STEELERS vs. RAVENS AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SUNDAY, JANUARY 18, 2009 KICKOFF IS AT 6:30 P.M. HEINZ FIELD
Steelers Players and Coordinators Thursday, Jan. 15
Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau
What kind of challenges do the Ravens give you?
They put the extra offensive lineman in there so that they are big; they have a big running back and a big fullback; they are a big, powerful team. That increases their ability to use that power. We have a good thing in that Cleveland runs the same offense with the unbalanced line; so does San Diego. This is really the seventh time that we have played this kind of offense so our guys are used to finding the true center of the line and getting lined up. It still keeps you alert and on your toes.
Do you match up?
Our numbers are fairly decent against them; we will see how we do on Sunday.
Your guys say that they move down one?
Yeah, it really is. You just move over and play your defense. They're shifting and moving so the true center is hard to identify. Again, this will be our seventh time playing against an unbalanced line so that is a plus for us.
What are your thoughts on Joe Flacco?
I think consistent growth and the fact that they have become more and more confident with what he can do. I think that their record is testimony to that. He does remind me quite a bit of Ben (Roethlisberger) when he was in his first year. He has a tremendously strong arm, he has the size factor that Ben has and he has the ability to create plays with his legs that Ben has; there are a lot of ties. Both quarterbacks won an awful lot of games in their first year. Big Ben only lost one but this guy hasn't lost very many either.
How hard was it for Troy Polamalu in the game against San Diego? How will his calf limit him?
You would have to ask Troy how hard it was. I am sure that he went through some discomfort but it is that time of year where, if a guy can go, they are going to go. The same thing would be true with Baltimore. If Troy is on the field, we are not limited at all. If he is not, that changes what we do a little bit because he is a very special guy. That is not news to any of us because we have seen what he can do. If he is not there, we go to a little bit different style. It has been pretty good over the years when he has missed a few games and Tyrone Carter has stepped in and played tremendously well.
Troy said that you are like the Marlon Brando of the team – you treat the guys like family:
Well he wouldn't accept his Oscar; I would have gone up and gotten mine. We are a pretty close bunch.
Does your personnel this year mean that you don't have to rush as many guys?
Maybe we are a year older and hopefully just a little smarter in the selection of the defense. The part of it that he is definitely correct about is that we have pretty good personnel. We have a very special group and they make a lot of plays. He is right-on about that. Basically, I just try to stay out of their way.
*How important is Flacco's poise to his success?
I think that success feeds itself; he has been successful from the first day. He has the physical attributes that are necessary to be successful as a quarterback. He has good height which gives him good vision; he has a tremendously strong arm; he is fortunate to have three really excellent receivers in their two starting wide receivers and their tight end; you get the ball anywhere near those guys, they are going to come down with it. Consequently, they have had a pretty consistent run-pass offense that has been pretty much the same every week and every game.
How would you describe their offense?
I would describe it as very effective. They run for four yards per snap; they average-snap for five yards and they pass for six. They do that week in and week out. They can score a lot of points in a hurry. I think that their average reception is about 11.8 (yards); that means that they are getting the ball up the field. That is an impressive number. There have only been five teams to beat them, and the five teams are the (New York) Giants, Indianapolis (Colts), us and Tennessee (Titans). None of those teams have lost many games either. They have not lost to anyone that does not have a really strong record.
Is it impressive that Flacco has not turned the ball over yet in the playoffs?
I think that during the playoffs, they have no turnovers; on the other side they have been creating turnovers a lot. That is why they are getting ready to play again. Really, you play 16 regular-season games, and this will be Flacco's 19th game; that is almost two college seasons; so he is comfortable with what he is doing now.
How well do you know Rex Ryan and what is your impression of him?
I know his father better than him. I think that he is a great coach; he does a great job. I see some of his dad's stuff in what he does; he does a great job with it. He has some pretty good players too; they play good defense.
Do you watch their film and learn or borrow from them?
I look at everybody's film; if they are doing something that I think is a good idea, I have been known to try it myself every now and then. We are like Ford Motor Company; we are not afraid to borrow from a good idea; we will take it.
Would you have imagined 10 years ago that you would have been in the NFL for 50 years?
No; we just take it one snap at a time. I have been blessed; if our defense wasn't as good as they are, I probably wouldn't have 50 years. When you get good players, you are a pretty good coach. The players have kept me very interested in continuing to coach. This is a special group; because of their performance, I am sure that nobody is saying 'this is an old guy,' they are just saying 'this is a veteran coach.' No, it doesn't seem like 50 years.
