By Alan Robinson
Tim Tebow. Mark Sanchez. Tim Tebow. Mark Sanchez. Darrelle Revis. Tim Tebow.
Pretty easy to tell what was on Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s mind at his weekly news conference Tuesday.
The Jets’ wildcat offense — clearly, a work in progress — has been so ineffectual that Tebow actually was BOOED at one point during a 48-24 steamrolling of the Bad News Bills on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Imagine that: Tim Tebow booed, and it wasn’t Philadelphia.
Yet Tomlin insists the Steelers must, must, must prepare for the wildcat — or exactly what Jets coach Rex Ryan predicted every opponent would do when he hired the NFL’s leading wildcat proponent, Tony Sparano, as his offensive coordinator. Sparano run Ronnie Brown in the wildcat while Sparano was the Dolphins’ coach.
The idea was to force teams to prepare for Tebow, thereby forcing them to devote less practice time to Sanchez — who is coming off the statistically best game of his career,
Sanchez, if you recall, directed the Jets past the Steelers at Heinz Field in December 2010, then nearly pulled off the same feat a month later in the AFC championship game.
Here are Tomlin’s comments, courtesy of the Steelers. He didn’t have much to say about the replacement officials, by the way:
Tomlin: Good afternoon. I will start with a quick assessment of Sunday night’s performance. Obviously, it was an unsuccessful one. The reasons why, after watching the video, really are not that different than my initial reactions following the game. I thought we did some good things. I thought the quality of our execution waned down the stretch, specifically, we didn’t make significant plays on offense or defense. You have to acknowledge that Denver did. They made splash plays on offense and defense. An example of that is the 71-yard screen pass for a touchdown to Demaryius Thomas in the latter part of the third quarter. They responded to a nice drive that we put together. Then they made a play on defense with Tracy Porter’s interception to essentially close out the game. There were some positives. Obviously, we are not looking for positives, that’s not our bag, but we will acknowledge there were some in the game. I thought our kicking game and our specialists were an asset. Shaun Suisham was 2-for-2 on field goals. He was 5-of-5 in the kickoff game, meaning he had five touchbacks. I thought Drew Butler represented himself well in his first time out as our punter. He had a 40.0 net average and landed one punt inside the Broncos’ five-yard line. We won the field position battle with that. We had a good punt return game. Antonio Brown’s return produced a scoring opportunity. I thought there were some positives on offense and defense but there weren’t enough, particularly late in the game. That’s why we are sitting here today 0-1. From an injury standpoint, we have some pretty good news on that front. James Harrison worked out yesterday. He will run tomorrow, and we will see where he is. We will basically follow the same protocol with him that we did last week. We will work him up to activity and see how his knee responds to that activity. We will let that be our guide in terms of his participation. I will talk about some of the in-game injuries. Troy Polamalu has a right calf strain. It shouldn’t limit him from playing but it may limit him in the early portions of the week from a preparation standpoint. Ramon Foster, who missed time in the game, appears to be fine, as is Marcus Gilbert, who hyperextended his knee. Gilbert may be limited in the early part of the week but it won’t stop him from participating in this upcoming game. The other injuries are the minor bumps and bruises. We are looking forward to our first home game and having an opportunity to respond to last week’s defeat. That being said, the challenge is not an easy one against the New York Jets. They are coming in here off of a big victory against the Buffalo Bills. They started off the season 1-0 and 1-0 in their division. They are a rock solid team. They have great balance. They have good players in all three phases. Starting on defense, you talk about their strong cover people. Darrelle Revis is an obvious example. He is the best in the world at what he does. He is supplemented with some rock solid, quality players. Antonio Cromartie is their other cornerback. He had a pick-six last week. He is a top notch, veteran professional. He is a very good cover man. In the slot they have Kyle Wilson, a first-round pick out of Boise State University a few years ago. He had an interception also in last week’s game. He is becoming a very experienced nickel-back corner. Those three guys are first-round pedigree-type guys. They are capable of covering people and playing bump-and-run. They provide a lot of opportunities for their defense to do a lot of things by their capability to cover people in a bump-and-run fashion. A new acquisition for them at safety is Laron Landry. I have always been a fan of his game. I think he is playing extremely well in the running game and passing game. He had several interceptions in the preseason. He is always a