Throughout the 2008 season, Coach Mike Tomlin will answer questions exclusively for Steelers Digest and Steelers.com. The following is one of those sessions. For the complete interview, pick up the latest issue of Steelers Digest.
Q. The Redskins running attack consisted basically of only three plays. What are the advantages for the offense when it can be simple and yet successful?
A. They get precision. When you're simple in the run game, you get precision. They focus less on what it is they need to do and they focus more on what they're looking at from the opponent. So, with some of the obscure looks, some of the surprise looks, they're better capable of picking things up. When people stunt and blitz and blow gaps, they're coordinated in terms of how they're picking it up, and of course the running back is very comfortable with his tracks and aiming points. He's able to see creases. One of the things that is allowing Clinton Portis to play so well is that when a defense drops a gap on those guys he's always in it. He doesn't miss an opportunity to exploit an available gap, and I think that's because of the repetition they have with a limited number of plays.
Q. That sounds like the key to a good running game in the NFL is the ability to be simple?
A. Ultimately, that's what everybody strives for. There are a myriad of reasons why people get away from that, but ultimately as people set out and embark on a season that's what they strive for. The teams that are at the top of the league in running the football are the ones that have stuck to it. And they share that common bond.
Q. If a team cannot be simple in its running attack, does that then mean that team cannot run the football?
A. No, it just means they might have to do it through other avenues – the art of deception. People call it, "run-game alternatives," when you get to some of the quick screens and draws and some of the other perimeter runs and stuff. There are ways to control the clock and get the 3-to-5 yards you need in order to possess the ball, but it's an alternative way of doing it.
Q. What are the rules with regard to how the long-snapper is protected?
A. There's a difference, based on whether you're snapping for a placement kick or you're punting. When you're kicking a field goal, nobody on the defense is allowed to be within the framework of the long-snapper's body. You can be in the A-gaps, but not within the framework of his body, and you can't deliver blows to the head. On a punt, he's treated as he was treated in the past.
Q. You have said many times that injuries are a part of the game, that when one guy goes down the next man steps up, and the standard of expectation does not change. Does that mean, for example, you expect the same thing from Limas Sweed as the No. 3 receiver that you expect from Nate Washington as the No. 3 receiver?
A. It's less about what someone can or can't do and more about utilizing the weapons you have at your disposal. That's a process we go through every week as a staff as we formulate a plan. Ours vs. theirs, whether it's our backup vs. somebody else, or whether it's our starter who happens to be healthy vs. somebody else. Those are the line of questions you go through on a weekly basis as you prepare a plan. It's really nothing out of the ordinary in terms of how you formulate a plan. Some things rise to the top because the matchups are favorable; some things fade to the bottom of the ready list, if you will, because the matchups are unfavorable. The process itself is the same every week.
Q. But do you go through every matchup on a potential play? For example, if a receiver can get deep on an opposing cornerback, do you then look all the way to the backup offensive lineman you might have trying to block an opponent's top pass-rusher and possibly eliminate the play because of that?
A. No. You can find ways to overcome those situations. If you feel comfortable with the matchup of a wideout vs. a cornerback, you can do things to help certain people from a protection standpoint so that you can get an opportunity to take a shot. To me, the job of coaching is always about playing to your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses based on the people you face, and then ultimately being able to adjust on the fly as those things unfold, based on the way you predicted or otherwise.
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