Home Pittsburgh Sports Steelers Tomlin Report: Last Quarterback Standing

Tomlin Report: Last Quarterback Standing

After injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich in consecutive weeks, the Steelers head into Cleveland with Charlie Batch at the helm and the Bengals hot on their heels for second place in the AFC North.

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) at
Cleveland Browns (2-8)

Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012; 1 p.m., ET
Cleveland Browns Stadium • Cleveland, Ohio

TV Coverage: CBS; Kevin Harlan (play-by-play), Solomon Wilcots (analyst)
Series History: Series began in 1950. Steelers lead 62-56
Last Regular-Season Meeting: Jan. 1, 2012 (in Cleveland). Pittsburgh 13, Cleveland 9.
Steelers Last Week: The Steelers defense was exceptional, holding the Baltimore Ravens to only 200 yards of offense, but Pittsburgh’s own offense was dreadful outside of the first drive in a 13-10 loss to the team’s biggest rival. Baltimore scored six points off of Pittsburgh turnovers and another seven off of a 63-yard punt return by Jacoby Jones.
Browns Last Week: The Browns sacked Dallas quarterback Tony Romo nine times, but still managed to extend their road losing streak to 12 games when Dan Bailey kicked a 38-yard field goal with 6:07 left in the extra period, giving the Cowboys a 23-20 victory. Bailey also made a tying kick with 2 seconds remaining in regulation.
Where They Stand: The Steelers (6-4) are two games behind the Ravens (8-2) for first place in the AFC North, and just one game ahead of the Browns (5-5).
Steelers-Browns Connections: Steelers quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner was born in Cleveland, while linebacker James Harrison was born in Akron and attended Kent State University; Steelers assistant coaches Keith Butler and John Mitchell both spent time on the Browns staff; Browns assistants Bill Davis (1992-94) and Mark Whipple (2004-06) were on the Steelers staff; Browns DE Jabaal Sheard played collegiately at University of Pittsburgh and safety Ray Ventrone is a Chartiers Valley High School gradPhoto by Charles LeClaire.

Steelers Injury Report
WR Jericho Cotchery OUT with multiple fracture ribs
QB Byron Leftwich OUT with rib fracture
QB Ben Roethlisberger DOUBTFUL with shoulder and rib injuries
SS Troy Polamalu QUESTIONABLE with a calf injury
OT Marcus Gilbert QUESTIONABLE with an ankle tendon injury
WR Antonio Brown QUESTIONABLE with an ankle sprain
DE Ziggy Hood QUESTIONABLE with lumbar spine sprain
RB Isaac Redman QUESTIONABLE with concussion

Steelers sign Plaxico Burress and Brian Hoyer
The Steelers signed a pair of free agents on Tuesday afternoon when wide receiver Plaxico Burress and quarterback Brian Hoyer agreed to one-year deals.

Burress (6-5, 232) spent the first five years of his career (2000-04) with the Steelers after Pittsburgh drafted him with the eighth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. He spent the 2011 season with the New York Jets after being out of football in 2009-10. Last season, Burress started 13-of-16 games for New York and registered 45 receptions for 612 yards and eight touchdowns. Prior to joining the Jets, Burress played for the New York Giants from 2005-08. Overall, Burress has 550 receptions for 8,457 yards and 63 touchdowns. Burress started all 12 postseason games during his career and registered 46 receptions for 688 yards and six touchdowns. Burress will wear No. 80.

Hoyer (6-2, 215) was originally signed by the New England Patriots as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Michigan State in 2009. After playing in 13 games for the Patriots in three seasons (2009-11), Hoyer was released on August 31, 2012. Hoyer will wear No. 3.

To make room on the roster the Steelers have released running back Baron Batch and linebacker Marshall McFadden.

Mike Tomlin Press Conference
On the 13-10 loss to Baltimore

Really, many of the elements that determined the outcome of the game were what we thought they would be. It was unfortunate for us that they didn’t unfold in the manner in which we would have liked. They won the turnover battle. They got two turnovers in the game. Both of them led to field goals. The one early on, Mike Wallace fumbled and gave them the ball in our territory. I thought our defense did a nice job of holding them to three points. The turnover battle produced six points for them. They got the splash play in the return game as opposed to us. That put another seven points on the board for them. Their defense did a nice job of standing up in the red area late in the football game when we put together a drive. Last week I talked about those guys being the number-one team in football in redzone defense. It unfolded in that manner and in that instance, their ability to stand up on third-and-two with the ball on their four-yard line. That was kind of the difference in the game. There were a lot of great efforts and a lot of positive things to build on but we are not searching for those types of things at this juncture of the season. We are searching for wins. We didn’t get it done. We turn our focus to this week’s challenge.