very physical player, the kind of demeanor that you respect. We’ve gone against him in the past. He is new to the Jets but is providing a quality component, physicality, to their secondary. Their linebacking core is a veteran one. When you think about their defense you think about a veteran linebacking core, ones that adjust very well to formations. They are very rarely out of place. Bart Scott is an 11-year veteran. He came from the Baltimore Ravens. He is very experienced in their scheme. He is a high-quality leader. David Harris, their other inside linebacker is a top-quality, second-contract guy, a second-round pick out of the University of Michigan. He is a really good football player. Calvin Pace is a veteran outside linebacker. Up front, much like our defensive front, they have some high-round draft picks, some young talent. Muhammad Wilkerson out of Temple University is a first-round pick. Quinton Coples is a first-round pick from the University of North Carolina. Kendrick Ellis is a high-round pick from Hampton University. He is another top-quality young guy, who is a big anchor point for them. On offense, it starts with Mark Sanchez. He’s done an awesome job for them, last week and for the past several years as their quarterback. He is very mobile. He can create plays as they break down. He is highly accurate, particularly on the move, which creates problems. Containing him is an issue, whether it’s by plays breaking down or pocket movement, they utilize him very well. He works with a nice core of receivers. Leading them is Santonio Holmes. We are familiar with what he is capable of. He is still a high quality player and is very productive for them. They have a high-pedigree, first-round pick from Georgia Tech in Stephen Hill. Obviously, we are somewhat allergic to first-round draft pick wide receivers from Georgia Tech. We respect what this guy is capable of. He produced some plays for them last week. They are a good group. Their offensive line is anchored by Nick Mangold at center. He is a Pro Bowl-caliber player that has played at a high level for a long time. D’Brickashaw Ferguson plays left tackle, and he is a good player. They acquired a big tackle, from Baylor University and the St. Louis Rams. They utilize him at tight end in some of their run-oriented, heavy packages. That has been a weapon for them in the past. He appears to be that extra offensive lineman that they utilize as a tight end. Their running back group is led by Shonn Greene. He is their feature ball carrier. He is a tough, north-south runner that always seems to fall forward. He is supplemented by Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell, who shared third-down and gadget-type responsibilities in the backfield. They have Tim Tebow, who they use in a variety of ways. They’ve used him some as a receiver and at the quarterback position. They are capable of using him as a quarterback in the traditional-like fashion. They did use him some in the Wildcat-like fashion in their last game. I really think what we saw in their last game is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what they are capable of with Tebow. I think the game’s circumstances allowed them to use just a portion of what they are capable of. It wasn’t the whole sum of it. Nothing that they showed in the game was really groundbreaking or outside their personality, whether you are talking about their offensive coordinator, Tony Sparano, or what you’ve seen from Tebow in the past. We are treating it as simply the tip of the iceberg. It will require some extra work on our part this week. It will not be an extended or unusual extra amount of work in preparation. Some of the Wildcat things have been around for a number of years now. We’ve competed against those types of things when we played the Miami Dolphins. They would utilize their running backs, whether it was Ronnie Brown or quarterbacks like Pat White. We’ve prepared for some of the things that Tebow is capable of when he played for Denver. We respect it. It will require preparation but not anything unusual for us, at least in terms of respecting what they are capable of out of those personnel groups. It’s a big week for us. We are excited about the preparation process in front of us. We’ve evaluated the tape. I thought we had a productive meeting yesterday but we need to move forward, ratchet up our preparation, correct our errors and prepare ourselves to finish in a better fashion than we did last week.
Re: The Jets’ offense scoring six touchdowns last week after struggling offensively all preseason:
The preseason is just that, it’s preseason. From our own personal experience, sometimes there could be a myriad of reasons why you’re unproductive or less productive in the preseason. Usually, it’s centered around a limited game plan or wanting to see things from certain people and that’s a place to begin. I don’t read too much into it, to be honest with you. You look at the structure of how they attack, the tape they put out last week was very impressive and that’s the tape that I’m concerned about and that we’re focusing our energies on in preparation for them.
