Tomlin presser: Respect for Carolina; Dobbs, Conner, Burns, Tuitt, Fort and more

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. Like we outlined yesterday in Baltimore, it was a big AFC North road win for us. And in reviewing the tape, a couple elements of the performance were significant and it’s rewarding because we knew that they would be significant before the game, but also because we failed in some of these areas in Game 1 against Baltimore, specifically third down offense. In Game 1, we talked about last time leading up to the game that we were very ineffective in the second half and really just spoke to Baltimore’s defensive dominance. I thought our guys did a nice job of responding to that challenge and winning possession downs and thus controlling the ball in the time of possession which allowed us in a lot of ways control the game. So that was a big part of it. Obviously, the running of the football allowed some of those possession downs to be manageable ones – that was a significant element of play, our ability to run the football. And on the other side, I thought largely we got off on possession downs and when we didn’t, we got off when the field was short, holding them to field goals in the red zone was big, one of the top red zone offenses in the league. To hold them to field goals, in particular those two red zone trips in the first half, I thought was significant in terms of the game unfolding and in the manner in which it unfolded. We got a lot of significant contribution from a lot of people, some of its been outlined, Matt Feiler being one, Josh Dobbs being another. But, I think those things are revealed as you go through the journey and I think that’s what makes football the ultimate team game. You are going to be presented with challenges, there are going to be people available and less than available, and we are going to need all of these guys to walk this journey and a lot of guys displayed that with their contributions and stepping up. It’s just going to continue. The opportunities to rise up and be positive contributors to our efforts are going to be continually presented to them and that’s why we are going to continually put emphasis on the point of overall readiness and improvement and growth in terms of knowledge, technique, and understanding for everybody. That’s probably been one of the significant reasons why we have been able to find rhythm in recent weeks.

So, we turn our attention to this week’s challenge. It’s a short week and not only is it a short week, it’s a formidable opponent. So, I won’t waste any further time. From the injury standpoint, not a lot of information as we sit here. First let me say that not a lot of significant injuries, if they were we would have clarity. But there are bumps and bruises associated with play – James Washington got his knee banged. It’s being looked at. Daniel McCullers, an ankle, Ryan Switzer, an ankle, of course Ben [Roethlisberger] got the wind knocked out of him mid-game. All of those and others will be continued to be monitored and it may affect practice availability in some form or fashion. It may not. I am just giving you a list of potential things. It’s just we hadn’t had our feet on the ground long enough to give you any real information, so I wouldn’t read too much into that. What you should read into is practice participation. That’s always our guide in terms of availability and it will be particularly on a week that’s as short as this one.

In regard to Carolina, I’ll start on the defensive side of the ball. It’s a challenging group. They are a fundamentalist group. They are small menu, they play fast, they play physical. There’s big understanding for them. They have continuity and when you are talking about continuity you talk about 59 [Luke Kuechly] and 58 [Thomas Davis] at the linebacker level. I spent a large majority of last night studying those guys and that’s as formidable a tandem at the linebacker position in a 4-3 scheme since [Brian] Urlacher and [Lance] Briggs in the mid 2000s in my opinion. Just to look at the totality of their work over the course of their careers and just look how they’re playing here in 2018, have a lot of respect for Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. They are quality players at all levels. They are both very good against the run. They are both very good in coverage, be it zone or man coverage. They both are very good blitzers. They are traffic cops. They are aware. They get others lined up. They’re special. I don’t spend a lot of time focusing on those guys because they are an NFC team, but to prepare for them and watch those two guys work and really contemplate the totality of their careers individually and collectively, I thought it was appropriate to start there. They have talented people in their front. They are a 4-3 group. [Mario] Addison leads them. I think he’s got 7.5 [sacks], but you better not talk about a Carolina front without talking about Julius Peppers. That guy is Carolina in a lot of ways in terms that he’s been able to do in his career, numbers that he’s been able to put up. He’s got a couple of sacks for him, but boy he’s more impactful than just his sack numbers would indicate. He’s long, he’s disruptive, he’s aware. I think he batted down two possession down passes last week and that seems like nothing but those are, if a DB did that, you’d be talking about what a quality game he had. We better be prepared to deal with a myriad of rush-men and usually you get that when you play a 4-3 team. Guys like Kawann Short, they’ve acquired [Dontari] Poe. On the inside, [Kyle] Love on the inside. Some of the outside guys I’ve mentioned are going to create real issues for us. They got some new guys in the secondary that are really giving them a jolt. [Donte] Jackson, the young corner out of LSU, looked at him at his pro day, he’s very talented. Ball guy, both quick and fast, making a lot of plays for them. And at the safety spot, they’ve been on a tear collectively since they collected Eric Reid and he’s been an active participant in that, getting turnovers and so forth at the free safety position.

