STEELERS VS. PANTHERS THURSDAY, AUGUST 28, 2008 AT HEINZ FIELD
HEAD COACH MIKE TOMLIN
Coach Mike Tomlin:That was a good finish to what has been a very good preseason for us. We got a lot of things accomplished that we wanted to get accomplished tonight. We felt that it was necessary to get some no-huddle (offense) in with our first offense inside stadiums in the preseason. That is a weapon that we like to use offensively, so we needed to get that done. We got a couple of series of that. We wanted the defense to come out and get after the run again and build upon the performance that we had last week. I thought that we did a nice job against the run. We got an extended look at Byron Leftwich and I think that he did a nice job. We were also able to get Dennis Dixon some snaps. Of course we were able to run 34 (Rashard Mendenhall). I think that the more we run him, we will get to know him and he will get to know himself. I think that he is improving every week. There were a lot of guys out there competing and fighting; that is what the last game is about. I liked the spirit of the group. It has been a pleasure working with this group of guys, but it is that time of year where we need to make tough decisions. We will proceed and make those as we get into some September football. All-in-all I thought that it was a very productive night and a very productive preseason. We had an opportunity to execute one last two-minute drill and see some guys deliver under circumstances if you will.
Did John Fox do you a favor, then, by going for one point?
Well in hindsight it did. Situational football is something that we place an importance on and the great thing was that it was another opportunity to look into Dennis' eyes and see that the situation wasn't too big for him. We watched him lead his troops. From that standpoint, it was positive.
Will you make your cuts all on Saturday, or will you make some tomorrow?
We will potentially make some tomorrow.
What do you make of their choice not to play their starters?
To each his own. I have learned to focus on things that we need to focus on with our issues. We are building our team and they are building their team. They are doing what is best for their people and we are doing what is best for our people. We did what we did for the reasons that I mentioned earlier. We wanted to work on the no-huddle and we wanted our defense to back a sound run-stopping performance and take the field and do it again this week versus a team that had been hot and had run for a bunch of yards the week before. I was hopeful that we might see some of those backs that they run, (DeAngelo) Williams and the rookie (Jonathan Stewart), but we didn't get that.
How was Troy (Polamalu) after the game and how about the health of Arnold Harrison?
Troy came out of the game great. He wanted to play more; we talked about it and I told him that he wasn't going to get what he wanted with another series. That is water under the bridge if you will. I liked where he is and I think that he liked where he is. He just wanted to play some more football and he is just going to have to wait a week to do that. Unfortunate circumstance with Arnold as it looks like it is a torn ACL in his left knee. It's as big a part of this game is blocking and tackling but it doesn't make it any less unfortunate.
If you were in their situation, would you have kicked the extra point?
I am not in their situation. I don't want to second-guess those quality professionals that they have over there. They did what was right for their team.
*You went back to Rashard a lot after his fumble. Was it important to have him feel good about himself after this game?
Sure, I think that the more that you hand the ball to that young man, the more you get to know what he is about, the more he gets to know what he is about and the more he gets to know what professional football is about. That has been our approach with him all preseason. We stuck with the plan. Different teams have different approaches; they protect people and so forth. We wanted to feed this guy the ball and check his level of conditioning and his ability to secure the ball as fatigue sets in. Really his fumbles have been just that, other than the one that Kevin Williams raked out of him in Minnesota. We just have to keep feeding him the ball. Now, when we start playing, is he going to get that kind of workload and is fatigue going to be an issue? Probably not because Willie P (Parker) is going to be toting the thing here next week a little bit. It is good to get to know him and it is good to grow. We are committed to this young man; he has a lot of talent.
Are you hesitant to use him in a game with his fumbles?
Wouldn't it make you a little hesitant? Like I said, we have a commitment to this young guy and we are going to continue to use every day that we have to get better. I think that he is of that mentality.
Did you like seeing Willie get around the corner on that big run?
Yeah, that is his game, but Willie tries to be a complete player. We like where he is; it has been a good preseason for him. He had to answer a lot of questions; questions that he asked himself bouncing back from injury. I think that he has done that. We have seen that and we have seen flashes of what he is capable of doing. Now we look forward to the rest of the challenges that lie ahead.
