Coach Mike Tomlin takes a look at today’s opponent – the Detroit Lions:
A. There’s no question. The stats tell you that. The videotape tells you that. Not only in terms of what he’s been doing this year, but what he has been doing largely over the course of his career. He is one of the very special players in the National Football League.
Q. Opposite Calvin Johnson, the Lions have another big receiver in Kris Durham, who is 6-foot-6. What kind of problem does that pose?
A. A big target and easy to throw to. When you look at their receivers, whether it’s Calvin Johnson or Durham, or even their tight ends – Brandon Pettigrew is 6-5 and Joseph Fauria is 6-7 – they’ve got big targets and Matt Stafford takes advantage of that.
Q. How has Stafford progressed?
A. I hadn’t studied Stafford a lot over the course of his career since he’s an NFC player, but this year he’s making good and fast decisions. That has allowed him to post a quarterback rating of over 94, and he’s only been sacked 10 times in nine games.
A. He’s quick to speed. His short-area quickness and change of direction is a signature of his game and always has been. He’s tough. He is running inside and showing you some things he hasn’t necessarily showed you before from some other spots. He’s over 600 yards on the ground, over 350 yards in receptions. He’s a complete football player who can affect the game in just about all situations.
Q. The Lions have invested heavily in their defensive line, with three of the players there being No. 1 draft picks. Your evaluation of that group?
A. When you talk about 4-3 penetrating fronts, they make their money up front. Those are where the guys are. You have to invest in them, and they have.
Q. How do you handle them?
A. You know, we have to work to minimize the negativity that those techniques in that scheme create. They trample the run on the way to the pass, and so we have to be cautious about pulling people and gap-scheme blocking because that creates an opportunity for negativity. We have to cover these guys up and not allow them to play in our backfield. If we do that, we’ll have an opportunity to have a very productive day, not only in the run game but largely in the passing game as well.
Q. Is OLB DeAndre Levy a nightmare of a matchup?
A. He’s one of those classic 4-3 will-linebackers. He plays down in and down out. They keep him covered up. He’s not a very big guy, and he doesn’t have to be. But he can run and he can tackle, and obviously he has the ball skills and the space awareness associated with playing on third downs. He leads them with five interceptions, and I think that’s tied for tops in the league.
Q. How was your defense able to keep the potent Bills rushing attack in check?
A. A little bit of this and a little bit of that, but largely it was about guys being where they were supposed to be and making good, sound tackles. When you have a guy like
Q. Has Gay been coming on in recent games?
A. He has been really solid for us all year. He has done everything we expected him to do after we brought him back from Arizona.
Q. Have you asked
A. It’s really not something we have to ask him to do. It’s something that’s more indicative of who he is as a person and as a football player. He’s a mature player, a very stabile and flat-lined individual. He’s got great work habits. He’s a great professional for the young guys to follow.
Q. Does it surprise you that
A. No. He has been an awesome contributor in that phase of our game. We have given him some very specific jobs to do. He’s the personal protector – the quarterback, if you will – of our punt team. He’s an integral part of all of our coverage units. He’s doing a really nice job. It’s what you expect of a second-year safety. Second-year safeties should be at the top of your tackle chart from a special teams standpoint.
Q. Are you pleased with your special teams overall?
A. Yes, I think we’ve gotten positive contributions. I know we’ve been right on the brink here the last several weeks from a return game standpoint, both in kickoff and punt returns. I’m looking for us to doing the minute details that are associated with finishing those plays and getting those plays in the end zone. But special teams have been a positive contributor to our efforts.
Q. What are the keys to the game for the Steelers today?
A. That we come off to a clean start. That we work to eliminate negativity that their scheme and their players up front defensively are capable of creating, and obviously we have to minimize splash plays by their offense. There has been a lot of talk about Megatron, but they have other guys who can produce splash plays. We have to minimize splash plays by that group, whether it’s Megatron or Reggie Bush. We have to make them earn drives if they put them together.