Defensive Coordinator John Pagano
With all that’s been going on, how have you been able to get the guys together?
“They’re pros. They come out and they put the work and the effort in. They’re excited to go play Pittsburgh, something that we’ve been looking forward to for a while. For many years we’ve played against them, whether it was in the playoffs or regular season, so it’s something that our guys are excited about and we’re ready for the challenge.”
What are your thoughts on the defense missing key players like
“Any time that you lose those guys it always has an impact on your defense. It’s about the next guy coming up and him having the ability to make plays. Any time you lose a starter in those situations you don’t want it to be a setback. You want to keep this thing rolling defensively and keep these guys like they never missed a beat. It’s why the backups always have to be ready. They’re not really backups; we look at them as guys who can go in and play and play at a high level for us.”
“He’s great in the classroom, number one. He’s great on the practice field, number two. He listens and he wants to do everything correct. He’s a very solid football player. He’s someone who really took advantage of his opportunity right now with the injury to (Atari) Bigby. His role on (special) teams was at such a high level and then he was able to transfer that over and play on defense for us. He’s somebody that you look at as a guy who can come in and play for you. He’s been making some plays for us, so that’s good.”
“Those two were gelling together so much, where they were playing together since OTA’s and training camp the regular season. Just being next to each other on the communication aspect. Takeo’s role has expanded because they’re getting the play-calling out and getting guys lined up. They kind of did it in tandem and now when a backup comes in, Takeo’s role expanded even more and he’s got to handle more responsibility. Takeo and Demorrio (Williams) have been doing good together and we’ll use different guys in there in dime and nickel situations. For the last couple weeks it’s been good on that end.”
Has Takeo Spikes playing time gone up?
“Yeah, his snaps will go up because of the situation with certain guys. Like if guys are playing more on (special) teams, then Takeo’s role has expanded more. It’s not a setback for us. It’s a plus because he’s a veteran player who knows how to handle certain things out there on the field, especially with the communication aspect. We really try to make sure that he’s not overburdened much on the plays, but he’s somebody who can handle it.”
How many 14-year veterans can you imagine playing like Takeo Spikes?
“It’s amazing just seeing him every day and what he does. I’ve always been asked that question and he takes care of himself. He knows how to take care of himself at practice and when he leaves the facility. It’s amazing.”
Does Pittsburgh just scream “defense” to you?
“It’s an awesome place to play. We have guys who are really excited for the challenge. They’ve been very successful in defense over the years. The amazing thing about that football team is that if you look at when we played them in ’06 to now, you see the same guys out there lined up and playing every day. It’s a credit to those guys like James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Troy (Polamalu), (Lawrence)Timmons and all those guys. Coach Dick Lebeau does such a great job. It screams defense, yes.”
“He has to keep growing more into the role that he has. Number one for any young player in the NFL, whether you’re drafted or you’re a free agent coming in, your key to success coming onto the field is playing on (special) teams and finding that role on teams. Number two is your contribution defensively. He had a big setback with an injury last year. It was good to see him get out there on the field on teams. It was good to see him go into the game last week and have a quarterback pressure and tackle. He’s a solid backup for us right now but he’s still growing. Every day is a learning day for him. His progress is going well.”
What have you noticed about
“The more that he grows, his knowledge of the game is getting to a level where he thinks like a coordinator out there on the field. You talk about those guys thinking like coaches on the field, and his thoughts and the things that he’s seeing, he still can go and make plays. What’s great is not just his play-making ability, but just his whole vision. He’ll get with me in the morning and tell me what he saw on tape. He takes it to that next level. That comes with years in the league when these guys truly study and understand the game. That’s one of the key parts of this deal is when you get out there on the field and you’re able to see things and be able to line up. His game has truly improved in that aspect. And his play-making ability is still at a high level.”
What is the biggest challenge of facing a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger?
“He’s so crafty. He’s such a proven quarterback in this league. The biggest challenge is really trying to get him down. He’s so elusive. Guys really just kind of fall off of him. We talked all week about ways that we have to get him down on the ground, how you have to tackle him, but how he stays alive in the pocket. You can see that a big percentage of big plays and completions are outside the pocket more than they are in the pocket. That’s a big challenge for us if he does scramble. Our guys will have to do what we call plastering downfield. It’s something that we’ve been stressing to our guys this week because they do such a great job of taking off deep, somebody coming low, somebody coming with the ball. His ability to make plays when he’s on the move is a real big challenge.”
Eric Weddle talked about having to get Roethlisberger up high around his arms to bring him down. Does that create an issue of hitting a quarterback’s helmet when you’re trying to go high and avoiding that penalty while trying to still get him down?
“No, we just tell them to tackle him and to get him on the ground. There’s no specific of high, low or middle with him. I would just like to see two guys wrap him up and hold him so he doesn’t get out of there. He’s a big, very elusive quarterback and he has that knack. You see him on tape running around. There’ll be a three-yard check-down right in front of him going across his body like you’re not supposed to do and he’ll find that guy. Everybody talks about it since I’ve been here. We really have to wrap him up and be conscious of how you’re going to tackle him.”
Is there a way to simulate that out here at practice?
“No, we work tackling drills with the pads on, but we work enough to where we have quarterbacks go out there and scramble. We do drills upon drills to where we’re working on protecting ourselves on scramble plays. Guys have to understand that you can be in one coverage, but all of the sudden when that quarterback breaks the pocket, he starts scrambling, that coverage totally changes now from what could be a zone to a man principle in a heartbeat. And that’s something that we’ve addressed with our guys this week.”