STEELERS vs. RAVENS AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SUNDAY, JANUARY 18, 2009 KICKOFF IS AT 6:30 P.M. HEINZ FIELD
HEAD COACH MIKE TOMLIN'S PRESS CONFERENCE TUESDAY, JANUARY 13
Coach Mike Tomlin:Good afternoon from the non-bird contingent of the final four I should say. We're excited and rightfully so. This journey started months ago for 32 teams, 32 became 12, 12 became eight and now we sit here today as one of the four. That's exciting. We're playing for hardware this week, the Lamar Hunt Trophy that represents the AFC Champions; we respect that and what come with that. We take a great deal of pride in that it's an AFC North Championship game. I'm pretty sure Baltimore joins us in that. We take a great deal of pride in our division and how we play football. It's awesome that the conference championship comes down to two foes from the AFC North. We've got a lot of work to do this week. Of course we're playing the Baltimore Ravens and we are very familiar with them. I preface that by saying familiarity doesn't breed comfort. The process we need to go through this week is a very important one. We won't take anything for granted as I'm sure they will not as well. It's going to be a tough, hard fought football game. It's going to be one that I'm sure will be entertaining to fans. Whether you support the Steelers or Ravens or you're just a general football fan, this is going to be high quality football. These guys (Baltimore), their story isn't much different from the last time we played them. They play great defense, they're sound in the kicking game, they win by attrition on offense, they pound a big back at you. They make timely throws, their play-action pass is very affective. They've done the same things in the playoffs. They are plus seven in two games in the turnover ratio in the playoffs. It's quite simple, in January if you are on the plus side of the turnover ratio, you go on, if not you go home. Four out of the five top teams in the turnover ratio in the playoffs are still playing, everyone else has gone home. These guys (Baltimore) are plus- seven, the Arizona Cardinals are plus-seven, so we respect that. They've done a heck of a job of taking care of the football and getting it. We'll prepare with those things in mind. We understand how critical that element in the game is this week. It's really no different than at any other point of the year truth-be-known. When you turn the ball over against good people, you generally lose. In January football everyone is pretty good, so when you turn the football over you lose, when you get the football you win. They've done that. We're excited about the challenges that lie ahead. From an injury standpoint we feel very good about where our team is. We had a few minor things that crept up in the game and prior to the game. Troy (Polamalu) strained his calf in pregame warmup this past week against San Diego. He was able to go in the football game, which was good. Tempered that because we wanted to see what he felt like in the days that followed the performance. All indications are that he's going to be fine to participate and play in this game. I may limit him somewhat in the beginning of the week and err on the side of caution in regards to that. He played above that line in that football game. He feels pretty good as we sit here today. We feel comfortable with that. Justin Hartwig tweaked his knee in the second quarter of the football game, was fitted for a brace at halftime, was able to go out and played at a higher level in the second half than he did in the first. I don't imagine that will stop him from missing any action this week. Again I may limit him early in the week. As we prepare. The guys that came into the game with known injuries and issues like Ryan Clark was fine, James Harrison, fine. Of course like we talked about after the game Ben (Roethlisberger) was fine. All those things being said, I'll field any questions."
What do five Super Bowl Championships mean to the expectations with the Steelers?
I love the high expectations that come with this job. I'd rather have high one than low ones. It's a sense of pride. The tradition is awesome. You can't put a price tag on it. It's inspiring not only to me, but I think everybody that's apart of our football team and in this organization. Standards are great. As parents, we try to hold our kids to high standards. Those that have come before us set the standards for us. We understand that when we come in the building. We understand that when we take the field. We hope with how we do our business honors those guys.
What are your thoughts on Tony Dungy?
I haven't had an opportunity to talk to him. I don't have enough time to talk about the impact coach Dungy has had in my professional life, my personal life and I'm sure there are a bunch of people that feel the same way I do. At this time as he walks away from football I tend to focus on his contribution to the game. A lot of times people appreciate who he is as a person, and I'm among them. But at times when we think of him as a person, we diminish somehow what he's done as a coach and what he's done for this game. He's the ultimate coach, he's the ultimate motivator. Often times he's expressionless in the mist of battle, but those who work for him understands what a great motivator and how he inspires men in preparation and in play. He's a great leader in that way, great football coach. He doesn't need an endorsement from me in that regard; his record speaks for its self. What he's done for the game schematically and what he's done from a coaching standpoint, giving men an opportunity and training them and giving them the tools to go out and do it and be at their best. He's a special, special person and when I say that I say that from me personally.
