Sunday’s embarrassing defeat in Baltimore marks the third consecutive loss for the Steelers. While head coach Mike Tomlin is clearly the main culprit, he is also the only man who can turn Pittsburgh around.
When it rains, it pours. For the Steelers, the past few weeks have turned into a landslide.
The 30-15 loss to the Dolphins? Eh, just a typical trap game. Letting an upset over the Patriots slip away? Landry Jones was starting, no big deal. Generating no offense and surrendering the AFC North to the Ravens?
… Okay, this is bad.
There’s no way around it: the Steelers, right now, are simply not a winning football team. Offensive play calling is uncomfortably sketchy. The defense flips from solid to incoherent by the drive. Pittsburgh gives away penalty yardage like its happy hour.
No team’s struggles can be solely pinpointed on one man, obviously. But the fundamental issues that hamper the Steelers all circle back to Mike Tomlin.
Consistently losing to sub-.500 teams is the clearest indicator of poor coaching there is. Altering the game plan, not practicing seriously enough – whatever Tomlin does in preparation for these games, it’s a failure. The scariest part is that Tomlin’s Steelers have been choking away these kinds of games for years now, yet it never improves.
A poorly coached team is one that prevents itself from winning. The Steelers’ mountain of penalties come from a lack of discipline; a lack of discipline stems from a lax coach.
The Steelers offense was abhorrent on Sunday. Todd Haley called run after run right up the middle despite the Ravens stuffing each attempt. Ben Roethlisberger flicked passes at the feet of his receivers. The offense was unable to convert a third down until the final quarter.
Pittsburgh’s offense is equipped with elite players at every level. How is it possible that the “Killer Bees” can’t even convert a third down?
Haley’s play calling illustrated that the Steelers didn’t fully trust Roethlisberger. Ben always plays miserably coming off injuries, but this was a unique case. If he was still hobbled, then he shouldn’t have started to begin with. If Roethlisberger was truly ready to go, why limit the playbook?
Again, this goes back to Tomlin. It was painfully obvious by the second quarter that the offensive game plan had crashed and burned, but no changes were made. It took the Steelers 50 minutes of game time to wake up and create a spark with the no huddle. That’s pathetic.
As I’ve written before, Tomlin’s ego will make or break the Steelers. Tomlin’s confidence is ingrained in his team, and the Steelers are nearly unstoppable when their coach is in the zone. However, Tomlin’s confidence is exposed as stubbornness when he stands in his own way of overcoming basic coaching obstacles.
In 2016, Tomlin’s stubbornness has been the victor. The Steelers now sit at 4-4.
Saying “Fire Tomlin” is the easy answer, albeit one we hear constantly. Is Tomlin the ideal coach? Evidently not, but that’s no reason to completely shift the direction of the franchise mid-season. This is a team that nearly reached the AFC Championship game last season.
Confidence is the Rooney family’s decision to retain their head coaches in spite of ups-and-downs. Stubbornness would be still clinging to Tomlin after three consecutive losing seasons.
The AFC is wide-open aside from the immortal Patriots. The Raiders are 7-1, but if there’s any team that can match their firepower, it’s the Steelers. The Broncos are still a major force, but their offense is exploitable. We’ve already seen that Pittsburgh is superior to Kansas City.
The Steelers have a historic performer at quarterback, the league’s most complete running back, the best pound-for-pound receiver, and a high-caliber offensive line. The defense, while very mistake-prone, has proven that it can step up when needed.
In other words – the Steelers ought to be contending for a Super Bowl berth.
Pittsburgh’s success boils down to Tomlin. It may take a swift kick in the ass by Dan Rooney himself, but Tomlin has the ability to return this team to its winning ways. The roster is simply too talented to continue losing.
Athletes go as their coaches do. Tomlin is in a funk, and so are his players. If he can get out of his own way, his players will as well.
Tomlin’s pride is what’s crippling the Steelers, but it’s also necessary to revitalize them. Coach T needs to put his faith back in the basics that actually work, not the horse manure that he wants to work.
The NFL knows what the Steelers are capable of when Tomlin can put his stubbornness aside. Until that happens, though, he remains his own biggest obstacle.
All stats via NFL.com.