On the upcoming game against the Browns
We will remain in the AFC North and prepare for the Cleveland Browns. On offense, if you are having a discussion about these guys, it starts with their runner, Trent Richardson. I was hopeful that the legendary Jim Brown was correct in his initial assessment of Richardson but I am disappointed. This guy is a talented runner. He has great contact balance. He is strong willed. He is highly productive. He has a downhill run demeanor. He finishes off runs. He has soft hands. He is their leading receiver as well. He is their feature ball carrier. He really is just living up to the expectations that come with being as high of a draft pick that he is. He is good for them in all circumstances, first, second and third-down, short yardage, Photo: Ronald Martinez, Getty Imagesgoal line and in the red area. I mentioned what he is doing in the passing game. That’s probably as surprising as anything to me. Obviously, I don’t spend a lot of time evaluating guys that go that high in the draft, based on where we picked in the draft. But I did get a chance to look at him and he is as good as advertised.

At wide receiver, they have young talent. Greg Little was their leading receiver a year ago. He is back. They also have Josh Gordon that they picked up in the supplemental draft. He is a talented, young, high-round guy. Those are their two lead receivers. They are supplemented by some quality other veterans. Mohamed Massaquoi has been there for a number of years. Joshua Cribbs can be characterized as a guy that is gadget-capable. We know what he has done to us in the past in the Wildcat offense. He still has those capabilities. He has a young understudy in Travis Benjamin. He is a rookie from the University of Miami. He has a similar skill set in that he is reverse-capable and gadget-capable. They use him in that way.

Brandon Weeden has done a nice job at quarterback for a rookie. This guy has thrown every pass that the team has thrown this season. He has shown great moxie. He has spread the ball around to a number of receivers. He is not opposed to checking the ball down to his running backs and tight ends.

I like the tight end tandem of Benjamin Watson and Jordan Cameron. They do a nice job, along with Alex Smith, their tight end/move-full back/h-back. Weeden does a nice job of utilizing all those guys as well as the receivers. They do a nice job of keeping you off balance with their screen game, quick game and misdirection passing. I think he does a nice job of getting the ball out, the boot game.

Their offensive line is intact, led by Joe Thomas at left tackle. We are familiar with competing against those guys.

Defensively, I look more at their recent body of work more than their complete body of work because I think the arrow is pointing up in one specific area for them, their interior front of their defensive line. Since the return of Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin, I think that they have been extremely difficult to run on. That was evident in their game last week versus Dallas. Those guys are big, stout men who specialize in shutting down. Those two recent additions have been an awesome shot in the arm for them on defense. I think their front is a big time strength of theirs. I have big-time respect for Jabaal Sheard, the young man from the University of Pittsburgh. I think he plays not only in a productive manner but the type of motor that all coaches desire. He is putting together a nice body of work in his second year. Also in their rotation, and opposite of Sheard, is Frostee Rucker, a free agent they acquired from the Cincinnati Bengals. We are familiar with him and he is familiar with us. He has played a lot of AFC North football. They supplement him with Juqua Parker, a situational rush specialist who has distinguished himself over a long career in that manner, most recently in Philadelphia.

Their linebacking core and defense is led by D’Qwell Jackson. He is a solid veteran in the middle. He is a three-down football player. He plays in all packages, nickel and in dime. He is a good sideline-to-sideline football player. He is really good at running down the middle in their version of the Tampa-two stuff.

In the secondary, Joe Haden is a top-flight, young cornerback for them. He has played really good football for them and always has. He has been limited for them due to a variety of reasons this year. I think he has only played in five games. But when he does play, he is Joe Haden, the guy we are used to going against. They have Sheldon Brown, a savvy veteran at the opposite cornerback position. Buster Skrine is a young cornerback that I think has done a nice job of distinguishing himself. He has great short-area quickness. He is combative. I think he may even be their leading tackler. He plays inside and outside. A lot of times his participation and where he plays determines on whether or not Haden is playing or not. T.J. Ward is consistently physical at safety. He is a guy that has been back there now for a number of years.

