Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why even Steelers fans love Mike McCarthy

This past Monday Mike McCarthy met with the media and had this to say about his home town (emphasis added):

"Pittsburgh is obviously a big part of who I am. And my family's still back there. This is going to be a very unique experience for everybody. Half my coaching staff has either played in Pittsburgh or is from Pittsburgh. So there will be a lot of storylines from that perspective."

"But one thing we talked about as a coaching staff, and will continue to talk about as a football team, you know we're not preparing for Super Bowl [XLV]. We're preparing to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in a football game and that's what we need to stay focused on."

"They're an excellent football team. Obviously. They've had a lot of success. They're a veteran team and an experienced team. This is not their first go‑around. They’ve definitely been through this experience before where we have not."

"And we understand that. But we're going to stick to our approach. And that's the way we're going to face it. And I think the fact that I'm from back there, it's neat. I'm a Pittsburgh Steeler fan growing up. They're my second favorite team."

"I thought it was awesome to have Terry Bradshaw present the Halas Trophy in the locker room. Personally I got a charge out of that. Terry was obviously the quarterback in my youth during the '70s when they won the four Super Bowls. But trust me I'm a Green Bay Packer and it's important for us to bring the Lombardi Trophy back home."

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Super Bowl week: Media schedule

For those interested in such things the National Football League has released the schedule of media events for Super Bowl XLV. Here are some of the highlights:

Monday, January 31
11:30AM: Steelers charter flight arrives in Dallas.
1:30PM: Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger, and "4-6 players" meet the media at the Omni Fort Worth.

3:30PM: Packers charter flight arrives in Dallas.
5:15PM" Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers and "4-6 players" meet the media at the Omni Mandalay at Las Colinas.

Tuesday, February 1: Media Day
10AM-11:00AM: Packers
12:00PM-1:00PM: Steelers

Wednesday, February 2
8:00AM-9:15AM: Coach Mike McCarthy, all assistant coaches, and all players available.

11:00AM-12:15PM: Coach Mike Tomlin, all assistant coaches, and all players available.

Thursday, February 3
8:00AM-9:15AM: Coach Mike McCarthy, all assistant coaches, and all players available.

11:00AM-12:15PM: Coach Mike Tomlin, all assistant coaches, and all players available.

Friday, February 4
8:30AM: Mike McCarthy
9:30AM: Mike Tomlin

Monday, February 7
8:30AM: Winning team's coach and Super Bowl MVP.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ben meets the press

The week leading up to the conference championship games must be designed as training sessions for the Super Bowl. Suddenly players and coaches are meeting with the assembled press every day!

Here, through the auspices of the National Football League, is the transcript for Ben Roethlisberger's conference call.




January 20, 2011

Q: On benefits of postseason experience entering this weekend’s AFC Championship Game:

BR: It helps with being familiar with the atmosphere, the intensity of the game and knowing every play matters, every play counts and every mistake is magnified. Being here and having done this before, you don’t really get surprised with how big the game is.

Q: On his confidence in Steelers WRs Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace:

BR: Those guys have done such a great job – speaking of Mike (Wallace) first – of really growing from last year to this year. Obviously, everyone talks about how fast he is. (Steelers head) Coach (Mike) Tomlin teases him and calls him a one-trick pony, but he has done a great job of being able to do more than just run fast down the field. He kind of takes pride in putting the extra work in to being a better all-around wide receiver. He is still growing. The sky is the limit for him. As for Emmanuel (Sanders) and Antonio (Brown), those guys both put in a lot of work and time because they know they have got to live up to the expectations of Mike Wallace and (Steelers WR) Hines Ward who has been here forever. It is really an awesome thing to see those guys work and really just blossom and grow every week.

