From the Press Room: Steelers vs. Packers

That was easy: Coach Mike Tomlin jokingly said it all when he opened his press conference following the Steelers 23-19 win over the Green Bay Packers at Acrisure Stadium.

"All right, that was easy," quipped Tomlin.

And rest assured, he was joking after the Steelers pulled out the last second win when safety Damontae Kazee intercepted Packers quarterback Jordan Love at the two-yard line on the final play of the game.

"Just another tight ball game," said Tomlin. "I'm really just appreciative of the mindset of our group. They want to make significant plays in the significant moments and it's a good thing because these games are always tight. 

"Let's talk about why it was tight. We lost some significant possession downs early in the game. A couple third downs. They not only converted them, but they turned them into scores. Those two touchdowns in the first half, we've got to be able to win those downs and fight for those four points, make people settle for field goals. We weren't able to do it. 

"So, the game got tight. We had to settle for a few field goals. They played on the back of those two touchdown opportunities and so it was game on from there."

And when it was game on, the team was on in all facets of the game. 

"I thought our bigs up front on offense did a really good job of controlling it," said Tomlin. "I thought we were able to run the ball effectively and that's a good posture to play from."

The Steelers had their best day of the year in the ground game with 205 yards rushing, with Jaylen Warren putting up 101 yards, his first 100-yard game, and Najee Harris adding 82 yards rushing.

"He just plays hard. He runs hard. He plays hard," said Tomlin of Warren. "He's a tough, hard-working young man. He's deserving of the recognition and the production that he's providing."

The defense came up with two huge interceptions, including Kazee's that sealed the win. 

"We made the necessary splash plays on defense in the waning moments, when they got somewhat one-dimensional," said Tomlin. "They do a really good job of kind of keeping you off balance schematically and minimizing that young quarterback's exposure to a defense, but later in the game when it gets a little bit thick, I thought we would have our opportunities and we did and we made them, so excited about that."

On special teams, veteran Patrick Peterson came up huge with a blocked extra point on the Packers second touchdown of the game, which forced them to have to look for a touchdown and not kick a field goal for the tie in the closing seconds of the game.

"Pat was a rookie and he had a reputation for doing that," said Tomlin. "We double cadenced him and I think we got him to jump offsides, and so this is not a new skill that he has. We've known about it for some time. We were playing him out in Arizona. I think we got him to jump offsides as a rookie and he and I had a little exchange, a laugh about it in-game. He's been a dynamic player in that area.

"I just love the spirit and wisdom that he brings. He is always a calming voice, a steadying presence. He works really well with Joey (Porter Jr.). When I'm talking to the group and I'm looking around, he's always giving you that knowing nod. It's just good to have a veteran player that's a quality human being like him because he is very much a component of raising some of the young ones that are contributing and contributing big."

While there was a lot of good in the game, for the second straight week the Steelers had an inside linebacker go down with an injury. Last week it was Cole Holcomb, who was placed on the Reserve/Injured List, and this week Kwon Alexander went down. 

"It appears Kwon Alexander has a serious lower body injury," said Tomlin. "He's being evaluated, but not promising there."

With Alexander out, it was Elandon Roberts who carried the load, with help from Mark Robinson.

"Elandon's been here the whole time and he's been a quality contributor the whole time, so I'm not going to pretend like he did something today that he hasn't been doing," said Tomlin. "He's a quality veteran player. He's a really good communicator. He takes the run game personally. Those are the reasons why we acquired him in free agency, and he's consistently provided that."

With injuries mounting on defense, and the team also missing safely Minkah Fitzpatrick for the second straight game with a hamstring injury, Tomlin was asked if it concerned him. 

"There's a lot of things to be concerned about during the course of this journey," said Tomlin. "Injury is part of the game. It's as much a part of the game as blocking and tackling. I've learned over the years not to worry about those that are not available to me but to focus my energies on those that are available to me, to make sure that they are ready and prepared and focused, and so that's my general mindset regarding injuries."

Looking for more explosive plays: The passing game still isn't hitting on down the field, 1-on-1 opportunities with the frequency quarterback Kenny Pickett would prefer, but when the running game is functioning as it did against Green Bay on Sunday afternoon at Acrisure Stadium such missed opportunities can be overcome.

