people do against our opponents and what they have success at and if it is in our comfort zone, we consider utilizing it. So this week is no different than any other.
Question: (Regarding their tight ends and taking them away.)
Mike Tomlin: You better be multiple because they are. So that is what we are working on. We are in the process of establishing a plan in that area. We acknowledge that they are a unique group particularly in the red area. We better have a pretty comprehensive plan in that regard.
Question: Do they play the two tight ends together a lot?
Mike Tomlin: They do, but that’s no different than a lot of teams. We use a lot of two tight end personnel groups. It’s not necessarily that they do it, it is how effective they are at doing it and how they utilize those guys and how they are capable of getting them down the field. It’s a special relationship that they are forming there with their signal caller.
Question: Do you adjust to fit them or do you try to dictate?
Mike Tomlin: Those are the kinds of questions that we formulate on days like today and to be honest with you, I am not ready to answer that directly as I sit here. We have yet to meet defensively. We watch tape independently and compare a note or two here or there. We will settle in this evening after dinner and formulate some of those things.
Question: Like you said earlier, New England’s offense is multiple. Is your teams’ offense getting close to that?
Mike Tomlin: I think we are moving in that direction. I like some of the things that we have been able to do with our multiple tight end personnel groups and our multiple wide receiver personnel groups. We have had success in different packages and I’d like to think that we are moving in that direction.
Question: If this game turns into a gun-slinging match between Ben and Brady, is that a good thing or bad thing?
Mike Tomlin: I am not ready to paint with a broad brush at this point. I try to leave the preconceived notions about how the game is going to unfold out, particularly this early in the week, and just try to put together a good comprehensive plan.
Question: (Regarding Wes Welker.)
Mike Tomlin: There are two critical reasons why he is tough to disrupt. First is his physical skill. He is extremely quick and illusive, and very adept at getting away from jams along the line of scrimmage. Second is what they do schematically. They move him around quite a bit, through a variety of formations and motions and that makes it difficult as well.
Question: Coincidence with LaMarr becoming more of an impact with Harrison out?
Mike Tomlin: It is probably just a coincidence if you are trying to relate it to him responding to James not being there. This guy has been playing hard all year. He has probably been given more opportunities and has taken advantage of it. We have also been ahead some of late and that is always a factor in terms of having sack opportunities. If you are measuring his level of play based on sack opportunities alone, being ahead has something to do with it. Of course we started out as a 2-2 type team, so there was probably less opportunities to register that statistic. I don’t try to frame what he is doing to be honest with you. I am more concerned with how we are playing and that we get necessary plays from anyone.
Question: (Regarding what Ike Taylor might have to do to adjust playing a different type of wide receiver.)
Mike Tomlin: As I sit here right now I am not comfortable with saying that Ike is going to follow him down-in and down-out. That might be a little bit out of Ike’s comfort zone. This guy spends a lot of time in interior formations at the number two position, number three position and slot formations. Ike is an outside corner so I am not ready at this juncture to even say that this is going to be an element of this thing.
Question: Are you excited for this challenge and do you take this game personally?
Mike Tomlin: I don’t take it personally. It is not about me. It is about us. It is about the Pittsburgh Steelers and our journey and specifically this 2011 season. We are excited because this is a big game in front of our home crowd and really that is all you need if you are a competitor.
Question: Why is Bill Belichick such a great coach?
Mike Tomlin: They win. Ultimately that is how we are measured and they win in spite of circumstance.
Question: Was he a guy that you ever looked up to when you were a young coach?
Mike Tomlin: I didn’t. I was blessed enough in my opinion to be around some top quality guys that I worked with in my building in Tony Dungy and John Gruden, and guys like that so I didn’t have to look far in terms of guys that were awesome guys to get information and inspiration from.
Question: Does it mean anything to be back in first place in the division?
Mike Tomlin: No.
Question: And how about the importance of this game as a number one or number two seed?