What are your thoughts of Ravens QB Joe Flacco?
He's no longer a rookie. This guy has the hardware that says otherwise. He's led a football team. He's obviously gained the respect of a very veteran-laden football team particularly defensively. They ride with him, as the guys say. He's won postseason games, he's won in hostile environments, he's won on the road, he's delivered. I knew that about him when we were up on them the first time we played those guys. He took them down the field and forced overtime. I saw enough at that time to realize that we're going to have our hands full with this guy for a very long time. He's done nothing to disprove that. He's got his team in striking position to compete for a World Championship.
What do you attribute to the improved play of the offensive line?
I accept responsibility for everything that goes on here, particularly when things are not good. That comes with my job. We've performed better as an offense because we block people and ran the football. Everybody wants to zero in on our offensive line as a source of why we play well or why don't play well. We've got 11 guys on offense, we've got 53 guys on our football team. We play to win. We did enough to win last Sunday and we tend to leave it at that and let our performance speak for its self.
How good have they performed with different combinations in?
We're a 13-4 football team trying to get to 14-4.
Can you outsmart yourself because you're familiar with Baltimore?
All of these matchups unfold differently and you can anticipate it, because you have to learn from your experiences. We have better familiarity with the matchups as do they. You prepare with all those things in mind. Every time you play somebody, even though it's the same team, you're different in some ways. Sure we're different in some ways. I'm sure they're different in some ways. All those things factor into how the game will potentially how the game will unfold and how you prepare. Those are some of the things that we're weighing today and yesterday and will continue to weigh as we approach game time.
Was Troy Polamalu ill on Sunday?
I was unaware of that. What I was aware of what that he strained his calf in pregame warmups, that's why he was not introduced with the defense when the defensive guys were introduced before the game. He was in the back getting treatment and getting taken care of and ready to go. I was uncertain whether or not he was going to be able to go until we put the defense on the field and he went by me going on the field.
Do you think attrition on the Ravens bodies could be a factor?
It potentially could be a factor, but I'm sure they're going to do everything in their power to make sure it's not. It's just this time of year when everyone is beat up to a degree. It's always a factor when we play Baltimore that attrition is going to be part of it. That's something we're well aware of. It doesn't dominate our thought. The same thing could happen to us quite frankly. That's the way that these two teams play football.
When you make decisions on how aggressive to be, is there debate and do you always want to be aggressive?
There is a debate, and no I don't always go on the side of aggression. Specifically about last Sunday, I thought that our opponent (San Diego) had momentum. They had the momentum that was required for them to get into the playoffs. They won a big game versus a good football team that was extremely hot, as hot as any football team in football in the Indianapolis Colts. We were coming off of a bye. I wanted to get our guys going and let our guys know that we were playing and playing to win. I wanted them to have that same kind of momentum and energy that our opponent had. That's why I chose to take the approach that I took in some of the decisions I made in that football game. Particularly in the first half.
Do you think that Baltimore has a momentum of their own?
I do. That's why I'm not very surprised that six seeds are playing in this final four session of the playoffs. To be quite honest with you, what it takes those teams to get in the playoffs is a great deal of resolve and momentum. If they're able to push through the first week of the playoffs and have some success, I think that ball is rolling down hill. That's why teams like Philadelphia and Baltimore are playing the way they are playing.
Does Baltimore get turnovers off their scheme?
It's really quite simple to me; they are making the plays they need to make. They're making the plays when opportunities are presented to them. So often to see teams throw a deep ball and it's caught by no one. Very rarely do you see that versus the Baltimore Ravens because they've got a guy number 20 (Ed Reed) that plays in the middle of the field back there. Very few balls hit the ground when you throw deep versus those guys. He's got that kind of range; he's got that type of intuition. He's that kind of playmaker. The fumbles are caused because they are a big, strong, violent team that runs to the football. A lot of times when you have those ingredients on contact, the ball comes out. There is nothing mythical on how they're doing what they're doing. You respect it none the less because it's impressive and it's how we all desire to play.
Your players consider you a much better coach this year, do you agree?
I'm not interested in evaluating my performance and particularly I'm not interested in my player's evaluation of my performance. I'm paid to evaluate them. How's your editor doing?
Can emotion get in the way against a team like Baltimore?
It's a slippery slope in that regard. You spend a lot of time as a coach during the week making sure that you set the stage, that you use it in a positive way. If you're not careful, you can peak too soon. If you're not careful, you don't challenge in the right direction. Those are the challenges that lie ahead for us, not only as we prepare schematically this week, but readying our team for what we're going to see when we come out of that tunnel from an emotion standpoint and how to channel to getting the job done in doing what it is we need and want to do.
