The Pittsburgh Steelers personnel may change, but does their scheme and personality change?
“It’s similar to what they’ve done — a lot of movement. You have to prepare for a lot of different things.”
Is the mental challenge just as big as the physical challenge when playing Pittsburgh?
“Yeah. They put guys in a lot of different spots and move guys around. I’m stationary a ton., so you just have to be prepared for the different looks and be able to adjust to movement.”
Your numbers suggest you’re playing well outside of the pocket this season. Do you feel that way?
“I feel like we’ve definitely taken a step in the out-of-pocket explosive plays. There have been different things that have caused it, but I think our guys have a good feel to reacting when I’m able to move. We’ve been able to hit some big plays off it.”
Was getting outside the pocket a point of emphasis in Bill Lazor’s new offensive scheme?
“It’s just been a reaction. If you look across the league and see how many plays happen out of the pocket or aren’t scripted, they count too. It’s just one of those things we felt like we definitely needed to improve in that area.”
Have designed plays out of the pocket, such as roll outs and play-action, given you a boost in big plays?
“For sure. You can’t just stand back there (in the pocket), because they know where you’re going to be. If you can move around and get different launch points, it can definitely help. I think we’ve had some success with it.”
I know you guys work at the scramble drill with the receivers at practice, but each scramble situation is different, isn’t it?
“Yeah. At that point, it turns into backyard football. It’s just finding a way to get open. Like I was saying, our guys have reacted well to it. We’ve scored touchdowns off of it and have had big gains off it.”
What has your relationship been like with quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt? How has be helped you this year?
“He’s been great. I’ve really enjoyed having him as my coach. He was with (Green Bay Packers QB) Aaron Rodgers for a long time. He brings a lot from his past of not only coaching, but playing. He played for a long time as well. He’s been in a lot of situations and understands a lot of it. We have a great relationship, and he’s got some great drills that have carried over into the game. I feel really good about everything he’s been able to bring here. I’m glad he’s here.”
How does he run the quarterbacks room? What is his coaching style like?
“He’s definitely more relaxed and loose. It’s a great quarterback room. It’s a great environment. He makes the learning easy, and he makes it fun.”
Could you be in a better situation than the one you currently are in? With your former QB coach now the offensive coordinator and a new QB coach that you’ve bonded with quickly?
“I’ve been fortunate throughout my years to have great quarterback coaches. It made the transition easier once Bill (Lazor) took over (as offensive coordinator) last year. That was an easy transition because I’ve been with him. To bring Al (Alex Van Pelt) in, that was great. We had a connection right from the start.”
Frank Pollack has made an impact on the offensive line this season. What kind of ripple effect does that have on the quarterbacks?
“He’s done a great job. Our line has been playing well. It’s a big testament to the way he’s coaching and the way he’s doing things. It makes it easier from my standpoint, knowing how well our guys (offensive line) have been playing.”
Marvin Lewis mentioned that this wasn’t ‘Steeler week,’ and it was just ‘another week.’ Do you agree with that?
“We’re treating it like another week. I feel like it gets blown up outside of here way more than it does in the building or the locker room. For us, we’re playing a division game. It’s important. We don’t need to make anything more of it than that.”
Initial comments …
“As we prepare for the Steelers, not a lot has changed with the leadership they have at quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger). He’s coming off of a game where he made throws in the pocket and out of the pocket. It was a really productive day (for him). The Steelers got the run game going with (James) Connor, so both in the pass game and the run game, they had a productive day offensively. On defense, they pressure the football, as we know. We’ll have to play a good football game.”
In the spring, you obviously had a big shift in your coaching staff. Has that changed the mood around here on how things are done? Is it noticeably different from your coaching staff last year?
“Yeah, there’s been a shift, which you need when you have changes. We made changes and added new coaches. They bring different viewpoints and new ideas. No question about it.”
Is it a good thing for you to see these new viewpoints?
“That’s part of the change, which we knew had to happen.”
Does it feel rejuvenating to have not only young players, but also a lot of young and energetic coaches around here?
“It’s rejuvenating. We’re very fortunate to have been able to put together this group of guys. They come in with their expertise from different teams. There’s no ‘one way’ to do things, so to be able to listen and hear from others is great."
Is this a week where you spend even more time emphasizing poise and keeping your cool?
“It’s an every-week thing throughout the NFL, which is a changing time. We spend a lot of time pointing those things out, like the penalty on the Miami player (Martrell Spaight) on the sideline during last week’s game. We keep track of those things from around the league. These guys have to understand that when we show them those kinds of plays, whether it be on Wednesday morning or Friday morning. I call upon Coach (Jonathan) Hayes and Coach (Jim) Haslett that when they played, things were different. I’m going to stop there before I say something stupid (laughs).”
Do you feel that the league is going to be able to legislate the violent nature of the game we saw here last December against the Steelers?
“What occurred last December, occurred last December. We don’t go backwards."
How do you think your team has responded to adversity over the first five games of the season?
“We understand that we have to continue to be poised in order to execute and do our jobs. We talk about it all the time — you don’t want the guy who’s operating on your brain to be bouncing all over the place. I usually tell them it’s like changing a tire, and trusting them to put air in it (laughs).”
