One of the many things I love about Coach Tomlin is his knack for notable quotes, many of which reveal essentially no information but sound really good. He was in top form this week. I suppose his new contract extension has inspired him to new heights of hyperbole, or perhaps new depths of dissimulation.
So let’s view the game through what he had to say. The quotes prior to the game are from Steelers.com, from his press conference; the quotes during and after the game are transcribed from the television interviews.
Preseason games are not universally loved. The season-ticket holders dislike having to pay for them. The NFL front office appears to dislike having games the season-ticket holders don’t like paying for. But there is one group of men who I would guess are big fans of preseason games, and that would be the coaches. As Mike Tomlin said this past week:
We’ve been hypothesizing about what some of these guys are capable of, speculating. Tonight against the Eagles, those speculations end, and we get tangible evidence of what they’re about, particularly from a special teams standpoint. Special teams will include a lot of the young guys, who are somewhat of a mystery to us. What level of intensity will they bring to the game? Can they play in space? Can they do things outside the normal division of labor from their position standpoint? Can running backs cover kicks? Can linebackers protect in the punt game? Those are always things that really are unanswered until you step into a stadium.
- Or, as Lawrence Timmons said, it’s time to start hitting somebody else’s offense...
No question that this is going to reveal some things to us, particularly from a football conditioning standpoint. That’s something that always jumps out in the first preseason game. It’s really a litmus test in terms of where you are from a conditioning standpoint. How they battle the anxiety of playing in stadiums, and how that affects them from a fuel standpoint. You always come out of the first preseason game with a better understanding of that.
When asked what he wanted to see from the players, Tomlin responded:
I want to see these guys play with the sense of urgency that’s required in the National Football League. Practices here in Latrobe have been spirited and very competitive, but as all know that the volume gets turned up in the stadiums. I want to see a group of men who are capable of responding to that and really setting the pace in that regard. That’s No. 1. And No. 2 is I want to get a gauge of where they are from a in-stadium football conditioning standpoint. I’m going to ask some guys to play offense or defense and special teams, and see how they can handle those duties, see how they can execute from a detail standpoint as fatigue sets in.
Conditioning is clearly a big issue to Mike Tomlin—he mentioned conditioning or words to that effect six times in those three brief quotes. And it should be. Conditioning isn't something a player can fix in a few sessions, and it says a lot about who came to camp ready to compete.
One of the stars of the second half of the game was UDFA Adrian Robinson. He seemed to spend almost as much time in the Eagles’ backfield as their own guys did. At one point he was bent over trying to catch his breath. Edmund Nelson commented "He needs some oxygen, but there’s no way he’s coming off the field." I expect the incident in which Isaac Redman found himself in Mike Tomlin’s doghouse during his rookie year has been passed along to the new recruits. (Redman, after a couple of big runs in a preseason game, came and asked Tomlin to take him off the field for a breather. This did not play well in Peoria...)
One other remark Tomlin made stood out to me. When asked about the leadership void left by Potsie, Hines et al, Tomlin commented:
Speaking of such things, maybe it means nothing, but I was interested to note Ben was the only representative of the Steelers for the coin toss, whereas the Eagles sent out a small platoon. I wondered if a statement was being made, and if so, by whom.
The first half of the game was all Steelers, all the time. The Steelers’ offense possessed the ball for 19 minutes and 53 seconds and came away with three scores and an interception, by DE Al Woods, who took it 53 yards before being taken down a few feet short of the goal line. Unfortunately the three scores were two field goals and a touchdown, and that came back to haunt the Steelers when they ultimately lost the game by one point.
So what did Mike Tomlin think? We’ll get to that in a moment. First, what did Art Rooney II think? When asked his observations of the first half, he mentioned one player specifically—Steve McLendon. Rooney wasn't the only person McLendon impressed, either.
Many of the players got an opportunity to comment on their teammates. Nothing astonishing emerged from these remarks. What interested me more was the interview with Emmanuel Sanders partway through the second half. After asking him about the touchdown pass he snagged in the first half, the interviewer asked about his increased playing time due to Mike Wallace’s absence. Sanders said:
I’m just trying to make the most of the opportunity... We wish Mike was here, but unfortunately both parties haven’t come to agreement. But we’re looking for him to come back and start making all his big-time plays again.
The interviewer asked him to send a "shout-out" to Wallace, and here’s what he said:
Young money...I understand the situation, we gonna get that done, we gonna get you back out here. Steeler Nation needs you.
Here are Mike Tomlin’s comments:
When asked about David DeCastro and Mike Adams, Tomlin said:
It’s not too big from an assignment standpoint. You know, they have to adjust to the speed of professional football. But all in all, it’s a decent place to begin. We’ll go back from here and continue to move forward.
The interviewer detailed the glories of the first, almost ten-minute possession, and asked Tomlin what he thought about his first-team offense:
They did a nice job matriculating the ball down the field. We had a couple of negative plays; I think we got sacked twice. But other than that, anytime we put points on the board...that’s a positive.
I think "matriculating the ball down the field" is going to be a new favorite of mine. It incorporates a nice soupçon of cognitive dissonance.
And finally, what did he have to say afterwards? Tomlin doesn’t appear to enjoy press conferences after a loss, even one as meaningless as the first preseason game:
First of all, I have to acknowledge we didn’t get the job done. That’s always in our intentions every time we step into a stadium—to win football games. When you evaluate it from a first, preseason standpoint there were some positives, some things to build upon. But obviously we fall short in a lot of areas. We’ve got to go back to Latrobe and get back into the business of developing.
As a team, too many errors—physical, mental. We’ll deal with it. We won’t accept it.
But some positive things—[there were] a lot of contributions from a lot of people. I liked the effort overall of the group, but we’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’ll get diligent about going about it.
After addressing the injuries, Tomlin was asked about Chris Rainey, David DeCastro and Mike Adams:
He [Rainey] did some good things tonight. He has some growth, some detail things, some assignment things. Obviously he provided a splash or two for us in the football game.
I thought they [DeCastro and Adams] represented themselves well at times. From an assignment standpoint I thought they were above the line. They were beat physically some, but that is life in the National Football League. I am sure they will take the lessons learned in this stadium tonight and build from it.
And finally, he was given a chance again to boast about the TOP in the first two drives of the game. His response was definitely, as W. S. Gilbert would say, modified rapture:
It was a good start, but it was just that, a start. We desire to finish everything we do and we didn’t finish the job tonight. That is probably what burns in my mind more than anything.
However, he finished on a positive note:
Errors... are critical in terms of the outcome of games, but they are also good lessons learned if we are smart.
I will be quite interested to see how those "good lessons" play out in the next week of camp. As will, I'm sure, Mike Tomlin.