*HEAD COACH MIKE TOMLIN PRESS CONFERENCE OCTOBER 21, 2008 STEELERS vs. GIANTS SUNDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2008 KICKOFF -- 4:15 P.M. *
Coach Mike Tomlin:It's a big week for the Steelers this week. The New York Football Giants come to town, defending Super Bowl champions to play us at Heinz Field, so we're excited about that. There's a lot to be concerned about as you prepare to play this football team. I'll start offensively, they're second in the league in offense. They have a guy whose last name is Manning who plays quarterback. That's always cause for concern. He's always good with the football. He's completed 61 percent of his passes. He's only thrown four picks. And probably the most critical thing is that he does not get sacked. He's only been sacked six times this season. He spreads the ball around and throws to a bunch of guys, they've got three guys with 20-plus catches. Of course that group is led by Plaxico Burress, who is a physical matchup problem. The guy is 6-5, 230 pounds. He can catch the football; he plays big; he can run after the catch. We've got to do the best we can to contain him. Of course guys in Pittsburgh are familiar with that guy. They run the football extremely well. They're the number-one rushing team in football. They've got a stable of backs that do that. That group is led by Brandon Jacobs, who is bigger than Plaxico. He's 265 pounds. He's got over 500 yards on the season. He's plus-five yards a carry. He's got a nose for the goal line. When he's intent on scoring, he usually does. He's got six rushing touchdowns this season. The most impressive thing about their offense is their offensive line, led by Chris Snee. The most impressive thing about these guys is that they get hats on hats. They block all looks. They sustain blocks. They all can get out and pull and get out on the second level. They play very well together. It's obvious why they're very successful, aside from the perimeter people. This group is spectacular. It's fun to watch. It would be more fun to watch if we weren't playing them this week. Defensively, they're fourth in the league in defense. They generate pressure with their front four and the guys feed off of those guys. It's (Justin) Tuck and (Fred) Robbins and (Barry) Cofield and company. They get after your passer relentlessly. They have 21 sacks on the season. The linebackers shoot gaps extremely well. They make these guys tough to block and double team because they run through gaps pretty doggone good. In the secondary, they've got a young secondary with guys like (Corey) Webster and (Aaron) Ross and (Michael) Johnson and (James) Butler. They're all playing extremely well. And the unique thing about this bunch is that they have unique depth, they're backed up by some veteran football players who can play good football and don't require a lot of reps to be ready to play; Sam Madison, R.W. McQuarters and Sammy Knight. Those guys have done big things in this league. In the special teams, they're rock solid. They've got a veteran group in (Jeff) Feagles and (John) Carney. This is a rock-solid football team, very talented, very disciplined, well coached. Like I said, they don't turn the football over, they've only got four turnovers all season. They dominate the time of possession at plus-32 minutes. We've got a lot of work to do. It's an exciting challenge and we look forward to getting about that business tomorrow with our team. Specifically talking about our team from an injury standpoint, Willie Parker continues to progress. He will practice in a limited capacity, maybe not a limited capacity, tomorrow, but he is slated to practice and we will continue to push him towards gameday. Troy (Polamalu) had a concussion in the game. Tests are favorable to this point. He is slated to practice tomorrow. We'll see how it goes. Keyaron Fox is probably not close enough to anticipate playing. He can be listed as doubtful at this point with his hamstring strain. Bryant McFadden had surgery on his arm yesterday, he has a broken arm. He had a plate inserted, will be in a sling for a couple weeks and then we'll progress from there. After that we will take it week-by-week and see where he is in terms of casting him and his potential play. He's out this week. Marvel Smith is recovering nicely from back spasms. We'll see where he is as the week goes on. Dallas Baker with his shoulder sprain will be back practicing tomorrow. Carey Davis will be back practicing tomorrow and we anticipate him playing. As is Casey Hampton, who practiced in the latter part of last week; he will practice tomorrow, and we anticipate him playing. We have a variety of bumps and bruises that go along with playing football. That will never be an excuse. We will put 11 guys on the field and compete against the defending world champs.
Do you take extra care with Troy because of his past concussions?
That decision is very easy. We will simply do what the doctors tell us to do. Right now the tests are favorable. We will continue to test him throughout the week the way we did with Andre Frazier, who had a more significant concussion the other week. Those decisions are easy because we leave them up to the professionals.
Has anyone ever talked to Troy about leading with his head?
He is not any more reckless than anybody else that plays the safety position. This is a guy that runs to the football and sometimes violent collisions happen. He has his share of them. It's not any negligence on his part as far as technique.
What is the trickle-down effect of not having McFadden?
Deshea Townsend is going to have to play more. He hasn't had to play a bunch of snaps, because he has been nursing the heel contusion and been limited in how he practices, and maybe he will be limited again this week in how he practices. He has to step up his performance. William Gay has to step up his performance. We have a lot of confidence in him. He has been working extremely hard and chomping at the bit to prove he is worthy of being in the group. He's in that second-year player group that we place a lot of pressure on as a football team to take the jump. Some of the other guys have had the opportunity to take that jump – Lawrence Timmons, Matt Spaeth, LaMarr Woodley. He's ready to jump in that group, and we feel comfortable with where he is in terms of being capable of doing that. Anthony Madison, who has been a special teams stalwart for us, will be ready if called upon.
