STEELERS VS. JAGUARSAFC WILD CARD PLAYOFFSaturday, January 5, 2008at Heinz FieldKickoff 8 p.m. on NBCJack Del Rio Press Conference
"It's great to be one of the 12 teams that's still alive in this post season tournament. It obviously gets started this weekend; a great opportunity, a great challenge in front of us against one of the really premiere organizations in the National Football League. I think it starts at the top with Mr. Rooney and his family and all the way through and through it's been an outstanding organization for a number of years. We have a lot of respect for them and for Mr. Rooney and their family. We expect a good tough, hard-fought football game. These are two physical football teams. I think defensively you look at them and their body, they're number one (in defense) in the league, they're number in rushing defense, number three in passing defense. Dick LeBeau is an outstanding football coach. They're very well coached, very talented and it's going to be a heck of a challenge for our offense to go up there and get something done. Offensively, they've got an outstanding quarterback who's really had a great year. I know that Willie Parker is down for them, but Najeh Davenport has done a nice job stepping in. He looks like a very solid replacement. Special teams last time around they were better handling the elements than we were, and that will be another challenge for us. I think you can expect two very solid football teams, very determined, going after each other Saturday night so it should be a fun game. I know it'll be fun to coach and it should be a fun game for you all to watch. So, we're going to focus all week like we have all year about the preparation. It's what it has been for us; focus on the preparation each week, what the different challenges are and put a good plan together, bring great energy on Sunday, in this case it'll be Saturday night, and go compete."
"Medically the only guy that's really a question is Mike Pete (Peterson). He's not going to be available this week. We can rule him out right now."
(TVs and radio)*
(what can you and the players take from the playoffs experience two years ago?) "Certainly you learn from experience. I think coaches that were involved, you draw in all the experience you've had. Players that were involved, you draw on that experience that you've had. Certainly where you have an opportunity to be better, you want to be better this time around."
(is it about what happens during the week where that experience will pay off, or is it about dealing with the atmosphere of the game?) "Yeah, I think everything counts. I think everything's part of it. I think preparation is where it starts; throughout the week, having a good solid week of preparation, understanding that when you get into the game it's more heightened. There is more urgency. People talk all the time about the speed of the game. I just think when you have teams in a single elimination tournament that tends to make it a little more exciting."
(it seems to have a different feel this time around than the playoffs two years ago?) "I think there has been a different feel all year. I think each year is different and I do feel it's different and now we're going to see. Obviously about halfway through the third quarter in New England it was 7-3, we're right in the game. So it doesn't mean everything was bad. There were some good experiences to draw from as well, but I do believe we have as a football team had a very solid year, earned our way into this tournament and now we all start zero and zero with a chance."
(your team ran for 224 yards two weeks ago against Pittsburgh. Do you expect there to be difference, or do they do what they do and you do what you do?) "I can't speak for them. I know certainly we'll put a plan together and go compete. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach LeBeau and their staff and their players. I think the body of their work over the course of the year, they're very stingy, very, very good, and so it'll be a challenge for us."
(was there a moment this year when you said and your team realized 'we have something special here. We have a very good football team?' Was there any one time or was it just a week to week circumstance?) "We felt going into and coming out of camp that we were going to have a good team. I think what you get in this league is an opportunity to compete over 16 games and that can be a real test. A lot of peaks and valleys, a lot of ups and downs. We talk all the time about it being a marathon and it's certainly not something you get done with one big burst of energy. I think you have to be able to sustain energy over time, and the commitment to being a good football team. A lot of people are interested in being good, very few are committed to being good. I really felt like this football team was committed to being good this year."
(could the challenge this week be the maturity of your team not sitting back reflecting on the game two weeks ago?) "I don't think there will be any sense of that at all. I think obviously we understand the amount of effort and energy that was required the first time around and we're expecting there to be a bigger and stronger challenge in front of us this week. So we're just doing the best we can to prepare to meet that challenge and function at a high level, execute at a high level and play good football."
(with David Garrard never starting in a playoff game, what do you see about him that will allow him to handle things well and to be able to not let that stage be too big for him?) "Obviously you're talking about unknown stuff. We'll find out. Their quarterback, the last time it was an unknown for him he did a heck of a job and went straight to the tournament and did something everybody said couldn't be done. So I think you get an opportunity to go compete. I think the biggest thing for David and for all of us is to focus on the preparation and then go out there and put forth a good effort. I think those are things you focus on as a competitor. I don't think you get caught up in how it's going to be viewed, what the ramifications are. I think you focus on the task at hand and go out there and compete. I think he'll do a nice job of that."