Their special teams, we have our hands full as always with these guys. Phil Dawson is a model of consistency. I don’t think he has missed a kick this year, and he is 5-for-5 from 50+ yards. This guy is a consistent shot in the arm for them when it comes to field position and scoring opportunities. He has been for a while. I interned there in the late 1990s into the 2000s and he was their kicker then. I am sure his record of longevity rivals just about anybody in football. Cribbs is a dynamic return man. Given our recent performance in that area, we need to be ready to perform there. You could classify Benjamin as his understudy in that area as well. Benjamin has done some gadget things for them on offense. He also has had a nice history in college football as a return man.  

On the Steelers injuriesAP Photo
We have a myriad of things going on in terms of the health of our own men with workouts today. That process is continuing to run its course but we are looking to add two men to simply fortify our depth. In terms of us being able to win this football game and preparing to win this football game, those answers largely remain intact in terms of the guys on our football team as we sit here now. But I will acknowledge that due to our injuries to a number of positions, we feel that we need to fortify our depth at those positions. That process is running its course. I am sorry I don’t have more information for you as I sit here but that’s what days like Tuesday are all about.

What makes Plaxico Burress intriguing?
He’s in really good physical condition based on the workout I just saw. He’s got very good body control for a big man. He can drop his weight at break points. Obviously, he’s no stranger to football.

Are the injuries to Leftwich and Cotchery potentially season-ending?
No. I don’t believe that to be the case.

When you look at signing players in circumstances, do you give any thought to how they may be able to help you in the future?
I think that all of those decisions are made with a good eye-bad eye approach. What are your immediate needs and where can it potentially lead? I think that’s something that we bounce around in all the decisions that we make so it’s definitely a possibility.

Was the encouraging news you said you received about Roethlisberger about both the rib and the shoulder injuries?
They’re one in the same from my perspective.

Was Leftwich hurt bad enough during the game that he should have left the game and at any point did you think about replacing him with Batch?
Those were things that were up for discussion. Obviously, like I said after the game, he did a nice job of communicating with us where he was. The doctors did a nice job of communicating with him. There was no real serious discussion about pulling him from the game. Obviously, we didn’t know that he had rib fractures but that’s just part of football. We appreciate his willingness to battle. He’s always kind of been that guy and he did a nice job in the football game.

Do you have any idea when Leftwich hurt his ribs?
I do not. If I had to guess, I’d say the last sack might be something that you could point to, potentially.

Batch was starting to warm-up later in the game. Did Leftwich tell you that he was good to go during the game?
He did, but again, like I said, those conversations were ongoing. He actually fell on his shoulder awkwardly on the first series of the game when he ran that touchdown. That might have been one of the reasons that Charlie was warming up when you referenced he was warming up. Again, I don’t know when that transpired or how that related to the conversations that were ongoing with Byron.

What is the bigger injury with Leftwich, the shoulder or the ribs?
The ribs.

Could you see when Leftwich was in pain during the game?
Sometimes you see, Sometimes you don’t. That’s just part of it. Obviously, as a head coach, I’ve always got 11 [players] on the grass. My focus is on the men that are on the grass. I have no qualms with the level of communication, not only with all parties involved, but from Byron, specifically, in regards to his health on Sunday night.

Has RB Jonathan Dwyer earned a start?
He’s doing a nice job. Those decisions are ongoing. We haven’t talked about who’s going to get the bulk of the carries or who is going to run out of the tunnel, per say. Obviously, we’re going to need good, solid contribPhoto by Charles LeClaireutions from all the backs that we put helmets on.

Do you prefer rotating running backs or giving one guy the majority of the carries?
My preference would be to have a healthy, solidified featured runner but I don’t always get what I want in this business, obviously, for a variety of reasons. All of those guys have been nicked in some form or fashion. We’ve dealt with it to the best of our abilities. They’ve done a nice job of being productive when given an opportunity, but the circumstances themselves have created what we’ve done with the running backs at this point. We’re not making excuses for it, that’s just the reality of it. We’re not looking for relief, either. We’re going to continue to make the decisions based on the healthy people that give us the best opportunity to win.

Will Marcus Gilbert step back into a starting role when he’s healthy?
He’s not healthy yet so we’ll deal with that when we get to it.