Has Le'Ron McClain been their biggest surprise this year?
Yeah, I think that he has probably been a surprise to them, to be honest with you. He is no surprise to the guys that go against him now. He has done it and he is a special guy. He is going to do it for a while. There is nothing accidental about the way that he runs and his success. He has vision; he has power; it doesn't take him long to get running north and south; yet he has that inate ability to find the soft spot. I am a fan of 33 because he is a good player and he will be for a while. We are going to have to wrestle with him for a while.
Can the wind be a 12th defender this week?
I think that the defense always likes to see a sturdy wind. We will take some wind and take some chances. He certainly has the arm strength to throw into and with the wind. If you ask me my choice, I will take about a 50 miles-per-hour coming south to north.
Can you compare McClain to anybody that you have seen?
He reminds me of Jerome (Bettis). I don't think that you should put that on him right now in his first year. I remember when Jerome first came out of Notre Dame and we went out to play the Rams during his first year; we had an awful time with him. When we had a chance to get him, I was asked my opinion; I said 'by all means bring him on our side of the field.' I see some of those things; a big, thick, powerful, hard-running back with great feet. Jerome is probably, in my opinion, the best big back for making cut adjustments into the holes. I see some of that in this guy.
Do you take steps to foster a close-knit defense?
I just be myself and I hope that it gets across to them that I care about them and our performance. I just try to tell them what I think will enable us to be able to do that. The way that it has worked out, we are a pretty close group.
Why has LaMarr Woodley become a good linebacker in your system?
He is a very good player; we saw on video that he could rush the passer; he was strong. The first time that we played a preseason game during his rookie year, he took a tight end on a crossing route and reached out and swatted the ball out. I turned to Coach (Keith) Butler, our linebackers' coach, and I said 'we are in business.' We are willing to take a chance; we have had players like Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd and Levon Kirkland who were down linemen, but they played pretty good for us (as linebackers). They got a lot of pressure yet they could still handle the space requirements. LaMarr is going to get a lot better at that; I wish I could give you a magic formula for what we have done with him.
Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians
*Going against Ed Reed do you take all of your pass plays in the middle of the field?
Yeah, or whatever side he is on in half field. Sometimes he will still come across and pick it off. You have to be very aware of where he is on every snap.
Is he comparable to anyone?
He and Troy (Polamalu) are very similar. Troy's got that same ability to play half field on one side and pick it off on the other sideline. They're the only two guys that I have ever seen that you have to be accountable for on every snap. You have to know where they are.
If Terrell Suggs doesn't play, who do they put in there?
They have some good, young linebackers, Edgar Jones, (Jameel) McClain, that make plays for them. Antwan Barnes is hurt so they are going down to a three. That is usually a significant drop but these guys played in the Tennessee game, played well. I would be shocked if Terrell is not out there and we are totally getting ready for him.
Were you encouraged by the way Tennessee ran against them?
Chris Johnson made some people miss and made something out of nothing a couple of times. It's encouraging because any time you see anybody gets some yards on the ground against these guys you say, 'okay, it can be done.' It's tough sledding. They are a great defense. They are tough to run on. We've got to be able to be balanced. Tennessee did a nice job.
How does their 3-4 scheme differ from others?
They have 3-4 personnel and play multiple fronts. They'll be in 4-3, they'll be in unbalanced fronts, and they have some junk stuff they'll throw at you every week. It's not schemes, they have great players. There's not much difference between their defense and our defense. They've both got great players. You can take their scheme and our scheme, and if you don't' have Suggs, (Jarrett) Johnson, Bart Scott and Ed Reed, it's not that good a defense. It's finding in the passing game and the running game, blocking them is a whole other ball game.
Can you talk about Santonio Holmes and what he has brought to the offense, having been the guy who replaced Antwaan Randle El who did a lot?
He was just like him last week, with a big punt return and third-down conversion. The only thing Tone doesn't have that El had, El has a quarterback arm. He throws better than 15 starters in this league. You can do some things with El gadget wise, the halfback passes and all, that Santonio doesn't bring to the table. He has a good arm, but not accuracy of a quarterback. Tone has much better downfield speed and is a better run after the catch guy. He has had big, big plays against this defense, evidenced in the first ball game, he takes a slant to the house. Last year he took one to the house. That's the type of play we need out of him.
*Does the offense feed off of the play of Willie Parker?
