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. As we sit here a quarter into the season we do not like the state we are in being a 1-2-1 football team. We met with yesterday. We kind of paused for a minute. Normally we meet on Monday and talk about the game, we did that but we kind of did a quarterly report. We talked about our current status. None of us like it, obviously, our positioning but more importantly than that we talked about some trends and some things that have produced that.
What we need to do moving forward maybe differently and open our minds to that. We’ll proceed in some of those things as we work this week looking at some of the things we do leading up to game time. We have to get out of the gate quicker in these games that we have at this point. I am acknowledging that. We can’t spot people points in the National Football League. I like the fight in our guys and we’ve gotten back in some of those games, but we have to do a better job of starting games than we have on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, it’s been penalty driven, probably more than anything. We had a hold in the start of the first and twenty on the second I think possession in the game. Just this past week we turned the ball over some, particularly early in games, so we have to get better there.
We can’t warm up to the competition from a defensive perspective. I think that probably defines our performance in our last game. We don’t have time for that. So, we talked openly about some quarterly-like things, some global things, some positional things, but more than anything we talked about being 1-2-1 and not liking it. Looking at the perspective of where we are within the division.
Acknowledging that there’s 12 games to play and one and a half games back is not in subminimal by any stretch, a lot can happen but more importantly than all of those things the potential and possibility is just simply about this group getting singularly focused on prep and play this week.
In an effort to reverse the trends more than anything we have to win a football game. We have to win a football game at home. We are excited about having an opportunity to do that this week against Atlanta.
In reviewing the game, the last game against Baltimore, I didn’t like how we started. I like how we got back into the game. Largely in terms of how the game unfolded, it boiled down to possession down execution, really on both sides. They converted third downs in the game. They were in manageable third downs and converted almost 50-percent.
We didn’t do a good enough job of converting possession downs. That controlled field positioning, that controlled lack of snaps and time of possession for us. That controlled our inability to kind of establish the run just from a total number of snaps perspective. We still have to do some things in the running game from an execution standpoint that will put us in a better position.
We have to get better yards per carry but there was a lack of snaps there and that was generated due to loss of possession downs. We’ll work hard in those areas this week in reaction to that, but we work hard in those possession downs areas every week. We really do.
Looking at some injury things going into the game with Morgan Burnett and Mike Hilton being out. We anticipate those guys coming back to practice and again let their practice participation be our guide in terms of their in-game availability. Some of the guys that were working their way back into the game, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert last week had no negative consequence of their participation.
We had some in-game injuries. Nat Berhe tore his peck. He has been placed IR and replaced by Brian Allen. Brian Allen has been here, will have an opportunity to step up and contribute for us. Darrius Heyward-Bey with an ankle will be evaluated and followed closely in terms of availability this week. Vince Williams with a hamstring.
Same thing, both guys will be given an opportunity to practice and we’ll let their practice participation be our guide in terms of readiness.
Now onto Atlanta. They are a group that is scarred in similar ways. I am sure they have a similar agenda that we have in terms of getting on the right path as they push into the second quarter. They have a lot of talented people. Let’s start on the offensive side of the ball appropriately.
Matt Ryan, we’ve seen him before. He’s really talented, good and quick decision maker. He can make all of the throws on the field. Franchise quarterback. Has gotten alot of eligible to work with.
The first, and obviously most significant, being Julio Jones. He’s a load, he’s big, he’s physical, he’s fast. They utilize him in a lot of ways. They move him around. They compliment him well with guys like [Mohammed] Sanu. We are familiar with Sanu obviously from his days in Cincinnati as being a complete receiver in his own right. Very reapable guy in the run game and then the play-action passing game. Working interior tough routes. He is doing very similar things in Atlanta.
