BB: Okay, so we've got nothing on the injury report. We're ready to go there. I think a lot of the conversation has been about Pittsburgh's defense, and rightfully so. This is a very active and aggressive group. This is a real good football team offensively. They lead the league in rushing and they also lead the league in big plays passing. So they really provide a tough combination of things to defend, because you're loading up on the running game, but yet they've had about 40 plays of over 20 yards in the passing game. So they do a good job of getting the ball down the field, they've got big receivers and of course the quarterback and [Hines] Ward as runners, either after the catch or on reverse plays and stuff like that, they make a lot of yardage on their own, so that's a big challenge for us there. They also lead the league in punt returns over 20 yards, so they're explosive in that phase of the game as well. This is a real good football team. It's an offensively potent team, both in the punt return game and also on the offensive side of the ball. Even though their defense has gotten a lot of notoriety, as it should and as it deserves, the other side of the ball's certainly carrying their load, too. That's what we're seeing from the Steelers.
Q: How about your players handling a 3-4 defense.
BB: Well, we have seen the 3-4 probably more than any team other than Pittsburgh. The thing about the Steelers' 3-4, though, is that they reduce it down a lot and it really becomes a four-man line. They move the nose over, they kick the end down and then either [Joey] Porter or [Jason] Gildon really plays like a defensive end. Sometimes they drop them out of those looks, too, but their 3-4 has a lot of 4-3 principles, it's just that they stem in and out of it. It's not as predictable as a team that has four true down linemen and you know exactly where they are. It could be a fourth down lineman with Gildon or it could be Porter. So they create those four-man lines off of a three-man look.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the transition that Tedy Bruschi made? Talk about the short-term situation and how you would assess him.
BB: It was made a little bit out of necessity because Bryan [Cox] got hurt in Denver and then Ted [Johnson] was out. Tedy is a guy who played the weak-side linebacker in a 3-4 defense, which puts him inside over the guard most of the time, anyway. It's not like he wasn't used to playing in there. It wasn't like he was playing over a tight end all year. Tedy's got a lot of quickness and he's very instinctive. He has a real good nose for the ball. He has a good feel for seeing the holes as a runner sees them. And he has some quickness in the passing game, so it was a transition for him, but then again, a lot of the things that we asked him to do are similar to what he did as the inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. And he's done a very good job of it and the way things were going there and what we were doing with him … We were trying to phase Bryan and Ted back in there, but with Tedy getting most of the playing time, we tried to stay consistent with what we'd been doing once we made the shift, rather than trying to shift back at this point. We tried to play a little 3-4 defense in Carolina and in all honesty, it didn't look very good. They creased it a couple of times and I know there's nothing wrong with the defense, but in terms of the reps and the amount of time we've been able to put into it to run it more efficiently, we'd probably need more time like we had in training camp. It's hard to just slap it in there and have it look the way you want it to look.
Q: Can you talk about Ty Law's performance on Saturday? How much importance does he have this week given the talent of Pittsburgh's receivers?
BB: I thought he did a good job against Oakland and those receivers are tough. Pittsburgh also has big receivers. They are good in blocking in the outside running game, but they're big and they make a lot of plays down the field and they're tough after the catch. They break tackles and get a lot of yardage on their own after the catch. Guys just can't get them down. Ty and Otis [Smith] will both have their hands full there dealing with [Plaxico] Burress and Ward. Those two guys are … And they go deep a lot. The problem is that every once in a while they either run them on reverses or throw hitches out there to them and that kind of thing and then it looks like a four or five yard gain, but then when they break a couple of tackles, that's where they end up piling up the yardage. So tackling will be an important issue for us in this game, both on the receivers and in the running backs, whether it's Amos [Zereoue], Fu [Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala] or [Jerome] Bettis, whoever's got the ball, or [Kordell] Stewart for that matter.
Q: What do you see in Stewart that wasn't there in past years?
BB: I think he's matured quite a bit and he looks a lot more comfortable in the passing game. I think that also the Steelers have done a good job of putting him in situations that really highlight or accent his athletic ability. They run him on quarterback sweeps, they get him out of the pocket, not so much that it's predictable, but enough to keep you off-balance. And you know he's got some big guys to throw to. He throws it down there to them and gets them into single coverage to let them go get it, let them do the work. His ability to keep you off-balance because of the scrambling created a lot of open spaces for them back there in the passing game because you just have to account for Kordell running the ball whether it's a designed run or whether he improvises.
