Labriola On

Tomlin on Ben, replacing a QB, IR

Q. At one point during the week leading up to today's game, you had two players practicing who began the season on injured reserve, those being Zach Banner and Anthony McFarland Jr. What are you looking for from them, what do you need to see from them during practices before you're willing to make the move to add them to the 53-man roster?
A. It's just stages that they go through in rehabilitation. When they get to the point where on the practice field, at least from a medical standpoint, they've had complete medical clearance and that means that they're eligible to play football. Then it becomes a football decision. Are they functional, are they able to protect themselves, are they conditioned enough to be considered contributors? And so, when you miss some time, you've got to work toward that. Both guys had good weeks, and I'd imagine both guys will really be in play next week. And so that's just a snapshot, a window into the process.

Q. At your news conference last Tuesday you were asked whether Ben Roethlisberger was the best quarterback for this offense, and you answered, "Absolutely. What he does and what he's done makes me really comfortable in saying that." What did you mean by "what he does and what he's done?"
A. I'm talking about what I'm looking at present day. What I see in preparation on the practice field leading up to performance is well above the line of expectations for the position, and the knowledge and experience of having been on the sideline with him over the course of 15 years, the type of competitor that he is, the way he smiles and rises up in the face of adversity. So those are two of the examples that kind of illustrate what I meant by that.

Q. Generally speaking, what goes into an NFL head coach's decision to replace a quarterback for performance reasons?
A. Does it change or increase our chances of winning? For me it's that black and white. I'm not interested in sending messages. I'm not interested in rallying cries and things of that nature. To me, it's an unemotional decision. It's about who gives us the very best chance to secure victory.

Q. Based on what a quarterback does, is turning the ball over a critical element in that decision for you? Is it other elements of his play that would spur you to make that move?
A. It's interesting that when you're having this conversation, oftentimes you're talking about negative things, the management of negative things, taking care of the ball, etc. But I'm also talking about the opportunity for splash. Big play capabilities. I don't live in that negative world. I understand what you mean by that, but I expect them to do positive things routinely, and I expect them to minimize negative things, and so that's a component of it from my perspective.

Q. Is replacing a quarterback different than replacing a player at a different position, say, an offensive lineman?
A. It is (different) because of the outside world. In essence it's not. Everybody is expected to perform to an acceptable level above the line. When they don't, and they don't routinely, they subject themselves to changes. And so, from a pure football standpoint, those are the variables, that's the decision-making process. From an outside world standpoint because of the attention that it attracts and we're in the business of professional football and the things that come with (professional football), it makes it different.

Q. One of the other topics that came up last Tuesday was what you might say to the team when it's going through a rough patch, as this 1-3 start to the season might indicate, and you said, "It's more important what I do than what I say: the attitude, the energy that I bring to these work days; the attitude and energy that I bring to preparation." Is that necessarily positive and up-beat energy, or can it be effective to be loud and angry?
A. That's very perceptive by you. I didn't characterize it as positive or negative, I just acknowledged that it's thoughtful and deliberate. It's my job to be what this team needs me to be. Sometimes it's encouragement, sometimes it's not. And so, I meant what I said when I said that, and I purposely didn't say (whether it would be) positive or negative, because the job is just that – providing them what it is that I believe they need.

Q. How do you decide which to be?
A. I just have a feel. It's a gut feeling. I've been around football teams every year of my life since 1980 in some form or fashion. I haven't missed a year, and so having been involved in this game, involved in team dynamics that long, you just have a feel, you have a gut instinct in terms of what's needed in certain moments,

Q. Does being a parent help you in that area?
A. I'll say this, my wife doesn't like it, but being a coach has helped me be a parent. I probably view it from the other perspective. I take some of my coaching to the house.

Q. Could you explain the rule regarding downfield blocking by receivers for other receivers? When are receivers allowed to engage physically with defensive players on plays such as wide receivers screens so that it's not offensive pass interference?
A. They get what we determine to be a healthy yard, meaning if somebody is engaged in bump-and-run coverage and they're within a yard of the line of scrimmage, they can be engaged while the ball is in the air. And if they're drive blocking them, they're given some latitude in terms of that. It has to be timed up for defenders who are off the ball and in space. And so those passes that go behind the line of scrimmage, you have to skip off the line of scrimmage, you have to do something from a timing standpoint, that ensures that you're legal. Oftentimes a good lateral step or a skip-step will draw defenders to within a yard of the line of scrimmage and then you can engage them. And so, there's some subtle aspects of it. Our game is policed much more so than the college game, and so the guys come to the NFL with loose mechanics in that regard, which means there's some understanding that needs to be developed from a professional game standpoint.

