Nobody needs to walk around the Steelers’ locker room and tell the players how important this Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals is.
“Everyone knows what is on the line,” said linebacker LaMarr Woodley. “We put ourselves in a situation where we still are in control of what happens. We just have to go out there now and win football games.”
There are no pep talks required, no reminders of where the Steelers are in the standings.
Every player gets it. They understand what this game means.
“Right now it’s do or die and we want to make it to the playoffs so everybody is locked in and focused on the task at hand and has to play with a great sense of urgency,” said safety Will Allen. “It’s important for the organization and for every individual in the building because we have high expectations.
“I am excited about the opportunity. I think we all should be. We should be excited about being in this type of environment. That is what football is all about, being in the hunt and we are here.”
In order to remain in the playoff hunt, the Steelers have to defeat the Bengals. It won’t guarantee them a playoff spot, but winning is a must.
“The next two games are like playoff games, but if we don’t win this one the next one won’t be a playoff game,” said linebacker Larry Foote. “If we lose we aren’t going to get where we want to be.
“Everyone knows it, especially the older guys. The younger guys have followed suit through the course of the season and they know how much this game means.”
The Steelers enter the game with a 7-7 record and if the season ended today would not make the playoffs. But a win this week and next, and the Baltimore Ravens losing their next two games, they actually could still have a shot at winning the AFC North.
“Everybody is focused,” said Allen. “We are focused on the details, game plan and that will help us going into Sunday’s game.
“It’s going to be a hard fought game. They are a fiery, young team.”
When players talk about bringing their “A” game, there is no time like the present to do that. It’s going to take mistake free football and stopping the Bengals from making big plays, to get the job done.
“We are giving up the big plays. That is number one,” said Woodley. “Plus we have to create more turnovers and try to put our offense in better field position to allow them to put points on the board.
“Our big play guys just have to step up. I have to step up. I haven’t been getting any sacks lately, no big plays, so I have to start doing something.”
Foote also agrees that it’s time for everyone to make a play, whether you are a Pro Bowler or a rookie, the time is now.
“This is one of those games that the big name guys, the guys who you see their jerseys throughout the stadium, they make big plays in these kind of games,” said Foote. “This also can be an open opportunity for guys who are not in that class to do the same.”
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Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley
Are you and Ben Roethlisberger on the same page?
Yeah, we’ve been on the same page. Our focus this week is on the Cincinnati Bengals. Like Coach Tomlin said, we are basically in our playoffs right now. It’s win and stay alive, and that’s where the focus is. Ben and I, I’ve felt, have been on the same page throughout the year, as much as a quarterback and coordinator can be. There is going to be ups and downs and frustrations, but it’s never been an issue of being on the same page.
What were your thoughts when you heard what he said after the game?
I didn’t really hear what he said until he came in and said, “Sorry.” It’s an emotional game. When you are out there and you are touching the ball every snap on offense, you are really responsible for how the offense performs, generally speaking. It’s emotional. When you have a game that ended in the manner that the game ended, we were all heartbroken and down. You are going to be emotional. That kind of comes with the territory.
Can conflict be a good thing?
Yeah, you are talking to arguably one of the most confrontational, at least perception wise [Laughs]. I think healthy conflict, discussion banter, is good. It gets you to the right place. It gets everybody on the same page and where you need to be. Like I’ve said a number of times, when I make a call into Ben’s ear in the game, I am putting complete faith in him to make it a good call or the best call it can be. The same for him, when he hears my voice, he has to trust and believe that the play coming in is giving him and us the best chance to succeed. You develop that through these Sunday battles and battles against other teams. That’s where the trust and camaraderie develops. That’s what has occurred. There are going to be ups and downs because there is emotion, and there is a lot at stake, every single week for all of us. We’ve put a lot of time, effort and sacrifice into this. That’s just the way it is. I think a little bit of healthy conflict is a good thing.
Was Heath Miller underutilized last Sunday?
I don’t know. I am focused this week on the Bengals. This is a heck of a defense. We have a lot at stake. What’s in the past is in the past. He had a heck of a game. He needs to have a heck of a game this week. We just need to come out on top. That’s the most important thing.
Re: Ben’s numbers being better this year with you as the offensive coordinator:
What we are about is wins and losses. That is how you are measured. How many wins do you have? Are you in the playoffs? That’s what we are shooting for, to play the game in New Orleans. That is our only goal. That’s the great thing about being here in Pittsburgh. The expectations are truly where we say they are. It’s Super Bowl or bust. That’s the focus, winning more games and then winning the big games you have to win to get in the tournament, then obviously win those games. That’s really the focus. For me, numbers and all that stuff really are not important. It’s important what the final score says at the end of the day. That’s the way it is. That’s my mindset. It’s not to have the highest-rated quarterback, most rushing yards or highest-rated receivers. It is to win games. Right now, we are what we are. The good thing is we are alive and kicking, and there are a lot of teams that aren’t. We have our biggest game of the year this week.
