Tomlin presser: In-game "adjustments", clock management and overcoming adversity | Steel City Underground

Steel City Underground

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin watches practice during the 2018 NFL regular season
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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’d like to start first with an announcement. One that I am really excited about. Today will be the first of many where our guys will be out in the community participating in this social justice fund. This collaborative effort among players in the National Football League to support causes to give back to the communities where they are from, or the communities that they play and live in.

I have been really impressed with our guys approach to this, their level of participation. Like I mentioned there will be many of these opportunities in the upcoming weeks. Today is our first day the guys will be out and cutting a check to the Boys and Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania. Being a former Boys [and Girls] Club kid, and understanding the quality services and opportunities that they provide young people, I am honored to say that and really impressed by that participation.

As we always do I’ll quickly review our last performance. Obviously, it was a tough game. It was a rough and tumble game. It was an emotional game. We kind of knew those things going in. Oftentimes I stand before you guys on a day like today and outline how I anticipate the game being and oftentimes I feel like you guys look at me as if I don’t mean what I say. We knew that Jacksonville would play us tough. We knew that they were a quality group. We knew that they had a uniquely talented defense. We knew that they were a matchup issue for us in a lot of ways. We had been in too many stadiums with them in recent times not to have that level of understanding.

I relayed that to you, I relayed that to the guys and the game unfortunately unfolded in the manner of which we anticipated. But that anticipation I think allowed us to endure that level of preparedness. That level of preparedness of how the game might unfold. The nature of the matchup I think that allowed the guys to remain singularly focused in the midst of adversity. It allowed them to respond to that adversity and make the necessary plays to get out of a stadium on a less than perfect day. We acknowledge this less than perfect day. It’s going to be those days I talk about that quite often, but you better find ways to win and for that we are proud. Obviously, there are some things on video that are disturbing, if you will. We will address those but the only way that you address those is with continued work and subsequent challenges. I am sure we’ll be given an opportunity to respond to that.

We have another awesome defense that we are going to see this week, so such is life in an actual football League. Just looking at the game, obviously the turnovers were a negative impact in terms of how the game unfolded. That was one of the critical things that put them in the positions that they were in. I think they were minus 11 in the turnover ratio and we talked about that last week here that you aren’t going to be minus 11 and win a lot of games. In our stadium it was flipped the other way. They were taking care of the ball. We were turning the ball over and that was a central reason why that game was as difficult as it was, But, we fought through it. We supported one another in the ways that we needed to support one another. The defense got necessary stops when placed on the short field. The offense delivered at the most critical moment when needed to. It’s good team football and you learn, and you grow in the midst of all the battles that you are in. It’s great to learn and grow with wins, it’s great to be in a win like that and find a way to get it done. I think there’s growth, or opportunity there, and hopefully fuel for you as you push forward. We are going to need it.

Obviously, we are faced with new challenges this week. We are faced with a similar group as we go to Denver. They are a 4-6 team, but they’re battle tested as any team in the National Football League. They’ve played the Chiefs twice and we know what type of run that group is on. They played the L.A. Rams, we know what type of run that group is on. They’ve played the Houston Texans recently, we know what type of run that group is on so don’t expect them to be intimidated by our presence. I know we come into the game on a win streak and all of that, but they’ve gotten comfortable in those environments.

Last week they are coming off of a game where they finally broke through and won versus a streaking team, so I know that that is good momentum for them as they look to build, and we are probably what the doctor ordered in terms of what is the next challenge. We are sensitive to that we, we are respective to all of that but all of that is kind of secondary to us. You know the process we go through. We have to prepare, we have to feel those urgencies in those moments as we put together a plan as we divide the labor up as we decide what people to utilize. We find our rhythm in that area. It is going to get increasingly difficult as we get into the part of this thing to kind of find that recipe because you get less padded practices and so forth as you get into this stage of the year.

