Hearing from Coach Mike Tomlin


On division play, the no-huddle, the rivalry with the Ravens  Throughout the 2009 NFL season, Coach Mike Tomlin will provide his insight and observations to Steelers.com on a variety of topics pertaining to the team and the National Football League.
Q. Is there a difference in the way a game against a division opponent unfolds and is played, as opposed to other games?
A. I think there is. Knowledge of matchups, not only schematically but also personnel matchups intensifies division play.
Q. When you play a team twice a year, as is the case with all division series, is it more difficult to continue to beat that team?
A. Any time you step inside stadiums, you can walk in with the exact same plan and the exact same people and the game will unfold in a different way based on the quality of the play. I think very little about that, and I simply respect the fact that any time you walk into a stadium, based on how you play, how you perform, the detail and the execution and the energy with which you play, a game could unfold very differently. We've experienced that, particularly in division play. You think back to some of our games against the Ravens in recent years, one time we whacked them pretty good – it was 35-3 at the half – and the next time it was a nail-biter. That's just the nature of the National Football League.
Q. After a loss, do you evaluate everything as below the line because the team didn't win, or do you evaluate each aspect individually based on a standard?
A. I evaluate things individually based on a standard of expectation. How we put together a plan, how we anticipate a game potentially unfolding, areas where we need to perform, areas where we think we have an advantage or a disadvantage, I evaluate with those things in mind.
Q. Would you ever come out of an evaluation and say something like, "We need to blitz more," or "We need to run the ball more?"
A. Sure. All of that is part of game-planning, to accentuate your strengths, to minimize your weaknesses, to put yourself into position to win. At times, you have to do things. If you're playing an explosive offense, and you know you're playing an explosive offense, it may require that you blitz some in an effort to potentially create turnovers and get your offense a short field, etc., etc.
Q. Does it come down to looking at in-game statistics and maybe seeing that at halftime you only blitzed three times, and that's not enough?
A. It's not something I chart or keep hard numbers on. Maybe it's just me, but I don't have to write any of that down. It's a feel thing for me. Usually we have that information written down, and if I ask about it, it'll end up being pretty close to what I anticipated it being when I asked the question.
Q. When you're deciding whether to use the no-huddle offense, or how much no-huddle offense, do you ever consider putting your defense right back onto the field if there's a quick three-and-out?
A. I expect our defense to be able to deal with that. I don't coach anticipating a negative. When we go to no-huddle, I anticipate us moving the ball down the field. When we don't, we adjust, we adapt, we improvise. I think our defense is trained to defend blades of grass regardless of how many blades of grass they have to defend.
Q. What do you remember about those three games against the Ravens in 2008?
A. They were violent. They were physical football games, but that's the nature of the matchup.
Q. Is that different, something that doesn't happen in other games against other teams? Is Steelers-Ravens unique to the NFL?
A. I think it's really something. I think anybody would be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining and hotly-contested rivalry in professional football, in my opinion.
Q. In your first Steelers-Ravens game did the intensity of the rivalry surprise you?
A. About a month after I got this job, I had an off weekend and I flew into BWI (Baltimore-Washington International) to spend the weekend at my brother's house. I realized the extent of the rivalry when I got off that plane and I was walking through the airport in Baltimore. It wasn't pleasant. Right then, about a month after getting the job, I realized what this rivalry is about.
Q. Is there a difference in the players leading up to a game against the Ravens?
A. I think it's the players who make the rivalry what it is. It's the personality of the leadership of both teams. You have dominant personalities like Hines Ward and dominant personalities like Ray Lewis, guy who play the game the way they play the game, I just think it's two trains on the same track. And that's why there are always fireworks.

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