Mike Tomlin's Tuesday press conference recap: linebackers, blitzes, and Bengals preview | Steel City Underground

Steel City Underground

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin

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.

Opening statement

Good afternoon. First, we thought organizationally it was important that we show our support to our brothers and sisters at the Duquesne football program and the University as they deal with a very difficult loss of a team member. We also just thought it was appropriate as members of this community that we make some statement in support of them, as I am sure others have, and we’ll continue to do as they work through what is a difficult time. Our sympathies go out to them and we pray for them as they move forward, not only just dealing with what happened, but the challenges that a season presents to a football team.

Our usual business, I’ll start with an assessment of our last game. Like I said after the game I thought our big people set the pace on both sides and it can reflected in a lot of ways in terms of how the game unfolded. We were able to control the line of scrimmage and run the football offensively. That put us in manageable third downs. I thought that minimized the abilities of guys like Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley to control the game on possession downs and provide the wave that their defense rides. I thought we were able to virtually keep Ben [Roethlisberger] upright all day because of that. On the defensive side I thought we were able to minimize the run largely and put us in advantageous possession downs situations. We were able to apply consistent pressure to the pocket. We talked earlier in the week about the dynamic group that they have. Julio [Jones] and [Calvin] Ridley off to a fast start, [Mohamed] Sanu, the number of eligible that Matt [Ryan] had and we acknowledged that pocket pressure was going to need to be an asset to our coverage. I thought the play of the game, the thing that kind of broke the game open, didn’t occur on offense or defense, I thought it was a blocked punt by Rosie [Roosevelt] Nix. Significant play, we expect that from Rosie. We expect that from that group. We have a uniquely seasoned special teams unit with guys like Rosie, [Anthony] Chickillo, and Tyler Matakevich and [L.J.] Larry Fort and others, Jordan Dangerfield, that have all kind of been collectively together for an extended period of time from a special teams standpoint. And so it’s good for that group to deliver on that experience and an collective experience. But now return our attention towards division play going into Cincinnati.

On an injury front L.J. has an ankle injury. We will see what that does to his availability at the early portions of the week and kind of let that be our guide. [Terrell] Edmunds has got a calf in a similar way. Potentially scheduled to return to practice then that participation being our guide in terms of gameday availability. Some guys that have missed the last game, Vince Williams with a hamstring, [Darrius] Heyward-Bey with his ankle and Morgan Burnett with his groin, all three guys ran at least in a straight line on land in some capacity last week. We’ll see what they are able to do in terms of playing football and let that be our guide in terms of availability. Now onto the Bengals.

Big game for us as it always is. Divisional play, have a unique relationship, been in some highly contested football games with these guys in recent times. There are a hot football team. They are 4-1. They found ways to win close games and that is what good teams do and you have to respect that. They were able to come from behind against Miami and secure victory. They put together a late offensive drive against the Atlanta Falcons and secured victory. They won in Week One as they came from behind as they beat the Indianapolis Colts so a lot of things for us to get charged up about. I’ll talk about certain phases of their outfit.

I’ll start first with defense. They have a new coordinator in Teryl Austin, but Teryl is not new to us from a competition standpoint. He’s a former secondary coach in Baltimore from a number of years back. In recent years, he’s been the defensive coordinator in Detroit. Obviously, we played against those guys last year in Detroit. It is interesting to see how he is utilizing the Cincinnati personnel in terms of some of the things he likes to do schematically so they are familiar people. We have to deal with [Carlos] Dunlap, we have to deal with Geno Atkins, and obviously that is a formable tandem. They are lighting it up right now. I think Geno is leading the league right now in sacks. And Carlos, not only what he’s able to do in terms of sack production, but just the way he is able to disrupt the normal flow of the ball. He’s a cause fumble guy, he a pass batter, he’s got unique length and awareness, so we have to deal with those guys. But we also have to deal with those guys within the framework of a new system and scheme that will highlight them in different way. I think Carlos is swapping sides of the ball more than he ever has as an example within coach Austin’s system. At the second level, they play a lot of linebackers, they had to because of circumstances.