Are Brett Keisel and Willie Parker playing better because of the time they missed?
I'm sure it feels good to be getting healthy this time of year, I think that is critical. We all are fortunate at times. We're not part of this final four of the season without fortune. Sometimes injuries that may appear to be a determent to a team actually help a team. That can be said for us. Some of the injuries we had early in the year let us know that there were some other guys that were capable of providing some plays for us. Also you gain a level of appreciation just for feeling good and playing when you don't get a chance to play. I know Brett is one of those guys that had a different bounce in his step when he came back from his injury. All of those things are a part of it and we acknowledge it. At the same time we can't change the bottom line and the bottom line for us is playing well enough to win
How do you balance confidence versus over-confidence?
I don't control the confidence; I think the confidence is born out of the experience. We have that in our hip pocket. I tend to focus on the things that lie ahead so that's why I make the statements I make in regards to each game standing on its own. Where I spend my time and energy as I sit here today is channeling that to readying ourselves to do this one. The positive experiences we have from the other games, that's in the bag. That's part of who we are at this point. Just like our negative experiences are part of who we are and we carry at this point.
Did you do a better job defensively against Baltimore in your second matchup?
A lot of time that's individual game circumstances. If you remember the first time we played them, we generated some turnovers. We had a score on defense and things of that nature. A lot of times the score isn't a great indication of the flow of the game from that stand point. Field position is going to be big in this game like it's been in a lot of games when we played those guys. There was a lot of uneasiness when we played those guys in Baltimore because we essentially played the first half of that game on our side of the field because their punter (Sam Koch) did an excellent job and (Jim) Leonhard popped a return on us. It's very difficult to go the long haul against a defense the quality of their defense. They were able to score some on us and kick a few field goals because they had a short field. All of those things weigh when you talk about the type of football these to teams play. It leads to unpredictable Sundays that's why we respect this process when we prepare ourselves for what ever as we move on this week.
Are the Ravens the most physical team you've faced this year?
They are extremely physical. We've played in some physical games. As I sit here today, I'd say they are the most physical because we play them this week. Of course 52 (Ray Lewis) is a big reason why they play the way they play. It's obvious that he is the heartbeat of that bunch, of that organization. He's an awesome football player. His resume speaks for itself. He's spectacular and still is.
Are there factors other than good health in Willie Parker's better play?
It's a lot of things. With physical health, it's also mental health. Not only in an individual. That's what makes team sports so spectacular. You feed off of one another. Willie had that type of personality that when he feels good he has a bounce in his step and it permeates throughout a football team. Him (Parker) feeling good physically and mentally maybe rubbing off on a lot of people. Hopefully it is. He has that kind of a personality. It's tough to measure. It's something that' really not tangible, but it's something that if you're a part of you appreciate.
Do you think the bad side of this rivalry could surface?
I don't know that there is a bad side. Talk is just that, it's talk. It's entertaining leading up to a football game. It adds to the excitement of a football game. But when the ball is kicked off these are two teams that play extremely hard and extremely discipline football. I expect the game to be just that, I don't give too much credence to the talk.
Is this rivalry based on respect?
Absolutely, absolutely I believe that.
What is your appreciation for not giving up a yard and gaining yards of offense?
When I was a coordinator we used to have a statement, I'm not a big signage guy, but I had a sign up in our room that said defend every blade of grass. I brought that to this group and I say it to this group often. You've got to be willing to acknowledge that and understand that and have that mentality. So many games come down to inches. That's just a colorful way I choose of describing that mentality that you need to have not only to play great defense, but to play great football. You can flip that statement and turn it over to an offensive statement. The mentality of field position and high pressure is important to playing good football, particularly in the national football league.
What does Ben Roethlisberger bring to this situation?
Ben has been at his best not necessarily what you see in the stadium. I like the way that he's been preparing. I thought he had a great week of practice last week. He was extremely sharp on his deep balls, play action and communication. Just being a great leader and comfortable in exuding the quiet confidence that comes with this job. I believe the guys feed off that, I believe they did last week. I expect it to continue this week.
How did the bye week help Roethlisberger?
It was a luxury for us. We got an opportunity to rest him and not only from a concussion standpoint, but from an arm stand point. I was impressed at how he threw the ball and the liveliness in his arm on Sunday. He launched a couple of those deep balls. It was good for him and it was good for our team. At the same time we had some work we had to get done. For him it was rehabilitation for others like James Harrison it was rehabilitation. For others it was about getting right and getting on the same page to move forward.
