Head Coach Mike Tomlin
Opening Statement: **Good afternoon. As always I will start with a quick review of our last performance. Like I said after the game, it wasn't a perfect performance by any stretch, but we got great contributions from a lot of people in all three phases, some positivity to build upon, and some negativity to correct. But we finished. That was important for us, collectively as a football team, to win a tough battle. We will move forward this week, hopefully better from that experience. Specifically in terms of the units, I thought we had good balance on offense. We were able to run it and throw it. I thought that both complemented one another. I thought we were able to run it because of some of the things in the passing game, and I thought on some of our first-and-10 play passes, we were able to get some chunks and do some things there because of how we were able to run the ball. I think that's a recipe moving forward for us if we want to gain the type of traction that we are seeking in that unit. It was good to see. I thought it was a critical element of the game. In terms of areas that need improvement, I thought that we were capable of making some more combat catches than we made in the game. I thought some opportunities could be characterized as drops, potential field flippers. I know Martavis Bryant had a ball down our sideline that I have routinely seen him make. Plays like that eliminate a lot of execution. When you can drop a ball over someone's head and make a splash play that rings up the scoreboard and eliminates a lot of execution. I thought we had some of those opportunities. We need to continue to work to safeguard the football. We had a turnover that created some adversity for us at a critical stage of the game. We have to continue to work to be great in that area because it increases our chances of winning. On defense, I thought we fell short in a few areas. I thought we needed to sure up some run gaps. From a coverage standpoint, we dropped a few things. But largely, from a positive perspective, I thought we were extremely physical. Physical up front, at linebacker and in the secondary, and I thought that physicality aided in our efforts. There were a lot of balls on the ground and things of that nature. We were able to get some of them. I thought it created a climate that was conducive to us doing what we wanted to do. From a negative standpoint, I talked about a couple of run gaps that were dropped, and we lost some receivers. I also thought we could have done a better job in one-on-one rush opportunities in some instances. I acknowledged that the Raiders were really good in protection. We talked about Derek Carr only being sacked only eight times. Their offensive line coach, Mike Tice, does a good job of picking up a myriad of pressures. I didn't think we created enough pressure on third downs, whether
The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Oakland Raiders at Heinz Field in Week 9.
that's because of schematics or one-on-one rush opportunities to get the type of splash that we wanted in those scenarios. We were getting off the field on third down, but we weren't creating the type of negativity that we have or that we are capable of doing in those circumstances. A lot of it had to with their execution. You have to tip your cap to those guys. But I thought we could have been more competitive in one-on-one rush opportunities and won more of those. On special teams, like defense, I thought that we were physical. I thought that physicality aided us with the turnover on kickoff and the disruption we caused with our punt return team on a partially blocked kick. We lost a turnover at a critical time in that area of the game as well. It put us in an adverse circumstance. We have some things we have to work on there as well. We are excited about having Jacoby Jones with us. He didn't have a lot of work leading up to the game. Really he kind of ad-libbed. We are excited about getting a week's preparation with him in our kick return game to watch what kind of impact he might have. He provided great energy. It was good to have him in the fold. We are evaluating Ben Roethlisberger. He is continuing to be evaluated today. We will leave the door ajar for him. But it's just slightly ajar. I think it's prudent that we anticipate playing without him and preparing to play with Landry Jones. I know that's what we are thinking right now as a staff as we prepare. We will let Ben go through his process and will continue to communicate with Ben and our medical staff. But from a planning structure standpoint, much like it was a couple of weeks ago, we are preparing to play with Landry. We are also preparing to get Mike Vick ready. We will see where Ben's health is. Matt Spaeth can be characterized as out with inflammation in his knee. We have some guys that could miss some time at the early portions of the week that could really affect their preparation, which could ultimately affect their play. Ryan Shazier has swelling on his knee. DeAngelo Williams has some inflammation in the middle of his foot. He is probably going to miss tomorrow's work. James Harrison has a right knee swell. We are going to watch those guys and watch them closely. They can be limited throughout the course of the week and definitely tomorrow. Guys that came back from injury that performed well and didn't experience any negative repercussions with their participation, Stephon Tuitt and Will Allen, who had no issues with their return. We anticipate Terence Garvin being out again this week with his knee injury. We are anticipating and preparing to defend Josh McCown. Johnny Manziel has played some but when you look at the tape it's obvious that Josh is their guy. His tape and his statistics show that. He's done a good job for them this year. He is the No. 1 passer in the NFL on third downs. I