Dom, what's the first thing that jumps out at you about the Steelers when you look at that offense?They've got a big strong quarterback that's hard to get on the ground. You see numerous times people come flat free, and he's got a real unique ability to pump fake, get them off balance, has very good pocket instincts, and he has very good vision in terms of where the pressure's coming from. And he's so big and strong that he's hard to get off his feet. And then he'll step up in and flush, and the receivers will uncover down the field because he buys a lot of time for those receivers to uncover off the coverage. **
Any way you can compare the way your secondary is playing now to what they had to endure when you were there last year?
*Well, we're a totally different team. I think the Steelers are an offensive team that they have the ability that they can play power football with their running game or they can spread you out and try to use their skill. I think they've really added some good young wide receivers with speed. Of course, Hines Ward is Hines Ward. He's very instinctive and a very good route-runner. And Ben Roethlisberger makes the thing all go because he's just ‑‑ the timing can break down and some of the times he's at his best when the timing does break down. *
Is that the thing that sticks out for you most in that last game, just how hard it is to get him down? You guys had a number of chances to get him down at the end.
*I counted. We had five sacks and a chance at five ‑‑ a legitimate chance at five other sacks. But it was just basically him being Ben, you know, where we missed him or we hit him and came off of him. And a couple of the times, he launched a ball up the field for big plays against us. We gave up by far the most big plays there than we did of any game last season? *
How do you work on that? You can't go tackle somebody in practice, obviously, at this point. How do you prepare for a game like that?
*Your cover people have to be prepared for the down to extend because it is going to extend. The timing ‑‑ one of the best things about their passing game is when the timing breaks down because Ben has the arm strength to throw the ball any place on the field. When you have speed, the longer the down extends, the harder it is to cover guys. They obviously work a lot on it in terms of flushing. You just have to stay on your coverage. You can't relax in coverage. *
How about the fact that he's 6'5", 250, or whatever he is? And you said how hard he is to get on the ground. How do you simulate that for the guys that try to sack him?
*It's like trying to tackle a lineman back there. He's like a fullback back there playing quarterback. I think you've got to try to hit him between the knees and the chest. If you get up high on him, you probably aren't going to get him down. *
What's the best play you've seen Clay Matthews make in practice or a game?
*He's made a lot of them. I don't know I could single any one out. Clay's got a combination of quickness and instincts. I think he's a very smart player. He has all the qualities that we look for in an outside linebacker because you can ask him to do many things. We obviously moved him around a lot. He's a very good dropper in coverage. He's got really good coverage instincts when you drop him out of there. And I think he has a feel in terms of he has a plan of how he wants to rush and I think he can set people up many times. Because he has enough strength to where he can bull and power-rush somebody, but then he'll set them up with that and get on the edge and make a quick move. So he's, I think, also a very good run player. You've seen him at times make quick inside moves. The very first game of the season against the Eagles when they had it fourth-and-1, it was the play of the game really, in my opinion. He made a move and came inside and used up two blockers, and it kept everybody ‑‑ any time he uses up two blockers, you're going to keep another guy free. *
Do you like him against Ben?
*I like his quickness. I like Clay against anybody. *
How important are play-makers in this game? How do you feel about the number of play-makers you have on defense?
I think they're extremely important. I think you look at any really good defense, you've got two, three, four guys that you feel are going to make two or three plays a game that might change that game around because that's what these games come down to. During the course of a game, if it's a 60‑play game, there's probably three or four plays that have a big influence on determining the outcome of the game. The more people you can put out there to have a chance to make those kinds of plays, then the better your chances are. We've had a number of different players that have stepped up. I mean, you saw our championship game. Sam Shields and B.J. stepped up and made big plays. Charles Woodson has always been a big play-maker for us. You put him around the ball, and he's one of the very best at, when he tackles people, he's always going for the ball and he pops the ball out a lot doing that. Clay is because Clay's so explosive. The more explosion you have, I think, and the more guys you have with speed and explosion, the better chance you have of getting the ball turned over. It's been one of our strengths here really the last two years, taking the ball away.
Can you talk about your situation with Dick LeBeau and how your philosophies have dovetailed each other over the years?