The totality of injuries and so forth becomes a factor so we have to do a good job there. Some of the injury things, we’ll see how Marcus Gilbert is. We’ll let his availability be our guide. I don’t know if he’ll work tomorrow but we’ll see how he feels in the morning. Same could be said for Stephon Tuitt. We had a couple in-game injuries that I am sure will slow some guys at the early portion of the week. Matt Feiler has a pec that he has been working on downstairs that did not limit him in any of his snaps in-game, but we want to watch him as we get into the front of the week here and see what it does to his availability at the front part of the week.

Further looking at Denver. Talking about these guys we’ll start on the defensive side. Von Miller is where you start. We know what these guys can do. This guy can decide to take over a game. We saw it first-hand quite recently. We had the honor of coaching him down at the Pro Bowl. He went by me at some point in the second half and hit me on the hip and said I got this coach, and he did, and we watched him take over a game among All-Stars. I think that is imprinted on me and I am sure it was imprinted on the offensive coaching staff as we prepare to play him this week and the rest of the men that work with him. He’s a special player. He’s aware, he’s physically talented, he’s intelligent, he’s a scientist in his approach to his craft. It was obvious in terms of watching him interact with other Pro Bowlers just talking about the nature of the rush and things of that nature. Just a really impressive professional. I’m sure his mentorship and the growth and development of Bradley Chubb, who’s a rookie that has 9.0 sacks I think already, put that in perspective, I think T.J. [Watt] only had 7.0 or 8.0 through all of the games a year ago. This guy is on an unbelievable pace. They are a talented bunch.

They have some other guys. Shane Ray among them, they will get in a NASCAR like group and get after you in that way. They have quality people at the second level. Brandon Marshall at the linebacker level is back in action for them has been the middle of that defense for a number of years. All situations type linebackers. Su’a Cravens is a sub-package guy that is really providing some athleticism and some matchup capabilities for them and you see the positive contributions of his presence. They are really solid on the back end, have always been in their ability to cover and be combative with people. [Shelby] Harris and company. Have a lot of respect for that group. They are a type of group that is capable of duplicating what we saw in Jacksonville and I am just being point blank there. Probably what the doctor ordered for us offensively in terms of meeting some challenges that the journey provides.

On the other side of the ball they are finding great balance. They have a great runner who is dangerous. I remember the first couple of times I watched him five, six weeks ago on cross video I had to get a flip card to figure out who he was but he’s quick and fast, young Colorado guy and makes a lot of plays for them. I think you can stop wondering 11 games in. I think he’s got a big enough body of work. He’s a guy to be reckoned with. Inside and out he’s capable of breaking big runs. [Case] Keenum is really talented and he’s good above the neck. We saw him last year and had some success against him, but it was his first start. He was a quarterback for the Vikings a year ago. I think he went on to win 11, 12, or 13 straight after that. Have a lot of respect for him. He’s a tough guy to trick. You are not going to trick him. He makes good and quick decisions. He’s highly accurate, he’s very mobile.

They have some talented guys to throw to obviously they traded [Demaryius] Thomas but they are not devoid of talent. Emmanuel Sanders obviously we got a lot of respect for prime and what he’s capable of knowing him over the years. I am sure he’s doing a heck of a game with the young SMU guy [Courtland] Sutton who’s playing a lot since they moved Thomas. He gets your attention on video as well. You talk about a guy averaging 20 yards a catch in the National Football League over the course of a season. It gets your attention off of any stretch of time, let alone 11 or so games into it. We have our work cut out for us and we always do.

We understand the environment we are going into. We understand the urgency of the team we are playing and so forth, but such is life in the NFL. We embrace that, we better embrace it with how we prepare. And so we are excited about that both as a staff and as a team.

What was your emotion after the game, you were fired up?

I probably wasn’t as fired up as I appeared to be. I just wanted the guys know that I appreciated their efforts and that there’s going to be some tough games like that. We have to find a way to get out of the stadium and sometimes you just want to show your appreciation for their no blink approach and their efforts by greeting them, whether it’s at the locker room door or as they come off of the field. So, from that standpoint, it wasn’t anything unusual, but I probably wasn’t as fired up as I appeared to be.

Re: Did anything stem from last year’s game:

Are you kidding me, no. There was enough in that stadium, did you watch that game?

Did Marcus Gilbert suffer a setback at some point?