There is no doubt. The energy that Willie brings as a person we missed. Him being back to himself, when he can take a two or three yard run and turn it into seven, nine, 30, that excitement builds in the huddle. It gives those big guys, who might not have blocked that well, a great feeling that they knocked some guys around. And they will start knocking some guys around. That's what your back has to do for you.
Can you talk about how valuable it is to have Ben Roethlisberger playing in his third AFC Championship game?
Hopefully Joe Flacco doesn't find that out. He is right where Ben was three years ago. Watching him play is a lot of Ben. He has the great arm he had when he was young. He throws it into spaces he wouldn't throw it into now. The preparation and watching him in the huddle, he has grown leap years as a leader. I have absolutely no qualms of letting him call plays in the championship game in the no-huddle package. He has done a great job with it. He did a great job in two ball games against them previously. As a coach I don't know if I can say anything more than I am going to let him call the plays.
*Why has Willie Parker had a lack of success running against the Ravens?
They have a great defense. Nobody else has either. LaDainlian Tomlinson, all of the rest. They are built like we are, to stop the run. If you get 100 yards on them, you have done your job. The Giants were able to break two long runs. The rest of the time it was four, four and four. To me it's not the number, it's the efficiency. You can't go in there and run the ball and be in second-and-10, run the ball and be in third-and-nine. That's not being efficient offensively. If you run it twice and you are in third-and-five and less against this team, you have put yourself in pretty good position. You want to play the game in third-and-five or less because of the sub-blitz package and all of the things they do on third down and keep it in a very manageable distance. If you are running and still back there third-and-nine, you are wasting time.
Do you expect to see a lot of new things from them this week?
You take our two ball games and the last two ball games and there are 50 some different blitzes. Rex (Ryan) does a fantastic job with his schemes and he will have some new ones this week. It's a tribute to their players. They obviously study the heck out of the game to be able to run as many things as they do.
Do you have a sense of excitement playing against Rex Ryan?
That's every week. That's the beauty of doing what we do. There are only 32 of us on each side of the ball. The head coach doesn't get to have any fun. The fun is the chess game. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, putting it all together and seeing if your guys can go out and do it. That's what it is all about.
*Re: Coach LeBeau reciting "The Night Before Christmas"
The first time I heard "Night Before Christmas" I think I was thrown back. I couldn't believe it. I was just taken back to five years old. Shocked, you know. All the way back to your childhood and he does it with such flare.
That flare is not normal for Coach LeBeau right?
No. He's a pretty mellow guy. That's the thing you know. He gets really into the parts, the voices, and just, you know, gets into it.
*Why do you think the defense has so much respect for him?
Just look at the man. Look what he's accomplished as a player, as a coach, and as a person. It's hard not to respect him.
Re: Regarding confidence on the team
I think that it's the way the team is built around each other, the respect, and love we have for one another. Guys don't want to quit or fail. You don't want to be the guy to let down the whole group because we all enjoy being together. We've been together so long.
*Re: Regarding trash talking on Sunday
We know that it's all about performing on Sunday and that's the bottom line. Talking isn't going to make you perform any better.
Have the coaches said anything at all about that? *
No. Our coaches haven't said anything. Coach is like, "hey you can watch what you say," but ultimately it's up to you as a man. You know, for us, talking isn't going to do anything. I feel, I guess I feel like the rest of the offensive linemen, that it doesn't make a bit of difference if we're saying something to one of the d-linemen or their d-linemen are saying something to us, it only comes down to us performing against their defense and their defense performing against us.
*Re: Regarding attitude and confidence toward fourth-quarter comebacks and not losing
That's just the attitude we've developed over the year. Being in close games and those tight situations where you needed those game-winning drives to win the games kind of made us stronger as a group and has given us that confidence that when it comes down to the fourth quarter and something has to be done there's no doubt in our mind because we've done it so much before, that it's no doubt in our mind that we're going to go down field and score and ultimately win the game. It's when that situation arises and is called for that's when that happens.
*Is that like a swagger you guys have, saying that you can get this done?
I wouldn't classify it as a swagger. I mean it's more of just a confidence in your unit and confidence in the other guys in the huddle with you to know that you have a confident group here of 11 guys and when we need to get the job done, we'll get the job done.
*How much does Willie (Parker) returning to 100 percent have an effect on your confidence?
I think it helps. I think it helps our confidence as well as our versatility as an offense because he provides a different dimension of his running style, where as you have Mewelde Moore, Gary Russell, who are going to be more downhill between the tackle runners, where Willie (Parker) can run between the tackles, but he can also bounce it outside. So it just gives us dimension on offense.
