Coach Mike Tomlin takes a look at this week's opponent – the San Francisco 49ers.
Q. Why is San Francisco 10-3?A. They play above average offense and they control the football. They possess the ball for an average of 32 minutes a game, but what's really special is what they're doing defensively. They're No. 1 in the league against the run, they're No. 1 in the league in red zone defense, they're No. 1 in the league in turnover ratio. They're doing an outstanding job in situational football. Their average drive start for the season is the 35-yard line. When you're playing that kind of football, you have a chance to be 10-3. They're doing a great job of protecting the football, a great job of getting it, and they're smashing the run.Q. Who is the best player along their defensive line?A. The strength is in the group. All of those men have had their moments, and they're capable of dominating. They play well collectively.Q. Their inside linebackers – Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman – what makes them special?A. Patrick Willis gets a lot of attention and rightfully so, because he's arguably one of the best in the world, but what's going on with Bowman is equally impressive. This is a guy who is one of the top tacklers in the league and has been very consistent for a young guy.Q. Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson each have five interceptions. Is that a result of the play the 49ers have been getting from the front seven?A. The front seven has been creating opportunities for them, and to the guys' credit on the back end they're doing a nice job of keeping the ball in front of them, they don't give up big plays and they catch the ball when it hits them in the face. That's part of being a good defense.
Q. Has Alex Smith matured as their starting quarterback?A. I believe that, but I believe he has been capable of that for some time. What he has now is a stable, consistent culture and some guys around him who are rightly motivated, and his talents and strengths are showing through.Q. How has Frank Gore become what he is statistically, which is the fourth-most productive running back in the league?A. Frank is a 1,000-yard rusher for the fifth straight year, and he just passed Roger Craig as the most productive running back in 49ers history. This guy is a really good football player and has been for some time. He is a well-kept secret because they hadn't won a lot of games out there. The fact they're 10-3 makes him one of the top backs in conversations now, but really in league circles he probably has been for a number of years.Q. When Smith throws the ball, does it seem like he goes to WR Michael Crabtree between the 20-yard lines and to TE Vernon Davis in the red zone?A. A lot of the balls are centered around those two guys. They have a bunch of quality depth when you're talking about former first-round picks Braylon Edwards and Ted Ginn, but when they really cut to the chase, they look toward Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis.
Q. James Harrison was given a one-game suspension by the league, and his subsequent appeal was denied. Is that what you feared?A. That's what we anticipated, but I wouldn't use the word "feared." It's our job to deal with adversity. We embrace that, whether it's injuries, suspensions or otherwise. More than anything, we just wanted the information as quickly as we could get it so we could make the necessary adjustments in preparation for the game against the 49ers.Q. Has James Harrison become the poster child for on-field behavior in this league?A. I'm sure from the perspective of some, but those are the people who don't know him and are not around him on a day-to-day basis. James Harrison is a guy with great football character, a guy who works extremely hard at what he does and plays within the rules.Q. Do you have to caution your team about scoreboard-watching at this time of the year?A. Not really. We've said, and we've said for some time now that if we win we don't have to look around. So we focus on those things. Thankfully we're in a solid enough position where we can have that approach. If we win, we don't have to look around to see what's happening with the Joneses, and we don't.Q. Is this a time of the NFL season when defenses start to have more impact on the outcomes of games than the offenses?A. I think it's that time of the year, particularly for the right-minded defenses. Not only in terms of what our defense was able to do against the Browns, but if you look back to the games against Cincinnati and Kansas City, we've been doing a pretty good job of late of holding people to single-digit point totals, we've been getting turnovers. And all of those things are much needed as we push through December.Q. What are the keys for the Steelers on Monday night against the 49ers?A. We can't play their football game. We have to take care of the football and create some of our own (turnovers) to get them out of their comfort zone. We have to possess the ball. They're third in the league in time of possession, but we're No. 2. Whoever gets outside their comfort zone first is probably going to be the team that's going to be the most uncomfortable on Monday night. And it better not be us.