Q: On recent success of road playoff teams:

BR: When you’ve got a veteran team, I think that really helps – a team that kind of has been down the road. It is not their first playoff run or they just have a lot of experience. You’re seeing that now with the Jets. They’ve obviously got a really good team and a veteran group. You kind of lean on those guys to get you through it. You take this ‘it’s us against the world’ (mentality) but it’s really you against the other team and the other fans and the hostile environment you play in. That’s probably the approach that those guys take because I know it is one that we took.

Q: On Steelers WRs Ward and Antwaan Randle El influencing the position group:

BR: Especially Hines, he has been doing this at a really high level for a long time. He is one of the best receivers I have ever played with. He takes those guys under his wings and teaches them the little things that he can help them with. The thing about Hines is the football style and some of the things that he does you can’t teach. You are born with it. He has that ‘it’ factor. As much as he can, he helps those guys out. It has been huge for those guys to have him and now Antwaan back helping out.

Q: On the Jets defensive success in the playoffs:

BR: Literally everything from their coverages to their blitzes to rushing two guys and getting sacks, it is truly amazing. I’ve said that. They can go into Indianapolis and beat (QB) Peyton Manning and go to New England and beat (QB) Tom Brady, who are the two best quarterbacks in the game in my opinion, I don’t know how I have a chance. I’m just going to have to try and get lucky and play the best I can.

Q: On his attitude toward reaching the AFC Championship game after missing games to begin the season:

BR: The great thing is that was so long ago I forgot all about it. Right now it is not about living in the past for me; it is about here and now and this game. We can’t really afford to look back and focus on the past. We have to do what we’ve got to do now, and that’s trying to win this game against a really good team.

Q: On the Steelers’ defensive performance enhancing the offense:

BR: It’s great. As a quarterback, when you have a defense like we have, it gives you some confidence that if you make a mistake or don’t score every time your defense is going to be there to back you up most of the time. I enjoy watching those guys play. I’m glad they are on my side.

Q: On if his competitiveness drives him to challenge Jets CB Darrelle Revis:

BR: It’s tough. You’re right. As a competitor, you don’t want to ever say you are scared of anybody or you don’t want to go after someone but you’ve got to use your head. Being a competitor is being smart as well. Knowing how good he is and with all those other guys they have over there, you can’t just be like, ‘Forget that, I’m a competitor. I’m going after him. I don’t care what happens.’ You have got to be able to use your head and know when to attack and when not to.

Q: On knowledge acquired since playing in the 2005 postseason:

BR: How much the intensity and how much faster – I remember from people telling me from the preseason to the regular season the speed changes. It kind of picks up and intensifies a little bit, and it did. Then you talk about how much it changes once you get into the playoffs from the regular season. Every week in the playoffs, it picks up a little bit more. I don’t think I realized that at first. Even when people tried to tell me, it really didn’t hit me. Now I see that and that’s why I try and pass that on to the younger guys. Every week your mistakes are magnified. There is no more ‘my bad, I’ll get it next time’ because there is not going to be one.

Q: On interest in playing a postseason game in London:

BR: That’s a long flight, I’ve heard. I’ve talked to some of the guys who have played over there. They say it is one of the most awesome things that they have gotten to do. If you didn’t have to travel all that time with the long flight, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I think it would be fun to go play in Ireland where Ambassador (Art) Rooney is. That would be kind of fun.

Q: On his growth as a player and person since last season:

BR: When it comes to play, the more you play in this league the more you mature, the better you get and the more things slow down for you. I just try and go out every week and every day and get a little bit better and help my team win football games. When it comes to being a person, I just try to be the person my parents raised me to be.

Q: On a formula for postseason success:

BR: Try not to make mistakes and score more points than the other team does (laughter).

Q: On competing with other quarterbacks for Super Bowl victories:

BR: I’m not going for my third Super Bowl. I’m trying to get an AFC Championship win here. That’s what is first and foremost in my mind. In the offseason, of course, you think about those things – how many Super Bowls you have compared to other people. Right now, that’s not in my mentality and my mind frame to think about where I am on the Super Bowl list because I’m not playing in the Super Bowl this week. This week is about playing this Jets defense, which may be one of the best we have ever played.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mike Tomlin's Press Conference

Most of the details have been reported vis-a-vis Mike Tomlin's press conference on Tuesday. But for those who like their "news" unmediated, here is the official transcript as provided by the National Football League.

Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin

Press Conference

January 18, 2011

Coach Tomlin: Good afternoon. We are excited to be here at this point this week, the week of the AFC Championship game. That was one of the points I made to our football team. Oftentimes when you get to this leg of the journey you say that you are into the AFC Championship. I wanted to make that point clear to our team yesterday. I told them that the game was Sunday at 6:30 p.m. This is the week of the game for us. We need to take an opportunity to make really good use of this time, this preparation time and prepare ourselves for what is going to be an exciting football game versus the Jets. If you look at the Jets, it’s really nothing short of remarkable what they have done to get to this point. They went to Indianapolis and beat those guys; they went to New England and beat those guys. They deserve to be here as do we. We are familiar with them. They have been in Heinz Field recently and whacked us, and beat us at our place. We are going to have to play better than how we did last time. The major components of their personality are still very similar to what it was several weeks ago. Much like we are. If you look at these guys offensively, they have a two-headed running back attack with LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. They complement one another very well. They utilize both guys. I think I heard it said under ideal conditions that Coach Ryan would like to see both guys get 20 totes. I know that’s been their personality since they have been there. They led the league in rushing a year ago. I am sure they were pretty high in that category as well this year. Mark Sanchez is a growing, developing franchise quarterback. He has some nice weapons. He utilizes them all, really. Braylon Edwards is playing really well. It kind of takes me back to the year that he had with Derek Anderson I think maybe my first year in the AFC North. He was a Pro Bowler. He made about every difficult catch that came his way. He was a big guy. He played to his personality. He made plays down the field. He is doing the same thing for the New York Jets this year. Santonio is Santonio. He is a great red-zone threat. He has great hands. He is extremely difficult after the catch because of his vision and broken-field running ability. Dustin Keller is a difficult matchup. Jericho Cotchery, I have spent a lot of time over the past 24-to-48 hours or so looking at him and what he brings to them. He played a pivotal role in securing the victory last week in the divisional round for them. He is a top-quality football player and very in depth at working in the slot. Their line, they have top-quality guys up front in first-rounders D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. He is the standard in terms of center play in football. Defensively a myriad of looks, a bunch of people, boy they suited 11 defensive backs last week versus the New England Patriots. And they probably used just about all of them. But that is a signature of Coach Ryan’s football. Different personnel groups, they are capable of blitzing you, capable of dropping eight or nine into coverage, and you are going to see just about all of that and everything in between from these guys. I thought Shaun Ellis played great last week for them. He provided a big spark, but they had quality play from a lot of people. I think it starts inside and up front with them. Bart Scott and David Harris are two top-quality turnaround linebackers. They are nine-on-seven kind of guys. They are going to turn your ball carrier around, and both of them are pretty good in coverage as well. Running games, adding to the pressure that they provide on quarterbacks, they are two very well-rounded players. Of course the play of their corners in Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie allow many of these things to happen. They are capable of locking down a football field, both men. Both men are considered some of the best of what they do. Needless to say yards, first downs, points and those things are going to be tough to come by. That would probably be the case once you get to this leg of the journey. It doesn’t matter who you are playing. We are excited about it. We are not so excited about it that we are going to miss an opportunity to prepare ourselves. We are going to do that. It started yesterday. It will continue today as the week goes on. From an injury standpoint we are in great shape [Laughs]. Jonathan Scott is going to be all right. Will Allen has a knee sprain. He is probably going to be limited at the early portions of the week. We will see where that takes us. Bryant McFadden has an abdominal strain. He is going to be limited as well. We will limit Troy Polamalu like we always do. If we are going to err we are going to err on the side of caution. We will make sure that Troy is at Heinz Field Sunday at 6:00 p.m. Flozell Adams is doing better with his illness. Aaron Smith is going to practice this week. We will see where that practice participation takes us.