*Road teams seem very dangerous in the playoffs
Yeah, they are. They are doing really good jobs. Baltimore also plays championship style football. They only had one more loss than we did. We know what kind of a team they are.
Is it a good thing or a bad thing that you guys know each other so well?
Only the outcome of the game can decide that. If we win it is a good thing, if we don't, then it isn't a good thing.
Did you get LaMarr Woodley going in the last game?
It is good that he got going, I don't know if we got him going. He made the plays. There are always going to be guys on our defense that make the plays. It may not be the usual faces because we have so much talent in all positions and backups.
Anything change in practice this week?
It's been like a regular week as far as getting prepared with practice and coaching. Coach Tomlin has been wanting us to stay loose. Not get tight. Not over-analyze because it is a championship week. So it has been normal. I still eat the same things I eat every other week. I had a good cupcake from Vanilla Pastry today. Red velvet. So everything is status quo. We aren't going to take this game any differently than we take the other ones. If we go out there and take this game any differently than we do other ones, I think we would put ourselves in a bad position.
*You and Derek Mason have been playing football basically with one arm.
Yeah, I guess so. But you have to play. He is a tough football player, a seasoned veteran, a guy who has done a lot in this league and I wouldn't expect anything but that from him. You just hold it tight until it is time to catch the ball. Make sure that thing doesn't get out. He has been playing well with it.
*Do you get lulled to sleep playing this Baltimore team?
Not really. I think we have done a good job as a secondary the first two times we played them, being aware that their quarterback has a good arm. When you watch film and see somebody throw the ball down the field like that, it only takes one play to get beat and get down. You give up seven points and you have your offense playing behind the Baltimore Ravens, they are going to cause some trouble. So we try to do our job. Our four linebackers and three linemen handle the run, make tackles when we have to, but most important, do our job and stay back.
How will the Ravens adjust to the cold weather?
They're on the other side too, so I don't think the cold will effect them as much because they have an outdoor stadium. They are our neighbors so they play in the cold weather. Like I told you, this is the AFC Championship game, rain, sleet or snow, you have to go out there and play. I don't care if it's the backyard, no matter what it's going to be, you have to come out there ready to play.
What problems does the Ravens' unbalanced line present?
Sometimes from a formation standpoint, you tend to lose key on the tight end. When you see the unbalance to the right, you think the strength is over there because there are a lot of people over there. But you still have to go with your rules with finding out the tight end. That's just creating more holes for us to fill. When you have an unbalance (line) they create an extra gap, we have to make sure we cover all those gaps.
Is there one less person to worry about in pass coverage with the unbalanced line?
They could trick you because he (extra tackle) could be eligible to catch a pass. He ran one pass thus far that I've seen on film. They put one in there. We know that and they know that as well. You still have got to respect it that he has a chance to release therefore you have to stay on your keys too.
Is it tough for Baltimore to play since Week 2 without a bye week?
It's tough, but this is playoffs. It doesn't matter. They are going to do everything the can to try to get to this Super Bowl and the same thing for us. You can't let that 17-week thing stop you from thinking that you are going to the dance. You are professional; you have to get your body geared in to perform at a high level. You work out in the offseason for this long haul. So happen for them they had 17 straight games, but this is just another game for them. I don't think they are looking at it like they are banged up. When they get on that field, they're going to give it all they've got.
*How is the injured knee?
I know I'll be able to play with my injury. I'll be able to go out there and play. I did a fairly decent job in the last game working with what I had. I'm confident that I'll be alright on Sunday.
Are you surprised there hasn't been more talk between the two teams?
Talk isn't important to us; we're just all about showing up on Sunday and playing football. There is no need to talk. Talk is for the media and we're not interested in that, we're interested in playing football?
Is it good or bad that these teams know each other so well? *
I think it's a good thing. You watch the tape of the Miami Dolphins' offense against the Baltimore defense or watching the tape of the Cowboys at the end of the year both teams were cutting guys free and they weren't sure who was who. This is definitely an advantage for us to know their personnel and how we've blocked them in the past and we know what works and what doesn't. It's an advantage that we've played them twice this year.
*What are your thoughts on the improved running game?
It's a positive step for us. We have to keep running the ball if we're going to keep winning in the playoffs. It's been inconsistent during the year, but hopefully we get those runs dialed up this week and hopefully we can get some push and move the pile a little bit so that will be a challenge for our offensive line.