On night games, rotating offensive linemen, Ike
Throughout the 2010 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. Do you change anything in the schedule when the team is going to play a night game?
A. I don't. I know people have done that in the past, but I just don't. I like the routine of preparation, the Groundhog Day approach to preparation. I think it's a comfort zone for everyone, and everyone can delve into what it is we're doing here and be singularly focused when they know exactly what the routine and schedule is.
Q. What about the actual day of the game and the extra hours before kickoff?
A. I encourage the guys to stay up later, relax stay off their feet and sleep in later. That's what you encourage guys to do, particularly when you're playing an 8 p.m. game so that from a body standpoint they're not playing from 8 until midnight.
Q. You have rotated players along the offensive line throughout this regular season, and you have said you'll continue to do that. How does that fit in with the concept of continuity that we're always told the unit needs?
A. No question you lose some of the continuity, but those are the things you weigh as you go about the decision-making of rotating people. For us, we have a level of confidence in all of our guys – from an assignment standpoint – that they're capable. So we value fresh and healthy guys more than developing continuity when you look at it.
Q. Does that require a philosophy regarding the offensive line?
A. I think it comes from the philosophical approach that the standard is the standard. We expect backup players to be ready to play. We expect detail in terms of the quality of our work and the assignments, and that if they're healthy and fresh, they'll be given an opportunity to meet that standard. I think that's what it speaks to more than anything else.
Q. Do you ever go into a game, as the head coach, with the thought in your head that, "Tonight we're going to have to score some points to beat this team," and then cater how you operate to that belief?
A. I've never gone into a game with that approach. I think that's an offensive coach's approach. I hadn't seen the game where I thought we couldn't stop somebody if we're doing what it is we're supposed to do. That's just the defensive coach in me.
Q. OK, then what constitutes good defense in today's NFL?
A. To me, it's keeping the ball in front of you, minimizing the chunks and not beating yourselves. Not being highly penalized and understanding the plan for playing good situational football. If you do those things, you have an opportunity to not only play well but to play great, in my opinion.
Q. When you face a quarterback like Drew Brees who completes 70 percent of his passes, there's not a lot of human error involved to count on. What does a defense do then?
A. Case in point: We're getting ready to play the Dolphins, and they're No. 1 in the AFC in third-down conversions. They convert 49 percent of all third downs, and what Chad Henne had done was special to that point. Davone Bess was the No. 1 receiver on third downs, Brandon Marshall was tied for fourth on third downs. It doesn't matter to us. If we go out and do our job and do it to the ability we're capable of, who says it has to be that kind of game?
Q. As a defensive coach, is the quarterback the guy you really have to control first and foremost in all situations?
A. It really depends on the situation and the team's personality. In the case of the Saints, absolutely, because their offense runs through Drew Brees, and the entire operation is a Sean Payton-Drew Brees operation. It's pretty clear from the outside that this is how it is.
Q. So is it a case of the better the quarterback, the more you have to worry about him? Or is it ever like basketball, where you might say, "We'll let Kobe Bryant score his 35 and stop everybody else?"
A. In football, it's a little different. You can try to make the quarterback miserable in a lot of different ways. You can apply pressure to him and to his front people. You can play coverage and re-route and mis-direct and destroy timing by disrupting his receivers. There are a myriad of ways you can change the game and try to dictate the game to a quarterback without dealing with him directly. Really quite honestly, if you're going to play good defense, you have to mix and match those approaches over the course of a football game based on circumstance.
Q. Ike Taylor has only nine interceptions in 82 starts, and yet he has started a lot of games and been a part of a lot of great defense and winning football. What does he do that has allowed him to hold onto his spot?
A. He has a great physical skill set. He's big, he's strong, he can run, he's extremely durable. I don't think enough has been said about Ike's durability. Not only does he not miss games, but he doesn't miss practice. To me, durability is an awesome ability. And he's a competitor. He's always game, he always wants to challenge and play against the big-time receivers. And it's not fake. It's very real, and that's unique as well.
Q. Is Ike good at the destroying and re-routing of receivers you talk about?
A. Absolutely. He uses his length well. He's adept at playing on the line of scrimmage. He's a very good disrupter.