think he has a quarterback rating of plus-130 on third downs. So possession downs are going to be big. We didn't do enough on possession downs a week ago. We have to do more on possession downs in this game. We have to prepare for the change that would occur if Johnny would play. They are some subtle changes. We will prepare accordingly. But the vast majority of our preparation will be geared toward defending and minimizing Josh and what he does. Both guys are extremely mobile and are capable of creating. I think their play selection reflects that mobility in both guys. They consciously move the pocket with misdirection passes. But both guys are capable of creating and ad-libbing as normal play structure breaks down. We've seen them both do it. We have to be prepared to minimize what both guys are capable of creating in those instances. We have to rush hard and smart. They have a nice complement of weapons to throw to. I've been really impressed with Gary Barnidge, their tight end. He is doing some nice things, whether he is a part of the core, displaced from the core or in a two-point stance. He is really doing a nice job of picking up where Jordan Cameron left off at tight end in terms of being an integral part of their offense. They get him the ball in just about all circumstances, both vertically and horizontally. He has over 40 catches. They have a nice group of wide receivers, guys that have a different skill set that you have to be prepared to deal with. Travis Benjamin is their speed guy. He takes the top off of it. Brian Hartline is a great route runner and possession guy. He does a lot of things on the strong side of the formation and route combinations. They have a couple of guys that work in the slot, Andrew Hawkins, a former Cincinnati Bengal. He's been in Cleveland a couple of seasons. He has tremendous stop-and-go quickness. He is a tough guy to deal with. He gets to speed extremely quickly. We have to be conscious of the matchups with him and Taylor Gabriel on the inside. Although small in stature, both guys have really good quickness and change of direction and agility. That is going to challenge us. They ran the ball well on us a year ago. We have to respect that. We have to be better than we were. They have a nice complement of backs. Isaiah Crowell is their feature guy, their base guy. He has a deliberate downhill, one-cut run style that seems to always make the pile fall forward. We have to work hard to minimize that. I think their young runner, Duke Johnson, Jr., is really emerging. He is representing himself well, not only in the run game but in the passing game. He is making splash plays, whether it's out of the backfield or displaced from the core. Kevin Colbert and I had an opportunity to be at his pro day. He is showing on tape what he showed at his pro day. He has a nice, diverse skill set. He has good hands. He is a good route runner. He is good out of the backfield. He has good, top-end speed, quickness and change of direction. We have to be conscious about the matchups that we end up in from a coverage standpoint on him. They have great continuity on their offensive line with some really good players. Joe Thomas has been an anchor for them at left tackle. Alex Mack is at center. Mitchell Schwartz is at right tackle. He's been around for a long time. They have really good continuity in that group. That's one of the reasons why they've been able to get hats-on-hats and have had some of the success they've had against us in the past. We have to work to minimize that as we work to prepare this week. On defense, they have some new faces, but really they fit the bill well, in terms of taking the place of the people they replaced. Up front, for example, they have a first-round pick in Danny Shelton and a veteran free agent acquisition in Randy Starks, who are replacing the combination of Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin. They are still doing a lot of multiple things up front in terms of moving the front. Paul Kruger is still their man off the edge. They are complementing him now with Nate Orchard, a guy that we evaluated highly in the draft out of Utah. He has shown some rush capabilities. He seems to be fitting in as well. Karlos Dansby is their guy in the middle. He is a versatile, veteran guy. He is good sideline-to-sideline and good versus the run and pass. He is a good blitzer. He is a good coverage guy. I have a lot of respect for him. It seems like he's played at a high level for over a decade now and continues to do so. They have some continuity in their secondary as well. Joe Haden at cornerback seems to always get into some highly charged matchups with Antonio Brown. I am sure both guys are looking forward to that. That matchup always seems to be fireworks when they come together. Tashaun Gipson at safety continues to track the ball and be the type of center fielder that they drafted him to be. He has made some plays over the years, and he continues to be evolving in that area. Donte Whitner is a veteran they picked up from San Francisco a couple of years ago. He is providing good, quality strong safety play for them. They are a multiple group. They are capable of covering and applying pressure. Oftentimes you can characterize them as schizophrenic, but I say that in a good way, in that they give you a lot of things to prepare for. But it's not about them, it's about us. We have to continue to work to find a formula that's a winning one in spite of some of the changes that we have faced from a personnel standpoint. We embrace that. We look forward to putting together a formula this week that highlights the skills of the guys that are available to us, to play to their strengths and minimize their individual and collective weaknesses. We look forward to stepping back into Heinz Field again this week and playing in front of Steelers Nation.
