“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.“– Rita Mae Brown
That could be the motto of Mike Tomlin and the Steelers coaching staff. Back in April, I wrote of how moving on from Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell was the right move for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But as week 1 showed until the Steelers make some changes on the sidelines they might be doomed to tread water for the foreseeable future. And now due to the Season ending injury of Ben Roethlisberger we will see if Mike Tomlin can guide a young and inexperienced quarterback to success.
The first step was ousting the problem children off this team. Le’Veon Bell and, more notably, Antonio Brown not being on the Steelers sidelines or in the locker room is nothing but a positive for the Steelers, and it doesn’t matter where they ended up, they are gone!
The second act is revamping the defense, and that is still in its beginning stages. The Steelers have moved to get younger on the defensive side of the ball. Guys like third year pro TJ Watt and rookie Devin Bush will be staples of this defense moving forward. Former first cornerback Artie Burns was a bust, so the Steelers went out and signed Steven Nelson from the Chiefs and lockedup All Pro cornerback Joe Haden for two years. The Steelers have created one of the better front three in the league with Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave and Cam Heyward. The organization still has work to do, but the defense is trending in the right direction. They should round into form and have the potential to be one of the better defenses in the league within a few seasons.
The standard is the standard woes
The final and biggest issue impeding the Steelers road to recovery is glaring at Steelers’ fans from the sidelines and giving very vague and cryptic answers in the press conference. Of course, I’m talking about “the standard is the standard” Mike Tomlin and the rest of the coaching staff.
Before you say in your best Pittsburgh accent “Oh, here comes another ‘fire Tomlin yinzer’” and roll your eyes and preach about his win percentage, let me stop you and tell you it took years for me to come to this determination. And piss off with your “winning percentage” argument. I, too, was once like you, but let me tell you it’s not about his winning percentage or the fact that Tomlin-coached teams have never done worse than an 8-8 record.
One need only look to his 4th and goal call on week 1 against the Patriots early in the 3rd Quarter. From the one-yard line, down 20-0 with his team in desperate need of a jolt. Mike Tomlin elected to kick a field goal instead of punching it in with James Conner or Jaylen Samuels. Effectively signaling to fans and players alike that he was content with rolling over and dying in a game he was unprepared for. Once again he was getting outcoached by Bill Belichek and why bother with the rest of it?
Of course, no one thought the Steelers were going to come into Foxborough and win, let alone come back down 20-0. Still, it would be encouraging to see some fight coming from the sidelines. But, it doesn’t end with getting out coached again by a superior coach. The Tomlin issue extends to last year’s loss at Oakland. In that game, he opted not to put his franchise QB back into the game once he was cleared by the medical staff. Mike Tomlin instead let back up Josh Dobbs squander two potential scoring drives with his inept ability at quarterback.
Trap game woes
That game was in Oakland just one of many that Tomlin has dropped over the years to sub .500 teams on the road. Something so predictable it’s become a yearly staple of the Steelers season. I’ll tell you the two remaining games that worry me the most on the schedule this year; Week 3 at the 49ers and Week 13 at the Cardinals. You can pencil in one of those games as a lazy loss where the Steelers look downright lifeless. Some may call them “trap games.” I call them “Tomlin games.”
It’s not just Tomlin who is the problem. Offensive Coordinator Randy Fichtner has looked like a deer in the headlights all of last year and so far this year. Former OC Todd Haley had the incessant screen passes that annoyed us to no end. Well, Fichtner has the “anything other than run it right up the middle on 3rd or 4th and 1,” plays electing to go five-wide from the shotgun, even on 3rd and goal from the 1. We’ll see if a young QB gives his play calling a shot.
On the defensive side of the ball, Keith Butler has his linemen dropping deep into coverage to cover opposing wide receivers. Guess how it’s working out? Week 2 against Seattle, the Steelers needed a stop on 3rd and 16 and let Russel Wilson easily pick up that yardage. I won’t pull any punches here. He should be shown the door lets see what Teryl Austin can do as defensive coordinator the rest of the season.
What I saw through the first 2 weeks in the play calling left me with an all too familiar feeling of dread. I have no confidence in the coaching staff, and it’s time to admit the harsh truth. Mike Tomlin isn’t a good situational football coach. It might be time to look past his regular season winning percentage to the fact that 2009 was a very long time ago. He has hit his expiration date in the Steel City, and the organization should have moved on by now. They certainly should consider it if things don’t change from the same “standard” by the end of the season.
The Rooney family has a strong tradition of standing by their head coaches. After all they have had only three since the Nixon Administration, a stat they and the city covet. The Rooneys are loyal, possibly to a fault. They should have moved on from Mike Tomlin by now and they certainly should if the Steelers fizzle out again this season. I think it’s amazing the loyalty they have to their head coaches. But the NFL is different than it was in the eras of Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher. Tomlin has had great regular seasons, but he’s ridden his 2009 Super Bowl win as far as it’ll take him.
There’s a point where just having a winning season doesn’t cut it anymore. Not when you have the talent that Mike Tomlin has had at his disposal. That includes a Hall of Fame quarterback for the duration of his tenure. A luxury Noll and Cowher didn’t have. The Steelers have seen 12-3 seasons end the same as 9-7 seasons with a lack of focus and underachieving.
Sadly, I believe the Steelers are stuck with Tomlin until his contract runs out in 2021. The injury to Big Ben will be the pass the Rooney’s give him if the team flounders under Mason Rudolph. Last year it was the distractions of Brown and Bell that saved Tomlin from the scrutiny of the front office.
The Rooney’s will allow this current contract to expire in 2021 and diplomatically persuade him to retire while simultaneously informing him that they will not be renewing his contract. The same way it went for Dick LeBeau and Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward before him.
Riding out the woes
This team has a lot of young promise. From Juju and Conner to TJ Watt and Devin Bush, the future of the team is in place. And now we’ll get to see if Mason Rudolph is in fact the future of this team. Maybe more importantly we’ll see what Tomlin can do with a new quarterback for the first time in his head coaching career. Rudolph looked good in the second half of the Steelers week 2 game. He had good movement and pulled off couple trick plays nicely. If he plays well but situational coaching is still an issue. It might be time for an uncomfortable decision to be made from the front office. As the great Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
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