Mike Tomlin: It’s October. We are just trying to win week to week and keep pace with the elite and put ourselves in position to be considered in that conversation. Those things will sort themselves out. I truly believe that. We like to stay focused on things that are in our control and that’s our preparation and ultimately our play this week. When you start talking about playoff seedings and things of that nature, particularly at this point in the season, you are scoreboard watching. That’s not going to be our bag. We are going to see enough quality teams over the rest of this season to deal with a lot of those things first hand and that is really how we prefer to look at it. We are all focused on what is ahead of us, of course this week, and that’s that New England Patriots and rightfully so.
Question: They pick the ball but they give up a lot of passing yards. Is that risk for reward?
Mike Tomlin: That is a function of them just whacking people and being way out in front. So if you come in and you think they are the 32nd best defense in football you are kidding yourself. They are whacking people pretty good. People are throwing the ball every down and they accumulate some yards, it is insignificant.
Question: Is that why the situational aspect is so important looking at their numbers, third-down, red zone?
Mike Tomlin: Absolutely.
Question: Does your background as a defensive coach affect you going into weeks like this?
Mike Tomlin: I would hope not. I would hope that I wouldn’t let ego or pride or anything of that nature, comfort zone, prohibit our team from doing what is required for us to win. I fashion myself to be more intelligent than that. We will see.
Question: (Regarding the running game against Arizona.)
Mike Tomlin: I thought it was more than anything about what they were doing. They came out early committed to stop the run. They utilized Adrian Wilson in a variety of fashions, their run pressures were exceptional. They brought him in blitzes that made him virtually unblockable from a wide receivers standpoint in terms of interior pressure so we couldn’t get them off the edges with our cracking wide receivers and so forth. So we just threw the football. We are not going to beat our head against the concrete wall. I did like the way we were able to run the football at the latter stages of the game to put the game away. Sometimes your opponents are committed to taking an element of your game away from you and when they are that committed then you have to take what comes easy. I thought we did in that game. But I liked our ability to run the football and close the game out and when they wanted to have the ball back, we didn’t allow them.
Question: How optimistic are you that Hines will play this weekend?
Mike Tomlin: I think I will let tomorrow determine that, or at the least when I get to see him here today. Like I mentioned after the game, I won’t be surprised about anything that Hines is capable of, particularly from a health standpoint.
Question: (Regarding Chris Kemoeatu’s penalties.)
Mike Tomlin: We are going to encourage him to not do that. That makes execution even a little bit more difficult. That goes along with some of the pre-snap penalties, the false starts on guys such as David Johnson and Weslye Saunders. We cannot have pre and post-snap penalties if we want to be the kind of offense we desire to be. We stated just that. These guys are professionals. We expect them to correct their mistakes and move forward.
Question: How has Steve McLendon improved?
Mike Tomlin: He has grown into that kind of guy (nose tackle). He’s much bigger than he was two or three years ago when he got here. He’s worked hard downstairs in the weight room and in offseason programs, along with some other young guys. You always see him and Ziggy Hood working together. They have a nice, young work ethic for being young guys. He’s improved himself. He’s made himself a bigger, faster and stronger player. He deserves credit for that.
Question: (Regarding Ziggy Hood.)
Mike Tomlin: He’s done a nice job for us. We need that to continue. We like his versatility. He subbed in for Aaron Smith some, Brett Keisel for some and he even played nose tackle in the last game. You are talking about a young guy that is capable and willing to play multiple positions. He puts his hand in the pile to help us win, and we value that.
Question: (Regarding losing Aaron Smith.)
Mike Tomlin: I don’t know if it’s an emotional thing. We’ve been without him quite a bit for the last few years. It’s great to have him around and his presence. That will continue, but in terms of his play, I think we’ve gotten pretty comfortable over the last several years playing without him, unfortunately.
Question: Is it tough to see that happen to a player near the end of his career?
Mike Tomlin: It’s the nature of our business. If these guys are blessed, it’s going to happen to all of them.
Question: Do you need to explain the importance of this game to your team like you would when you play the Ravens?
Mike Tomlin: I am not going to assume that our guys understand the nature of this matchup and its history. Many of our guys were not a part of this history when it started, because you are talking about 2001 and 2004. So it’s not similar in that way. We play Baltimore twice a year, sometimes three times a year over the last three to five years. So it’s different from that standpoint. I am not going to assume anything. I am going to educate our guys about this matchup and this football team because it is different in that way.