STEELERS at TITANS SUNDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2008 KICKOFF -- 1:00 P.M.
HEAD COACH MIKE TOMLIN'S PRESS CONFERENCE TUESDAY, DECEMBER 16
Coach Mike Tomlin:Good afternoon. We have another big week for us; our stiffest challenge yet in the Tennessee Titans, at their place no less. They are in the pole position in the AFC; they are a 12-2 football team. They are very good in all areas. They are plus-10 in turnover margin for the year. They are well-coached by Jeff Fisher and company; he does it how we all desire to do it in this business – be ridiculously consistent and good for a long period of time. Offensively, their tailback combination of Chris Johnson and LenDale White is spectacular. They have 1,800-plus yards rushing, 22 touchdowns between them; they hurt you in a variety of ways. Johnson is a speed guy whose open-field runs highlight sports shows on a weekly basis. LenDale White is a big, strong man; I think that his feet and vision are underrated. Their quarterback is a veteran in Kerry Collins. Kerry utilizes all five eligible players. When you look down the stat sheet and you watch the game tape, he throws the ball to everybody. Bo Scaife, one of their tight ends, leads the charge. Chris Johnson has caught over 40 passes. Justin Gage is a deep threat; he is at about 19 yards per reception. More than anything, when you watch the tape, is how Kerry Collins includes everyone; screens to tight end and running backs, vertical passes to guys like Gage and Alge Crumpler; he uses everyone. He has great touch on his vertical pass. Their line is anchored by Kevin Mawae – the man in the middle. They do a nice job of opening holes for those two backs that I mentioned earlier. Defensively, they get after you; they have great continuity on that side of the ball. Jim Schwartz, their (defensive) coordinator, has been there since 2001. They have some solid veteran players. Guys like Javon Kearse, who is back in his second stint with those guys, appears to be back in form and playing well for them. Keith Bulluck is one of the best linebackers in the game. He has been at that right outside linebacker spot for those guys for a long time. They are playing extremely well and impressively in the secondary. Chris Hope, (Michael) Griffin, and (Cortland) Finnegan, I think that they have 14 picks between the three of them. Some other guys like Nick Harper are kicking in. They are a very good football team defensively, and their special teams are solid both punting and kicking. They have a dynamic return man in Chris Carr, whom they picked up from Oakland, who is equally as dangerous as a punt returner and a kickoff returner. That being said, there is not a lot to say other than we need to get down to business and start the process of preparing ourselves for this steep challenge.
Are you healthy?
We came out of the game pretty healthy; we have our usual bumps and bruises that may require people to be limited in some form or fashion at the beginning part of the week. For the most part, this is as encouraging an injury situation as we have had here in a while coming out of a football game. We will continue to look at where Brett Keisel is as he pushes towards getting back into action, hopefully this week. Marvel Smith's situation is status quo.
Is it tough for the players to re-focus after dramatic wins versus Dallas and Baltimore?
That is one of the things that we have talked quite a bit about and focused quite a bit about through all of this; ultimately we will be measured by how we deal with success. Our ability to stay humble and grounded is going to be critical. I think that we have done that. I think that has been helped by, after each one of those wins, we have been faced with another steep challenge. That comes this week in the form of the Tennessee Titans. It easy to get your feet back on the ground; just turn that tape on and watch our opponent this week work and you will quickly realize that we have a tall order in front of us.
*Does it help to be playing for the number one seed?
You know how we approach it; this is a big game because it is the next one. It happens to be the team that is in the pole position in the AFC and it is at their place. All of those things make your hair stand up as you prepare. We will do that and hopefully we will do well enough to win.
What will Tennessee have to go through with injuries to their defensive line?
I think that question is probably for them to answer. Every team goes through injuries; we've had ours and they've had theirs. Thankfully, I think that we are starting to get healthy at the appropriate time. They are a good football team. I think that will show as they press on through the injuries. Hopefully we are successful this weekend.
Do they rotate their defensive lineman?
They rotate and play a bunch of people. Tony Brown is a very good player; (Dave) Ball is a good player; Jacob Ford is a good player; I think he has 6.5 sacks. Their rookie from Eastern Michigan, (Jason) Jones, we felt very highly of him coming out of the draft. He has played some and played very well for them. They Rolodex and play a bunch of people like a lot of teams that are 4-3 teams. They fall into that category and they are dominant because of the collection of people that they have working. There is no doubt that (Albert) Haynesworth is a feature guy in that, but there are a lot of guys that play extremely good football for them up front.