Did the punters do anything to win or lose the job tonight?
There were some ups and some downs in the game tonight. We have a decision to make and we will make it.
Does that return game have the same type of situation?
Yeah, it is really. It was more positive as there were less ups and downs in the return game. We have a decision to make in that are as well.
Does the salary cap come into play as you make those decisions?
It always does. Ultimately you hope that it is not the deciding factor because you like to make decisions because of performance. It is something that you knowledge exists because it does.
Did you like what you saw from the no-huddle?
I did other than the snap that went over the quarterbacks head early there in third down-and-medium we executed pretty well. We shot ourselves in the foot pretty good there on the snap. Then we had an off-sides there on the second series but we overcame that and marched down the field. It is something that we feel very comfortable with but it in an effort to work on the cohesions with the center like we have been talking about, we felt it was necessary to get it in the preseason. That is why we did it, and we will continue to pull it out from time-to-time.
How do your quarterbacks feel about splitting out wide?
They love it, particularly Leftwich. Don't they look nice out there in their stance. No, it is football. It is a little change of pace and guys are having fun with it. Hopefully that package continues to expand.
*How do you think that the offensive line played tonight?
One of the things that I was pleased about with those guys was that they finished. The piles were falling in the right direction at the end of plays. Usually that is an indication of where you are headed from a mentality standpoint and how guys are hustling. There were still too many negative plays; running plays where guys were getting stopped in the backfield. But that is a bunch of young guys and so forth. I guess that is what the preseason is about. In general, that was a good indication of what we are doing from an offensive front standpoint. Of course the backs had something to do with that and I thought that they finished off runs very well.
What about Chris Kemoeatu?
He has been rock-solid, he really has. He has been what we expected.
DT Casey Hampton
"It's preseason, the last tune-up. I think this game was mostly for the younger guys and the guys that were trying to make the team. It really wasn't a good test for us."
*C Justin Hartwig
Since you signed and came to a new place, and with battling for a job, have you had a chance to exhale and look around to see what you have here with your new team?
"A little bit. It's a little bit of a relief that I won the job and all that, but now the season really starts. Our work is all ahead of us. That's all behind me and I'm looking forward to the future. I'm looking forward to winning a lot of games here this year."
Is there an importance to get the ball in the end zone, to have a touchdown drive in the preseason? *
"Absolutely, because we didn't get in the end zone last week, and that's something that we have to strive for on every possession. We came out ready to go this week and, unfortunately, I had that untimely snap. But, that's something we'll get corrected and that's not anything that we need to worry about. We did march the ball down there and we got a touchdown. And that's what we wanted to do."
*DE Brett Keisel
Have you seen any film on Houston?
"No, I haven't watched anything on Houston. We'll probably get going on that tomorrow. They are an up-and-coming team and we're going to have to be ready to go."
Are you pleased with the way you guys have played in the preseason overall?
"Overall, I'm pleased. We've got a few nicks and things like that, but, for the most part, we're relatively healthy. Yeah, I'm pleased so far."
Was it important to get a few reps out there tonight?
"Absolutely. I'm glad [that] we got to go out and play. I was excited to go against their first-team "O." [Panthers Head Coach John] Fox didn't think that was necessary. But it was good to get out there and keep playing – stay in that rhythm. We got a couple of nice turnovers, which was great to see. We're just going to keep building off of that."
*Is the team ready for the regular season?
We're ready. The first series, we were really trying to drive the ball down the field, but a bad snap – that's how things go and that's part of football. Right now, we feel ready. I know that I feel good, and I can speak for the team. We've been practicing, gone through preseason, and it's time to put what we've been practicing to work.
How about the offensive line? First game with Justin Hartwig at center. *
The linemen, all they've been doing is working real hard. Through preseason, through training camp they've been working hard, and I think that's going to be a plus for our offense this year.
*Is the offense ready to go?
We went to our no-huddle package tonight. It wasn't good, that's why I wanted to practice it in the preseason. We had a couple of mistakes, but I'm glad we got it done now.
What happened on the fumbled snap?