I wouldn’t describe it as a setback. It’s probably not healing as fast as he or we would like but that’s life. I wouldn’t describe it as a setback, no.

How has Chukwuma Okorafor been coming along?

I’ve been pleased with his growth. The good thing, and it’s one of the reasons why we take the thoughtful approach to do with young swing tackles, we play them at tight end some and we’ve played him at tight end some. So, he gets to report as eligible and gets in-game experience. We’ve done it over the years. We’ve done it with [Al] Villanueva, we’ve done it with [Chris] “Mother” Hubbard so it’s a way for a young development tackle to get in-game experience and play some so if he’s called upon it won’t be the first time he’s played for us and so we’ll expect him to play varsity ball.

Will Ola Adeniyi practice this week?

We’ll see. We make those decisions…I think a day like today is a day we kind of have those discussions. I hadn’t had him in totality yet. I’m sure I will but he looked pretty good in the ladder part of last week. It might be time for that.

Re: He said it on social media:

Well that’s good.

What about Eli Rogers?

Same thing.

Did you change your approach with the defense in the second half of the Jaguars game?

We didn’t change anything. I think our guys just [got] comfortable with how the game was going and we got more comfortable with fitting what it is we were looking at. We were thoughtful about not making any adjustments to be quite honest with you and that is why I responded the way I did to the question after the game because when you are playing a guy like [Leonard] Fournette him gouging you and him not gouging is simple as him falling forward or not. You stop him solidly you are second and seven, if he falls forward it’s second and five so he was falling forward some, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to change what it is you are doing, you just need to stop the power from falling forward. So, we were thoughtful about not changing anything really. We simply put Danger [Jordan Dangerfield] in at times when they had one wideout in the game, we put one corner in the game. But in terms of the calls and structure in which we played we didn’t. We just knew over the course of time we had to be stronger and stouter and make sure the pile wasn’t falling forward because second and five twice give you a new set of downs. Second and three gives you third and four, you have a chance to win those downs. First, third down we won in the game I think was a third and four so that’s kind of how those guys unfold when they run the ball as patiently as Jacksonville was willing to run the ball. We had an understanding of that and we played the game.

Re: Vance McDonald’s growth:

I don’t know that there’s growth there. I just know that there’s availability there. The only thing that’s slowed down significant contributions from Vance [McDonald] in the time that he’s been here has been availability. He’s had a myriad of nagging injuries that have slowed down that progress.

Re: Sustaining success:

Again, I don’t look at it from that perspective. I understand your question, but I think part of it is just focusing on the here and now. I say often, and I mean it, you know, you better be good enough to win, but you better be continually getting better. And so that’s what we try to be. We try to be good enough to win on Sundays and we acknowledge on Mondays that we better get back to work because you better be good enough to win the following Sunday. And so, we take that approach and have and work hard to live it out and stay singularly focused on the things that are important to us, that’s the variables that we can control – our preparation and our play, our analysis of that and then repeating process.

Re: Does confidence build as you extend a win streak?

Again, I don’t worry about it. I understand that that could be a by-product of it, but I stay focused on the variables that are within our control, the tangible things, the process – prep, play, analysis, repeat-process.

Re: What’s allowed your defense to be versatile?

I think it’s that perspective that I just kind of talked about. We don’t plug gaps. We don’t plug leaks. We’re continually, globally working to grow and grow in all areas, and so we’re not reactionary in our thinking. And that allows us to be what we need to be when we need to be it. You mentioned defense, but sometimes we’re capable of walking in a stadium and being a run-dominant team. Sometimes we’re capable of stepping into a stadium and throwing it every down. Sometimes we step into a stadium and we’re capable of no-huddle. Sometimes we huddle often. You better be versatile in the National Football League in all three phases, and we work continually to be.

