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Tomlin on resiliency, defending 'big three'


Q. Your offense has the guy who's No. 1 in the NFL in receptions and the guy who's No. 2 in the NFL in rushing yards. What have you been seeing from opposing defenses in how they've been trying to deal with that?**

A. At times you see concerted efforts to minimize the impact of those guys on the game, but also you see at those times a surge in the production of others. That's what keeps a balance in terms of how we operate. Take the game against the Tennessee Titans for example. Heath Miller was a big-time contributor in that game in terms of targets and catches. If they're doing things to minimize Antonio on the perimeter, if they're doing things to make sure Le'Veon isn't in one-on-one matchups out of the backfield, then somebody is going to benefit from that. That's what it's about for us – as the defense moves schematically to minimize certain targets, other guys have to ascend and deliver plays.

That's what we openly talk about. We have a bunch of guys we know are capable but who might not get the volume of opportunities that Antonio or Le'Veon will get, but those are significant nonetheless. Markus Wheaton caught one ball in Tennessee, but it was a third-down slant in a pivotal moment in the last possession of the game that allowed us to run the clock out. I talk to these guys and tell them they have to be snipers, if you will. They're not going to get a lot of opportunities to fire bullets, but the bullets they fire are going to be meaningful ones.

Q. Is there a conventional wisdom among opponents when it comes to facing a team with a big-time passing attack and a big-time running back? Is it always about stopping the run first? Or might the attitude be, 'Let the guy run for a bunch of yards but that's not going to result in as many points as the passing game?'

A. There are different mentalities at different moments, and it can change in the midst of a game. It can change in the midst of a series. So much of football today in the NFL is situational, and different guys ascend in different situations. Although Antonio is a lead guy for us, in certain situations from the opponent's perspective, he may not be. The same thing can be said about Le'Veon Bell. I think opponents make those judgments based on moments within games.


Q. Do you go into a game expecting the opponent to focus on defending one phase of your offense or the other?**

A. I go into a game expecting them to focus on one or the other based on the situation. I go into it with a preconceived notion about how they might minimize Antonio on third down, but it might be different than how they work to minimize him in the red zone. It might be different with Le'Veon, in terms of how they try to minimize him in the red zone as opposed to open grass. It's no longer a discussion regarding how we're playing them TODAY. It's how we're playing them at this moment, and that moment may change a myriad of times within the midst of a single football game.

Q. What defined that win in Cincinnati?

A. Just being a resilient group. It wasn't a perfect performance. There were lead changes and we were in a hostile environment, but the guys didn't let go of the rope. They didn't blink. They stayed together, and in fact they got stronger as the game wore on.

Q. You have said about this group of players that one of the things you like about it is its resiliency. Are there key people involved in getting the group to that resiliency?

A. I don't know if it's key people, or central people who specifically lead the charge in terms of responding to adversity. I just think it's largely who the group is, individually and collectively. The makeup of them. It's helpful when the group is resilient, obviously.

Q. Can you purposely put together a group that's resilient, or is it something that has to develop within the group once it's put together?

A. I think it's just something that comes together. It's something you value. Anytime you're evaluating talent and you see a guy who's been faced with adversity and found a way to come through to the other side, he can be strengthened by that experience. All of these guys have played enough football to have been faced with some adversity, and they're under consideration for professional football because they've overcome it in some form or fashion. Most of that is in their backgrounds, but I think it's the collection of men and how they feed off one another, how they encourage one another, how they inspire one another in the face of challenges that the game of football or a season presents.

Q. By going for over 200 yards from scrimmage in three straight games, Le'Veon Bell joined Walter Payton as the only two players to accomplish that. What's your take on that record?

A. Anytime you're in a group with Sweetness, that's a good group to be in. Le'Veon probably doesn't know too much about Sweetness, because he's just a pup. Le'Veon is a guy who's a competition. We've talked a lot about his skill-set, but probably his best attribute is his overall level of conditioning. He doesn't fatigue, he gets stronger and he utilizes that strength.


Q. Stephon Tuitt played more against the Bengals than he had in any previous game during this, his rookie season. How did he handle that?**

A. I thought he performed very well, but not that we're surprised by it. We've got a lot of young guys on this team who are working extremely hard day-to-day and waiting for an opportunity. Often that opportunity comes at the misfortune of someone else. Brett Keisel getting hurt provides an opportunity for Stephon to have an expanded role. He's doing it and taking advantage of it, and we expect him to.

Q. Might Ryan Shazier get more playing time on defense today?

A. There's a possibility. Game circumstances are going to weigh into that. We're on a moving train with this journey that we're on. Often I will use that analogy to illustrate it, because when you suffer injury or miss time, you're simply trying to get back on a moving train and that's a difficult thing to do. While Shazier has been down, other guys have ascended, and we've gotten some continuity with guys like Sean Spence and Vince Williams. Shazier's simply going to wait for a break in the action, and he better be ready to seize that opportunity when he gets it.

Q. Who will get most of the snaps today at right tackle?

A. We'll start with Marcus Gilbert and see how he looks, and if he's above the line and performing well he'll continue, but we haven't been discouraged in any way by what we've seen from Mike Adams in recent weeks. That makes him a viable option as well.

Q. Atlanta ranks second in the NFL in pass offense. How would you describe their passing attack?

A. The Falcons attack and throw the ball vertically down the field, and Matt Ryan has the arm to do it. But they also have some viable receiving options, guys like Julio Jones and Roddy White. They have a well-rounded group that can attack horizontally or vertically, and they do.

Q. When Matt Ryan is playing well, what do you see in him?

A. I see rhythm throws. I see guys making combat catches down the field, and that's always an element of successful days. He's got some receivers who are capable of that. But more than anything, I see him throwing on rhythm. So we have to do everything in our power to destroy that rhythm.

Q. According to the Falcons depth chart, it appears to be a 4-2-5 defensive alignment. How do they deploy that?

A. There is so much sub-package football in today's NFL, and they're just acknowledging that with their depth chart. They're a multiple group, but at the end of the day they probably play more sub-package stuff than anything else, as we do and as everybody in football does.

Q. What kind of player is Kroy Biermann, who leads the Falcons in sacks?

A. I see a versatile guy, a guy who once was a rush-end who has proven himself to be capable of playing on two feet and moving around in the hybrid defense they have. I have a lot of respect for him and his playing ability. He's got an awesome motor. He's just a really good football player.

Q. Atlanta is 5-8, but is it a different feel for the Falcons because they're in first place in their division, the NFC South?

A. Records are unimportant at this point. I think it's more about position in regards to that team's division. They're in the thick of things in the NFC South, and this is an important game for them. It's an important game for us.

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