Do you feel like the poise, chemistry and personality of this team is better than in recent years and will be able to weather any tests of their poise that come about?
“No matter who the opponent is, you have to be able to stay poised throughout the football game. We have the maturity level of it, but it’s always going to get tested.”
When you show them those plays, is the message that the ramifications are beyond just 15-yard penalties? The penalty you mentioned on Dolphins LB Martrell Spaight really turned the tide in last week’s game …
“That’s what the ramifications are — you’re hurting our opportunity to win. You’re really putting a dagger in our opportunity to win. Sometimes it can be penalties that are less noticeable, like grabbing the gunner’s arm running down the field. It’s dumb, don’t do it, we know it’s going to get called and you aren’t going to get away with it. Penalties affect our field position, and when you affect field position, you affect our chances to win. That’s the biggest thing, which comes from a number of things. It’s important when you play close games to not beat yourself.”
Do you have a ‘poise’ tape of plays you show the players?
“I show them plays all the time.”
Is it good to have young players that haven’t played in this rivalry yet, or who have only played in it a couple of times?
“No, you’d like to have the most experienced team playing in any game.”
Close football games are where players have to be the most unselfish, right?
“Right. You have to move on. You don’t have time to celebrate the last play, let’s move on to the next play. That’s the attitude here, so let’s stay true to it.”
You’ve had uncharacteristic special teams mistakes the last two games. Is that something you consider simple and easily fixable?
“We have to fix them. We had some breakdowns, which can put you in jeopardy of losing the game. Miraculously, we’ve been able to overcome those mistakes recently. We’re not creating enough opportunities on our side, so we have to do a better job, no question about it. With youth comes inexperience in some spots. They have to mature in a hurry in order for us to continue through the season. We’re now five games and 12 weeks in, basically, of playing real football since training camp started. We have to do a better job. And you’re talking to not just the 53-man squad, but to the practice squad, that ‘your time is coming.’ When you get called upon within the game and you’re at the point of attack, you have to stand at the proper leverage, block the right guy and get the ball where we want it. All of those things have to happen, and we have to get it done right all the time. That’s what we always expect, just like we expect Andy (Dalton) to take care of the football and the guys on defense to make the tackles. It’s all the same thing.”
Whenever there are injuries on offense and defense, it’s unavoidable that they will trickle down to special teams. Is that one of the toughest aspects of special teams on a week-to-week basis?
“It’s always a difficult thing. I doubt there are many teams in the league that spend as much time as we do training the next group of guys on special teams. We have a fine coach (special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons) that does it day-in and day-out. Everyone in this building knows how important it is to me. We make a lot of decisions based on special teams’ performance. We certainly make decisions on who suits up on Sundays based on that.”
What made you decide to bring back TE Matt Lengel, as opposed to going in a different direction?
“Matt Lengel is a big, physical player, and we play in a big, physical division.”
Did he fit in for this week in particular?
“After losing Tyler Eifert, he’s a good fit for where we are. It gives us an opportunity to replace the line blocker that Tyler Eifert always has been for us when healthy. Matt is someone we’re all comfortable with, as far as his physical play, style and his ability to come in here and get up to speed on special teams. We know what we’re getting. When we lost Matt a year and a half ago, we were disappointed. Both of the kids we signed today, including Demetrious Cox to the practice squad, are guys we feel can play roles on special teams if called upon. We had plans for Demetrious before he got claimed a year ago. It’s good that we got two guys back who can help us through the rest of the season.”
I’m guessing that you don’t feel that last December’s game against the Steelers crossed any line from being physical to kind of reckless …
“There were too many penalties in the game, which I would deem as reckless because there were personal foul penalties called. That’s an issue no one likes.”
Do you think any of the league’s rule changes were influenced by last December’s Monday night game vs. Pittsburgh?
“That would be speculation. Was it on Monday Night Football? You are better at that than I am (laughs).”
With HB Thomas Rawls being waived, does that mean HB Giovani Bernard has a shot to play on Sunday?
“Gio is doing better. We’ll see.”
What about WR John Ross?
“We’ll see. It was raining out there, but hopefully the sun will come back out (laughs). Both guys are working hard to have an opportunity to play on Sunday. We’ll determine that later in the week. It’ll be good to get them both back as soon as we can. It’s an easy thing here: If you want to play here, you have to practice. That way, I don’t have to worry about it. We’ve been able to hold hard on that standard, and we have the right kind of guys who want to play. They know that’s the only way they can play — to show me. That works well.”
Did you notice anything in the way the Dolphins’ defense played against you, since you didn’t have Eifert, Ross and Bernard out there?
“We shot ourselves in the foot. We bounced a ball off of the safety and A.J. (Green) where it shouldn’t go. We did dumb things in the game that hurt us. We didn’t move the ball well enough in those situations — we had a penalty on that drive, then moved back into field goal range and we had the ball tipped (blocked FG). Everyone is going to adjust and play differently based on the personnel on the field. You’ll have to ask Coach Burke (Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke) about that.”