Tomlin presser: Injury updates, lack of defensive splash plays,

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. As always, I’ll start with a quick synopsis of our last performance and like I said after the game, I thought the significant element of play was the turnover ratio but only in this game. If you look back at the last eight quarters of football for us as a football team it’s something that we have to tighten up and tighten up rather quickly. We’ve turned the ball over some on offense. We have to do a better job of safeguarding and preserving it in everything that we do, whether it is run or passing, or running with the football, etc.

On the defensive side of the ball save the last snap of the game in Jacksonville, we’ve played eight quarters of football without creating a turnover and I think you can’t have one discussion without the other. Turning the ball over is less of an issue if you are getting it, not getting turnovers is less of an issue if you are preserving and taking care of it. So, we have issues in both areas and it’s created issues for us globally. We were fortunate to get out of Jacksonville, we talked about that and obviously we couldn’t get out of Denver, so we have some work to do in those areas, it’s very fundamental. We always work in that area but it’s a re-centering if you will, a point of emphasis and we’ll continue along those lines until we got the desired result.

To be quite honest with you we better get the result very quickly because of the significant challenge that we have coming before us.  There were a lot of other things in the game, plays made by them, plays made by us, plays not made by us but that was a significant component of play and it always is. We, as a football team, if there is one area that we are lacking in, in terms of development, is that turnover ratio. I think we are toward that bottom part of the league and again it’s two-fold. We have to do a better job of ceasing it and getting it, particularly with some of the duress that we were able to create defensively. We create a lot of sacks and so forth. Just by virtual of those statistics it should be the type of helter-skelter necessary to get turnovers and it just hadn’t happened for us so we have some work to do.

Injury Updates

One the injury front, Vance McDonald has a hip that will limit him at the early portion of the week, we’ll let his participation be the guide.  Xavier Grimble is in the concussion protocol. Bud Dupree has a pec injury, participation will be our guide in terms of his availability. Some other bumps and bruises. We anticipate Stephon Tuitt working tomorrow, at least in some capacity and letting that be our guide in terms of his march back and the same with [Marcus] Gilbert. It’s good to kind of get some of those types of guys back although I was really pleased with the play of Chuks [Chukwama Okorafor]. I think we are showing unique depth at the tackle position. Sometimes someone else’s misfortune creates an opportunity for others. You know our expectation, but I’d be remised if I didn’t acknowledge those guys meeting those expectations. Matt Feiler has done it repeatedly. In recent weeks we’ve talked openly about that but due to Matt’s injury it gave Chuks an opportunity and I thought he was definitely above the line in terms of his play so we’ll be smart. We’ll look at the healthy bodies, we’ll distribute the reps accordingly and make decisions relative to who plays, and division of labor based on that, and how the week unfolds.

Onto the Chargers, they are a formable bunch. They are an 8-3 football team. I know that their offense gets a lot of recognition and rightfully so. Under the leadership of Philip Rivers and company and what they were able to do last weekend. But I’ll start with the defense because the defense is a formable one. They have one of the top defenses in the NFL. Guss Bradley is their coordinator.  They are a very fundamental group. They do not give up big plays. They are stout against the run and the pass if you look at the stats. It bares it out. They are well-balanced and they really kind of in all areas. They are competitive in just about any situation that you put them in. They are getting back to full strength in terms of having some key components. They have Joey Bosa back and we are prepared for him to be an every-down player. He’s played two games and I am sure they have just been getting him back into the fold. We anticipate him being an every-snap player. Obviously, he’s going to be a formable tandem along with [Melvin] Ingram III. This is AFC West football with these rush tandems. The one we saw a week ago. We have a lot of respect for those guys in Kansas City. We have our work cut out for us working to minimize that tandem and their impact on the game. Derwin James is a top-notch safety. You are seeing his impact and the positive contributions, his presence is bringing to him not only in terms of what he is doing in the secondary, he had an interception I think a week ago, but the things he is able to do on and around the line of scrimmage, whether it’s in the run game on first and second down, whether it is in the blitz game. I think he has 4.5 half sacks, or just the general disruption that his presence provides. He’s often too big for perimeter people to block and deal with and obviously his athleticism is an asset to him against much bigger people. But they have a good group on all levels. They have quality players throughout. Like I mentioned earlier they are a fundamentally sound group, they are a fundamentalist group, they play hard, they are always in place, so we got to do a good job there.