He snapped it early, and that's what we wanted to get ironed out.
Talk about the offensive line. Are they ready to go?
I thought they did a great job tonight. I called a lot of runs on purpose because I wanted to get them out there and they wanted to run the ball, so I think they did a great job.
This was your first game as the starting center. How do you feel the line did as a unit?
I'm pretty upset, actually, because I snapped it too early on the third play of the game. I shut down a drive. We had a few errors with the no-huddle offense that we'd like to have back, but that's why we have practice. But then we came out the next series and drove the ball down the field and managed what they were doing defensively pretty well and we got a score. It's always nice to have your last drive of the preseason be a touchdown. That's what we're about – getting touchdowns every time we step out on the field.
You had the error on the first drive – how important was it to come back with a lot of run plays and get after them on the next drive?
That's what an offensive line is supposed to do – block running plays. We like to hit people in the mouth. We're a physical team. The Steelers have always been one of the top rushing teams in the league, and it's a great system to play in. These offensive linemen get to do what we love to do.
You held them to a field goal on a short field on the first drive, and stopped them on the second drive. How would you assess the play of the defense?
I think we still have a lot of room to improve. Overall, I'll give us a B-minus. I want us to go out and dominate people. I want us to go out and play three plays and come sit on the bench and watch the offense. But we had bad field position and we held them to a field goal and that's a plus. Getting an interception on the next series is a plus. I think we're going to be alright.
Talk about the defense's play on third downs.
That's a point of emphasis this year. We want to get off the field on third downs. If we can do that, we'll be a really good defense.
You started the first series in your own territory and held them to a field goal, then had the great second series. How ready is this defense?
We're going in with a lot of confidence. We feel like we're ready to play. The team is ready to go. We have a few things we need to work on, but I think we'll be ready come Sunday.
What things do you feel need to be worked on?
We need to be sure of our tackling, making sure that tackling is not a problem. The other things are little technique issues that we can get corrected.
The defense did much better tonight on third downs.
It's just guys playing the defense and understanding what their jobs are.
Assess the defense's performance tonight and throughout the preseason.
There are always things to improve on. We always want to work on running to the ball and not giving up big plays. For the most part, we've done that. It's all about getting your timing down, getting your defense to how you want to run it.
The defensive backs have placed an emphasis on getting more interceptions, and tonight Bryant McFadden came up with the big play.
That's what we want to do. We want to make sure we can make plays and get our offense the ball back.
HEAD COACH JOHN FOX
On decision to rest starters
I think it was something that we didn't decide until after warm-umps. I wanted the guys to go in with the approach that they were going to play. It's a different mindset. So they were ready to play, I don't think one series would have made a difference with the decision.
Were they excited about that?
It wasn't like they jumped for joy or anything. I think they respected the decision and we went from there.
Did the decision have anything to do with injuries and going in to San Diego healthy?
That probably had a little bit to do with it, yeah.
On QB Matt Moore's injury
The early indication is that there are no broken bones. Much further than that, I'm not sure yet. It was his leg. X-rays are negative and we'll evaluate him moving forward.
Did you consider going for a 2-point conversion at the end of the game?
If there was a little less time, we probably would have gone for it. Either way we were going to have to stop a two-minute drive. Wouldn't have mattered anyway.
How do you feel Matt [Moore] played?
We'll have to look at the tape and evaluate that moving forward and go from there.
The starting defense didn't allow any points in the preseason. How do you feel about that?
It's hard to really judge preseason. I think we made some improvements. We got good looks at guys. We'll know more after next week in San Diego.
On Julius Peppers
There's no question his natural stance is a left-handed stance. I just want to remind everybody that he did have some good years on the left side. I think Julius, like our team, thought we could do better and worked very hard in the off season as did a lot of guys. You'd have to ask him. I think the change is more comfortable but I don't think it's earth-shattering.
On Mushin Muhammad
We didn't want to lose him, but it's part of the business – we did. When we had the opportunity, we got him back. I think our quarterbacks have a lot of confidence in him, our wideouts have a lot of confidence in him and as a coaching staff we have a lot of confidence in him. He's a guy that performed well for us and I don't see that changing.
