Mike Tomlin press conference recap: "There was going to be some smoke and mirror play" | 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.

Opening Statement

Good afternoon. Like always I’ll start with a quick review. Obviously disappointed in the outcome to our Sunday night game against the Chargers. Again, like I said, I’ll be remised if I didn’t congratulate those guys on a quality effort and performance, particularly Philip Rivers. They are a championship-caliber group. We knew that going in and he’s a championship-caliber competitor. It was revealed but in analysis of the game, we tip our caps to them. But we look at the things we did or could’ve done and should’ve done differently and better. Obviously, there were many of those types of things and opportunities to learn. Really, we had letdowns in all three phases and when you lose a game in that manner usually it’s a culmination of letdowns in all three phases, particularly in the second half. I’ll paint with a broad brush, obviously there is some other specific things but on offense I thought killing two drives with penalties to start the second half, second-down holding penalties are difficult to overcome. The first possession had a 25-yard run on second down, it was brought back by a penalty and made that difficult to overcome and we didn’t. The subsequent drive we didn’t. We had a screen on second-down, that play was called back due to penalty. You just can’t have those types of penalties on second-down. It pushes you behind the chains and then there aren’t enough subsequent downs to win those circumstances. I thought that that hurt our efforts and fluidity in terms of coming out of the locker room.

On special teams, we had some positive plays, we blocked a punt, but we also had a punt returned. In a game like that when both offenses are capable of possessing the ball in limiting the number of possessions, particularly over the second half of the game, you can’t have quick strikes. And that punt return was a quick strike that really changed the climate in the game. Obviously when people score in special team phases their chances of winning go way up in any stadium and that was the case.

On the defensive side we had difficult times getting the subsequent stops or the needed stops, particularly as the game wore on. Philip Rivers, you have to acknowledge, is a sharp guy with a lot of autonomy at the line of scrimmage. As the game wore on I think he really got comfortable with what he was looking at and was able to do some things and get them in some situations to move the chains in possession downs. As the game wore on I think he got a sense of some of the things we were doing in some of our sub-packages. Playing without Morgan Burnett and Cameron Sutton really limited us in some of those things. I think as the game went on he pushed 13 [Keenan Allen] inside and took advantage of some of those opportunities. Such is life. Collectively we didn’t do enough to win the game. There were plenty of opportunities for sure but letdowns at all three phases created it.

On the injury front we have a number of things to discuss. James Conner’s injury is probably a little bit more significant than we thought. He’s got an ankle sprain, not a contusion, so he’ll be out this week. We have a few personnel-like moves associated with that. Justin Hunter is down [with] his shoulder. He has been placed on IR. We’ve activated Trey Edmunds from our practice squad to bring some running back depth for us in the short term. Kameron Canaday went down in the game with a knee, he was able to return. Probably going to slow his preparation here at the early stages of the week but we are hopeful he’ll be a participant. [Anthony] Chickillo sustained an ankle in the game, may limit his preparation during the course of the week, we’ll see where that leads us. Marcus Gilbert is still working his way back from injury. I hadn’t really checked in on his status, I think he’s downstairs working right now. We’ll see where his participation is, where that participation might lead us. He’s got to be getting closer. A couple other guys had nicks and so forth in the game. Rosie [Roosevelt Nix] had a shoulder. I don’t think that is going to stop him from being available to us. Ryan Switzer is in the [concussion] protocol, part of getting out of the protocol is physical labor so he’ll be given an opportunity to do some of those things. Optimistic about his inclusion but we’ll let that process run its course.

Looking at the Oakland Raiders, have a lot of respect for those guys. Their coaching staff, I know a quite few of those guys personally. Obviously, I worked for Jon Gruden and know the top-notch strategist that he is. I am sure he spent a lot of time analyzing us, not only this week in preparation for the game, but just largely. Our defensive schemes are kind of prevalent throughout ball. He’s the kind of guys that studies and digests football. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of concept guys from them. An accumulative body of work if you will from that study so we are going to be challenging some schematic ways that way. Rich Bisaccia, their Special Teams Coordinator, I worked with him a number of years. Top quality special teams guy, calculated risk taker, a guy that is capable of dialing things up. We have to respect that. On the defensive side of the ball their coordinator cam from the Bengals so we’ve been in some battles with those guys. He’s got a mode of operation in terms of how to combat us schematically. He’s got knowledge of our offensive people and how we play, particularly situationally. So there are some things from that standpoint to combat but before we get into that and open it up for questions I’ll outline a few things regarding their personnel.

