Tomlin on waning, Ben's return, Golden


Q. That was a big win last Monday night in San Diego, but you said after the game, "we weren't perfect." In what specific areas are you looking for improvement in this game against the Cardinals?**

A. I thought we waned defensively as the game went on, and if we're going to be a good defense, defenses turn up the volume as the game wears on. I thought Phillip Rivers cracked the safe on us a little bit, and we oozed to a finish. We can be better in that area. And on offense, it's about winning third downs. We've got to win more third downs. We got enough initial wins to get the ball to midfield – I think we won the battle of field position, which was one of the reasons we were able to stay in the game – but we didn't win enough third downs once we got to midfield to make some of those drives scoring opportunities. It's about staying on the field offensively. It's about getting off the field defensively.

Q. Let's say you get improvement in the area of converting third downs. Does that mean it's fixed and you can move on to working on something else, or is it a case where that aspect may have to be revisited?

A. You'll continue to talk about the necessary detail in order to win possession downs on offense because each week the challenges change. Some weeks the opponent creates pressure with four (pass rushers) and they play zone. Some weeks they blitz you. The variables in the equation are always changing depending upon the opponent, but the level of execution and the level of detail required in that execution to win remains the same. So you'll continually talk about the elements of what it is we need to do to win those downs.

Q. So it's not like you can be a teacher with a lesson plan and follow it. You have to be more of a troubleshooter and deal with issues as they arise?

A. It's part troubleshooter, but it is part lesson plan, because some of the things involved in the discussion are universal. Some of them are rules of football – you have to watch the hard-count on third-and-less-than-5 – is universal regardless of opponent. Some things are very specific to an opponent – they run the speed-out to get the quarterback on the perimeter on third-and-less-than-5, or, this team is capable of running the football on third-and-less-than-5. So there are elements of a third-and-less-than-5 discussion that are universal, regardless of opponent, and there are elements of a third-and-5 discussion that are very specific as to who you might be facing that week. So the answer is, you have to prepare to be both.

Q. This is going to be Mike Vick's third straight start at quarterback. Is it unfair to expect the offense in its design to look more like it did with Ben at quarterback as Mike gets more and more practice and playing time?

A. It's very fair to expect that in terms of outcome. The way we go about being efficient and effective may be different, catered to his skill-set. But the crispness with which we work, the amount of continuity and rapport that we have, the fluidity of it, it's very acceptable to expect that to look more like a Ben-led offense the longer we go through this.


Q. You have spoken about playing to Vick's skill-set. Are there concessions you have to make, as in, Mike's not Ben, so we can't … ?**

A. Absolutely you do. Probably it's overblown when you're talking about a quarterback position and a backup quarterback relative to the starter, but those are the questions you ask yourself at any position where there's a change in personnel. When we're calling run plays, they're different when Le'Veon Bell is in there as opposed to DeAngelo Williams. They're different guys, they have different skill-sets, they have different strengths and weaknesses, and if you're not playing to those strengths and working to minimize those weaknesses, then you're not doing a good job as a coach.

Q. Is there a situation – outside of injury – where you would pull Mike Vick in the middle of a game?

A. Sure. If I think Landry (Jones) gives us a better chance to get the desired outcome. That's always my guiding factor. If I think the guy behind him gives us a better chance to win, I'll make the decision.

Q. Can a running attack dominate games in the NFL anymore, or is it a passing league?

A. I think you can control the pace of the game with the run, but really it just depends on how the game is unfolding, and there are a lot of things that are a part of that equation. Things don't happen in a vacuum. If you're running the football and you're trying to dominate the game via the run, you better do things like take care of the football. You can't run the football to control the flow of the game and turn it over, for example. There are always layers to those discussions, and none of those things happen in a vacuum.

Q. Can your running game do that?

A. No question it can. I think our running game kept us in the game when it wasn't very fluid a week ago, but of course that's coupled with sound defense. That's what I mean when I said none of those things occur in a vacuum. If people are going up and down the field and scoring on you, then you have to go up and down the field and score on them. You can run it as much as you want, but if you're not stopping people, you're going to be in trouble.


Q. Ben is out this week. What boxes have to be checked off before he's ready to play in a game, from the medical end to practice time, etc.?**

A. It's simple for me. I'm not a doctor, and so I rely on the expertise of our medical staff. I have a great deal of confidence in them, as does Ben. Once we get the clearance from those guys from a full participation standpoint, then it's about simply evaluating his level of effectiveness and his ability to protect himself. Once we feel he's effective enough to provide us with winning football, once we feel he's healthy enough to protect himself from in-game action, then we play.

Q. You often say that one man's misfortune is another man's opportunity. Will Allen's misfortune in San Diego was to sustain an ankle injury. Who is the man who gets the opportunity?

A. It's Robert Golden. Robert Golden is a guy who has worked long and hard around here, a guy who is highly respected by his teammates, elected captain of the special teams group by his teammates. He's getting an opportunity to expand his role and help us in other areas, and most people are excited about that opportunity for him. Now, it's about what does he do with it? I tell these guys all the time that we don't have them in a box. They have roles and jobs within this group, but from time to time they're going to be provided with an opportunity to expand those roles. And Golden is looking at it right now, in a similar way that Ross Cockrell was looking at it a number of weeks ago, and (Cockrell) has taken that opportunity and run with it.

Q. Today's opponent – the Arizona Cardinals – lead the NFL with 11 interceptions, and they have returned four for touchdowns. How are they getting that done?

A. They're creating the havoc in which those types of plays occur. They're stopping the run and putting people behind the chains. People get in third-and-long situations and as the Arizona offense rings up points, they're pressed to try to keep pace. So on a third-and-13 instead of running a draw and punting it, they're taking the necessary risk to try to keep pace, and those risks produce game-changing plays that make a bad problem worse. That's how they've been playing, and that's why they've been winning games in the manner in which they've been winning them.

Q. Has Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald re-invented himself as a slot receiver as a 32-year-old in his 12th NFL season?

A. I don't think he has reinvented himself. I've always believed that great players are great players, regardless of schematics. I've said that many times, and I just think he's a great player who is displaying that. He's in a new offense and being asked to do new things and different things, but he's still Larry Fitzgerald. That's what great players do.

Q. The Cardinals have a running back named David Johnson, who is the first player since Gale Sayers in 1965 to have two-plus rushing touchdowns, two-plus receiving touchdowns, and a kick return for a touchdown during the first five games of his rookie season. What do you remember about him during the run-up to the 2015 draft?

A. That he displayed those same skill-sets. He's a running back who grew into being a running back. He went to college as a wide receiver. I think he played wide receiver his first two years at Northern Iowa, and that speaks to his ability to play outside the backfield and have the type of inclusion in the passing game that he gets. He returned kicks at Northern Iowa and was a dynamic player that way. We evaluated him not only as a running back, but as a potential return specialist. You always watch those guys vs. I-A opponents, and he had an enormous game against Iowa – probably 150 yards receiving. That's something that stands out about him during the draft prep, and all of those skill-sets are being displayed in his NFL video,

Q. You spent a lot of time in meetings with Bruce Arians, and he spent a lot of time in meetings with you. Is there any advantage in that, on either side?

A. The answer is yes to both elements of that, but it will probably balance itself out, and the execution of the men will determine the outcome of it.

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