Tomlin on rookie QBs, going for 2, Cox

Q. At your news conference on Tuesday, you were asked about the secondary, and one of the things you said was, "We had some known issues that have been successful against us." What did you mean?

A. In your tape study and practice preparation, you identify things that produce chunks for the opposing offense. It's your job to eliminate those plays before they happen in a stadium, if you're good. Average is minimizing those plays. Good is eliminating those plays, the known issues, and we've been hit by some known issues from time to time in the first couple of weeks. I think our growth and maturation process in the secondary – whether it's individually or collectively – is going to be measured by the ability to make those known issues disappear as we continue through the course of the season.


Q. What are known issues?**

A. Routes or concepts that are utilized by the opposing offense that produce chunks. Whether it's four verticals vs. single-high safety. Whether it's what we refer to as 9-7-3, or three-level floods in one zone. Offenses generally do conceptual things that produce chunks of yards for them, and it's our job defensively to get rid of those known issues that attack particular coverages that we operate in as a base.

Q. Is a known issue ever something such as "throwing the ball to the tight end?"

A. It's more concepts and schematics than it is personnel matchups. All offenses and all football teams in general have certain characteristics that define them. That's why we ask, what's your offensive style? The answers can be: two-back, or spread, or West Coast. The minute you say, West Coast, I can talk to you about four verticals. I can talk to you about 9-7-3, or three-level flooding passing, the boots and shotguns and mis-direction and the empty stuff. When we can identify an offensive personality and then we can rattle off plays that encompass that offensive personality, those plays can't be allowed to get us. And at times those plays have gotten us, and we have to grow.

Q. At your news conference, you also said about the secondary, "There are more plays out there for us." What are you referring to there?

A. I'm talking about there's a difference between being good or great. You can just take the last third down of the first half and the first third down of the third quarter as examples of that. In the first half it was a third-and-3; we dropped eight; the ball hit Jarvis in the hands and he didn't catch it. On the first third down of the third quarter, it was third-and-7; we ran a zone pressure and we rolled Stephon Tuitt up in the flat; the ball went off his hand in the flat. If we make those two plays and we bookend halftime with those two splash plays, it blows the game wide open. That's what I mean when I say there are plays out there for us.

Q. Do defensive backs sometimes have to make a decision about whether to play the man – trying to break up a pass as an example – or whether to play the ball and go for the interception?

A. Yes, but that's always pretty much an individual thing. And what I mean is it is a natural and instinctual thing. Guys at 16 years old who play the ball will play the ball all their lives. Guys who are 16 years old and play the man will play the man all their lives. We know that, from a football personality type, before we even get in to doing business with individuals. I've worked hard over the years trying to make play-the-man guys more play-the-ball guys. I've failed miserably.


The best photos of CB Ross Cockrell from the 2015 season.

Q. Your first two opponents are a combined 1-for-7 in the red zone against your defense. What are the characteristics of good red zone defense?**

A. To identify known issues, and it starts there. And that is an area where we've done a good job of identifying known issues. Then also, not being negligent. Leveraging the ball. If you're a contain guy, be a contain guy. If you're working inside-out, work inside-out on the ball, because those little losses of leverage that result in a yard here or a yard there may mean very little in open grass, but the shorter that field gets the more significant that is.

Q. No two-point conversions yet, and last season you led the league in both attempts with 11 and successes with eight. How come?

A. It's been quite situational for us, and I'll leave it at that. We continuing to work at it and we're open to it. As a matter of fact we're quite comfortable with it, so don't be surprised if you see it going on soon.

Q. You mentioned situations in going for two. What do you mean?

A. Game circumstance. Conditions. The matchup, whether it's our offense vs. their defense, or their offense vs. our defense.

Q. You won the coin toss last Sunday against Cincinnati and chose to defer. What was your thinking there?

A. Just the weather conditions. The weather conditions weren't great at the beginning of the game, and I thought maybe there was a chance the conditions would be better. It didn't happen, but I thought it had a chance to be better, and so I thought I'd get us an extra possession in the second half.


Q. What are you trying to gain by electing to start the second half with the ball?**

A. I'm really not trying to create an advantage, in general. Ben is our quarterback, and unless weather is a part of the decision-making process, I'd just as soon take the ball. But you can't deny that weather was a part of the decision-making process a week ago.

