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Tomlin on rules, anger, QB progressions

Posted Oct 1, 2017

Coach Mike Tomlin addressed a variety of issues before the game against the Ravens in Baltimore.

Q. Going back to the blocked field goal at the end of the first half in Chicago, if the guy who fumbled the ball into the end zone was the one who then recovered it in the end zone, is it a touchdown, a touchback, what’s the rule?

A. The guy who fumbled the ball is the only guy who can recover it. It goes back to the spot of the fumble if it was recovered by anybody else on their team. That’s the Ken Stabler, Holy Roller rule. The fumbler is the only one who could’ve recovered it for a touchdown. If anyone else on the Bears recovers, it goes back to the spot of the fumble. The other arm of it was that when Jordan Berry batted the ball out of bounds, that became a defensive batting penalty, and the half cannot end on a defensive penalty. The play ended up with us on defense, and it’s a defensive penalty, and thus we got the untimed down. There were a lot of rulebook pages being checked on that football play.

Q. So the on-field officials made their original ruling and said the half was over, and you and the team went into the locker room. Since it was inside the last two minutes of the half, the Bears couldn’t challenge, so how did the review happen?

A. Any plays inside two minutes of each half that are under review, that’s handled by the replay booth. Coaches are not allowed to challenge. They looked at the play, one specific element of the play, which was whether or not he crossed the goal line or not. Then they can evaluate all elements of the play, and that’s the rule. They did, and they realized we had batted the ball, but they had thrown the penalty flag on that in real time anyway. They came to the proper conclusion, and the Bears got an untimed down.

Q. You and the team are in the locker room and get called back out. At what point do they have to give you time to warm-up?

A. I never left the field because I knew the rule, but an official on our sideline had told us the half was over, so I got the guys off the field and I sat tight.

Q. When the Bears offense took the field, there was a false start penalty. Why did the half not end with that false start?

A. Because it was an untimed down and there was no running clock, the half cannot end on a defensive penalty. But it also doesn’t end on a pre-snap penalty.

Q. If the Bears had committed a different penalty – holding, clipping, pass interference?

A. Then the half is over.

Q. With some of these obscure rules, are you as the head coach responsible for knowing them yourself?

A. I personally view it that way, yes.

Q. Is there some NFL representative at the game who would intervene if a rule wasn’t being applied properly?

A. They do a good job of communicating as an officiating crew, not only the ones who are on the field but each crew also has an off-the-field advisor. He’s usually a former official or a current official who is on the sideline at the stadium, and he’s involved in the communication as well. Over the years I’ve learned to be pretty abreast of the rules. It aids you in a lot of ways, and it aides you in your communication with them. My communication with them is less asking questions and more dialogue. And dialogue is good.

Q. How in detail do you go over the more obscure rules with your players?

A. I do it as we come across them. Over the course of team development, if you snap the ball enough in preparation things come up. OTAs, training camp, preseason games, I always make a point to explain the obscure rules plays. There are plenty of opportunities for that. As an example, over the course of an OTA week, there are usually five-to-seven really obscure type plays that really provide an opportunity for dialogue. And then when you put a team in pads like we are in training camp, there are two or three of them daily. It’s been a good process for us, in terms of having a natural opportunity to discuss some of these things.

Q. In meeting the media on Thursday after practice, Keith Butler described himself as “pissed off” about the loss to the Bears. Can the head coach get “pissed off?”

A. Yes, and I do.

Q. What can that accomplish if he does? Is it a natural emotion, or something more calculated?

A. It’s a natural human emotion. Do I use it for our good? Absolutely. But it’s a very natural human emotion. We put a lot into our preparation, and there’s a lot at stake. When we come up short, there are natural human responses associated with that disappointment. There was a lot for us to be pissed about last week.

