Coach Mike Tomlin discusses some issues on the eve of the third preseason game, against the Atlanta Falcons at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27 at Heinz Field:
Q. Is it fair to say that the bar is set higher for this preseason game than it has been for the previous two?
A. No question, because there has been more detailed time spent on preparation. We worked a lot on situational football and developed game plans in that area, so quite frankly we can expect the performance to be greater in that area.
Q. Looking back at the Steelers' first two preseason games, how can a team look so good against the Eagles so soon after looking so bad against the Redskins?
A. That's the nature of preseason football, unfortunately in some instances. The big thing is that we continue to be a team on the rise, that our arrow continually points up, both individually and collectively. So far it has, but that's not saying much though because that first performance left us with nowhere to go but up.
Q. Rashard Mendenhall seems to be having a terrific preseason so far?
A. He has, and it's just the natural maturation process of a guy. He happens to be a wily, 24-year-old veteran at this point. He's improving in all areas, he's got a desire to be a complete player as we have the desire for him to be. He's working hard at it daily.
Q. What should fans be paying attention to in this game against the Falcons?
A. The situational football element of this game will be an interesting one. I imagine both teams will prepare situationally, be it third-down, red-zone, two-minute, short-yardage, goal-line. You should see quality action in those areas from both teams.
Q. Is this the most extensive game-planning so far during the preseason?
A. Yes, and in some cases the only game-planning when you talk about some elements of situational ball.
Q. Why has Jerricho Cotchery been able to fit in so well so quickly?
A. He's an easy guy to get to know. He's an easy guy to get along with. He's singularly focused like a lot of men on our team. He's just here to win and put his hand in the pile to contribute in any form or fashion. That's very evident when you get to know him, and that's why I think he has fit in so easily.
Q. What skill-set has Tony Hills shown to make you believe he can handle that right guard job?
A. More than anything, he has been consistently aggressive this camp and preseason. He's a guy who appears to have his game coming together. He's becoming a mature veteran player. He's been here a number of years now, and he looks like he's a guy who's tired of watching.
Q. Will the Falcons represent the stiffest competition of the preseason?
A. I imagine they will, and not only from a quality of player standpoint but also from a preparation standpoint and the amount of time we should expect to see their quality people. It should be a stiff test for us.
Q. What kind of challenge does Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan represent?
A. He's a battle-tested guy. He's mature beyond his years, a top-quality player. He can make any throw on the field. He's got nerves of steel – I think that nickname "Matty Ice" is well deserved. He's a quality player at a big-time position, and he's one of the main reasons why their program is so exciting right now.
Q. Do you expect a lot of rhythm passing from Ryan?
A. I think so. He's got an awesome rapport with Roddy White. I think the last time we played those guys, they connected on 13-or-so passes, so we can anticipate that. But he has other weapons. He has Tony Gonzalez, a legendary tight end, and he's a got a big first-round wide receiver in Julio Jones. So he's going to spread the ball around and find some rhythm and include a lot of people in the attack.
Q. Running back Michael Turner is a tough guy to get on the ground?
A. He's got a small strike-surface, as they say in the business. He's 5-foot-10, 247 pounds, and he runs behind his pads. He's very patient in terms of hitting the holes in some of their zone-blocking schemes. He's a top-quality runner.
Q. Does Lawrence Timmons have the best closing speed of any linebacker you've ever coached?
A. I had a guy in Tampa who wore jersey No. 55, another Florida State man who was pretty good at closing on people, too. I often mention Derrick Brooks to Lawrence.
Q. What are your plans for the first round of cuts?
A. After we come out of this third game, we're going to get down to 80, and we're going to do it sooner rather than later. We don't run away from the necessary evils that are a part of this process. But more than anything we need to be a team that continues to move forward and identify the guys are going to be doing it with us.
Q. Has the tight end position come into view yet, or is that still a question mark?
A. I think it's continuing to reveal itself to us. Of course, we're very comfortable with Heath Miller and we know a lot about David Johnson. And the rest of the guys are working.
Q. As you look at the Steelers at this point in the preseason, what are the keys to their performance against the Falcons?
A. Just to be where we are, to focus on the things that are in front of us, to put a game plan into action, to execute in situational football, to understand the unwritten rules of the game. I think it's important that we not only continue to hone ourselves from a skills standpoint but to collectively understand situational football, the playing of the football in the field of play on special teams. I'm looking for growth in those areas.