They have been without [Vontaze] Burfict. They have him back now. He played in a partial capacity a week ago. I’d imagine as he gets his legs under him we should expect to see him every snap because it is AFC North football. On the back end, same core group of guys, particularly at the corner position. [Darqueze] Dennard on the inside, Fitz [Dre Kirkpatirck] outside, can’t say enough about William Jackson and his quality of play at this point. He’s really playing good ball, using his length, and competitive nature and really getting after people and playing good at the right corner spot. They have a new free safety in [Jessie] Bates, very familiar with him. You know we were in the safety market prior to the draft. Was at his Pro Day, had an opportunity to spend some time with him. Talented ballhawk, centerfielder, got good vision, got good hands and feel for the game. I think that can be reflected already in his production. I think he leads them in interceptions. But largely when you play these guys, new coordinator or not, you can’t let their front control the game. The splash games that are able to be made up front. They have a talented group. They have big time depth. They have new people like Sam Hubbard, Ohio State man, he’s made some splash plays for them at the early stage of the season.

On the offensive side, it is about minimizing [Andy] Dalton and company. They do a nice job of finding balance, taking care of the football. They have a division of labor at the running back position. They use a stable of backs. Obviously [Joe] Mixon is their featured ball carrier but you have to be prepared to deal with [Giovanni] Bernard and others. They do a great job in terms of dividing that labor up. On the outside, obviously you have to work your tail off to minimize [A.J.] Green’s impact on the game and notice I said minimize because he’s going to impact the game. He always has and will. He’s that talented a player. They do an amazing job moving him around probably more than I’ve seen in recent years in terms of making him a tough guy to stay with and minimize particularly situationally. He’s playing inside more than I feel like I am used to seeing but the emergence of Tyler Boyd, particularly on possession downs makes neutralizing Green that much difficult. All you have to do is watch the Atlanta game. I mean Boyd dominated. Boyd dominated possession downs in that game, not only third down but I think he converted two critical fourth downs in the waning moments of the game. Not that I am surprised by that. If you are from Pittsburgh you’ve seen a lot of Boyd over the years even going back to high school football. I am not surprised he is really emerging particularly as a dominate guy in that area of play. We have to work to control that on possession downs, minimizing the run will help us in that effort.

They have a quality special teams unit. They have big-time continuity there with coordinator and players. We realize this is AFC North football. We realize it is one the road. We realize the significance of all of those things. That is why we are prepare with an edge and utilize the field as we go into the stadium.

Re: How much were you pleased with the practice efforts that showed up in the game Sunday:

You know I never judge weeks until the conclusion of games because ultimately weeks are measured by how you perform. Oftentimes I feel good about the preparation that we’ve had but ultimately preparation is defined by performance. So, obviously it was a good week ago and now we are focused on this element of preparation.

How much have you blitzed last week, and have you done more this year?

Probably no more than normal to be quite honest with you. It was effective but probably from a ratio standpoint, no more than normal.

Similar like the past year?


Was it more so thought with Mike Hilton out of the slot?

Again, nothing changed really in terms of the proportions or our personality. We were just effective.

How do you decide the rotation at outside linebacker?

We were just trying to keep all of those guys fresh. It was hot. It was a 1 p.m. game. We just wanted to have all of those guys available to us and ready to go in the waning moments, but that’s not anything unique. They were doing similar things with Tak [Takkarist] McKinley and Vic Beasley [Jr.].

Re: Joe Haden following Julio Jones around the field. Matchups against other Atlanta receivers. Similar tactics going into Cincinnati. Why did you feel good about your plan against Atlanta?

It’s always about the trickledown effect when you’re talking about traveling with someone – not only the physical challenges of the personnel matchups, but when they’re moving people, who else are they moving and what does that do. That’s always an element of the equation. When we’re considering this week, it’ll be an element of the equation, but it’s a multi-layered discussion and it’s not just about the person that you’re working to neutralize.

So it’s not just as easy as the correlation between Julio Jones and A.J. Green?

It’s not, no.

Do you think Joe Haden’s dominant performance against Julio might motivate some of your other DBs to step up?

I just think that’s part of team sports. Yeah, very much so.

How do the Bengals create mismatches for A.J. Green?

They just make it tough to minimize his impact on the game in terms of knowing where he’s going to be. He’s not going to be on the strongside, he’s not going to be on the weakside, he’s not going to be on the one-receiver side, directionally, right or left. They’re going to thoughtfully move him around, as they should. We move Antonio [Brown] around in similar ways.

What emotions if any will there be for you and the team going back to Cincinnati after what happened with Ryan Shazier last year?