Was Roethlisberger a spinal concussion?
It was a concussion. I don't know where these potentially erroneous reports come from to be quite honest with you. I tend to trust and believe in our medical team. They put me at ease; they put him at ease prior to the game. His performance speaks for itself. I commented after the game that it was a non-issue so I see no reason I should confirm nor deny a potentially erroneous report at this time. It's behind us.
Have you had any thoughts to using Willie Parker at the goal-line?
We have pondered that every time that we have gotten down there under those circumstances. What we have done in the past might not be an indication of what we do in the future.
What does an unbalanced offensive line do for the Ravens?
It is really a signature of Cam Cameron football. They go unbalanced and they do a lot of things, but primarily it is for the function of having a power-inside running game. They run power football at you; they do other things to keep you honest; bootlegs and things of that nature. The primary function of an unbalanced line, at least the way they use it, is to pound the tight inside run game at you; as opposed to having a 260-pound guy, or whatever (Todd) Heap is; they have a 310-pound guy at the point of attack.
Do you expect a field position game from the Ravens?
At least initially; I say that because that is what the tape tells us. I have been wrong before, and I am probably going to be right again. They do a nice job of managing situations; they pace themselves. There is an eerie calm about them because they know that they have a great defense, and it is ok to punt one, two or three times because invariably, 20 (Ed Reed) is going to come back to the sidelines with the ball in his hands. Or worse than that, at least from my perspective, he is going to go into the end zone with it. They play like that; they have an understanding of what they are capable of. They are also capable of striking, and striking big. I think that was evident in the Tennessee game when they hit Derrick Mason on third-and-12 for a touchdown. You have to be extremely cautious when you play this team; they are a great team; they are well-coached. They don't necessarily play it close to the vest, even though from a fans' perspective it might appear so. On that third-and-12, one would think that you would play for the chains in that circumstance; routes breaking in and around the chains; they went over the top of them and put seven (points) on the board. They do that quite often; you will see double moves from those guys on third-and-eight; they will stutter at about nine yards and go by you. That is how they play. Maybe it is not interesting for the viewer, but from a coaches' standpoint, this is not an overly conservative bunch. They play smart and they play to their strengths.
Will Troy Polamalu miss some practice time?
Potentially; we are at the point in the season where it is about getting ready to play and being at the very best that you can be on game day. If that means sacrificing a little physical preparation from him and Justin, as I mentioned, then I am willing to do that.
What does Terrell Suggs bring to their team?
He is a Pro Bowl player. He is one of the few guys in this league that can legitimately put his hand on the ground and be a 4-3 end; then legitimately take his hand off of the ball and be an outside linebacker in the 3-4. What he does from that standpoint makes them unique. They can be a 3-4 team if they choose; they can be a 4-3 team if they choose. I think that it is because of the physical talents he brings to the table. As to him playing this weekend, I don't know him personally, but I would be shocked if he didn't come running out of the tunnel wearing a uniform on Sunday. We are expecting to see him.
What does an unbalanced line do to your defense?
Our reaction to it is different at different times. For us, it is important that we don't allow it to reduce what we are capable of; we are very conscious of that. Sometimes we slide people and sometimes we don't.
What are your thoughts on Ben's postseason abilities?
This is the first one that I have been involved with him. Ben is Ben; he is a great quarterback; he is physically gifted. He is smart; he is a professional; you have to have guys like him to be in this thing. Not only him, but if you look across at the teams that are still standing, I think that Joe Flacco is falling into that description of what kind of football player that he is. We know what the guy in Arizona (Kurt Warner) is capable of; he has the hardware to prove it. Donovan (McNabb) has been in five of these things. It really is no secret when you think about it.
How much does it help to have veterans in this situation?
You can say that it is helpful, because it is; but at the same time, if you have a football team that doesn't appreciate the gravity of the moment, chances are you are going home. Hopefully we have a team that appreciates the gravity of the moment; and it won't require a bunch of communication from savvy vets like James Farrior to the young guys to appreciate it. We have put a lot into this to get to this point; as have the other three teams I am sure. I am sure that everybody, young and old, has an appreciation for that.
Did the Rooneys impart any philosophies on you when they hired you?
I think that the Rooney's philosophy is no secret – they want to win, they want to do it with good people and they want to do it the right way. That is what was imparted on me when I became a part of this. Those are philosophies that I have to agree with and embrace. That is how we do our business here.