STEELERS at RAVENS SUNDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2008 KICKOFF -- 4:15 P.M. CONFERENCE CALLS
HEAD COACH JOHN HARBAUGH
How much of a better quarterback has Joe Flacco become?
We get that question a lot here. Across the board, there really isn't two or three things. He is just performing better. He obviously has thrown more touchdown passes and fewer interceptions. He has led us to some victories. So he is doing well.
How did he come to start, was he your first choice?
No. He was running three in training camp and in the same week Kyle Boller tore his labrum in practice and Troy Smith got and infection that put him out for three weeks or maybe a month. That is how it happened.
Was Troy your first option in case something happened to Boller?
We were competing. It was an open competition for it and we said that we would let all three guys compete for the job and we were in the midst of that.
Flacco thought that the best way for him was going to be baptism by fire – did he express that to you?
No, he just came to work, competed and tried the best he could on the job. He didn't say anything or make any statements about it.
Did Flacco seem confident from the start?
Yes, I think it is natural for him. That is his personality. He's confident and a competitor and obvisously a very smart guy. He works really hard at it and that's the way he has really been since say one when he came in.
Do you see similarities between Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger?
I haven't thought it about that way. No, I haven't even looked at it in those terms.
How much more responsibility do you give Flacco week to week?
He's got the whole offense if we feel one week to the next to win. We don't put it in terms that he has some percentage of the offense or keeping it simple or anything like that. He's got the game plan that we feel we need to win and we you put that together based on who you are playing and what your personnel does the best and that really doesn't change whether you have a rookie quarterback or a fifth season vet. The thing about keeping it simple or tailoring it to a rookie, I don't think it has any application, so we don't really look at it like that.
What is your prediction of the final score?
We don't make predictions and I am sure Mike (Tomlin) doesn't either, I am sure he was just joking. But obviously what he is saying is you have two very good defenses going at it and I would agree with him. It's two excellent defenses and maybe the two best defenses.
What is the biggest difference between your 3-4 defense and the Steelers 3-4 defense?
I wouldn't even know how to begin to answer that.
*Do you agree with Mike Tomlin's assessment that there is mutual respect between these two teams?
No, I think there is definitely mutual respect. I know that our players respect their players and respect their team, they have earned respect by the way they have played and that is undeniable and our guys are just like they are. We have good people, they work hard and are tough competitors and they respect something like that when they see it in other teams.
Any conversations with Suggs about the bounty comment?
I have had discussions with Terrell Suggs every single day.
Does it relate to putting a bounty on Rashard Mendenhall and Hines Ward?
Did they in fact do that?
No. It is ridiculous.
Can you talk about the two safeties in this game – Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed?
They are similar in the sense that they are really good players. One is a strong safety and one is a free safety more, but they are guys that you have to count for every single play. They are capable of making game changing plays at any moment. They are both aggressive, both smart, they are both just great players. That is probably the number one similarity.
What's the key to your defense – do you take a turnover over a sack?
Yeah, we have done that, but we also have a lot of batted balls, a lot of pressure on quarterbacks, so those have been positives. I think we are playing a very disciplined style of football. Our attention to detail is very good. I think our guys have been very precise in the back-end and that is what leads to making plays.
Your running game – is it committee by design?
Yes. Still in that mode.
What is the best thing about Le'Ron McClain?
He is a north-style guy, very physical. Runs hard and obviously he is big. He is just a big strong guy.
QUARTERBACK JOE FLACCO
How much better do you feel like you are as offense compared to the last Pittsburgh game?
I don't know if I can put a rating on how much better we have done. It has been huge. We are a bunch of young guys on this offense with a couple of veterans. It was a new offense even for the veterans. For us to say that we were the best that we were going to be in Week 3 is a little bit of an understatement. We believe that we have improved immensely; we have played 13 games now as a group. We know how we are going to play and we have more confidence. Any time that you can go out on the field with confidence, you are going to be able to play the best that you can.
What were the circumstances involved with you leaving Pitt?
I wasn't going to be playing. I always wanted to be an NFL quarterback and the bottom line is that in order to get there, you have to play football. I didn't think that it was going to happen at the University of Pittsburgh so I had to move on.
Did you talk about that with anybody before you left or did you just read the writing on the wall? *I talked to the coaches; I let them know how I felt and they let me know how they felt. I had to make my decision; it wasn't an easy one. In the end I am glad I made it. I don't think that I would be here today if I didn't make that decision.
