STEELERS vs. PACKERS SUNDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2009 KICKOFF 4:15 P.M. HEINZ FIELD
Head Coach Mike McCarthy
From the outside looking in, you've been one of the most improved teams in the league, give us your thoughts on that and the progress you've made in season and how you've been able to do that.
I agree with your opinion. We came out of the gate a little slow, we had some injury issues early in the season. We had some performance issues earlier in the season and it we've been fortunate enough to overcome that. We were sitting there at 4-4 at one point and I felt that we were making a number of the same mistakes and we've been able to correct a number of those things since that time and have been able to win five in a row, so we've definitely improved as a football team and just like everybody in the league your fighting to overcome the injuries every year and we've definitely have are headed in the right direction.
How tough were the Minnesota games given the soap opera stuff associated with it?
The games were actually fun to play in. I think if you ask anybody here, the play in that type of game during the regular season is a lot of fun because it definitely took on a playoff-type atmosphere. I'm not one for drama, I know it's part of our industry but it's definitely different. I've never seen anything like it, just the hype around both of those games. The actual game itself, we felt that we were able to take a lot away that experience because it was definitely a playoff-type environment, unfortunately we came up on the short-end of it both times, but I think it's something our young football team could grow up from.
Can you talk a little about the thought process to bring around Dom Capers to your defense along with Kevin Greene and Darren Perry?
Well I've always been a fan of the 3-4. Frankly when I interviewed for this job, it was the defense that I talked about. I went in a different direction the first three years for different reasons then made the change. There's no doubt to my experience competing against the 3-4 and what Pittsburgh's accomplished with 3-4 definitely influenced it. I always felt the 3-4 was beneficial from a personnel standpoint for your football team. Not only just for defense and the issues it creates for offenses as far as a preparation standpoint and matchup standpoint but also for your special teams, collecting as many of the linebacker body-types. I don't think you can have enough of those on your football team, it really helps you on special teams. That was a big part of my decision and being able to hire Don Capers, he's the architect back there in '92 when Bill Cowher and put the system in there in Pittsburgh and also we hire Kevin Greene and Darren Perry, they've been excellent fits. I really like the way they've come together as a staff on the defensive side of the ball.
When did you notice the defense started to click?
That's a good question. It was exciting going to preseason, we pressured more in the preseason than probably most people do, but we were trying to get the tempo, the pace at which you need to play that style of defense to our players in live action as fast as we can. We may have had a little bit of, I don't want to say a, "false confidence," but we had a lot of success in the preseason. We hit some bumps and bruises there in weeks three, four, five until six or so there and made some adjustments. We had a couple of players that frankly looked like they wavered a little bit and we had to give them a bye back then. There's definitely an adjustment period for a couple our guys but once we got everybody on board, it's been a lot of fun around here the last six weeks.
Was there any fear it would take a season to get it up to speed?
I didn't think so. I'm not an expert on how it takes but I've installed an offensive system in three different organizations and I had all the confidence in the world to get where we needed to get by mid-season or sooner.
In your perspective, why do you think the Steelers have lost five in a row?
Well, I haven't sat down and watched every game from start to finish as far as offense, defense or special teams. The things that I see is very similar to what we went through last year is that they're just not winning the close games which we anticipate that type of football game when we come in there. That's December football for you. It's just making the key plays at the key time, that's something that we have been doing and that's the key to winning. Yes you always strive for perfection and try to dominate your opponent, that's always the goal but when it doesn't go that way, which is more often than not, you have to make those key plays. I'm not sure exactly that's why they're coming up short but we've been able to do that as opposed to last year.
Aaron's [Rodgers] has been sacked a lot and Ben Roethlisberger takes a lot of hits here. Are they're similarities in the way they play? Are the sacks because he tries to make a play or because of the offensive line?
