Tomlin on speed, sudden-change, spies, RPOs

Q. When a defense has to take the field after a turnover, it’s referred to as sudden change. In six sudden-change situations against the Browns, your defense forced three punts, blocked a field goal, made two tackles for loss before the end of a half, and allowed one touchdown after the fumble was returned to the 1-yard line. What’s important for a defense if it’s going to be good in those sudden-change situations?
A. It’s starts with mentality, and we’re very cognizant of those circumstances and how you’re measured in the way that you respond to adversity. That’s what we always openly talk about as a defense, that will always will be the rule of law in the game of football. You have no control of what circumstance has you take the field sometimes, but you have all of the control of how you get off the field. So I like to watch the response of our guys in the midst of that negativity. It was very positive in Cleveland last weekend, and it needs to be. That’s fuel to address the circumstance. Since the game, we spent a lot of time talking about that one incidence where we didn’t stand up, when the ball was on the 1-yard line. We felt like we had a defensive call that was capable of standing up there, and so there is room for improvement. It’s so important that you respond appropriately when you’re faced with that adversity, not only for your defense but for the overall good of your team.

Q. Do offenses have more of a tendency to be in attack mode in a sudden change situation, or is that an old wives’ tale?
A. It’s by coordinator. It’s really the personal characteristic of the coordinator, but you’re right to openly talk about those moments, because it defines a defense in a lot of ways. Just like an offense has to respond to a score. When the opposing offense scores a touchdown or puts together a drive, offenses often are defined by how they respond to those circumstances. Cleveland went down and scored on us on a possession in the third quarter, and our offense responded immediately, went back down the field and put us up by seven again. In the same ways that responding to turnovers defines defenses, responding to scoring drives define offenses.

Q. During your news conference on Tuesday, you said that Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has great arm talent. Can you be a little more specific about what constitutes great arm talent?
A. He’s got velocity. He can throw the ball vertically. He can throw the ball horizontally. He can release the ball from a variety of body positions. He can throw the ball when he’s stationary. He can make throws on the move. He’s the type of guy where you have to defend bootlegs both ways because he’s adept athletically at moving to his left and throwing the ball. He’s just a natural thrower, and it’s not like we’re surprised by it because he’s the son of a Major League pitcher. That’s what I mean when I talk about arm talent – not only how far can you throw it but your ability to throw it in a variety of circumstances from a variety of different release points, stationary and on the move.

Q. Are there areas of the field that a defense typically will ignore because the typical quarterback cannot get the ball there? Can this not happen with Mahomes?
A. There always is a running clock in the heads of deep defenders, and you know when somebody is running out of range. That’s the difference between a go-route and a clear-route. What’s the difference between a go and a clear? It’s that feeling of running out of range where the receiver is not a legitimate target, and that range is different per quarterback. So there are some things to deal with there in terms of somebody who has unique range or unique arm talent. You have more vertical field to defend, so the running clock in your head in terms of how long you need to defend routes vertically gets expanded when you’re playing those types of people.

Q. Spying is a term used when the defense commits a player to pay close attention to the quarterback and prevent him from running. Is this tactic used much in the NFL?
A. It’s used often, and it’s not only used to contain a quarterback from a mobility standpoint but also used to confuse a quarterback, or to assist in coverage, in short-area passing. Shallow crossing routes and so forth. The use of the spy has expanded over the years. It’s always has been there and present, but the multiple jobs that guy now can do – he’s a secondary contain guy on pocket movement, he combats shallow crossing routes in the passing game, he’s an extra spot-defender underneath in zone concepts – show that people get a lot of usage from the spy. Kansas City gets a lot of use from the spy. You’ll see Justin Houston and Dee Ford spying a lot on Kansas City’s defensive tape.

Q. Can it be effective vs. a mobile quarterback, or is it primarily employed vs. running quarterbacks?
A. It’s used in both scenarios. Envision this: you have a mobile quarterback, and you’re looking at a third-and-3; you can utilize a spy to disrupt the shallow cross and then once that gets done you can use the spy to close the door and use him to help corral the quarterback at the end of the down. Those are some of the ways people utilize spy-men. Not only in terms of disrupting routes or to run down a mobile quarterback, but also to corral a guy at the end of a play as he runs to try to extend a play.

Q. How does a defense defend against difference-making speed, especially if the defense doesn’t have anybody as fast as the guy it’s trying to defend?
A. It’s a collective effort. It’s about setting edges. It’s about reducing the amount of field that you have to defend horizontally. The field is 50-plus yards wide, but if we do a good job of setting edges with our forcing units, then you reduce the amount of grass that you have to cover, there’s less grass that those in pursuit have to cover, and that’s how you minimize the impact of a guy who’s capable of breaking a game open like Tyreek Hill. Not only for your defense, but also for your special teams coverage units. It’s the same approach. We have to box this guy in so we can play in a tighter space with the same number of people and minimize his escape lanes. That’s what we’ll be doing with a variety of concepts, all the defenses that we employ and all the coverage lane concepts we will employ all have the same basic approach. We want to reduce the amount of horizontal grass with the same number of people to minimize his escape lanes and then get him on the ground.

Q. One of the popular trends in the NFL seems to be RPOs, which stands for offensive plays that are run-pass options. Can you explain what RPOs are?
A. It’s a designed running play, and instead of employing wide receivers to block defenders you simply have wide receivers run routes. By having the receivers run routes, you’re making defenders have to defend them, and thus you’re getting the same job done as if you were blocking them. It helps with some of the wear and tear on wide receivers over the course of a season, and it also produces an opportunity for a big play or a big chunk of yardage. That big play on the first play of a series that we hit JuJu on for 67 yards last week was an RPO-like play. That’s one less down that JuJu is engaged in physical combat in terms of creating space for the runner, and it also provided an opportunity for us to have a really big play and flip the field. That’s the global approach to RPOs and it’s really been en vogue in college football for a number of years. You’re starting to see it in our game. Why you’re starting to see it in our game is that the quarterbacks are comfortable with it. It’s comfort food for the quarterback. If you have a young quarterback, it’s a concept and you have a concept where he’s comfortable and proficient, you give him some snaps at it. It helps him find rhythm. That’s why you’re seeing more and more of it in today’s game.

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