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The Tomlin Chronicles – The Midway Point of the 2010 Season

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

At the midway point, head coach Mike Tomlin has his team at 6-2, just like last season. The most impressive thing Tomlin has accomplished thus far remains the way he prepared the Steelers defense to be motivated and focused enough to win games almost single-handedly with Ben suspended for the first 4 games of the season. The first two games of this season the defense was simply awesome, playing with a ton of intensity. To start the season 3-1 without your best player (and QB) is no small feat. Let’s look at some other positives from Coach T thus far this season –

– The Steelers are +9 in turnover ratio, which is tied for best in the NFL. Awesome!

– Lawrence Timmons, who was the first pick ever taken with Tomlin as head coach, is having a breakthrough season and is showing signs of being a dominant player. There were many people (not me, I was always a believer!) that Timmons would be a bust after a slow start in Pittsburgh.

– Showing perhaps that he’s learned from past mistakes (“we’re going to run him until the wheels fall off” in reference to former RB Willie Parker) Tomlin is spelling starting RB Rashard Mendenhall during games and NOT “running him until the wheels fall off”. Great move, Tomlin. This is the kind of positive growth I like to see from a young head coach.

It could be argued that Tomlin’s most frustrating coaching move this year is his stubborn and myopic stance on the Steelers running game. OC Bruce Arians may be a lot of things, but he’s not a lover of the run game. Arians may say he is in the press but it’s obvious based on his history as a coach and his overall offensive philosophy that he is clearly not. The fact that the Steelers this year are running the ball on 1st down an astounding 70% of the time clearly points to Tomlin (and possibly the FO and Rooneys) playing a big role in that decision. Much ado was made about improving the Steelers run game in the offseason and the team is clearly trying to run it better. But in order to actually do that on a consistent basis you have to mix it up better on 1st down, especially when your O-line isn’t exactly elite. As has been pointed out on here before, most of the Steelers TD’s have been scored on deep passes or with a shortened field from turnovers or when the Steelers are running a no-huddle or “up tempo” offense where more passes are thrown into the mix. Running the ball on 1st down at a 70% clip is a caveman approach of epic proportions when the results, time and again, do not yield points and instead continually put your offense in 2nd and 3rd and long. To put it in further perspective, the Steelers are tied for the 2nd fewest 1st downs in the entire NFL. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement on the Steelers new found love of running the ball almost exclusively on 1st downs. Hopefully, Tomlin figures that out. Let’s look at some other negatives from coach T so far this year –

– Even though the Steelers are tied for best turnover ratio at +9, the Steelers are also tied for the 8th most fumbles at 14 (that’s almost 2 a game). That is not good and the Steelers could easily have a worse turnover ratio but the team only lost 5 of those fumbles. Combine that with Mendenhall’s reckless ball handling on run plays and don’t be surprised if there are more fumbles down the road.

– Tomlin’s timeclock and overall game management is still an ongoing problem. Will it ever improve? So far there hasn’t been any signs that it will. Just this last week against the Bengals, the Steelers had the ball at the end of the 1st half with under a minute left and were driving. Ben completes a pass downfield with 33-35 seconds left on the clock. Ben runs down to spike the ball to stop the clock. The Steelers had 2 TOs. The gameclock is now at 21 seconds. Basically, the Steelers unnecessarily wasted 12 seconds and a down, which is huge in that situation. Jeff Reed ended up making a 53 yard FG, but given how poorly Reed has kicked from that distance all year the Steelers (and Tomlin) unnecessarily put themselves in a riskier postion than was needed.

– Why is Randel El still getting so much playing time? Manny Sanders has shown he can play, give him some more playing time!

– As was mentioned earlier on here, most of the Steelers biggest problems from last year – defensive meltdowns in the 4th quarter, no identity offense, redzone problems, questionable coaching and personnel moves – are all alive and well this season. Hopefully, Tomlin is taking note of that so he can steer this team to a playoff berth instead of another 2nd half meltdown.

Categories: The Tomlin Chronicles

The Tomlin Chronicles – First Quarter of the 2010 Season

October 9, 2010 Leave a comment

With no Big Ben behind center to start the season things didn’t look so good for the Steelers. Many people (myself included) thought a 2-2 start would be a best-case scenario, but Tomlin has managed to rally the troops to an impressive 3-1 start in Ben’s absence. Tomlin should be credited for getting his team mentally prepared, especially on defense, to win without Ben. The tenacity and overall great play of the defense has a lot to do with Tomlin keeping that side of the ball focused. A team, regardless of talent, that isn’t focused can and will lose to anyone (just look at last year). Even with the great start, however, there are still some areas of concern when it comes to Tomlin, in my honest opinion. Let’s take a ganders.

