ML:“If you haven’t gotten the news, Leon Hall was IR’ed (placed on Reserve/Injured list). He’ll have surgery sometime this week to have his Achilles tendon reattached. We brought Brandon Ghee up from the practice squad. So that’ll be the transaction we make today. Brandon’s done really well for us, and we’ve been fortunate to have him with us (through the season). He didn’t get much chance to do anything in the preseason (due to injury), but he’s done well (on the practice squad) since he’s been healthy all of this season. He’s practiced well and competed well, and obviously he’s been playing against A.J. (Green) and the guys each and every day. He really has shown the ability to go out there and play. He’ll get an opportunity as we move forward, so we’re excited about that.
“It’s unfortunate, obviously, with Leon’s injury because he’s been so durable. I think he’s probably one of the most durable guys I’ve been around. He can play on defense, and to start and play as much as he has since he’s been here, it’s just a shame to get an injury in a non-contact situation like that. But he’ll be back and ready to go by the start of the season next year, so that’s a good thing.”
How is A.J. Green doing after his knee injury yesterday?
ML: “A.J. should be fine.”
Were there any other bumps and bruises you guys came out of the game with?
ML: “Not really. We seemed to come out of the game with general bumps and bruises and soreness that you have when you play physical football. But I think overall we’re in pretty good shape. A couple of the guys that were a little iffy last week and played in the game won’t be as iffy going into the game this week. The other guys who were iffy and didn’t play have a chance to be less than iffy coming into this next week. So we’ll see later in the week. A very enthusiastic ‘we’ll see’ (laughs).”
So you’re a little more enthusiastic about the ‘we’ll sees?’
ML: “A little more enthusiastic about the ‘we’ll sees’ this coming weekend.”
What is your opinion on the two penalties against Andrew Whitworth – holding and illegal hands to the face – late in the fourth quarter?
ML: “With the hands to the face, it’s a foul. It’s not needed. You can’t just leave your hand there. He’s got to just drop his hand. By our NFL rules, it’s not anything that affected the play whatsoever. But it is a foul by our rules.
“With the holding, the whole thing gets into when a guy rips, and his feet, and the viewpoint of the referee at that point. They made the call and we’ve got to overcome it and move forward. Up front, I thought our guys did a really good job. We went through the game as you expect you have to play against them. You have to get things felt out and going. As we went through the game, we started to create the movement we needed to create in the run game. That’s what you’ve got to have. I’d like to have it earlier. I’d like to have the same thing receiver-wise and perimeter-wise. You want to body up, get the separation and go up and make the contested catches earlier in the game. We kind of got through that part and then we’re OK. But we know those first couple possessions are important, and we went three-and-out both times. Conversely, they put 14 points up (on their first two possessions). You’ve got to get off the field on third down. If I remember correctly, they were five-of-seven (on third down) in the first half, and zero-for-(five) in the second half. I think that’s a huge part off the football game – you have to get off the field on third down when you have opportunities.
“So we had a good opportunity to really put some distance between folks (in the AFC North standings) with the way the day played out. But anyway, it is what it is. We have a huge football game this week in Baltimore. We’ll enforce the positives from yesterday and go in and make the corrections and revisions with the things that we needed to do better, then we’ll move forward into Baltimore and get going. We know what’s at stake.”
For the second straight week, you were able to get some consistent production out of the running game:
ML: “We were doing a much better job of getting guys blocked down the field, which is very helpful in getting some of those runs extended a little bit. It was good to have Jermaine (Gresham) back. Jermaine made a big difference in there. He was one of those guys who was a little iffy all week and kind of answered the bell. He really did a great job in the game. It’s a good step for him to make at this point in his career as a young guy who wasn’t completely 100 percent healthy in his mind and yet was able to play and put it on the line for everybody. He got in and had some fun. The adrenaline got going and he was good to go. He was blocking guys off the field. There were a lot of good things for him, and he had some good catches.
“We just need to clean things up all around the football team. There are some things that we can do a lot better, more efficiently – more precisely would probably be the word, detail our jobs a little better. But it was one of those kinds of games where all those kinds of plays made a big difference, because it was a close football game. Anytime you were off-center, it made a huge impact.”
The defensive line got five sacks yesterday, but with the way Ben Roethlisberger moves around in the pocket, that number could have been a lot higher. They took a couple of sacks in the red zone, but he just makes plays to overcome those things:
ML: “He does. He avoided the sack on the first touchdown where we had two, three unblocked guys. It’s things like that. The same thing happened later when they got a penalty. We’ve got to do a better job in those situations, obviously. With Max out (Steelers LOT Max Starks left the game with an injury), you have to cash in on the opportunity. If we’re fortunate enough to schematically hit something the right way as perfect as that, you want to benefit from it. On the other side, I thought our quarterback (Andy Dalton) did a good job of moving away from pressure. With the pressures, we did a good job of picking most of it up.
