Tomlin on Minkah's tackling, discipline, T.J.

Q. In talking about your team's victory over the Titans last Sunday, you complimented Minkah Fitzpatrick for his tackling as part of the run defense. As a free safety, does Minkah have a specific fit in the run defense, or is he just looking for a hole or a weakness in the defense and then getting himself to the spot to plug it?
A. It really depends on coverage concept, and in the vast majority of the discussion that we're talking about in reference to this, he's playing free safety. And so he doesn't have a specific design-rank gap when he's a free safety whether it's man-free or deep-thirds, but his responsibility is to move inside-out on the ball whatever direction it goes. And so he's an inside-out downhill player on all runs. He did a nice job cleaning up some inadequacies that occurred in game.

Q. What's Minkah watching or looking for in those situations – the offense to see where the play might be going, or the defense to see where the breakdown might be?
A. More than anything, he's exercising consistent footwork. Footwork, it starts there. You've got to have consistent footwork as a middle of the field player to get through play-action pass. You don't want to have stopping and starting of your feet if it happens to be a play-action pass, for instance. And so, he's really disciplined about having consistent footwork and while doing so, he has a big picture view, and then as he clears the potential of pass, meaning a run is declared and he's sure, then he narrows his focus and stays inside-out on the ball and begins to work downhill.

Q. Coming up from the secondary, maybe at full speed, and then having to make a tackle on a running back who's building to speed, what skill-set is required for a safety to be able to do that?
A. Knee and ankle flexibility and stop-start ability. That's because you have to stay inside-out on the ball, and so that could be changes of speed, depending on what's happening with the runner and the amount of open space you're dealing with, and how close quarters the potential tackle may be. I think physically in terms of traits that you look for, Minkah has them all. He has great knee and ankle flexibility. He can bend and change, and he has good burst, meaning that he can stop and start, accelerate or decelerate. Those are the things that you have to do naturally as you close the distance between yourself and a runner.

Q. In your time in the NFL as an assistant coach and a head coach, who are some of the safeties who have done that consistently well?
A. Ryan Clark really had an uncanny ability to do the things that I described while running essentially at full speed. Some guys have what we call radar, meaning that their vision, their feel as they close on a runner, is very good. And they can make the subtle adjustments and stay on track to their target while running at full speed. Ryan Clark was really unique in his ability to do that, and that's why he was able to deliver some of the hits and sure tackles that we remember. Troy was so versatile. We did everything with Troy – he was down in the box, he was covering people, blitzing, etc. Ryan spent a lot of time in the middle of the field, making those angle tackles and things that we're discussing,

Q. On a to-do list for an NFL free safety, where does the ability to make sure tackles in those kinds of situations rank?
A. Reading the ball out of the quarterback's hand, finding angles to the ball in the passing game, ball-skills themselves, and then that ability right there I probably rank one, two, or three. Obviously, as a centerfielder, you've got to do a good job of diagnosing not only where the ball is going, but the angle in which it's coming out and the trajectory, so you know whether you've got downhill breaks, lateral breaks, or downfield breaks. That's a big component of it. The ability to catch the ball, the skills relative to playing the ball are important, whether you're catching the ball or breaking it up, and then that ability to close great distances because they play at great distances. Today vs. Kansas City, Minkah will be 16-18 yards from the line of scrimmage at the snap because of their vertical passing attack, and so we're talking about closing great distances in the run-game circumstances. Your ability to stop-start those subtle changes as you close in on that target is significant as well.

Q. When it's time to mete out discipline, is that something you handle personally, from the decision that discipline is warranted to what the discipline should be, or have you empowered others to make those decisions as well?
A. Primarily I'm the "discipline coach," but I also want to empower positional coaches and others to handle things in their space and in the space in which they work with people. It's important everybody knows that I set the pace in that regard, but I also want to empower coaches to run their rooms to have latitude, and so I support them in some of the minor, smaller in-house decisions, whether it's a positional group thing or a unit thing. It's important that the coaches and the players know that they have the power to set standards within the smaller group as well, provided they're in line with the bigger group, and they are.

