Photo Gallery: Eye on the Opponent
Coach Bill BelichickOpening Statement:
We're moving along here on the Steelers. It's been, really, a lot of familiar faces and a few new ones. But overall, fundamentally, it looks like a lot of the Steelers teams we've seen in the past with [Ben] Roethlisberger, a good group of receivers, a solid group of backs, a good power running game, [Heath] Miller is back, so there is certainly a presence at the tight end position. Defensively, Coach [Dick] LeBeau has got them playing their schemes like they always have. They give you a lot of problems. Troy Polamalu is, I think, having an outstanding year. He's been very disruptive. They're strong on kickoff coverage. We've got to do a good job in the return game. They're always dangerous there. It'll be a big challenge for us this week to get ready for all the different things that they do scheme-wise, as well as reacquaint ourselves with many of the players they have. They have some new faces, younger guys that they've drafted in the last couple of years. They haven't played against us, but have already started to make an impact for them.
Re: The impact some of the young players like Kenbrell Thompkins have had on your offense:
I think [Thompkins] and Aaron Dobson have both done a good job for us. They've certainly come a long way since we drafted them, well drafted Dobson, [Thompkins] was a signing after the draft. But anyway, going back to the spring, those guys have come a long way. They've improved a lot. They've really worked hard. The offensive plays that we run and some of our adjustments and routes and so forth are a little bit different, coverage-wise, more sophisticated than what they've seen in college. But they've worked hard and improved and continue to get better on a day-by-day basis in practice and in games. They still have a long way to go, but they've been solid contributors for us and are continuing to get better.
When you look at tape of the Steelers, does it look like a 2-5 team?
No, and, look, they've been in every game. They've been in a number of games that have come down to right at the end, one-score games. All those games have been tight. They could easily have a lot more wins. That's the way it is in the NFL. There are so many games like that. I think they showed what a good team they've been in the last couple weeks. They've played well and lost a tough game last week. They do a lot of things well in all three phases of the game. I think they're capable of beating anybody, like probably just about everybody else in the league is.
What did you see in Emmanuel Sanders that you liked and had you guys pursuing him in the offseason?
I think Emmanuel has done a good job in the time he has been in Pittsburgh, and he's doing it again this year. He's an outstanding player. The kickoff return against the Ravens was a potentially game-changing play. It was. It setup the winning field goal drive. The play he had last week on the two-point play – he's fast, he runs well with the ball in his hands, he gets open, he's a hard guy to cover, a hard guy to tackle and has value in the kicking game. I think he's got a lot of things going for him.
Can you talk about how you guys have been able to overcome some of your injury issues and some of the changes you've had offensively to get to 6-2?
The bottom line is, it's about our team, the way our team has performed. Ultimately, it's the combination of all three, the offense, the defense and the special teams being able to play complementary football. We've had a couple games where we've scored a few points to win, and a couple of games where we've held the other team to not very many points and been able to score a few more than them. We've had plays on offense, defense and special teams – made some big field goal kicks, had a block last week that was a key play for us. Each game kind of has its own different characteristics. Just the bottom line it comes back to is the players have been able to, most of the time, make the plays that they needed to make at the end of the games that were critical plays that determined the outcome. We win because our players make good plays, make good decisions and make good plays on the field. They've done that more times than not this year. I don't think there's any one specific thing or some big secret formula or anything. I don't see that. It just comes down to execution at critical times in the game.
How well is Tom Brady playing, even though he is not having a great year from a statistical standpoint?
We're 6-2. The quarterback's job is to figure out a way to make the plays to get his team to win and that's really the bottom line for Tom, me and everybody else. That's what we're here for is to win games. He's doing things to help us win them and that's really our most important statistic. The rest of them are pretty meaningless really. Just the score at the end of the game.
Tight End Rob GronkowskiAre you healthy?Yep.
Feeling good that you're going to have a good game against your hometown guys?I'm just going in and preparing to the best of my abilities so I'm ready for the game.
Have you got to watch video of the Steelers defense which has had some difficult times this year?Yes. Their defense is actually very good. They've got a lot of very good plays. With [Troy] Polamalu, you've always got to watch out for him. He's one of the greatest players to play and the way he can move is unbelievable.
