Although tonight's matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Washington Redskins is just a preseason game, head coach Mike Tomlin sees it as an opportunity to observe players in a prime-time environment, with the game being nationally televised on ESPN, and it being Monday night football.
That, along with the adjustments made throughout the final week of training camp, will make for a major point of focus for Tomlin.
"I want to see these guys take a step in development this week in terms of making decisions, in terms of execution, in terms of the understanding of situational football," Tomlin said. "In some instances I didn’t think we got off to a great start in those regards a week ago."
Tomlin made it obvious he wasn't happy with how the team performed last week against the New York Giants. As far as how they can change that around in tonight's game against the Redskins, Tomlin wants to see "smarter football." If there is anything that needs to be seen from the Steelers collectively, coach Tomlin believes it's players "being where they need to be" and "seeing what they need to see."
A major strength of the Steelers' has always been their execution. Despite being called "predictable" by Oakland Raiders' wide receiver Derek Hagan in 2012 after Oakland defeated the Steelers 34-31, the defense still yielded the fewest passing yards of any team in the NFL last season.
So if they're so predictable, why is their defense always ranked atop the league's elite? It's because of the team's execution. Safety Ryan Clark said it last year when he acknowledged that the team hasn't changed their scheme much over the years, but what makes them good is that they execute the plays given to them from the coaching staff.
To bring it home, that's what Tomlin is looking for tonight. The Steelers don't need Jarvis Jones to deliver a JaDeveon Clowney-like hit on Alfred Morris or for Le'Veon Bell to run over three defenders in one play (although either would be great). Tomlin is looking for players to show they understand the scheme given to them and that they can operate within it to bring success for the team.
What has made the Steelers great has been their efficiency in their system of role players. You don't need an Adrian Peterson or a Calvin Johnson to win games if your team is functioning at optimum efficiency as a unit and executing plays. Without having an opportunity to be among the first ten teams to select a player in the NFL draft since the 2000 draft, the Steelers have always made it a point to find solid players that can be molded into great ones and fit their scheme.
Among the many things to watch for in tonight's game, watch for more fluid continuity from the team's unit while on the field. Less mental mistakes and more solid positioning against the Redskins will be very telling for how the team has progressed since last week's loss against the Giants.
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