Re: The Jets’ pass protection against Buffalo last week and not allowing a sack:
I think it was a lot of things and included in that is game circumstances. They jumped on them early and when have an opportunity to do that you have an opportunity to remain non-rhythmic in terms of your approach. Whether it’s running the football, whether it’s misdirection passes, whether it’s quick passes, they utilize all of those. All of that is well within the realm of Sanchez’s expertise. That is who they are. They’re going to mix things up. They’re going to run the football. They’re going to hit you with some misdirection passes and some quick game. They’re very balanced offensively and it’s going to limit your opportunities to get to him and pressure him.
How do you prepare the defense to face a no-huddle attack like Denver had?
I’m less concerned about that aspect of it, the fact that they’re no huddle, and I’m more concerned about what transpires after the ball is snapped. The reality is that we didn’t play well enough post-snap. Forget about whether or not they huddle between plays, we’ve got full control over how we play once the ball is snapped and it wasn’t up to snuff in many instances. When you go back and look at the tape, I thought one of the things that made they’re no huddle attack most effective was the fact that they ran the ball successfully on us and they were able to stay on schedule and eliminate a whole bunch of third down opportunities. I think they were five-of-nine in the game, so that lets you know that they were doing the job on first and second down, specifically in the second half. I thought they ran the ball very well, reeling of chunks of seven, nine and so forth and five yard gains, which makes it doubly difficult to deal with a guy the caliber of Manning.
Does defending a no-huddle offense limit the types of defenses you can call and did they change?
It doesn’t really limit us, in terms of personnel packages and what we’re capable of attacking people with. We utilize a variety of personnel packages. Sometimes it mirrored theirs, sometimes it didn’t and that’s always the case with us. It didn’t tax us or limit us in terms of the types of coverages or defenses we could call because, quite frankly, they weren’t in a hurry-up-like fashion. You never felt the pressure of that type of hurry-up. They were in a muddle huddle or no huddle, if you will. Our calls essentially stayed the same in the processes. In terms of administering our calls and getting our calls to the defense, it really remained the same. I think the coach-to-player communications on defense over the last several years have leveled the playing field in that regard. We just didn’t perform as well as I would have liked us to, to be quite honest with you, along the lines of some of the things that you guys are asking with the no-huddle.
Re: The performance of the running backs against Denver and how you will use them going forward:
I think we’re capable of being better. We’re still going to continue to play a number of people. We haven’t sorted out specifically what that rotation is to this point. Obviously, I thought Jonathan Dwyer provided a spark play and represented himself well and will probably get an increased opportunity because of it.
Is RB Rashard Mendenhall near being able to return?
We’ll see how the week takes us. I thought he had a good week last week. He’s done a nice job with the things we’ve asked him to do and we’ll just continue to move forward and put our heads together as the week unfolds and see if he’s the guy for us this week.
Re: How rookie OT Mike Adams performed against Denver:
I thought he represented himself well. He had some trouble late at the extreme end of the game, as we all did. But we were in dire circumstances and somewhat one dimensional at that time. I’m not disappointed in the way he was able to represent himself. As a back-up, you have to be capable of getting in and performing at a variety of positions or in unique circumstances. He went and played solid ball for us at right tackle. Good start for him.
What happened to G Ramon Foster during the game?
He had what they called an optical migraine of some kind. With blurred vision and so forth, we were going to use extreme caution in regards to that. He wasn’t able to return to the football game and it appears to be a non-issue moving forward.
Re: How Foster’s injury occurred:
I don’t know how it happened. I didn’t see how it happened on video. I didn’t see specifically how it happened on video. Obviously, I saw Ramon on video.
Was it a football-related in injury?
It was a football injury of some kind, yes.
Re: Decision to go for a two point conversion early in the fourth quarter:
It was a feel for the game. I thought we had an opportunity to go up by seven if we got two, and put us back on par with them to go up 21-14. So, we seized that opportunity. I thought we were moving the ball extremely well so we took advantage of the opportunity presented to us at that time. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us.
Were the false start penalties due to the play clock running down?
