*STEELERS at PATRIOTS SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2008 KICKOFF -- 4:15 P.M. *
HEAD COACH MIKE TOMLIN'S PRESS CONFERENCE TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 25
Coach Mike Tomlin:Good afternoon. We sit here today coming off what has hopefully been a restful weekend for us because this weekend's challenges are significant. Quickly, I'll give an update on the health of the team. Santonio Holmes sustained a concussion in the game; all indications are that he is going to be fine and be able to play for us. Of course, like we always do under these circumstances, we will continue to test him throughout the week; I expect him to be fine. Brett Keisel has a MCL sprain; he will be out this week and a couple of weeks to follow. We will take it week-to-week with him. Bryant McFadden practiced at the end of last week and he will do the same this week; hopefully we will be able to have him. He is questionable at this point. Willie Parker had some knee inflammation from the game; hopefully we will see where he is. He is questionable at this point. Deshea Townsend is still recovering from his hamstring injury; he is still doubtful. Marvel Smith's back situation is status quo. Quickly, talking about New England; they are a good football team and they are well-coached. They are rock-solid in all three phases. Offensively, (Matt) Cassel is doing an awesome job; he has thrown for over 400 yards the past couple of weeks. He is spreading the ball around to a variety of receivers; really doing a nice job of running their offense in its many forms. The linemen up front do a nice job of picking up gains; they get hats on hats. They don't make mistakes; they are very good in the screen game. They stay on their feet and they get on people out on the perimeter; they are excellent. Randy Moss is a big-play guy; if you get single-safety coverages; if he gets matched up one-on-one downfield with defenders, then there are big-time problems. It has been for the 11 years that he has been in the league, and nothing has changed. Wes Welker is a guy that makes plays for them underneath. They get into an open-receiver set and they match him up with linebackers and so forth underneath. He is just too quick for a lot of people. He catches two and three-yard passes and turns them into 20 or 30-yard gains; or 60-yard gains like he did last Sunday to break open a very close football game. (Ben) Watson is a very good, solid tight end. He can block and he can stretch the field vertically. (Jabar) Gaffney is a good complementary receiver. Defensively, it starts up front; we talked about that last year when we were preparing to play these guys. No question it starts up front. Richard Seymour is an all-star caliber player; he has seven sacks; he is a former number-one draft pick. (Vince) Wilfork at the nose is a very similar Pro Bowl-caliber player; a former first-round draft pick. Ty Warren at the other end spot is similar. He is a former first-round draft pick and a Pro Bowl-caliber player. On the second level, (Teddy) Bruschi is a very heady, crafty linebacker. Outside, (Mike) Vrabel is very aware; he makes splash plays for them. He ends up with the ball in his hands quite a bit. In the secondary, (Brandon) Meriweather is playing really good football for them; a former first-round draft pick for them from out of Miami; he is a young guy who is emerging and is taking advantage of an opportunity; he leads them in interceptions. Ellis Hobbs is a very rock-solid, dangerous corner man. In the special teams game, they are very solid at both kicking at punting. At punt return, Wes Welker is at 11-yards a return and Ellis Hobbs returns kicks besides being an excellent corner; he is at about 27-28-yards a return in that facet of the game. Needless to say we are going to have our hands full with preparing; we will get the guys in here at 2 p.m. today and get the process going. We are looking forward to going to New England and pitting our skills against a very good football team.
*How is Cassel working within their spread?
I don't know how they administer it but it is obvious that they are capable of spreading the field on you with multiple wide receiver sets and moving the ball by both passing and running. I think that you can get enamored by the fact that this guy has thrown for over 400 yards the past couple of games and miss the fact that they are seventh in the league in rushing. They average 130 yards a game rushing. They have a committee of backs led by Kevin Faulk, who is a jack-of-all-trades master for those guys. They have 1,400 yards rushing as a football team. They are capable of passing the ball up-and-down the field on you, but if you get preoccupied with that then you can get on the bad end of 150-yard or 200-yard rushing day.
Why bring back Mitch Berger?
When we made the decision to go with Paul (Ernster), I characterized it as "not up to snuff." Obviously "not up to snuff" is relative. We are glad to have Mitch back. Of course, the reason that you go to him is continuity. Jeff (Reed) is having an awesome season and has been very consistent for us. When you bring in a guy like Mitch who has experience with him in the holding category, I think that it weighs into your decision. Hopefully it continues to be an effective element of our game, talking about Jeff's placekicking; Mitch will hopefully be a very big part of that. We will need Mitch to do a quality job punting as well.
