On the eve of the third preseason game, Coach Mike Tomlin addresses some of the pertinent issues facing his team:
Q. Why is the third preseason game significant?
A. More than anything, it's the time when we break camp and get back into our normal preparation environment at our practice facility to establish some rhythm from that standpoint. But also, it's about getting into a legitimate game plan, putting together things that we identify we want to run situationally vs. things our opponent wants to run situationally. I'm excited about seeing that and seeing our ability to operate under those circumstances.
Q. Did the team take a step forward from the first preseason game to the second preseason game?
A. In some areas, but I've always been one to believe you can always find what you're looking for. There were areas where we got better, and there were areas where we didn't. The bottom line is we need to take a significant step tonight against the Kansas City Chiefs. We're running out of time in terms of preparation for the regular season, and some of the sloppiness that has dogged us through the first two preseason games – being highly penalized, turning the ball over – have to disappear and disappear quickly.
Q. What happened on Redskins' OLB Ryan Kerrigan's interception for a touchdown?
A. We had some miscommunication in terms of the play that was communicated onto the field. We cannot allow that to happen. We got a play that we didn't want, and then we have to execute better than that. Ben has to find a way to navigate the ball over, around, or through that impressive play made by that outside linebacker.
Q. On the next series, Emmanuel Sanders caught a pass to convert a third down only to have it wiped out by a penalty. What happened there?
A. The significant thing if you look at that game against the Redskins, we were 1-of-13 on third down. Four of those third downs we converted but they were called back due to penalties, and those penalties had no effect on the outcome of the play. There was just poor technique or poor judgment, and that's slowing us down. You couple that with a couple of mis-throws, and we could've been converting at 50 percent. But we don't deal in hypotheticals. The reality is we were 1-of-13 and those are the reasons why we were. We need to fix it.
Q. Can you explain the penalty called on the Steelers when the Washington punt returner seemed to signal for a fair catch very late in the process?
A. It's preseason for the officials as well, and I understand that. I won't allow that to be an excuse for our football team. The rule is pretty clear that the onus is on the gunner to steer clear of the punt returner. There are a lot of seemingly unfair-like rules in football. Defenseless players, for example, whether pass-catchers or pass-throwers, places a strict liability on the defender. He has to get out of the way and avoid those types of collisions, and you can compare that to the situation Ross Ventrone was in on that punt.
Q. Is that the Landry Jones you saw at Oklahoma?
A. No, the Landry Jones I saw at Oklahoma threw for 16,000 yards. Hopefully this one continues to improve, and he has, and I expect it to continue. That's what snaps and preparation are about, particularly for a sharp guy like him, and we expect his arrow to be continually pointing up.
Q. How would you evaluate Emmanuel Sanders?
A. Emmanuel understands where he is in his career. He's being given an opportunity here to ascend within this group and be one of the key components and reasons why we are successful. And I think he's embracing that.
Q. In light of the injury to Le'Veon Bell, how comfortable are you with Jonathan Dwyer?
A. He has done some nice things with the ball in his hands. He needs to continue to add value to his portfolio with consistent contributions in special teams and better inclusion in the passing game. That's a difficult thing for him, because he's a Georgia Tech guy who caught maybe six balls in his college experience due to the nature of the offense, but he has to continue to improve and evolve in that area so that he can be a consistent component of the passing game as well.
Q. Is the fact that Le'Veon Bell is losing preseason repetitions as a rookie a matter of concern?
A. It's a matter of concern, I wouldn't call it great concern. I always go into this thing with the understanding that injuries are a part of this game, and my ability to adjust – our ability to adjust – is going to define us. I always have a hardcore plan and I'm light on my feet. I don't let those kinds of things get me too far off track.
Q. How is the competition between Drew Butler and Brian Moorman for the punting job?
A. It's pretty even right now. We're going to add a component to it tonight. Kansas City has a dangerous return man back there in Dexter McCluster, so we're going to implement some things we anticipate implementing during the regular season – directional punting and things of that nature – and we should get some clarity in that battle.
Q. Does this team need to win a preseason game?
A. Absolutely. Winning is something that we do. Whether it's preseason or the regular season, when you step into stadiums you measure your performance largely on your ability to out-score your opponent. That's the bottom line. There are many things we're looking for in a preseason-like circumstance – the evaluation of talent, the stacking or the division of labor – but ultimately the thing that never leaves the equation is doing what's required to win football games.