Coach Mike Tomlin takes a look at today’s opponent – the Baltimore Ravens:
Q. Is being one of the teams to play on Thanksgiving Day, a holiday synonymous with football, special to you in any way?
A. It is for me. It’s very much a part of the holiday for me. Growing up as a child I remember some of the interesting and great moments I had around family and friends, and football was a part of it. It really was. To be able to do that, and to provide that for other people who love the game is something that’s humbling and an honor.
Q. The tandem of Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs have combined for 18.5 sacks so far this season. What tactics do each of them use to get to the quarterback so regularly?
A. Elvis is a guy who is very quick but surprisingly powerful. He stutter-bulls most opponents, and he’s got built-in leverage. People look at lack of height as a negative in football, but really in regards to rushing the passer a guy like Elvis can get up and under tackles and is capable of driving them back. Suggs is a guy who can have it whatever way he wants to have it. He’s got a unique blend of power and speed and experience. The both do a nice job of mixing up their techniques. One of the biggest problems they provide for tackles is that each tackle has to prepare for both of them. The manner in which the Ravens thoughtfully flip them, particularly in obvious passing situations, there’s no way around it. Both tackles have to be duly prepared to block both guys.
Q. The Ravens lost some high-profile defensive players during the offseason, and yet in late November their defense is ranked in the top 10 in most statistical categories. How have they sustained that level of performance?
A. It starts with that tandem we were just talking about, plus a guy inside by the name of Haloti Ngata. They lost Ray Lewis, and we all know what Ray Lewis meant to them and to the game of football, but they have a savvy, veteran player in the middle of that defense by the name of Daryl Smith, who has been doing it for a long time. It’s not his first rodeo. Of course, they still have really good, solid corner play. They have Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb, who have been back there for a number of years. The safety guys are new, but they’re young and talented. That young man out of Florida – Matt Elam – we looked at him prior to the draft and had a great deal of respect for his talent and also for his smarts and his will to be great.
Q. Smith was one of the guys who came to the Ravens during the offseason to replace what was lost. Is he being deployed the same way the Ravens used to deploy Ray Lewis?
A. Exactly the same way. He’s required to do a lot of things – make adjustments, communicate with people, defend the pass, infuse himself in the blitz game. He’s doing a nice job of being the man in the middle for them.
Q. In preparing for the Ravens offense, does it start with Ray Rice or Joe Flacco?
A. It starts with Ray Rice, because he has ways of beating you both in the running game and the passing game. Let’s face it, he’s an integral part of both. He’s their featured back and their No. 2 receiver in terms of catches. But if you think situationally – there was an instance last season when the Ravens were on a Super Bowl run, they were on the road and facing a fourth-and-29; Flacco throws a check-down to Ray Rice and he runs for the first down and the Ravens win the football game. That just speaks to who and what Ray Rice is to them.
Q. Do you have any theories as to why games between the Steelers and the Ravens usually end up being decided by three points?
A. I don’t know, as long as we’re on the right side of the three points (laughs). It is what it is. Familiarity. Similar teams in terms of our intentions. Close proximity. History. You name it. I’m just excited to be a part of it. I think it brings out the best in all of us. But again, I like it when we win.
Q. Tandon Doss has returned a punt for a touchdown this season, and Jacoby Jones is known for being a dangerous kickoff return man. What’s the scouting report on how each of them get it done?
A. Very differently. Tandon is a slasher guy, a north-and-south type. Jacoby won’t hesitate to run laterally on you and work to get the ball to the field. We have to be sharp and understand who is back there and their mode of operation. But more than anything we have to be sharp with our ball placement so that we’re not covering 53-and-a-third yards, that we’re covering portions of the field based on an intended direction of the ball. And we have to be good in that area, not only from a kicking standpoint but also from a coverage standpoint.
Q. The Steelers come to Baltimore as a team that now has stacked three straight wins. What kinds of things does a team have to be doing consistently to stack wins in the NFL?
A. Detail of assignments creates opportunity, and it also puts you in position to take advantage of opportunities that are presented, and I think that’s what we’re doing in all three phases. We’re a team on the rise because of the growth and development in our technical execution of our assignment football.
Q. Against Detroit and Cleveland, Ben was sacked just once in those two games. Is there any correlation between using the no-huddle and the quarterback being kept clean?
A. There probably is. I think there’s a bigger correlation in terms f keeping him clean in that we’re not behind in football games, that we’re not having to be one-dimensional. Some of the things that are associated with being behind, particularly by multiple scores, you have a better chance of keeping the quarterback clean if you don’t fall into some of those things, particularly as we did early in the football season.
Q. Provided that the score allows it, is there a specific number of times you believe the offense needs to attempt running plays?
A. It depends on the matchup or the circumstances. There is very little risk and a lot of reward with being able to run the football successfully. That’s one of the things that makes it an axiom of football, one of the things that’s unchanging regardless of circumstance. Teams that are capable of running the football got a chance to be a good team because it is low risk with potentially high reward if you can do it consistently.
Q. If an offense is one that is known to attempt to run the football and not give up on the run, how does that influence how the opposing defense goes about its job?
A. I don’t know if it has any effect on the defense if the offense just has a reputation for not giving up on the run. I think it’s more closely related to the result. If you’re capable of winning games by attrition and wearing people down that affects how defenses play against you.
Q. The weather is the weather for both teams, and that’s understood. But do you believe that weather conditions ever become a factor in a game that must be dealt with, like, for example, crowd noise?
A. Certainly. It affects the decisions you have to make, and probably more so than something such as crowd noise. You’d be shocked at how many instances where weather conditions and windage affect the decisions that you have to make when it’s inclement.
Q. Another thing that’s the same for both teams is that this is a short week. What goes into how you decide to budget the time that’s available in order to get the most from the preparation process?
A. The biggest element of it is that you learn what you really believe in and what’s luxury from a play selection standpoint, from a mode of operations standpoint, staff meetings, practice time, meeting times. When you’re pressed with time constraints, it really makes you prioritize the things that you do. It’s really a cleansing for me, if you will. Having to prioritize things in order of importance is a continual reminder of what our core values and beliefs are.
Q. Keys for the Steelers tonight?
A. That we do what’s required. We understand this thing probably is going to be decided in the waning moments and we have to deliver the critical plays, and between the start of the game and those critical plays we can’t absorb too much damage. And we have to dish out a little damage of our own.