Labriola On

Tomlin on halftime, why Ingram, Cam

Q. In terms of the quality of play, there were noticeable differences in the two halves of the game in Buffalo. What happened in the locker room at halftime at Highmark Stadium?
A. There are schematic adjustments but there are always schematic adjustments, and so we expect to iron out whatever wrinkles that we could be potentially dealing with. There are more unknowns going into an opener, and so we have some real things to talk about and quick adjustments to make, and we did that. But probably equally as important, I just think that it was an opportunity for young people to really settle down and become comfortable and functioning in that environment, because like we talked about last week the environment inside that stadium was going to be a challenging one. We had a lot of inexperienced and new people, and so we realized that it might be tough sledding at the onset, in terms of functioning and dealing with that component of it. That's an element of it as well.

Q. Were there a lot of adjustments, relative to a typical halftime?
A. It was the first week, and there are probably more adjustments in Week 1 than there are in Week 12 or 13 just because there are more unknowns. You're guessing at their personality in certain circumstances, and over the second half of the year you have eight-to-12 games of tape to look at. And so there then are fewer unknowns that require fewer adjustments.

Q. Was it emotional at all? Did any guys have anything to say?
A. No, it was professional. You know you only get so many of those silver bullets. Some wild stuff has got to happen for you to fire that bullet at halftime in Week 1.

Q. Only two of Chris Boswell's six kickoffs went for touchbacks. Was that wind-related, or was it done by design?
A. You know it was wind-related and performance-related. He wants to be better there. I want him to be better there, but the three field goals went through the uprights, and so I'm not going to lose perspective. His main job is to put that ball through the uprights. We've got 10 other guys to help him with the kickoff game.

Q. Do you ever tell him not to kick the ball through the end zone? Is that ever a strategy?
A. Today's game is about whether or not you choose to kick and cover. It's just the leg strength of the kickers and the evolution of the game. Most guys, particularly in the early part of the season, it's about whether or not you want to cover kicks, and in most instances, these kickers are capable of putting it in a position where people don't want to run the ball back at you.

Q. You had to defend an onside kick attempt against the Bills and did it successfully. Generally, how is the kicking team now trying to execute an onside kick with the rules as they are?
A. I think it's less about the rules and more about the tricks or the ability of the kicker. It all boils down to the kick. The better the kick, the better the opportunity you have to recover an onside kick. I haven't been on a football team in the last 10-15 years where the ability of the kicker, in terms of manipulation of the ball, is not the deciding factor in terms of what you do schematically when it comes to an onside kick attempt.

Q. What's a good kick in that situation?
A. One that is difficult for them to play. It might be low and running. It might be one of those – low hop, low hop, high hop. They might manipulate it in terms of the spin of the ball where they strike it. Those guys have tricks in the ways that soccer guys have tricks in terms of their ability to control and manipulate the ball.

Q. In the matchup of the Steelers vs. the Bills last December, Stephon Diggs caught 13 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Last Sunday, he caught nine passes for 69 yards. Last year, Diggs averaged 10 yards a catch for the whole game, 13.1 yards per catch in the second half. Last Sunday, he averaged 7.7 yards per catch. If I gave the credit to Cam Sutton for that difference, would I be wrong?
A. He was a component of it, but we were better prepared schematically to deal with his talents. We knew he was really good going into the game (in 2020); we didn't realize he was first-team All-Pro caliber. Him spending the majority of his NFL career in the NFC, we just hadn't had a lot of exposure to him. We understand what he's about now that we've been in stadiums with him. It was quality play by guys like Cam Sutton for sure, but we did some things schematically to try to minimize his impact on the game as well. We gave him that respect.

Q. During the offseason when you were looking for depth at outside linebacker, the three veteran guys available at the time were Ryan Kerrigan, Melvin Ingram III, and Justin Houston. How did Ingram compare to those other two, and what was it about Ingram that had you decide on him?
A. We were looking at all three. We considered all three varsity, meaning they were starter-capable guys. Alex Highsmith being a young guy, although he did some nice things at the end of last year, we wanted a really competitive situation, and we needed to add quality depth. Not only did we lose Bud Dupree, but we lost Ola Adeniyi, who was a quality backup and played some for us. And so we looked at all three veteran guys. We tripped those guys, we did physicals and looked at the totality of it all, and the reality is that Melvin was the best fit. He was the best fit from a health standpoint, from a mentality standpoint. He has really done an awesome job in terms of infusing himself into this group, and he's a positive energy-bringer into our formal work and informal work. He is a good team guy.