Q. When a player is disciplined, as an example, is the rest of the team informed of what the discipline was and why it was meted out?
A. Sometimes it's discussion-worthy, because maybe there's something to be learned. Sometimes there's no educational value in it, and I just handle it and move on. And everybody realizes that guy's a donkey. Some things require discussion. Some things don't

Q. One of the things you said about the difficulty of playing in Arrowhead Stadium was that it's "a problem that we're capable of overcoming if we prepare and prepare in the right way for the environment, and we minimize some of the onus on communication, particularly line-of-scrimmage-wise." What do you mean by line-of-scrimmage-wise communication, and how do you minimize that?
A. We've got to stay in play. We can't be in circumstances that we've been in recently, where we're playing from behind and having to utilize hurry-up offense as a necessity and you're depending on it. Crowd noise can become a factor, communication can be strained, assignments can be missed, etc. You're really exposed, not only when you've got to communicate at the line of scrimmage, but also when you're one-dimensional. When you're one-dimensional, you're throwing the ball exclusively. You're working out of shotgun, the defense has a snap indicator because you're working on silent counts, they can disguise coverage, they can hold blitzes, it all gets extremely difficult. And that's one of the reasons why I repeatedly say environments are a component of the no-huddle discussion. Oftentimes I get asked about no-huddle, no-huddle in Minnesota, no-huddle against the Chargers in Los Angeles, as examples. It presents some challenges from a communication standpoint, but also when you're one-dimensional it gives the defense certain advantages from a disguise standpoint, whether it's coverage or blitzes. That challenges a young group individually and collectively in terms of operating and operating without a whole lot of negativity. And that's important.

Q. In talking about today's game vs. the Chiefs, you said, "The 19 points that we scored last week, I don't think it's realistic to think that's going to be enough to get out of the stadium with a victory this time around." How do you plan for a game like that, one you believe is going to have to be somewhat high-scoring?
A. I'm just acknowledging that during the course of this seven-game winning streak they've been on they've scored points. I'm not trying to forecast the nature in which this game is going to unfold. I remember we were up there in the playoffs during the 2016 season, and everybody thought that one was going to be high scoring. We won, 18-12. There's always a narrative in terms of how a game may come out, and I was just acknowledging that's why they play the game. Mentally I'm prepared for us to win a high-scoring affair. I'm prepared for us to win a low-scoring affair. I just think we all need to come with that can-do mentality, and that aids us in terms of riding the wave, or the ebb and flow that is the game of football and particularly when you're in environments like this vs. good people.

Q. If it ends up being high-scoring, what is it going to take to be successful in that style of game?
A. Situational ball, and particularly double-situational ball. The third-down possession in the red zone, where whether you win that down or not determines whether or not you're getting seven points, or potentially are you settling for three? Those point-differential downs are significant in high-scoring affairs, because when you're kicking field goals that's somewhat of a negative. And so that's something that we've acknowledged, and we've acknowledged the weight of possession downs and particularly double-possession downs. Situational downs, such as third-and-4 from the 4-yard line, if you will, things that we obviously covered under normal circumstances, but if you're talking specifically about a potential high-scoring affair, it's those kind of point-swings that are really significant on both sides of the ball.

Q. In 14 games this season, Patrick Mahomes has thrown a career-high 13 interceptions, and he has thrown multiple interceptions in three of those games. In those three games where he threw multiple interceptions, what was the defense doing to him or to his receivers that seemed to be working?
A. It's a myriad of things. Ball security is an 11-man job, and not only the 11 men on the field, but then also with some schematics. They were in some in-game circumstances in the games that you referenced where they were behind, and you've got to take calculated risks in an effort to pursue and secure victory. The Tennessee Titans, for example, got up on them, 24-0, and in an effort to come back in that game, he was aggressive in nature, which you have to be, and it produced some turnovers. (The game vs.) the Buffalo Bills was another example, where Buffalo was up on him in the game, and some of those turnovers happened in his efforts to come back, and so some of them are environmental, some of them are circumstantial. The big thing for us is that we remain close, that we don't play from behind in this game in the manner in which we played from behind in recent games, because then he can exercise prudent decision-making and take care of the football. You get him in competitive environments, you get anyone in competitive environments, where they have to calculated risk-take, that gives you a higher propensity or opportunity to secure turnovers.

Q. Understanding that you're biased, what does T.J. Watt provide that makes him worthy of being an NFL Defensive Player of the Year?
A. You could just look at his numbers vs. the field of candidates. You're right. I am biased. I do coach him. I do watch him prepare and work and know what he puts into it, and I know it's Defensive Player of the Year-caliber and worthy. But statistics alone, he needs no endorsement from me. Most of his peers we compare him to, they make plays in the pass-rushing game like he does, and right now he leads the league in sacks. But it's the things he does outside of that realm. It's the coverage plays, it's the pass-breakups, it's the run game. He plays a complete game. He does and he always has. He causes turnovers. His forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, not only this year but over the course of his career, I'll put up against anybody in the National Football League. He does more than sack the quarterback. And so, I don't feel like he needs an endorsement from me, to be quite honest with you. I think all you have to do is look at the analytical element of it. I saw a stat recently where it was referring to rush-rate. Yes, he's got the highest rush-rate of anybody in the NFL since some year where they were referring to Reggie White, for example. None of that surprises me. I watch him week in and week out inside stadiums, but not only that, in his preparation.

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