They are getting big time contribution from a rookie in [Calvin] Ridley. A rookie that they drafted in the first round. I think he’s got six touchdowns. It’s interesting. Julio being the guy that he is getting the touches and the attention that he gets and rightfully so. He’s got zero touchdowns and Ridley has six and just think that speaks to some of the things that usually transpire in the first quarter of the season.
As people get familiar with new weapons, if they work minimize old or an existing weapon and I think the same thing can be said about what’s going on with Ben [Roethlisberger] and A.B. [Antonio Brown] in terms of people working hard to minimize them and the opportunity created for some of our guys, so we are aware of that. We have to work to minimize Ridley. He’s a young, hot hand for them with the six touchdwons. Newly infused to their offense.
They have a nice division of labor in the back field. They’ve had it in the past with [Devonta] Freeman and [Tevin] Coleman. Freeman is down but they still have it with others. They utilize a lot of people. They move the ball fluently. They are scoring a lot of points. We have to work our tails off, particularly in situational ball to minimize the point out, red zone, possession downs, and so forth.
On the defensive side of the ball they have experienced a number of injuries, particularly down the core of the middle of their unit. [Deion] Jones at the linebacker level, [Keanu] Neal, and [Ricardo] Allen at the safety level. There is ramification of that in terms of the number of people. You can see that they’re rolodex in terms of the number of people that they are utilizing particularly in sub.
We better turn our attention towards minimizing their front. They have a talented four-man rush highlighted by their ends. Takk McKinley I think had three sacks agains the Bengals. Higley talented guy, we studied him a lot when he came out of UCLA. Brought him in here for a pre-draft visit. Really talented edge rush man. He’s partnered with Vic Beasley, another high pedigree former first rounder, extremely talented rush man. They have talented interior people, they utilize a lot of people. Brooks Reed is another one that plays for them.
We have to minimize that four-man rush, we cannot allow them to control the game. we got to do that and maintain possession of the ball. Put ourselves in winnable possession downs. Usual football things, they have a rock solid special teams group.
They have coach [Keith] Armstrong, the special teams coordinator, who’s been there a number of years. They have great continuity there. They have solid kicking. We have to be good in that area. I thought we were improved in that area in our pass game, banged a couple field goals. The punting was improved so we need to continue the improvement in those areas and search for some splash in an effort to get ourselves on a wining track.
Have you heard from Le’Veon Bell that he will be here Week Seven?
I have not talked to Le’Veon [Bell] and I really have no Le’Veon update. Like I said repeatedly it’s the best approach for us to focus on the guys that are here working and cross that bridge when we come to it. Nothing has changed from my perspective in that regard.
Re: Do you need to run the ball better or do you need to run it more often to get it better:
The answer is both really. Some of it we need more reps at it, how do you get more reps at it, you win possession downs. You maintain possession of the ball. We didn’t do that in the last game or you stay in ball games like in Kansas City we were behind, you somewhat get one dimensional.
So, there are several reasons why the number, the raw number is where it is, a lot of it is how games have unfolded at this point. We have to be better there. We have been highly penalized, and it puts you behind the chains. That somewhat makes you one dimensional but all of those things aside when you look at the runs that we did run, we are capable of running it better. We need a little bit more detail. Perimeter blocking and so forth, we are going to continue to work in those areas.
Usually if you put yourself in position to snap it more some of those things get better with reps so we got to stay in ball games. We have to start faster. We have to minimize the number of penalties at which I think we did a great job in the last game in terms of reducing it. That will provide more opportunity. We will find our rhythm in the run game.
How is James Conner handling the short pass game?
I like what James [Conner] is giving up particularly in the passing game. He’s been really consistent in that area.
How do you think James Conner is doing in pass protection?
Likewise, there. James Conner has been really solid. Both with the ball in his hands and without.
Re: What are Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown not done individually or collectively this year:
We missed some opporounities in that game, no doubt, particularly on possession downs but I’ve seen that tandem a lot over the years. They’ll smooth it out, they will find the rhythm. Like I was mentioning earlier in regard to Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, often times people spend a lot of time to minimize tandems such as Ben and A.B. [Antonio Brown] and usually over the course of the journey the cream rises, and they’ll show what they are capable of.
