ML: “I want to start off by wishing our Veterans a Happy Veterans Day. A lot of our players have had opportunities to mingle with the military and speak at different times throughout the season and in seasons past. Obviously it’s an important day to pay tribute to the veterans.
“Looking ahead to Pittsburgh, obviously it’s an opportunity to make hay in the division, to play the defending world champions and a team that won this division last year. Both teams are 6-2, and it’s an opportunity to be ahead for a moment, because we have a lot of football left. We know they’re a good, sound team in every area. Their quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) is an outstanding player. They ran the ball effectively last week, and they’ve got the ability to get the ball vertically down the field with the wide receivers. They can make third-down receptions and defensively to apply pressure both in the run and the pass. It’s an all-day deal. On special teams, we have to do a great job in leverage against their returners, and we have to get something going in our return game. That’s kind of what’s ahead.”
Q: With the bunch formation that the Steelers run with the cluster of WRs, how difficult is it for the DBs?
ML: “It’s a formation they’ve been using since I’ve been there. It’s something common to them. They run different plays off of it, and it’s something we’re used to playing. It’s something we’re used to defending against.”
Q: How are
ML: “They’re doing well. I don’t know if we’ll have their services or not (this week). They are improving, and neither injury was as severe as anticipated, and we’ll see how it goes this week.”
Q: To try and bring Ben Roethlisberger down is always difficult. What do you tell your defenders when you are preparing to face him? Is there more of a focus on technique?
ML: “You have to focus. Number one, you have to be conscious of where he is. You don’t want to allow him to escape and not know where he is. Then, what I tell our guys all the time, is that you have to take that extra step. You don’t want to be laying one step away. You want to make sure you take the extra step, get him wrapped up and force him to move and throw on the move rather than missing him and allowing him to set and throw. They do a good job. He’s a strong guy and has good ability to adjust in and out of the pocket and still make an accurate throw. Their guys down the field do a nice job of finding the open spot and breaking away from coverage.”
Q: Taking the ‘extra step,’ is that different from most weeks?
ML: “That’s what I say every week. Whether you’re blocking someone, making a run, making a catch, trying to intercept the pass or make the tackle, take the extra step. That’s a common theme here.”
Q: Why does this team play so well on the road?
ML: “I don’t know. I think this team is comfortable in whatever environment they’re in, and that’s a good thing. Whether you’re at home or on the road, you have 53 guys -- 45 when game time comes -- and you have to make a play. Our QB has done a nice job of taking the crowd out of it. I think that’s a key, especially early in the game. Don’t get unnerved. We talk about that, we practice that, and they’ve taken that to heart. I think the young guys that are getting some snaps have done a nice job with that. Defensively, with all the things going on around them, they need to focus on adjustments the coaches are making. It’s a new week, let’s go.”
Q: What is the relationship between a QB and a defense? Can a good defense take pressure off a QB?
ML: “I do think that in the case of an offensive team, if they’re aware that their defensive side of the football is not going to give up a lot of points, they can be pretty confident that as the game unfolds, they’ve just got to do their thing, and not get ahead of themselves. I think that is something that a quarterback can learn and have in his pocket. `If I just take care and manage football down the field, and we can get some scoring opportunities, we don’t have to go into the game feeling like we’ve got to score 40 points.’ We haven’t reached that point yet. Hopefully we will.”
Q: Do you feel like you’re moving toward that?
ML: “Well, I hope we continue to. And that’s why you look at that at the end of the season and you realize you did that. But when you’re in the middle of the season, you focus only on the next week.”
Q: What is the difference in the Steelers defense now that Troy Polamalu is back in the lineup?
ML: “Troy makes some plays he’s supposed to make, some plays that somebody else should make, and plays that you shake your head and say, `Wow. How did he do that?’ He’s a fine player. He’s a great studier, great student of the game. He understands what you do, and he tries to play to your tendencies quite a bit, and he’s athletic enough to do it. Whether it’s running down a receiver, being a blitzer, making a fine open-field tackle ... he does all of those things.”
Q: Does he freelance a lot?
ML: “I don’t use the term freelance. I don’t like that term. I don’t know what that means. It’s a game of 11 guys with 11 jobs designed to work together. He does his very well.”
Q: You discouraged Chad from sending a gift basket to Pittsburgh? Why is that?