*Did you talk to Dave Wannstedt about that?
Yeah, I talked to Matt Cavanaugh and Dave about it.
They told you that you wouldn't beat Tyler (Palko) or did you just get that impression?
They wanted me to stay; I don't know what they wanted me to stay for. In the end they didn't release me so they were trying to get me to stay there as much as they could. The bottom line was that I really didn't think that I was going to play there and never really felt that I got a good chance to compete, which wasn't anybodies fault. There was a kid a year ahead of me and he was playing well so the bottom line was that I wanted to play and I didn't want to wait until my fifth-year to have that shot. I wanted to go somewhere where they would give me a shot to play right away and let me compete for a job; Delaware was that place.
That was right when the coaching staff changed?
Yeah. The two seasons that I was actually at Pitt I played under Walt Harris. He left and I stayed there for spring ball under Coach Wannstedt.
Did you ever look at these guys next door and think that you would be in the NFL playing against them?
I hoped so and I always wanted to. It was rare to see those guys practice; they were on the practice field and done earlier while we were still at meetings. We got to see those guys practice a little bit and we got to see them running around; Joey Porter was still there and Ben (Roethlisberger) was just getting there. They had a pretty good team so it was kind of fun to see them and see an NFL team operate. Now we are playing against them; this is going to be a lot of fun playing against them this week. I think that we both feel like we have pretty good teams and we have to go out and prove that this week.
Did Ray Lewis pull you aside and tell you that you could do for this team what Ben Roethlisberger did for the Steelers as a rookie?
Yes, Ray said that; Ray has said many things to me. It is all to give me the confidence to go out there and play football; that is what I took out of it. He has confidence in me and the rest of the team has confidence in me. I just have to play the way that I know how to and let it loose; that is what I have tried to do the past 13 weeks. I think that I have done pretty well for us.
Is there a parallel between you and what Ben did in 2004?
Ben was like 15-0 to start out so he had a pretty impressive season. We obviously haven't gone undefeated; we are just trying to stack wins on top of wins to earn a spot into the playoffs. That is what we are doing right now; we have three weeks left to prove that we are one of those teams that makes it into Week 18; we are ready to go.
Can you talk about playing only 11-12 games in college and already playing that amount thus far?
I don't even think about that; if I thought about it then I might be able to answer that question. I am trying to keep that as far away from my thoughts as possible and just go out and play football. So far I feel great; physically I feel good and mentally I am ready to go so I can't say that it has been too much of a problem for me so far.
How has practicing against your defense helped or accelerated your progress?
Going against those guys during the summer in minicamps, OTAs, and all of camp was probably huge for my development because they do so many different things on that side of the ball. They give you pretty much every look that you can see so it pretty much prepares you for the rest of the season.
How much better do you think the Steelers' defense is playing right now compared to the previous meeting?
They are playing very well; obviously the numbers say that. They have some guys who can play pretty well. It is going to be all about us; that is the mindset that we are taking. What are we going to do to go out there and win the game? We are just going to have to play fundamental football and play the way that we have played all season. We feel like that is going to be enough to do the job. We feel like we have the players to go out there and compete against these guys so we are ready to go.
Are you able to do more now because of your experience?
Yeah, I definitely think that I am feeling more comfortable. I am 10-11 more games experienced so I am definitely more comfortable with what we are doing. As an offense we have just grown together. The amount that we have grown as a whole unit is just huge for us.
Have you gotten into the rivalry in this series?
I guess it is going to be a rivalry game; it is going to be for the division. Pittsburgh-Baltimore; I think that says enough. I think that everybody should be excited; I think that all of the fans should be excited about this week. We are going to go out and treat it like every game. It is the most important game but it is the most important game up until this point. As long as we win this week, then we feel we are going to have to play an even more important game next week. It should be an exciting game and everybody should be ready for the matchup. We are going to go out and give them a good game.
Can you talk about the challenge of going up against Troy Polamalu?
He watches film and he studies so he thinks that he has a beat on what teams are doing. You have to be aware of him because he runs around out there and he feels like he know where you are going with the ball. He is going to read your eyes and he is going to attack wherever you are looking. You have to be aware of that, and believe me, we will be. He is a great player but it is going to be more about what we do than what he does.