STEELERS at PATRIOTS SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2008 KICKOFF -- 4:15 P.M. CONFERENCE CALLS
HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK
Is Matt Cassel coming into his own?
I think that Matt has improved steadily throughout the entire year all the way from training camp through preseason games. He got a lot of snaps in the preseason for us this year when Tom (Brady) was out. He has done a real nice job of improving for us on a week-to-week basis; actually day-to-day with practice and meetings. He is very conscientious; he is a smart kid who works hard. Every time that he goes out onto the field he gets better in some area. He has been steady all year.
Has what he has done surprised you?
Matt has a lot of talent and he works hard; he really hasn't had a very good opportunity playing behind (Matt) Leinart, Carson Palmer and Brady. I don't think that talent has ever been an issue; I think that it has been more opportunity. You don't ever want to see anything happen to Tom; I am not saying that; but I think that everybody was excited to see what Matt would do with his opportunity because he does have some good tools to work with and he has had four years in our system. He knows how we operate and what the communication, reads and adjustments are. As he has gotten a little bit more game experience and practice reps each week he has continued to grow and get better.
Do you have to do anything special preparation-wise whenever you play against Hines Ward?
Hines is a complete player; he is a tough guy to play against. He has very good quickness, he is physical and he has tremendous strength for his position. He is a very experienced player that knows how to play and how to get open against man-coverage; he knows how to find the holes against zone. He does everything well, he is a great player and he is a hard guy to play against. You have to respect everything that he does and do the best you can with it. It is hard to over-play one thing or another because he has such a good complement of skills.
What impresses you the most about the Pittsburgh defense?
Everything really; I don't think that you can single out any one guy or any one aspect of it. They are very physical, they play the run very well and they are well disciplined and well-coached. They have done a nice job with their continuance of having a great scheme. They are physical, they tackle well, they are fast, they pursue well, they can rush the passer, they can cover, they are good on first-down, they are good on third-down and they are good in the red area. They are a hard team to misdirection and screen against. When half of the possessions against them are three-and-outs; half of the time teams can't even get a first-down against them; that is doing everything well and not just stopping one aspect of an offense. They have done it week-after-week against 11 different opponents this year. They are very impressive.
Can you talk about throwing the ball 35 consecutive times against the Steelers last year?
Really, it is the same thing every week; we go into a game and try to have a game plan where we feel that we can attack our opponents in the best way that fits us and how we fit that particular team. Then, you get into the game, and you never know exactly how it is going to play out; but then you get into it and you feel better about one thing than something else; you go more with that than something else. That happens frequently, especially when you have a team that has two, three or four different modes of how we can play. We work on those every week because it is hard to tell exactly how your opponents are going to match up against you. Sometimes you don't know that until Sunday when you are actually out there playing. Where ever we feel like we have a good matchup, if we feel like we can have an advantage with a certain grouping or formation, then there is a tendency to stick with it a little bit longer. Conversely, there is some things that we look at and when we get into the games, we find out that this is isn't going that good or there are too many matchups that we don't like, then we try to find one that is better. That is kind of how that works; there is no real scientific formula for it because you don't know how your opponents are going to play you.
You guys have played a lot of big games against Pittsburgh the past 10 years for two teams that are not in the same division:
It certainly feels like we are in the same division. I was just saying how earlier, between my five years in Cleveland playing them twice a year, those notebooks were pretty filled up; then I came here in '96 and of course we played the Steelers that year in the playoffs during a heavy fog in the old Foxboro Stadium. Now that I have been back here as the head coach, it seems like we play them once a year, and often times twice. In fact, I was going through some of my film cutups this morning and I had all of the Pittsburgh playoff (highlights) from '07 and I was scratching my head saying 'we didn't play them last year in the playoffs.' I remember right at the end of the year we were getting ready because it quite easily could have come down that way. They were one of the teams that we could have gotten matched up against. Whether we play them or not, it seems like we are still preparing for them. It is kind of unusual how it has become almost like a division game. I know it is not, but it really seems like it.
Is it a good rivalry?
Really, we have gone back and forth with the Steelers. I have a tremendous amount of respect for their program; for Mr. (Dan) Rooney; for Bill (Cowher) when he was there with his program; and now Mike (Tomlin); it goes all the way back to when (Ron) Erhardt was the offensive coordinator and Dick LeBeau. There is great tradition in Pittsburgh and I have great admiration and respect for what they have done and what they continue to do; also how little they have changed their scheme. They players have changed from Carnell Lake to (Troy) Polamalu; from (Greg) Lloyd and (Kevin) Greene to (Jason) Gildon and (James) Harrison. They continue to lead the league in sacks and lead the league in defense; they run the ball and they make big plays in the passing game. It is different guys but they just continue to be successful going on two decades now; it is very impressive.
*Has Pittsburgh changed their offense a lot recently?
I think that they have gone to one-back a little more this year. They have even used three receivers on early downs. I would still say that the fundamentals of the plan include still being an off-tackle running team. You have to stop the off-tackle plays; they get to the perimeter and they have inside plays to keep you honest. I think that the heart of their running game is still the off-tackle running game; we can go back to our game last year where they ran for 180 yards of something like that against us. We didn't really stop it. You can say that they aren't running as much as they used to, but you can go back and look at our game, they ran the ball well against us. When they have success running the ball, a big part of it is going to be those off-tackle plays. They have several different ways of doing that, whether it is with two backs or one back. I think that they have transitioned a little bit, but I think that when they do it, it is things that they are familiar with and things that I have seen them have success with throughout the years and not just something that they have pulled out of their hat this season.
