The Steelers take on the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Heinz Field in a game that is huge for the Steelers as they head down the final stretch of the season.
It's also a big game for the Titans who are in first place in the AFC South.
For Titans Coach Mike Vrabel it's a homecoming of sorts. Vrabel was drafted by the Steelers in the third round of the 1997 NFL Draft and played four seasons in the black and gold.
"You start your career there with an unbelievable organization," said Vrabel. "It starts at the top with the Rooney family, and everybody involved, all the way down to the coaches. John Mitchell was my first professional position coach and Mitch is still with the team. Jim Haslett was my defensive coordinator and is on our staff now. Just the type of people that have been there. Coach (Bill) Cowher, the entire Rooney family. I learned a lot about pro football and what it should be from the people there.
"I know a lot of people have come and gone but the one constant that remains is the Rooney family and Mike (Tomlin) has done an unbelievable job to represent them on and off the field."
Vrabel and others talked more about the Steelers, including T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and more.
* * *
Coach Mike Vrabel on T.J. Watt:
"He's disruptive, but he is also a very instinctive, athletic player. He brings a lot of different skills to the position. If you overset, he comes under. If you are light, he runs you over. If you overreach in the run game, he comes under and makes a play or disrupts it. Just a very instinctive player."
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill on the Steelers defense and the challenges they present:
"They are a talented defense. They fly around. Aggressive linebackers. Minkah Fitzpatrick is all over the field. I was with him in Miami, and I respect him. He is a really good player. Their front is fast and aggressive. Watt is coming off of the edge, just an overall tough defense. They play a bunch of different fronts in base defense. They are going to give you every look in the book and make it tough on communicating and (identifying). They are physical. I think that is what it comes down to is they are a physical defense that wants to make it tough on you."
Vrabel on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger if this might be his last season:
"I have too much respect for Ben and the Pittsburgh Steelers to go down some retirement speech on him. This guy is a Hall of Fame quarterback we are trying to prepare for that has been fantastic when the games have been on the line, when they needed a spark. They didn't want to get off to some of the starts that they did, but just watching that game last Thursday I don't think anybody thought they weren't going to come back and win. That's how the momentum was going. Really just operated the offense and the RPOs.
"Nobody throws it deep better than Ben Roethlisberger. That's where our challenge is. Wherever his career takes him after that, then I'll be happy to touch on it. We're really focused on what he is doing and how he is going to attack us."
Vrabel on how tough it is to bring Roethlisberger down in the backfield:
"We have all seen his success late in the game, just his ability to move them down and score quickly. I know that is not where they would want to have been, but it says a lot about him and his offense. They have very, very good skill players. The receivers are all good. The running back is exceptional. They have had some moving pieces with the O-line, but Ben makes it all go. Very good down the field and a very good deep ball thrower. He is going to take shots and they have done a great job of coming down with them or creating a penalty. Really good technique down the field. He is not like he was when he was younger, but he is still big and it is going to be tough to tackle him."
Tannehill on Roethlisberger and how he has been able to play at a high level for so long:
"I have a ton of respect for Ben and what he has done in his career. He has played at a high level for a really long time. Going back to his early days and shaking off three-techniques and staying in the pocket. He is unbelievably strong. Even now, they have fallen behind a couple of times lately and he is battling them back. He is making great throws. Putting themselves in positions to get back in the game and possibly win the game at the end. You can't say that he has changed a whole lot or going to go down without a fight. He makes really good, tough throws and is leading his team to staying in games."
Vrabel on the Steelers and what he expects from the game:
"They are physical. Very physical on defense. Usually, they are very sound. Pittsburgh is obviously a tough place to play. I just think there is a mindset and a mentality that they are going to be in every football game. You have seen them come back and battle back and always be in it at the end whether they are playing with Ben Roethlisberger or anybody else for that matter. That is just going back in the last couple years. We will have to get started. Already have started. Continue to get our players ready to go on the road playing in Pittsburgh in December and knowing there is probably going to be some elements and things that we are going to have to deal with. We are going to have to kick it well, finish drives, try and score points and see if we can definitely try to stop a really good back, some really good receivers and a Hall of Fame quarterback."
Tannehill on if the Steelers defense gives looks that aren't typically seen:
"Some teams will do it, and Pittsburgh is included, with putting five or six bigs on the field and then walk Watt around. Make you account for a big guy in a situation, in a place or a spot that big guy isn't normally. It makes it tough for the offensive line in communicating and to know who they are going to."
Vrabel on the Steelers defense and if it is the frequency or the variety of their blitzes that is the bigger concern:
"Probably just the variety. There are different packages. There are different fronts with where they move some of these outside linebackers around and where they put them and some of the stuff they do. It may look unorthodox at times, but it is a very sound and very aggressive approach."
Vrabel on Najee Harris:
"I noticed in the Ravens game when they needed a comeback and had a huge drive there in the fourth quarter, they handed it to him, threw it to him and checked down. The workload doesn't seem to bother him. The one thing that seems to impress me the most about him is on the mistakes that they have made, whether that is an interception, he is the one that is out there that is at the front of the pack trying to chase down the guy with the ball. He is playing with great effort. There were times he was breaking tackles, runs behind his pads, has good balance, catches the ball very well, naturally. We will have to go into the game with the idea of trying to stop him and then when (Benny) Snell is in there, obviously he is a physical player who isn't afraid of contact."
Tannehill on playing at Heinz Field:
"It is a great place to play. I love playing there. I think the last time I actually played there was 2014 in the snow. That was a fun experience. It was my first real snow game with more than just a dusting. We went in after warm-ups, came back out and I think there was four or five inches of snow on the ground. It was crazy how fast it came down. It was a fun game. I remember it being a super competitive game. Great atmosphere. Really cool stadium set right there on the river. When you think of an NFL football stadium, Pittsburgh is definitely one of those that comes to mind."
Vrabel on what stands out in the Steelers red zone offense:
"The different players that they have and the different skillsets. They have (Chase) Claypool who can go up and get the football. They find him a lot around the back of the end zone and in the corners. I think Diontae Johnson is one of the best natural route runners that we will face the entire season. He is sudden and he is tough to bring down after short gains. He does a great job of stemming routes at the second level. (James) Washington plays with really good play strength and (Pat) Freiermuth is along the lines of Claypool. Put him on the backside and throw it to him one-on-one with a corner. That tells you what they think about him."