What is the value of having depth in separating teams in the NFL?
Ultimately, the quality of depth determines the quality of your football team. We all acknowledge in this business that injuries are a big part of this game. People's ability to adjust and plug people in and keep the train moving, ultimately those are the teams that are going to be successful. Probably a lot has been made out of our story, because of Mewelde Moore stepping up and Darnell Stapleton stepping up, but that's just football. Those stories can be told about anybody that's winning, because anybody that's winning has guys stepping up and making plays for them. We take it all in stride. That's why training camp and the offseason are so important to us. That's why practice is so important for us, because not only are the guys you hear about – the headline-grabbers like Hines Ward – guys like Limas Sweed need to prepare to play. You can pick names across any position. Sometimes the star players dominate so much of our thoughts, as people who appreciate this game, that we fail to realize there's a bunch of developing guys trying to learn and master their craft, because they know the opportunity is going to await. That's what it's all about for us.
What is the value of having veterans supply that depth?
Veterans reinforce a lot of things to young guys – that's a part of being a veteran football player. There is of value to having veteran backups, and that's one of the reasons why we went out and acquired Orpheus Roye later in the process and we're glad to do it, and a guy like Byron Leftwich. Those are been-there, done-that guys. They know what this game is about. They know what games like Sunday's at four o'clock are about. They're ready to pick up and lead the charge if we call on them.
Will Willie Parker start if ready to play?
If he is ready to play, he will definitely start. We will continue to give Mewelde Moore his looks. A lot of that will be determined on Parker's level of conditioning and the flow of the football game.
How will you use Mewelde Moore?
He is our third down back and nothing has changed in regards to that. The series will be determined by the flow of the game. If we have long, sustained drives, and hopefully we do, he may be intermingled throughout a series. We'll play that by ear depending on how we move the football. Mewelde will play, but if Willie Parker comes back, he will start.
What is Hines Ward's value to the team beyond statistics?
He's a sparkplug for us, a tremendous competitor, he is a leader. All of that is unique and important because he makes plays. When we need a play, he makes it. Not only is he a leader on game day, but he's a leader in the locker room, he's a leader on the practice field, he's a leader in the meeting rooms. This guy is a good football player, a great professional.
What is your comment on Ward's hit on Keith Rivers?
It was a legal block. The guy was getting ready to make the tackle. I think we're making too much out of this.
Why has Eli Manning been so difficult to sack?
They block people. Quite simply, that sums it up. These guys are great run blockers, they're great pass blockers. They do throw some quick passes, but sometimes Eli is back there patting the ball while looking for receivers, too. They do a nice job. They are arguably not only the best line in football, but the best line I've seen in a long time.
How have Timmons and Woodley helped the pass rush?
Both of those guys are capable of winning one-on-one battles, and those are some of the things we highlight and preach. As coaches, we work our tail off in order to provide quality looks and hopefully design blitzes where people come in free, but invariably getting home is about people beating people. Woodley is capable of beating people. Timmons is capable of beating people, and that's what they've been doing. They've been following the lead of a guy – James Harrison – who has been doing a great job on the right side for us.
Was Hines fined for the Cincinnati game?
Are the Giants a blitzing team?
They do blitz, they're capable of blitzing. But they have some guys who are attacking, penetrating, upfield rushers. That's what it is they do. They're a 4-3 team, and a lot of 4-3 teams build their attack around their four rush-men, similar to the Houston Texans. We spent a lot of time talking about Amobi Okoye and Mario Williams and those guys. This is a classic 4-3 team that is very disruptive, has talented people up front, rotate guys in. In passing situations, Justin Tuck moves inside, and he's a tough assignment for tackles, let alone guards, from a pass protection standpoint.
*Is it special to play the defending Super Bowl champions?
I'm sure it is. They're the defending world champs. They hold that title until somebody wins it. It is special.
What did you think of Burress as a Steelers receiver, and is he different now?
He is a problem. He's a problem because he's big and he plays big. He's great after the catch, and he's tough to get on the ground. When he runs those skinny-posts and those balls come out on time, you're a tackler because they're very tough to break-up. If you transition and get there, he uses his body like a rebounder. Those things are very tough to stop. He can get 18-20 yards in chunks every time they throw it to him on those routes. He did it here in Pittsburgh, and he's doing it in New York. Those aren't the only routes he runs. He's a complete wide receiver, a splash-play guy for them.
Did he get more complete after he went to New York?
I respected him when he was here. He beat us pretty good when I coached the secondary in Tampa. We played these guys down there and he probably had 80 yards on the first series of the game on us, and then we spent the rest of the game trying to tackle the Bus (Jerome Bettis). I respect the guy.
What are your impressions of Tom Coughlin?
I appreciate Coach Coughlin because he makes no bones about who he is and how he approaches what he does. His track record speaks for itself. He's had success in two cities now. I have a great deal of respect for him as a person in this business.
