Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin holds his weekly press conferences every Tuesday. Each week, we will take a glimpse at what stood out from coach's comments about the previous week and heading into the Steelers next game.
Good afternoon. I’ll start with a synopsis of what we have been doing here in the last week or so. It’s been a good week for us. We have approached it like we would approach an in-season bye week. It was an opportunity to look at ourselves. To look at what we do and the quality with which we’ve done it. The division of labor within what we do, who we are asking to do what. It was a great opportunity for us to take a step back from that perspective and really analyze ourselves in all three phases. Maybe that doesn’t produce a lot of changes or personality changes, but it is still a good, healthy exercise nonetheless.
To think critically about why you do what it is that you do, the quality with which you do it and the analysis of that, and how you divide the labor up. We did those things. We did some physical work with those who are available. It also provided time to those that needed rehabilitation. Some of the veteran players didn’t take as many physical reps. Some of the guys that are dealing with injury, it was a great opportunity to continue rehab.
It was a great week for Antonio [Brown]. We practiced yesterday, he was a full participant. We are excited about where he is. We will continue his participation throughout the week and really gauge his availability based on that. We can’t take steps backwards as we prepare collectively and obviously with him in terms of his physical health.
The only other injury to speak of is B.J. Finney who was injured in-game in Week 17. He’s been out. He has a chance to participate this week. We will monitor the participation and the quality of that participation to determine whether or not he’s in a helmet as we get into the weekend.
We are extremely excited about being in this tournament. We don’t take it for granted. There are 24 teams on vacation. There are eight teams remaining. It’s great to be within that eight. We are singularly focused on this week, and specifically the journey that is the preparation of this week. Obviously, we are excited about stepping into Heinz Field and playing playoff football in front of Steeler Nation, but boy, a lot has to transpire between now and then. We have a couple of days of prep in front of us. Obviously, we are playing a good team in the Jacksonville Jaguars. We are going to utilize that time well.
When you look at ‘J-ville,’ obviously when you look at them from an offensive perspective, they are the number one rushing team in the NFL. They ran the ball extremely effectively against us last time. Leonard Fournette was central to that. You can fool yourself if you just commit it to stopping him. They are the number one rushing team in football. Chris Ivory is a quality veteran running back. T.J. Yeldon has played very well when given an opportunity.
Blake [Bortles] is extremely mobile, and his mobility is a factor in the game. Whether it’s by design which they have several things to keep you off-balance on first and second down, but he also does a great job of creating as plays break down on possession downs with his legs. I thought he had a significant third-and-nine scramble backed up against us in game one.
Like I mentioned, they are the number one rushing team in football. Leonard Fournette is the feature guy in terms of that. He’s a 1,000-yard rusher, but those other guys I mentioned collectively have 1,000 as well. Minimizing their run is more than just focusing on Leonard. Obviously, we have to do a good job there, but we have to do a good job for 60 minutes and in all areas. We want to minimize the ways that they run the ball and the ways that they possess the ball and control the game. They get into manageable third downs because of it.
On the other side of the ball, it’s about rush and coverage for them. They have top flight people up front. You know the names: Calais Campbell, Yannick [Ngakoue], Dante [Fowler Jr.] and Malik Jackson. I think those four guys have 43 of their 55 or so sacks in the regular season. They get it done. They build a rush off of those four men and they deliver. Calais has been their bell cow. He plays inside in base, he plays outside in sub. Everybody has to be ready to block this man. They do a great job with their edge people – 91 and 56, flipping them. Both tackles have to be prepared to block those guys. They do a great job with their front in terms of the rush and their rush lane integrity. The way they squeeze and constrict the pocket is awesome.
Their backend is brought together by their two Pro-Bowl corners who are playing at an extremely high level. They get picks. They take advantage of the opportunities when presented. I think their starting secondary alone, those four men, have 18 picks. Then their sub-package linebacker, Telvin Smith, has three himself. The people that play on the backend deliver the splash as exemplified by the interception numbers. The people up front deliver the goods as exemplified by their sack numbers. They create a lot of turnovers. I think they are plus-10 or so on the season. You know it was a factor the first time we played these guys. We have to work our tails off to protect the football, but it’s no easy task. I’m sure everybody who plays them has had similar discussions. These guys do a great job. They get the ball in all ways. They pick it off, or they sack-fumble you. They are a formidable bunch.