They have done it for a long time. I anticipate that happening while we continue to work to infuse some of our new targets into the mix. James Washington and others. JuJu [Smtih-Schuster] has probably benefited from some of that attention. We’ll find a rhythm, they’ll find their rhythm, they’ll be the formable tandem that they always are.
There was a point where the Ravens tried to get a player off, and it seemed like you snapped it and they didn’t get him off. You had a discussion with the officials and you threw the flag. Is that reviewable? What happened there?
I had a conversation with those guys. Mechanically, I wanted to hear what transpired from their perspective in terms of officiating that play. That play is reviewable. It is capable of being challenged. I’ll leave the nature of our interaction between us.
But they let you pull the flag up?
Did you want to review it?
I didn’t. At the end of our conversation, I did not.
Would a shot of it have helped if you could’ve seen a replay of it?
Yes, it would have. Yes, certainly.
Re: [Inaudible question about foreseeing changes]:
I really think we’re finding our rhythm defensively. It didn’t show in the outcome of the game obviously, and that’s what we work toward. But just finding the mix of players, overcoming some of the adversity that the game of football presents.
We were minus Morgan Burnett and Mike Hilton last week, and I thought the guys got settled after the initial moments and found their rhythm. Whether we get those guys back or not, I think we just need to continue to work to find our rhythm quickly in games. The inclusion of those two sub-package players will help. So, we’ll work those guys this week, and hopefully they’re available to us.
How common is it for you to do a quarter review? Is it every quarter, or is it because of the way you started?
I do it probably quarterly – particularly the first quarter every year because I just want to provide perspective. Perspective of things that are going good, perspective of things that are not going good. I think just global perspective. We spend a lot of time focused on what’s right in front of us week to week – our pass performance, the evaluation of that leading into preparation and ultimately playing our next performance.
Every now and then, you pause, you take a global look at your position relative to others, you take a look at some trends going on in ball. I think all of that’s good. I think it all helps you navigate the waters that you’re in.
Did you do the same thing four years ago when you had a four-game losing streak?
I’ve probably done it every year.
When you’re hot, do you stay away from stuff like that?
No, I’ve done it every year regardless of climate.
There are seven teams around the League averaging 20 or more points, and you’ve played three of them. What’s been the catalyst League-wide?
It’s just trends in terms of the way the game is going and being officiated and played. It’s fair because it’s the same for all of us. We all have an opportunity, if that’s the trend, to ring up the scoreboard and go up and down the field. I think the protection of the quarterback has got a lot to do with it.
There isn’t a lot of negative consequence from dropping back and throwing the ball in today’s NFL, but again, it’s the same opportunities that all of us have. We all have quarterbacks and have an opportunity to do it, and I know that’s our focus – having the ability to move the football.
We have to work to minimize some of the things that are going on in the game from a trend standpoint, but it’s also an opportunity to take advantage of the things going on in the game from a trend standpoint.
If Vince Williams can’t go, will Matthew Thomas be a potential option?
Yes, he would be.
Can you talk about his progress a little bit?
He’s done some nice things, and he’s gotten better each and every day. You see some of the result of that in the special teams production. He’s had some special teams tackles the last couple of weeks, ran down and made a significant tackle and kickoff inside the 20 this past weekend.
He had a kickoff tackle on Monday night in Tampa, was playing some gunner for us. He’s got some talents. He’s learning what to do. As he gains more knowledge and a good baseline in play, he’ll be given the opportunity to participate when it presents himself.
How do your players take stock in where they are this quarter?
It’s not about taking stock. It’s just about, you know, talking about a state of the union and really marching forward with work. So that’s really what it was about. Like I said, there wasn’t anything really unique about it. I’ve probably done it at the end of the first quarter every year since I’ve been here.
