Hearing from Coach Mike Tomlin

On "red-flagging," screen passes, defensive substitutions

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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.

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Q. Do you and James Harrison talk much about his dealings with the league office?

A. I try to minimize it, to be quite honest with you. There is a lot of talk coming from his end, because it's an emotional thing, but I don't want it to become a distraction for him in terms of preparation, or for our football team. Our interactions are usually things that I do to try to minimize that.

Q. Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs came out and said he believed that the officials had "red-flagged" Harrison. What does it say about the issue when players on rival teams are in agreement?

A. That this matter requires some discussion and some education. I think the lines of communication have to continue to grow on all parties involved, be it the players, coaches and the league office. Those are our intentions. We want what's best for the game of football. We'll turn over any stone to make sure that occurs. It's just a tough adjustment and discussion in the midst of having guys battling for playoff position.

Q. What goes into a successful screen pass in the NFL?

A. Timing, more than anything else. Situations, of course, can help you. Some of the things some defenses do schematically can help you. Some defenses change their personality in terms of how they get off the football when offenses are behind the chains. They purely get in pass-rush mode. The personality of the defense is an assistance in screen development, but timing is the most critical element of it. Timing in your offensive line, in terms of how long they hold their blocks; and timing by the back, in terms of how long he fakes or holds his potential block.

Q. When you speak of timing, are you referring to the offensive line and running back working almost like a synchronized swimming team, or do you refer to the amount of time between the snap and the delivery of the ball to the back?

A. Ideally, you'd like for many of the people who are blocking for the screen and the receiver of the ball to work in concert, but you understand there are so many moving parts that can throw that timing off, that collective timing, and that's why screen passes are hit and miss at times. If there's a defensive line stunt, that can throw off the timing. If there's a blitz and the back gets hung up in that, that can throw off the timing. There are a lot of things that can throw off the timing.

Q. Certain teams develop reputations for being good at screen passes. Green Bay was one when Mike Holmgren was the coach there, and now it's Philadelphia, coached by a Holmgren disciple in Andy Reid. Is there something in that style of offense conducive to the execution of screen passes?

A. I think the West Coast offense in itself has been so tried and tested over the years that they have situational tendencies that defenses tee off on, and that's what plays into the hands of screen pass situations.

Q. What is your normal routine when evaluating games and choosing whether to send things to the league in terms of how the games were officiated?

A. I want to leave the game evaluation and the official evaluation process that goes on in every city around the league on Mondays and Tuesdays between myself and the league. I think that's the appropriate thing to do. We all want to do our jobs at a high level, including the officials and the officiating department. I'm not going to address the minute details of how we go about doing it. We seek clarity on a game in and game out basis, whether we are highly penalized or not. It's just a process of going about trying to play perfect football and an attempt to. In terms of what we're going to do with our football team, we're going to focus on the things that we can control. We're going to try to play as hard as we normally play, as fairly as we can and within the rules the NFL prescribes. That is and will be our focus moving forward. In terms of some of the things that we gain clarity with the league, it happens on a weekly basis.

Q. Teams have come out with offensive formations that force you to adjust your defensive personnel. Does that prove to be an advantage to an opponent simply because you end up taking good players off the field?

A. We don't always match up with them personnel wise. Often times, particularly in first-and-10 and second-and-medium, when people go with three wides, if we choose to, we still stay in our base defense of personnel. The offensive personnel doesn't always dictate what we do from a personnel standpoint. It is the complete picture. It is offensive personnel, field position, down and distance. All of those things dictate to us which people we choose to employ, so the offensive personnel alone never dictates that to us.

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