On the other side, they do a great job of taking care of the ball. Much is written and said about their run game, and it is a formidable one – number one in football. They have also done a great job of protecting the football. I think Blake has only thrown 13 interceptions. I think that is the least he’s thrown in his career. They have done a great job in playing in the plus. We can’t allow that to happen if this game is going to unfold in a way that we need it to. I’m sure we would say that about anybody that we are playing in January. The big thing for us, with all due respect to Jacksonville, it’s not about who we play, it’s about how we play. We have to play good football. We have to prepare for that and are in the process of doing it. We are in the process of continuing to do that as we push forward to game time.
How much do you look at the first game from a coaching standpoint?
You don’t look at it a lot. There is a lot of trending involved. We’ve evolved since then. They have evolved a lot since then. It is a good physical reference in terms of the matchups. You get to see Calais Campbell versus our people for example. I think that is the value in it but I think we all evolve over the course of the season. I am talking about teams and you get a hardening of the division of labor. You find your space in terms of how you operate and I am sure that they are as different as we are since the last time we’ve seen them.
When you first played them what was surprising?
I do not know that I was surprised by anything. I think that they have as clearly a defined mode of operation as anyone in this field in terms of how they play. They run the ball. They control the clock. They possess the ball. They have corresponding play action passes and so forth. They play formidable defense. They create turnovers with their defense and that is how games unfold for them and that’s how they have unfolded for them.
What is the best way to account for a quarterback that can run and pass?
We just have to do a great job of rushing and containing and we’ve had those challenges before. We had those challenges early in the year when we played them. We’ve had those challenges more recently when we played the likes of [Marcus] Mariota and others, so it’s not uncommon in today’s NFL. At least once a month or so you are going to be faced with a guy that has potential to kill you with his legs if you let him.
Re: Ben’s first game against Jacksonville. Does he and the coaching staff have to guard against him as far as forcing things that aren’t there?
Not at all. Ben [Roethlisberger] has played ball a long time. This is not his first rodeo. His attention will be focused on winning the game, not responding to some regular season October performance. He has been in too many stadiums for that.
Re: Antonio Brown’s chances of playing:
We just have to watch his progress throughout the week. The quality of it. Make sure there are no steps backwards. Make sure it is trending in the right way. We are not treating this different than any other player or injury that we deal with. His practice participation, and the quality of it, will determine his availability or the amount of availability. I just do not have the answers to those questions as I stand here today.
Is Jacksonville’s run game successful because they use a straight up blocking scheme? Or do they use a zone blocking scheme?
They utilize both. I think the backfield stable of guys allows them to do it as well. Leonard Fournette is a downhill powerful guy who has breakaway speed. They have another guy in [Corey] Grant who’s played quite a bit for them who I didn’t mention. An Auburn young man that has breakaway perimeter speed. They have a nice well-rounded stable of backs that allows them to attack you in a lot of ways. You couple that with Blake’s [Bortles] mobility. It creates challenging issues in the run game.
You didn’t have Marcus Gilbert the first game. What is his progress and what has he done since he’s been back?
You know he’s done an awesome job of getting back to speed. Marcus [Gilbert] has missed a lot of time this season for a variety of reasons so we were comfortable with Hubb [Chris Hubbard] and the work that he provided us. So, I am not looking for any significant difference there in terms of how the game may unfold because of that availability but I am obviously glad to have Marcus back and glad that his play is trending in the right direction.
You have a lot of contributions from your rookies, what separates this rookie class from the other ones?
I don’t know that it does. I thought we had big-time contribution from the group last year as well. I think the tie that binds are that when you have a good football team usually you get contributions from a variety of people. Young and old. Starters and depth. So, I don’t know if there is anything significant there. I am appreciative of their contributions. I acknowledge from my position that if you are going to be what you desire to be you are going to need plays from young people but I am not surprised by what they have delivered us.
Re: Jacksonville did a good job of exploiting holes in the first game, is that how you viewed it as well?
That is just NFL football. Nobody gets blown completely off the ball and just big college holes in NFL run games. It doesn’t take much in the NFL. A guy or two out of his gap and it could produce a significant day so nothing earth shattering or ground breaking there. So we better [put] on the screws. You better not find solus in the fact that it wasn’t a blow off the ball type of situations. Very rarely isn’t in the National Football League.
Do you have to worry about the game weather issues?
Yea but that is always the case. Particularly when you get to this point in the season we don’t spend a lot of time debating with talking about those things. It’s just a part of life in Pittsburgh, Pa. It is a part of life that we embrace.
Transcript provided by the Pittsburgh Steelers