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Does it really matter if Mike Tomlin continues to call defensive plays in 2022?

It doesn’t really matter if Mike Tomlin calls the defensive plays.

NFL: AFC Wild Card Playoffs-Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Poor Mike Tomlin, the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2007.

During his time in Pittsburgh, he’s gone from a puppet who was propped up by Bill Cowher’s players and assistant coaches—Dick LeBeau and Bruce Arians come to mind when talking about the assistants—to someone who is now a megalomaniac and will only surround himself with assistant coaches that don’t challenge him and are only there to do his bidding.

At least that’s what’s being said about the defensive side of things, especially on the heels of Keith Butler’s retirement as defensive coordinator and Teryl Austin, the defensive backs coach, being promoted to that role.

It’s no secret that Tomlin has been calling the defensive plays on game day for many years, maybe as far back as LeBeau’s final season in 2014. Heck, Butler came out and said as much in the days following his official retirement.

I’m certainly not a smart enough football mind to be able to sit here and tell you why it makes sense to have an assistant coach who coordinates one of the three phases of your football team and not allow him to call the plays once things start to get real, but I know this happens a lot in the NFL. For example, Eric Bienemy, the Chiefs offensive coordinator since 2018, is considered one of the brightest offensive minds in the NFL today, so bright, in fact, nobody seems to know why he’s never been hired as a head coach. But Bienemy doesn’t call the offensive plays on game day. No, Andy Reid, Kansas City’s head coach, has done that for a while. Lovie Smith, the new head coach of the Houston Texans and an expert on all-things defense, will call the defensive plays in 2022.

Again, I don’t know how the whole thing works as it pertains to coordinators not calling plays, but they must serve some purpose, otherwise, what’s the point of hiring them and paying them lots of money?

That brings me back to Tomlin and his role in the defense for the past eight years or so.

For one thing, since a head coach calling his own plays isn’t all that radical, I don’t know why it’s been such a secret with Tomlin all these years. For another thing, this didn’t seem to matter to just about anyone when the Steelers defense was playing at an elite level in 2019 and 2020. For a third thing, how does Tomlin actually call his own plays? You never see him holding that laminated play sheet that’s popular with the Andy Reids of the world.

I’m seriously asking when it comes to that third thing because it doesn’t even seem like Tomlin is talking very much on his headset during the game. Does he speak directly to whichever player has the green dot? Is he using hand signals? Is he communicating with his eyes, like he appeared to be doing with Aaron Rodgers during the Packers game early in the 2021 campaign?

Again, I can’t explain any of this, but I do know that the defense was highly effective in 2019 and 2020 when players like Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu and Vince Williams were around and doing their thing. The unit struggled a bit in 2021, and if you don’t want to attribute the struggles to the absence of every single one of those players, that’s your right, I suppose, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

But even with such a massive loss in personnel in 2021, it was the unexpected absences of Tuitt and Alualu that seemed to prevent the defense from being able to perform at or close to the level that it did the previous two seasons.

Therefore, why all of the cries for the Steelers to go out and hire a big-name defensive coordinator following Butler’s retirement and go in a whole new direction? Doesn’t it make sense to simply promote Austin from within? I know “inhouse hire” has suddenly become a toxic term in Steeler Nation, but the defensive schemes seemed fine when good players were running them.

I really don’t care who calls the defensive plays next year. I just care that the players execute the ones that are called. This likely won’t be an issue if the Steelers go about finding good players to do that. Figuring things out along the defensive line would certainly go a long way toward fixing the problems against the run. Making sure you don’t have a massive overhaul at the cornerback position will also be crucial for the pass defense heading into 2022.

If the personnel issues are properly addressed, the schemes will work just fine.

Poor Mike Tomlin, the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2007.

He’s gone from a CEO who didn’t seem to do much on game day, to a total micromanager, at least on the defensive side of things, and is only promoting Austin to defensive coordinator because he doesn’t want his opinions challenged.

Oh well, at least Austin is still in charge of replay challenges...or is he?