Do you feel like he is showing his age?
No. We've been watching tape on him. We evaluated him when he became available. I didn't see that being a factor. He takes very good care of himself and he looks like the same guy.
Your heart had to be in your mouth for Matt (Moore).
Sure, absolutely. You never want to see something like that. Hopefully everything's ok. We'll know more tomorrow. He's a young kid who's worked hard, but that's the sad part of the game we play. But hopefully everything will be alright.
You don't want to say it was a dirty play, but at the least it was not a smart play.
Well, it was – when you see it, the guy came untouched. I don't know if he tripped to go below the waist, but it sort of looked like it. We'll have to see on film.
There are only three quarterbacks on the roster, and you were scrambling to get your helmet. Would you have gone back in?
Somebody would've had to go in, and I certainly hope I would've been the one. That's what happens sometimes, you have to be ready, and I just wanted to make sure in case I needed to go hand the ball off.
Brett Basanez then went in and had some success.
That's not surprising one bit. I knew he'd go in and play well. He's an extremely smart quarterback for only his third year. He's wise beyond his years. Sometimes that can get him in trouble when he plays with some younger guys, but tonight he just let things come to him and he did an outstanding job.
Talk about the second half. I know you had to be concerned when Matt went down.
You always feel bad as an offensive lineman when your quarterback gets hurt. I haven't talked to him. Hopefully he'll be alright.
Did you see the play itself?
I saw the replay, quickly. I was more worried about him than seeing the replay. I didn't see the replay, so I couldn't tell if it was a dirty play. I'll let you know when I see it on film tomorrow.
When did you know you'd have the night off?
Coach Fox told us right before we went out to start the game. I think he just wants everybody healthy and ready to go. This opening game is a biggie. A big game for us, and a long trip, and he just wants us fresh.
It had to feel good to see Brett come in and have some success in the second half.
Hopefully Matt's ok. I don't know what the prognosis is yet. You never want that to happen, but Brett did a nice job in there. He threw a touchdown pass when we needed it. I would've liked the running game to have gone better, but the Steelers are a good defense. I think it was a good test.
Did you like having the night off?
You get all dressed up and nowhere to go – but I'm not going to complain about it. First time it's ever happened to me. I think he's expecting big results when we go to San Diego after doing something like this.
It's a good thing to go to San Diego with everybody ready.
At certain points in this preseason, we've been pretty banged up – especially in the secondary and the receiving corps, so I think Coach just wanted everybody ready to go 100%, and really get a look at the team because I think they have some really tough decisions to make.
Talk about what you've seen from Jonathan Stewart so far. *I'd heard he was good. I'd seen some of his highlights in college, but he never got an opportunity to do much. Camp was pretty limited. Last week was a pretty good week for everybody. You'd like to think that'll be the norm, but you don't get that many yards rushing that often. The biggest thing for him was to have some success and know he can do it now. I like our backfield a lot. We have a solid run game.
*Talk about what Muhsin Muhammad brings back to you guys.
We have a young team. There aren't a lot of veteran guys. Bringing him back has been huge. He's a big name in this franchise. He blocks well, and he runs his routes hard. Just a good example not just for our receivers but the whole team. I think he's been a huge part of our development this offseason.
Talk about your touchdown catch.
Initially it was a hitch-and-go. The guy was on me, and he bit. Brett threw the ball, and I had to go get it. He threw a great pass so I could just run up under it.
Did you know when Coach Fox set the starters that there would probably be some more time out there for you?
When I saw that, I knew I had to get ready. I usually don't get stretched until the second quarter, but I knew I had to come out ready.
Players talk about having good film. You got a great piece of film there – were you thinking about that?
I try to make it so the Panthers can evaluate it well. Everybody's going to see that film. I'm just trying to make plays. The Panthers say they want playmakers, so I just tried to get it.
What are the next 48 hours like? How tough is that process?
It's real tough. You try to just block it out, but it's coming. They're going to have phone calls. You're just nervous. For 48 hours you're nervous. Did I do enough? Did I do this? It's nerve-wracking. I'm going to try to take my kids to the park, take my mind off of it tomorrow