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Mike Tomlin vs. Sean McVay: Why offense wins out in 2023

Who has the upper hand when the Steelers take on the Rams this Sunday?

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Pittsburgh Steelers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2) travel to SoFi Stadium to take on the Los Angeles Rams (3-3) in a matchup of former Super Bowl Winning Head Coaches.

In 2009, Steelers’ Mike Tomlin became the youngest Head Coach to win a Super Bowl at just 36. That record stood until 2022, when his counterpart this Sunday, Rams Coach Sean McVay, won a Super Bowl at 36 (and 20 days) old.

While the rings are a commonality, stylistically — these two guys couldn’t be more different.

Tomlin earned his stripes on defense. He was hired in 2001 as a defensive backs coach by Tony Dungy and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He remained with the Bucs for five years and helped orchestrate one of the best defenses in NFL history.

He was plucked by the Vikings in 2006 to be their defensive coordinator, and just two short years later, the Steelers hired him as their Head Coach. Two years after that, led by a stout defense that included the likes of Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, Tomlin was a Super Bowl Champion.

On the flip side, McVay is known as an offensive mastermind. He worked as a tight ends coach, and later as the offensive coordinator, for the (then) Washington Redskins from 2011-2016, under the wildly successful Mike Shanahan tree. He became the Head Coach of the Rams in 2017, at the age of just 30.

So, what am I getting at and what’s the juxtaposition?

The NFL was a much different world in 2008 than it is in 2023. We’re now living in a game predicated on high-flying offenses, and the recent success of Super Winning Coaches, like McVay, proves that. Let’s take a look at some recent Super Bowl Matchups:

List of Super Bowl head coaches - Wikiwand

What do all of these coaches, both winners and losers, have in common? They all have a lineage that is concentrated on the offensive side of the ball.

From Andy Reid (Chiefs) to former Steelers Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians (Buccaneers), and current division rival Zac Taylor (Bengals), they can all sit at the same dinner table.

This isn’t to say that defensive head coaches can’t be successful. Tomlin, by all measures, has been a really good head coach. He’ll make the Hall of Fame someday, and it’s warranted. However, if you’re going to have a head coach with a defensive background, you better have an offensive coordinator with the potential to be a future head coach, like the aforementioned gentlemen. It’s apparent that Steelers’ offensive coordinator Matt Canada probably isn’t the young innovative genius that McVay, Shanahan, and Reid once were prior to becoming head coaches.

And that’s a problem. Because we’re in an era where defense simply matters less. Which unfortunately means Tomlin matters less and Matt Canada matters more.

When the Steelers battle the Rams, we’ll get a taste of that battle. In a recent piece, I predicted that the Rams would ultimately come out on top. My reasoning is that Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Puca Nacua look unstoppable right now. And it aligns with my thinking — that a good offense generally beats a good defense in today’s NFL.