– Tomlin’s gameclock management still needs some work. In Week 1 against the Falcons, Tomlin, for some reason, called a TO with 2:05 left in a tied game with the Steelers on their 39 yard line with the ball. This is simply a bad move regardless of whether the Steelers scored on the drive or were forced to punt (which the team did). Because in either scenario, calling a TO was simply not necessary and only leaves more time on the clock for the Falcons to potentially tie or win the game in the waning minutes or seconds of the game. Considering how many late leads the Steelers gave up last season, this made the decision to use a TO all the stranger.

– In Week 2 against the Titans, Tomlin and Arians teamed up for some of the most illogical and asinine playcalling and gameplanning that I’ve seen in some time. I covered this earlier on here, but let’s do a review. With the Steelers leading 13-3 to start the 2nd half, Arians (with Tomlin’s approval and possible input) put the following head-scratcher together –

– There were no passes on either 1st or 2nd down the entire 2nd half, they were all run plays with Mendenhall getting most of the carries, Redman carried on a few plays.

– That resulted in the following third down plays –

– 3rd and 11 -Pass incomplete
– 3rd and 15 – Batch sacked
– 3rd and 8 – 3 yard completion to Mendenhall
– 3rd and 5 – Batch sacked
– 3rd and 11 – -2 yard completion to Miller
– 3rd and 4 – Pass incomplete

– No matter how you look at this playcalling or try to frame the argument (Steelers offense was being conservative to avoid mistakes, holding onto lead, eating up clock, etc.) the overall playcalling made absolutely no sense in the 2nd half of this game. None whatsoever. If the safe and smart thing to do, as some argued, was to play it conservatively then why were the Steelers throwing the ball on EVERY third down play? Isn’t that kind of dangerous, especially when you consider who the QB is (Batch), how many yards were needed, the game being on the road and that the Titans defense is expecting the pass? I’d say so! I’d go as far as to say it’s totally illogical and almost as if the Steelers coaching staff were on auto-pilot throughout the 2nd half of this game. On the other hand, if the Steelers were interested in picking up first downs in the 2nd half (indicated by throwing on every 3rd down) then why not at least try a few passes on 1st or 2nd down when the Titans defense might not expect it(ie, making it easier for your offense)? Instead the Steelers arguably took the most dangerous route, putting themselves in predictable situations on virtually every down, which increases the risk of a turnover while heavily downgrading any chance of a first down (the Steelers had two the entire 2nd half). Everyone already has an opinion on offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, the fact that Tomlin was fine with this kind of playcalling, though, is pretty frightening. The Steelers did end up winning the game but not before another nail-biter of an ending where the Steelers had 7 takeaways and should’ve probably won the game by 20 points.

– Why did Dennis Dixon get the start over Charlie Batch? Why am I seeing Larry Foote on the field when the game is still on the line? Is Keyaron Fox injured? Are the rookie LB’s that looked so impressive in preseason just “not ready”? Why was Trai Essex starting over Doug Legursky to start the season? Why is Antwaan Randel El returning punts? Because he’s a “veteran”? Mike Tomlin, ever since he’s been in Pittsburgh, seems to take a “don’t rock the boat” type approach when it comes to personnel moves. That can be a prudent and safe route to take but in the NFL, it can also lead to losses when you don’t have your best players on the field at all times. Is Tomlin just not a good evaluator of talent at a few positions? I don’t know. Is Tomlin simply afraid to unseat certain vets on the team? Who knows? As Tomlin continues to get more experience as a head coach let’s hope for the sake of the team’s success that he starts to make some better personnel moves. He hasn’t been horrible in this area but some of his decisions (or lack thereof) are starting to be a hindrance in certain areas of the team.

– I was really impressed with Tomlin’s decision to rotate defensive players and the O-line early on in the season in hot weather. That’s the kind of pro-active coaching I like from my head coach. Hopefully that’ll be a sign of things to come from Tomlin. Personally, I think the O-line should stay intact as much as possible throughout games the rest of the way so they can gel as a unit but early on (and in hot weather) I think it was a really smart move by Tomlin and company. I’m sure we’ll see a continual rotation of the D-line and LB’s (and maybe even some secondary players like Will Allen) as the season continues. I like it.