Q: Was there any game that you played this year that has given you some similarity to Pittsburgh?
BB: I think there are different elements of it. We saw a running quarterback like Aaron Brooks from New Orleans. We've seen outside running teams, teams like Denver, that really do a great job in the perimeter running game. But I think the elements that Pittsburgh has combines it all together. This is an offense that we have some familiarity with. It was initially Ron Erhardt's offense when he went to Pittsburgh in the early '90s and it's certainly been revised through the years, but still a lot of the core things are things that Ron used when he went there, which we're familiar with all the way back to the Giants days, so I think we have an understanding of it, but stopping it's a different story. They have so many weapons and they do a great job in the running game with their line and their backs and the receivers make big plays and the quarterback's athletic, so they have a lot of prongs to stick in you.
Q: Have you seen any growth in David Patten's game, or has it been pretty much the same?
BB: David's had a pretty consistent year. Just like every receiver, some games are more productive than others, but he's fast, he's got some ability to run after the catch, he's a tough guy, and he's able to win with his quickness in certain coverage situations. The biggest thing for him is just the consistency catching the ball. That's something that all receivers always have to work on. But in terms of using his speed and athletic ability to get open, I think he's been able to do that. He's a good compliment to Troy [Brown].
Q: Can you comment on the role of the running backs picking up blitzes?
BB: It will be huge. I talked to them about that this morning. They really have seven potential rushers, not counting the safety blitzes, which happen too, but they have seven potential rushers and you have five linemen and what they try to do is get one of those linebackers, whether it's Porter, Gildon, Kendrell Bell, [Earl] Holmes, whoever it is, sooner or later they're going to get him on the tight end or a back. And you can only block five of the seven with your linemen, so when they get that mismatch, whoever's job it is, they're going to have to step up and block them. I showed them several plays on tape where you see the person in position to block them, it's not like they cut them loose and don't have them picked up, they're there to block them, but they can't get them blocked. That will be the key. It's not only our mental assignments, it's also physically being able to stand in there on the blitzes and bend our knees, take the leverage angle and keep them from running up the middle.
Q: Have the Steelers had so much success because people haven't been able to block them or do they just slip through because teams can't handle them?
BB: They come clean a bunch of times, but then there are other times where they're picked up and there's somebody there to block them, but they can't get them, they can't handle them. So they do both. Gildon, Porter and Bell, when they get mismatched on backs and tight ends, they're winning a lot of the time. It's hard for the quarterback to hold the ball. Even if they get them blocked or initially stopped, the quarterback just can't stand back there and pat the ball, because eventually they're going to get there.
Q: Can you talk about how the team established its ability to focus when early in training camp with all of the distractions?
BB: I think that there were plenty of things there, but that's just the nature of the job that each day out on the football field, you go out there and try to get a little bit better and pick out some things to emphasize to improve on and try to force them to concentrate in those areas. Whether it be the running game, blitz pickups, third down, red area, two-minute, there are new challenges that you have to stay on top of all the time. You just try to keep that ball rolling so there's always a sense of urgency to getting this right and either improve on what we did or handle the next situation moving forward. We've tried to take that approach all year and of course once you get into the games, the challenges change every week.
Q: Did you have to take that deliberate approach because of all the things happening off the field?
BB: Yeah, that was just added into the pot.
Q: Why didn't Bruschi start before Cox's injury?
BB: We had three inside linebackers, Bryan, Ted and Bruschi and all three of them were playing when they were healthy in approximately equal percentages. But there weren't many times when all three of them were healthy. They all missed time at different points. Tedy missed a little bit of time there real early in the season and Bryan in midseason and Johnson early and then later, so the idea in training camp was to have those three people work those three areas and Cox was more of a third-down rusher and Bruschi was more of the third down linebacker position, so they kind of complimented each other in their roles, so for the most part of the year, all three of them weren't healthy at the same time.
Q: Did Adam Vinatieri catch your eye by doing anything differently than the other kickers you have seen?
BB: I'd just say his consistency. He's really pretty much the same guy out there every day. You just get used to seeing him make a lot of kicks, whether it's windy or whether it's raining or snowy or nice or a bad snap or a good snap or whatever the situation is. He's pretty good putting them through and the ball goes straight. It's not like my golf shots, where they're all over the fairway. When he hits it, he hits it straight and the ball stays pretty true. Usually if it starts outside the mark, then it's going to stay out there. But for the most part, his kicks are down the middle and they stay down the middle and he's got a good, true line on the ball.
