The play of the team has appeared “sloppy” as of late. They are not just getting beaten off the ball. Turnovers, missed tackles, poor execution, foolish penalties have all plagued this team even at the end of last season. What do you attribute this lack of discipline too?
There was a complacency in place with the Steelers that really wasn’t exposed until Baltimore. I spoke with those players down there after that game, and I heard a group in denial. They attributed it to nothing more than having a bad day, at having been beaten by a hungrier opponent. After Indianapolis and especially Houston, the denial took other forms — can’t tackle? really? — but it was denial nonetheless.
By contrast, what I saw Sunday against Tennessee was a team that had not only better focus but also a far better plan. Mike Tomlin and the coaches seem to have escaped much of the blame here, other than for the judgments on the offensive line. But I’ve been consistent in pointing out that this team has looked unprepared.
Do you think this team has relied too much on the talent and improvisational skills of its elite talent and is now realizing it can’t overcome their issues with just the elite play of a few stars? Is it fair to see the majority of big plays made by this team lately are done via improvised plays – by Ben, Harirson and Polamalu?
Yes, and that goes to the origin of the complacency: Arrogance. The idea that the Steelers would be able to churn out this jet-setting offense with Jonathan Scott at left tackle was delusional. What good was a bomb-throwing QB going to be if he spent half the game on his back? Where was the short game? Where was the running game? I took a good amount of heat for writing two columns, including off the Indy game, that the Steelers need to run more. They’re a passing team, my critics wrote. They can’t run, anyway. I stood by the columns’ stance that the Steelers MUST run at least a little. And not just for what it does to the defense in terms of balance. It also brings your own offensive line together, as we saw Sunday.
Does this team play to its players’ strengths enough? Does it adapt well enough to talent – or does it squeeze players into sachems that might not be how they are best suited to play?
I don’t see that as an issue at all. No team’s strengths can be on full display without quality line play, offense and defense. The defense, for example, couldn’t get the most of out its elite linebackers until the line finally was effective Sunday. It all starts there.
Some feel Tomlin has been a man of more words than action in terms of solving these issues. Is this a fair criticism or are fans just not seeing what goes on behind the scenes (and if this is the case, any examples?)
I’m not sure what that means. If you’re talking about how he conducts practice, remember that only the final half-hour of those are open to the local media. And what we see in that time is mostly innocuous stuff. If you mean personnel moves, I’d saying yanking James Farrior off the field in the middle of the opener qualifies as action. I’d say allowing Rashard Mendenhall to dress for the game Sunday but just watch as Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer ran all over the Titans, that’s action, too.
Tomlin’s shortcomings, in my eye, have been a failure to prepare this team mentally as if this is it, this is their last year. Go for it. Go for broke. Get off this idea that the group will be together forever.
Is it too early to panic? If so, how does Tomlin and the coaching staff right the ship?
Ha! I don’t ever take sports half that seriously. They’re the Steelers. They’ve had a phenomenal run in terms of team and individual achievements. If they don’t win this year, it should be close to impossible for anyone in these parts to complain. (Though I’m sure most will.) Moreover, although several defensive players are older, it takes only a cursory look at the depth chart to see that there are quality replacements coming at most, if not, all position.