And the Steelers' ground game is starting to function with relentless regularity.

The Steelers ran it 36 times for 205 yards and two touchdowns and averaged 5.7 yards per carry in their 23-19 victory over the Packers.

Repeatedly in the second half the Steelers ran it even when the Packers had just one safety deployed deep and a crowd of players in the box to stop the run.

"We were getting pretty good yards per carry even when they were designed to do that," Pickett assessed. "I thought some of the play-action things we did off it was good early. It gives a chance to have some 1-on-1 shots, too,  with (wide receiver) George (Pickens) and 'Tae' (wide receiver Diontae Johnson) down the field.

"Wish we hit on a couple more, there would have been some more explosive plays for us.

But overall, the way we were running the ball, we had a lot of confidence in that."

Perhaps the best example was a 24-yard burst by running back Najee Harris on second-and-7 from the Steelers' 28-yard line early in the fourth quarter against a single-high set.

It was the longest run of the day on a day in which the Steelers repeatedly gashed the Packers' run defense, even when the Packers lined up in formations designed to stop the run.

Harris finished with 82 rushing yards and a touchdown on 16 carries (5.1 yards per) and caught three passes for 14 yards.

Running back Jaylen Warren amassed 101 yards and a touchdown on 15 attempts (6.7), and caught two passes for 9 yards.

One of the two got a touch on 36 of the Steelers' 60 offensive snaps.

"It was kind of a one-two punch that you didn't really want to take it out of their hands too much with how successful they were at it, even getting the ball in the flat or in the screen game and getting them in space," Pickett said.

"I thought those two were playing unreal today. Huge hats off to No. 30 and No. 22 and what they provided us."

Pickett, 14-for-23 passing for 126 yards, also detected "continuity" in an offensive line that included rookie No. 1 pick Broderick Jones starting at right tackle for the second consecutive game.

"Young with great energy," Pickett assessed. "He approaches the game the right way. He brings a fire into the huddle, which you love to see as a quarterback. I think he's nasty in the run game. He did a great job in protection.

"He's only gonna get better, too, which is the great news with him. He's gonna continue to progress, work with all the vets that we have up front and (offensive line) Coach (Pat) Meyer, but he's been doing a great job."

The 205 yards on the ground came in the wake of a 166-yard rushing effort on Nov. 2 against Tennessee.

Those two performances back-to-back were enough for Pickett to declare the running game established as a component of their offense upon which the Steelers can rely.

"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "That's what you want to see and that's what we've always been pushing to do. When we have that kind of balance I think we're going to be a tough out. So we just gotta continue to have that balance, the pass game working with the run, using all the weapons that we have on our offense and continue to push that way."

Embracing the tight games: The Steelers offense got off to a fast start against the Packers, scoring on their first three drives of the game.

While it was a positive for the offense, it also paid dividends for the defense.

"It's huge," said linebacker T.J. Watt. "I think it's always good to see the offense putting up points and sustaining long drives, being able to have us sitting over there on the bench. We talk about all the great defenses spend a lot of time on the bench and I feel like I think the first half was only like 22, 26 something plays. In the 20s. And this year it feels like that's been the amount of plays we've played in just a quarter alone, so very pleased with that. 

"But we need more three-and-outs as a defense. That's something we've been emphasizing and something we need to continue to get better at."

The defense could use a little break with the injuries they have been dealt, including losing Kwon Alexander who left the game on Sunday with a lower body injury.

Like Coach Tomlin, Watt pointed to Elandon Roberts as someone who stepped up.

"He's just got a steady voice inside," said Watt. "He's never too high. Never too low. Very confident player. He's going to get us lined up exactly how we need to and that's all we really need as a defense. We just need to be on the same page and he's a guy that's been able to do that since he's been here, a true professional and he's making some good plays for us as well." 

Everyone on defense was needed in the closing minutes when they had to hold off the Packers final surge, something this team has become accustomed to in close contests all season. 

"As a defense we always want to be out there when the game's on the line," said Watt. "Obviously, we don't love close games, but if we have to, we want to be able to dictate what happens in the end of the game. We've had so much built-in adversity through the whole process, Coach T's all about it. So, it's just a matter of not blinking in those moments."

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