Was Berger's problem his hamstring?
I just go with the bottom line and the punting was "not up to snuff."
Do you study more game tapes because Cassel is now the quarterback?
We look at every single game; we will look at every single game that he has played in this year. What games we put into the computer in terms of breakdown is another story. We will look at every tape that he has put out there.
Is the offense the same with Cassel in there?
I think that it is obvious that they have a lot of confidence with what this young man is doing for them. Yes, they are willing to do whatever it is that they deem necessary to win. He threw it quite a few times last week for over 400 yards. I think that his numbers speak for themselves; he has a 90-plus passer rating. He is showing that he is a player in this league at that position. It is a good thing for them.
What does he do well?
I think that he is surprisingly mobile. You have seen the highlights all year and you know that he can make any of the throws on the field. You know that he is doing a nice job of communicating, identifying potential hots and running their offense. The added element that he brings is the ability to buy time and create as pockets lag on. He was their leading rusher versus the Jets; he has over 200 yards rushing on the season. He is a big reason why they are seventh in the league in rushing. His ability to escape is an issue; an issue that you do not historically have to deal with when you prepare to play New England.
Are you surprised that he has been able to do what he has done?
I am not surprised; nothing surprises me in this league truth-be-known. I was part of a team that won a world championship with a guy who did not start in college at quarterback in Brad Johnson who is 40 and still playing in the National Football League.
Is New England using the running game as a change-of-pace?
That would be a fair assessment to say that their running game works off of their passing game. The bottom line is that they have racked up 500-plus yards of total offense the past couple of weeks. However they choose to do it is up to them. Our issue is trying to limit that.
Is four or five days off at this point too much for the team?
No. For the guys that needed to rest, it is a great opportunity to get a break. For the guys that didn't, there have been guys in and out of the building getting in a workout. These guys are professionals and they know what is at stake; they know where we are. It is getting to the rubber meeting the road time of season. No, there wasn't a bunch of talk about where we are; I think that they know where we are.
How essential is Ryan Clark to your secondary?
Ryan, first and foremost, is having a heck of a season for us. I don't want to devalue the plays that he makes because he is making quality plays for us and playing good football. The added bonus is that he does a nice job of communicating with others and making sure that people are on the same page; exhibiting leadership qualities that you desire from a guy who stands in the middle of the field. Because of those reasons, he is well respected by his teammates and by the coaching staff. At the same time, I don't want to devalue the plays that he makes by talking about some of the things that he does to help other people out.
What does it say about Bill Belichick that they are playing well and winning without Tom Brady?
I don't think that anybody in this industry thinks that Coach Belichick is not a great coach; injuries are a big part of it. They are dealing with injury and this is not the first time that they have been successful while dealing with injuries. Anybody that is going to be successful has to be able to do that.
What are your thoughts on Ben's running?
Anything that moves the chains and rings up the scoreboard; we need plays; he is capable of providing them. Those two plays that you mentioned were critical in terms of turning the tide in our favor.
Did you talk to him about that?
No. Ben is a competitor; if it is there, he is going to take it. There is no doubt about that.
Is that a sign that his shoulder is feeling better?
I don't know that he was not running because of his shoulder. I just think that people know Ben's reputation and they go to great lengths to keep him in the pocket and not get out of the pocket. People have been doing a nice job of that this year.
If Willie can't go, can you play with just three running backs?
We have done that when he hasn't gone in recent weeks. At this point, that would be the plan.
*What about New England's defense?
They're getting quality play from guys like (Jerod) Mayo of course. (Adalius) Thomas went down with an injury and Pierre Woods has stepped up and giving them some quality play. They're finding their cohesion as they mix in some of those young guys, but the cause in the machine that are consistent are those big men up front. (Tedy) Bruschi and (Mike) Vrabel are doing a nice job, (James) Sanders at safety is playing rock solid ball not only this year, but the last several years for them. I like where they are defensively. They've been in some shootouts, but we all get in those from time to time. They're a quality defensive outfit. They can play any brand of football you want to play. If you want to spread them out they can play that game, they got nice sub packages. If you want to grind it out and play tough guy football of course they're capable of that.
Does New England run a lot of pick plays?
They do it and there's 31 other teams that do it as well and it's been around for quite some time. I don't know what has stimulated the discussion about it here of late, but it's been a part of offensive football in this league as long as I've been in it.
How hard is that for a referee to call?