It wasn’t really a function of that. That happens all the time, home or away. The biggest factor in that regard was that the crowd did a nice job of being extremely loud, limiting communication and having to go on rhythm or on sight. Sometimes, particularly on passing situations, you try to anticipate the snap count or if you’re in a running situation and you’re pulling you’re anticipating the snap count, which makes it increasingly difficult. We didn’t do a good enough job in that area. It created some negative plays for us. Thankfully, we were able to overcome most of them. We were 11-of-19 on third downs but many of those third downs that we were able to convert weren’t comfortable ones. They were situations that we have desire to stay out of, third-and-11, third-and-13, third-and-18, and so forth. Many of those situations were created by pre-snap penalties, either by false starts or bad mechanics on our part and illegal formations.
Would you consider dressing an extra offensive lineman this week?
We’ll look at the totality of our football team and the overall health of our football team and how we want to attack the Jets. We’ll make that determination at the end of week. I never have a knee-jerk reaction to what transpired the week before, in terms of identifying who’s playing and who’s not. We’ll look at the overall health of our team, the plan that we have in place this game, and we’ll do it at the appropriate time, which is the latter part of the week for us.
Re: The source of confusion on the illegal formation:
I don’t have the answer to that. It shouldn’t be a problem but obviously it was. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and improve in that area.
Re: G Willie Colon’s performance:
I thought he did some nice things. I think he has a desire to be better and we have a desire for him to be better. He’s always a physical player and does a nice job in that regard. He’s still getting up to speed on some of the nuances of the guard position. We’ll expect him to be a player on the rise, as I’m sure he does too.
Will the return of S Ryan Clark and LB James Harrison help improve the defense?
I’m not going to assume that it is. It wouldn’t give any credence to my expectations in terms of the quality of play of backups if I took that position. Obviously, those guys are capable of helping us. They’re quality veteran players. They know how to play and, specifically in Ryan’s case, not only his play but his communication and leadership. That remains to be seen and we’re not going to assume anything. What we are going to do is focus on the healthy guys and get them prepared to play and, ultimately, expect them to play on the acceptable level. Obviously, this week Ryan will be included in that bunch. Whether or not James is, remains to be seen.
Re: Challenging Jets CB Darrelle Revis:
You’ve got to play football and utilize all eligibles. He’ll be defending one of them. We’re not going to shy away from confrontation but at the same time we understand his reputation is well-earned and deserved.
Are you still experimenting with ways to utilize RB Chris Rainey and ways to catch defenses off-guard?
I can’t speak for other people’s perspectives in terms of where he is or what he is capable of doing. Obviously, we have a desire to utilize him and utilize his special skills. We’ve done that and plan on continuing to do so.
Has QB Mark Sanchez added anything to his repertoire since the last time you played the Jets?
I don’t know that he has added anything. I think they’ve always done a nice job of playing to his strengths, which are his accuracy and his mobility when plays break down. They move the pocket by design and he does a good job of that. I think more than anything over the course of the last couple of years, he’s probably improving at becoming a mature player and a leader, which most quarterbacks do with time.
Who is your emergency long snapper and what is your Plan B?
It’s not James Harrison. I didn’t see that last night. I heard about it. In the National Football League when you’ve got 53 guys, you don’t have great depth at the snapping position. It’s a problem that probably 32 teams have. We feel comfortable with our options and I’ll hold my cards in that regard at this time.
What will it mean to have Clark and Harrison back in the defensive starting lineup?
I’m not going to speculate. They haven’t played here in 2012 so I’m not going to assume that their contributions from past years will mirror their contributions here this year. We’re excited and anxious to get those men on the field. We fully expect them to live up to their reputations but they have to put that on tape. I’m not going give them any verbal assistance.
Re: Using three wide receiver sets a majority of the time on offense:
We feel comfortable with our wide receiver group, not only three but four. Jerricho Cotchery is a valuable member of our group. Of course, the way the game unfolded, that personnel group was a consistent one for us. We felt like we were capable of moving the ball. It’s an asset to us so we utilize it.
Did you notice if any aspect of the game was different with the replacement officials?
I did not.
Re: LB Jason Worilds’ progress:
I was generally pleased with his overall level of conditioning. I think that’s a concern when you talk about a guy who has missed the quantity of time that he has. His quality of play needs to be on the upswing, in terms of detail but that will come. He’s a bright young guy. We expect him to provide a solid contribution for us. Sunday was nothing but just a good start from that perspective.
Re: Potentially missed calls during Sunday’s game against Denver:
It’s not my job to evaluate the officials. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to keep my money in my pocket.