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Labriola On

Tomlin on MVP, 'the streak', Deshaun, Myles

Q. In talking about the win over the Ravens in Baltimore, you said, "I really just think our guys' willingness to embrace the type of game it was going to be, to duly prepare and then deliver that performance, is what I'd like to acknowledge." Can you elaborate on what you meant by "what type of game it was going to be," and how did the players embrace that?
A. I think this rivalry that is Steelers-Ravens has a texture to it, has a reputation about it. Whenever we come together that's the storyline leading up to it, that's the plot that's in the air. As always, a lot of significance on the game, they flexed the game to primetime. And our guys' ability to focus and see that but see through that to just see the importance of preparation to make our plan a legitimate one through work and then to deliver performance, is what captured my attention about the totality of the experience. To smile in the face of adversity, to deliver in the face of adversity in big games, hostile environments, I just think is good for teams and particularly is good for young developing players. Guys like Kenny Pickett, guys like Najee Harris, guys like Pat Freiermuth, guys like George Pickens, guys like DeMarvin Leal, guys like Mark Robinson, for all of them to prepare for an atmosphere and a worthy opponent like that and then to deliver, I just think it's good.

Q. You always have come across as someone who loves his job, and you have described yourself as a football junkie. What is it that you enjoy about this team in particular?
A. I enjoy the drudgery, the daily approach to business, the energy that they bring to it. Inexperience oftentimes is a negative discussion – lack of experience, youth and so forth, but there are some positive components to youth, too. The ability to bring energy and enthusiasm and that wide-eyed appeal to what could be drudgery, such as routine Wednesdays and Thursdays, and drill work and competition periods. It's never a dull moment. There's a lot of energy, and guys are learning and growing, and it makes it a fun process.

Q. You go from a game against the Ravens running attack to a game against the Browns running attack. In terms of those running attacks, how are they similar, or different?
A. This is how they're similar: Both offensive lines are well-coached. They do a really good job of getting hats on hats. They win the war at the line of scrimmage in terms of bodies on bodies. How are they different? A lot of the Ravens running attack is quarterback mobility centric, whether he's carrying the ball himself, or his ability to carry the ball affecting how the play comes together. In Cleveland, it's about the exploits of Nick Chubb.

Q. Quarterbacks have different styles, and the same goes for running backs, receivers, other individual players. But what about a team's offensive line as a unit – do offensive lines have a style of play, and what would be Cleveland's?
A. Their tandem work. Their two-people-working-together is exceptional, and it's probably reflective of Bill Callahan, their sage offensive line coach, former head coach of the Raiders who has been a coordinator/head coach at Nebraska. He is a grizzly veteran who is a master at teaching, and it is reflected in the detail with which they play. They've got a quality running back in Nick Chubb no doubt, but when you watch their combinations, when you watch their interior people work double-teams to the second level, quite frankly, they're second to none. They're really good in that way.

Q. Amari Cooper has 76 catches for 1,109 yards and 9 touchdowns. Does the combination of Cooper and Nick Chubb pose the same kind of threat presented by the Raiders with Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs?
A. No question. The component of the equation that's probably a little bit different is the mobility and the play extension ability of Deshaun Watson. And so, you do have a featured runner who's one of the best in the league, very comparable to Josh Jacobs, and you've got a guy who's a top-notch receiver that they're all in on, they went through a lot to acquire him. But they also have a quarterback with mobility and the type of mobility that you can design runs around, and so there are a few more components to this attack that provide complexities that weren't necessarily present in the Las Vegas attack.

Q. How would you characterize Deshaun Watson's mobility and how he uses it? Is he a buy-time-in-the-pocket guy, or a designed runner type?
A. He's really capable of being both, and that's why I'm sure Cleveland went through what they went through to acquire his services. When he's escaping downhill in the pocket on you, he is very much a runner. He's the type of guy who can produce the type of days that Justin Fields has been producing consistently in Chicago. But he's also the type of guy who can move parallel to the line of scrimmage and maintain the full field view and make plays very late in the down. We played him here in 2020, when he was with Houston, probably about Week 3 of Week 4 of that season. Man, he converted a couple of third downs in that game by moving laterally in the pocket and finding guys in the middle of the field as zones eroded. He's that type of guy. He's dynamic. He can extend plays, but he also has a type of running ability where they can have some designed running plays around his skill-set, and it makes situational ball more challenging. They run him in the red zone, they run him on possession downs. It's more of a Lamar Jackson type of a challenge from that perspective.

Q. Because of Watson's ability to run, or buy time, you can't use the same plan you used against the Raiders to deal with Josh Jacobs and Davante Adams?
A. No, it's more of a Lamar Jackson plan, because again, his mobility is beyond escape-ability. His mobility is designed quarterback runs and some schematics, and so that requires schematic adjustments and planning. Derek Carr was not that type of a mover.

Q. Myles Garrett comes into today's game with 15 sacks on the season, but he's on something of a hot streak because he has posted multiple sacks in three of the last four games. What factors might contribute to that kind of a streak for a pass-rusher?
A. Just playing. Those guys get in rhythm. It's like a three-point shooter in basketball. When you're watching Steph Curry play, when you see him hit a couple you know it's going to be eight real soon. It's probably the same thing for elite athletes in all sports. They get in a rhythm, or what oftentimes is referred to as a zone. You recognize it when you see it. You recognize it when someone close to you is in it. You don't know exactly what created it. You don't know when it's going to come to a close. But you appreciate the ride.

Q. What kind of strategy would work to try and minimize Myles Garrett?
A. First and foremost, forget blocking him in the physical components of minimizing him. Situationally is how you minimize him. You don't play from behind. You don't play from behind the sticks. If you're playing from behind, or you're playing from behind the sticks, what have you done? You've created an atmosphere where he can do what it is that he does. And so that's a critical component before you get into the schematics and the matchup component, the personnel component of it, we spent a lot of time just acknowledging it and building a plan that emphasizes that variable. Not behind in the game, not behind the sticks.

Q. You have been in this job for 15-plus seasons, and your streak of never having had a losing season from the start of your career is an NFL record. A win today will make it 16 straight seasons without a losing record. Does that streak mean anything to you?
A. It does today as it pertains to getting in this tournament. And that's what I probably think about more than anything. The streak or whatever in its totality means very little to me, but if I think about the moments within it, they're all like this. We're working for something today, and there is meaning to that. We have a responsibility and desire to be in meaningful football games to pursue inclusion in the single-elimination tournament, and once we get into the single-elimination tournament to pursue and win the "confetti game," and that's my focus. And so, when I think back to the moments over the 15,16 years, that's kind of always been my focus, and it probably will be.

Q. Some of your players have said publicly and without being prompted that they don't want to be the group to end that streak. Does the fact it means something to these players mean anything to you?
A. I appreciate it. Whatever lands the plane, if you know what I mean. I don't hate whatever motivation produces the result. I've always had that mentality, and that's something that I try to instill in our players. Football is a game. Our business is winning, and we need to handle business.

Q. Minkah Fitzpatrick was voted this season's Steelers MVP by his teammates. What makes him a worthy choice?
A. His production, his approach to business, his professionalism, his accountability. It's just that everything about him is MVP. And this guy has probably answered every question we've had about him since we've acquired him. He drinks the Kool-Aid that is Pittsburgh, Pa., he's a Steeler, he teaches it to the young guys. With each passing day, he earns that. And I think that's why his teammates voted him MVP.