It looks like you guys are hitting your stride at the right time. Do you have that feeling?
[Laughs] Every day is a new day, fortunately. We’ve just got to keep going. We’ve got a lot left, and we haven’t really done anything yet. I don’t have really any feeling that way yet.
It looks like you’ve overcome some injuries both on offense and defense. Can you talk about how you’ve been able to do that?
I think the biggest thing is making sure, as we began the year, that we have enough contingency in every way. If something happens to that effect, don’t flinch and just keep moving forward. I think the coaches have done a really good job of that.
Are you surprised by what has happened in Pittsburgh and what kind of Steelers’ team do you expect on Sunday?
I expect a team that will be well-coached and will play their tails off. They’ve got a good football team led by a great quarterback, and they’ve got their running back in there now playing.
Knowing this team you’re playing against as well as you do, the foundation for so many years has been stop the run and don’t allow big plays, two areas that don’t seem to be as up to snuff as they have in recent years for Pittsburgh. Why do you think other teams have been able to do that more effectively against this Steelers team than in years past?
I think it’s kind of what they went through. When you lose guys, then you have it a little harder. The greatest part, and I’ve said this and tried to explain this to people, just like the West Coast offense and so forth of the great 49ers’ clubs where they had the same staff and people in place for so long. Then you have one guy or two guys who you might change out for whatever reason, they’re injured or whatever, you go with different guys, different ways, but everybody else stays the same. I think that’s been the greatest thing about what they’ve been able to build under Dick [LeBeau] in Pittsburgh. The system has basically stayed in place and they’ve had to plug in one, maybe two at the most, new players. This is the first time where they’ve had more new guys having to play, and you’ve got to get it going and get it back together. That’s all. Those coaches are still great coaches. They’ve been throughout the time there, and that’s the beauty of it. A lot of what they do – I could probably walk in right now and understand the concepts and the terminology and the verbiage. It’s not like they’ve changed. They’re just trying to get the guys back in place and doing it the way they want all the time.
Re: James Harrison now compared to beginning of the season and what he’s been able to do since losing Geno Atkins:
We’ve been able to get him on the field in more chances as one of our rushers. He’s done a nice job with that. He probably doesn’t have as much production as he probably wishes he had, but he’s doing a really valuable job in there. We’re seeing more people putting their base offenses out on the field, so he’s playing more in our different base defenses, too. He’s really given us a lot of great snaps and his leadership through everyone is critical. Again, I’m just so pleased to have him here.
What has been the biggest difference in your team on the road as opposed to home this season?
We’ve lost a couple of games on the road. That’s all. [Laughs] That’s the biggest difference.
Nothing you can put your finger on? There hasn’t been a common theme?
Well, we turn the ball over too often. Then at the end of the game we ended up with one or two less points than the other club. It’s hard to win that way. You can’t turn the ball over, and you’ve got to get more points than they do.
You’re an old linebacker coach. Have you had a chance to see how they’re using
Troy has done that throughout his career. So, it’s really not much new. Maybe he hasn’t done it much over the last couple of seasons, but early on in his career he would play the dime quite a bit, even back to when the kid that’s now coaching there [Carnell Lake] was the nickel and Troy was the dime. Troy’s been the nickel. He’s done this quite a bit. It just gives an opportunity to get him closer to the football. He’s a dynamic blitzer when he’s up there, and you’ve got to account for him. Then he can drop out and run the different fire zone pressures and the things they do because he understands the concepts of coverage so well.
What sold you guys on Giovani Bernard?
I think, number one, his ability to make people miss in space. His durability and toughness as a runner within the tackles, I just felt really good about him in those ways.
You mentioned your familiarity with the Steelers’ defense. Conceptually, what did you appreciate about it? Why do you think it’s worked when it’s worked?
Well, it’s worked for a long time very well because the theory is that you’re going to probably pressure the football in many ways, whether it’s the running game or the passing game, and you’re going to continue to apply pressure to the ball. With the flexibility of the 3-4 and the concepts of that, you have the ability to change up who that fourth rusher is in there, sometimes adding a fifth and even sometimes a sixth with overload of a protection one way or another, and then being able to have eyes on the football back the other way.
Eyes on the football being more zone than man? Is that what you’re referencing there?
Receiver A. J. Green
What about the possibility of officially eliminating the Steelers from the playoff race? Is that something that’s playing in your mind at all?
No. We’re just going out there to play our game. That’s a veteran team and they’ve won a lot of football games. They’ve been in a lot of big games. They’re not going to let down. They’re going to play just like it’s another game. We are going to go out there and play our hardest, and I know they’re going to play their hardest.
How much does it mean to you guys to try and get that second seed and the bye that goes with it?
It’s good. Like I said, that’s what we work for. If we’re capable of winning out and hope the Patriots can give us one, then we have that second seed. But if we don’t, then we’ll continue and win these last couple games, and see what happens from there.
We’ve seen a lot of Steelers fans make the trip to Cincinnati many years. With all the seats that have become available here, do you think we might see a lot of Bengals fans at Heinz Field Sunday?
I hope so. We have great fans. This year we’re undefeated at home, and mostly all of our games have sold out. I’m pretty sure they’re going to travel over there.
You and your teammates had a big win at Heinz Field last December. Did that in any way propel you guys into this season? Was that a big block for you guys to get over?
I think so because the whole history – the Steelers had our number every year, even when I first got here. I just feel like we are going out there to play our hardest and see what happens. We were fortunate to come up with a win last year, but that doesn’t mean anything. Like I said, those guys still have a lot of future Hall of Famers over there that are not going to lay down for anyone.
Like I said and always say, Ike is one of the best corners I go against each year. He’s so crafty. He’s seen a lot of football, so I really have to work on my releases and get his hands down because he’s so long.
He’s given up a lot of yards to some pretty good receivers lately. Have you noticed that on tape? Is he playing any differently?
One thing about Ike, he might give up a big play, but you’re going to see him battle his way back and make a play that actually can change the game. It happens. If you’re a corner, you going to get beat sometimes.