Q. How did you know that Le'Veon Bell was going to be the kind of unselfish player here he has turned out to be?

A. I've known DeAngelo since he was about 18 or 19 years old. Randy Fichtner, our quarterback coach, recruited him and was the offensive coordinator at the University of Memphis the entire time he played there. Randy and I have been friends for over 20 years. I visited their spring practices and clinic-ed their defensive staff back then when DeAngelo was in college. I went over to their hotel when they played the University of South Florida when I was a young defensive backs coach for the Buccaneers. I've known him for quite some time and knew that he had those qualities.

Q. The Eagles will start a rookie at quarterback. In your experience, what are the general characteristics of rookie quarterback play, and how has Carson Wentz differed from that pattern so far?

A. When the situation gets hot, their inexperience shows. Usually. He's done a nice job of managing himself in the game and taking care of the ball, but I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that the Eagles coaches have done an awesome job of minimizing those moments I just talked about. That's handled by taking care of the ball, by their time of possession, by their well-balanced attack – they're not very pass-heavy – and they're playing great defense. It's really been a collective thing that's produced their 2-0 and really it's been a collective thing that's probably produced the rave reviews of Carson Wentz, but you can't take anything away from him because he's off to a great start and has been very much a part of it.

Q. Is he someone the Steelers would have interviewed at the Combine?

A. I did not. I knew I wasn't in that market. I probably said hello to him down in Mobile (during the Senior Bowl week), just to say hello. But I didn't waste any time or waste a limited number of visits talking to a guy I wasn't in play for.

Q. Did you consult any of the personnel department's reports on Wentz, since he was part of draft preparation just some months ago?

A. I generally didn't, because I have a great deal of exposure to how they function offensively. Their head coach – Doug Pederson – was in Kansas City, and we've played Kansas City just about every year the last few years. I have two games of tape to watch Wentz function in NFL games. That was enough for me to get a grasp of what he's maybe capable of, and more importantly how we're going to work to minimize his impact on the game.

Q. The recipe for defeating an opponent with a rookie quarterback supposedly is to put pressure on him. Assuming for a moment that's true. Is it your defense or your offense that would be more effective in getting that done?

A. It's always a couple of things. It can be the defense, it can be the nature of the game in terms of how it unfolds. If our offense is successful in scoring, and they're feeling the stress to match scores they'll probably take more calculated risks than they're comfortable with, given a quarterback with Wentz's experience. It can be physical pressure provided by your defense, or it can be circumstantial pressure provided by your offense in putting them in an environment in which they're uncomfortable and have to operate maybe outside of the bounds of which they planned to work.

Q. On defense, who is the Eagles' key guy?

A. Fletcher Cox. (Coordinator) Jim Schwartz has been around for some time, and if you think about Jim Schwartz – his previous job was in Buffalo, where he had that freak Marcel Dareus from Alabama in the interior. Prior to that he was the head coach of the Detroit Lions and he had Ndamukong Suh. They view Fletcher Cox in the same way. The contract extension they did with him illustrates that, but more than that his tape is red-hot. His tape illustrates that. It starts inside and up front, and it starts with Fletcher Cox.

Q. Based on how the Eagles deploy Cox, whose problem is he going to be later today?

A. Like Ndamukong Suh and other great players who have played in that scheme, it's probably going to be just about everybody. Everybody except the left tackle. I've seen Cox play over centers, left guards, right guards, and even right tackles. So it's going to be a full offensive line job in terms of working to minimize his impact.

Q. I asked you this before the Bengals game, and let's do it again: besides the final score and the turnover ratio, which statistic will end up being the prime indicator of the outcome of the game?

A. Third down, and not just third down but the distances associated with third down. You get behind the chains on this group defensively, they're a tough nut to crack because of that great four-man front and how disciplined they are in the secondary. So third-and-long is a problem for us. I'd imagine third-and-medium is a necessity for them to keep that young quarterback out of those moments we've been talking about. So it's not only third down, but it's the nature of the distances associated with third down that's going to be a big determiner in the outcome of this game.

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