On attrition football, criticism, Ward's place in history
Throughout the 2009 NFL season, Coach Mike Tomlin will provide his insight and observations to Steelers.com on a variety of topics pertaining to the team and the National Football League.
Q. Soon after you were hired by the Steelers in 2007, you talked about wanting to play attrition football. Fans might automatically assume that attrition football means a run-first offense. Is that true?
A. It can be, but more than anything "attrition football" is the physical manifestation of physical toughness. It's about wearing people down over the course of a football game, not riding the emotional roller coaster, not responding to things that happen that are great, not over reacting to things that happen that are negative. Just continuing to pound the rock and pursue victory, with the understanding that if we remain mentally strong, our opponents will crack.
Q. Has the team attained that?
A. I think we've shown signs of that. Coming from behind and winning the game in overtime against Tennessee is a sign that this is mentally tough outfit. But we're not deep enough into the season to pass that judgment, and we haven't faced enough adversity yet to understand whether that's a signature part of our game or not. I do know it was a signature of the 2008 team.
Q. When a player, or a part of your team, is getting a lot of criticism from the outside, do you ever feel it's necessary, or part of your job, to speak out publicly and defend the player or that part of the team?
A. I'm not really interested in speaking out on our players' behalf. I ask those guys not to worry about what's written and said about them outside of this building. The critiques come from me, or from us, and so we take the other stuff with a grain of salt. That's the approach I take. If I'm asked for my opinion about a critique of a player, then I'll respond to it, but I never take any of those things personally. I don't want the players to do that. We're paid to be critiqued and evaluated. We need to stay singularly focused on winning and preparing to win, and what's going on inside our building.
Q. Are criticisms viewed any differently when they're leveled by former players or coaches, as opposed to a sportswriter who may never have played the game?
A. I think it used to be viewed differently, but now there are so many former players who do that for a living, guys who are hired for their shock value, and those guys know when they sign their contracts that they have to be critical of their former peers and former teammates. It's entertainment. We could care less what they say at this point. There are so many of them, and the criticism is so commonplace, that I think it has lost its sting over time.
Q. The Steelers have had a lot of success recently with the no-huddle offense – both against Tennessee and even going back to Super Bowl XLIII. Do you ever consider making that the staple of your offense?
A. Here's the thing: it's a lot more difficult to execute in hostile environments than it is at home, and let's face it, Raymond James Stadium was like a home game for us. The reality is that the pre-snap communication that's needed to run the no-huddle consistently at times is difficult on the road.
Q. Hines Ward needs 60 receiving yards to go over 10,000 for his career. Do you consider that a remarkable achievement for a guy who has played so many seasons for a so-called running team?
A. When you look at Hines' numbers, they kind of speak for themselves. He has over 800 catches, he's closing in on 10,000 yards, and he owns virtually every Steelers career receiving record to speak of. And when you speak of some of the guys who have come before him in this organization, guys like Lynn Swann and John Stallworth and Louis Lipps, that lets you know what kind of company he's keeping.