Head Coach Mike ShanahanHow would you characterize the offense you are running now compared to when you were in Denver?
I think we're doing a lot of the same things. We've just got an option attack to go with the things we've done, with the play-action and our drop back in the pass.
Have you always liked option football or is it just relevant to the team you have now?
I ran it in college when I was at Oklahoma with the wishbone and a couple other places with the Veer. So many colleges are running it and the NFL with the wildcat, people have used bits and pieces over the last number of years. You do obviously study up on it all the time because you have to defend it. It's kind of been a little bit more fun with Robert [Griffin III], because you can run it sometimes or you don't have to run it, and those guys still have to prepare for it.
Is RG III the key to this option attack working in the NFL?
I think you have to have everybody to make something work, not just the quarterback. But with his speed, he does present some more problems than most quarterbacks.
Re: Taking advantage of RG III's skills while also preventing him from taking big hits:
I think that's part of the learning process. The last couple of games he's run just as much but he's learning how to protect himself. He knows when to slide. One advantage about an option is that it's truly an option. If you do run with it because all of the other avenues are covered and you do have to slide, or against a couple teams, you know when to throw it away when you're outside the pocket. I think the last couple of games, if you take a look, he's really taken a lot of shots and we've run the ball probably just as much or more effective, but he understands how important he is to our football team to stay healthy and not take unnecessary hits.
Re: Benefits of running the pistol formation:
It's a little different for linebackers. We feel they can use the quarterback being under the center and sometimes if you're in the pistol or the shotgun, it's just something that people don't see all the time. We know it sometimes gives our defense a hard time because they're just not used to it. We'll do under the center and we'll be in the pistol. It all depends on what type of team we play.
Has anything Griffin III has done surprised you?
I don't think you know anybody until you spend time with them. Even though you can see the physical skills of people and you can project how someone fits in your system, until you actually work with somebody you don't know for sure. I've been very pleased with the way he goes about his business. He's a very detailed guy, a very smart guy and he works extremely hard to be the best at what he does. You take that with his skill set, you feel pretty fortunate.
Are you getting more than you expected out of RB Alfred Morris?
I don't think you know until the preseason games. I felt after the preseason games that we knew we had something special. As we went through preseason, there was no question in my mind that he was going to be very effective for us. I just like the way he ran our offense and the way he handled himself. He's a very humble guy, works extremely hard and is a very talented kid.
What did you see in Morris initially that led you to draft him?
He's a guy that was about 220 pounds, a downhill runner and did have an average of about 4.2 or 4.3 a carry but they played some excellent teams and some of those runs were just off the charts. The one thing that we really didn't know, they didn't throw the ball a whole lot and when you did see him catching the ball he wasn't really that effective, which I think drove a few people away from him. But he didn't practice it, they just handed the ball of to him. He's practiced catching the ball and he's adapted to that very quickly and does have good hands. We felt lucky that he fit our running style, and I don't think many people are alert to him.
Of the many good running backs you've coached, who does Morris most resemble?
I really hate to do that this early in the career but I will say this, if he can stay healthy, knock on wood, he's going to be good for years to come.
Re: RG III completing a high percentage of his passes:
I think to have that type of percentage, you have to be doing a lot of things right, especially with his effectiveness. Number one, there's a threat in the running game where defenses have to play pretty honest. I think we've been effective running ball, which sure helps him. He does have a great touch on the ball if he's throwing deep or if he's throwing short. Hopefully, we can keep it going. We're going against some great defenses here down the stretch and Pittsburgh being ranked second in the league, they'll make it as hard for him as possible. They made it pretty tough when they gave up 185 yards to Cincinnati. It'll be a great challenge to us.
Re: What you expect to see from the Steelers defense:
You never know, that's the interesting part, as teams come up with different types of game plans. The one thing that we've been able to do is we just don't have to run the option. I think we've got a pretty good running game without the option. We feel that when teams do have to spend that time it gives us a little bit more of a chance to be good at what we normally do anyhow.
Why do you maintain an appreciation for the running game when the league is becoming very pass-oriented?
When it comes around playoff time you're never really sure what those conditions are, especially with the weather. I think some teams that really can throw the ball well usually have darn good personnel but I think if you go back in history, and I think it will be this way in the future, teams that can do both and be effective at both have the best chance to win.
How does it happen that guys like Alfred Morris and Arian Foster are overlooked and then explode in the NFL?
That's a great question. I think everybody looks for different types of backs in their system and you have to be committed to the running game to get good at it. We really believe in it and when a guy like Alfred comes along and you can see his skill set, you feel very fortunate to have gotten him, especially where we did, but more importantly you know you've got something special.
Does Morris' success speak a lot about the performance of the offensive line?
It does about everybody. When you're committed to the running game, everybody's committed. It's not just your offensive line. It's your receivers, tight ends, quarterbacks in the fakes. To have a good running game consistently you have to have everybody buy in.