*I've got as much respect for Dick as anybody in this business. I consider him a good friend. We roomed together when we first went to Pittsburgh back in '92 when Bill Cowher took the job, and worked there together for three years. Anybody that's been in the league over 50 years as a player and a coach has to have something special. The fact that he got inducted into the Hall of Fame this last year probably was long overdue. Very unique guy when you look at what he's done and what that defense has done. They've been the standard-bearer really of defense. If you look at him over the last 18, 19 years and probably put their collective stats together, I don't think anybody's can compare with him. *
*Dom, is Joe Philbin your best friend, and some of the offensive coaches your best friend this week because of what you helped install there in the early '90s and the similarities?
*We can pretty much look and call the defense and probably a lot of the terminology might be very similar, I would imagine. You don't have to probably draw as many cards. We can just say, hey, this is what you want. We can call it up.
*Do you like that? Is it just mano y mano this week coming into the Super Bowl?
*You play certain teams that you're more familiar with and they're more familiar with us too. So it comes down to the players really going out and executing and how much you can execute and do it efficiently, and especially in a game like this because every step along the way, the margin for error gets smaller. And you've got to do a better job of preparation. You just understand that you never know which play is going to determine the outcome of the game. So you've got to play every one like that play is going to determine the game. The Steelers have had ‑‑ I guess this is their third out of the last six years so they've had experience in this game. I know how excited our guys are to have an opportunity to play in the game.
Dom, how often do you talk to Dick LeBeau?
*During the season, we don't talk. I don't think there are many coaches that talk because you just don't have time. But we normally have a standard deal where at the combine we always get together and have dinner and kind of catch up on things. I'm sure we both follow each other's teams in terms of statistics because we've been very close and competing with each other the whole year statistically. Any chance that I get to look at a Pittsburgh defense, I always like to look at the Pittsburgh defense. I think probably they do the same thing with ours. *
Dom, you talked to us before about going from the USFL to the NFL. I know it wasn't the first 3-4 defense that's been run, but it really was, in a lot of ways, revolutionary. Did you guys know at the time how you were going to change the way defenses were played in the NFL when you guys started that?
Well, everything goes in cycles, and if you stay in the game long enough, you're going to see things go full cycle because what might work real well this year, people become more familiar with it, and next thing you know, people are blocking things better and having more success against it. So you have to ‑‑ it's constantly evolving and changing and a little change here and there. I know that the zone blitz, back when we started with it there, there wasn't a lot of people doing it. Now everybody does it. It's just how they do it and the players they have doing it with and how familiar they are with the different rules that you do it with. So they do an outstanding job. I mean, Dick's ‑‑ Dick does ‑‑ you know, he's the best.
*I guess how are you now just because you have your own personnel and you have tailored things to the personnel here. Is it still pretty much the same defense?
*We're in our second year here running the defense here. They've been running pretty close to the defense since '92. So they've drafted for it. One of the great things about the stability of that organization is that defense probably hasn't changed a whole lot other than, you know, new little things. But they've been doing it for a long time. So normally, if they have a player go down, they've got one standing there that they've been training to come along. So, you know, we're still evolving. We do a lot of things to try to fit to what we think our talent can do. This year the challenge has been each week we go in, who are we going to have available? Because you start thinking at the right outside linebacker, I think I counted six guys we've played at the right outside linebacker position. That certainly affects what you're doing. You know, if you're in a defense where you've had the same two guys playing 16 games the whole year, it's probably going to look a little different than if you've brought guys in during the course of the season and they've had to kind of catch up on things.
*Dom, how important has Raji's addition been to that 3-4 defense really congealing?
*To me, B.J.'s a great example of a young, talented player in the second year and understands his assignments and the schemes so much better than he did a year ago. He's been able to stay healthy. He's played more snaps than any of our defensive front guys. I think that he's far more of a pro now than he's ever been in terms of understanding all the little things at his position. He's like a sponge. He'll ask questions, and he's a smart guy. I think it's really helped his play, and I think he's played his best football down the stretch here, you know, over the last five or six games. You've seen him show up more because he's getting all those little things. He's been able to stay on the field. A young guy like that with talent, when he does that, he gets better.
How difficult was that first interception that Shields had Sunday against the Bears? And then to have the composure for the one at the end of the game. To go from the raw talent you saw when he came in with the great athleticism to the technique he's showing you in it big games like that.
