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Tomlin on challenges, closeness, James

Posted Oct 15, 2017

Mike Tomlin addressed a variety of issues leading up to the game in Kansas City.

Q. I have seen defensive holding called when the offense runs the football, but it’s rare. When should defensive holding be called when the offense runs the football?

A. When defensive linemen prevent offensive linemen from getting to their blocks on the second level. Really that’s what you’re talking about when you’re talking about defensive holding on running plays. Usually it happens in the interior portion of the defensive line as centers and guards try to come off on combination blocks and get linebackers on the next level. From time to time you’ll see a nose tackle or an interior defensive lineman hold that guy in an effort to keep that second level defender free. That’s something that officiating has an eye for, and that’s a call you’ll see made.

Q. Does it happen a lot more than it’s called?

A. It does, and it has probably evolved over the years because of the positioning of the umpire. Years ago when the umpire was a little bit deeper than linebacker depth on the defensive side of the ball, he had a bird’s-eye view of such maneuvers. There really is no one in good position to make that call with direct vision nowadays.

Q. When it comes down to whether or not you’re going to throw the replay challenge flag, what is your thought process at that time?

A. It’s first and foremost, what I see. Field level. Ground level. From my eye. Then from there, it’s information I receive from assistant coaches and the video board. But first and foremost, it’s from my eye. There were a couple of instances a week ago, particularly that first one I challenged where we had the line to gain, the yard line was on a white line, and when I had a definitive white line that I was standing on, I was comfortable throwing that challenge flag. I didn’t win the challenge, but I was comfortable with my decision and would do it again if given the opportunity based on the information I had.

Q. Is your decision made in a vacuum in terms of whether you believe you’re right, or do things like the score of the game, how many timeouts you have left, how many challenges you have left, how much time is left in the game, as examples, have an impact on the decision?

A. Certainly the decision takes in all of those things you mention, but it’s like the game show Jeopardy. The music is playing. There’s not a lot of time to ponder those things. It’s really the things you innately weigh as you decide whether you throw the challenge flag.

Q. When you’re on offense, and a pass gets batted down at the line of scrimmage, is that somebody’s fault?

A. It can be. Sometimes it’s just a good play by the defender. What I mean is that sometimes a quarterback could be staring at a receiver too long because it takes the receiver too long to come out of his break, and because he’s staring at the receiver so long it allows the defensive lineman to get in the throwing lane and bat the pass. Sometimes the quarterback, just from a visual standpoint, might be staring down receivers, and that might create it. Sometimes it’s just good, quality play by a defensive lineman. Sometimes it’s offensive negligence. Either way it’s a negative football play for the offense. You work hard to ward off those football plays.

Q. How can an offensive lineman get a pass rusher’s hands down?

A. There are several instances in the passing game when you know the ball is coming out in a timely manner. Quick-game, three-step passing, and often you’ll hear that coaching point associated with that. Cut-blocking, so the defender either puts his hands down to defend himself against the cut, or they get cut. Either way, the defender puts his hands down and you have a clear path to distribute the ball.

Q. A game ends, home or on the road, and everybody gathers in the locker room. Then what happens?

A. We quickly assess what happened and talk about immediate plans, meaning the next 24 hours. What’s on the schedule. Then we break up. We have about eight minutes or so before the media is allowed in the locker room, and we have to take care of our obligations in that way. Our time is generally used assessing what happened and talking about the next 24-to-48 hours from a scheduling standpoint.

Q. Is it you doing the talking?

A. It is me, but it also can be other people. I have administrative people who talk specifically about scheduling. They might speak from time to time if there is anything obscure or unique. If anybody feels strongly, like something needs to be said, from a player or assistant coach’s perspective, it could potentially happen at that time, but primarily it’s my voice.

Q. After victories, the awarding of game balls. How does that happen?

A. It’s organic. It’s much like weighing the options of that challenge flag. You know it when you’re there. If someone is deserving of a game ball, it’s generally something you’re aware of.