Re: Sean Davis’s growth:

He is a traffic cop back there, if you will. He occupies the role that Mike Mitchell occupied before him, that Ryan Clark occupied before Mike Mitchell. It is a hub of communication. There’s a lot of responsibility with that role, so he’s delivering similar tangible production in terms of numbers and tackling and so forth, but this guy has made a dramatic step in terms of what he brings to us because he keeps a lid on it back there. He communicates, he’s a hub of communication, he’s done a heck of a job of it and he is evolving. Like we’re talking about our team, he’s done well, but he’s going to do better and he continually has displayed that and we expect that because he has been in the lineup but some of the responsibilities and some of the things we ask him to do are new to him.

Re: Javon Hargrave’s growth:

Same thing, same draft class, maybe not, yes. You know, this guy, his job description is nose [tackle] or whatever, but there’s just not a lot of opportunities for nose in today’s NFL. We spend the vast majority of our snaps in sub [packages], and so I’ve been really open about challenging him in terms of being a sub-package contributor. You don’t want to be pigeon-holed in this game, the more that you can do. He’s a guy who came with a resume. He’s a nose, but boy, his college resume is impressive in terms of his ability to get after the passer. I think he’s got 35.0, 36.0 or whatever sacks at South Carolina State, and so wanted to give him an opportunity to show that versatility. One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. [Stephon] Tuitt a game, provided a big-time opportunity for Hargrave and he took advantage of it.

Re: Clock management; Accepting penalties:

All of those things are inter-related. There’s very complex. It happens fast in the midst of the game. I aggressively play and play to win. You guys know me. I’ve stood up here long enough. I don’t care about this setting. I don’t care about these podiums. I don’t care about playing it by the book, if you will. I get my feel based on what I’m looking at in-stadium and what I believe needs to be done to give ourselves a chance to win the game, and I’m going to be aggressive in pursuit of it. In regards to the accepting of the penalty, I wanted to see why they avoided third-and-long so hard in that football game. I’m just joking – I knew why they avoided third-and-long. That’s why I took the penalty. You saw what happened when they snapped that ball. That team was working extremely hard to stay on schedule. We needed splash plays to provide our offense potentially a short field in an effort to win the game. We weren’t going to get splash plays on 3rd-and-2, so you move them back to 3rd-and-10 and you get after them and maybe you sack-fumble them, maybe you pick it. That’s how the game goes. I’m not apologizing for that. In regards to the two-minute, I knew they were going to run the ball on third down, so I wanted to save a timeout because that’s how the game had unfolded for them. Some people are going to throw the ball on third down and try to win the game right there. I knew they were going to run the ball on third down right there, so if we stopped them, I knew the clock would be running and I would need a timeout. So just thought processes. Again, I understand that minutia. I understand how what we do is evaluated in today’s ball. There are too many talk shows and things of that nature not to analyze it in that way, but I do not care. I’m trying to win. A year ago, we were in a shootout. I on-side kicked them. This time around we weren’t in a shootout, I kicked it deep. I look at what I do in stadiums to win and I’m going to aggressively pursue victory for this football team.

If Ben Roethlisberger didn’t get in on the 1-yard run, would you have gone for the win?

We’ll never know, will we. I might be in that situation again. Just know that we were dually prepared for whatever.

Re: The relationship between Randy Fichtner and Roethlisberger flowing better than it did with Todd Haley:

I’m not getting into that. I’m focused on what we’re doing this year. I like the growth and development of their relationship, not in comparison to anything.

Re: Moving JuJu Smith-Schuster from slot to the outside:

JuJu [Smith-Schuster] did that last year. He plays inside and out. He’s done it really since the day he got here. That was one of the things that really kind of made him attracted to us – his football intelligence, maturity beyond his years. He played inside and out at USC so I’m not going to pretend like we’re splitting the atom.

What’s a tangible improvement you’ve seen in his game in year two?

Just his attitude regarding his role in the run game, his knowledge and awareness in terms of blocking box defenders. Young guys in terms of declarations, identifying fronts, blocking linebackers at times, support secondary people and so forth, not only does he have the physical attributes to do it, he’s got the mentality to do it. He’s got the intelligence to do it. He’s Hines Ward-like in some of those things. I realize what I said when I said that, but this guy enjoys it. He’s embracing it and I think it helps us. I don’t know that we’ve had a guy that I can even make that loose comparison to.

