Tomlin Prefers “Feel” Over Analytics


It’s infusing in sports’ culture. For some, it’s embraced. For others, it’s shied away from. For Mike Patrick, it’s made fun of. The play of analytics in football is growing but for Mike Tomlin, he still prefers to go with his gut.

The topic was approached during his press conference Tuesday when he was asked about what goes into the decision of going for two.

“We work a menu of plays in that area over the course of the week. We rank them at the latter part of the week, and then we get into the stadium and we play it by ear. A lot of it has to do with the feel or the flow of the game. Maybe what personnel group we think they’re going to match our personnel group with.

As we start to play and work the ball down the field on the drives that produce the touchdowns before the point after, we have a little inclination of what their personality might be at least in terms of matching our personnel. All of those things weigh into the decision. It legitimately is a feel thing.”

Tomlin, and the Steelers’ organization, have been more open to analytics but won’t let it run their decisions.


“I think that’s why you play the game. You can take analytics to baseball and things like that but football is always going to be football. I got a lot of respect for analytics and numbers, but I’m not going to make judgements based on those numbers. The game is the game. It’s an emotional one played by emotional and driven men. That’s an element of the game you can’t measure. Often times decisions such as that weigh heavily into the equation.”

For Sunday at least, Tomlin’s decisions worked. The Steelers went 2-2, electing to go for two on their first two touchdowns.

About the Author

Alex Kozora
Full-time blogger from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • srdan

    Is this how he does his time management too?

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    With all due respect to Coach Tomlin, observing the defense to estimate the match up you will get for the 2 point conversion plays you have available is an analysis used to make that decision. Factoring in game emotions and flow is just a weighted variable used to make the decision, as well. Weighing those variables more than some others is just good coaching.

  • John

    Well…let’s be fair…time does sometimes take a backseat while you’re “emotional and driven” much less surrounded by thousands of others in pretty much the same straits…but I suppose it truly helps for someone who isn’t to be standing quite near by…

  • BBrawler

    I don’t know maybe it’s because of my profession but I would trust analytic more than feel for the game. I think that Belichick is the one that use analytics more than anyone else. That’s why he calls 15 runs or throws in a row.

  • Hypo Cycloid

    I think if the Steelers score 1st, they will always go for two with this offense. If they make it, they will then go for 1 the rest of the game. This puts pressure on the opposing offense that at some point they will probably need to go for 2. Remember, we have maybe the best offense in the league so the odds favor us in this respect. I believe this is what Tomlin is really doing.

  • NCSteel

    I understand what he’s saying and have no problems with it so long as he is fully aware of the “analytic stats” for a given situation and does not discount it to the point where he turns a deaf ear to numbers.

    The hands on a clock, well, thats another story for another time.

    Ha ! It’s all good when we win and win big.

  • Hypo Cycloid

    How do you know? Maybe it is the feel he is getting at the moment, that he should be able to expoit a weakness he sees and continues attacking it.

  • Madi

    I get what he’s saying, but he needs to learn some basic analytics.

    “I don’t know, guys, it just doesn’t FEEL like the end of the half to me. I feel like we should wait a couple minutes. Huh? It’s halftime already and we got no points and still have 2 timeouts? Oh well, no use looking back.”

  • theprideofpit

    this was funny

  • Taips

    The ideal coach would have the likeability, energy and motivational skills of Tomlin, but he would have a trusted mini-Bellichick grey eminence (MBGE) whispering in his ear the sound advice of someone versed in analytics.

    Tomlin would blindly trust MBGE on the issue of timeouts near the two-minute warning. It has been established that Tomlin sucks at this.
    MBGE would give strong advice on going for two, 4th down decisions, kick or go for TD in onside kick territory.
    MBGE would have to authorize every challenge Tomlin throws. No challenging the spot to take the opening kickoff return back 10 yards allowed.
    Also “take a safety on purpose”, “don’t score in this situation”, that kind of stuff.

    It’s fine ignoring most of the “players grading”, “play efficiency charts” kind of analytics, as these were specifically designed for outsiders who do not know the play calls / responsibilities but want to chart games. Obviously teams with access to inside information and hours and hours of tape analysis can do better.
    It is downright unprofessional to keep ignoring the most clear-cut pronouncements of analytics. Regarding TO management, there is such a thing as a right answer and Tomlin frequently misses it.

  • NCSteel

    Hire that MBGE quick !

    No kidding though, you’re spot on

  • steelburg

    Good logic but what happens when your kicker ruins that plan by missing a extra point or two.

  • Jason Popovich

    Coach Carrol went with the higher percentage throw on the goal line in the Superbowl instead of pounding the rock with Beast Mode. We all know how that worked out… He obviously had no “feel” for the game.

  • Jason Popovich

    Then you continue to go for two

  • James Rogers

    Sounds like those black jack players who decide to hit/stand/etc. based on “feel” instead of math. Guess which is more effective?

  • chris ward

    I love Tomlin’s response on analytics. It’s definitely important, but like Tomlin said, “Football is always going to be football.”

  • Phil Brenneman II

    I think Tomlin brushes off analytics too much. I am all for gut instinct and the emotion of the game but I don’t see where using logic has ever been a problem when trying to make intelligent decisions lol. I think the numbers and stats should be a major part of how you make decisions in regards to certain football related things.

    If your gut is telling you 100% to do something I think you go with that every time. But if your gut is only at 75% or so I think analytics should be a big consideration.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.” Helmuth Von Moltke, Chief of Staff of the Prussian Army.

  • Teresa A

    He feels himself too much

  • Teresa A

    He is just lucky SF didn’t test the secondary more…..

  • MARK 11

    COach T’S got a SB RING…i totally trust and back him.

  • MARK 11

    So why didn’t SF do anything against OUR STEELERS? Yeah, really lucky…

  • disqussant2

    Yeah

  • disqussant2

    What does this mean?

  • Bradys_Dad

    Nice theory. I completely agree. It’d be like having the guy who was written about in MoneyBall creeping around the cob-webby part of your gray matter. The balance of guts & instinct coupled with irrefutable data. With the availability of data on the sidelines these days I’d be shocked if someone hasn’t developed a program that provides instantaneous, situational, decision making options based off of analytics in real time. Good Lord what’s happening to our game?!

  • Bradys_Dad

    The Pats had prepared for that play as they had seen it run (successfully) by the Hawks all year long. He went with the law of averages and this time, the law didn’t win.

  • Taips

    What’s “happening to our game” is that, despite being a great coach and great guy by most accounts, Tomlin has now spent 7 years as a head coach without ever figuring out how to manage the clock, his TOs or his challenges, routinely making clear-cut no-upside decisions like calling pointless halftime draws bumbling 2-pt conversions. Over time these small things accumulate, you lose a game here, a game there, yet unlike “getting talented DBs”, these are by and large fixable things. If he is not going to learn from his (and others’) mistakes then the ownership should take away a small portion of his decision making to limit the damage he can do.

  • Bradys_Dad

    My Pastor always says “don’t repay the dumb tax” that others have already paid on our behalf i.e.learn from other’s mistakes. I hear ya brother.

  • The GreekGeek

    All your best laid plans go out the window once your in the thick of battle…

  • BBrawler

    I am not sure you are right here. Carrol went with a throw, but we don’t know if analytics suggested a run based on a success rate. Now Belichick used analytics for sure, since they said that in that formation they mostly throw. So they played the pass and won.

  • BBrawler

    I don’t know, but he seems like a guy without much emotions and feel on the sidelines. He gives the impression of calculated moves based on stats rather than based on feel. Now I might be completely wrong, but that’s just my impression with him