Head Coach Mike Munchak
How are the Steelers a similar team to what you saw when you were playing?
I think it’s their tradition and a team that has done it a certain way for a lot of years and won a lot of championships. Their scheme, for example on defense, it’s a 3-4. They’ve been running a 3-4, I think I came in the league back in ’82 when maybe two teams were running a 3-4 and everyone changed to a 4-3. Pittsburgh is a team that stays with what they believe in and what’s worked for them. They do a great job of drafting and acquiring players that fit their system and believe in and buy-in to what they’re doing. They’ve been doing it for a long period of time. That’s a big compliment because I think they’ve been doing as good as anybody for a long period of time. Coaches have come and gone, players have come and gone, but it’s still the same type of team. Their mentality, the way they work, it’s that kind of thing that precedes them. I played against them twice a year for a lot of years until we changed divisions. It’s a great matchup. It’s a big game anytime someone plays them and that’s a compliment to them.
Re: The Steelers physicality:
You’re not going to have any team with everyone that brings it. I think you need the guys like Harrison, like Woodley, that are going to bring that and that are going to continue the tradition. Just like we have offensive linemen, one guy that really brings the extra push and extra shove, and then other guys start buying into that. I think they do a good job of always having guys that fit that role on defense. Also, you have a quarterback that plays very tough. He’s hard top sack, he makes plays for them, and I think they do a good job of sprinkling in the receivers that can block. You have Yancey Thigpen that came here after he left Pittsburgh. You’ve got Nate Washington and we’ve grabbed some Pittsburgh receivers the past couple years. They acquire those kinds of guys. You’re not going to have every guy on your team be that same personality, but I think they have enough of them that lead the team and they buy into it.
Re: Titans’ running game struggles:
In general, we’re 1-4 and we’ve lost games where we’ve fallen behind. It’s hard for us to get a chance to establish the running game because of that. It’s been a big factor in this. A lot of times you start and you’re not running as well as you like early, the defense is a little stacked up, they’re playing to your tendencies a little bit, having more to look at at the line of scrimmage and in most games you can wear it down and get an opportunity in the second quarter, third quarter, and fourth quarter to start busting some runs open. We’ve done that in the past when our record was better. I think that’s a big part of it, too. We’re just not staying in games. When you have those opportunities in the second and third quarter to stay in game, we’re not making enough plays. We’ve been in the two-minute [offense] too much so it gets pushed to the side. It’s hard when you open up and Chris [Johnson] gets 10 carries, the second game he gets eight carries, it’s hard to get too caught up in that phase of it. We just have to play better and can’t be turning the ball over.
Re: Chris Johnson averaging 1.5 yards after contact:
I’m just worried about getting the ball and hoping to get positive yards. I want him to have more carries and maybe more things will happen with more opportunities. Pittsburgh is not the type of team where you’re going to get a chance to get well on your running game. They’ve been a team that’s always done very well versus the run. It’s going to be a big challenge for us Thursday night.
What kind of pressure does an inconsistent run game put on the quarterbacks?
With both quarterbacks, I think what’s hurt us, with Matt Hasselbeck playing with Jake being hurt, it puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback. That’s been the problem, I think, is that even last year when we won nine games, the running game wasn’t as good as we had hoped and I think this year is the same. It puts a lot of pressure on any quarterback, the fact that you’ve taken away not just the run game, but the play action. The defense is not going to focus on things they normally would. Last week in Minnesota with a young quarterback in Ponder, we really couldn’t put pressure on him because he was never in a tight enough game where he had to go make plays and they had to take more risks. That trickles over to the defensive side of the ball. When the score is getting lopsided, it takes away the opportunity to do a lot of things.
Re: Importance of rotating fresh bodies on the defensive front:
Most teams work with some type of rotation. A lot of it depends on weather also. This game being at night, will probably be a lot different. I think last week we had our defensive ends play 85% of the snaps. A lot of it depends on weather, things like that and what type of game it is. Unfortunately for us, our defense is on the field way too much so we’ve had to find a way to rotate them just to keep them fresh in the fourth quarter. I think it’s something that’s important. I think most teams try to rotate their defensive front, depending on how the game is going. If you get a lot of three-and-outs, it’s not as big of a deal. If you’re defense is out there quite a bit with a lot of 10, 12 play drives, then you’d be smart to do that because if defensive linemen get work out early, it’s hard for them in the third and fourth quarter to recover, if they get beat down in the first half. A lot depends on the flow of the game.
Yes because he’s got the big play capability. They don’t change a lot. They stick to what they’re doing in the run game and what they’re doing upfront with their offensive line. He’s a guy that can take a run that looks like it’s like a two or three-yard gain and turn it into a much bigger run. That’s the thing that they have going for them. Like last week, they found a way to win a tough football game against the Eagles and they’re doing things like that. All of the sudden, you think it’s a two-yard run and it’s second and five. He falls forward, he gets the extra couple yards and it’s a lot more manageable for the offense to do a lot of things when you can do that and he’s that kind of running back.
What do you expect from Kenny Britt?
We need to hopefully expect a lot of him. The good thing was we really didn’t expect him to play in that game last week. Over the weekend, he started feeling a lot better as he traveled so he ended up getting about 25 plays, which was good for him because he was rusty because he hadn’t played in so long. He was coming off the knee after a yearlong rehab for that last year. He hurt the ankle and played in the Detroit game for us and contributed but then hurt his ankle again and misses another game. It’s more for his confidence, for him to get used to the system again. He really only played in this offense last year for about three weeks and was hurt the whole year. He could be one of the better receivers in the league. He just hasn’t stayed on the field long enough to prove that. Hopefully, getting some good playing time on the game last week will help for this game Thursday night.