Q: Re: Santonio Holmes using his knowledge of your defense:

MT: I do think that is credible, and I imagine that he used his knowledge last time. I don’t think this time will be any different.

Q: Was Aaron Smith close to playing last week?

MT: He was listed as doubtful.

Q: Re: Jets’ commitment to running the ball:

MT: That’s what I was kind of referring to earlier when I talked about ideally I saw Coach Ryan said he would like to see both guys get 20 touches. You do the math and that’s 40 touches. That is running the football. That is their personality. They like to run the football. They are very good at smashing the run and stopping the run. That’s probably his mindset and how he approaches the game of football. And that is a philosophy that I have an appreciation for.

Q: What do you have to do on special teams this game opposed to the last game?

MT: We need to stop Brad Smith from going 97 yards. That would be a good start. They are a very good group. It doesn’t matter whether Brad Smith is back there or Cromartie is back there. You saw what he did to Indianapolis at a critical time. He is a very capable and dangerous return man. But they have a team of potentially capable return men. Whether you are talking about Smith, Cromartie, Cotchery or Joe McKnight, that’s kind of been the signature of Coach Westhoff’s units since I have been in the league, this guy is going to have several options from a return-game standpoint. They are a good group. We have to play better than we did last time.

Q: Re: Revis on receivers:

MT: I don’t know who they are going to put him on. I would imagine they are going to put him on somebody. And whoever they do put him on is going to have a long day. That is what the tape tells me. His reputation is legitimate. He is a really good football player. We have to be conscious of where he is at all times.

Q: Does Revis always lock down the same side of the field?

MT: It changes. I don’t know how they intend to employ him versus us. I know they put Cromartie on Mike Wallace a lot the last time we played them. We are not going to try to predict their moves, or only they know their moves. We need to prepare to be at our best regardless of who they put on who or how they try to employ their corners.

Q: Re: Hines Ward saying he could have been thrown to more even when Revis was covering him:

MT: I’ve been in the league 10 years. I haven’t been around a receiver who didn’t think he was open.

Q: Will Aaron Smith start if he can play this week?

MT: A snap count is probably going to be a part of that discussion if he is deemed well enough to go. And that’s going to be a limited number of snaps. The guys that have been given the opportunity to replace him, like Ziggy Hood, have more than met the standard. They deserve to continue to play. But it would be nice to add that tool to the toolbox if we have the opportunity to do so on Sunday.

Q: Was that Ziggy Hood’s best game last Saturday?

MT: Hopefully his best game lies ahead. It was a good game.

Q: Re: Polamalu not playing the last game versus the Jets:

MT: We are not going to use his presence or lack of presence as an excuse for anything. We have one standard, and that standard is winning. The last time we played the Jets they beat us.

Q: Have you seen changes in the Jets in re: to execution?

MT: They’re executing at an extremely high level. They’re a big volume team, they have a unique menu. The range of things that you could see from them defensively is great. They can all-out (blitz), they can bring a myriad of people. They can play coverage. That is and has been their personality even dating back to when Coach Ryan was in Baltimore. So it was an execution-oriented performance, and to say anything other than the fact that they executed at a high level would be to discredit their performance.

Q: Re: When Flozell Adams tried to go back in the game when Jonathan Scott got hurt:

MT: That was an ugly seen [sic], wasn’t it? But a beautiful one at the same time. We appreciate Flozell. We appreciate his intentions. His intentions are very pure. This guy wants to win. He wants to be a part of a winner. He’s put his hand in the pile and been a great contributor to our journey thus far, and we look forward to continuing that this weekend.

Q: When the Jets won in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, was there anything they did tricky or unexpected, or was there an X-factor?

MT: They beat us.

Q: Has he seen the Jets defense play more coverage and less blitzing the past couple of weeks?