On the other side of the ball Philip Rivers and company have been getting a lot of notoriety and recognition and rightfully so. They are playing at an unbelievable level right now. I think it can just be displayed in their yards per play on first-and-10. I think they are 7.06 yards a play on first-down on the season. I think it’s two teams in the NFL that are averaging seven yards on first down are them and the Rams, or I think maybe them, the Rams, and Kansas City so that is the type of company that they are keeping in terms of damage and they are producing on first-and-10 so forget possession downs. They are getting you on first-and-10 and it just speaks to Philip Rivers, their planning, their anatomy that they give him in terms of getting in good plays at the line of scrimmage. When you are averaging seven yards a play on first down it’s because you have no negative plays. They get that guy enough latitude, he’s getting out of negative plays or potentially negative situations. You do not see him getting dropped behind the chains very often and it just speaks to their schematics and what they do under coach Wis [Ken Whisenhunt] but also the latitude, the anatomy, the intelligence that Philip Rivers has and the way they are able to utilize in terms of attacking people. They have a myriad of receivers, obviously all talented first rounders, and so forth. Antonio Gates and others at tight end. He’s got a full complement of people but when you are talking about a team that is good at playing on both sides of the ball like I outlined and the number of weapons they have you really turn your focus back to yourself and really what it is that you do and what it is you do well and how you execute so we are proceeding with that though in mind. We better be at our best, be better play Steeler ball, and worry about us and be in the positions that we need to be, be on the details of our assignment, so that we can get back into some winning football. We are excited about being at Heinz Field, being at home in front of our fans, we are looking forward to that.

What can be done by defenses to create turnovers?

It starts first of all with simply ball awareness. And we teach that and talk that more than anything. Being aware of where the ball is located, who’s holding it, how they are holding it and what they are trying to do with it and how that relates to your assignments and that is just a general football 101 description of ball awareness but anytime you talk about getting the football from a defensive perspective it starts there so everyone can relate to that. The defensive linemen can relate to that relative to his pass rush. Defensive backs can relate to that relative to covering people and attempting the breakup, potential completions, etc. I think everyone can talk about and think about how ball awareness relates to the specific task that they have to do within any particular defensive call.

Re: How are they winning on first down? Is it by throwing the ball?

Don’t get me wrong now they run the ball very well, too. They are a Top Five rushing team in the NFL per play so when they choose to run, they are running successfully. When they choose to pass they are passing successfully and I think there inlays the awesome capabilities that they have. They have really good planning and on top of that really good planning they have a guy at the line of scrimmage that is capable of getting them out of negative circumstances or getting them into an ideal concept to attack what it is they look at and you see a lot of that in the video. They get to the line of scrimmage, he changes plays, he calls plays and they are big plays.

Re: Is there a danger with missed tackles and can that be a negative:

Potentially. There are risk rewards associated with everything it is you do in football, that’s just part of it. I feel completely comfortable asking professionals to have an increased emphasis in a certain area without worrying about our tackling going helter-skelter to be quite honest with you.

What does Ben Roethlisberger need to do to reduce turnovers?

Ben [Roethlisberger] is just part of it. He’s not solely responsible for our inability to maintain possession of the ball. He wasn’t carrying the ball into the end zone and fumbled for a touchback, so he needs to continue to be thoughtful about the preservation of the ball as he always is and understand the responsibility that comes with being our signal caller. I do not see any issues in that area but us collectively need to do a better job.

Re: Are you concerned with James Conner?

