Tomlin on injuries, winning on the road

Q. This was a week where you had a bunch of guys with injuries who were working their way back, and practice was going to tell the tale of whether they were going to be able to play today. How does that process work, in terms of the coordination among the trainers, you, and the players themselves, as the week goes on?

A. It's really a clean line of communication and a simple approach. When the players come into the building in the morning, they meet with the training staff and the medical staff. They get an assessment in the morning and get a guesstimate of what they're capable of doing that day. We take the field with a plan in that regard, and sometimes they do the plan, sometimes they're capable of doing more, and sometimes circumstances dictate that they do less. We reassess the work after practice and the ramifications of the work, and then we go into the next day and repeat the process. Over the course of the week it gets revealed that they're either moving upward in terms of readiness or they're moving downward in terms of readiness. The culmination of the work and the evaluations usually provide a pretty clear picture of whether that player has an upward trajectory from a health standpoint or a downward trajectory by the end of the week.

Q. With respect to what we were just talking about, what were you looking to see from Ben Roethlisberger over the course of the week, or was it more about what you wanted to hear from him before making that decision?

A. It was both things. There has to be capable-of-playing and there has to be a will-to-play. So the communication with him was a big element of it, and then you look at the quality of his play: how is he transferring his body weight in the pocket; how it is affecting his accuracy, both short and long; can he move in the pocket, both laterally and vertically; can he protect himself; how limited is he? Those all are questions that are a part of the equation, but Ben and I have been through this quite a bit over the years, so it's a pretty fluid, uneventful process for us.

Q. What if you get a medical report on a player who's coming back from a muscle pull or an ankle sprain and get something like: well, he can play, but probably not a whole game, and so you're going to have to limit his snaps? Does that guy get a helmet, or can you not risk it since you can only have 46 guys in uniform?

A. In almost all instances, that guy does not get a helmet, but you notice I left a qualifier there. Because sometimes circumstances around them might dictate otherwise. There have been several weeks this year where our seven inactives have all been injured, so there's not a lot of latitude there. Maybe the situation with one of those guys in those weeks who got a helmet was less than ideal, but that's just how it goes. Largely, we're focused on the guys who are willing and able.


Q. What are the elements that go into winning games on the road in the NFL?**

A. You can't turn the ball over in hostile environments, you have to play good situational football, you have to be good on third down, you have to be good in the red zone. You have to take care of the ball more than anything else. You have a minus in the turnover ratio in a hostile environment, it's going to be tough sledding.

Q. Can there be such a thing as a good road team? Is that a characteristic that can develop?

A. I think that good road teams are simply good teams. Good teams find a way to win, regardless of circumstances, game location, environment. The teams that I've been on that are good road teams are simply good teams.

Q. What is different about playing on the road? There is talk of a hostile environment, but I cannot believe NFL players can be intimidated by the crowd.

A. Intimidation is not a factor, but communication is. Cadence is. When you're in a third down situation and you're operating on a silent count, you don't have the benefits of a cadence, and so it's advantage to the defense. Guys like Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil have a chance to be much more impactful in Baltimore than they do in Heinz Field because of those circumstances. That's just one tangible example of how game location can be a factor.

Q. When the team got together for the first time after the bye, practice was in pads. Why did you pick that day to use one of your allotment of padded practices?

A. It had been a number of weeks since we had been able to practice in pads. We had had a number of injuries in the offensive and defensive lines, and that dictated that we work in helmets and helmets only. As we got a large number of those guys back it was great to have an opportunity to put pads on and compete a little bit and work some of the things you can only work in pads – pad level in the interior line play – in the manner in which you'd like.


Q. How would you describe Steelers vs. Ravens?**

A. It's urgent. It's intense. It's raw. It's what football is about. And not only at the National Football League level, but at any level. I think anybody who has been involved in football, whether it's little league or high school or college, they have an opponent that they're very familiar with, an opponent that is very familiar with you, and you have a shared history and similar goals. All of that adds to the intrigue and interest and fireworks that transpire when these two teams come together.

Q. Does every team have a rival like this?

A. Not every team, but probably every good team I've been a part of has somebody that they're on a collision course with routinely.

Q. Is it personal?

A. It is. I think anybody who is serious about what it is they do, those are blurred lines between business and personal. Anybody who says it isn't personal is lying.

Q. The Ravens have won three in a row in this series, and five of the last six. Has there been any theme as to what's gone wrong for you in those games?

A. We turned the ball over some. In particular, the games that have been in Baltimore there has been a splash turnover or two that have been significant in terms of the outcome of the game. In all instances, I felt that we had run out of time as opposed to got beat, but that's what happens when you turn the ball over.

Q. In the areas of running the ball and stopping the run, what do you think it's going to take to leave Baltimore with a win today?

A. Just good fundamental ball. You lose a little bit – like I talked about regarding the line of scrimmage play on offense when you're working on a silent count, that is an advantage to their front. But we have some schematic things to level that playing field, some approaches to running the football. On the defensive side, it's just being where we're supposed to be, and tackling.

Q. Are there any numbers, though, that might be an indicator? Say, gain at least as many yards rushing as the defense allows?

A. Those numbers, per se, really are controlled and dictated by third-down conversions. If you're losing third downs, you're not going to have enough snaps to have an effective running game in this series, and if you're winning third downs you're going to have enough snaps to win the war of attrition that's associated with winning the run-game element of this series. What controls who has the most successful running game isn't necessarily the run, per se. It's who is winning third downs and thus possessing the ball and getting opportunities to snap it and run it again.

Q. What statistic, other than the final score and turnover-ratio, will end up being the key one in determining the winner of this game today?

A. I'm going to sidestep your question here, but I'm going to give you a legitimate answer: what happens after those turnovers is going to decide this game. And usually that's the case when you're involved in close ballgames with good people. A case in point: we had two takeaways against New England, and we didn't get anything out of them. We were in the red zone. We threw an interception in the end zone after one takeaway. We didn't get anything after the fumble recovery that our punt team produced. You have to produce points off takeaways, whether the takeaways themselves are returned for points, or you get an opportunity to produce points. Likewise on the other side of the ball, if we turn the ball over, what our defense does in reaction to that is going to be pivotal in terms of determining the outcome of this game. The possessions after turnovers are going to be significant.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.