Q: Which offense handled the Steelers defense the best this season and how did they do it?
BB: Well I will say that I thought that Cincinnati in the second game did a pretty job. I thought they did a pretty good job of picking them up and running the ball and making some plays. That would be one of the more recent teams I think that did a pretty good job on them. I mean Jacksonville, that was the opening game of the year, but Jacksonville they hit them on some plays, Tennessee…but in several of those games Pittsburgh made big plays to offset what happened. So in other words you can watch an offense go out there and say, 'OK'. You kind of like what they are doing. They've got a good idea on the running game. Their protection is good. They are hitting some passes and then Chad Scott picks one off against Tennessee and runs 60 yards with it for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. I mean that…that wipes out a lot of good plays. So I think in playing Pittsburgh you've really got to be on alert every single play. You've got to try to get some consistency in your offensive performance. At the same time, not have a play like that where the ball gets picked off and run back or the Steelers lead the league with three fumbles returned for touchdowns this year where they strip the quarterback and scoop it up and go in and that kind of thing. So you've got to those plays out of the game or it's just too hard to make those points back up at the other end.
Q: I am sure you've talked to Tom about that as a priority, holding on to the ball?
BB: We talk about it every week. It's always a priority. There is nothing more important with the ball. It starts with the quarterback-center exchange, whether we are under center like we had in Miami or whether it's a shotgun situation like we had in the first Jets game. And it comes for whoever handles the ball, whether it is the quarterback, the receivers, the running backs, the tight ends or a defensive player on an interception or a fumble return, which we've had a couple of those this year. I tell them and they have heard it all year. They heard it all last year too. When you carry the ball in your hands you carry the life line of the entire team. Everybody else is counting on you and that's where it needs to end up at the end of the play. There is nothing more important than the ball. I mean it all starts right there.
Q: You talk about big plays and Troy Brown has been making big plays consistently all year. Have teams tried to approach him differently week to week?
BB: Sure, no question Ron. We see, whether you want to call it one double-80, that's really the coverage that we call it, where teams will just double him wherever he is. We work on that coverage every single week in practice whether our opponents have shown it or not. We show our offense and our quarterbacks and our receivers a coverage where he is going to get doubled. On punt returns, we've seen plenty of examples where they are kicking the ball out of bounds or they are trying to kick it over in the corner of the field so that all the coverage can squeeze into that area. So those are the kinds of things that we've seen where it's specific double coverage on Troy or punts that they go in real directionally. You know Pittsburgh is a team that has always done that. You saw what happened in the Baltimore game, [Jermaine] Lewis returned one for a touchdown. The next one, Miller has got him out of bounds right there on the sideline. Those are things that we prepare for on a weekly basis whether our opponents have shown them or not.
Q: Can you talk about the development of the offensive line and what it has meant to this team this year? Obviously at the beginning of the year there were some pieces that weren't right there?
BB: Well yeah, definitely. It was a tough training camp for the offensive line. [Matt] Light missed preseason. [Mike] Compton missed all the preseason games. [Damien] Woody missed a couple weeks in there. [Joe] Andruzzi missed a little time with his back. So really the only guy that was out there on a consistent basis that is now starting for us is Greg [Robinson-Randall]. But you know, [Adrian] Klemm missed time. We had a bunch of guys that were in and out of there. It was musical chairs on the offensive line and I thought the situation didn't really start to settle down a little until the first week of the season when we got Compton back and Light was back and Woody was back at that time. So it was probably the fourth or fifth game of the year before that group probably looked like it should have looked at the end of preseason. You know as a group playing together, not individually, but as a group. So there is no question that that was an area that as they came together, and then Antowain [Smith] came together with them and got more reps running behind that group and they got a better feel for him and he got a better feel for them and vice versa. That's when our production started to increase, so I thought those two things went hand in hand.
Q: There is no way of minimizing the way that Andruzzi played through the knee injury…?
Q: Is that the kind of thing that sets an example for the whole team?
BB: Yeah, I thought that was one of the great performances we had all year was Joe coming back and playing after the Miami game. I mean he sure showed so much courage and toughness and really couldn't even walk on Wednesday and Thursday. He was just out there limping through practice on Friday. We really didn't think there was any way he was going to play and then Saturday he said he felt good in the walk-thru and Mike Woicik and…worked him out before the game on Sunday and he was able to go. It was a tremendous performance by Joe and one that I think everybody around here, players, coaches, everybody, just earned a tremendous amount of respect for the guy.
