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Point-Counterpoint: Is Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to blame for losses to inferior opponents?

BTSC contributor Dani Bostick and community members Christopher Staaf and Walt Shaffer present opposing viewpoints on the cause of the Pittsburgh Steelers loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers just suffered a horribly frustrating loss to the Baltimore Ravens, a team that has been devastated by injury and has performed poorly all season long. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Ravens are one of the worst teams in the league.

Who is at fault for heartbreaking losses? Christopher Staff, steeler_chris_5, is a passionate fan of the Steelers and Atlanta-area professor frustrated with head coach Mike Tomlin. Walt Shaffer, a lifelong Steelers fan from Dallas, Texas, known as TheEugenius here on BTSC, suggests that Ben Roethlisberger is more at fault than Mike Tomlin.

Christopher Staaf's point: Mike Tomlin is to blame for frustrating losses during the season.

I like Coach Tomlin. I think he is a solid head coach and there aren't too many guys that are better than him. However, this is Pittsburgh and expectations are higher here than anyone else. Just getting to the playoffs is not good enough here. If the Steelers do not make the playoffs this season, then Tomlin at the very least should be on the hot seat for the 2016 season.

Earlier this week, former ESPN reporter Jason Whitlock, himself no stranger to controversy, criticized Tomlin for the Steelers' embarrassing performance against the 4-10 Baltimore Ravens last Sunday. One of the favorite points of criticism about Tomlin is that his teams lose too often to lesser competition, as seen with the aforementioned Ravens last week. Whitlock did not just bring this up but also stated that Tomlin often coaches games as if he gets a pass because he won a Super Bowl. I am not certain if that is why Tomlin gets a pass but I have to agree with Whitlock here. Tomlin should be scrutinized much more closely than he currently is. The question is, why does he get a pass?

The 2015 Steelers are an arrogant bunch. They celebrate first downs like they just won the Super Bowl, they celebrate touchdowns like they just landed on the moon, and they celebrate 3rd down stops like they....OK, well, never mind. The Steelers defense doesn't really stop anyone on 3rd downs. Anyway, the point is this: if the team often takes on the personality of the head coach, then the 2015 Steelers are everything that most Tomlin criticizers from Jason Whitlock on down loathe: cocky, self-centered, and arrogant underachievers.

The Steelers showed up to the Ravens game overconfident and underprepared, which is an imbalance you never want to see. The Steelers offense never got going and looked lost at times, which coupled with a horrible performance by Ben Roethlisberger spelled doom for the Steelers' playoff chances. Their arrogance delivered several helpings of humble pie as the Steelers are now in danger of missing the playoffs for the third time in four years. While Tomlin can't control the actions of his men on the field, it looks like he's not even trying to reel them in from those unnecessary roughness and excessive celebration penalties.

"I take ownership of that"    I for one am getting tired of this line from Tomlin. He says it after every performance. After the disastrous fake field goal against Seattle. After the disgusting performance in Baltimore. After all the slow starts to games, which is another hallmark of the 2015 Steelers. It is great that Tomlin is a standup guy who will not make too many excuses but instead of apologizing, how about changing it and never doing it again?

Walt Shaffer's Counterpoint: No, Mike Tomlin is not at fault for this season's disappointments

I have always wondered why the Pittsburgh Steelers seem to have these incredibly disappointing showings against clearly inferior opponents every year.  I won't say that Tomlin is completely blameless in these poor performances, the head coach deserves some scrutiny when his team comes out and plays like they did when the stakes are as high as they were Sunday in Baltimore.

Mike Tomlin isn't the one throwing back breaking interceptions on important drives. He also isn't missing tackles and blowing coverages on Chris Givens or getting burned by a relatively unknown fullback.  Instead I would look at the players, most notably the secondary and Big Ben.  Over the last 3 years when the Steelers have lost against inferior opponents, it has usually correlated with a poor performance by Ben Roethlisberger.

In 2013 the Steelers opened by losing against an incredibly pedestrian Tennessee Titans team in a game in which Roethlisberger threw one touchdown, one interception, and had a QBR of 12.0 . That same year Ben threw two interceptions against the Raiders in another disappointing loss to an obviously inferior team.

In 2014 the Steelers were beaten by a 1-8 Jets team and once again Roethlisberger threw two interceptions and posted a QBR of 43.0. Sunday in Baltimore, it was the same story different year.  Roethlisberger throws some inexplicable interceptions, and the Steelers lose to a clearly inferior opponent putting their playoff hopes in jeopardy.

What do all these games have in common? Roethlisberger throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, and a QBR of less than 45.0 .  Are these games all on Big Ben? Of course not.  But when Roethlisberger plays poorly this team struggles.  And when you have a quarterback as talented and experienced as Roethlisberger it is not on the coach to get him ready to play.  Ben knows what is at stake and knows the situation.  Like Colbert said last week, they know what they are getting with Ben, sometimes you are going to get multi-interception disappointing performances from him.

This team lives and dies with Big Ben.  All of this "Fire Tomlin" noise is just that.  If you take a step back and hear what the national opinion is on Mike Tomlin, you get a consensus that he is a top 5 coach and we are lucky to have him.  Take it from someone in Dallas surrounded by a fanbase that doesn't trust in their coach or their owner.  To put it in perspective the Cowboys have had 3 coaches since the year before Tomlin took over, the Steelers have had 3 coaches since 1969. Trust these owners and trust their coach.

Dani Bostick's middle ground

I am a Tomlin apologist. I appreciate that the Steelers organization is loyal to their coaches. The buck stops at Tomlin, however. Other professionals are held accountable for the performance of their charges. Even teachers, who are often woefully underpaid, are held accountable for the performance of their students, many of whom face challenges outside of the classroom that their teachers cannot begin to mitigate.

Do I think Mike Tomlin is directly responsible for the Steelers struggles this season? Absolutely not. On the other hand, if position coaches like Carnell Lake and Danny Smith have underperforming units, and if individual athletes play poorly week after week, it is part of Mike Tomlin's job to find solutions to systemic, insidious problems within the organization.

While I don't think Tomlin should be fired, he is to blame for some of this season's disasters. It is not his fault directly that Ben Roethlisberger threw dumb interceptions against the Ravens, and it is not his fault that the secondary has struggled throughout the season. On the other hand, he is the head coach, so it is his responsibility to identify problems and find remedies.

If teachers get blamed for students' low test scores, then it follows that Tomlin is to blame for the Steelers mediocrity this season. The standard is the standard, and the Steelers standard is not a winning season. Their standard is a Super Bowl victory. If the team falls short, it does not mean that Tomlin should lose his job, but he is responsible.