*STEELERS at RAVENS SUNDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2008 KICKOFF -- 4:15 P.M. *
HEAD COACH MIKE TOMLIN'S PRESS CONFERENCE TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9
Coach Mike Tomlin:Good afternoon. This is a very big week for us playing the Baltimore Ravens. They are a 9-4 football team, but if you look at what they have done recently, I don't know if even that record is an indication of what they are capable of. They have won seven out of their last eight (games); they are an extremely hot football team. We have to go to their place and play them, which is an added challenge. The only people who have been successful there this year were the Tennessee Titans, and I think that everybody here in this industry knows what kind of team the Titans have. They have our attention and we have a lot of work to do in preparation for the game. I don't want to waste a lot of time talking about the known-profile players; we are all very familiar with Baltimore and they are familiar with us. I think that a couple of things that have jumped out at us as we prepare for them this week; and a couple of new things; some developing things in regard to their football team. Running the football, they still do that; they control the clock; they average 34 minutes a game in time-of-possession. It is obvious that (Le'Ron) McClain has become their feature ball-carrier, or at least one of the feature ball-carriers for them. He leads them in carries and yards rushing; he is a 260-pound man. We weren't able to keep him out of the end zone the last time that we played them. That is going to be a big-time challenge for us. We know what Willis McGahee is and what he is capable of; we have a great deal of respect for him but this McClain guy is going to cause some problems for us; ones that we better be prepared to address. From a wide receiver standpoint, Derrick Mason is Derrick Mason; we know about him. It seems that they are finding some flow with (Mark) Clayton; he has been a big-play generator for them whether he is running with the ball or catching the ball. He is a big-play guy for them who has really provided a spark for them in that regard. (Joe) Flacco at quarterback just continues to look more and more comfortable. He has proven time and time again that this stage isn't too big for him. He is a big reason why they are 9-4. Defensively, Ray Lewis and company are Ray Lewis and company. When you watch the tape, this Jarret Johnson, number 95, is playing as good as anybody on that unit; that is saying a lot. He has been a starter for them since (Adalius) Thomas left, but this guy is wreaking havoc right now. He is a guy who has our attention, along with the rest of those guys. It is going to be one of those games like it always is. One of the things that is exciting about playing these guys is that they play football the way that we desire to, which makes it exciting and interesting. We haven't won up there in the past five attempts. We understand the daunting task that is in front of us this week. All that we can do is what we can do today; this is, as a coaching staff, prepare ourselves to meet with our players tomorrow and lay the fundamental basis of the plan together and get started with them. I'm sure they are excited; we are excited; excitement is not going to get it done. We have to be prepared to execute and execute at a high level in a hostile environment versus a hostile and very good football team. We are sitting pretty good from a health standpoint. The only in-game injury that occurred was Carey Davis with a calf strain; that will put his availability into question this week. We will see where he is when he comes in tomorrow. It is unlikely that he will be able to participate tomorrow. We will just try to monitor his situation and hope that it gets better. Brett Keisel is getting closer; probably close enough to warrant some consideration to participate; we will see how the week goes. Marvel (Smith) is status quo with his back injury. Other than that, we have our normal bumps and bruises after a tough, physical football game. It may limit a person or two tomorrow; I might give a couple of veteran football players an extra day or two like I usually do. We need to get down to work and we will.
*Has Baltimore's winning kept your team sharper?
I don't think that it has had any affect on us whatsoever. I think that the quality opponents that we have had to face week in and week out has helped our team more than anything. When you are in the five-star matchup of the week just about every week, that gets your attention; that keeps you on edge. Thankfully, through it all, we have had an opportunity to be successful for the most part. What the Ravens 9-4 record does for us this week is that it helps us from that standpoint again. I don't anticipate having any trouble getting their attention tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. when we start introducing the Baltimore Ravens.
Is it a challenge to keep your team focused?
We have a veteran football team that is humble and grounded through all of this. I think that is a key component. That is one of the things that I am excited about. Again, the fact that we have to play quality people week in and week out helps big-time in that regard. You don't have time to pat yourself on the back over big victories. The next challenge is waiting for you. The same can be said with the victory that we had on Sunday; we know who we play this week. About 10 minutes after we got into that locker room, everybody was aware of who we play this week.
Has Flacco improved a lot since your last game versus Baltimore?
I think that it is just a process just like any young guy; comfort, trust in the system and trust in the coaches. He is just growing and their offense is growing because of it. I think that we are all a product of our experiences and there is no doubt that he is a better quarterback than the one that we faced here a couple of months back. That is usually how it happens.
Why have you been so successful on the road this season?
I really can't point to that. It was really one of the things that we spent some time talking about in the offseason; if we wanted to be one of those teams that are vying for the Lombardi (Trophy), we have to be capable of winning in all environments in different circumstances under game locations, and game times. I did point out that last year's champions, the New York Giants, were 7-1 in 2007 on the road. I just think that is a sign of great teams. Great teams are capable of winning in hostile environments. In terms of how we are preparing, nothing has changed.