Has your pass protection improved and can you talk about your pass protection versus Pittsburgh this weekend?
It will be a huge challenge for us; I don't think that anybody rushes better than the Steelers do. There are so many guys that you have to block over the course of the game; of course you have to deal with (LaMarr) Woodley and Harrison but you also have (Lawrence) Timmons and (Aaron) Smith and all of them; (James) Farrior and several different blitz packages with Polamalu. They have corner blitzes; you are going to get those every game. You have them coming from all different sides and spots; overload blitzes and balanced rushes. The biggest thing is that they want to get you into long-yardage situations so that they get ahead like they have on early scoring drives or their great third quarter scoring production this year. If they get up, we have been in that situation before and it is hard to block them. Their pass rush is a combination of great players and a great scheme; also variety and balance. It is just like Harrison; he can speed rush, he can power rush you and he can come inside. He is very effective running those plays where he loops inside of the tackle or a couple of those guys. They are hard to block and they will be a good challenge for us to try to keep them out of there.
Are you satisfied with where you are without Brady?
I think that the biggest thing right now is that we are just focused with Pittsburgh; the rest of the games before, they are what they are. Right now, we have a huge game with the Steelers this week. These are two teams with very competitive traditions; both teams have good records and Pittsburgh is on top of their division like they usually are. We know that we are going to have to play our best this Sunday against them to be competitive. That is really all that we are thinking about right now; really that is a lot.
With Willie Parker possibly out, what are your thoughts about going up against Mewelde Moore and the other running backs that they have?
Mewelde Moore is a quality back; we saw him in Minnesota and he hurt us pretty good up there a couple of years ago. He returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown and hurt is in the running game. He is quick and he has very good vision. We have now seen (Gary) Russell on returns and now carrying the ball. Carrying the ball he is a very physical and powerful player; he breaks a lot of tackles and runs hard. (Carey) Davis is another tough and physical kid. We certainly expect Parker to be there; he is a tough guy and a great football player. I am sure that as big of a competitor as he is, if there is a chance that he can play, he will be there. We are definitely preparing for them and for the rest of them.
What are your thoughts on Dermontti Dawson and his career?
I thought that he was an outstanding center for the Steelers. He was one of the best players that we have ever played against at that position. He had exceptional quickness; I think that really the measure of a center is his ability to play against powerful guys that are lined up over him and try to bull-rush the pocket and collapse it in the middle so that the quarterback can't step up. Dawson had great leverage and quickness with his hands and his feet where he did a great job of keeping that pocket clean for (Neil) O'Donnell and those guys who played behind him. The other thing that I think was a key to the Pittsburgh running game for years is when the nose tackle or the defensive tackle is offset to the play side; if you are running to the right and the nose tackle is lined up in the center-guard gap on the right, or sometimes even on the inside shoulder of the guard; that is a very hard block for the center to get. Defensively, you feel like they should not be able to cut him off from the center position, but Dawson made that block consistently. He could reach to the front side of the play which enabled the Steelers to pull their guards and their tackles and get to the edge on all of those off-tackle plays that all their backs ran so well and gained so many yards on. Without him making those blocks inside, a lot of those runs for (Jerome) Bettis and (Barry) Foster would not have been able to get downhill like they did. As great as those Steelers' running games where over the last decade-and-a-half that I played against them, the effectiveness of the center position has had a lot to do with that. Dawson was outstanding; as well as his protection in the passing game.
QUARTERBACK MATT CASSEL
Steelers defense, are they as good as their numbers say they are?
They are definitely as good as their numbers say they are. They are a great defense, they are physical, they play fast, they have great people on secondary and up front. They are a tough defense to handle and schematically they give you a lot of different looks and a lot of different personnel. It is definitely a challenge and there is no doubt about that.
Tom Brady was able to exploit them deep last year. Will you be able to do the same thing but with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark in there this year?
You never know. It is all based on coverage and what kind of looks they are giving you and when you take the opportunity. It comes down to the game and how it all plays out.
What is your relationship with Troy Polamalu?
He was my roommate in college for a year. A fantastic person and a great player and I couldn't say anything but great things about him.
Was he a good roommate?
He was a great roommate. Clean as could be.
They say all he does is sleep around here.
He slept a little bit in college too, but when it comes to playing football, he is never asleep at the wheel out there.
*How tough was it for you to make the transition to becoming a starter?
I have been preparing for the day for a long time and it finally showed up. Obviously they first few weeks I had to get my bearings under me and understand my role as a leader and your role definitely changes when you from a back-up to a starter. So I think that was the biggest adjustment. Learn what your role is and get the other players to believe in you and gain confidence in you. But from that point it has gone pretty smoothly.
*What kept you from transferring when you were at USC?
When I came in, Caron Palmer was there, so he was established. He was obviously the number one pick overall and a great player. He was there until my third year, so I was two years behind Carson and he played until my junior year and then the competition between myself and Matt Leinart went on. What happened in that situation is that they didn't make a decision going into the summer camp, so I wasn't going to leave because I was anticipating being the starter there and summer camp lingered on and they made a decision a few days before the Auburn game, in which they were going to go with Matt Leinart and the rest is history. So I got stuck in a position where I wanted to fight it out but I didn't know if Matt was going to go in there and do great because if he stumbled at all I was pretty confident that I was going to step in and be playing anyway. So that was a tough situation, not only to mention I was a year away from graduating school and that was important to me as well. So I was a senior there and I just had to finish up my school as well.
Steelers have been giving up on average 65 yards on the ground a game, do you at least have to try to run?
It always comes down to what the coaches feel best. I am sure we will have a couple of plans during the game in terms of running the ball and throwing the ball.