MT: Yes they have, but they’re just balancing out the self-scout I would imagine. They’re capable of locking you down and playing man to man. I’m sure that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were well aware of that. I’m sure they had a great plan for that and their pressure, and I’m sure that the Jets chose to play more coverage in response to that. I think the prudent approach is to understand and anticipate that this team is capable of providing a wide variety of attacks for you, and chances are you’re going to see a little bit of everything and probably more of what works. So we’re going to try to do a diligent job of preparing ourselves for all of the things that they’re capable of with an understanding that the variance could be pretty big.

Q: Because the Steelers have a quarterback that has the ability to get out of the pocket, does it make it harder to hold them down?

MT: I don’t have the answer to that. That’s a question for those guys.

Q: On the 4th-down sneak being Ben Roethlisberger’s call, is that right? And if so, what is he looking for?

MT: Yes. A first down. And if he doesn’t, he better get it like he did.

Q: What did you think of Mark Sanchez the first time he saw him and what do you think of him now?

MT: He’s an AFC Champion-caliber quarterback.

Q: On Rex Ryan saying how Tomlin is one of his favorite coaches. Is that mutual?

MT: It is. I love Rex. Rex has a lot of fun with you guys, but when you see past all of those things, this is a great football coach. He has the pulse of his football team. He does a great job of motivating them, is very sound schematically in all three phases, and his glass is always half full. I appreciate that.

Q: Re: The styles of the two head coaches, and if you can say too much as a head coach?

MT: I tell you, our styles are probably more similar than you would imagine. Rex just has more fun with you guys.

Q: What does it mean to be a Steeler?

MT: Win.

Q: Is Rex Ryan good for the NFL?

MT: I think he’s great for the Jets, and I think that’s all he’s concerned about being great for. He’s got them in the AFC Championship Game. I’m sure he’s not concerned about the National Football League.

Q: How important is it to get to Mark Sanchez after having one sack for no yards last time?

MT: Rushing the quarterback is always an important element of the game, but it’s also something that we don’t have a great deal of control of. The play callers’ play selection has a certain level of control over the amount of opportunities that you have to get to him. So I’m not going to act like that is the lynchpin to this football game. If they’re throwing the ball a bunch, if he’s dropping back and throwing the ball vertically down the field, we better be getting to him. If he’s not, then it’s less of an issue.

Q: Did Mark Sanchez get rid of the ball faster to avoid the rush?

MT: No, I think it was Coach (Brian) Schottenheimer more than anything else. He moved the pocket, he booted him, he had some quick game, and then he took his shots or spots when he was throwing the ball vertically. But it’s not anything special that he did in response to playing the Pittsburgh Steeler defense. It’s what they quite frankly do every weekend. It’s what they did in New England, it’s what they did in Indy.

Q: What did the home field mean on Saturday and what will it be like on Sunday?

MT: That had to be a legendary game. I haven’t seen many of those at Heinz Field personally, but that was an instant classic as far as I’m concerned. We anticipate it being a similar environment this weekend, and we’re going to need that support from our fans.

Q: Re: The final offensive drive against the Jets in December.

MT: It was our offense executing. Ben is not the lone ranger. Ten other guys in the huddle and guys protected, guys got open and gave us an opportunity to make some throws into the end zone at the end of regulation with a chance to win it. They made the plays, we didn’t, so we went home a loser.

Q: Can you talk about your rookies and how they have done?

MT: They’re doing okay.

Q: Are you surprised by the rookies?

MT: No.

Q: Re: The importance of seizing momentum early and the Jets not being able to as of late.

MT: Neither have we to be quite honest with you. The great thing about football, and particularly playoff football, is you guys can do all you want to try to write the script of how this game could potentially unfold all week. The reality is that nobody knows. That’s why it’s going to be awesome to be in the stadium at 6:30 on Sunday. Probably a week ago no one anticipated our score being 31-24 against the Ravens, but it was. That’s why we play the game and that’s why we’re excited about the opportunity that we have in front of us.