Tom Brady said after the win over Miami that you're 6-2, but have a lot of work to do on offense. What did he mean by that?You've got to ask Tom personally what he meant by that. I would say that you can always improve no matter what after every game. You always make mistakes that you can improve upon every single week. What we've got to improve upon is playing every single quarter. Last game, the first two quarters – we've got to come out stronger than that. We've just got to be ready at the beginning of the game, second quarter, coming out of halftime, and be ready for the fourth quarter – prepare together as a team to be ready.
Did they do something differently schematically from your rookie year when you caught three touchdowns here, to two years ago to try to shut you down?Not really. They've got many of the same players still on the team even this year. Just overall, they always have a good defense and they always have good schemes going into games. I've got to prepare for anything, any coverage, any zone and any guy that will be covering me. Overall, I've just got to prepare and be ready for anything.
Typically, will you see a linebacker or a nickel back on you this year so far?Both. I've had a couple linebackers, I've had safeties, I've had nickels, I've had corners sometimes. It all depends on the scheme of the defense that week. You never know going into the game what it will be, so you've got to prepare for everything. You've got to watch film and see how they play other teams and be ready for any coverage, any man.
How much more attention are you getting from defenses this year?I just go out there and run my routes. I don't necessarily notice how much attention I've been getting. I don't notice how much attention someone else is getting. I'm just really focusing on what I've got to do to get open on those routes and if I'm covered, I've got to figure out a way to get open.
You can't say that there are more people hanging on your back each pass pattern than last year?[Laughs] Sometimes. It happens.
How has Brady been playing? His numbers have been down. Do you see any change in him at all?No. He's a competitor and competes on the practice field, on the game field, every single week and he's bringing it every week. He's our main leader and he's doing a great job. We're just all focusing as a team to get better all the time and improving as a team.
How much has your offense changed from just a couple years ago with all the personnel changes?We don't really focus on the past and what the teams were. We're just worried about what the team is now and how we can go out to practice and get all the chemistry down as players, as teammates. [We] go out there and just take it one week at a time and prepare as an offense to the best of our ability to perform well on Sundays.
How have you got 6-2 when you've dealt with so many injuries and changes?Just working together as a team and by the next guy coming in and the next guy filling in. Not just really focusing one player here or one player there, it's really just having the whole team knowing what's going on and having the team doing their own job. Me personally, just focusing on my own job and depending on the guy next to me, and having the guy next to me depending on myself. Everyone is just focusing together and working together as a team.
Does that say something about how your team is able to win games with all the injuries and turnover?It's the NFL. Every game is competitive and every game is a hard-fought battle. Every team has great players. You just have to find ways to win. If it's away, if it's with turnovers. On offense you can't turn the ball over. If the defense is playing well and they're creating turnovers, as an offense you've got to capitalize on that stuff. Overall, it's playing complementary football. When the defense makes big plays, the offense has to come up to. It's basically working together as a team.
There seems to be a lot of roster shuffling with the Patriots every year and you always seem to still win 11, 12, 13 games. How do you keep it going continuity-wise?There are injuries on every team every single year. It's just the NFL, it's the game of football and that's what you've got to deal with. Like I said, it's worrying about your own job. Just focusing on your job, what you've got to do, what I've got to do personally to get that block to get that play open so the guy next to me, whether it's Tom or another wide receiver, they can depend on me to know that I'm going to get what I'm doing done. Just depending on other players to do their job. We're just all working together on the practice field to get the chemistry down and just keep on grinding.
Do the head coach and the quarterback have a lot to do with that, too?Definitely. Tom is a great leader and he's competitive out on the practice field at all times and gets everyone going. He helps out a lot. Definitely our head coach – he's the main man, a great coach and he has a lot of great pointers for players.
Do you feel like when your career is over you will have redefined the tight end position?I'm not really worried about that right now. I'm just worried about improving every week and becoming a better player every week, and just being a better teammate every week. Just working hard. That's all.
You talked about Polamalu earlier. Is he as good of a defensive player as you've ever played?Yeah, definitely. He's one of the best players I've played against. It's just unbelievable how quick he can hit that gap, how quick he can hit that hole. He's just an all-around good player. Coverage-wise to blitzing to tackling, he's a great player overall.
Has he really stood out on tape this year?He stands out every year. You see him make some crazy plays. At least a few times a game he is in the backfield.
Do you think he dissects what is going on, or do you think he guesses?It's the game of football. It's both. You've got to know the game of football in order to make big plays like that. He just has a knack for the game. He's been around it for so long. I think he knows what's going to go on and where the play is going to go sometimes.