Tomlin on attire, imitating Lamar, the rivalry

Q. After you went over the video of the game against the Bengals on Monday with the team, was there any more mention of that game or what happened in that game during the rest of this past week, because you said on Tuesday, "you don't get that stench off you in a number of days."
A. No, there wasn't a whole lot said about it after that, to be quite honest with you. The preparation for this game and the attention required to the preparation for this game, particularly because some of the things (the Ravens) do are dramatically different than most. The nature of their offense's structure, the quarterback mobility component and things of that nature, their deliberate aggression on special teams. Things that we're familiar with because we play them, but it does require significant attention. Their punt team is probably more capable than any other punt team in the NFL to provide some trickery, (such as) direct snaps to the personal protector; their punter over the years has a nice completion percentage. They've always got a wide receiver at gunner, who they're capable of throwing hitches and slants to. And so, it's just a lot of things of that nature. Some of the things that they do defensively they've been doing dating back to the Rex Ryan days. Well, we all know Don Martindale, their coordinator, has a close and intimate relationship with Rex Ryan, so there is some uniqueness that is exclusive to Baltimore that required our attention all week.

Q. To use your words, there was a change in attire for the team's first practice this week, which was on Wednesday. And by a change in attire, you meant the practice would be in pads. What were you looking to accomplish by holding a padded practice on Dec. 1?
A. More than anything, it's about the messaging: Not good enough. And it's as simple as that. Forget if there's any production out of the act of doing it, but there's a message to be sent there. Our physicality, the physical component, the shedding of blocks, the making of tackles, the sustaining of blocks, the finishing of blocks weren't up to the standards of our expectations. And so we put pads on, and we got a good day's work in. Now whether or not that was productive is based on the result of our performance today.

Q. So it's almost like punishment?
A. You know, it just depends on your perceptions of punishment. Punishments are for building. It's for growth. And so, if you want to look at it in those terms, certainly, but I tend to look at it as an opportunity for growth. As a point of emphasis. As a statement. As a setting of our mentality for the things that we need to do this week in that regard.

Q. Earlier in the week, Ray-Ray McCloud was activated off the COVID list, and one of the things he was doing was imitating Lamar Jackson for the defense. How did you decide on Ray-Ray for that job, and what did it look like as he was doing it?
A. He's a punt and kick returner. He's a guy who is paid to make people miss in one-on-one circumstances, and that is something where Lamar excels. And so we wanted to represent that and prepare our rush, and our contain people, and our people who have to deal with Lamar to get a realistic look at a skill-set that is unique for the position. Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins usually provide the looks of opposing quarterbacks for our defense, and it'd be unrealistic to expect those guys to provide a look that will prepare our guys for what we're going to see in-stadium today. And so, we just felt it was appropriate. You lose a lot in arm talent and accuracy and so forth (by using Ray-Ray), but it's worth it, because the quarterback mobility component is one of the things that make them a unique challenge.

Q. Is having a player mimic an upcoming opponent during practice something that's done for other positions besides quarterback? How might that work for a great pass rusher, such as Myles Garrett?
A. There aren't a lot of guys who look like Myles Garrett, so that's a little bit more difficult, but if you play an enormous back you might get somebody in the backfield who doesn't normally play in the backfield in an effort to represent them from a stature standpoint, particularly short yardage circumstances and things like that. We're open to doing whatever is required to reflect the uniqueness of some of the talent in this game as we prepare for it. But some of the people you mentioned, there's just not a lot of examples of people who can provide the type of look you're looking for. When there's a unique edge rusher, say, Von Miller, for example, we might use a defensive back to reflect Miller's get-off in short area quickness. So you might give something up in terms of size that's not reflective of the challenge, but you might tit-for-tat that in an effort to show the uniqueness of his speed. We're open to doing whatever is required to prepare our guys for the uniqueness of some of the talent.

Q. In talking about dealing with the Ravens offense, one of the things you said was, "We've got to do a good job of setting the edges and reducing the amount of grass that we all play in." What does "reducing the amount of grass" mean?
A. Meaning if you don't contain this quarterback or the football, and he's able to operate in the full 53-and-a-third yards of width that is the football field, then you're playing his game, because space is his friend. He gets people in one-on-one circumstances in space, and not only does he win those confrontations, he doesn't even look at them. He's looking at the next guy. He's so comfortable in his abilities to win those circumstances. We've got to set edges; we've got to play in a much smaller field. When we do that, you get him in close quarters. It makes him easier to deal with, but also he at times makes prudent decisions about giving up the fight. If we get him confined in smaller spaces, it makes it easier for us to get him on the ground, but it also might make him fight less in terms of some of the things that he does to create and extend plays.