Q. We’ve talked about this a bunch of times, about what you like about the team at various stages of the development process, and typically one of the things you mention is that you believe it’s a legitimately close group. Do you still feel that way now?

A. I do, and really it requires a little adversity for that to be revealed, unfortunately. I wish I was uncertain about it, and we were sitting here at 5-0, but we’re not. I think it’s going to define us moving forward. It’s an asset of this group, and it will continue to be. I just know that about these men. I’ve seen enough groups develop over time to know that. But all of that is irrelevant if it’s not an asset for us inside stadiums, and that’s what it’s about for us – to use that unique closeness, that truth, that brotherhood that these men have for each other to increase our chances of winning.

Q. Is a team’s closeness totally dependent on winning and losing?

A. It’s not the kumbaya. When I talk about a team being close, I’m talking about a team peeling away the things that divide people. Ego, worry, and things of that nature. Status within the group. This group tells each other the truth. They’re not afraid to be naked in front of one another, so to speak. They challenge one another in appropriate ways. That’s what I’m talking about when I’m talking about them being close. It’s not the warm and fuzzy, although it can be. It’s what it needs to be. They tell each other the truth. They hold each other accountable, and at the same time they enjoy spending time together.

Q. James Harrison said on Friday that he would be active for today’s game. What is your plan for him against the Chiefs?

A. It’s simple: he has had some big games in recent years against the Chiefs and specifically against their left tackle – Eric Fisher – and we’re going to give James a chance to show if he’s still got it.

Q. A few weeks ago, before the Ravens game, I asked you about using a player who historically has had success against a particular opponent, and you said it was more about the individual player vs. player matchup than it was about the player vs. team matchup. Is this about James Harrison vs. Eric Fisher?

A. He’s had some solid games against Fisher in recent years. Often times we joke with James a lot about his stature, or his lack of height. In some instances that could probably be an asset, and it may be an asset in this matchup. James has always been a good leverage player, and it appears to really work in a positive way for him against a guy like Fisher, whose stature is 6-foot-7.

Q. Do you anticipate that James Harrison could have an impact on the other guys on defense just by his presence in the huddle?

A. I like to think about it in terms of play. That mystical stuff, that presence stuff, that stuff you can’t measure, sure there’s an element of that but it’s not enough to hang your hat on. If we’re putting James in the huddle, we’re putting him in the huddle because we believe that he can be productive for us, not because he’s a mascot or an inspiration in some other way.

Q. Is this move in any way a response to what happened in the game against Jacksonville?

A. No, it’s in response to the fact that Eric Fisher plays left tackle for them.

Q. Earlier this week, the Steelers held a little ceremony for Santonio Holmes, where he came back to where his career started to retire. What can you tell us about Santonio that the average Steelers fan doesn’t know?

A. It’s probably one of my favorite Santonio stories. We’re in the Super Bowl, just prior to the drive where he makes history and goes on to win Super Bowl MVP. It was right after Larry Fitzgerald has gone down the middle of our defense. They’re kicking the extra point, and guys are coming off the field. The offense is gathering and going through necessary communications – talking about the number of timeouts, Ben might have been saying something to the offensive line about giving me time and I’ll move the group down the field. And I’ll never forget Santonio is pacing back and forth right in front of me, and he’s really just having a conversation with himself. He keeps saying repeatedly, “Time to be great. Time to be great.” And I hit him on the hip and told him, “Yeah, Tone, it’s time to be great.” He was like, “I got you. I’ve been waiting for this all my life.” And it was just one of those moments that will forever be etched in your mind, because we’re two men working toward a common goal. Our eyes came together, and he said what he said, and I knew he meant it from the bottom of his heart. So I wasn’t surprised by what transpired after that. It was truly a man and his moment, and a man who was ready for that moment. And it was an interesting thing to be a part of and to witness up close.