I’ll start with Derek Carr. I think you start with Derek Carr, they were in the game last week and in the game in a big way because of him. I think he’s a catalyst for a lot of positive things for them. I know there is not a lot of positivity when you won the number of games they’ve won but being around Derek and getting to know him at the Pro Bowl, I think his play and his stats reflect his capabilities. I think his quarterback rating is a 95 or better. He’s completing roughly 70-percent of his passes. He’s the young guy in the Pro Bowl so we have a peck in order, we knew he would be in the game kind of at the end of the game. I had good fluent interaction with him all week and challenged him to kind of delver victory for us. We knew in games like that, the last couple of possessions would be significant. It was fun to watch him over the course of the week to kind of rally the guys and gain the necessary relationships with the guys that will be in the game with him in winning moments and he delivered that, so I have that experience with him. We talked openly about it. I like his competitive spirit. He’s a good communicator, a gym rat, an X’s and O’s type of a guy. He’s going to challenge us in the ways that Philip Rivers challenged us, particularly as the game wore on. We better be thoughtful about mixing our looks up to keep him from catching up with us and attacking us in some of the schematic ways we were attacked last week. He’s got Jordy Nelson back. Jordy is a big-time competitor and has done it at a high level for a long time. He may have Martavis Bryant back, we don’t know that. [Jared] Cook, his tight end, is having a career year. He is a vertical threat, a real problem down the field from a matchup standpoint. Oftentimes too athletic for linebackers, too big for defensive backs, we’ve been familiar with him from his time at Tennessee. Lee Smith, can’t say enough about him, a veteran tight end, run blocker, kind of provides the end of the line component of play for them, big-time competitor. They are getting quality contributions from their backs particularly in the passing game. I think [Jalen] Richard is their leading receiver. Jon [Gruden] is utilizing him in a big way. Getting him the ball outside of the backfield.

On the defensive side of the ball it’s about familiarizing ourselves with some of the young talent particularly upfront, sub-package rush men and so forth. Arden Key is an edge guy, young talented edge guy. I was at his pro day a year ago. [Maurice] Hurst inside leads them in sacks, he’s a one gap interior rusher that has done a heck of a job. I think he’s got four sacks, a young talented guy. The Sam Houston [P.J. Hall] we looked at in the draft. He’s another guy in a one on one situation that is difficult to block. They have some guys up front from a rush standpoint that really create some mismatches and some issues but when I talk about them schematically that’s not surprisingly. They are building their program probably on the defensive side of the ball in a similar way that you had to prepare to block [Carlos] Dunlap, Michael [Johnson], and Geno Atkins individually when you are playing Cincinnati. I see some of that carryover. Obviously, they have some veteran guys in that group that come from that experience, Reggie Nelson being one of them, Frostee Rucker being another that adds a veteran component to play and stability if you will. they are playing solid ball. Their corner tandem is long and talented. [Gareon] Conley obviously is a first round pick and [Daryl] Worley is a long bump corner out of West Virginia that they have acquired. Those two guys in tandem are rock solid. They are good at disrupting the normal flow of offense. They are competitive and combative, they get on the line of scrimmage. We better do a good job of working to win those battles and getting open against those guys and expect those guys to work and get on the line of scrimmage to disrupt the normal flow of offense to highlight some of rush skills of the some of the guys that I mentioned.

James Conner being ruled out. Can we expect you to run a by committee approach?

That is our intentions as we sit here but we have a preparation week in front of us and sometimes division of labor is revealed through that work. We got a great deal of confidence in [Stevan] Ridley, we got a great deal of confidence in Jaylen [Samuels] and Jaylen particularly of late. He is a guy that has been on rise in recent weeks, we’ve talked about it in here. Trey [Edmunds] is a guy who’s played some pro football. We were excited about getting him on our practice squad when we acquired him, so we’ll put him in uniform and give him an opportunity to be a contributor as well.