Re: Thoughts on your defense's performance and losing late against the Giants last week:
You give up a big play like that and at the end of the game, instead of everybody feeling good everybody's feeling bad. We did a couple good things. A couple turnovers put us in a couple positions to win the game. We shut down their running game to 3.6 yards per carry and all of the sudden, instead of having 260 yards they've got 330 yards and one touchdown instead of no touchdowns and two interceptions. Just a big play like that can take the wind out of your sails. You've just got to go back, keep working and eliminate the big plays, especially in crucial situations.
Re: QB Ben Roethlisberger:
He is so good at making plays when everything shuts down. You take a look at his third-down conversion rate, and I think that proves everything about the guy. He's going to find a way to make a play and he's got a great feel in the pocket, he can make people miss and he's so darn strong and focused down field. He's a special guy.
What are some of the challenges of dealing with the Steelers receivers and TE Heath Miller?
You've always got to stop the run and put them in a one-dimensional game. As you just mentioned, with a guy like Ben it makes it tougher because he makes plays on his own. With the speed that Pittsburgh has at the wide receiver position and the tight end making plays, you've got to really play hard as a unit and come up with a couple turnovers.
How many teams did you visit in 2009?
I visited a few. I went to Florida to see the pro teams. I got a chance to spend some time with New England and Pittsburgh. I got a chance to spend a couple days with the Patriots and about a day and a half with Pittsburgh. I got a chance to look at some film, how they practiced. I took a look at teams that have been really good over a number of years or a number of decades and wanted to look at how they practiced and how they did things. You can always watch film, but when you see it firsthand it's kind of interesting to look at because you never get a chance to see that as a head football coach.
Do you have any notes in your back pocket that you're going to pull out Sunday?
No. I can't remember that far back to be honest with you.
Did you learn anything from defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau when you were here?
I've learned a lot from him through the years. I know one thing, I'm not going to play any golf with him because he's way too good of an athlete to compete with. I played golf with him a couple times. He's really something, besides knowing what he's doing on defense. He does a great job every year.
Re: Working with defensive coordinator Jim Haslett:
It's been fun. Jim does a great job. He's a hard worker. He's lost a couple safeties, he's a lost a defensive end and a linebacker which has made it a little bit tougher on him. We've lost seven guys that would be dressing in this game and it's a challenge to our guys but they're doing a heck of a job working with the guys we've got. Four of our losses, one we were tied and three we were ahead, so we've got to start finishing some games and pull out a few wins. But, we're close and hopefully we can get over the hump.
Quarterback Robert Griffin IIIRe: The start of your career both on and off the field:The one thing you learn is about the whole process of being in the NFL. As a kid, you dream about being a professional athlete and you think you can just play the game you love and there are no strings attached. There are a lot of things that go on in an organization, on and off the field that you have to get used to. You learn how to fight through it as a professional athlete. There has been a learning curve but it's something I've enjoyed. The only thing that is disappointing right now is the hard work and dedication of all the guys on the team isn't being shown with the wins and losses. We are 3-4 with a chance to get to 4-4, and that's a good thing.Re: Your play looks effortless on the field:It's just about trusting your preparation. The coaches give me the game plan. It's my job to make sure I match that plan, because I am the one out there playing. They have trusted me with a lot of things out there on the field. We've gone out and executed and moved the ball. It's just about knowing what you are doing out there and not feeling the pressure even when other people do. When you were drafted, did you expect to run as much as you have?I didn't try to put a cap on how much I was going to run. Some games I run a lot and some games it's just a matter of what the defense is giving us and what the team is asking me to do offensively. I don't pay much attention to it. I just have to continue to protect myself like I have in the past two games and make sure I am out there fighting with the guys to get wins.How do you protect yourself?I get down when I have to and get out of bounds when I can. I've done the best job of probably my whole career doing that the past few games, not taking many hits. If you get sacked or hit in the pocket that's just football. But whenever you break the pocket, it's my job to keep myself safe at the same time that I am trying to move the chains.When did the RG III phenomenon start?I don't know. I don't know if I have that split personality or anything like that. You have to know when to turn it on and turn it off and when to be serious and when to joke around with the guys. That's the main thing you have to do, keep everybody motivated and lead them. They know that no matter what, you will do what is best for the team.
How much has the offense changed in each game?
We just have a very dynamic offense. We are able to do a lot of different things. Every week coaches install some new things to keep defenses off balance. It's my job to go out there and do something else when defenses figure it out. If they don't figure it out, just keep attacking them the way that we are.
Re: Steelers' defense:
I know that they are the Steelers' defense. Whenever you say that, it holds a lot of power and a lot of weight. Regardless of what other people have said about them, they are still a very good defense. The numbers prove it. The players on the field prove it. It's our job to go out and just execute. It's going to be a physical game. We have to meet that physical challenge. Just like every game. It's definitely going to be a good matchup for us.