Last week, did you get an update on Maurkice Pouncey and when he might be available?
I did not.
Re: On if Isaiah Pead is up to speed and if Jordan Todman is ready to carry more of a load:
To answer your question directly, Todman is ready. He's been here for an extended period of time now. He's been here enough time now to have the details necessary to perform above the line. We're still very much in the teaching mode with Pead. Obviously, how he performs from a detailed and assignment standpoint during the course of this week will dictate whether or not he's going to be part of the equation at the end of the week.
Re: On his level of optimism regarding DeAngelo's foot:**
I don't have a level of optimism, positive or negative. I just go by the information received. I'll know more tomorrow once we take the field. If he takes the field or not, or to what level or degree.
Re: On if he's concerned DeAngelo needs a smaller body of work:
Re: On how much he's focusing on his return blockers and what they are doing, or not doing:
We're always focused on every element of the equation. Like on offense, we talk about the protection of the football, it's an 11-man job. The same can be said for the return game. Production on the return game is an 11-man job. The man who is returning the ball gets a lot of attention, but those who block for him are obviously a critical element of success, or lack thereof. So, the answer to your question is both. We're excited about having Jacoby and getting the type of detail that's going to allow him to be successful, but we're also excited about continuing to grow with the core group of guys we have that block and open holes for him in the return game.
Has their performance been below the line?
No. It has not.
Is Antonio Brown still your best punt returner?
We'll see. Both guys have Pro Bowl credentials. I'm sure they'll both sit around the cafeteria and talk about their greatness. It's a good problem to have. I'll spin the dial and we'll see which one we choose.
Re: On Alejandro Villanueva's performance:
It's been above the line, and it's been on the rise and needs to continue to be.
Re: On players not being aware the ball is loose after a hit:
I would like them to be aware the ball is on the ground.
Can you say anything to those guys to make them more aware of that?
Yes. The ball is on the ground.
Re: On the popup kickoff:
I'm not going to get into the details of it, but when you're kicking off as much as we were in the game, because you're scoring, you like to have an opportunity to mix up some things to make them defend all of the spots on the field. To change some things up, to destroy the timing, if you will, if they get multiple opportunities out of the return. There are a lot of variables that go into the equation. We mix it up from time to time. Hopefully, it's something we're dealing with often, because we're kicking off a bunch.
Was Chris Boswell trying something on the one that went out of bounds?
Again, we were mixing some things up and we don't always get the desired result.
Re: On what Jesse James does similarly and differently than Matt Spaeth:**
He's a different guy. Obviously, he brings a different skillset. He probably does some things in the passing game better than Matt. Matt probably does some things better in the run game, but it's not about comparing him to Matt. It's about him developing the type of detail in his work, where we can consistently count on him. He did a nice job in his first outing on Sunday and we'll see where it goes.
How do you determine the range of your kicker on a day-to-day basis?
It depends on him. It depends on how he performs in pregame warm-ups. It depends on the stadium environment, climate, wind and so forth.
Re: On if the play where Mitchell came from out of bounds was a bang-bang play:
It was a bang-bang play. Obviously, you would like them to reestablish themselves. But, hindsight is great, it's perfect. In those instances, I thought he worked to get back in bounds. They made the correct call. It was unfortunate, but we had guys hustling. I thought the most exciting element of the play was the number of guys we had in the frame. I mentioned the physicality of our play, but I think the hustle was a very positive thing as well. That was a ball in the flat on third down and eight or nine, but we had six or seven guys in frame as he recovered that ball. That's the type of defense we have to play.
On the outset, you brought up the issue of winning more one-on-one battles defensively. Is that specifically the case for your outside linebackers? Do you need some more productivity from them?
I wasn't talking about one-on-ones in the run game. I was talking about one-on-ones in the passing game. We have to win more of those. In the run game, we have to maintain gap integrity. We have to be where we are supposed to be. Our shortcomings in that area were more of a function of us not being where we were supposed to be, as opposed to guys just getting physically defeated.
Re: On the Amari Cooper touchdown:
We screwed it up. It was good execution by them.
Re: On evaluating his defense when it has really good performances, followed by performances that aren't so good:
I'm not evaluating it in that way, to be honest with you. We're just trying to do what's required for us to get out of stadiums with wins. We've had some good performances and we've had some not so good performances. I think our record reflects that. Not only offensively and defensively, but special teams. We're focused on doing what's required to get out of this stadium. We're not evaluating it or painting with a broad brush, from that perspective, as I sit here today.
Why has DeAngelo been such a good fit, especially in the passing game?