Talk a little bit about Ed Reed:
Nothing surprises me when you turn your television on and you see him running with the football; you get used to seeing him doing that. He is an unbelievable football player. The Ravens have six touchdowns when their offense isn't on the field this year. That is Ed Reed and company. This guy is a ball-hawk; he is a good player who is very instinctual. Obviously he is extremely well-prepared because it is not a roller coaster in terms of his performances. You don't see him not be where he is supposed to be, ever. It is not that he is a gambler or a high-risk taker, he is just simply one of the best in the world at what he does.
Compare this rivalry to some of the other top rivalries in the NFL:
This is big-time. I can't think of one that compares to it as I sit here today.
*Is it underrated league-wide?
I don't get caught up in league-wide; that is irrelevant to me. I know that this is a big-time football game for us. More than anything, it is because they play football how we play football. It is a heated rivalry that is born out of mutual respect; at least I can say that it is born out of mutual respect from our standpoint. We respect those guys; they are a physically and mentally tough football team; those are things that we honor and desire to be. In order to do that, you have to line up and play with guys like these guys and play that style. I am sure that it is going to be that style of game; I would be shocked if it is not.
How did Bryant McFadden perform and what will the cornerback rotation look like this week?
I thought that he did a nice job. He knocked the rust off relatively quickly. It looked like he was decisive; he moved around fluidly and made the plays that he needed to make. I think that William Gay is continuing to play well so those are good problems to have. We are going to address those as the week unfolds. We feel comfortable with either one of those guys, or both of those guys, out on the field for us.
Does Travis Kirschke's strong play allow you to rest Keisel longer if you need too?
We are not going to base Brett's availability on how Travis is playing, whether he is playing great or poorly. He is playing very good, but Brett's health is Brett's health. Travis is doing a heck of a job for us. This isn't his first stint; Brett has been down before and he has stepped up and played quality ball for us during the beginning of the year along with Chris Hoke and some other guys. That is just part of it. We like that group; we play a lot of those guys. The standards do not change; those guys play winning football for us. We are going to need a big-time contribution from Travis and company this week as they pound that 260-pound back at us.
Why did the offense struggle for three quarters versus Dallas?
The big thing when you go back and look at the tape is, we turned the ball over two times in the first half; once in their territory and once near midfield. We knew that it was going to be tough sledding; Dallas has a good defense. Let's face it, when people play us, their defenses come prepared to play. I remember when I first came into the league, I used to always laugh at how well we played offensively when we played the (St. Louis) Rams because they had the 'Greatest Show on Turf.' Whenever you play somebody that has that kind of unit, I think that the team that you are playing against, you are going to get their best. We got their best and thankfully we were able to move it when it was of the essence at the end of the game. I think that is one thing that I am proud that we have been able to do recently regardless of how the game has unfolded or what trouble we have had; we have moved the ball downfield in the moments that you have to do it if you are going to be good. We did it on Sunday and we did it against San Diego. I find comfort in that. Do we need to get better, or become more consistent, to play 60-minutes of winning football? Absolutely. That doesn't mean that it is going to happen this weekend because we acknowledge what the Ravens are. The big thing is that we come out with one more point than they have. Hopefully it is not 3-2, but I will take it if it is and I'll be happy.
Did Ben Roethlisberger injure his thumb on one of those quarterback sneaks?
There is no issue with his thumb whatsoever.
*Is the inconsistency of the running game a concern?
Again, the only reason that it is a concern is because it decreases our chances of winning. Down the stretch, you have to be able to run the football in December football. Good people close out football games, so we have to continue to work on it.
How do you improve the punting?
Hopefully the weather conditions won't be as bad as they were last Sunday, but they probably will. The good thing about it from Sunday's standpoint was that their punter struggled when he punted from that direction as well. I thought that was one of the reasons why it was important that we kept the game together and weathered the third quarter. We knew how significant those weather conditions were going to be; that is why we deferred when we won the coin toss. Thankfully we got to the fourth quarter within striking distance; we were able to get the ball moving offensively and they weren't. They hit a 25-yard punt themselves under those circumstances. We weathered the storm; literally.
Why did Dallas run the ball well?
They popped a couple runs. I didn't feel like they were pounding us at four and five yards a pop, which would indicate an issue. They popped some runs. They had some chunks. Usually that doesn't happen. It happened on Sunday and it better not happen this upcoming Sunday. I don't want to take anything away from those guys. I thought the young man (Tashard) Choice did a nice job, they got after us a little bit and had some success.
Does your game plan change vs. Flacco?
It may. Right now it is not a complete body of work for me to talk about it. It is a work in progress at this point in reference to our game plan. But it definitely may.
Does Baltimore play their 3-4 defense different than Dallas?
They do. They have quite a few more fronts and movement, and let's face it, there is one Ray Lewis and one Bart Scott, one Terrell Suggs and (Haloti) Ngata and (Jarret) Johnson and (Ed) Reed…do you want me to go on?
