Labriola On

Tomlin on aborted plays, Harvin, 7 vs. 15

Q. Not surprisingly, Steelers fans have shown a lot of interest and have had a lot of questions about the aborted play in the game against the Ravens that cost T.J. Watt the NFL single-season sack record. Based on your understanding of the rule, what is an aborted play?
A. Based on my understanding of the rule, I thought it was a sack. But I coach football and Elias (Sports Bureau) and those statistician folks, they make determinations such as that. I'm still not certain why it wasn't a sack. It was empty formation. There was no running back in the backfield. People who run routes, offensive linemen were in protection mode. And so, I still struggle with that, but I accept their judgment.

Q. How did Watt react to the news that the appeal was denied?
A. I think we all simply moved on. We appealed it just as a point of procedure, in an effort to support him in his efforts, and highlight the extraordinary accomplishments that he had this year. But I don't think any of us was surprised by the final verdict, and I don't know that it was discussed other than the acknowledgement of it.

Q. So you don't believe in any home cooking there by the Ravens, do you?
A. I don't know. It's irrelevant. We've moved on.

Q. During your news conference last Tuesday, you talked about having some concern about the lack of playoff exposure among your young players. You said, "I am concerned about exposure, so that people understand what the environment is like and the intensity of it. How much detail is required, particularly to win in situational ball and things of that nature." Your game in Kansas City on Dec. 26 was just the regular season, but can the exposure to the Chiefs and to Arrowhead Stadium help check some of the boxes you were referring to?
A. No question. That was a special environment that night and whenever you play at Arrowhead Stadium. Those of us who have been in this game and have been in a number of venues, we know that's a special one. So I think you learn and grow through experience, even negative experiences like we had in December. So hopefully that assists us in terms of getting comfortable to the environmental things associated with anchoring down and making the necessary plays and communicating and doing the things that you need to do.

Q. What did you make of what Ben Roethlisberger said on Wednesday about being the worst team in the playoff field, and being such heavy underdogs that he's just hoping not to get blown out, and about going out and playing carefree and whatever happens, happens?
A. I've known Ben for 15 years. I know he didn't mean it. He's playing the game and laying in the weeds. Everyone should expect our best efforts.

Q. Do you think what Ben said can help his teammates any, maybe relax them a little bit?
A. I'm sure that was his intention, among other things, but it's neither here nor there to be honest with you. When it's game time, what was said by whom on the previous Wednesday will be irrelevant. It's going to be about what transpires once that ball is snapped.

Q. It was announced on Friday that T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward both were voted first-team All-Pro. Why were they deserving of being so recognized?
A. To me, their sheer dominance, and it's both guys. You're talking about an edge guy who tied the all-time single-season sack record, but that's just a snapshot of what he's capable of. He plays a complete game: forced fumbles, batted passes, tackles at the point of attack; and then you're talking about an interior rusher with double-digit sacks and run game dominance. They're very deserving of the recognition. And so I'm excited and happy for them and proud of them.

Q. One guy who didn't make it this year was Minkah Fitzpatrick, and that likely had to do with his low number of interceptions. But as his coach, what kind of a season did Minkah have in areas that voters for the All-Pro team might not have noticed?
A. He played great football for us. He was a guy who kind of tied it all together. He got challenged in unique ways because of our struggles at times and he had 120-plus tackles on the season. That's rare air for the safety position. His contributions were immense. He's a traffic cop in the middle of the field. He made all the necessary plays. You just think about the significant pass breakups that he made in significant moments. The one in Baltimore, with Hollywood Brown standing on the sideline; the one on fourth down in Cleveland a few weeks prior breaking up the ball to Jarvis Landry to secure victory for us there. He's always Johnny on the spot. He's first-team All-Pro in my book annually. He's in the same category as those others we were talking about.

Q. You mentioned Minka leading the team in tackles. That's usually not something that's desirable, is it, for your free safety to lead the team in tackles?
A. It is not, but it's also appreciated, because without some of those tackles, the scoreboard would have gotten rung up. We got challenged in ways this year, particularly with the attrition along our front and it put those responsibilities on him. He didn't run away from it. He ran to it.

Q. Corliss Waitman had a couple of solid outings while filling in for Pressley Harvin, but then last week against Baltimore you went back to Harvin. What was your reasoning there?
A. You know, the inclement weather conditions and the continuity that we had at the snap-hold-kick component of it was a part of the equation a week ago. And really, it will continue to be part of the equation. We've had great success with Christian (Kuntz) snapping and Pressley (Harvin) holding, and (Chris Boswell) kicking. We've been in some big moments (with placekicking), and so that was a decision-maker last week. And wouldn't you know, we go out there (in Baltimore) and in that inclement weather, and those guys snap-hold-kick and send us home with a victory. Punting is just a part of the equation. That snap-hold-kick component, the cohesion required to be varsity there is attractive as well. And so Pressley remains our punter.

Q. You and I have talked about this previously, about the holding component that the punter must provide. Can you explain it briefly to fans about how important that is, and how much of the job that is for the punter?
A. Years ago, the backup quarterback or the quarterback himself, used to be the holder, but during the course of your work week, because the quarterbacks have so much other responsibilities and the specialists spent a lot of time together, over a period of time the punter became the holder. His hands have to be good, obviously, just on his day job in terms of receiving the snap in the punt game, but really what produced the partnership globally is the availability of the punter. So they had an opportunity to work together, and practice makes perfect. For example, Pressley on a normal Wednesday, he'll have 75 holds shot from the JUGS machine. On Thursday, he'll have 50. That's 125 holds every week where you develop muscle memory, and it becomes like clockwork week in and week out. It'd be difficult for a quarterback to fit that in his daily schedule from a work standpoint. And so, it has a lot to do with the division of labor and specialization. It is valued, and Pressley has grown by leaps and bounds. We've had great success with that component of our unit, and so we'll continue to work. The Wednesday before the game in Baltimore, Danny Smith, myself, Christian, and Pressley were off on the side during an offensive period, and we were dipping the ball in a bucket and delivering a wet ball to them. And they were snapping and holding a wet ball, because we read the advance forecast that it might be inclement weather in Baltimore. And so that's what the division of labor allows you to do. It allows you to prepare. It allows you to get singularly focused and really produce a high-floor in terms of consistency in performance.

Q. Does Ben have to out-play Patrick Mahomes for you to have a chance to win tonight?
A. He does not. And really none of us do. Pat Freiermuth does not have to outplay Travis Kelce, if you will. Cam Hayward doesn't have to outplay Chris Jones. We have to make enough plays, and particularly the significant ones, the weighty ones, the possession-down plays, the red zone plays, the two-minute plays, those plays that are weighted differently. We've got to win the vast majority of those plays that usually put you in a position to be successful.

Q. What do you need from Ben tonight, either in terms of what he delivers, or what he absolutely cannot do?
A. We've got to take care of the football. We turned the ball over three times the last time we were in Kansas City, and the Chiefs took advantage of that to score 17 points, and that cannot happen in their venue, not vs. an offensive unit like the one that we'll face tonight. And that's as significant as what the Ben-Mahomes component of the matchup will be. You can't give Patrick Mahomes extra possessions. And so, Ben's got to safeguard the football, and he's got to make sure that others within his unit have the same mentality.

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