Is it a high ankle sprain for James Conner?

I don’t know if you describe it as a high ankle sprain, it’s an ankle sprain. Much more than the contusion initially it was thought to be.

Why is Jaylen Samuels on the rise?

I just think sometimes the journey itself provides opportunity and that opportunity provides times for guys to show and improve. So, he is getting increasing opportunity because of it. That was on*going in recent weeks prior to James’ [Conner] injury. Obviously sometimes injury is a component of it and it is now moving forward but it wasn’t in recent weeks. I think his play has been a component of it so from that standpoint there is some excitement.

What have you seen from Trey Edmunds in practice?

I’ve seen a good skillset. I’ve seen a willing participant. I’ve seen a guy who’s shown a skillset that’s maybe geared toward special teams – that’s potentially not a really common thing at the running back position. I know he earned his stripes in New Orleans in that capacity, so forget what he’s able to provide us as a runner. This is a guy who’s going to be in uniform that has a resume that’s centered around some special teams contributions. And so, he’ll be given an opportunity there first and foremost, but I haven’t been displeased with what I’ve seen from him as a runner.

Is it important to have a veteran like Stevan Ridley available?

There’s no question, but we were thoughtful in [Stevan] Ridley’s inclusion in our group. To have a veteran backup like that, a guy who’s been in some circumstances, been in playoff football, etc. – he’ll get an opportunity to show improvement.

Did you get the defensive matchups you wanted against Philip Rivers?

In some instances, I didn’t, but that’s life. That’s the chess match that is NFL. Particularly at this portion of the journey, sometimes you have guys available, sometimes you don’t. It was no secret we were without Morgan Burnett and Cam Sutton – two of our core kind of interior sub-package defenders. So, there was going to be some smoke and mirror play, if you will, and there was. But when you’re playing a guy like Philip Rivers who has big time autonomy at the line of scrimmage, sometimes you run out of smoke, and we did.

Re: Linebackers matching up with Keenan Allen at times:

Like I mentioned, we ran out of smoke.

Aside from the officiating, did the offense make enough adjustments in the second half to be successful?

I wasn’t concerned with anything schematically or things that needed to be done from an adjustment standpoint to be quite honest with you. It was about our execution or lack thereof. There wasn’t a schematic, a major schematic adjustment. I thought we were capable of moving the ball fluidly. I thought we did, except for when we hurt our own causes through the penalties and so forth.

Is Trey an option at punt return as well?

We’ll see. We’ve got some work ahead of us this week, particularly with the division of labor and our use of running backs and so forth.

With Justin Hunter going down, could there be a possibility of Eli Rogers returning?

A possibility. Did he Tweet anything? No? But it’s also an opportunity for things to boomerang back around for James Washington, and I’m kind of excited about that to be quite honest with you. Such as life in this game at that level. Sometimes you get knocked down. You’ve got to get in the lab and work. Oftentimes that’s done in obscurity, if you will, and you wait for your opportunity to get back on and to ride again and show what you’re capable of. Not a lot of time on the shelf for James [Washington], and so it’s going to be exciting to watch him get back on this week and take advantage of someone else’s misfortune and be a positive contributor to our efforts. I’m excited about the potential inclusion of him again as well.

How much can generating turnovers actively be worked towards and how much is just sort of patience and preparedness?

We’re in the process of working on it. It’s done in a lot of ways. A lot of it is done by creating environments, putting the quarterback under duress and so forth. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been disappointed in the lack of turnovers, because the quarterback largely has been under duress in the games we’ve played. We’ve gotten after the quarterback. Our sack total is kind of a reflection of that. We’ve got to be more opportunistic. We’ve got to preach it, we’ve got to work it. The guys have got to deliver. We’re definitely not going to sit on our hands and wait patiently for it to occur. We’re going to actively seek it, which is what we’re doing.

When you look at the guys who’ve been the best at getting the interceptions, the ballhawks, what characteristics do they share?

You mentioned it. They’re ballhawks.

A couple years ago we talked to you about trying to get down to two outside linebackers who are out there the majority of the time. There was more of a rotation last Sunday. Why is that?