I would imagine DeAngelo would be a good fit in whatever circumstance he's in. You don't get to do what he's done, at the level he's done it, for so long without having some attractive qualities. I'm not going to pretend like they're perfect for us, I just think they're attractive qualities in a professional football player. He's tough, mentally and physically, he enjoys the drudgery. He loves to come to come to work. He's a competitor.
Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward played every snap on defense. Would you like to see more in-game and at practices from Daniel McCullers and some of the other defensive linemen?
We're going to play the guys who display they deserve to play, so if guys want to play more, they need to stoke the fire.
What do you want to see form Landry this week?
I want to see him win.
Any tangible improvements, based on his prior work?
I'm not worried about style points. You can get lost worrying about style points and quality of play. I want him to do what's required for us to win. I think when you make it that black and white, it makes no bones about what's expected, to allow him to have a crystal-clear focus about what it is he needs to do. And how he needs to remain, in spite of things that may, or will occur.
Re: On Anthony Chickillo and Roosevelt Nix:
They're getting better with had opportunities and they better. They can't take those opportunities for granted. At the early stages, we gave them helmets on game day because they were disruptive. I told them that would only remain attractive for so long. At some point, disruption has to become production. In both instances, I think it's becoming that.
Re: On if he has confidence in Landry to run the no-huddle during the game:
I think that's to be determined as we prepare this week. We're not opposed to it. Like we talked about the first time we played Landry, nobody has accumulate more preseason snaps in 2015 than Landry Jones. He's done a lot, he's done a lot of no-huddle. He's new to playing in regular-season game, but he's not new to us or new to our system of football. We'll let production over the course of the week be our guide, in terms of utilization of that and every other aspect of our offense.
Re: On how DeAngelo has been able to fight off "Father Time:"
It's a blessing. I'm sure it's also what he does and how he works. Like I said earlier in reference to his personality, he enjoys the drudgery. DeAngelo loves to lift, train and workout. You see him in the weight room on off days and you see him after practice. I just think that general attitude, regarding the things that come with professional football, enable him to endure and enable him to be available to us and whoever he's been with. I think there's a lot in that. Much like James Harrison, who happens to be a football junkie, I think you can say the same about DeAngelo. And probably, it produces the same results, in terms of longevity and availability.
Re: You had a lot of big plays in that game. I imagine one of the favorites for him and for you was standing up Aldon Smith in that pass block:
He takes a great deal of pride in all aspects of his play. Whether he's got the ball or not. He really wants to be an integral part of the passing game, because he recognizes how productive Le'Veon Bell has been in that area. He was able to make a few catches, significant catches, and big play. Blocking is just part of it. He's got desire to be a complete player, no doubt.Re: On if playing at home is a help, in terms of crowd noise and calling plays at the line of scrimmage:
It is, but we're not going to find comfort in that. We like to base our feeling on performance and preparation. Landry will get another week to prepare, so it's reasonable to expect him to be better than he was the last time out, regardless of location.
Re: On if there were communication issues between Ben and Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey Sunday:
I don't know if it can be characterized as an issue. I know he had no issues getting the ball to Antonio, so it makes it reasonable to expect there might have been issues with others, when you have 23 targets. You're not going to see 23 targets too often to one man. We'll continue to work to strike that balance among the guys we spread the ball around to. It's safe to say I wasn't displeased with the fact he found Antonio 17 times Sunday.
Re: On what he sees that's hurting Cleveland's rushing defense:
I haven't watched all of their games yet. I'm sure some of the issues stem from the early fall, based on some of the ball I've seen over recent weeks. The tape does not reflect the statistics. I know the statistics do not reflect the tape we had against them a year ago. They were really effective at minimizing our run game, so in that vein is how we proceed in preparation for this outing.
Re: On the secondary playing physical without drawing a lot of penalties:
We have Ike Taylor in the studio now, that's why our penalties are down. Tell Ike I said that. The guys are working really hard at being physical and clean. I think you can get both. I think you get what you emphasize. I know we work hard at that. Whether it's the drill work we do or the utilization of officials, like I mentioned in this setting before. We didn't wait until penalties became an issue this year, before we infused officials in our practice sessions. They've been consistently and routinely a part of our practice setting. From that standpoint, you would expect to get a cleaner brand of ball, based on the emphasis and the work put in. I think that's reflective in the secondary, but also I think it's reflective of us overall. We're one of the lesser-penalized groups, I think, in ball right now.
Are you comfortable with Arthur Moats and Bud Dupree playing on the right?