On the offensive side, you know, it’s easy to start with Cam Newton and yeah, you should start with Cam Newton because he can run it, he can throw it. He’s strong, he can make all the throws with accuracy from a distance standpoint well. But I really think what’s going on with him is just looking at the infusion of roles between what he and [Christian] McCaffrey are able to do. When you talk about talented players, multidimensional players that really perform really well together. McCaffrey’s playing more snaps I think than any other offensive player in football. He leads them in receptions, he’s a rushing threat. Obviously, as is Cam Newton. The way that those two guys operate and the things that Norv Turner is able to do with those two guys is really creating issues for their opponents and particularly of late. That coupled that with some of the unique skills of some of the other guys, [Devin] Funchess is 6’5, 6’6 and creates match-up issues on the outside. [Greg] Olsen is 6’5, 6’6 vertical threat tight-end and has been that for over a decade. Guys like Curtis Samuel who are hybrid slot and running-back-like people. Really a Percy Harvin-like athlete in terms of his ability to run jet sweeps and also run routes. They have a well-rounded group. They may get Torrey Smith back and obviously in the AFC North we are familiar with the career exploits of Torrey Smith and how he’s able to stretch the field vertically. So, you know, that’s just an outline of some of the things that we are focused on as we’re starting this preparation process. We are going to use all the time at our disposal and we better work on a short week, playing a group like this. But this is what you sign up for, the challenges that the National Football League presents week-in and week-out – formidable opponents, short weeks, etc. We’ll do the best that we can to prepare and stay singularly focused and put our best foot forward on Thursday night at Heinz [Field] for our fans. Questions?

Re: What is the biggest challenge of having a short week assuming you get to everything that you normally do:

You know, you get to it, but the depths in which you get to it is debatable, and so I think having a perspective of dealing with it for a number of years, I think the things that you choose to push to the front of the line if time is limited. Where do you allocate your time? Not only from time spent with players, but I am talking about staff time. The allocation of time and focus I think is the critical element of short week prep.

Re: Is it better to have this game later on in the year?

I don’t care. I really don’t care. I have no control over the schedule. You guys know me. I don’t care. As long as it’s a short week for the opponent, it’s fair.

Re: If he tries to limit guys in terms of depth because of the short week:

We are going to play to win this game. We need to be singularly focused on the task at hand, this week’s challenge, the one that’s in front of us. That’s the way we always live. I think you sell yourself short if you take any other approach. We better be focused on winning this game and whatever’s required to do so.

Re: On why Cam Newton is so effective:

Again, I just mentioned to this, the developing relationship and the utilization of McCaffrey under the leadership of Norv Turner to me is obvious. You are talking about two multidimensional players working under an experienced coordinator whose done it in a variety of ways over an extended period of time at a high level in this league. So, none of that is surprising to me. It doesn’t make it any easier to stop. I’m just acknowledging that the ingredients that are producing what we are looking at is not surprising.

Re: Rotating Coty [Sensabaugh] and Artie [Burns] and if Coty has established himself:

You tell me based on usage.

Re: Was Artie [Burns] Week 9 healthy the other day:

He was.

Re: What areas did the team make the biggest strides in during the second quarter:

I’m not trying to look for specific areas, I just try to challenge these guys to get better every day and that’s what I outline for you guys – getting better in terms of skills relative to opposition. Getting better in terms of knowledge to the game. Getting better in terms of understanding how the situation is presented in the game. I know I probably said that the last time you asked it because I mean it. That’s what we’re focused on. I think that if we do that daily that will give us a chance to produce consistent performances that are on the rise. Not only in the second quarter, but as we continue through this journey.

Re: On how important it is for Feiler to continue to deliver the way that he has:

It’s critical. It’s how we’re built. It’s what we expect, and he is just the latest example of a guy that is meeting that expectation like we talked about. He’s capable, so it’s understandable to expect those types of performances from him. I know that he expects it from himself and he’s glad to be a part of the reason why we are successful.

What growth have you see in Josh Dobbs and to make a throw when called upon?

More than anything he comes in here every day with the mentality that I talked about in terms of getting better. He’s got a unique opportunity in that he backs up a season veteran like Ben [Roethlisberger] which provides maybe some more opportunities to get first team reps. I like the spirit in which he approaches those days. Regular season Wednesdays being one of them. He gets a significant number of first team reps on Wednesdays. Some Wednesdays are better than others in terms of results, but I like his mentality every Wednesday and I think that mentality has continually put him in a position to be viewed in the ways he is viewed and delivery in ways that he is delivered.

How do you assess James Conner and how he being used after saying he is built for this?

I agree with him.

Do you have any concerns?

I agree with him.

What was the catalyst for the L.J. Fort sub-package role?

It’s just evolved over the course of the journey. We are looking at the components available to us, the men and their skills sets, what they are being asked to do and what their capabilities are. It’s just been revealed to us over a course of time. It’s still very much a work in progress. All of those sub-package roles, that’s today’s NFL, multiple sub-packages and personnel groups and match-ups and so forth. He’s helped us in some recent games with some things that he is able to do.

You played in that sub-package 87% of the time in the game, what is the reasoning for that?

