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Tomlin on Bell, Troy, stopping Forsett


Q. What went into the decision to rule Le'Veon Bell out on Friday as opposed to announcing him among the inactives 90 minutes before kickoff?**

A. It's simple for us. There were enough questions there regarding his availability that I thought it would be a distraction to us. I thought it was important that we utilize Friday to prepare the guys we knew were going to play, and really insulate the team during the last 36 hours before the game. In today's NFL, you get bombarded with people asking questions, people texting players and assistant coaches, people in the media trying to do their jobs, and the combination of it all becomes an annoyance. We made the announcement. We can get singularly focused, we can get insulated and focus on the task at hand, which is winning this game tonight.

Q. How did Le'Veon take the news?

A. Not well, but he's a competitor. I said at the top of the week that I would do what was right, and I feel like I did that. It's not necessarily going to be a popular decision with him, but that's why we like him. That's why he is the player he is – because he is a competitor.

Q. Who starts in Bell's spot, and what's your general plan at the position for this game – a rotation, go with the hot hand, specific packages?

A. We'll start with Josh Harris. We'll have a division of labor depending on what we want to do, but we'll also keep in mind that none of these guys have logged a substantial number of reps. So keeping them fresh is going to be an element of the equation as well.

Q. Based on what you saw from Ben Tate in practice, how confident are you in terms of what he might be capable of contributing tonight?

A. I'm extremely confident. But we knew that even prior to him getting here. He's a legitimate NFL runner with legitimate NFL pedigree. Really, we were fortunate to have a guy with that talent available to us at this time of the year. He's going to be a positive contributor to our efforts tonight.

Q. This situation at running back – who plays, how they're used, how many yards they gain, all of that, is being identified as the important issue to which team wins and which team loses. Do you see it that way, or is that just the way the fans and media see it?

A. We spend a lot of time searching for balance, and there's no question that Le'Veon Bell is our team MVP and has logged a bunch of yards and significant plays. But I believe we have enough players who can balance it out tonight be what it is we need to be to win. I know those guys are anxious to show the 'next man up' principle.


Q. You've been through this twice previously since becoming the Steelers coach – in 2008 and 2010 when there was a third game against the Baltimore Ravens. Is there anything about a third matchup against the same team within the same NFL season that makes it a unique challenge?**

A. Not to me. Maybe in 2008 it was when I said I didn't subscribe to that hocus-pocus. I'm still of that mind-set. Those last two games stand alone. This game will stand alone. Just because the games unfolded in a certain way the last couple of times we played them doesn't mean it writes the script for this matchup. We better be singularly focused on this opportunity and winning this game.

Q. In evaluating the Ravens for this game, where and how have they changed since Nov. 2, which was the date of the previous meeting?

A. The significant element of the change is their revamped secondary. They fired a number of guys, Matt Elam doesn't start as much, probably as a reaction to that game and probably as a reaction to several games. They have some new guys playing in there, whether it's Rashaan Melvin or Anthony Levine, or guys at the safety position such as Will Hill. They're doing a nice job of mixing in those new guys and really getting quality play out of them, much like we've done with some guys who have ascended in our secondary. That's probably why both teams are in this game tonight, because you're going to be faced with adversity over the course of a season and your ability to sustain and persevere and push through really defines you. They've done it, like we have.

Q. Besides the secondary, where and how has your team changed since then?

A. I think it's just in the general arrow pointed up. We've had a lot of guys who have gotten better, and we have gotten better collectively. If you look at the growth and development of young guys over the course of the season – there are bumps and bruises along the way because of injuries and so forth – but I think the overall trajectory of the development of guys can be characterized as arrow-pointed-up. I don't care if you're talking about rookies such as Martavis Bryant or Stephon Tuitt or Ryan Shazier, or you're talking about second-year guys and third-year guys like Markus Wheaton who's ascending or a guy like Kelvin Beachum who's in his third year and is a really solid left tackle now. It's a culmination of a lot of work and guys growing over the course of the journey.


Q. You have faced some outstanding return guys over the latter stages of the regular season – Adam Jones a couple of times, Knile Davis of Kansas City, and of course Devin Hester. This time it's Jacoby Jones. What's different about the way Jacoby Jones gets it done?**

A. He's quick to the hole. He's got very good pick-and-vision. Schematically, they have the type of cohesion that creates problems for people. They've got a lot of play selection from a return game standpoint. But more than anything, his pick and his vision and the ability to get to speed for a big guy all make him as dangerous as he is.

Q. You were asked at your news conference whether Troy Polamalu would play if he said he's ready and was cleared medically, and you said, "The decisions are complex and they're not going to boil down to just simply medical clearance." Could you explain the complexities of the decision?

A. I needed to see him prepare. Sometimes a guy is able to play at the 11th hour and they don't get the in-helmet preparation over the course of the work week. When you get to January football and the stakes are high, detail is going to define you. Not only him but us, and you need that in-helmet preparation to do it. He was able to practice this week, and so that made the decision easier. Had he not been able to practice this week, that's an element of the discussion that makes it more complex. That's what I was referring to earlier in the week.

Q. Does Troy start tonight?

A. Yes he does.

Q. As the coach, is it a difficult decision to insert a guy into a group that had been playing well without him over a period of time?

A. Not when it's Troy.

Q. So the decision in this case came down to who it is?

A. You bet.

Q. How would you evaluate the performance of the secondary over the last month of the regular season?

A. It's been above the line, and that's not skirting an evaluation. I tell those guys it's not necessarily about style points particularly at this stage of the season. It's about getting out of the stadium with a victory, and they need to be whatever it is we need them to be. If this is a classic Baltimore-Steelers game and it's the team with the best net punting average that wins, then they have to be super stout. If it's a shootout and it's going back and forth, then we need a play late in the fourth quarter. I really don't care. They need to be whatever it is we need them to be to get out of the stadium tonight.

Q. This is a return to the playoffs for the Steelers for the first time since 2011, and it's the first home playoff game since 2010. Does that mean anything to the players?

A. I don't think they look at it that way. They start out each year new, and they put a lot into it, even prior to Latrobe. The rest of the stuff is ancient history – 2013 is no different to them than 1974. It doesn't matter. They're prepared for this opportunity, they're excited about it, and they've earned it.

Q. Do you have to guard against this being too big for your young players who've never been in the playoffs, or are they beyond that because of what they got through to get to this kind of game?

A. You lose a little concern when you do what it is you needed to do over the course of the journey to be in the field. But at the same time you realize that for a lot of young men this is uncharted territory. But often a lot of qualified young people want an opportunity but can't get one for lack of experience. The only way to get experience is to play, and I'm excited about giving them that experience.

Q. When it comes to the running game tonight, in the grand scheme of things, which of these do you see as more significant: shutting down Justin Forsett, or to have your combination of backs rush for 100 yards?

A. We have to shut down Forsett. Our running game tonight has to be complementary to No. 7, and that's just the reality of where we are. We don't have Le'Veon Bell playing, and Le'Veon has been significant. Antonio Brown has been significant, No. 7 is always significant. Our running game has to complement No. 7, whatever that means tonight. It's mandatory that we minimize Justin Forsett's impact on this football game.

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