Coach Mike Tomlin takes a look at this week's opponent – the Cincinnati Bengals:
Q. In the first meeting between these teams, the Steelers had their chances before ending up on the losing end of a 20-10 final. Do you expect another close game tonight?**
A. I do, because it's division play. The teams know each other well schematically because there has been great continuity on both sides from that standpoint. Execution is going to be the difference, and it's going to come down to a few plays, and who makes them and who doesn't.
Q. Giovani Bernard has become the Bengals most productive back. What makes him a game-planning nightmare?
A. The fact that he's multi-talented. He's averaging 4.7 yards per carry for them and has over 600 yards rushing for the season, but he's also their second-leading receiver. He's got 47 catches. He's an integral part of their passing game, whether you're talking about screens or checkdowns. They're also capable of getting into empty-set formations and splitting him out of the backfield because he's a capable route-runner as well.
Q. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has thrown 16 interceptions. Do you see him as a guy who forces the ball from time to time?
A. Not at all. If you play quarterback long enough in this league you're going to throw interceptions. Dalton hasn't been careless with the football by any stretch, not only this year but also throughout his NFL career and during his time at TCU. That's been one of the positive attributes of Andy.
Q. With no Geno Atkins, who is on the injured reserve list, has that allowed others to step up and show themselves?
A. It has in a big way, and it's also provided them the opportunity to make some schematic adjustments that usually come along with losing a significant player like Geno. Guys like James Harrison are getting an opportunity to play in sub-package football, and a guy like Carlos Dunlap who plays in all of their packages is getting a chance to move around a little bit. Our interior people have to be prepared to block Carlos Dunlap tonight, and that's not something we've ever had to be prepared to do. All of those things are born out of the misfortune of the injury to Geno Atkins.
Q. What do you see from linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who is the Bengals' leading tackler?
A. He's a guy for all situations. He's one of the top tacklers in the league. He plays in all of their personnel packages. He's good vs. the run and the pass. Guys like him who don't come off the field usually are good as situational football players, and he has proven that and proven that quickly in this league.
Q. The Steelers have given up five runs of over 40 yards this season, and all of those instances occurred in losses. Is there a common thread there?
A. You usually lose games when you give up big runs. There are a myriad of reasons why we've done that. It hasn't been centrally located to any specific scheme or person. If it had been, then those would have been quick fixes. The bottom line is that we've been just a little bit off, we haven't been as consistent as we would have liked, and those kinds of things happen when you aren't.
Q. How would you evaluate the season Cam Heyward is having?
A. He's continually been an emerging player since he has been here. His talent is his talent, and he is talented. But he's got a great work ethic, a great passion for the game. He works extremely hard at his job and that's finally showing through.
Q. How about the job Cody Wallace did in his first start for the Steelers, that coming last weekend against the Dolphins?
A. I was really pleased with his performance, not only in terms of his detail but also his demeanor. It's obvious he's not a first-time guy even though it's the first time for us. Hopefully, he continues to be an arrow-pointed-up guy as we push into today's action.
Q. At left tackle, is it a situation where Kelvin Beachum and Mike Adams are competing for the same spot?
A. Not at all. If Kelvin Beachum is ready to go and capable of going, he'll go. He had a good week of practice from a physical movement standpoint. Physical movement is a different thing than playing in a game. We'll keep a close eye on him, but we expect him to be Kelvin Beachum.
Q. Can Beachum be a long-term answer at left tackle?
A. I believe so. He's a sharp, talented young guy who works extremely hard. Time will tell the story, and how he performs will be a more significant story-teller than that.
Q. At this point of this season, are players playing for future employment opportunities?
A. I think they're playing specifically to win this game. That's been our mentality throughout this year. When you start 0-4 in the manner in which we did, what's ahead of you and the manner in which you need to approach it is evident to everyone. Since that time we have been singularly focused to the task at hand, and I don't expect that to change now.
Q. Is Ben Roethlisberger playing his best football right now?
A. Ben has played a lot of good football. I know Ben is playing well enough for us to win. We haven't done it enough consistently, and so I'm sure he's doing everything he can to help us in those efforts.
Q. Ben also recently was named the Steelers' 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year. Has he been showing more leadership?
A. On and off the field. But we expect that from him, and he expects that from himself. It's just that point of the career for him, it's the position that he plays. It's a lot of things. He has provided quality leadership for us both on and off the field, and it's needed.
Q. If the game comes down to special teams, how do the Bengals stack up there?
A. They do a great job of applying pressure with their punt return unit, and they also do a great job of applying pressure with their kickoff coverage unit. We have to be prepared to deal with those guys. We need to be prepared to make some plays of our own. We did the last time, and I thought it gave us a chance early in the game. We had a nice kickoff return early by Felix Jones, and we had a big punt return by Antonio Brown that produced a score for us. There's no question that special teams are going to be big in this game.