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. When it comes to the defensive secondary, is there such a thing as playing the man vs. playing the football?
A. Absolutely, and the discussion is dictated by so many variables. The defensive call is the first variable – is it man-to-man coverage, or is it zone coverage. Secondly, what position are you in. Are you in an advantageous position, or are you in a trail position or a catch-up position. Lastly, there are the rules that dictate how the game should be played.
You have to talk about all those things, and not only do you talk about it as you install it in a classroom, but you have present countless examples of that in front of men. When you're on the practice field, you evaluate their decision-making in that area daily, and overtime they get the standard. It's one of those coaching points that's tough to get as you sit in comfortable seats in classrooms; it's something that's done with repetitions more than anything else because the variable are so many.
Q. Talking about zone defense, in what position does that put the players?
A. In zone coverage, you're more in position physically and visually to play the football.
Q. Say it's the first possession of a game, and a defensive back has the opportunity either to make a big hit or intercept the ball. Is there a point in a game when it might be better to choose one over the other?
A. I'll take possession of the ball. That's always better. If we can get the football, that's what this game is about. Under any circumstances I'll take the interception.
Q. As an old secondary coach, do you then not believe in the power of intimidation, for lack of a better word?
A. Oh, no, I believe this is a physical game and intimidation is a part of it. We all might not like to acknowledge it all the time, but it's a definite factor. But you do that as a second choice when you can't get the ball. You never sacrifice an opportunity to get the ball in favor of the intimidation factor. Changing the possession of the game is intimidating. I'll take the football.
Q. What makes the Baltimore Ravens defense what it is?
A. More than anything, they've got great players, great coaches, continuity. Those are the ties that bind all great units and all great teams. They have a signature guy in Ray Lewis who assumes responsibility of leading the troops. They understand the standard. They understand how what they do fits into the bigger picture of the scheme. When you have those things, you have a recipe for a great defense, or a great offense, or a great team. They have it and have had it for a long time.
Q. Since teams within the same division play almost identical schedules, did you find yourself keeping an eye on the Ravens through this whole season as you were watching tape on the Giants or Colts or whatever?
A. I don't. I get so singularly focused, I could watch the Ravens play the Giants and if I'm watching the Giants offense I'm oblivious to what the Ravens are doing defensively … until in a few weeks and we're playing the Ravens I'll put the same tape on and remember I already watched it. I just watched it from a different point of view. Sometimes you can try to see too much, and I have made it a conscious effort to train myself to stay focused on what I'm looking at.
Q. At the end of the game, the two coaches go to the middle of the field and shake hands, and it's evolved into a media event almost. Does that have any meaning, or is it just something that's done because it's something that's done?
A. Sometimes it's meaningful and significant. Sometimes it's not. If I know and have a relationship with that person I'm competing against, then it's meaningful and significant. If I don't, then I could live with it or live without it.
I don't know Bill (Belichick). I don't have a relationship with Bill, so it didn't matter to me whether we did it or not, or what the nature of it was or was not. From that perspective, I think it is kind of media driven. But when you play the Indianapolis Colts and what Tony Dungy has meant to me, even though it wasn't pleasant from my standpoint because of the outcome of the game, I honor him and respect him. It's significant.
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