We’ll kind of know that when we get there. I’m sure there will be in some form or fashion, but [we] haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it to this point.

How do you think the rule changes will affect a rivalry known for its physicality?

I don’t know that it will.

Do you expect to receive a fine for your comments after Sunday’s game?

I do not.

Were you as upset about that because of your role on the Competition Committee and how much work goes into structuring the rules into what you deem to be a sound way? How they’re being administered on the field, is that the issue?

I’ll say this, I said what I said after the game. I meant it, but I have no further comment. I’m choosing to move on and focus on this week’s challenge.

After the game, you gave a game ball to both the offensive and defensive lines. Could you elaborate more on the importance of controlling the line of scrimmage?

Yeah, I did and I kind of outlined it at the very beginning of this when I talked about [how] we controlled the line of scrimmage in the run and in the passing game on both sides and really, the game balls were just about that.

Do you have any update on Le’Veon Bell? Have you talked to him or anything?

I do not.

How destructive was T.J. Watt on Sunday?

The stat line says it all – very. But again, he was not alone. It was a collective rush, and that’s usually the case.

How challenging was it to coach through that game in Cincinnati last year and to keep everyone focused on football? Or did focusing on football help get everybody through last year?

No, that wasn’t about football. That was somebody that we care deeply about that got injured very severely. So, it wasn’t about utilizing it as some motivational tactic or anything of that nature. It was a very difficult thing to get through. We had a job to do in terms of winning a game, but obviously our hearts and minds were with him.

How did you get through it is what I mean?

I don’t know.

Is there any further concern with Chris Boswell missing extra points?

No, we’ve got a lot of confidence in him. It’s something he has to work through, and he will. But this guy didn’t forget how to kick. This guy has delivered for us a lot in the last few years, and I do not have amnesia in that regard. He’s gotten me out of that stadium in Cincinnati a few times, and so I look forward to taking him to Cincinnati.

Re: Antonio Brown being sued for throwing furniture out of a window:

I have no comment regarding that. I know nothing about it.

What steps do you have to take to make sure Brown is emotionally and physically available to give his best abilities on the field?

No comment.

Do you have any clarity on whether or not you’ll keep going with this rotation of linebackers?

Not at this time, no. We’ve got work to do in terms of looking at our practice playing this week and how guys perform and letting that be our guide in terms of those decision-making things, in terms of division of labor.

Re: Young defensive backs like Terrell Edmunds playing at a high level. Artie Burns and Coty Sensabaugh rotating:

The journey sometimes is a learning process, and sometimes it’s on-the-job training. So, when you think about a guy like Edmunds, he’s getting on-the-job training and having to deliver a winning performance at the same time. I believe he’s up to the task. He’s a talented young guy, he’s hardworking, but at the same time, he respects his lack of experience. And you see that in terms of his preparation and the way he leans on veteran players. The other guys are simply trying to take advantage of reps given and trying to put their hand in the pile and being a positive contributor to our efforts. Guys like Coty [Sensabaugh] and Mike Hilton and Artie Burns and Cam Sutton and others – we’re getting a chance to play a lot of people, but I think those are some of the challenges and opportunities that today’s NFL gives us, and defensive backs particularly, because on possession downs there are a lot of those guys employed in a lot of different ways in today’s NFL.

What’s your relationship like with Marvin Lewis? What’s it like to go against the same guy so often?

I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach Lewis. I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach [John] Harbaugh, guys who I’ve competed against in this division for an extended period of time, and obviously those relationships go beyond the competition and the game of football. But just largely, professionally, I’ve got a lot of respect for him and the way he runs his football team and what he’s been able to do over an extended period of time in Cincinnati, Ohio.

After the game, a lot of defensive players said there was better communication and they were in the right place more often. Was that one of your better games in terms of everyone being where they were supposed to be? Is that transferrable?

That’s what happens when you play well. When you play poorly, it’s because communication is poor and people are not in position, so none of that is earth-shattering.

How did it go with Tyler Matakevich and L.J. Fort relaying the calls in?

I thought they did a good job. We’ll continue to work that obviously if the opportunity presents itself. Again, both guys are probably new to that circumstance, but not new to us. I just thought their experience in terms of being a part of the program made it less significant than it appears to be.


Transcript provided by the Pittsburgh Steelers

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