Because they’re capable. We’re going to play guys who prove to be varsity capable. Anthony Chickillo, this is not his first rodeo with us. This guy has played a lot of football with us, started some games when the others have missed and so forth. The guys who are capable components for us are going to play. It’s as simple as that.

Was having L.J. Fort in for Jon Bostic at times some of the smoke you were talking about?

[L.J.] Fort has played some sub-package ball for us, so that’s been a component of play. The amount that Fort played probably had to do with the lack of Morgan Burnett and Cam Sutton and less about he and [Jon] Bostic.

What are the challenges of going to play on the West Coast?

I’m sure there are some, not any that I’m willing to acknowledge or at least acknowledge from a logistical standpoint. We’ve got a game to go play. They’ve played East Coast games. It’s life in our League. Historically, some of the things that you mentioned, we just spent a lot of time talking about history. My concern is this group this week in preparation for the group that they employ, so that’s my focus. I acknowledge the history that you speak of, but it’s not a major component of logistical preparation and things of that nature for us as we get ready for this game. It’s just not.

Anything difficult about playing in Oakland in particular?

Not from my perspective, no.

When West Coast teams travel east they often fly on Friday. Will you go on Friday?

We will not.

Is there any particular reason why it makes more sense to go on Saturday?

Well, yeah. West Coast teams lose time going and we gain time going. I hate to be that simplistic, but you asked me so I answered.

If Kameron Canaday couldn’t have gone back out there, who was the backup long snapper?

We had a plan. I’ll hold onto those cards.

Are you happy with your run to pass ratio? Will that be effective without having James Conner?

I’m not concerned about it. Like I’ve often said in here, we’re going to be thoughtful in what we choose to do. We better be able to do all things well. Sometimes we’re going to be run heavy, sometimes we’re going to be pass heavy. At the end of the day, we better be a group capable of attacking in both and provide that type of a balance if you can call it balance. I’m comfortable that we’re still working in that trajectory.

Would you like to see replay expanded so they could look at more plays?

It depends on when you ask me. Largely, no, because I understand that we’re in a sports entertainment business and I understand time is an element of this and the expansion of replay is not an entertaining element of viewing a football game. So, it’s always that component of it.

How about if you just kept a number of challenges, but you can look at more things?

We can get into a bunch of hypotheticals, but I’m going to choose to not join you in that regard.

Has your organization received any calls from the League about any of the activities from Sunday Night?

I’m not outlining that. I know oftentimes you do, and in an effort to seek comfort, but we’re not seeking comfort. We’re going to dwell in this misery that we’re in and get ready for this next opportunity. If we have any communication with those guys regarding what happened in that stadium, it will remain between us and them.

The down judge in your game had already been subbed out this year. He had somebody else come in for him. How do you feel about that process in general?

Not my bag. I’ve got enough issues working with this group. That’s between Al [Riveron] and company in New York, and I’m sure they’re addressing it in some form of fashion.

This is the one-year anniversary of when Ryan Shazier got injured last year. What does it mean to see him walking around and being involved with the team the way that he is?

Ryan [Shazier] is a special guy. I don’t know if I can give what we witnessed just due by talking about it. I think to be around him every day, to witness it, is a special thing. He’s a special guy. He inspires us, he continues to inspire us, and I just appreciate that he allows us to be as close as we are to his journey. His journey is on-going, so we’re going to continue to support him and continue to learn from him.

Re: Mental preparation:

We addressed this briefly yesterday, and really, it’s a short conversation but a necessary one. Based on our positioning, there’s no need to look around. We’ve got a game to play this weekend. We need to be singularly, professionally focused on that opportunity. We win that game, there’s no need for us to look around. So that’s where we are. We understand what time of year it is. We understand all of those components. We also understand where we are, and where we are dictates that we need to be singularly focused on this opportunity and really nothing else. All the rest is just chitchat.

What does it take for a team to peak in December?

Winning games and playing winning football. It doesn’t necessarily mean perfect football, but you’ve got to do enough to get out of stadiums. That’s our charge this week. We’ve got to do enough to get out of the stadium, and we understand that.

Transcript provided by the Pittsburgh Steelers.





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