You mentioned getting down early in games and having to come back from that. Is there anything that can be done schematically? Do you think the way the game is being officiated?
No, we’re looking at what we’re doing schematically, what we’re doing in terms of preparation logistically leading up to the game. We’re looking at things that are within our control.
What adjustments do you think you have to make this week where you have a younger group of defensive backs going up against some top-notch veteran talent at the wide receiver position?
It’s really two things you do. You’ve got to mix things up, and we’re going to work obviously to do that. That’s part of what we do, but you can also help coverage by creating duress in the pocket. And the more duress you create in the pocket, obviously the job gets easier on those guys. When they’re being challenged by the likes of [Julio] Jones and [Mohamed] Sanu, then you put the pressure on our front because we’ve got to create duress in that pocket.
We’ve got to aid our secondary in terms of the coverage and making our quarterback throw out of a well, limiting opportunities to get the ball down the field is a critical component of that, whether it’s four-man rush, whether it’s blitz, whether it’s defensive linemen, linebackers or secondary people themselves, we’re open to all of those things. We’ve just got to do a really good job of it given the number of weapons that they have.
How do you evaluate Sean Davis so far?
Sean [Davis] has done some really good things for us. He’s been a stabilizing force in the midst of a lot of transition, whether it’s guys missing time due to injury or new people, I think he’s been really good and really solid, been a good communicator.
I think he’s grown in that way. I’m challenging him as a guy who’s getting into the sweet-spot in his career to really grow in terms of a communicator, and that’s something that’s critical to the safety position.
We’re asking him to do more things, and rightfully so. He’s a guy who’s been around here, whether it’s in the deep middle or deep half field or down in and around the box. He’s shown a wide variety of skills.
If Devonta Freeman can play, what makes him good in the offensive backfield for them? How do you scout what they do with their backs? Do you have to go back to last year’s tape, or are they still doing it consistently enough with Tevin Coleman and those other guys?
They’re still doing enough consistently with the present guys that they have, but you’ve got to acknowledge the presence or the potential presence of [Devonta] Freeman as a significant one.
This is a guy with a tremendous, downhill, one-cut run demeanor that’s good for a unit. He’s a physical, combative runner. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. If he’s available to them, obviously he’s a significant contributor, but they’ve been getting good, quality efforts from the backs that they’re utilizing as well.
In terms of the slow starts offensively, assuming that you’re still working off a script at the beginning of the game, does that script need to be more aggressive?
It’s not necessarily the scripting. Like I mentioned, penalties have been a part of it. You get a holding penalty and you put yourself at first-and-20, just globally speaking, not only us, at first-and-20, your ability to move the chains under those circumstances go way down.
You’ve got to acknowledge that penalties have been an issue for us, particularly in the early portions of games. We’ve got to clean that element of it up and give our script an opportunity to work.
Is there a psychological element of those slow starts that you can address?
I’m not buying into that element of it. I’m looking into the tangible things. We’ve got to play cleaner football. Penalties are catastrophic to your ability to run fluidly and we’ve had some of that.
How much of a concern is it that the losses and tie are within the AFC and the division? The wins are outside.
We’re just focused on the Atlanta Falcons. I think if you do that, you generally are OK. You focus on what’s in front of you, particularly like I mentioned with as much ball that’s ahead of us. That perspective of yesterday’s meeting a quarter of the way into the season – it solidifies that perspective, that you just need to focus on this week’s opportunity, this week’s challenge.
Re: Can you talk about James Washington’s development?
He’s a young guy who’s finding his footing, finding his rhythm as a participant. He sustained an injury there at the end of the preseason that kind of slowed his progress through the first couple of weeks. He’s had some good practices the last couple of weeks. It’s reasonable to expect the quality of work in those practices to show up on the game field. We’ll get him back on the practice field and work towards that this week.
Transcript provided by the Pittsburgh Steelers