Physical. It's a word that goes hand-in-hand with football, and when you are talking Steelers' football, it's a word that is commonly used to describe the team's style of play.
Coach Mike Tomlin embraces the description, he welcomes the fact that his team is known for that style, and he shared his thoughts on what makes the team physical at the AFC coaches' breakfast at the NFL owners meeting on Tuesday.
"One that's combative. I think that is a word I look for in regards to being physical," said Tomlin. "Putting together a team that is combative and one that doesn't run away from combat situations or circumstances, I believe that year-in and year-out we are capable of producing that kind of team."
Being physical in Tomlin's mind isn't always about who is tougher or stronger, it's about much more than that. "I just think it's a mentality more than anything else," said Tomlin. "We understand that there is going to be confrontation in the game of professional football, and we are not running away from it."
The NFL has made rule changes over the last few years, including one that protects a defenseless receiver, which could hurt a team that has a physical style of play. While Tomlin acknowledges the rules have had an impact, he also said they aren't a detriment.
"I just think that the winds have changed," said Tomlin. "They are what they are. Player safety is a legitimate initiative, and we are going to support that. But at the same time, we believe we are capable of being physical and combative and distinguishing ourselves in that way."
The AFC North as a whole, with Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland, has become known as one of the more physical divisions in the NFL, with intense rivalries inside its own walls as well as outside. Tomlin agrees with the assessment of the division, but also understands the teams have to be competitive to keep that reputation alive.
"Obviously it depends on the teams that we field year-in and year-out, throughout the division," said Tomlin. "We believe that we are as tough a division as there is in football.
"The North is the North. We take a great deal of pride in being in the North. I love the North. I think that we take a great deal of pride in how ball is played. We think that it's significant. We think that a lot of what goes down in the AFC and the NFL, in general, is determined by how the North unfolds."
The Steelers-Ravens rivalry has easily become not just one of the most intense in the AFC North, but in the NFL as a whole, and a rivalry Tomlin enjoys.
"I think that the Steelers/Ravens rivalry is one of the interesting things in sports," said Tomlin. "I think our fans dig their teeth into it. I think they understand what it means. You have two teams that are angling toward a similar goal. In the midst of that, there is going to be fireworks, and we aren't going to apologize for it."
Tomlin was also asked about a variety of other topics, including the following:Steelers and Ravens possibly moving back into the pack because of losing key free agents:"That's March talk. I am not going to try to combat March talk. It is what it is. I will see you at stadiums in the fall."Free agency being overrated:"I respect free agency. It's an opportunity to get better. I think it excites organizations. I think it excites their fans. It's an opportunity to level the playing field. But again, I don't want to overstate that. Teams are going to take the field in the fall and put their best foot forward. I look forward to doing that with our group."
What did you like about Bruce Gradkowski?"He's a fiery competitor. I have had the pleasure of competing against him and seeing him do his thing. That's one thing you can't question about him. He's a football junkie. He's a fiery competitor and those are things that we value." Losing so many close games last season:"We weren't good enough. I don't hide from that. I embrace that. It is what it is. I think that good teams win close games. Teams that aren't lose those games. Obviously, we did a year ago. Our goal and our charge moving forward is to be on the other side of that."
Do you think Ben Roethlisberger rushed back last season when he came back from injury?"I don't. From a health standpoint I think he was ready to go. Obviously, I think he wished he could have played better. I know that we do. In hindsight, you can ask those types of questions. But I think in the moment, he was ready and prepared to play. We just didn't get what we were looking for."
Proposed running back rule:"I think it's obvious that we all want those types of plays out of the game. For me, it's about how do we officiate it. Really, that's probably the same for a lot of the rules. In spirit, they are obviously great rules that are intended for the good of the game but officiating it is another thing. I think that is probably the discussion as we gathered here in Arizona."Is this a rule where there will be a big gray area?"I think that's what we are trying to avoid, the gray. I think that we are talking about the obvious foul. I think that is a word that has been used here quite a bit in regards to it, obvious. So we are trying to look for black and white as opposed to gray in regards to that."Todd Haley's first season as offensive coordinator and the offense evolving this season:"I do and really kind of for obvious reasons. I think that being familiar and getting a certain amount of exposure to it, it's going to bring comfort. But we can't relax in that comfort. We have to continue to move forward as a unit. I thought we did some good things, particularly initially. I thought we waned down the stretch. I look forward to putting the pieces together and trying to be the best we can be in 2013."How much time do you think defensive coordinators are spending on defending the read option?"I think the read option is the flavor of the month. We will see whether it's the flavor of the year. A few years ago, people were talking wildly about the Wildcat. There's less of a discussion now. I think that there are coaches in rooms preparing themselves to defend it, coaches in rooms that are also preparing themselves to run it, and I think it is going to sort out on the grass. I look forward to it."
In general, where do you see the state of your team as we sit here in March?
"We're a team in transition, as we always are. Players are ascending, players are descending. We're acquiring players and losing players. I think that's part of this time of year. I think that includes some unfortunate transactions, if you will, and you can characterize James (Harrison) as that. We respect what he's done throughout his career in Pittsburgh, but we also acknowledge that change is part of football and we look forward to moving forward with a new a cast of characters that will be challenged to deliver in ways that he did."
You are true to a core belief where the names can change, the players can change but you stay true to that, correct?"Yes, we're looking to impose our will on our opponents, as I'm sure our opponents are looking to impose their will upon us, but we don't run away from that argument or discussion. That's something that we embrace and we're trying to strengthen ourselves for that this time of year."