ML: “I just don’t think it needs to be part of any focus or the questioning. So hopefully this is the last time we have to answer that question this week.”
Q: This year, the Steelers and Bengals are first and second against the run, respectively. There haven’t typically been a lot of Steelers-Bengals games like that in the past. What’s been the key?
ML: “I think to be good against the run, we’ve got to do a great job of letting guys work together and tackling. That’s how you play good run defense. It starts from the perimeter guys all the way through. When you get teams that don’t play the run very well, it’s generally because their secondary guys don’t tackle very well. It’s really never as much a reflection of the front guys as it is maybe of the perimeter players. You don’t see most teams rip up and down the middle of the field. What happens is the secondary guys can’t tackle very well. Guys don’t play the leverages and forces correctly.”
Q: Do you have a vision for
ML: “I do.”
Q: Can you share it?
ML: “My views are that Jerome is doing everything he can to try to prove that he can get out there and make productive plays for us. He hasn’t lost an ounce of his athleticism, but he has had a lot to learn in coming to the NFL. He’s working diligently. Heck, he’s got his own coach, which is great. He’s getting personal tutoring on every single play, every single day. He’s just trying to get where we can be confident that the quarterbacks can be confident in him understanding everything. He’s working hard at it. But some guys come here and they have a little better knowledge of how coverages unfold and things work. And Jerome’s working extremely hard at it.”
Q: How much has this team benefitted from the confidence they got by winning those close games early in the season?
ML: “I don’t think it really is a factor. Those guys don’t remember those games. It’s a factor of just moving forward. If we get in that situation again, I’m sure there will be a sense of calmness that we can get this done, but that doesn’t help us get it done. The only thing that helps is making the same plays in the same situations that we were able to make in the past.”
Q: Do you have any regret passing on DeSean Jackson to take Jerome Simpson in the 2008 Draft?
ML: “No. DeSean’s a great player. I grew up with DeSean’s mom. DeSean’s grandfather was my minister as a young kid growing up. He went to Long Beach Poly, and I coached at Long Beach State, so I know everybody there.”
Q: He said that on TV. Instead of saying his college, instead of saying Cal, he said Long Beach Poly:
ML: “The home of scholars and champions (laughs). DeSean is a fine, fine player. He’s done a great job. We had them both as going to be great players, and I still feel that about Jerome.”
Q: You guys have substituted quite a bit, especially on defense. Did you sense coming into the season that you had that kind of depth? And what kind of impact can that depth have down the stretch?
ML: “We made a commitment at linebacker with tendering Brandon (Johnson), then going out and getting Roy (Williams) and re-signing Chris (Crocker) to make sure. We have David (Jones), who had an opportunity to play last year at corner, and we drafted Morgan (Trent). And then we still tried to go out and see who would be the next-best guy, and got Geoff Pope, who played for us. So yeah, we made a commitment. Then drafting Michael (Johnson) and signing Tank (Johnson) prior to that.
“We were trying to fortify ourselves a little bit and give ourselves some experienced backup players, and I think we’ve done that. We worked hard to do that on the offensive line and keep some of these guys going, and it’s worked out to our advantage. I think that’s a good thing.
“I think it’s a little easier (to substitute) defensively. You can keep 15-16 guys involved on defense. That was the number I always tried to shoot for as a coordinator. Fifteen or 16, maybe 17 guys if you’re lucky, can feel like they are starting players. You can carve out a niche that way a little bit easier. On offense right now, we probably have, 14 guys that think they’re starters. There was one day we had two receivers run out in the introductions at one spot (laughs). I think that is the thing you want to do on your football team. If these guys all believe they are starting players and they have their niche -- that’s the challenge for the coordinators, to keep them involved that way, because it is a long season. I talk to the rookies about that all the time. If they maybe aren’t running out there first all the time, make sure that their practice snaps are what we’re looking for on tape every day, because soon they may be that guy and get that opportunity.”
ML: “Brandon is an extremely smart guy, he’s 6-foot-5, he’s got great athleticism, he can run. He helps make other guys better with how smart he is and understanding what’s going on, on the offensive side of the ball. And then he makes football plays. You like that about him. He’s able to -- I don’t want to say accept his role with Keith (Rivers) being back -- but he embraces the other roles he has on third down and in different substitutions.”