Q. Based on that human emotion, are you ever tempted to make changes to the starting lineup after a bad performance?

A. I’m always open to guys expanding their roles, positively and negatively. I think you’re missing opportunities to be the best you can be if you don’t have that mentality. That’s just the nature of this thing. But I never do it in response to games. I do it based on performance. We can win the game, and I’m open to making changes. We can lose games, and I’m open to making changes. Any time you’re putting tape out there, you better evaluate what people are putting on tape, and whether we’re asking people to do the right things. Should we highlight more people in different ways? Should we decrease people’s participation in certain ways? That’s something that we’re discussing and looking to balance on a week in and week out basis.

Q. Are those moves made more in line with trying to get someone more playing time who is doing well, or get someone out of there whose performance is below the line?

A. It’s both. If someone’s not playing well, you’re going to tolerate him until you get a suitable replacement. It’s as simple as that. Someone who’s not playing well in one instance could get a certain element of criticism, and someone not performing in another instance, because you have a viable replacement, could generate another response. These decisions don’t happen in a vacuum. They’re inter-related. And it’s not just about what each individual player is doing, it’s about what they’re doing collectively.

Q. Would you ever make a move to get another player’s attention? Send a message?

A. Messages are always received based on the move you make, but you don’t make a move specifically with the intent of sending a message. You make a move to increase you chances of winning and to get better. There’s a certain amount of urgency in this thing, and when people see you’re willing to do whatever is required to win, in terms of looking at the pieces and the roles within the group, it puts people on alert. There’s a natural anxiety associated with uncertainty, and that’s not only the nature of our business but the nature of any business. When there are changes there is a positive byproduct of those changes in that anxiety. I think that uncomfortable feeling sometimes brings out the best in all of us. I don’t make those moves specifically to bring about that environment. I make those moves to put the best men on the field, to find the proper mix, to give us a chance to win a football game.

Q. On a pass play that’s sent in from the sideline during a game, is there a predetermined receiver who’s to get the ball, or does the quarterback make the decision of where to go with the football himself?

A. The quarterback makes the decision on where to go with the ball based on what coverages or call the defense is executing.

Q. We’ve heard the phrase, “going through his progressions.” What does that mean, and how are the progressions determined?

A. It’s really a different discussion depending upon each play and the nature of that play. Certain plays could have up to four or five reads in the progression. Certain plays, play-action plays for instance, could have as few as two reads in the progression. Each play is constructed differently. The bottom line is for each play, the quarterback has a routine in terms of how he reads that play out in terms of determining where the ball goes. There often are different triggers in terms of the defensive structure that dictates it. It could be two high safeties, middle of the field open, middle of the field closed. It could be a box count – seven-man box, eight-man box. Some of those generic football terms that you often hear, particularly from a commentator’s standpoint, are very critical in determining the progression and where the ball goes from a quarterback’s perspective. It’s both simple and complex, meaning that different plays have different progressions; there could be different numbers of progressions, but based on the rules per play, it’s very black-and-white.

Q. To boil it down, his progressions when the huddle breaks might not the same as his progressions after the ball is snapped?

A. He really has no progressions until the ball is snapped. Sometimes you can pick up pre-snap clues by using false cadences, or sometimes the defense isn’t interested in disguising. Then maybe you can glean some information about what your progression might be. But the process of determining where the ball goes doesn’t happen for a quarterback until after the ball is snapped.

Q. James Harrison has a history of playing well in games against the Ravens. Does a player’s past against a particular opponent ever factor into decisions about rotations or playing time that particular week, in the manner that a baseball manager might send out a particular batter to hit against a particular pitcher?

A. I think therein lies the answer to the question, the baseball analogy that a certain guy hits a certain pitcher. It’s not that James plays well against the Ravens, but it’s the matchups within the game. It’s the physical matchups. How does James perform against a certain tackle is usually a determinant in having those types of discussions. Yes, those discussions are had. The personnel elements of the matchups are continually discussed, not only in the early portions of the week but also in-game. A couple of weeks ago we saw that T.J. Watt was faring pretty well against Joe Thomas, better than maybe we anticipated. The matchups themselves are continually discussed, prior to the game and in-game.