Q. You mentioned mentality. What do you mean by that?
A. He just embraces the responsibility of being an outside linebacker in Pittsburgh, and it's something that is attractive to him. I was talking the other day about little things that we do traditionally here to kind of illustrate that. Over the years I've made a point never to change the name of the defense where our outside linebackers blitz. It's Dog Rush. It's Dog Rush for T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith and Melvin Ingram, the same way it was Dog Rush for James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, the same way it was Dog Rush for Joey Porter and Jason Gildon, the same way it was Dog Rush for Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd. And so, we pay respect to the lineage. We challenge our present guys to live up to the circumstance, and I think Ingram just buys into that.

Q. When you mentioned that Ingram fits into the culture, is that determined through conversation with him? How do you research that, how do you know if he's a fit?
A. You've got to remember, we do our due diligence and draft prep for these guys. I've been here 15 years, and so I draft-interviewed all of those guys. All of those 10-year veterans that you mentioned, I talked to them when they were 21, 22 years old, and we build a file on these guys from the time they come into this league. Almost always, anybody we're interested in in the free agent market is because we had an interest in them before their draft. I remember when Ryan (Kerrigan) came in, I was like, "Hey, talk to me about your life. How many kids do you have?" You do your due diligence, your work on the front end, you feel like you have an understanding of what the man is about and whether or not he's a fit. And so when you're in free agency, it's an update. And that's how it was with all three of those guys.

Q. In your mind, what constitutes good pressure on the opposing quarterback? Is it something you would put a stopwatch to, like you might do in grading snap-hold-kick on a field goal attempt?
A. Not for me. I'm respectful of that component of it, but to me I just want to get the passer off the spot before he's ready to deliver the ball. I think that ends all discussions about it. The guy's throwing the ball from the spot; he's throwing the ball at a designated time; and I either want him down or off that spot by the time it's time for the ball to come out, within reason. In certain situations, every meal is not a banquet. If they're running a bunch of quick-game, and the ball is coming out yesterday … but I'm talking about those opportunities where you have a legitimate chance – five-step drop, seven-step drop, play-action pass. I want him down. I want him off the spot before the designated time that the ball is scheduled to come out. To me, that's pressure.

Q. In deciding when to blitz, or how much to blitz in a game, is that based on a plan for a particular opponent, or might it be a reaction to what's happening over the course of a game?
A. Both. We're going in with a hardcore plan, but we're also light on our feet and willing to adjust. And really, what happens in stadiums is always that. It's a plan, but we're never so married to a plan that we have blinders on where we're not adaptable to circumstance, and so that's always our mentality. If we're not thinking like that, we're gonna lose the adjustment element of play.

Q. What does Cam Heyward mean to this team?
A. It's interesting. You try to form analogies. For a basketball fan, I would compare him to Draymond Green. He might not have the stats … Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are banging the 3s and doing the postgame interviews, but there's not a basketball person who doesn't understand the value of Draymond Green to Golden State when they were winning NBA championships. He does all the dirty work and at times is also capable of doing the things that merit attention. I just think that Cam plays a really complete game. He had the stats that mirrored a good performance last week, but what won't be spoken about is the way that he collapsed the pocket and worked to minimize escape lanes, because we had a very mobile quarterback we were playing against last week. So every rusher can't get up and get off the ball and run upfield and work to beat people. We did that with our edge people. We asked Cam and the interior guys to kind of make sure they minimized escape lanes, and in the midst of doing that, he enabled the edge guys to have a heck of a day. Cam also had a heck of a day in his own right. He batted down two passes. He had a sack of his own when Josh Allen was trying to step up in the pocket and escape. And that's the selflessness coupled with real talent that described Cam Heyward's play.

Q. An old-time offensive line coach here once described Mike Webster this way: "Mike Webster is like walking down a dark alley carrying a big stick." Does Cam Heyward give your players any of that, when they're walking into a hostile environment, and they turn around and see No. 97 there and feel a little bit better about themselves as a result?
A. No question. I don't know that there's ever an environment that he's uncomfortable in. I'll just say that.

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