*What happened to the Giants in Cleveland?
Cleveland played a great game, and that's probably the only game this year when the Giants turned the football over.
How often do you test Troy during the week?
I don't know the answer to that in terms of the number of times we test him during the week. As of right now we anticipate him playing.
*After the Bengals game, Ben Roethlisberger said he called a bad game. How many of the plays did he call himself?
I don't have a percentage. He calls quite a bit of the no-huddle, but when we're in no-huddle there's still coach-to-player communication. I don't keep a tally of the number of plays he specifically call. He does a nice job, he does a nice job of mixing the run with the pass and spreading the ball around, so I appreciate that element of it. Ben is going to be his own worst critic, and he should be, because he has the desire to be great. I thought he did a nice job of administering the offense and moving the team. We had a lull there in the second quarter because we had a lull there in the second quarter. We didn't take advantage of field position, we botched a third down situation, we pushed ourselves out of field goal range with a penalty. That's football. We fall short of perfection, but it's a new week and we seek it.
*How has Nate Washington improved?
Nate has been very consistent in the way he practices, and I think that's showing up in games. My experience with him has been over the last two years, and I've been challenging him to be a factor in every football games he plays. Last year he showed us flashes of being a guy to be reckoned with. He'd step up and have a big game and then three or four weeks later he'd step up and have another big game. I've been personally challenging him to step up and be a guy to be reckoned with every time he steps into a stadium on weekends, and he's embracing that. But more than that, he's doing the things throughout the week to prepare himself to do that. He's a consistent practice guy for us, and he's getting more opportunities in practice because we don't practice Hines on Wednesdays. Maybe that has something to do with his growth and development in his timing with Ben.
So Washington has stepped up?
Re: Evaluation of your offensive line.
We feel like we are just continuing to get better and we are practicing and communicating. Hopefully that continues to improve as we go forward. We acknowledge where we are, not only in that position group but as an offense. We are in year two and hopefully we gained some continuity and understanding. Players among players, coaches among players and hopefully that is the direction that we are going. Those guys responded, I think they are a little chapped by being referred to as the weak link. Nobody wants to be that. If that motivates them, great.
*Will you make a roster move at defensive back since you only have eight healthy ones?
That's enough to play with. It may merit roster considerations. I think more than anything right now we are concerned about practice and tomorrow. We'll see how that goes throughout the week. Eight defensive backs on the team or suited on game day is enough to play with.
How much better do you feel about the chances of the injured guys to play well after getting an extra week off?
I will know more as we progress throughout the week and watch them function in practice tomorrow and Thursday, particularly Thursday because we carry our pads Thursday in practice.
Did you see how Bryant McFadden broke the arm?
He was attempting to tackle Cedric Benson. Cedric got his shoulder square and went downhill and got him and then he got Troy (Polamalu). Now you know why we are concerned about Jacobs this week.
Re: Cleveland said Brandon Jacobs tip-toes around.
Did they say that before or after they played them? Good for them. I saw him turn square against the Cleveland Browns and run about three people over from about eight yards out and get a touchdown early in that game. That is the guy I am worried about as we sit here today.
*Do you have to get him before he gets squared and started?
Ideally, that's what you like to do. But I think that is what makes their attack so potent, because when I mentioned their offensive line earlier, they get hats on hats and they sustain blocks. So it is very difficult to get him before he gets going. A lot of the times he is long-striding through holes three yards into the line of scrimmage. You got a problem there. That's what makes them a great offense. But not only do they provide that for him, but Ward averages six to seven yards a carry and the other guy gets about six yards a carry also. This football team averages about 5.6 yards a carry, so they have very good guys up front.
*Are you surprised there is no dropoff in New York's pass rush?
No really I haven't. As a guy that follows what goes on around the league, I found it funny when people questioned their moves in the draft. They went and got the first rounder from Boston College (Mathias Kiwanuka) when they had quality ends. They got Tuck when they had quality ends. They got Cofield when they had quality inside people. They stockpile men upfront because philosophically that's how they want to attack people. So when injuries and retirement and so forth set in, they just dial the next guy up. They have great depth.
Do they rush strait up, or use twists?
They do both, but there is no question that they have a nice vertical pass rush.
Are the New York Giants keyed by what their lines do?
On both sides of the ball. They are a great team because they are great up front offensively and defensively. They went 7-1 last year on the road. When you are good in the trenches, you can win football games regardless of game location. We respect that and we know what's coming in here. That is why are antennas are up as we prepare.
Is Marvel's back problem related to his surgery?
It is totally different. It has nothing to do with the surgically repaired area of his back.
Re: Terrell Suggs saying that the Ravens have a bounty on Hines Ward.
I'm not worried about what is said by anybody, truth be known. A lot of people do a lot of talking in this game and it's funny to me. It's not about what you say in the league, it is about what you do. We respect that. That's why we try to say very little and just practice and prepare for our performances. If he chooses to say that, so be it. We respect that guy. He is a heck of a player. I saw him run with the ball on somebody last week, but we don't lose any sleep over what anybody says.