You had a situation where you found out Ryan Clark had the sickle cell anemia trait. Do you have anybody on your current roster that has it?

I’m not getting into that. That’s private medical information. Just know that if we do, we’ll do what’s appropriate, but I’m not disclosing people’s private medical information. If they choose to address it with you guys publicly, then obviously I’ll talk about it, but I’m not getting into that.

But that’s something you keep an eye on?

I think that’s something everybody does globally in the National Football League and in college football. Unfortunately for Ryan, I think he was a test-case in that regard. I think he’s changed protocol for a lot of people and I know that he’s personally proud of that. His personal discomfort and misfortune I think has really made it a lot safer for a multitude of others at a variety of levels of ball.

Re: Accounting for altitude:

No, we’re going to go play the game.

You’re 15-1-1 in your last 17 on the road. How do you maintain success on the road?

I’m not going to act like we’re doing something unique. We’re not. We focus on the variables that are within our control. We openly talk about things that we need to combat – environmental things, crowd noise and so forth. We’ve got certain things that we utilize, systematic things that we utilize to combat those things, but it’s not anything that anybody else isn’t doing to be quite honest with you. We’re just taking them one at a time.

Re: Jordan Dangerfield and L.J. Fort:

We expect those guys to be ready when called upon. We live by that creed – the standard is the standard. Those guys understand that. In regard to Danger, Danger’s got a certain playing personality. You guys watch us in Latrobe and so forth. You guys know what that playing personality is. He was the right guy for the job.

Re: Denver:

I’ve really been focusing on the development of them most recently because that’s the team we’re playing so I couldn’t give you an intelligent response to that question in terms of the totality or the journey for them. There’s things that change during the course of the season that make some of those discussions irrelevant. Their September ball has got [Demaryius] Thomas on the tape and what a significant component he is offensively, and so they’re different in those ways. Usually when you’re preparing to play somebody at this juncture of the season, you focus on the more recent games and you acknowledge that there’s some growth and development and evolution that may be significant, it may not. But you’ve also got to pick and choose because quite frankly there’s not enough time in our work-week to digest a ridiculous volume of video in terms of planning, so our emphasis has been on the more recent games. There’s enough significant things to look at and focus on there. They’ve played some really good people. They’ve played them really close. They got over the hump last week versus a good Chargers team. We’re going to their venue, so we better prepare with an edge.

Re: Inaudible Question:

I don’t. We work our tails off to minimize them, to be smart about how we work our guys – hard and smart. But we acknowledge that injuries are a part of the game and to a degree, you’ve got no control over that, and that’s why you spend the time that you do readying everyone. That’s why you spend time acknowledging that we’re going to need contributions from everyone, guys like Danger, in different situations to get jobs done.

Do they flip flop Von Miller or does he generally stay on one side?

He goes wherever he wants. I know I let him go where he wanted to in Orlando at the Pro Bowl. I’m sure they do too.

Re: Blocking Von Miller:

Multiple people, multiple people. He’s a unique animal.

Re: Reaction to last night’s MNF game:

I have no reaction. Just because that game unfolded the way it unfolded, doesn’t mean that if those two teams played again today it would unfold the same way. It was a great game – sure entertaining for the people who love football. That’s the only insight or noteworthy reaction that I have to it.

Re: Inaudible question about community events:

It is team-oriented, but obviously there won’t be perfect attendance. I think different guys who have different passions about whatever element of the community we’re supporting will show us. If you’re a Boys and Girls Club guy like me, I’m sure you’ll be there today. Maybe somebody else will be there on subsequent days where something really stimulates them. I think that’s one of the things that’s really awesome about participating in this, that guys get an opportunity to help in ways that are important to them, things that they’re passionate about. And there are a lot of awesome things going on in this community, things that we support continually anyway, like Urban Impact and the work that they do on the Northside and others.

What do you tell your team about their role in the community?

We’re members of the community, and we’ve got to anti-up and kick in like any member of the community. And so we definitely don’t consider ourselves special members of the community, we’re simply members of the community and we embrace all of that that holds.

Transcript provided by the Pittsburgh Steelers





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