Q. In a couple of the Ravens' recent games – starting with the one at Miami on a Thursday night, the Dolphins blitzed Lamar Jackson a bunch, sacked him four times, pressured him seven times, and held him to 39 yards rushing in an upset win. Last Sunday, the Browns didn't blitz, generally sat back in coverage, and Jackson passed for only 165 yards and threw four interceptions. Those styles seem completely different, but what made them effective in dealing with Lamar Jackson?
A. It's not specifically what it is they did, it simply may have been what it is they did relative to what Baltimore expected them to do. And oftentimes that's the beauty of game planning, whether it's defensive game planning or offensive game planning or special teams game planning. It's not always about the uniqueness of what it is that you do, it's about the people that you play and their level of anticipation and their level of preparedness for it. Miami threw something at them that wasn't on video, and they had success, and maybe Baltimore anticipated those teams that followed would copycat it, and so they were prepared for a bunch of zero-coverage, and Cleveland chose to stay within their personality. And then there was a lack of preparedness there. And so that's the cat-and-mouse game that is the schematic strategy of our game at this level. Oftentimes I tell our guys, "It's chess, not checkers." And that's a vivid example of that discussion.

Q. One of the elements of run defense is for the defensive linemen to be difficult to move. How do defensive linemen make themselves difficult to move?
A. He can drop an anchor. Scouts use cute terms like "stack the point." And Casey Hampton was a classic example of that. When Casey played for us, he'd get in a staggered stance, he put that right foot back and it didn't matter what transpired once that ball was snapped, because that right foot at the very least was gonna be in the same spot in which it started. And you could put 700 pounds on him, you could put two people on him, and that right foot wasn't going to move. A defensive lineman's ability to stack the point when there's four hands or two people on him is a significant component of measuring the impact of guys at that position. And then their ability to shed blocks and make tackles when there's one person blocking them is another element that defines the position. And those two things together define what makes a dominant run player, and in the scouting world, it's what allows them to stack the point. It's about their ability to hold ground when defending two blockers or taking on two blockers, and their ability to shed and tackle and be significant from a statistical standpoint when blocked by one person.

Q. Earlier in the week, the team signed defensive lineman Montravius Adams. What can you tell us about the kind of player he is, and in what areas might he be able to contribute quickly?
A. We liked him a lot when he came out in the draft. I went down to Auburn for his Pro Day and took him out to dinner and all of those things. And that often reflects the moves that we make in free agency or in the open market. Oftentimes we have a past relationship where there was something about him that was attractive to us. He's big and strong and athletic. When he came out, he was somewhat raw from a technical standpoint, we realized that, and that's probably one of the reasons why he's bounced around the league a little and he was available to us. But the talent is attractive to us. It was attractive to us then. He's had a good week's work. We're excited about giving him an opportunity to put his hand in the pile and contribute this week.

Q. Steelers vs. Ravens is one of the bitterest rivalries in the NFL today, and during your time as coach here, you have had to educate young players about the nature of the rivalry. How were you educated about the rivalry leading up to your first Steelers-Ravens game back in 2007?
A. At least for me, it was easy to see, and there was no education required, because it's about the significant men on both sides. The Hall of Fame and Hall of Fame-worthy men, guys like Alan Faneca and Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu pitting their talents and energies against the likes of Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed. When you look at it now, it makes sense why those games were so intense because of the quality of those players, and it's easy to look at their careers now with the perspective of how significant those guys were for their era. I knew it then. I felt it then. The spirit of those men who drove those teams that were brought into the arena who made the competition what it was is the standard that we on both sides fight to uphold today. The game was changed in a lot of ways for good because of some of the things that were done in those games. There's not a person who can deny the player safety initiative that is today's NFL was born out of Steelers-Ravens football games that were tough and gory for some people to look at, at times. But it just speaks to the spirit of the men and what they were willing to do, and that's the standard that we all fight to uphold. Those are the lessons that I teach our young people regarding the history of the series, and I'm sure those are the same lessons that Coach Harbaugh, on other side, teaches his guys. You think about plays like when Ryan Clark hit Willis McGahee (close to the end of the 2008 AFC Championship Game), and me and John Harbaugh were out on the field because both guys were down. I'm looking at John and he's looking at me, and it's just those moments that define the history of this thing.

Q. Back in 2007, that first Ravens-Steelers game, did any of your players say anything to you about the rivalry? Or did you notice in practice that things were just different that week?
A. I knew that in 2006 the Ravens won two lopsided games. And so I heard that scuttlebutt, and that was low-hanging fruit, and as a young coach, I preyed upon it. I maybe ran videos all week of the 2006 Steelers-Ravens games on monitors throughout the building. I kind of remember doing that, but I was a young coach, and I was interested in the low-hanging fruit. There have been some moments where massive careers have been defined in these matchups. James Harrison burst onto the stage in 2007 on a Monday night at Heinz Field against the Ravens. He had 3.5 sacks, he killed a punter or blocked a punt or did something crazy on special teams as well. It was one of those freaky James Harrison games that we're all familiar with now in hindsight, but that night was the first one. And there are a bunch of interesting stories like that. We're playing those guys in the 2008 AFC Championship Game, and Troy picks off that ball and cuts back across the field and goes into the end zone holding the ball over his head, and Heinz Field is literally shaking. The building is shaking, and it's probably the single wildest moment I've experienced inside this stadium in 15 years. Those are the things I think about when I think about the history of this rivalry and what it has meant to the men on both sides who have played in it, and how it's defined their careers. And to be honest, Hines Ward needs Ed Reed and Ed Reed needs Hines Ward. Jerome Bettis needs Ray Lewis, and Ray Lewis needs Jerome Bettis to be who they are. So I have an appreciation and a respect for what this rivalry is and the men who have created it, and it's cool to watch the teams continue to come together.

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