Re: Cincinnati’s defensive line:
They are good. They are active, from Geno Atkins inside, to the long defensive ends they have that they keep throwing in. They are a matchup that is as good as any we’ve seen all year. We know them, we saw them and we are going to see them again. They are playing at an even higher level in my opinion. When you get guys like Wallace Gilberry, who I was with in Kansas City. He’s fighting for some playing time, and then you see him picking up balls and scoring touchdowns. He has five sacks. There aren’t just four of them, there are six, seven and eight of them that rotate in and create havoc. We have to play our best game up front, and handle them in the run and pass.
Re: Differences between now and when you last played them:
I just think they are playing better and playing with confidence, which they were when we saw them last time. It’s an up-and-down season. There are highs and lows, the ebb-and-flow of the weekly grind. They are on a roll right now. You can see it. They are playing with a little swagger. We have to play our best game.
Is this a running game that needs to have 30+ carries to be effective?
If we win and have 30 carries, then I will be happy.
Re: Previous coaching experiences helping your relationship with Ben:
That’s coaching. The great thing is, whether there is media firestorm or not, you need a really good quarterback to win in this league. I think it’s pretty evident. We happen to have an elite quarterback. You are talking about a player that is a really good player at his position, and he is the quarterback. That gives you a chance to win every week. The most important thing is that we are on our game and we understand what we are trying to get done and what we need to get done, and we play our best football. If he is doing that, then we will have a good chance at some success.
But is there anything that you are taking from previous experience?
I didn’t even answer your question did I? I think it’s just coaching and the coaching experience with each and every one of these guys is complete and different for each individual person. They respond to different things. If you coach everybody the same way, you are only going to coach half the team. You have to coach each player the way you feel like you can get the most out of them. I think that’s what separates good coaches from not so good coaches. I’d like to think I’ve had some good mentors in my time that have helped develop me, and through time and experience, you make progress and learn from your mistakes. You learn what gets you the most each game.
Are you surprised at this point in the season that there was even anything brought up about the offense since there are only two games left?
Like I said, that was an emotional game. Whatever was said can’t be taken too much to the heart, because that’s the way this game is. Guys will get into it in the locker room, the building and on the practice field. It’s kind of the mindset you get into when you are getting ready to compete and getting ready to coach big games. There is emotion involved. I wouldn’t really pay much attention to anything that I see that was said in an emotional state of mind.
Did you see more of a sense of urgency today?
I think we as coaches, when we talked back in training camp, training camp is one mindset. You see the tempo that you are going to see in preseason games. Then you have the regular season games. Then you have playoff-type games. This is that type of atmosphere. That’s what it feels like. I thought yesterday was a good day and today was a real good day. You can tell these guys are trying to get ready to play the biggest game of the year.
Re: Rashard Mendenhall’s status this game:
That will ultimately be Coach Tomlin’s decision. He is out here. That’s what I am excited about. He is practicing and getting himself ready to go. That gives us one more hand in the pile, to give us a chance to play our best game.
Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau
Is there anything different Bengals QB Andy Dalton is doing?
Not really. He hasn’t changed from his first year. He threw the ball quickly and made some good decisions. He’s got a lot of really good offensive people around him. He does a very good job of managing the game. He’s a more veteran quarterback, and it’s harder to confuse him. It’s what you expect in a young and talented quarterback. He’s going to just get better.
Does CB Keenan Lewis need to have a good game against WR A.J. Green to take him to the next level?
We’re looking for our cornerbacks to play well every week. For Keenan, it’s a natural growth process. He’s taken Ike Taylor’s role in matching their best, and the better he plays the better chance our defense will have to keep them lower on the scoreboard. I wouldn’t put everything on Keenan as to how we play. He’s got to play well but so do the other 10 people out there.
Is the short passing attack that teams use against you limiting your chances of getting turnovers?
You can talk about a lot of statistics. I think leading the league in yardage yielded, that’s an important one. That’s the one I would choose to talk about. Also, the points yielded. Whatever they’re doing, however they’re trying to move the ball, we’re up there and have been in the top-10 in points yielded. Not quite what we have been in the past, I think it was a different year. There are plenty of areas that we need to do better in. But when I’m conducting the interview, I’m going to talk about the good things. There are a lot of good things to talk about, too. Do we need more interceptions? Sure, we need more turnovers. I’ll leave that up to you guys as to why it’s not happening. We’re just trying to, every week, keep our football team in the game, and keep that score in a manageable position. That’s our goal every week.
