STEELERS vs. RAVENSAFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SUNDAY, JANUARY 18, 2009KICKOFF IS AT 6:30 P.M.HEINZ FIELD
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP PRESS CONFERENCESteelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin Friday, Jan. 16
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Coach Mike Tomlin:Good afternoon. I would say that it is a normal Friday, but obviously it is not. From a preparation standpoint it is; we put the finishing touches on our game plan and we worked on some specific situational football today; short-yardage, goal-line and so forth. I thought that it was a very sharp practice, which is what we needed considering what we face here in two days. We will continue to move forward with that.
What was your thought process on opening the doors during practice?
Generally at the end of the week, particularly once we got hit with the winter elements, we like to put the finishing touches on our work week with a game-like atmosphere. Last Friday we had a productive day throwing and catching in the weather. I wanted to provide the same kind of climate today. We elected to go inside because I, personally, didn't feel that the fields were very safe; it was a sheet of ice. We also didn't want to get anybody injured in the process. We worked on a safe environment from a footing standpoint, but we did want them to work in the elements, so we opened the doors to our indoor facility.
Can you talk about the health of the team in general, and Troy (Polamalu) and Justin (Hartwig) in particular?
Thankfully, we are a team on the mend. This is as healthy as we have been all year. I am not overly concerned with either guy. Both of those guys sustained injuries last Sunday; Troy being pre-game and Justin in the second quarter. Both guys finished the game and played above the line from an expectation standpoint. We exercised a little bit of caution at the beginning of the week. We are into the (point of) the season where physical reps aren't as big of an issue as they are at the beginning of the year, especially considering they are both veteran players. We got them the critical work that they needed at the latter part of the week, particularly today in some of the specialty areas. Moving forward, injuries will not be an excuse for those guys in terms of their performance; and they definitely won't be for us.
What constitutes a good rivalry and what makes this rivalry with Baltimore so special?
I think that in order to have a legitimate rivalry, it has to be competitive. I think that is what makes this rivalry special; among other things. The games are extremely close; the teams are close in personality; geographically; we are in the same division; (they) are the former Cleveland Browns. I think that there are a lot of things that make it special, but more than anything, no doubt it is the players. It is the passion with which they play the game; it is the personalities; whether it's Ray Lewis or Jerome Bettis or Joey Porter or James Farrior or Hines Ward; Bart Scott. You just continue to add names to the list; all of them play the game the same. They put everything they have into it; every once of their fiber into it. That is what makes it special.
What changes your preparation because of what is on the line?
Nothing; we made a conscious effort to do what has gotten us here from a preparation standpoint. As an idealist, from a coaches' standpoint, you would like to think that we have the same urgency from a week-to-week basis; that we understand that the week's work in September creates this week's work in January. That is some of the things or approaches that we have taken with our football team all year – it is about the journey and not the destination. If we are able to feel the urgency of the destiny, and what each day brings us, it brings us to that point. I think that our team understands that. I say that because it really has been business as usual for us this week.
Have you been able to force some mistakes from Joe Flacco?
The reality is that he is the quarterback of a 13-5 football team. To me, that is all that needs to be said. He is a winner; he finds ways to make the critical plays for them. Yes, we have created some plays against him, but I will also say that he has come back and answered. He is a competitor; we all fall short of perfection in this game and in this business. Like I said in the beginning of the week, I knew that we would have to deal with this guy for a long time when we got up on those guys here, and he made the necessary plays to drive them down the field in the fourth quarter to tie the game up and send it into overtime. It is nothing new for us in terms of respecting what this guy is capable of as a quarterback.
Max Starks says this game is about execution. Do you agree and will you change some things that didn't work against Baltimore the first two times?
It is always about execution for me; I agree with him whole-heartedly. It is a good call when it works; it is a good call when it is executed. It is a bad call when it doesn't; it is that simple. I am in agreement with Max. It is always about execution; particularly in this rivalry. We both play football in a similar manner; we are a fundamentalist outfit, as are they. We win by attrition; we forced our will on our opponent; as do they. That is very much the case.
What do you think is your particular coaching style?
Personally, I am a pretty cerebral guy when it comes to work. When I am emotional, it is emotional by choice. I don't want to miss anything. I try to be what my team needs me to be at that particular moment. I have learned that from the great coaches that I have been fortunate to be around.
Do you think that the offenses have been overlooked in this game?
We don't worry about the focus; that is what is being played out in the media leading up to the game; that is what is being talked about. What we focus on is our preparation and our readiness to play. What is being said about the matchup, and the critical points of the matchup, is less of an issue for us.
Ben is in his third AFC Championship Game. What does that say about your quarterback?
It speaks to what kind of competitor he is. He would be the first one to tell you that no man does it alone. He has been on some good football teams. He is not on the cutting edge in regards to that in this final four because (Donovan) McNabb has been in five. There is something about the guys that have the ability to deliver and take their teams to this point once they have shown the capability of doing that; then they can do it again. Ben falls into that category, and I would say that Joe Flacco will probably fall into that category. I won't be surprised as he continues to lead his team. It takes special people to pursue special things. Ben is one of those guys, but I would say the same thing about every one of the quarterbacks that are still standing. Kurt Warner's resume speaks for itself, as does Donovan McNabb's. Everybody is quickly developing a respect for Joe Flacco.
How important is Ben's experience in this game?
It is, but it won't be the deciding factor, quite honestly. It is going to be about performance. Chad Pennington is an experienced quarterback; Kerry Collins is an experienced quarterback; Joe Flacco sent them home. We won't get overly comfortable with that fact. We will understand that we need to execute as a football team; particularly in crunch time.
Can you talk about retaining the defensive staff that you inherited?
It was quite simple for me; I had been a part of that process before. I was on a defensive staff that had quite a bit of success when Jon Gruden got the job in Tampa Bay. He didn't blink; he didn't hesitate; he retained us and we went on to win the Super Bowl in year one. I came into a situation where it wasn't broken. Dick LeBeau's reputation and resume speaks for itself. It would have been foolish for me to fix something that wasn't broken; it would have been ego driven; my ego doesn't drive me; seeking victory does.