Is there any thought to why you didn’t use the running game more on Sunday when you had a backup quarterback who attempted 39 passes in the game?
I’m comfortable with the play selection. If we make another play or two we win the game and you don’t ask that question. I’m not worried about it. My focus is on winning.

If Antonio Brown is healthy, will the receiver you add have to be someone who is flexible and can be a special teams guy?
Again, it’s based on Antonio’s available health. So, we’ll make that decision when it’s appropriate. But obviously we’re looking for somebody who is capable of helping us in a multitude of ways.

How, if it all, have coverages changed when Antonio Brown is not in the lineup?
I don’t think necessarily that they have. Again, I haven’t done a self-scout in regards to that. We’ve got capable guys. We believe that Emmanuel Sanders is a viable guy. We believe that Jerricho Cotchery is a viable guy. We haven’t necessarily looked for changes whether or not Antonio is in the game or not in the game, based on what our opponents do to this point.

Does the offense change at all with Batch at quarterback and how much confidence do you have in him?
The changes will be subtle and they’ll be made with an emphasis geared toward maximizing his strengths and minimizing his weaknesses. We’ve got a great deal of confidence in Charlie. One thing that I can say about this quarterback situation, as uncomfortable as it may be or may appear to be, it is not something that we’re foreign to unfortunately. We’ve been as far as three and four deep, in terms of playing quarterbacks in recent years. Definitely in ’09 and ’10. Those guys do an awesome job of rallying and answering the bell. We expect them to. So, we’re excited about him preparing and leading us this week.

Did you think about bringing in a quarterback like Dennis Dixon or Tyler Palko who have experience with this organization?
I’m just talking about the guys that we had here working out today. I’m not talking about why we didn’t bring others in. I don’t think that’s fair to them.

Do you have to guard against making a knee-jerk reaction after allowing a special teams touchdown?
I don’t generally make decisions in a reactionary mode. Those are the type of processes that we go through on a week-to-week basis to try to keep the dogs off of us, not only in coverage but in all three phases of the game. But we acknowledge that we broke down in that area last week and we acknowledge that Josh Cribbs has made a living hurting people. Obviously, it’s going to be an element of preparation for us and we’ll kick those things around and discuss them and prepare for the game.

What is your assessment of the defense after only giving up one touchdown in the last two games?
Again, they did a nice job but we’re not searching for feel-goods. I would have appreciated a splash play that produces a score or provides a short field for the offense that would’ve potentially produced a score, because that may have been the difference in the game. That’s why we play. We play to win.Photo by Charles LeClaire

If Antonio Brown is healthy and could play on Sunday, would that affect your decision on signing a receiver?
Potentially, but as we sit here today he is not deemed healthy. So we have to go through the processes that are professional and appropriate.

Is it difficult to read how injured players are since a lot of them want to play through injuries?
If I didn’t know them, that would make it difficult. But obviously, I have personal relationships with these guys. So, it’s not necessarily what the answer to the questions are but how they answer the questions and, of course, how they perform. Obviously, Byron did a nice job of communicating with us. I knew that he had a certain level of discomfort but I didn’t see anything in his performance, coupled with those discussions, to lead me to believe that he needed to be pulled. As a matter of fact, at the end of the game, he threw a ball down the middle of the field to Heath [Miller] that I thought was an accurate and appropriate throw and the throw he made to Cotchery on the sideline on, maybe the second to last play of the game, was thrown with great velocity and accuracy. I didn’t see anything transpiring on the field, coupled with the discussions that we had, to lead me to believe not to believe what was being said.

Do the way teams play the gunners on special teams change during the game?
It changes, generally, in game. Our standards are simple, if they’re in one-on-one’s we expect the gunners to win. We don’t want returns, we want fair catches. If they’re in two-on-one, they have to get down the field and be disruptive at the very least.

Is that hard to do?
Yes, but there are a lot of things in football, particularly professional football, that are difficult to do. That’s why we employ capable men. 

How has Cleveland managed to stay in a lot of close games?
Again, I’ve really focused my efforts on their recent performances and obviously, over the last four or five games, they’ve been in some highly competitive games. They beat Cincinnati, they were in the Indy game, it was 12-14 in the fourth quarter of the Baltimore game and the game last week went into overtime. Such is life in the National Football League. They’re a competitive bunch. They play for 60 minutes, we respect them and our focus is on our preparation and ultimately our play.

Do you use Ed Reed getting suspended as a teaching lesson to your team?
No.

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