It is a myriad of things. Sometimes it’s down and distance and game circumstance, sometimes it’s the mentality of the position of the opponent in terms of time left to go in the game and their mentality and sometimes its offensive personnel group. Baltimore likes the three receivers that they went out and required and those guys were on the field quite a bit of the time and we better match that talent. Usually it is a combination of those things.

Are you seeing more teams with more cover 2 or more of trying to take away the deep pass?

I don’t know about any more of it in terms of just two deep, but you are definitely seeing more packages with more than four defensive backs on the field on the regular to your point. Sub is base in today’s NFL.

How have you been able to limit some of the deep plays that you allowed in the first half?

We are just growing. We are growing every day, it’s the same discussion. Guys are getting better, technically, they are growing in terms of knowledge, they are growing in terms of situational understanding and when you do those things you make plays, and you minimize negativity and those two things happen at the same time. Hopefully we’ve made a few plays and hopefully we’ve prevented a few plays with that approach. I know that approach to preparedness is going to continue in that regard.

The chemistry out of Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey, what has that brought out Cam since you have last seen him?

I have no idea to be honest with you. We do not play them enough to have that perspective. I haven’t even gotten to the point where I have dived back and looked at the game we played them four years ago. There has been so much that has transpired, coaches, the system in which he plays in, supporting cast, that’s probably going to be irrelevant to be honest with you. I won’t be able to draw those comparisons.

Did the Ravens do anything different with Lamar Jackson yesterday?

No, they did different things. I think every week that package morphs in some form or fashion and we knew that respectfully. We knew that the things that you look at on tape are things that you might not play against so that was the case yesterday in some instances. That is what makes preparing for them, and him, and playing them so challenging.

How much film have you watched of Cam Newton running the ball and his designed runs?

He’s doing both. He’s running the ball by design a lot. His rushing numbers indicate that, his touchdown numbers indicate that. he’s always been particularly a red zone rushing threat in terms of designed runs. He’s Cam Newton. There are no comparisons in terms of his unique abilities as a runner and passer.

Re: The effects of Stephon Tuitt’s pass rush:

That production might be born out of game circumstances so it’s six or half a dozen. I just know that Stephon [Tuitt] is playing well, and we need guys to play well. We need guys up front to play well particularly in our natural four-man rush scheme when you are talking about a guy that is uniquely talented like Cam [Newton]. You better keep him in the pocket if you can. You are going to need quality efforts from guys like Stephon.

Why is the offensive line working like it is right now?

Those guys have been together for a long time. They are quality players. They have continuity in terms of coaching. [Mike] Munchak has been with them for a number of years. I think that some very tangible reasons why things have developed for them and it creates an environment where young guys can ascend, can grow and get better. We talked about Matt Feiler, and B.J. Finney in the past and [Al] Villanueva and others, when you have good guys that are professional and work at it, you have a coach that does the same thing, and you put them in an environment, it’s an environment that is conducive to growth, individually and collectively.

Can you talk about how your front seven and your secondary are starting to gel?

Again, I know I sound like a broken record, but we are not doing anything unique. We are just coming to work every day. We are trying to eliminate problems before they happen and when that doesn’t happen try to eliminate them quickly after they present themselves. The only way you do that you is you keep getting better from skill development, keep getting better in terms of knowledge of the game, and keep getting better in terms of understanding the unwritten rules of the game situationally. How the game is played differently at third and four than it is at first and ten for example. That is happening for many of our guys and it needs too.

Do you see defenses changing with the attention of Antonio Brown? Or James Conner?

Not at all. They are going to stop A.B. [Antonio Brown]. They are going to work hard to stop A.B. Everybody knows where A.B. is and what he is capable of and I am sure we’ll see similar things on Thursday night.

Re: Your quote about Terrell Edmunds playing too much and easing Morgan Burnett back in:

[Terrell] Edmunds has done a nice job, but the totality of his play largely has been because of the lack of availability for Morgan [Burnett] and as Morgan gains his footing from a health standpoint I am interested in playing both guys. A lot of exposure to young guys aren’t always good for their growth and development because with exposure comes negativity. Edmunds has done a nice job, but I am not going to forget why he’s in the lineup down-in and down-out and that is because Morgan has been hurt. As Morgan gets healthy I am open to infusing him back into the lineup and watching those guys compete and letting both guys play. Hopefully getting productive play out of the position. That is my mentality but that is no secret.

Do you believe three days is enough time to prepare a NFL body?

I have no opinion. I really don’t. I didn’t make the schedule. I’ll be there on Thursday night as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers.

How do you see coaches that are on the hot seat see an effect on the field?

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. it is not on my agenda to be quite honest about it. It is not my issue.

Is Marcus Gilbert going to work tomorrow?

I don’t know. We’ll see where it goes tomorrow. I am open to it, I know he’s open to it.

Re: Is it more difficult with a quick schedule with a team that are not used to seeing as much as AFC teams:

It is really irrelevant, in that if we are unfamiliar with them, they are probably largely unfamiliar with us. By the same token if we have interment familiarity with them then it is probably the same on the other side so from those standpoints it is fair.

Transcript provided by the Pittsburgh Steelers

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