Would you like to see your team handle a fourth quarter lead this week?
I will just take wins however we can get them. It has just been the circumstances the last couple of weeks where we have had to come from behind. We could care less about style points; if we happen to be up at the beginning of the fourth quarter, I prefer to maintain it than to lose it.
Why did you make Willie Parker a captain Sunday in Baltimore?
Willie is a very important part of our football team. This guy is a worker; he just wants to win. He has gone through a lot just like we have gone through a lot. I just thought that it was appropriate that we sent him out there to represent us at the coin toss in a game of that magnitude to let him know how we feel about him in light of some of the things that were said and so forth prior to the game. We go through ups and downs like a lot of people, but nothing is going to come between this football team. We are committed that when it is time to play, we are going to present a united front and battle our opponents. I thought that was an important thing to do.
Can you talk about the mental toughness of your defense?
I think that we have a mentally tough football team offensively, defensively, and special teams-wise. Some of the field position issues that we faced in that game were due to the effectiveness of Baltimore's special teams. I don't think that either offense was moving the ball particularly well in the first half of that game. They did a nice job punting and they had a couple of nice punt returns; thus the field position was what it was. We have to play 60 minutes of football, particularly when we are playing some of the teams that we have played. These games are not going to be decided in the first 20, 40 or 60 snaps. These are 140-160 snap games when you count all three phases. Usually the pedigree doesn't show up until the end when you are playing people that are good. We make a conscious effort to stay in the fight and not get too high or too low and live one snap at a time. Hopefully it unfolds in our favor.
*Can you comment on your no-huddle offense?
We will do whatever it takes for us to win on a weekly basis. It was needed at that time, no doubt. It has been good when it has been called upon. Like a lot of things, we have to be capable of winning in a lot of ways; whether it is deliberate, huddled football, no-huddle, multiple wide receivers, one wide receiver, two tights or two backs, we have to be able to move the ball and win in a variety of ways because that is what is going to be required. At that time, there is no doubt that the no-huddle was needed, and the guys made it work for us.
If it works late in the game, can it work earlier?
It does, and it has for us at different points in the season.
What did you see in how they use White?
They use both backs and they use them equally well. I think that (the reduction in) his carries were more a function of Houston doing a nice job of possessing the football in that game. What Johnson did helped matters. Those guys play to win; LenDale appears to be a guy that is unselfish. He has shared running back chores at the professional level and at the college level. He has found a way to quickly find a rhythm when he gets the football. He has done that since college and he has done that this year. They are a tough act to deal with.
Was the last drive what you did or did Baltimore change?
Really, it was just a function of guys making plays; feeling the urgency of the moment and wanting to deliver for the team. They pressured in that drive and they pressured earlier; they dropped eight in that drive and they dropped eight earlier. We protected, we threw the ball and we caught the ball. There is no more depth in it than that.
Are you willing to say what you would have done on fourth-down?
What was your take on the spitting incident?
I have no take on it. I am sure it will be a good story line for the next time we face those guys.
What was your thought process on spiking the ball with 53 seconds left?
We wanted to take some shots at the endzone and that included potentially running the football so we wanted to stop the clock, gather our thoughts and maintain that one timeout that we had so that if we did run the ball we would have had one timeout at our disposal. Our intent was to score a touchdown when we got that ball to roughly the four-yard line, so we spiked it, we gathered our thoughts, we wanted to open up our playbook and look at all of our options.
Does winning close games breed confidence?
I just think more than anything it prepares you for January football because there are going to be close games in January anyway. We are battle-tested, if you will. It has been a positive thing because we have been able to win quite a few of them. I think it is good for your team. It stretches your resolve. There is a mentality that you can deliver but to have the experience of delivery in closing out football games, particularly tight ones and playing from behind. I think it better for the experience. Hopefully we take those experiences and use them to our benefit in January.
*Would you like offense to show more urgency early?
Do you think your best path for playoffs is playing at home?
We are just trying to win as many games as we can win. We play a good team in the Tennessee Titans this week. They are the one seed. If we should happen to play them again in the playoffs I prefer to play them in Pittsburgh. That's why this is important.
Do you get an extra second for pass rushers at home?