Q. Another rules clarification if you would. On the blocked field goal, scoop and score by Minkah Fitzpatrick in Green Bay that was nullified by a penalty, there seem to be two rules in conflict: Penalties are not reviewable, but scoring plays are reviewable. Which of those two rules takes precedence in that situation?
A. The penalty aspect of the play is not reviewable. There are other aspects of the play (open to review) if you wanted to review it. Touchdown plays automatically reviewed, but the penalty component of that play is not subject to that evaluation. And so, they don't work in conflict with one another, they actually work independently. If there was something, some other component of the play that was reviewable – let's say, Minkah kicked the ball toward the intended end zone in an effort to scoop it, or something of that nature. Other components of the play are subject to review, but not the penalty component.

Q. When does a play like that become live for the field goal block unit?
A. Any movement. Any movement of the football starts the action of the play. And that's why, when you're looking at snappers, you really evaluate them in terms of their snap mechanics. Is there fluidity in their snap, or do they have to go forward (with the ball) to go backwards, or do they have to go up (with the ball) to go back. Ideally you want the snapper to take the ball from the ground fluidly backwards, and it removes any of that false movement that is an advantage to the defense.

Q. On special teams plays, such as fake punts or fake field goals, trying to block a kick, surprise onside kicks, are those situations where you make the call in real time on the sideline to try something like that, or is it predetermined by a specific alignment or look you might get from the opponent in a certain situation?
A. Oftentimes those conversations are continual, and there's a pre-discussion prior to the moment. Decisions are made in real time, but the flow of the game, the week's preparation, there is some strategic planning involved. In the case of that blocked kick, we worked that block during the course of the week (in practice), we knew we would have an opportunity to potentially get it, and we were saving it for a moment when we knew a kick would be real, when the possibilities of a fake or something of that nature would be minimized. And kicks like that at the end of the half are perfect, and so it unfolded in the manner in which it did. The decision was made in real time, but there was some discussion and planning that teed it up to the point where it wasn't a discussion at all. All parties involved knew the direction we were going by the time we got to that real time moment.

Q. Denver's starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater began the week in the concussion protocol, and it wasn't until Thursday that he even was listed as a limited participant in practice. Denver is two hours behind you here in the Eastern time zone, and so their practice reports don't get to you until your team is off the field for the day. How do you prepare your team for a situation where you're not completely sure who will be the opponent's starting quarterback?
A. I try to make the complex simple. Teddy Bridgewater is the quarterback. We got three-and-a-half or so games from 2021 to see that and to prepare for that and have that understanding. We've proceeded all week with the assumption that Teddy Bridgewater is going to be their quarterback in the game. And that's generally what I always do. And we adapt and improvise when the variables present themselves. We played them a year ago, and Drew Lock was their quarterback. We worked all week to play against Drew Lock; he got hurt, maybe in the first quarter of the game, and we had to deal with Jeff Driskel the remainder of the game. And so that's a component that's potentially in play every week. We don't over-analyze it, we don't get too smart. From time to time you've got to play against a backup quarterback. Ideally, you'd like to have some exposure to him, particularly if they have a different skill-set, but there are only so many hours in a work week. You better prepare for the starter or the intended starter, and if you get the backup, you realize that it could require some adjustments, but it's probably gonna require some adjustments for them as well. There's a reason one guy's a starter and the other guy's a backup.

Q. Is what your team needs more than anything right now is to just win one game? Can one victory have that kind of an impact?
A. I feel that way every week. I know what you mean, but that's my attitude every week. I'm truly a week-to-week liver. I've been in this business so long, I have brainwashed myself to approach it that way, and I believe a lot of us do and have. We interact with people who are not in this business, and so we understand that perspective. You know, it's not like baseball. It's not like we have 162 games, and we're trying to get off a slide. We get one a week. We get one opportunity a week to state a case for ourselves over the course of 17 or so weeks, and so there's scarcity in that. And there's weight on those moments, and I think we live singularly moment to moment differently than other sports that play many more games in which that catchphrase would probably more aptly apply.

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