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Postgame Transcripts: Week 15 vs. Pittsburgh

Interim head coach STEVE WILKS

RE: Opening Statement

A lot of credit to the Steelers. Good football team. Came in today extremely well prepared and ready to go. We didn't do a great job and that starts with me. Our preparation – I thought we were ready. We didn't go out and execute today in so many different fashions. One, starting with the defense with our run fits, you know, 157 yards rushing. Definitely not good enough. On the offensive side of the ball, we couldn't create any momentum. Didn't establish the run game at all. We've got to do a much better job in our protection and giving Sam [Darnold] an opportunity to be able to go through his progressions to get down the field. Third down was horrendous to say the least on both sides. We were 4 of 11 and then they were 12 of 16 so not good enough in regards to affecting time of possession which they had 36 minutes to our 23 and it all results with that. There is nothing we can do about this game. This is behind us. We are off tomorrow. We are back in here on Tuesday getting ready for Detroit.

RE: What happened to not be able to establish the run game today?

I've got to watch the tape. Eye level, they were stout upfront. They did a lot of movement. The linebackers did a good job playing downhill but I've got to see the tape.

RE: CJ Henderson injury status

Don't really know his status. Moving forward it is an ankle. With that, next man up and Keith's [Taylor Jr.] got to go out there, and perform and make plays.

RE: In previous games, the Panthers have set the tone physicality wise. Today it seemed the Steelers did. Did you notice the same thing and why do you think that happened?

I put it on me. I didn't have the guys ready and prepared. That's my fault and I agree with the statement. They were more physical than us today which is not our mantra. It's not us.

RE: Did you have any other options besides Keith [Taylor Jr.]? It seemed like they were targeting him. Did you consider TJ Carrie for instance?

Keith's got to make plays. Whoever is in there. TJ Carrie, Keith Taylor, whoever it may be, they've got to make plays.

RE: Given that you couldn't run the ball, you kept trying to run the ball a couple times inside the 5-yard line late. Did you just feel like that is your identity and stick to it?

No, we mixed it up. We ran the ball when we felt like we had the opportunity based off the look and the personnel that was in the game. Then we took our shot right there. Again, they had pressure a couple of times and we have to do a much better job, again, of protecting Sam and allowing him to go through his progression.

RE: From a play calling standpoint, where do you think you came up short?

Play calling could have been better. Execution by the players could have been better. Better organization and instruction by the head coach could have been better. So, we've all got a hand in this. It's not just one player, one person, one coach.

RE: Earlier in the week with the talk of the playoff picture, you said you wanted the team to focus on us. How do you feel that focus was maintained if at all up to the game?

I thought the focus was fine. The execution did not prevail. Still not worrying about it last week, not worrying about it now. We've got to worry about trying to get ourselves right to win a football game. I don't want anybody in this building talking playoffs.

RE: Did Sam Darnold play well enough to be the quarterback the last three games?

We are going to watch the tape and evaluate everybody.

RE: Looking at the first drive of the 2nd half – 11 minutes 43 seconds, 21 plays, 91 yards – is that the type of drive you want to show your defense to show where everything could have gone better since that drive did take so long and took a huge chunk of time?

What we are going to do with that drive is we are going to pull all the third downs out. That's where we went wrong and that's what I just mentioned earlier. We didn't execute on third down. We had what I considered a couple times, the right call. We have to execute and finish. We have to tackle.

RE: You were fairly successful with fanning Sam Darnold out but it seemed he was in the pocket more today and vulnerable. Do you think that might be something you explore?

Well, it's something that we talked about and something that we did throughout the game. Maybe we could have done it a little bit more. I'm not saying that was the answer. Whether we drop back or whether we spread out, we have to protect.

RE: What happened with the personal foul penalty in the fourth quarter?

I don't know exactly which one you are talking about.

RE: The personal foul on Pittsburgh defensive back

He said something and they called the penalty on him and we got the first down. What he said, I don't know. I wasn't on the field.

RE: Were any of the sacks the result of Sam Darnold holding it too long?

I've got to look at the tape and see exactly what happened, you know. A couple times a guy came off the field and said it was 'my bad,' so I assume it was the lineman on that one particular thing. But as you look at the tape, it could have been as well as Sam holding onto the ball. We have to see.

RE: Was CJ Henderson ruled out?

CJ was ruled out.

RE: Were you disappointed by the amount of Steelers fans in the stands?

You know, I was focused on the game. I really didn't pay attention to it once I get in the mindset of game life. I'm not affected by it.