I really don’t, not overly, but I will acknowledge as a featured ball carrier in the league, when you got some tape with some balls on the ground that people use that as motivation, I know we do. If we are playing a featured runner in recent weeks, he’s got some balls on the ground, Wednesday morning that is being discussed. So that is the nature of my conversation with James just understand how the other 31 teams function. In Los Angeles somewhere tomorrow morning they will be talking about his ball on the ground, so I’ll be excited about watching his response to that but beyond that no, I have a lot of confidence in him. As a ball carrier and as a central part of what we are doing offensively.

Is there anything that James Conner needs to fundamentally change about the way he’s carrying the ball?


Re: Passing vs. throwing:

We want to have the ability to step into a stadium and dictate our personality that day. I’ve been open about that, guys. Sometimes we’ll come into a stadium and be run-heavy, be focused on that. Sometimes we’ll come into a stadium and be capable of throwing it every down. It’s how we choose to attack. We’re thoughtfully no-rhythmic if you will in that regard. We strike for balance, and balance being we’re capable of attacking in the ways that we choose. I think that makes it tough on defenses. I think that makes us a tough unit to beat. We’ll go through games where we’ll throw it a lot like we did last week, and there are positive ramifications of that for the run game. There are games where we’ve handed the ball to James and he’s carried it 30 times and subsequent games there’s maybe positive consequences in the passing game for that. We’re cognizant of all of that, and that’s why we don’t mind changing our personality based on game planning. But it starts with just having quality game planning and being able to do a bunch of things. We’ve got solid guys up front who are adept at run blocking and pass blocking. Ben has got a nice arsenal of receivers and James is doing a good job of running the ball. And so that’s why we work hard for balance. I think that is a continual discussion for us week in and week out in terms of how we want to choose to attack people in an effort to keep people off balance, to ring up the scoreboard and make the movement of the ball a more fluid process. At the end of the day, we’re going to have to be able to run it, we’re going to have to be able to throw it, and sometimes those things are not within our control. Sometimes the commitment of those that we play in certain areas dictates how you approach it. Sometimes your whims and wishes dictate how you approach it. But the reality is if you want to be a team that stays on the road as it gets narrow, you better be able to do both well. So that’s what we strive to do not this week in preparation for this opportunity, but largely.

Re: Passing vs. throwing in the red zone:

Again, I just explained to you our thought process. Sometimes it’s whim and wish, sometimes it’s the opponent. Big picture [is] over the long haul, we’ll have the type of balance we desire. I have no issues with our red zone execution over the course of the season. You guys mention to me how successful it is, so I’m not going to overreact to what transpired last weekend. You guys have to give the Denver Broncos credit. They prepared and stepped into a stadium and played winning football. I’d be remised if I didn’t do that.

Re: Issues with depth at both offensive tackle and tight end:

I’m not willing to acknowledge I have issues at both spots as I stand here. We’ll let the week play that out.

Have you been surprised at all about what you’ve gotten in the passing game from Ryan Switzer?

No, I mean I watched a lot of North Carolina tape. That’s a dangerous guy. We were excited about acquiring him. He’s still got some ball ahead of him, room for growth. There’s a guy who got on a moving train, so we’re pleased with his contributions, but we’re also sensitive to he got on a moving train. He’s sensitive to he got on a moving train. I think he’s working extremely hard day in and day out to catch up, to get the nuances, the minutia of things that’s going to allow him to be a continuing contributor to our efforts.

Will James Washington get a hat Sunday Night?

I have no idea. I haven’t even begun to think about that. We’ve got too many global planning issues to think about who gets a hat at this juncture. I haven’t even done some of the core base game planning.

Do you think he’s lacking in confidence?

He’d be better to answer that than I. I’ll let him speak for himself in that regard.

What’s your level of confidence in him so far?

I’ve got a great deal of confidence in him. But that’s a good question. Ask him – his level of confidence in himself.

Re: What is your philosophy of developing players down the depth chart?