Well, we've had a number of sacks, there's no doubt about it. We've had a couple of games that I've never been a part of anything like that. When we break sacks down in three categories, you're either number one, not declaring the protection right or putting the protection in the best position to be successful. The second thing, there's a technique breakdown of someone in the protection unit or the third part of it is the quarterbacks time-clock as far as holding the ball. Frankly, we've had errors in all three of those categories. I felt like we've done a lot better job. We're actually pass protecting as a pass protection unit better. I think we're doing a lot better job recognizing. I'm not making any excuses at all, but this is the fifth 3-4 team we've played this year. We've had an opportunity to practice against it, that's really good for us compared to playing so many four-man lines in the past. We're doing a much better job of it.
Is there concern of a quarterback getting hit so much it makes his play decline or shorten his career?
Well, the number one goal when you throw the football, I know this for our offense, is no one wants to give up big hits because you don't want the quarterback getting hit. If the quarterback is getting hit because of pressure, that responsibility is on him as much as anybody to get the ball out. Having quarterbacks getting hit and getting injured is the part of the game you try to avoid because that's where injuries do occur. Everything we do from a design standpoint is to not to get the quarterback hit.
Do you know Tony Wise?
I know of Tony [Wise], yes.
He's says after the combine, all the guys would go to the bar and the Pittsburgh guys would find each other and the culture of Pittsburgh never leaves them. Is that an accurate observation?
I totally agree with Tony [Wise]. There's nothing like the connection of Western Pennsylvania in the National Football League. It's not only coaches and former players or guys that have played here, but it's amazing how guys are in personnel and all the way through. It's remarkable.
Do you feel some type bond because of that? Even though you know the guy?
No doubt. Pittsburgh people are so proud, you don't realize it until you move away from here. You figure everybody's proud to be where they're from and growing up, people would ask you, "Where are you from?" I'd always tell them Greenfield. I never even said I was from Pittsburgh because I was so proud of where I was from and that's just the way it was. Back in those days, you hardly even left your community in Greenfield because you had everything there to do. That's the pride that I was brought up with and you see that in everybody that grew up in Western Pennsylvania.
Given that, is this game a little more different for you?
No doubt, it's going to be neat to walk on to Heinz Field, but the reality as we all know is when the ball's kicked this is a very important game for both teams but it's special to come home.
Rumor has it that you're placing a big order after the game for food.
That's true. Aiello's Pizza does very well when Green Bay comes to town. My daughter Alex, she's coming in from Austin, Texas, and that was the first question she asked. She asked, "Are you going to have the pizza after the game?" She's been raised on it, she's addicted and I know the players will enjoy it last time we were there for the preseason.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers
How is the media treating you out there?
They are fun to deal with. You just have to get to know their first names and then you kind of disarm them a bit. It took me a couple of years to learn their names, but I enjoy it.
*It seems you guys have been able to fix the protection and solve some offensive line inconsistencies. What has been going on there?
I think a combination of a number of things. I think you have to give Mark Tauscher a lot of credit. He is coming off of major knee surgery. Wasn't resigned, came in, got himself in shape and he has done a great job for us. He has been a rock over there as he was for the first nine or 10 years that he was with the Packers, took a break, now he is back and playing great. I think you have to start with him and give him credit. Next you draw something from the fact that we have had the same five guys start for a few weeks in a row now. Then getting on the same page with communication and continuity in the run game I think has really helped out. I think we've done a good job of changing up the rush lanes for the defenders and the guys up front have done a great job protecting.
How were you able to survive in the early part of the season when that stuff wasn't happening and you were getting sacked a lot – seemed like a lot of things were snowballing on you but you were able to get thru it.
I think it has to do with the resolve this team has. We came out of training camp on a big high. Felt good about ourselves and got a little humble. Out of camp they beat us and that was a big wake up call for us. Our defense is playing excellent. They keep us in the game by getting turnovers for us. Offensively I still don't think we are playing our best at times. We still have things we can improve on but we are scoring enough points to get the wins and we are on a little bit of a roll right now.
Are you similar to Ben Roethlisberger in that you are going to take some sacks so you can hang onto the ball longer and try to make a play down field?
