Coach Mike Tomlin takes a look at this week's opponent – the Cincinnati Bengals:
Q. Looking back at last week for a moment, what was the most disappointing aspect of the loss in Dallas to the Cowboys?
A. That we weathered some storms there initially and got back in the football game, but we didn't make the necessary plays in any of the phases, really, to close it out. We made enough plays to stay close but not enough to win it, and obviously our intention is to win.
Q. You had said there were some bright spots in that loss to Dallas. Specifically, what might those have been?
A. I just thought we had a rookie right side of the offensive line that represented themselves relatively well in David DeCastro and Kelvin Beachum. The arrow is pointing up with those two and the more snaps they get, I believe they're going to improve. And I believe the same thing can be said about some of the young people who contributed in the secondary.
Q. You mentioned the rookie right side of the offensive line. How did DeCastro and Beachum do, specifically?
A. From an assignment standpoint, from a communications standpoint, I thought they were mature beyond their years. They didn't have people coming free, they communicated well, they understood situational football. There were some physical defeats as there are in every football game, but it's a great basis to begin. I think it's going to be a great springboard for a solid performance from those guys today, and that's what we're going to need because they'll be facing the likes of Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap.
Q. Why have the 2012 Cincinnati Bengals been able to win eight games so far?
A. They're getting the kind of continuity that's always present in consistent performance. They're in their second year with their offensive coordinator in Jay Gruden, and they're also in their second year with quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green who both are big components to what they're doing. They went out and acquired BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is a deliberate and downhill rusher who also does a nice job of protecting the football. They have some nice ingredients for consistent play.
Q. What do you see in Dalton as a second-year pro that you didn't see in him as a rookie?
A. He was an "as prescribed guy" as a rookie. You're starting to see some ad lib, you're starting to see some of his football personality as he matures within the offense. You're starting to see his mobility turn up. He's taking the calculated risks associated with winning football at the position.
Q. Is A.J. Green normally Dalton's first option?
A. He is, but situationally they work with a lot of people. The tight end, Jermaine Gresham, is a big part of what they do. He has 700 yards receiving and distinguishes himself in the red area. Andrew Hawkins, the little slot receiver, is a gadget guy who does an awesome job on third downs. They move him around and create opportunities for him to beat underneath coverage. More than anything, they spread the ball around to a lot of guys situationally, but A.J. Green is their guy for all situations.
Q. What has made BenJarvus Green-Ellis successful this season?
A. He has a consistent run demeanor. He's a one-cut runner, he's downhill, he's got good pad level, he's got really good contact balance. All of those are the ingredients to produce the 1,000-yard runner that he is.
Q. The Bengals are No. 2 in the NFL in sacks. How have they accomplished that?
A. Their secret is depth along the defensive line. They've got a seven-eight man rotation. A lot of people play. Just look at the defensive end position – Carlos Dunlap is a big part of what they do, as is Michael Johnson, and Robert Geathers plays quite a bit. They play a similar three-to-four man rotation inside, led by Geno Atkins.
Q. How do you minimize Atkins' impact?
A. We have to have a sound running game, and with that we have to have a sound play-action pass game. We can't consistently drop back in predictable passing downs. Of course that's going to happen some in third down situations, but where it can't happen is in second-and-long situations. The more opportunities you give Atkins to line up in a staggered stance and pin his ears back, chances are he's going to get you.
Q. OLB Vontaze Burfict is their leading tackler. What kind of a player is he?
A. He has shown that he's a good sideline-to-sideline tackler, and another thing that stood out to me about him is during the course of a season when most rookies are starting to wilt – particularly the ones who have played the number of snaps he has played – he's done the opposite. I think he's a better player now than when we played the Bengals the first time this season back in October.
Q. Have you talked to the team about the importance of this game, or is that something that can be left unsaid?
A. We've talked about it some, but probably no more than we would have if we were 10-4. When you look at the schedule and you see you're playing Cincinnati at home in the latter weeks of the regular season, it was going to be a must win for us regardless of the circumstances from a mentality standpoint. It has to be arrow pointed up as we push toward January football, so our mentality is what it is.
Q. With no Ike Taylor, what can you do to take some pressure off the secondary?
A. We have to provide pressure on the quarterback, and that has to come from the likes of LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison and Jason Worilds and Lawrence Timmons and others. And I believe that they are capable.