Coach Mike Tomlin takes a look at this week's opponent – the Cleveland Browns:
Q. Because this game will match teams that have been eliminated from playoff contention, did you have to appeal to your players' pride?
A. We've talked about why this game is important, which is because it is a game. We are professionals, and let's face it, we all have personal relationships with the game of football. So whenever the ball is snapped or kicked off, it's our charge to put our best foot forward. I expect our team to do that today, to play with great energy, to play and to play to win. This is about our relationship with the game of football, where the game of football has brought us individually and collectively. We owe football our greatest effort today.
Q. What do you know about Thad Lewis, who will be the Browns' starting quarterback today?
A. I know he is an athletic guy. I know he has great mobility, that he is a smart guy. We researched him when he came out of Duke a number of years ago, and our current wide receivers coach – Scottie Montgomery – was on the Duke staff for the majority of the time Lewis was in the program. I know Pat Shurmur must have a lot of respect for him, because this is the second city where Lewis and Pat have been together. They were in St. Louis together as well.
Q. Trent Richardson is out for the Browns as well. How different are Richardson and Montario Hardesty?
A. Very different. Richardson is a power player, a guy who gets yards after contact. His contact balance is exceptional and creates great power for him. Hardesty is more of a slasher, a one-cut runner. He's quicker to the hole and quicker through the hole, but not necessarily more productive. Trent Richardson in his approach and the way he utilizes his skills are exceptional.
Q. Do you expect the Browns might show you a lot of wildcat, because both of their top two quarterbacks – Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy – are out of the game?
A. They're always wildcat capable, regardless of circumstance. If they're interested in utilizing their weapons, and I know they are, you have to include Joshua Cribbs in that. When you get the ball in his hands, he has an opportunity to win football games, and he has proven that over the course of his career.
Q. Who is the key guy on the Browns defense?
A. I look to the two big interior people up front, and I'm talking about Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin. They're uniquely big and athletic and active vs. the running game, and they set the pace for this group. Those two enabled the Browns to play two-high safeties against us the majority of the time in the first game and essentially shut down our run game. They have that skill-set. We cannot allow those guys to control the interior of the line of scrimmage in this game the way they did the last time.
Q. Is D'Qwell Jackson, the middle linebacker who leads their team in tackles, a sideline-to-sideline guy?
A. He is, but it's also part of the earlier discussion we were having about Taylor and Rubin. Those two guys essentially absorb a minimum of three blockers and that allows the man who plays behind them – Jackson – to shuffle from the inside out to the football to make tackles.
Q. The Browns secondary is pretty banged up for this game. Might that tempt the offense to try to attack deep down the field in the game today?
A. If those two men up front – Taylor and Rubin – control the line of scrimmage then it won't expose their secondary, because they'll be able to lay back and re-route and do some high-two safety defenses. If we're able to run the football, and the Browns have to use a single-high safety, then we might get an opportunity to exploit some of those potential weaknesses. But it starts up front. Rush and coverage always work together. We have to block and maintain the line of scrimmage, particularly the interior portions of it, and that will dictate whether or not we can find chunks of yardage on the perimeter.
Q. Besides the many turnovers, what did the video of the first meeting between these teams this season show you?
A. That they were able to control the line of scrimmage with their defensive front. It was pivotal in the game, besides the turning over of the football. They were able to control that, and we weren't able to do some of the things we desire to do because of it. We have to control the interior portions of the line of scrimmage. We have to win the blade-of-grass battles, the real estate battle, and it starts with being able to run the football.