Steelers-Ravens Conference Calls

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STEELERS vs. RAVENS SUNDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2009 KICKOFF 1:00 P.M. HEINZ FIELD

CONFERENCE CALLS

Head Coach John Harbaugh

I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about the impact that Ray Rice has had on your offense. He made a couple of big plays, especially that 4th-and-1 he made in the last meeting. His ability to catch the ball is as good as his ability to run the ball.

Ray's been, for the last two years here, he's been steadily improving, advancing his impact on our offense. And really, throughout the course of the year he's been making plays like that. It's really been a big plus for us. He's a big part of our offense, no doubt.

Have you seen the Steelers' offense change from what everybody perceives it to once be run-oriented; is it now pass-first and have you seen it change?

It's funny, I don't really see that. I see them as being a team that's committed to running the ball and runs the ball very well. If you don't make a concerted effort and commit yourself to stopping the run, they will hurt you with the run. And people have to do that. They have to set their defense up to stop the run, because they have a big, physical offensive line-they have a number of good running backs, and I think that people do that and it lends itself, if you're on the offensive side, you're going to throw it if you get those kinds of look. And they can. They've got playmakers everywhere, at all of the receiver positions and the running backs and quarterback. So they're wise to use those guys the way they do.

What is Ed Reed's status? I know it doesn't look like you've missed him the past couple of weeks, but how is your defense difference?

Ed Reed is obviously one of the top two safeties in the game, I think we have to say. When you have a guy out, it alters you a little bit. His presence factor as a playmaker and as a captain in the back end is sorely missed, and I think Tom Zbikowksi has done a heck of a job replacing him and he's played very well, very solidly, but you don't really replace an Ed Reed.

Are you expecting him back this week? I hear that he might try.

Well, we're hopeful. I've been expecting him back every week. Sometimes these things are on their own program. So, as you know, he's getting it checked out by a third or fourth opinion. It's just the type of thing that you kind of keep looking at these things and how they're progressing. We want to put his well-being way first and foremost, and if he can play and it can be safe for him then he'll sure be out there.

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Speaking of great safeties, [Troy] Polamalu has missed a lot of games. Do you think he might play this week and what do you think about his absence affecting the Steelers' defense this year?

I just think that the Steelers' defense is still a great defense, and you can look at them statistically and that's out there. They can cause all the same problems, but then again, just like replacing Ed Reed, you can't really replace a Troy Polamalu either. All eleven guys probably have to raise up their game like we try to do here. And I think they've done that. We're anticipating that he's going to play; I think that we have to because that would be foolish for us not to do, so we'll just have to see what happens.

What's your take on the way [Ben] Roethlisberger played Sunday and the way Pittsburgh won that football game?

I think it was just classic, it was classic Pittsburgh. Offensively, it was just what they've done and we've seen them, studied them over the past two years, and up front we've had the misfortune to experience that same type of scenario. Just very impressive, Ben Roethlisberger is an elite, premier quarterback in this league and he's shown that many times before.

Without revealing any secrets, on that fourth down play with Ray Rice, the one that went for 44 yards, did you catch them in a zone, do you recall the play?

I do recall the play. I don't really recall the specifics that I want to share, specifically. But I think that it was really just a great play. He was well covered and it wasn't a situation where there was any kind of breakdown defensively. I just think it was a really well-timed, well-executed play and sometimes we were able to come up with those, and they were able to come up with their fair share. It was really a great game, tight game, pretty much like all these games through the course of the last two years.

You've been in Baltimore a few years, but this decade has been a lot of great Pittsburgh-Baltimore games, a lot of great moments. Just your take on late December, this game, what it means for both of these franchises right now.

To me it's just a great point and I have been a part of it for two years, I've seen what this rivalry has become over the course of this last decade. I think it's the premiere rivalry in football and in the National Football League. Maybe we're a little bit biased, but I'm just proud to be a part of it and proud to have been in four great, great football games in the last two years and here's the fifth one that is just as meaningful as the first four. And it's just funny because both teams-you never can plan the path, you hope it goes a certain way and then it goes another, but here we are, facing each other with so much at stake once again, probably just like we all anticipated at the beginning of the season.

You look at a lot of the top teams right now and many of them are among the top passing teams as well. Do you think that across the league, it's sort of becoming a pass-first mentality and using the pass to set up the run? And if so, why?

I think you look at it that way, but then again, you see a lot of the passes come off of the play action pass too and the ability to make the pass look like the run and therefore come off the run.  So I think it goes both ways. Obviously, the league and the rules are set up such that to encourage the passing game. I mean, it's pretty hard to cover people back there and especially with the interference penalty being so punishing as it is. So it shouldn't be surprising.

Ray Lewis has been with you for a long time. What's it like, coaching a guy like him and do you think that, at this stage of his career, he's still playing outstanding football for you guys?

First of all, it's a privilege and an honor to coach him. He's a better person than he is a player. He's one of the best leaders, if not the best leader, I've ever been around from a player perspective. He's a tremendous person. But he's definitely playing at a very very high level. Whether it's as high as it was ten years ago, I have no way of knowing. But he's just playing as good as any linebacker in the league right now, and to say that for 14 years in this league is pretty special.