*That's one of the gratifying things about coaching, and I think it's been one of the fun things about our defensive team this year because we've had to rely on a lot of guys to step up that basically, when we started the season, we weren't sure that they were going to contribute at all. I think it's a credit to Joe Whitt. I think Joe's done a great job of coaching Sam. From the first day Sam came in, he was very serious, very professional about his job. You could see his speed and athletic ability, and then the question is always, how ishe going to respond, you know, when you put him under the bright lights out there. But every day in practice he'd make a play. You'd kind of look and say you really like what you saw. You didn't want to get too excited. And then when you go back through the preseason games, he would make a play in every preseason game that would catch your eye. So we decided, let's put the young man with talent out there, and he's going to get better as the season goes on. That's exactly what's happened. He's improved tremendously from Game 1 back in Philly to what you saw in the championship game. He played a tremendous game in the championship game. *
You added him to the blitz package. When were you convinced he was ready for that?
*You watch him on the practice field. That was the one that he came on a couple times. We've run that in practice. We hadn't run ‑‑ the one, we hadn't run in any of the games. But basically, the defensive guys joke around about this. They know that, if they want to run something on Sunday that it had better look pretty good in practice because we won't run it if it doesn't. We have a lot of things. We run them in practice. What looks good in practice, they know has a chance of making it into the game. It looked pretty good in practice and it worked well in the game. I just don't think you can waste a lot of plays. If you've got 60 plays, you can't be experimenting out there on five or six of those or they'll jump up and bite you. *
You just mentioned Joe Whitt. How unusual is it to have a coach like him? He's so young. He never played cornerback. He had to learn to coach the position on the fly back in his college days. How good a coach is he at such a young age?
*I think he's a student of the game. He's very detailed. He takes pride in what he's doing. I think he's a good teacher. I think he relates to the players well. Along with, I think, the rest of our guys on the defensive staff, we have an excellent defensive staff, a good group of teachers. I think they're organized and I think the guys respond to that. One thing that I've found about pro football is there's not a player that I've been around in over 25 years that if they think you can help them go out and have success, they're going to be all ears and listen to what you have to say. I think that's the case with Joe. *
Dom, going back to Ben Roethlisberger and how hard he is to get on the ground, you called him like an offensive lineman being back there. Some teams had actually used a player ‑‑ an offensive lineman to simulate him and let their defenders go at him. I'm wondering what, if any, unorthodox measures you might incorporate in the next 10 days?
*The only problem with that is I don't know once we get to him, about that offensive lineman's ability to throw the ball 40 yards like Ben does down the field. We'll try to extend the play in our preparation. We're going to tell our quarterbacks, service quarterbacks back there that we want you to move around and avoid and pump fake and do all those things that he does, just like we always try to ‑‑ we try to coach our scout teams, or service teams up on what we think the opponent does, whether it's in the offensive line or a receiver and that. So you can't simulate Michael Vick or you can't Ben Roethlisberger. They're two different guys. You try to create as much of a look as you can. Now both of them can extend the play in different ways. *
*It's been a great year for your defense, but during the regular season, you guys allowed, I think, three or four game‑winning drives including the Dolphins game, the Redskins game, the Falcons game. Now in the postseason you're ending team's seasons with plays by the defense. What's the difference?
*To me the biggest difference in our defense from this and a year ago, we weren't very good in adversity situations a year ago. When we had to go on the field, on our side of the field, whether it be a turnover or big return, people scored points a high percentage of the time against us. We placed a lot of emphasis on that in the offseason, put together teaching tapes and just talked about it. To me, you evaluate a defense on how well they respond, no matter where they have to go on the field, that they keep people out of the end zone. I'm not sure how we ended up because I haven't had a chance to look. But I know at one point we were No. 1 in the league in adversity defense. I think we finished up probably in the top five, I would imagine, especially if you counted the playoff games. So to me, what it comes down to is this. It comes down to what kind of confidence you have, guys not trying to do too much. When you get in those pressure situations, guys try to get out of their box and try to make a play and you end up leaving yourself vulnerable. It's all about confidence. Guys rallying together and saying, we're going to go out and find a way to keep them out of the end zone. I think for the most part, we've done a good job of that all year.