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Do the Steelers sacrifice preparedness by resting veterans early in the season?

Examining the correlation between “not ready for prime time” and “DNP-Coaches Decision”

Pittsburgh Steelers v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Some fans can’t stand it, while other fans just don’t care. It’s the infamous “DNP- coaches decision” designation on the weekly injury report. While the concept of a veterans day off is not exclusive to the Pittsburgh Steelers, it is something which should be managed effectively.

On Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers used the “coaches decision” designation for the second time during the 2019 season in an official injury report. Being only Week 2 and there being three injury reports per week, the Steelers have now use the designation at least half of their official reports. During Week 1, Mark Barron did not practice due to a coaches decision on Thursday. While it is unclear if he was just simply held out of practice or had a personal issue he was attending to, it was still his official designation.

In typical fashion, Ben Roethlisberger did not participate in practice on Wednesday. While not getting the “coaches decision” label, both Maurkice Pouncey and Joe Haden could have just as easily been held out even if they were not nursing injuries from Sunday’s game. Even though no injury reports were official throughout training camp, it was quite common for Ben Roethlisberger to sit out approximately every third practice. The question a lot of Steeler fans have about the situation is this: is it necessary, and is it beneficial?

I understand the rigors of an NFL season. Players are on the field putting their current and future health on the line. Most NFL careers are short, and for the few superstars who can stick around for more than three seasons in the league, managing their health as they age is the key. But is it possible to be over cautious and, if so, what are the consequences?

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a coaching background before making the tough decision of family time over practice time. Now being out of the game for more years than I coached, I still continue to view things from the coaches perspective even a decade after stepping away. While I know coaching 14-year-olds is a far cry from the men playing in the NFL, there are still certain things that hold true to some degree. Yes, the Steelers have a next man up attitude when it comes to stepping onto the field, but when one of your best players is not practicing the game plan, things just aren’t the same therefore the time is not nearly as productive.

If the Steelers would have come out against the New England Patriots in Week 1 and come through with a stellar performance, whether it was a victory or not the teams preparedness would most likely not be in question. But this was not the case at all in Foxborough on Sunday night. The Steelers appeared as if they were not ready to take on the New England Patriots, and Mike Tomlin admitted this twice in the post game press conference.

“We weren’t ready for prime time.”

Anyone who watched Sunday night’s game, Steelers fan or not, can agree with this statement by Coach Tomlin. It was actually nice to hear him say it for once. The Steelers were not ready. The players were not ready. The coaches were not ready. They took one big time on the chin because they weren’t ready for it.

But how could the Steelers go into the Super Bowl champion’s venue and not be prepared for the game? Was there anything they could’ve done to be better prepared? The first thing that comes to my mind is… practice! Did the Steelers not practice enough? Were they not efficient in their practice? Did they not execute their game plan during practice to a desired level? Most of these answers are purely speculation without inside knowledge of the team.

When it comes to the number of practices, all NFL teams are governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) where they can only practice so many times a week with so many hours on the field. Even the number of padded practices versus non-padded practices are governed and have harsh penalties if teams do not comply. So the Steelers could not have practiced more times, but could they have practiced more efficiently within their practice time?

I am not laying the Steelers woes against New England solely at the feet of Ben Roethlisberger. But his lack of participation in practice only adds to the unpreparedness of the team going into a game. So is it better to rest him so he is healthy, or is it better to practice him in order to get the best Ben Roethlisberger possible? It is admittedly a difficult question with an undecipherable answer.

Personally, I don’t see the need for veterans days off early in the NFL season. While players getting run down due to extensive playing time and practice time is realistic, shouldn’t when this practice time occurs be more of a consideration? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to have Ben Roethlisberger practice every day in September and take additional days off in November or December? Isn’t getting the team to the proper preparedness as early as possible the most important thing?

It seems as if I’ve asked an awful lot of questions while not giving many answers. Frankly, I just want people to think about the same things I was thinking about. At what point is rest not helpful because the preparedness has not happened?

When it comes to being held out of practice as a “coaches decision,” I found it interesting that there is one player of note who has not had such a designation in 2019: Tom Brady. While Ben Roethlisberger was not in pads on Wednesday following a 30-point loss as the team prepares for a quality opponent, Tom Brady still practicing with his team after a 30-point victory in order to prepare for a game in which they are currently 19-point favorites. But yet Brady’s preparation is more important then his rest.

While constructing this piece, I realize that it is an exercise in futility as nothing on the horizon gives any hope of a change when it comes to resting players. If resting Ben Roethlisberger and other veterans would occur while still being fully prepared to play each week, I would have no problem with it. None. But after what I witnessed in New England in Week 1, the Steelers preparation has a long way to go.