(having beaten the Steelers three times in a row, does that factor in?) No, nothing from before is going to factor in, in my opinion; you get an opportunity to go compete. Things that occurred in the past, good and bad, will be left in the past unless you can somehow manage to get me a few points on the scoreboard before we can start, I'll take them. But beyond that it's going to start zero-zero, we'll play for 60 minutes and more if need be. We're going to put forth the best effort we can and spend the week preparing for that opportunity."
(on no team ever winning in Pittsburgh twice in a season?) "I've heard that. I started hearing that. Somebody came up with that stat and then now it's being circulated. I think what's great about sports is that when you compete in athletics, there are a lot of things that come up like that are talked about before that have no bearing on the outcome of the game. Certainly the Steelers heard all about that. We were playoff entrants with them. We got knocked out, they went on and won the whole thing. So, the whole time they were being told they couldn't do it, why they couldn't and nobody had ever done it. I just don't think you can get caught up in that kind of stuff. Obviously, we're respectful of the history of this game and it's always nice to read and hear and learn about different things like that, but the team that goes out and plays the best football is going to advance and the team that doesn't is going to sit home."
(if you advance beyond next weekend do you expect Mike Peterson to play or is he out for the season?) "We have not put him on IR. He's still available if and when the doctors say so."
(are you holding him out of this Saturday's game as a coaches decision?) "Until we get the green light, all I can just give you is the update week to week. Until we get the green light, he's going to be held out."
(on your thoughts of your team has played without Peterson? There doesn't seem to be a big drop-off as Justin Durant has come in and played a lot better. ) "He's certainly improved as the year's gone on. I think he's going to be a fine football player for us. We were excited when we were able to acquire him in the draft. He's going to be a good player. Daryl Smith is a good football player. His most natural position is probably the Mike linebacker. I think he's got a Pro Bowl future ahead of him. I think he's an outstanding football player. Obviously, Mike brings great passion and great experience and play-making ability. Anytime you lose a player, you just do the best you can to plug in and keep rolling, and that's what we've tried to do. "
(did Peterson lobby to play?) "No, he's not been cleared yet. There is no lobbying."
(how has Durant improved?) "Just as a young football player, much like Clint Ingram last year was thrust into duty, really earlier than we'd hope to. Getting him involved as the year went on he got better and better. I think Justin similarity gained experience and he can really run and hit. He strikes people and can really run and hit. So, he's done a nice job."
(the Steelers defense has seemed to struggle the last four games. What do you see has happened to them? Is it a slump or do they really miss Aaron Smith that much?) "I think statistics, particularly late when you basically have your spot sewn up, I'm not sure I put a lot of stock into that kind of stuff. I know when you put on the tape, you see talented players, you see challenging design with the schemes and what they're doing. To me, it's a big challenge for us. We're going to do what we can to understand the strengths and make sure we are prepared to handle the problems that they can present. They are numerous."
(is it meaningful in any way for a quarterback to have postseason experience? David Obviously doesn't have that.) "At this point it's an unknown. Obviously Ben (Roethlisberger) had that two years ago and now he's considered an experienced guy, but it certainly didn't deter him from playing outstanding football and leading that team to a championship. So I think that's an unknown. You get to find out starting Saturday night."
(will you talk to Reggie Nelson and other young players about not getting too excited?) "As a football team, we'll prepare all of them and he's not going to get singled out in any way. As a team I think we want to understand, yes, the magnitude of the game, the importance of the game, it is more important because it's a single elimination tournament. But how you prepare to play well and how you go about playing well remains the same - fundamentally sound, have your eyes where they belong, block and tackle, your basic things, better than the other guy. That's what it comes down to, is execution. I think that we have a core of guys that were here a couple years ago that were … We were trailing 7-3 in the middle of the third quarter (at New England). We eventually lost that game, but certainly I think they have experience, they understand. We want to draw from some of that experience and be better this time out."
(how is it different now going into a playoff game with having players who have experience compared to two years ago?) "That's going to be determined by how it plays out Saturday night. I don't think anybody has a crystal ball. I don't anybody can accurately, genuinely forecast what's going to happen. I think you prepare your football team to go out and meet the challenges it's going to face, and then you go compete."
(being in the playoffs two years ago, do you and your team now have a better understanding of how to prepare yourself, how to stay focused and not to get overly excited?) "Yeah, there are different things that come into play, experience that is drawn. I'll share those and our players and coaches will share those with each other, but I'm not trying to educate the world right now. We're just going to get our team ready to go play well and do the best we can."