Are there some games where it’s more important to get the quarterback on the ground, or is just consistently pressuring them good enough?
It’s important to get the guy on the ground every game. People know that we are a pressure defense, and the league has gone to a very quick release passing game. They don’t hold the ball very much. I have said this many times. If you look at the passing numbers that we have, there’s got to be pressure on the quarterback. You’re not going to put those types of numbers up. Each week is a different week. If you’ve done something for 10 weeks or four weeks or whatever, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s what you do this week. Our pressure has been consistent. Do we need more sacks? Absolutely, but let’s face it, passing yardage allowed is a team statistic. You’re not going to get that without good coverage and pressure. There are plenty of negatives. But that is definitely a positive.
Re: S Robert Golden:
He caught our eye because he was a free agent football player and made the football team, and he has played a significant amount of time, most of it last week and on special teams. I thought he did a good job of going in there and actually playing a corner position. Robert is a safety who can play corner, and that’s one of the things we value in him. I think Coach Tomlin’s judgment was definitely reinforced in that game, and he gave us great depth, particularly at the end of the game when we had a couple of other defensive backs go out. It’s good to have a guy who can play both positions like Robert. I’m looking forward to his growth.
Can S Will Allen play nickel?
He can play nickel, and we have considered it. He, again, gives you good depth.
If you had to come up with a plan to slow down TE Heath Miller, what would you focus on?
He’s a wonderful player. I’m just glad that he’s not my problem and is somebody else’s problem. I just enjoy every play that he makes. I think he’s a tremendous player.
The cornerbacks have been pretty good in not allowing deep plays, making tackles and limiting yards after the catch.
I think up until last week that was an accurate statement. We missed some tackles in that game. We’re always looking to get better and not go the other direction. I thought for the situation our players were in, they competed. That was our first objective, to go compete and to play for 60 minutes. Some of those guys were taking an awful lot of snaps with the special teams and everything, so I was proud of the way we competed. We need to play and we need to play better this week. That’s our goal.
Are you pleased with the decisions the cornerbacks are making? Lewis has a lot of passes defensed and a lot of tackles.
Keenan is having a really fine year. I thought he played well last year. He wasn’t a starting corner but he came in on third-down and played really well. I think he took a very significant step this year in taking every snap. I think Keenan is going to be a good interceptor as we go on through his career. He’s still very much in a growth situation in his career but I think for the amount of experience he has and years in the league, I think he’s doing a very good job. We’re glad we have him.
Re: Throwing more at the defense as the game goes on:
I think that’s a pretty accurate statement. You never know what the other guy is going to do. You can look at the video but it can be pretty different. We try not to let our guys get too surprised early. Then we talk to them on the sidelines a little bit and tell them what’s coming. Hopefully, as they get accustomed to the formations and tendencies, they’ll be able to expand the package a little bit. The first objective is to get everybody lined up, and I think that’s a pretty accurate statement. We start slow early than we finish.
Did you figure out how to cover WR A.J. Green with the success you had against him earlier this season?
I think a lot of that was Ike. He’s a great defender, and he’s played the best in the league year-in and year-out. He usually delivers. I think that’s where the credit goes for that. He caught the one slant for a touchdown, and if I’m not mistaken that might have been the only ball he did catch. A little bit of that is luck too, because you’re not going to hold Green to one catch. We’ll let them matchup with him and certainly keep him from controlling the game, or we’re not going to be successful. For that game that you’re talking about, I think you have Ike to thank for that.
Re: Lewis taking on the challenge of defending the top receiver:
I think it’s a step in his maturation, and it’s a role that I can foresee him growing into. He’s getting some real on the job training. He’s getting a lot of snaps with that, and I think it’s good for him.
Re: The turnover issues:
Well, we’re trying to punch it loose. We’re trying to get interceptions. We don’t have enough of them. That’s about all I can say. We’re going to keep trying.
How do you explain it? What do you see?
I don’t explain it. I just said that we need more. That’s my explanation
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Steelers chairman Dan Rooney is back in Pittsburgh after stepping down as the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, and on Thursday, Dec. 20, it was proclaimed Ambassador Daniel M. Rooney Day in the City of Pittsburgh.
Rooney was presented a proclamation by Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl at a ceremony at the City-County Building.
The proclamation honored Rooney for what he has done in Ireland, developing a strong relationship between the two countries, as well as what he has done for the Pittsburgh community.
“I want to thank you for making this presentation,” said Rooney. “I found Ireland to be a great place. The people there are similar to Pittsburghers, they are friendly and they try to help. Having the opportunity to represent President (Barack) Obama and our country was a great honor and I really enjoyed being there and accomplished a lot of things. It was something special.”
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