– Overall, it’s hard to look at the Steelers record right now without Ben and not be impressed with the job Tomlin has done thus far in the 2010 campaign. As noted above, there are still areas of concern, but if the Steelers can continue to win, those areas will generally be overlooked by fans (and why not?). I would be more ecstatic right now if not for the Ravens loss. It’s one thing to lose a game, but it was the manner in which the Steelers lost the game that should have fans a little concerned, in the team, the coaching staff and maybe Tomlin in particular. The team was totally unfocused and unprepared throughout the game, combine that with the last-second loss and it’s a virtual carbon copy of last year. Just a coincidence? Last year’s 4th quarter collapses was blamed on the absence of Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith. Both played against the Ravens. Both are great players. Same exact outcome. It should be apparent at this point that coaching COULD very well be a problem on this team. It all starts with the head coach. Another thing to consider going forward, the Steelers are 3-1, but last season the Steelers started 6-2 before finishing 9-7 and missing the playoffs. Let’s hope the Ravens game (and it’s 4th quarter breakdown) isn’t a start of a repeat of 2009. These next few games could be huge in ultimately determining where the Steelers are headed this year. Let’s hope Tomlin can get his team mentally prepared for each game.

Categories: The Tomlin Chronicles

The Tomlin Chronicles – Preseason

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Mike Tomlin at this stage in his career is still an enigma as head coach of the Steelers. Smart, articulate, and young, his future certainly seems bright, especially with one Super Bowl win already under his belt. Still, opinions seem to vary on the job Mike Tomlin has done thus far and how much credit he really deserves for the Steelers success. Is he just a figurehead, a cheerleader? Is he a good judge of talent? What exactly does he contribute to the team as head coach? This season will be a huge benchmark in evaluating Tomlin I believe with more of “his guys” now in positions to really contribute and coming off an extremely disappointing year as defending Super Bowl champs. When he was hired, talent was already on the team, most of the key coaches (including both coordinators) were already in place. We’ll be analyzing Tomlin’s performance this year. Let’s start with the preseason that just concluded, and more precisely the QB situation.

Yesterday, Tomlin announced that third year QB Dennis Dixon will indeed be the starter on Sunday against the Falcons. All throughout preseason Tomlin did not acknowledge who would be the starter and it really seemed like there was no plan in place to evaluate who indeed should be the starter. Ben started the last two games, bizarrely playing through most of the 1st quarter of the last preseason game against Carolina, even though he wouldn’t be playing for over a month and with the starting QB still undetermined. The heavy favorite (and perhaps unnamed starter) Byron Leftwich was then put in and was injured. The Steelers at this point are down to just two QB’s, Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch, both of which have serious question marks in their ability to actually carry an offense (or even make it through a game).

It could definitely be argued that Tomlin, the coaching staff and front office have done a questionable job in their evaluation and handling of the backup QB position in recent years. For most of Ben’s time in Pittsburgh, Charlie Batch has been the primary backup.  Unfortunately, it’s been clear for a few years that Batch isn’t reliable enough to be the #2 backup due to his recent history of injuries (he somehow broke his wrist in just 3 or 4 plays against the Chiefs last year). Leftwich was re-signed immediately after being let go by the Buccaneers last season. While this may seem like a good move due to Leftwich being familiar with the Steeler playbook, in reality Leftwich isn’t the best fit in Pittsburgh for a number of reasons. He is one of the most immobile QB’s ever to play the game, the Steelers have one of the most questionable O-lines in the league, bad match. Combine that with Leftwich’s history of injuries and his declining play (he was benched after 3 games in Tampa Bay) and suddenly things aren’t looking so good. The speculation after the Steelers drafted Dixon was that he would be used in a role similar to how the Steelers used Randel El in terms of throwing the ball on trick plays. Now he’s the starter, oh how things have changed. The troubling thing is Dixon’s performance and level of talent at the QB position matches up more with the speculation of why he was drafted than with any validity of him being starting QB material. And all this time the front office has seemingly ignored a parade of FA QB’s in recent years (Derek Anderson, Brian Brohm, AJ Feeley, Ryan Fitzpatrick, David Carr, Jon Kitna, Chad Pennington, Patrick Ramsey, the list goes on). Has Tomlin and this team mishandled this situation? I guess we’ll find out over the next four weeks.

On an interesting side note, when asked if Ben would be the starter when he returns from his suspension today on Sirius NFL Radio, Tomlin stated “I’m going to dodge that one and not even be artful about it. I’m not going to back myself in a corner.” This statement raises a couple questions – Is Tomlin just being purposely vague, if so, why? What is to be gained by that? If he’s being serious this raises serious questions on Tomlin’s ability to evaluate QB talent and Pittsburgh’s long term plans with Ben as the QB.

Categories: The Tomlin Chronicles