What have you seen from your screen game lately?
We are still working to get better in that area. Part of that is being able to run it consistently, establish rhythm and throw it. I think if we take care of the football we have the opportunity to bring all of those things together.
Did Dallas change their defense?
They did. Dallas did, but that is football. That comes with the territory. I am sure that Coach Ryan and company are in a dark room somewhere drawing up some six-scheme right now as we speak. We will see them at the stadium I guess.
Is Witten saying Dallas gave you the game a motivator?
That is just guys talking. That is funny to me. When the clock strikes zero, either you have more points than your opponent or you don't. We could have said the same thing about our Indianapolis game. But we didn't. We acknowledged that we didn't finish the job. That is what winning is about, particularly winning in December. Hopefully you won't hear any of our people make those kinds of statements. We understand that we have to play 60 minutes of football and when it's done it's done.
*Are run-game alternatives as option verse Baltimore?
It may and it may not be an alternative. It is tough to run on this crew. The big thing is that we find ways to possess the ball, control the clock and not allow them to have the time of possession 34 to 26 like they have done to this point this year because usually if it looks like that, it is not a good day for the Steelers.
Do they use eight-man in the box?
They are thoughtfully non-rhythmic. You are going to see some of that. You are going to see some four down. What they are capable of doing with guys like Suggs makes them unique. They can be a three-down team, they can be a four-down team. You are going to see a seven-man box, an eight-man box. They do a nice job of keeping you off balance and I think that is one of the things that make them so difficult to deal with.
Are you surprised that Baltimore is 9-4 with a rookie coach and rookie quarterback?
No, I am not. If you want to talk about surprised, I would probably say I was surprised of their lack of success a year ago. This is football and teams that are physical and teams that are tough physically and mentally usually win. That is one thing that has been consistent about that group for a long time, is that when they step into the stadiums, they are capable of beating you up. Those types of teams win more than they lose, usually.
Do you run the ball better with a fullback?
I think our lack of run game success Sunday was based on the fact that we didn't get the chance to run it as much as we would have liked, more than anything. You can shape it how you want to shape it, but I think Willie (Parker) got twelve carries, Mewelde (Moore) got four carries. We didn't have enough opportunities to run the football. Why? We turned the ball over some the first half, we weathered the third quarter, we were going against the wind, we didn't have enough opportunities to make it happen. We got behind and we had to do what we had to do to win the football game.
What did you learn in your first year of coaching and how do you apply it to this year?
I am probably not at that point yet, I am just trying to handle this business in front of me today. I really very rarely take those kinds of moments. I am too busy. I have too many issues. Maybe when it is all said and done I will evaluate from that standpoint. I am sure I will, but right now I am just so consumed by what is in front of us and what we need to do particularly this week.
Was the first game against Baltimore as physical as game you have seen?
It was and we limped out of there with a victory, thankfully, but we did limp out of there. You can anticipate it being a similar game I would imagine. So there is a price you pay for being in these kind of matchups. Hopefully we don't pay too dear of a price, hopefully we can walk out with a victory.
*Your defense answering the part of the opposing defense – is that something you preach to your defense?
No. We aren't selling anything to our defense or preaching messages. We are just trying to play to our capability. We have some special people. We have great continuity. The guys understand what is at stake and we tend to focus on those kinds of things as opposed to the mentality, people that are going to come in here and try to match that. That is their deal. We focus on the things that we can control, our preparation, our quality of play. They do a nice job of doing that. We acknowledge some of those things exist, but we don't spend a great deal of time collectively sitting around talking about it.
Is it beyond hostile in Baltimore?
It is football. It is great. A lot of colorful words can be used to describe it, but I hope that the fans appreciate the level of mutual respect and I think that is what makes this such a heated rivalry, more than anything else, is the desire to play the brand of football that both teams have is great.
Will you consider silent counts?
Yes, we do. That is always the case when on the road, but particularly, we know what kind of environment this is going to be. The fact that we are fighting for a divisional standing is the icing on the cake. This is a big week because we are playing the Ravens.
What did you say to Deshea Townsend before his interception?
Deshea is a veteran player. He sees a lot. He does a nice job of communicating to guys. Him and I interact quite a bit through the course of a football game. It might be things we are seeing situationally, we like to predict what plays are going to come at us. He is right as often as I am. He is a very savvy, mature football player. You can have discussions with him during the football game and he finds unique ways of relaying it to the other guys that are taking that information and going with it. We have many of those conversations and I really don't know which one was being referred to.
Do the bounties add to the mutual respect?
I am not playing the bounty game.
Is Coach LeBeau making the right calls?
Yeah, Dick is the guy. Make no mistake, Deshea is being humble. Dick will tell you, those calls are great because they execute at a high level. Guys like Deshea making plays, guys like James Harrison and company making plays, players make the calls quite a bit and he made that call happen.