Q: Does the team’s mentality change if you are home or away in a big game like this?

MT: I don’t think that it changes your mentality in terms of your approach to the game or what it is you need to do to play well. I think when you’re at home you appreciate the fact that you’re at home, sleeping in your own bed if that’s an option, driving to the stadium, being home 20 minutes or so after you walk out of the stadium. Those are things that I enjoy about being at home. We enjoy the support of our crowd, but in terms of what goes on inside the white lines, the team that makes the critical plays at the critical moments is going to win. Home or away is a factor, it’s not the ultimate or deciding factor. I think the Jets have proven that emphatically over the last several weeks. We appreciate being at home. If given the choice we’d rather play at Heinz Field in front of our fans. They are a homefield advantage worthy kind of a crowd whether we are or not. So we’re going to give them what they have coming to them.

Q: Were you happy with the way your offensive line played in the first game against the Jets?

MT: I’m trying to remember. I’ve looked at so much tape this morning. We lost the game. We could have been better of course. I’ve jumped around so much on tape this morning I’m drawing a blank, sorry.

Q: I think the Jets had one sack and the Steelers had 150 rushing yards.

MT: We lost the game.

Q: Have you learned a lot over the past few years since your first playoff game?

MT: If you’re not getting better, I don’t care what business you’re in, you’re a dead man. I try to look critically at the mistakes that I make and try to learn from them, like our team does. I like to think that I am. Of course, the proof is in the pudding.

Q: Will you develop a dislike for each other this week?

MT: That’s sidebar stuff. We’re in the AFC Championship. Likes or dislikes really are irrelevant. I think they’ve been pretty consistent about stating their intentions all year, which is to be world champs. I think we’ve been pretty consistent about stating ours, so you know where that’s going to lead us. That’s two trains on a track.

Q: How have you seen the city embrace the Steelers in the playoffs?

MT: I don’t go anywhere other than here and home, so I don’t know. I hear that it’s pretty wild right now, which is great.

Q: Re: Rex saying how he let up on him one time in Baltimore and that he appreciated it. Did he let up?
MT: Rex is probably playing with you guys.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ryan Clark's complete quote

Some in New York are trying to create a controversy over Ryan Clark's "we have six trophies" comment; but if one looks at the transcript released by the NFL it is clear there is a lot less there than one might believe (emphasis added):

Question: On if he expects a lot of chatter from the Jets’ end this week?

Ryan Clark: I don’t know. I don’t care. They had storylines in the other places. There’s not many good storylines with us. The only storyline we have is six trophies, and we’re trying to get another one, and that’s what we’re working towards.


Trevor Pryce has a man-crush on Ben

Looking for bulletin board material? It is unlikely to be coming from any of the players. Here is what Jets defensive lineman Trevor Pryce had to say about Ben Roethlisberger: "[W]hen I was in Baltimore, my first year Bart [Scott] kind of decapitated him and he came back in the game. And you know what he did? He said, ‘Great hit, Bart.’ He’s not that guy; he’s not going to run his mouth to you, he’s not going to do any of those type of things and he gives respect where respect is due, so you’ve got to respect him for what he is and what he’s accomplished."

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Here's what could kill the Steelers

It is tremendous to see the Steelers playing in yet another AFC Championship game; and their chances of winning are very good. However, their loss earlier in the season to the Jets (at Heinz Field) can be tied to one, immutable fact: Steelers special teams units are dreadful.

The New York Times has come up with a spiffy series of charts to show just how good the Jets special teams have been this season; and if the Steelers don't step up their game it could be a long evening at Heinz Field on Sunday.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

The spiritual Troy

Karen Crouse of the New York Times offers up a terrific article this morning on Troy Polamalu, and the spirituality that is so at odds with the violence of his profession; and I love this quote from James Harrison: At times when we need a little guidance, he’s the guy we go to . . . Troy’s a lot deeper than a lot of people who actually preach the word."

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