RE: Where do you go from here? You had some good momentum but today seemed like a step back.

Again, we have to hit the reset button. Don't allow it to get in the way, you know. We have been down this road before. There was a set back against Cincinnati. We came back the next week and played a great game against Atlanta. So, we have to find a way as coaches and the men in the locker room to make plays and we have to do a much better job of putting them in position to make plays.

RE: Why the day off tomorrow?

Because of the short week.

QB SAM DARNOLD

RE: Were you surprised by how much pressure they were able to get on you?

I think they did a good job obviously of, you know, stopping our run game and getting pressure. But I think we are a better team than what we showed today. Obviously, we have a short week, we have a game on Saturday. We have to watch the tape tomorrow, and then we'll be watching some film of the guys we got. It was a tough one today and a lot to learn from but at the same time we have a short week, so we have to flush it quick.

RE: From a momentum standpoint, you guys were sitting on the sideline for 21 plays, how difficult was that from a rhythm standpoint?

I think for us we're just focused on what we have to do coming out for the second half, having a really good first drive. Obviously, the situation is what it is. But that's nothing as an offense we can control. We just have to do our best to go out there and respond. Answer a score with a score. I think that is something that we have to do a lot better. We obviously need to be better on third down and we need to be better in the red zone, flat out.

RE: Did you have to warm up a couple of times during that span?

Yeah, I mean I just like to stay warm. Some quarterbacks don't, I do. Whether it's an eight-play drive or a 20-play drive, I like to stay warm.

RE: Obviously there were a lot of Steelers fans in the crowd, was that disappointing or tough to play against, when you are in your home stadium and you have a lot of opposing fans?

It didn't affect us at all. I think that the way that our guys were able to just focus on what we could control, which is going out there and executing. Obviously, we didn't do enough of that but the crowd didn't have a factor in it. I was able to use my cadence, we didn't have to go silent. So, yeah, it wasn't a factor in that area.

RE: When did you know it was going to be more difficult to run today versus the last couple of weeks? Was that something you expected in preparation or sometime during the game?

Yeah, we knew they would have a good plan for our run game. I just think that's something that, obviously we would like to run the ball a little bit better than we did. We are going to look at the tape and figure out what we need to do in that regard.

RE: Do you think you will see stacked boxes for the rest of the season because of the success that you had when you were running?

I think with the way we are able to run the ball, any teams that are able to run the ball, you see more one-high coverage. So that's when our chances come to be able to take shots up top. We have to be able to hit them. That's another thing that we have to do is be able to hit those shots when they come.

RE: Were there any shots you felt like you missed today?

I had DJ (Moore). I got pressure but you know I was able to complete the ball to Terrace (Marshall Jr.) on the first drive, on the touchdown drive. There was a couple. That other one to DJ down the right sideline in the second quarter. Tried to give him a chance and then that last one where we got PI (pass interference) down the left sideline on our second to last drive. You know, I wish I could have put that in a better spot for Moo (Marshall) to be able go up and get it and score because he ran a really good go route. Obviously as a quarterback there's always a few you'd like to have back and those were some of them.

RE: How are you about giving feedback to Ben McAdoo about if you like a matchup that you see? How vocal are you about that throughout the game?

We're always looking at stuff, seeing how we can adjust to what they're doing - if we see a weakness to be able to go after it. So we are always communicating on the sideline.

RE: What adjustments did you notice them make after the three third down coverages and the touchdown drive you had?

I think they did a really good job on third down after that of just playing man coverage. I think that one false start, it was third-and-three, to be able to get backed up to third-and-eight, obviously, that's a tough situation. I think you have to give credit to them and what they did and how they adjusted and the kind of players that they have. They have really good players over there. With that being said, we could have done a lot better job on third down and in the red zone.

RE: How much of the pressure was maybe from you holding the ball too long or just the pressure just being too much with coverage?

It's tough to say without watching the tape. You know I think they did a pretty good job in the back end of covering some of our stuff. With that being said, I have to be able to get the ball down and go through my reads a little quicker. And then there were a couple in the red zone where I am trying to scramble, make something happen. Again though, I have to look at the tape.

RE: Regarding that, in terms of spreading out, you were very successful in doing that in past games. You didn't spread out too much this game.

I think we ran a couple and I think they had a really good plan for us for that. Again we just have to look at the tape and see how we can get better and see how we can adjust.

RE: You know you guys are always saying one game at a time, but the reality is you controlled your own destiny coming into this. You needed four wins in four games, how disappointing was it to lose at home when you had control of that destiny?