Q: Based on his personality and aggressiveness what would Adam Vinatieri be doing if he wasn't a kicker?
BB: He'd probably be on defense somewhere. He'd probably be on defense if he was a little bigger and could run a little faster. I mean he has made several tackles through his career, open-field tackles. You know he made a big one for us here earlier in the year, I think it was against New Orleans. But you know he's a tough guy and he's got some quickness and he's got good body strength for his size. So maybe he'd be on defense.
Q: How did he react to you drafting a kicker? Did that faze him at all, because that affects different players?
BB: Oh absolutely. The competition affected our two kickers at opposite ends. I think Adam was…took it as a challenge and is having a great year. You know I talked to him after we did it and told him that it would be a competitive situation, but we were going to go with the best guy and he was the best kicker in training camp. He had a great preseason. I didn't notice any change in his work ethic or attitude or anything else for the last two years that I have been here. He's a guy that comes in early, stays late, works hard, never asks for a break, never looking to get out of anything, just tries to do a little bit more than he did the day before and get a little bit better.
Q: Can you talk about the offer you guys made to Fuamatu-Ma'afala in the offseason and did that lead you to go for Antowain Smith to change the offense for bigger backs?
BB: I don't think we had any intention of changing the offense, but Fu was restricted and we put an offer out there that, in all honesty it wasn't a great offer, but it was all we could do. Pittsburgh matched it, which we didn't think that was unexpected. We did it the year before with offensive linemen. So when you can't put very much into those restricted offers then they are not that hard to match on the other end. The thing you are hoping for maybe is that the team's sitting there saying, 'Well we are not going to re-sign the guy next year. He's going to be a free agent so why don't we just take what we can get for him?' But they elected to keep him and I can understand why. I mean the guy is a good player.
Q: What was it that you liked about him?
BB: Well he's a big back. He's a physical back. He has real good hands. He was their third-down back last year and I thought he did a real good job on blitz pickup. He did a good job catching the ball. They ran him on some sub runs, some tosses and some draws and things like that and it just looked like he would be able to be more of an every down back than what they were using him as because of course they had Jerome Bettis. So he just wasn't getting the opportunity and it was a little bit like the [Mike] Vrabel situation in that we thought we saw a good player. We also saw some real good players playing in front of them. So that's where the interest came and I think Scott [Pioli] did a lot of research on Fu and he had a lot of things to like about him.
Q: It seems like every time you need five yards Troy Brown gets you six. If you need a big punt return he gets it. Do you attribute that to hard work or extra time in the film room or just being a football player? How do you chalk that up as a coach, that ability?
BB: I'd say all of the above. Troy works hard. He's well prepared. He's in great condition. He's got great stamina so that he can play not only the offensive game, but the special teams plays. He has good instincts and he knows…he is very aware of situations. He knows where people are around him and he knows what the situation in the game is and what we need and what we are looking for. At some times for one reason he'll make a play and the next time for another reason he'll make the play. He's just a good football player and guys like Troy and Tedy Bruschi and guys like that, they just…you can't tell them everything that is going to happen in a game. You can't put them in every single situation. They just seem to know when to do the right thing and they do it consistently. There's no question that those guys are what you call clutch players because they just…they come through when they need it the most.
Q: Is he one of those guys that you often say the game might slow down for because they are so ready for what is going to happen?
BB: Yeah, he's a guy that a lot of times can, it almost seems, anticipate things before they are going to happen. Maybe break off a pattern that by rule he shouldn't break off, but because of the way the guy plays him or squats on a particular route that he just does it because he knows that if he does what he is supposed to do he won't be open, whereas if he adjusts it a little bit then he has a chance to make something out of nothing. Again, as we were talking about, I mean Bruschi is a little bit the same way. Sometimes his rule is to stay with the man, but if he thinks he can get to the quarterback and his guy won't get the ball then sometimes he'll just let him go and blitz in there and make a play. It's a little bit against the rule, but we always tell them that in your judgment if you are right and you can do it then great. We can't afford for you to be wrong on that and let them throw it to the guy and have nobody on him, but those are decisions that instinctively on the football field they just have to make in the game conditions