Linebacker Ray Lewis

I know you look more at the Steelers' offense, I'm curious if you get any peeks at the defense and if you're surprised at any of their struggles this year.
I haven't, I'm blind to them kind of going up and down. But as far as dipping into it to actually know about it, I really don't. It can be so many number of things, being a defensive person myself. So you don't know or want to speculate what it is, or speak on what happens, because you really don't know. But I think the bottom line is, they're still the Steelers, they're still here to play football hard-nosed, maybe breaks haven't gone their way in the past couple of weeks, but they're still the same team.

When you go to look at that first meeting with Dennis Dixon, how did he play in your eyes? Did they limit, from what you were able to see, what they did with him? How did you think he did in that game?
I just think, first of all, I liked the kid in college and I watched him pretty much his whole college career. And his last year, before he got hurt, I thought he was going to win the Heisman. So his athletic ability and the way he throws the ball, the kid has always been able to do that. So when he got into the game, the big thing for us is-Ben [Roethlisberger] definitely makes his living off of keeping the play going, but Dennis is a much different quarterback. He's a much more explosive quarterback with the run. Where Ben might scramble for seven to 10 yards, Dennis might scramble for 30 to 40. That is a credit to him because he's been able to run and I'm glad to see his knee back up.

That being said, Ben is obviously back. Your thoughts on the Pittsburgh offense with Roethlisberger back this week.
That's what I mean when I say it's the same Pittsburgh. Bottom line is you have to come prepared for the fact that he's going to fight to keep plays going. You watch all of those big plays, you see that that's where a lot of his big plays come from.They come from him extending the plays. So our job is just to come in and understand that we're playing the same Pittsburgh offense, doing what we have to do like Green Bay last week.
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Speaking of the defense, I believe that only three guys on your defense have started every game this year, yet you're ranked fourth in total defense, I think second in touchdowns allowed. Your thoughts on the way your defense has hung in there through all these injuries.

The thing is, you sit back and every week you wish you could come into it with a full roster, but you miss some of your main key players. But I think it's the core of what we have. Coach does a great job on kind of giving up the true heads up that says "You have to prepare these guys the way starters would prepare these guys. We can only install the defenses and things like that, but you have to get them to understand how we make them the next man up." And that's really the philosophy we've had around here for years, it's always the next man up. And if we lose another key player, Lardarius Webb is having a spectacular rookie season, and now you come back and you lose somebody like him. So again, next man up. And I think that's just our mentality. Making sure no matter what position you think you're playing, you think as a starter.


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I know it doesn't look like it the last couple of games, based on the scores, but how different is your defense without Ed Reed? I know there are some guys that you can play without, but he certainly is one of your key guys.
I just think is Ed is-give him credit for what he is, because Ed is Ed-but I'm more excited for the way [Tom] Zbikowski is playing the last couple of weeks, and then [Dawan] Landry and others-they've been doing a great job. Even the young backers have given us some of the things-they've taken away the deep ball and things like that. So when you lose a guy like that, you can never replace a guy like that, but when you have guys like Landry and all these guys who actually step up and start making plays-even [Domonique] Foxworth and all those guys making plays-then you have to take your hat off to those guys.

You had a couple disappointments here last year in Heinz Field. Does that have any bearing or play into this game at all?
Last year is last year, hopefully, and that's one of the things that I've always emphasized to my team. Let last year be last year just like last week is last week. And that's something that, bottom line, the playoff race is tough, but the bottom line is they know how tough this game is going to be, we know how tough the game is going to be, and it always comes down to being a classic game. So there's no added pressure or worrying about last year or this and that, bottom line-we didn't win a game last year, whether it was in Pittsburgh or Baltimore.

I don't know how much you get to watch him from the sideline, but certainly you're aware of the impact that Ray Rice has on your offense.
I just think there is no bigger impact, even across the league, just one person who keeps the offense going, who keeps the offense motivated. He's just a young guy and that's another guy I watched his whole college career, and it was just amazing, the things that he was able to do with the ball in his hands. And he's just one of those talents. I think the biggest thing that I'm most attracted to him about is his humbleness. For a young man to come in and love the game the way he loves it, prepare the way he's prepared, he just really, really enjoys the moment.

Throughout this decade, Pittsburgh and Baltimore have had some great games, a great rivalry. Just your take on this decade closing out with a Pittsburgh-Baltimore game with a lot of playoff implications.
I don't think you can get anything better. I think that these are the teams that you're always going to talk about to young players, like these are the moments that you live for. And based on what has evolved-I mean, one team has to win and one team has to lose. So it's never about who are the winners and losers. It only tells you what happened as team. But as an individual, you have to soak up these moments. You have to grab these moments and go in and play your best football, and play your best football with no stress. Whether mistakes or a good play, there's always the next play up. And I just think that when you play a team like a Pittsburgh and have the rivalry that we have, it just becomes a classic, classic battle. It's like we watch the classic games. We can always go back to those games and say "That was a heck of a war that those two teams went through".


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In the first game, the Steelers were a little bit more determined to run the ball to protect Dennis Dixon. How have you seen their offense change in the past couple of years? Obviously, they're more of a pass-first team now. They had a lot of big pass plays last week. Have they changed from what you remember?
I don't want to say that they've actually changed, because I don't really think they've changed like that. I just think that when you watch some of the plays, anytime a quarterback can-I don't want to say luck up on nothing-but anytime that you can make a play the first play of the game with [Mike] Wallace, and go for some of those throws early, that's just a bonus that you can get up that quick. I just think they're who they are, being able to make a lot of big plays, getting out of the pocket and scrambling up the field.

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