(your team ran very well against the Steelers last time. Do you expect them to be hyper-sensitive to that this time around?) "I expect them to put a plan together and then come ready to compete. We're going to do the same. I don't think you can take too much out of what was, going forward. Obviously we had a hard-fought game, close game. We were able to pull it out and get a victory we very much needed, and we expect another physical confrontation Saturday night."
(so there is not much that can be done schematically at this point that will ultimately surprise?) "I can't say that. I just say that we'll prepare the best we can to do the best we can."
(has Dirk Koetter's process changed from the first part of the year as you feel more comfortable in your system?) "The process has remained the same. I think in terms of how we put things together, I think it's been outstanding. I think the input that he gets from staff members and the way we put together a plan week-to-week I think has been excellent. We just want to continue to work that process. To me that's a strength for us. Our assistants have something to add and I think he's been a great listener, I think Mike Smith has been a great listener and they've done a nice job putting together plans and putting our guys in position to make plays."
(Koetter said he's more comfortable now than he was early on. Do you see that?) "I think certainly he had a little apprehension at first, anxiety, it's the unknown, but I think as he has settled in and just worked at it and been able to utilize the strength of the staff the way he has, I think we found a little bit of a groove in terms of how we work the process, and I think that's been very helpful for this team."
(does the short week present any problems?) "No, not really. In terms of preparation, we're going to go a little shorter, a little lighter today. We are going to practice; I know they (Pittsburgh) chose not to. Everybody has their own approach and they're going to approach it the way they think they can best prepare their team. We're going to have a light practice today and get in and get out and be back into a normal Thursday routine tomorrow."
(with a short week, what do you give up?) "It depends on how you want to put it together. Everybody puts it together the way they think does them best."
(the fact that they're not practicing today would tend to indicate they spent time on you last week?) "I would think. We certainly spent time on them. "
(there is a report that the Falcons are seeking permission to interview Mike Smith for the head coach position.) "I've not been made aware of that. At some point those types of things are going to occur. We've got some good coaches on this staff. At some point those types of things are going to occur, but I know right now is a time when we're all excited about doing all we can for the Jaguars."
(did you know going into the season your team could be this good?) "We thought going into and coming out of camp that we would have a good football team. I feel like we've really been a good football team for about the last three years, and we've just gotten a little bit better, doing things a little bit better, a little more consistent. So, yes."
(why is the team better this year?) "I think there is probably going to be a time to reflect back on all that was and point out those types of things, but I just gave an answer. I don't care to sit here and elaborate on a season right now. I'd kind like to focus on the Steelers and just trying to find a way to beat these guys this week. With all due respect, we'll come back to that."
(with this game being a Saturday night prime time game, does all this add to the event or are these things players have to overcome?) "I don't think that's part of what you overcome at all. I think all of that is the surroundings. I think what players and coaches and all of us need to focus our attention is the game and the preparation leading up to the game and the energy and the focus that we bring to the game. All the other stuff is fun. You can walk out on the field and feel it in the air and smell it, almost taste it, and I think you enjoy those things because those create great memories, but focus on the task at hand."
(with as much debate as there was after training camp with the quarterback change, does this vindicate what you've done?) "I really don't take that view. You know how us coaches get, I'm just trying to win the next one. Certainly, David (Garrard) has played very well for us and our team has had a good solid year but beyond that, we're just preparing for the next opportunity."
(you noted the Steelers special teams played better in the elements than your team two weeks ago. How do you correct that?) "We're going to throw ice buckets on those guys while they catch the ball during practice this week."
(on the weather for the game) "The advance forecast looks like high 30s. You know that's subject to change. This time of year when you go north you can expect it to be that, or deteriorating."
(the weather here tomorrow is predicted to be very cold so you'll have a day of practicing in the cold) "We practiced in the 80s last time we got ready to play them. I don't really subscribe to that. To me, it's a mentality you go in with. It's cold for everyone. I think you go in there and you go compete. I don't think you spend a lot of time worrying about whether it feels good or not."
(does it help that you have played in cold weather this season with success?) "A couple years ago we kind of learned a little bit about going up and competing in the elements. We went to Green Bay; they said the Jaguars couldn't do things up there. We went up there and played in a hostile environment against a great quarterback and a team that had never lost there at that time of year, whenever it was. We played well and won the game. I think the guys recognized from that experience the type of approach you have to have to have a chance. It's football the way we grew up watching it on TV, for most of us. I grew up in California. A lot of these guys didn't grow up in those areas and never played in that stuff. But the mentality you have to take to have a chance. I think the guys learned that then and I think certainly we got a little experience this year with it but again, it won't change it. When we go up Saturday night, you've got to bring it. You've got to bring some mental fortitude with you."