As a Penn State guy, what do you think about how the program has done?
I’m very proud of what they’ve done. Coach O’Brien has done a great job. Especially starting out 0-2, people just assumed it would get worse from there. We’ve done a great job the last four weeks of showing what we’re all about at Penn State and I’m really proud of them. I watch them all the time. It’s been a very tough situation for everyone there and especially for this current team that had nothing to do with the things that had gone on. I love the way they’re responding, the way they’re buying in to what he’s asking them to do and I think they’re going to have a great year on the field. It’s exciting to see that. The fan base has stuck with them. I know alumni all around the NFL are too.
Re: Closing this chapter in Penn State history:
I hope so. I know justice needed to be done. I hope that, speaking for the football program and the university, I went to Penn State, I got my degree from Penn State and I have nothing but great memories of my time there and what Penn State has done for my career as a player, a coach and all those things. I know a lot of players feel the same way.
Wide Receiver Nate Washington
Who still plays for the Steelers that you remember?
Who is still there that I remember, player wise? Oh man,
How big is this game since you started your career with the Steelers?
This game has a lot of meaning. I always want to play against those types of guys, give them everything that I got. At the same time this is meaningful for our team as well. We are kind of in a hole right now. We want to come out and play well together, put some good things on the field so we can get a win.
What has the continuity been like at quarterback, switching to Matt Hasselbeck?
It’s been good. He is a veteran. He knows a little more about what is going on as far as the defenses go. That comes in handy. He’s not much of a runner but he can run. He is a guy that is going to sit in the pocket and try to make plays with his arm instead of his feet. It’s a little bit of an adjustment but we are doing all right so far.
What role are you taking on with the team and how has Kenny Britt’s injury affected that role?
My role is kind of the same. Britt was injured a little bit but Kendall Wright has also been doing a good job of filling in for him. He’s made some plays. There hasn’t been too much pressure on me. We still have some good young guys behind me making awesome plays and doing everything they can. I think it’s been unfortunate that he has had an injury bug but we look forward to him being back.
Have you given your team some tips about the Steelers’ secondary?
I have given them as much advice as I can. I know a little bit about some of their guys that are still there. A couple of guys I don’t know anything about because they are new. Taylor, Clark and Polamalu I’ve practiced against. I can give a couple tips about them. They have a good defense. They are going to do everything they can to make sure they stop us. The tips can go a long way but we have to make sure we are fundamentally sound.
Re: Steelers’ defense with and without Polamalu:
He makes a big difference. I think he is one of the few players in the league that are going to make plays outside the defense that is called. He does a good job of being able to read what is going on. He understands offenses so well from watching so much film. He understands what they are trying to do. He makes a lot of plays, sometimes even when that defense isn’t called. Without him, pretty much whatever they show they are going to play. They aren’t going to have too many guys out of position. They are going to give everything that they have to their technique and what they’ve been taught. Dick LeBeau is still one of the best defensive coordinators to ever coach in this league. Polamalu is just a guy that is going to make plays. We still have to be fundamentally sound. They are still a good defense. They are going to do everything that is asked of them.
Re: Chris Johnson this season:
It’s been pretty tough. He is a tough guy that takes pride in what he does. It isn’t who he is. Everybody knows in the past he has been one of those guys that has big runs. He has been working hard. He has been keeping his nose to the ground, making sure he is doing everything he can to make sure he gets back to being that person. Right now, our whole offense has been in a slump when it comes to those types of things. We are looking forward to picking it back up and getting those things back on track. He has been working mentally about trying to get back to the things he used to do.
What does the Steelers’ organization mean to you?
They mean a lot. I was an undrafted rookie free agent. So much was going on with me coming out of college, with committing to other teams and those teams pulling back. Pittsburgh was probably the one and only team that had given me a call back after I committed somewhere else. They were very ecstatic about me coming into camp, having a tryout and making their roster. That opportunity alone was definitely influential in my career. I wouldn’t be here today. There wouldn’t have been a tomorrow if they didn’t give me a shot then and there. I am very grateful to the Rooneys. They are very in touch with their team. They do everything they can to have hands in the organization. It’s a very positive thing to be around there. Even my work ethic, when it comes to doing everything I can on the field, which definitely comes from the Black and Gold background. They are one of the organizations that are on top of the league in giving everything that they have to this game.
Did you have a specific mentor when you played here?
At the time it was probably Willie Parker. He was kind of in the same position I was in. he was undrafted. He didn’t really have the expectations that others might have had of being drafted but he came in and made a huge impact. My first year in the league was his second. At that time he was definitely one of the hottest running backs around. I hung out with him a lot. He told me no matter what expectations they might have had, it was all about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to make out of this opportunity. He told me all the time the sky was the limit he definitely was a big influence on my career. Jerome Bettis was always in my ear. He preached to me about being a young guy and to never take this league for granted and to make sure I gave everything I had. That organization alone was a really big influence on my career.
Who is the fastest Steeler now and who was back when you played here? Did you and Taylor ever race?
I don’t think we ever raced. It was definitely one of the things that we argued about when I was there. Who was the fastest? I don’t know. I am a pretty fast guy now but I was pretty fast back then also. Taylor still has it. I still got a little twitch in my step also. I am thinking it would come down to just lining up. I definitely respect his speed and his game also. He is a guy that is going to bring intensity and attitude to this game all the time. You have to be prepared for those types of things and try to match his intensity.