By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Like many fans after watching New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees pass for 305 yards and two touchdowns against it, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he has concerns about his pass defense.
Tomlin said as much during his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon, but his response might not be what some expected.
“We recognize that Drew Brees is a talented quarterback,” Tomlin said. “He has a variety of weapons to use. We talked about that in great detail a week ago in here. He made some great plays in that football game, particularly in the second half. I liked what we were able to do against him in the first half.
“But he settled down, as did his group, and he got going. He made some plays. That’s part of losing and the reasons why you lose. That’s not our intentions when we step into the stadiums, but we didn’t get the job done. We tip our hat to Drew and Co., but we also acknowledge that we’ve got some work to do.”
A more specific area of concern would have to be third-down conversions. The Steelers basically weren’t good on offense (3-for-10, 30 percent) and gave up too many on defense (7-for-16, 44 percent). Tomlin believed the club’s problems were both in recognition and execution.
“I like to preface that by saying it was probably in the early portions of the game,” Tomlin said. “I think we settled down as the game went on, but quite frankly not soon enough. I thought that they had similar issues early in the game. I thought that it was an excitable, hostile environment.
“And I thought that it was an environment dominated by both defenses early. Drew Brees and Co. got going quicker than we did in the second half of that game. So it put us behind the eight ball and made the margin for error very slim. (And) we expect Cincinnati to be a hostile environment Monday night.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said after the game, which he acknowledged wasn’t among his best performances, that the Superdome was the wildest and loudest environment that he’s played in on the road. Tomlin gave some credit to the Saints’ defense, but added that they didn’t do anything differently in blitzing or specialty defenses.
“I just think that at the early portion of the game, we didn’t do a good job of dealing with it,” Tomlin said. “(And) I don’t think they did a good job of dealing with us. I think that first half of that game was dominated by defenses. I think that the halftime score bears that out. I think New Orleans got started a little quicker in the second half offensively than we did.
“It put us behind the eight ball. It made the margin for error very slim, and then when (tight end) Heath (Miller) fumbled, of course, that was an error that we couldn’t afford because New Orleans got started quicker than us offensively in the second half of the game.”
The other main issue Tuesday concerned challenging plays. Tomlin said that if he sees a play and believes it’s a challengeable play, he’ll throw the flag. He challenged the play where wideout Antwaan Randle El was hit at the goal line and lost, but did not challenge a similar play with Rashard Mendenhall when replays appeared to show that the running back scored.
“If I get information from upstairs, where we think it’s a challengeable play, we will,” Tomlin said. “If we don’t, we generally rely on the players that are on the field. I’ve been here long enough where I know when I am going to get legitimate information or emotional information. That’s our general process.
“In the first instance you talked about, we thought it was a challengeable play. Obviously, we were wrong. And that instance had no bearing on whether or not we challenged the second play. Quite frankly, on the second play, of course since the game I found out it was a potentially challengeable play. We didn’t deem it to be one in the instance in which it occurred.
“There wasn’t a bunch of video evidence available to us, and the guys on the field didn’t seem to think it was a challengeable play, so we didn’t,” Tomlin added. “We’re not going to make that as an excuse. We had more than that opportunity to get that ball in the end zone down there. And we take responsibility for our inability to do that.”
Tomlin did admit that his coaches in the booth had trouble getting enough replay views to make an informed decision to challenge. That’s generally the case on the road, as teams have the booth TVs tuned into the scoreboard, and the home scoreboard isn’t going to show a replay that could go against the home team. It’s that simple.
Tomlin also noted that Mendenhall didn’t believe he scored, and he was more concerned that after three shots at first-and-goal his team could not punch it in. That’s been a concern for a couple years now, but it appeared to get rectified this season with Isaac Redman as the short-yardage back.
Redman suffered an ankle injury during the game, however, and was limited at times. Right offensive tackle Flozell Adams also re-injured his ankle, but returned late in the game. Both are expected to play this week with the extra time. Defensive end Brett Keisel (hamstring) also is expected to return after missing the last game.
Notes: Tomlin did not believe James Harrison was being targeted by the league, and he did not know if the Steelers’ outside linebacker would be fined for his hit on Brees. Harrison was penalized on the play for a late hit. … Defensive end Aaron Smith reportedly has said that the best-case scenario could be for him to return to face the New York Jets Dec. 19 at 4:15 p.m. at Heinz Field.