Hearing from Coach Mike Tomlin

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On home vs. road, Wildcat, the Winning Edge

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. In your opinion, what's the impact on teams based on where a game is played? The home vs. road situation?

A. It's a significant factor for an offense. Line of scrimmage communication, cadence. When you go to a silent count, you've taken your run-game edge away from your offense because now everybody is now getting off on the same key – the ball moving. So the offense doesn't have that split-second, beat-you-to-the-punch advantage that they have on the defense when you use a cadence. That's just one specific instance where it changes. Another instance is in pass protection. You're not getting the opportunity to beat the defensive guy to the punch in terms of your pass set. It makes changing plays and getting out of potentially bad plays increasingly difficult from a communications standpoint. It makes a lot of things that happen prior to the ball being snapped increasingly difficult, so it makes what happens after the snap difficult.

Q. Would you like to see rules implemented to even that out?

A. No, it's a beautiful thing. It's one of the beautiful things in the game of football. But by the same token it creates issues for your defense as well. Heinz Field is an awesome safe haven for our offense, but at times it's a tough place for our defense to work, because we have a complex defense, we have some things that are communication-oriented. We check out of some defenses or go to some defenses based on the things we look at, and at times it's tough for us to communicate when we're at home because of the atmosphere our crowd creates. We practice with crowd noise on Friday for our defense before home games.

Q. Do your peers share your view, or would that rather do away with the impact of crowd noise?

A. We don't always get what we want in this business. I've learned to appreciate elements of this game for what they are and not worry about the things I can't control, even though I would like to.

Q. How did your defense do in its first exposure to the Wildcat?

A. I thought they did a nice job. We were where we were supposed to be structurally, but having an understanding and being where you're supposed to be and getting Joshua Cribbs on the ground are different things. They got after us a little bit on the perimeter a couple of times because of his special talent, but structurally I thought we were fine. We did a nice job of communicating, checking into some defenses we had ready to go for those looks. Really, it was business as usual.

Q. Part of your week is devoted to something you call a "Winning Edge Meeting" that takes place on Fridays. What is that about?

A. I ask our coaches to maybe withhold certain caveats, little treats they might have that might not be significant in the big scheme of things but might be something to help guys, might be an extra tool in their toolbox to help them do their job. That's what Friday is about – grabbing a little lunch, spending time with your position coach and maybe he's got a little something to add to the ready-list, a little tip, a little something that could be a winning edge for each individual guy or the group. It's something I did as a position coach. You can't give it all to them on a Wednesday when they first come in, because you'll overload them. What you do on Wednesday is you prioritize and give them the core things, the things that are important; on Thursday, you fine-tuning and get them ready for situational football – short-yardage, red zone football. A day like Friday is a nice day, once they're comfortable with the base plan and some of the situational things, to say, "Here's an interesting little deal that might be the difference in the football game that could help you have a great day." That's how it has evolved.

Q. Can you give any examples of that?

A. It could be anything. Tendencies that one guy on the opposing team shows you to give you a run-pass indicator, or a potential blitz indicator. It might be something as minor as "this one guy in this call, if you're not sure what you're looking at, this is the guy who's going to clear it up for you." Things of that nature. Very rarely is it schematic. Schematic things are addressed at the early part of the week because they're significant. At the end of the week it's little minute things that you can hang your hat on that can provide a winning edge.

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