It is continually on-going. Particularly when you build your team primarily through the draft the way that we do, you better develop talent. That’s always on-going.

What’s the reason for the rule that if the ball is fumbled and goes out of bounds across the goal line that it’s a touchback?

I have no idea. That’s more of a historical question.

Do you think it’s kind of a silly rule?

No, I’m in support of the rule, certainly. You’ve got to maintain possession of the ball as you cross the goal line. I believe that there’s added responsibility there. I believe that the defense should be rewarded if you fumble and it goes into the end zone and no one gets a chance to recover the ball. I like the urgency and the responsibility of possession of the ball, particularly in that area of the field. So, I’m not against the rule. I’m a proponent of it. I don’t know the history of it.

In terms of the blocked field goal, was that a legal play when you looked at it?

You know, I’ll let Al [Riveron] send out a video and talk to you guys about that this week. I’ve got too much other business to focus on. Not my deal.

Is that the second time that sort of thing has happened to you guys?

Again, ask Al.

Did Xavier Grimble suffer a concussion? Do you know?

I do not.

He said after the game that he wanted to run through the defensive back to score. Do you have any problem with that decision?

I’m not getting into all that. Put the ball in the end zone. I’m a results-oriented guy. This is a results-oriented business. We can talk all day about the means by which the job gets done or have an opinion on the means by which the job gets done. My opinion is get the ball in the end zone.

Re: Is it becoming too easy to complete passes in this League?

I’m sure it’s something that we do look at. We look at the overall health and competitiveness of the game. We monitor competitive to fairness and things of that nature, but those are things that are done at the end of the journey with the totality of it. I’m not ready to have those discussions. I know I’m not looking globally. I’ve got enough issues here in Pittsburgh Pa., and I’m sure the other members of the [competition] committee have a similar mindset. I think those are discussions for another time.

Re: Did Chukwuma Okorafor block Von Miller one-on-one?

He didn’t block [Von] Miller one-on-one. Nobody blocks Miller one-on-one. So, you can write that story if you choose. Pro Bowl tackles get help when blocking Von Miller. That’s just the nature of professional ball, but he more than met our expectations.

How is Philip Rivers maturing?

Hopefully he is mature. He’s been at it for a while. He’s a guy who you’re excited about competing against because you know he’s dually prepared. You know he’s extremely talented. He’s a unique competitor. He’s just one of those guys. He needs no endorsement from me. I think we all in this business understand who he is and what he’s capable of.

Is it fair to say he’s playing the best football of his career?

I don’t watch him week-in and week-out, down-in and down-out to make that assessment. I’ve just got a lot of respect for him and he’s playing really well.

A guy like that completing 25 in a row, I guess you’re just glad he got it out of his system.

Are you looking for a comment?

Re: Completing that many in a row:


Re: Third wide receivers:

I think our ability to run or throw is kind of a discussion we’ve been having. Within the throwing discussion, it has to be the utilization of all eligible. Some guys get the ball on a more consistent basis regardless of circumstance – guys like Antonio [Brown], guys like JuJu [Smith-Schuster]. Other guys do it in a more situational or supportive way, but they’re contributions are equally significant. In different weeks, they’re different guys – some weeks it’s Vance McDonald, some weeks it’s Jesse James, last week Ryan Switzer got some attention. Sometimes it’s James Conner. Some weeks, he is highly involved in the passing game. We don’t hide from that. We’re pretty transparent in that regard. We’ve got to utilize all five eligibles. Some are going to be hotter than others based on game circumstances or planning. Some of them are going to be a part of all scenarios like 84 and 19.

Any idea how close Eli Rogers is to being healthy?

I don’t know. Did he Tweet anything? Social media?


Then no, I don’t know.

Would you be willing to explain what was supposed to happen on that last play?

I won’t. I don’t want to get into things from a competitive standpoint. We may utilize a play similar to that or that play specifically moving forward. It doesn’t serve anything from my perspective to discuss the details of it. I won’t.

Transcript provided by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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