I don't comment on officiating or what it takes for them to do their job. They have tough jobs.
Talk about these four weeks of the schedule?
I didn't care about the schedule in March. I don't care about the schedule now. I really don't. We play New England this week and that's where we're at. And that's where our attention needs to be. I can care less what's going to happen in the upcoming month or the subsequent weeks. That's never been our mentality and won't be.
Do you have to stress record/tiebreaker?
Hey, our guys know about New England.
Do you take comfort with having veterans for the stretch run?
I don't know if comfort is the correct word. It's good to have a veteran football team, one that understands what this time of year is about and what we're trying to do. But at the same time as a coach you don't take that for granted. You talk about what's required this time a year; you talk about what's necessary for us to continue to move in the direction that we're moving.
Evaluate (Travis) Kirschke and (Nick) Eason. Backups filling in for (Brett) Keisel. Expectations don't change?
No and they won't. Those guys have proven to us so far this year that they're capable of holding the standard. Travis has been great when called upon, Nick Eason and Orpheus Roye as well. It will be business as usual in regards to those situations and we expect those guys to play winning football for us.
*Why has Kevin Faulk done so well for so long?
He's their offensive version of Tedy Bruschi. What I mean is; boy he's very talented, but his above the neck game is just as impressive or more impressive than his physical talents. Boy he's an awesome guy, he can catch the ball, he's very aware, spatially aware. He can find open areas in the screen game. His blitz pick up is exceptional. He can cut you, he can fake cut you, hit you in the mouth. He's a great draw runner, great counter runner. He has a very well rounded game physically and mentally and those are the guys you covet. That's why he's been the kind of guy he's been up there for so long and why we respect them.
Can you assign a linebacker to him?
He's going to find ways to win one-on-one battles and that's the reality of it. You better be prepared to get a bunch of people to the football. Not only when you're dealing with him, but when you're dealing with guys like Wes Welker and guys like Randy Moss. Those kinds of guys, you know they win their share of one on one battles. So we got to play team defense, we got to play defense with 11 bodies and we have to get to the football. That's what we've done to this point this year and that's what's going to be required for us to be successful against this outfit.
Has Randy Moss helped the quarterback develop?
(Randy) Moss has done a nice job over his career of making quarterbacks look really good. And all you got to do is throw the ball in a general area and that's not devaluating what (Matt) Cassel has done, it's just the facts. If you have Randy Moss one on one with somebody you can just throw the ball in the general area. It doesn't require a great deal of accuracy or touch. He comes back with the football and he's done that for 11 years. This year's no different.
Does (Matt) Cassel mask his inexperience?
Well, he's a four-year guy. He's been up there four years and he's been in the system. Of course this is the first opportunity to play in regular-season football, but he doesn't look like a rookie by any stretch. You can tell that the time spent on the practice field and in meetings up there for four years have been beneficial to him and you can tell he's really an intelligent guy because it takes one to learn from mental reps and classroom reps. And it's obvious that he's done that.
What type of pressure packages does New England bring?
Well, if the past is any indication, we should expect the unexpected. They're going to Rolodex things. They're going to test the water, they always do. They'll jump from three-down fronts to four-down fronts. They'll drop people on third-down and rush two or three. They'll bring people and they'll do all those things early in the football game to kind of test the waters and then they'll proceed from there.
Did what (Bill) Belichick say about your team last year affect your opinion of him?
Not at all. Like I said a year ago, what he said in regards to my football team is irrelevant to me. What he says of course is relevant to a lot of people in this industry because he is who he is, but for me personally when he's talking about my team, irrelevant.
Did that game affect Anthony Smith's Career?
You'd have to ask Anthony that. I'm not going to use that game as a turning point or bench mark for anyone or anybody. His career is his career.
*Does it surprise you that they're still good with the injuries especially the loss of Tom Brady?
No, part of you would like to hope that if we'd sustain that kind of injury that we'd be capable of what they're doing. That's what good teams do. And that's why they're good teams.
*Evaluate your offense's ability to run screen passes.
I don't know if I'd say I was very happy. It's ok. We did alright. It takes a lot to be a very good screen team and that's something that we desire to be and we're a work in progress in that regard. But it's timing as linemen get out front, stand on their feet and identify people getting people blocked. Its backs catching the football. It's backs and quarterbacks finding the alley which to deliver the ball. It's a lot of those things and it looks like we're potentially coming into form in that regard based on last week's performance, but this is a new week. We got new issues, new problems, but hopefully our screen game this week is part of the solution.