I have a lot of respect for Ben. We are buddies, got to play golf a couple years ago three straight days. We kept in touch during the season sometimes. I have a lot of respect for him and what he has done with his short time in the league and two Super Bowl wins. He has amazing stats and numbers. I love watching him play and he can do things on the field that nobody else in the league can do, escaping the pocket, hanging in the pocket, taking the shots, guys all over him, making plays. I really enjoy watching him play quarterback. Personally I think I can add some things to the offense with my mobility as well, similar to Ben. But we are trying to cut down on sacks here and trying to get the ball out of my hands as quickly as possible. I think we have done a better job at that.
*Are you aware of what a great athlete Tom Clements was and also what do you like best about the way he deals with you?
I am aware of that, but not because Tom talks about it but because Tom is one of the most humbled guys that I have ever been around. I actually had to do some research and Google and Wikipedia Tom just to find out what an amazing athlete he was throwing for almost 40,000 yards in the Canadian league, winning cups, got offered a scholarship by the University of North Carolina, not to mention a number of other schools. He was an amazing athlete, still can throw the ball when we are playing catch and can definitely shoot it when we mess a around in the off season in the gym. Tom is a great coach. Maybe my favorite and best gameday coach I have ever been around. His demeanor during the week and on gamedays really allows me to stay even-kill which I think is one of the most important things that a quarterback can be. Not to get too high and too low with the change of emotions and fortunes during the game. But Tom's steady hand in coaching me I think has really helped me to become a better player and also developed into a guy that doesn't get real emotionally high or low throughout a game and to that I really thank him.
The Steelers are a team right now that is desperate to get a win. Can you talk about what that might do for you and your team going in, trying to prepare for this defense?
I think we know a little bit about that. We were 4-4 after falling in Tampa and we were in that desperate mode against Dallas and had to get a win and came out and played our best game. The Steelers are defending champs and they have a lot of pride, like I said, I know Ben and I have watched their offense a number of time, obviously their defense is good but their offense against Minnesota and Detroit and Chicago. They have a lot of talented players up front and backs that can hit the hole and make big plays. They have a very solid receiving core and Heath Miller who is a great tight end, so they have a lot of weapons. Defensively and the kind of schemes that Coach LeBeau can come up with and Coach Tomlin and those guys are great coaches. Coach LeBeau has been doing it for a long, long time and I have a lot of respect for him and what he has accomplished. We know that we are going to get a very good effort out of them and we know we are going into a hostile environment in Pittsburgh. We have been a pretty good road team under Coach McCarthy, so we are going to stick to our plan and hopefully make some good plays on Sunday.
Roethlisberger and quite a few quarterbacks get thrown in during their rookie years, things were a little different for you. Can you speak to the advantages and disadvantages of waiting?
As opposed to how Ben did it and Ben kind of broke the mold for some of the younger guys like (Joe) Flacco and (Matt) Ryan who did it, playing their first seasons and playing very well. A lot of time a young quarterback goes into a situation where he is expected to do more than what they probably can do and with a team that doesn't have a lot of talent. I was blessed where I was in the situation where I got to wait for three years. But once I got past that first season it took me until my third season where I got very confident in the offense and confidence in the defense to where I felt like I could play and play well. It was in that third year that I really go the itch to get on the field and start making some plays. When you learn for three years there really is no pressure on you and at the same time there really is no greater experience than to come in when you time is called, make plays and at times last year I was able to make some plays.
*What do you think this game means to your Coach?
Means a lot for sure. Mike as much as anybody, talks about where he came from. Saturday morning when we are talking about the game plan we usually start with story time and he is usually always relating some story back to Pittsburgh and his father's bar and his friends. So I know he is really looking forward to this one. He was looking forward to the preseason game a few years back. I know this one means a lot to him as well.
Have you ever seen him run into one of his old buddies from Pittsburgh?
Not yet, but at times on the headset I like to think his Pittsburgh comes out of him when he is calling plays or upset about something. I like to tease him about that. But I haven't really seen him and another Pittsburgh friend get into a conversation.