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Mike Tomlin Q&A on this game vs. Falcons

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Mike Tomlin, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers

We’ve got a formidable opponent in the Atlanta Falcons. When you look at them offensively they have one of the premier young signal-callers in football in Matt Ryan. He does a lot of things – just about everything – well. He plays smart, he’s tough, he has a strong arm, he’s mobile, he makes good decisions, spreads the ball around to a variety of people. Some of those are the likes of Tony Gonzalez, the legendary tight end; Roddy White, a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver with three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Running the ball for them is Michael Turner. He’s a tough guy to wrap up. He’s got a low center of gravity, very powerful, surprisingly fast. He’s just a guy we’ve got to be prepared to deal with. It’s got to be a hit-and-wrap week for us. We’ve got to get multiple hats to the football to corral this man. He’s supplemented by some other guys who are very versatile and do a lot of things well like (Jason) Snelling, who’s a versatile third-down multi-purpose back for them. Up front they’re anchored by Sam Baker and company. They do a nice job of protecting Matt Ryan. He doesn’t get taken down quite often.

Defensively, they play a lot of people up front, particularly at the defensive end position. John Abraham is a disruptive force and has been in this league for a long time. First-round draft pick Jamaal Anderson is at the other end. These guys are supplemented by Chauncey Davis, a very stout run defender; (Kroy) Biermann, who is a relentless pursuer of the football and a highly productive man in his own right. On the second level, (Curtis) Lofton, the man in the middle, is an emerging young player who runs and hits extremely well. The rookie (Sean) Weatherspoon didn’t take any time getting into the lineup, and if you watch August football you see why he’s going to be starting for those guys. On the back end they have some solid young corners in (Christoper) Owens and (Brent) Grimes but I’m sure they

Q: How much input will Dennis have with Bruce Arians when the game plan is made?

A: Similar to Ben (Roethlisberger). It’s a practical protocol we have with the quarterback who is starting the game. It wouldn’t be sharp coaching to implement a plan without input from the man that’s going to orchestrate that plan.

Q: Is Dennis holding the position until Byron Leftwich comes back?

A: It depends on how he plays. That’s just the nature of the National Football League. Anyone who’d suggest anything different is misinformed or misleading you. Injuries are part of the game. They’re unfortunate but they also provide opportunities for others. What others do with those opportunities oftentimes determines what happens going forward. I acknowledge that.

Q: In what ways is Dixon better now than he was a year ago, or even at the start of training camp?

A: Just in general, overall mastery of our offense, the spewing of the verbiage, the fluid understanding of where to distribute the football, the understanding of protections and so forth. I just think it’s the natural maturation process that a young player goes through. He’s in the process of becoming a veteran-like player. Playing is a big part of that, and that’s why this opportunity he’s getting is so big for him personally.

Q: Will Mendenhall stay in on third downs? And will you keep an eye on how many touches he gets?

A: We are going to monitor his touches. It’s the appropriate thing to do this early in the season. He is going to stay in and he’s capable of staying in on third downs, but we’re also capable of inserting a Mewelde Moore or even an Isaac Redman. We’ll be thoughtfully non-rhythmic here as we get started, for different reasons: one, to preserve Rashard, but also to be inclusive in terms of the contributions of those men.

Q: Will you try to keep Dennis’s running reigned in?

A: You just want him to do what comes natural. If he’s playing on instinct and knowledge, it’s like running water. If you give him too much instruction in terms of the things you’re talking about, then it’s not going to be natural, it’s not going to be fluid, it’s not going to be comfortable, and those are things I want his performance to be.

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