Absolutely. There is nothing mystical about home field other than the fact that you have the support of your fans and that is significant. It makes it tough for people to operate. But we have to be willing to back up that with action and make it a winning edge for us and make it an advantage for us. We've done that for the most part this year but we stumbled some at home. We have been able to win in hostile environments. This is a big game this week.
*Is mental toughness a difference in games?
I think that when two teams are close, your ability to not rise the emotional rollercoaster through success and failure over the course of a game, ultimately I think it determines the outcome. You just have to continue on and live one snap at a time, see it with great clarity so you can make corrections along the way. The team that does that generally puts itself in the position to make the significant play in the end.
Why still using William Gay at cornerback?
No, we have continued to play William I think through the injuries and such, we found that he is a capable guy. A guy that is capable of helping us win and play quality ball and that is the positive sometimes that injury provides you. We were able to find out what Mewelde Moore was capable of giving us due to injury. As people come back, he has continued to do the things that he's done in terms of helping us win. I think to turn a blind eye to that would be naive. I think that when guys show that they are capable of kicking in in a big way and helping you win, you look for ways to continue to allow them to do that. I think it creates competition within the group and competition in the ultimate motivator. It makes us all better.
When you win close games, does that build an expectation?
Hopefully our team expects to win without evidence. Hopefully they expect to win before they get in games like we have been in recently and won. No doubt that actually doing it helps, but from a mentality standpoint I think that our team expects to win regardless.
Did that last drive show what your passing game is capable of?
Sure it did, but again, I thought they were capable of that before the last drive. We have guys that like to make plays and like to deliver for our team. It was a unique experience having to go 92-yards to win a game for the division title. It's part of Steeler lore now. It's cool to be a part of that, but we march on as we continue to write the story for '08.
Did you ask for an explanation from Walt Coleman before the review?
No I didn't. I expected those guys to review that decision. That is why we let the clock run a little bit before making the decision because we expected them to stop and look at it. When they did we were just pondering the possibilities based on the outcome. When they ruled it a touchdown, we were pretty excited.
Did you go back at look at it?
What did your coaches upstairs tell you?
Of course, we all thought it was a touchdown. We would have thought it as a touchdown if they would have ruled that it wasn't. The perspective under those circumstances and conditions usually rule you. It is an emotional thing. I am sure Baltimore didn't think it would be. That is why we have officials at games.
Talk about Kerry Collins.
Here is the thing about him. He utilizes all of the eligibles. He is very inclusive in terms of how he administers the offense. He doesn't make mistakes. He has thrown seven interceptions on the season, I think he has been sacked seven times on the season. As a team they have only been sacked eight. Pressure is going to be an issue for us in this football game, not sacks, just pressure. Just forcing them to throw the ball in a timely manner. They have proven that you can't get to them and get there consistently. I think those are some of the things that he brings to the table and one of the big reasons why they are a 12-2 team.
Why does Ben have a knack for coming through in the end?
He is a ridiculous competitor. Some people live for those moments, and that is part of what makes them who they are. I truly believe that he is one of those people.
Was that a "no, no, no, yes, yes, yes" play for you at the end?
I have seen it so much that I am usually of the "yeah, yeah, yeah" mentality. I am glad that he plays for us.
Are you concerned that because he is smaller in stature, James Harrison does not get holding calls against him?
I am going to focus on coaching and I am going to let the officials officiate. I have pretty much had that mentality and stance all year, and I am probably going to stick with it here in December.
Is your team fresher because you have played so many people?
I think that it is easy to be fresher when you are winning. I think that we are fresher right now than we probably can be because we are 11-3. The mental wear and tear that the season has on you at times, particularly when you are not winning, is a difficult thing. I think that we have had the opportunity to play some people because of injury; they have performed well. Through it all, we have been able to win more times than not. I think that all of that helps us as we move forward.
Are you concerned that there is a sense of relief from getting the No. 2 seed?
I am really not worried about the relief mentality in regards to that. We have some tangible, big-time goals to achieve in front of us here in the regular season. Having an opportunity to play the best in our conference at their place this weekend, is motivation enough to get out of bed and be ready to rock-and-roll professionally. Our staff is of that mentality, I assume that our team is of that mentality; we will get a chance to see them first hand tomorrow morning. I would be shocked if we weren't chomping at the bit to start the preparation to play this significant football game.
Are you surprised by what your team has accomplished this year?
Quite honestly, I would like to be 14-0, but 11-3 is where we are.