“But once in awhile, a guy falls off or comes in late, and Andy did a good job of moving away from it and extending plays, moving away for a completion or moving away and throwing it away. That’s what you’ve got to do against these guys. It’ll be big again as we come into this week.”
When A.J. Green went down with the injury and couldn’t play in the second half, how much did that hurt the passing game?
ML: “Well, guys get hurt. You guys keep asking those questions, but in my position, you can’t sit here and worry about that.”
When A.J. Green was playing, you used some empty-backfield formations, with Andrew Hawkins as the slot receiver. That seemed to get you some nice matchups for Andrew:
ML: “It was a good way to get Hawkins matched up on people not quite as athletic as he is. So it was a good job by the offensive coaches. And then Brandon Tate filled in there when A.J. went out, in those same personnel groupings. As we go through the season, you’ve got to have some creativity. We can’t sit in the same personnel and formations throughout (the season). So it was a good job by the offensive staff of coming up with something a little bit different. It was something they felt like the rest of the guys can handle, and it let another guy expand his role a little bit. So it was a good role for Hawk (Andrew Hawkins) to be in last week. He kind of took it and ran with it, like he does.”
The last few games, this team has done very well in the second half of games. How can you translate that to the first half as well, and get off to a quick start in games?
ML: “I don’t know. We’ll see. We’ll be up to that challenge.”
People were concerned about non-contact injuries due to the lockout. Was that a concern to you, and do you think that’s had an effect?
ML: “I think we’re way beyond any lockout hangover. I think it’s still dependent on the player and the person individually. I think if Leon had torn his Achilles in September, I don’t know if it would have been an effect of the lockout, because I don’t think anybody trains harder than Leon Hall. I don’t think you can blame this one on the lockout.”
Because of how he trains, do you think you’ll be able to pencil him in for next season?
ML: “Oh yeah. I don’t see why I would feel any differently for him and for what he is, for as conscientious as he is. He’ll get great care and he’ll get great repair and mend and rehab and move forward.”
Was your defense in the red zone disappointing?
ML: “You don’t want to give up a third-down touchdown, and we gave up some third-down completions that kept them going down there. We’ve got to do better.”
How did Rey Maualuga do in his first game back from the ankle injury?
ML: “Well we’ve got to play better all around. Rey did some good things and some things where we’ve just got to keep playing. It was good to have him back out there. He’ll be able to have a good week of practice and preparation this week and it will benefit him. He’s still a young guy who practice makes perfect. That will be important for him.”
The Steelers may have been one of the best overall special teams groups you’ll play. They are top-10 in three out of the four categories. You again won the average drive start, which you have done in almost every game this season. That has to be a big factor, right?
ML: “I thought our guys across the board on special teams turned in a very good performance. I thought we did a good job with lanes and a great job of tackling. We made some plays that most people don’t notice – not giving them a chance to return the ball at the end of the first half. Things like that that we do go unnoticed.
“But it was a great job by our guys of executing and of Kevin (Huber) putting the ball up and out of bounds where we wanted it, so it prevents them from having any chance of possession. Those are the kinds of things that go unnoticed. Mike (Nugent) mishit two kickoffs, but for as windy as it was yesterday I thought he handled it well. When they brought it back out, I thought our guys did a great job of covering, and when we punted it we put the ball up in the air when we needed to.
“We had some good punt returns. We’re fractions of some blocks away from some big plays still in the return game. We’ve just got to keep it up and keep working at it, but I think every week when we get a team to punt the football, we know we have a great opportunity for an offensive play about to happen.
“It’s the same thing when we’re returning the kickoff. Even though you don’t want to have to return those kickoffs, we have a chance for a return coming. Our guys are doing a good job, we’ve just got to keep it up. We had some guys filling in at some spots when Leon went down, and everybody had to adjust up a couple of guys. Then A.J. went down, so guys were playing more on offense and different guys were playing on defense, but they did a good job of filling in and moving forward.”
How do you think Kelly Jennings has done?
ML: “I think Kelly has done OK for us. I think he’s been kind of feeling his way a little bit. He’s just got to keep playing and step up and play. I think it’s harder when you come from a different team, a different style, different coaches. He’s been through three different sets of coaches, or probably four or five different sets of coaches through his last four years.
“He’s a really conscientious, really smart guy, which is another thing that you’ve got to work through sometimes, because he wants to do it as the coaches ask. When you get players like that, I think you have to have some patience with them. And as coaches we do (have patience), because sometimes you assume that a player knows what you’re talking about and what you mean, and he’s very conscientiously listening to every word you say. So if you don’t say the word, then he may not get the word.
“I think we’ve seen the same thing a little bit with Manny Lawson and Thomas (Howard). Those guys are all very conscientious players, and so you’ve got to make sure (you’re careful) because they’re learning the techniques and the things as you go. We’ve got to make sure we’re explicit with them a lot of times with how we explain things, because those guys are vets. The positive with them is that they are such good pros. We’ve just got to keep coming.”