Obviously, what you said there at the end, losing at home, no matter what the circumstances are, it always sucks to lose one at home. Again like I said you have to give a lot of credit to those guys, to the Steelers. At the end of the day I feel like we didn't play our brand of football. I think we just have to be better in all facets, especially third down and in the red zone.

RE: Was that a quarterback draw on third and eight going that direction? What did you see in particular, I guess it wasn't a read?

I think Minkah (Fitzpatrick) did a really good job on that play, being able to come down and try to make a six-man box. Yeah, I thought he did a really a good job on that play but again we have to look at the tape and see how we can get better.

RE: What can you guys do for that to keep teams from stacking the box?

Like I just said, we have to watch it, I have to watch it. I can't sit here and say exactly what we have to do to be able to, because again like I said they had a good plan for us. I just have to go watch and see how exactly what that plan was and what it looked like from upstairs.

DE BRIAN BURNS

RE: What was the main issue on stopping the Steelers on third down?

It was just poor execution. They just did a good job of running the ball. They focused on the run a lot and they were in a lot of third and manageables. Just execution.

RE: On the 21-play drive to start the third quarter, how frustrating is that when you can't seem to get off the field?

Very. It's a long drive, fatigue sets in, things like that. It's just tough when they keep converting.

RE: Did you look up at the clock at any point during that drive?

I didn't know that they took the whole third quarter. I wasn't aware.

RE: How key was that just in the whole scheme of things?

That's always a good thing when the offense is able to stay on the field for so long. We have to do a better job of executing and getting off the field.

RE: On keeping focus on the next opponent and bouncing back

Don't think too far in the future. Don't get ahead of myself. Just be where my feet are so right now, all the focus is on Detroit.

RE: On moving forward this week after his message to the team

It was a message just to say lock in a little more, focus a little more and just not having any regrets at the end of this whole season. That's still the message. That's how I'm still going about it.

CB KEITH TAYLOR

RE: If he had a primary assignment of the corners were mostly playing sides of the field

Mostly just playing sides. Beginning of the game, the matchups were CJ (Henderson) on 14 (George Pickens) and Jaycee (Horn) on 18 (Dionte Johnson). When CJ went down, I had t go cover 14 for some of the game.

RE: How they attacked him scheme wise

Shoot, they made plays and I didn't. I think that's all it was. Just execution on my part.

RE: What makes Pickens and Johnson such a hard assignment

I don't think they were really that much of a hard assignment. I would say, I've just got to execute better. I practice every day. They practice every day. I just have to execute, just trust my technique instead of pressing all the time.

RE: When he was flipped from covering Pickens to Johnson

I have no clue. I think that was the end of the first half.

RE: It looked like Henderson tried to return to the game for awhile. What the conversation was like with him.

He was kind of quiet. He didn't really say much. He was focused on what he was doing. He was trying to rehab, trying to get back in the game.

RE: What is most frustrating to him right now

I've just got to execute. I know I'm a better player than what I showed y'all today. I've just got to bounce back from this and be better for the team. I take full responsibility and just feel like I've got to play better. That's all it is.

RE: What Coach Steve Wilks had to say to him after the game

Nothing. He didn't say nothing.

RE: If he said anything to the team

No I didn't.

RE: If there were conversations with some of the older players in the secondary to keep his spirits up

Yeah, it's always going t be like that. You've got to have a short-term memory in this league especially as a DB, as a cornerback. Really that's what it is.

C BRADLEY BOZEMAN

RE: Whether the Steelers had extra defenders in the box

It doesn't matter to be honest. I don't know if they did, I haven't watched the film yet. It doesn't matter what they put out there on the field. We have to execute and do better for longer.

RE: Difference in the run game

We have to execute what's called. We've got to continue to move forward and continue do the things we have to no matter what's going on, what the situation, what the down and distance is. Just do what we do.

RE: If Pittsburgh set the tone at the line of scrimmage

I wouldn't necessarily say that, but I think we can play more physical. I think we can get after people a little better. We're going to take pride in this and shake back this week. We are going to bring it into practice and see where we end up in a week.

RE: Feelings after the game

Pissed off. But it's part of the game, they get paid like we do. They have a cap and everything else. You got to go out there and compete. You got to compete to win football games. Establish the run. Whatever it takes to win the game. Frustrated for sure but like I said we are going to let this game motivate us and just move forward. Bring it into practice. Just continue to work. Whatever you got to do to win the game you've got to do it.

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