The stability and success of the Pittsburgh Steelers football club has been one of consistency for the better part of nearly 50 years now. Starting with the hiring of head coach Chuck Noll in 1969, you have had a whopping three coaches in that time span, with each hoisting a Vince Lombardi trophy while in charge.
The ownership group is still the Rooney Family. The legacy built by founder Art Rooney, his son Dan and now his son Art Rooney II provides the team the rock solid foundation any successful business needs. Consistent, steady leadership that makes sound decisions in critical moments.
As for Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, it has become quite clear over the past few years that making sound decisions in critical moments, when it comes to situational football, (a term I’ve just come to understand) the choices of play calling, or preparation to make sound choices late in a game have left a lot to be desired.
It’s well documented that under Tomlin during the regular season, no head football coach has won more games in his first 11 seasons, other than Don Shula. That was by one game, although the NFL played a 14-game schedule until that changed in 1978. Simply put, in what we might consider the ‘modern era’ of the NFL, nobody has had more success in the regular season than Tomlin in his first 11 years.
Now what we can also say about Tomlin is that during his first 11 seasons, his teams have never played well when facing an inferior opponent on the road when the Steelers are favorites. Their inability to dominate when facing lesser talent has been a constant theme during his career.
The most recent problems facing Tomlin are quite glaring. His clock management when the game nears its end. This was evident on Sunday in the loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. His decision to try an onside kick with 2:18 left to play was based on his defense and their inability to stop the Jags offense. He did have 2 timeouts, and the two minute warning in his pocket.
What resulted was a botched onside kick by Chris Boswell that didn’t even go the necessary 10-yards, plus it touched a Steeler which that resulted in an additional 5-yard penalty. The Jaguars gained a few yards running, and kicked a field goal to go up 10.
Or was it?
In theory, I suppose. But let’s look at this a little deeper and assess the time management skills of coach Tomlin a little further. If the decision to onside kick was a no-brainer to him, then trying to save as much time while trying to stop the Jaguars after the failed onside attempt should have been an huge priority.
Why on 1st and 10 on a 1-yard run by Leonard Fournette do you allow the clock to run down to the 2 minute warning? If it’s all or nothing at that point, you use a timeout to conserve time. The Jaguars were not going to pass in that situation. They were going to run the ball no matter what to force the Steelers to use their timeouts.
Bottom line is when Josh Lambo kicked that 45-yard field goal with 1:45 left to play, it cost the Steelers a minimum of at least 10 seconds.
Keep that in your pocket as we move along.
So the Steelers get the ball back with 1:45 to play, and manage to get down to the Jags 5-yard line with 47 seconds to play. This is where great coaches separate themselves from the rest of the pack. How you don’t have a contingency plan in place for situations like that is beyond me. The little details like this are what make or break you.
So at the 5-yard line the Steelers run a play as Ben throws a pass that was ruled intentional grounding. Why not spike the ball and do one of two things:
A. Kick a field goal and then try to onside kick again or
B. Run a play to score.
We are splitting hairs here, but you get my point. Once the 10 -yard penalty and 10-second runoff take place, the field goal is the easy choice. If the spike at the 5-yard line had played out, with the extra 10-seconds saved from the prior Jaguars possession before the 2-minute warning, you would have been looking at close to a minute left on the playing clock. You spike the ball at the 5 and kick the field goal to give your team a second chance.
It’s a small chance, but ask the Minnesota Vikings about small chances of winning.
Of course that’s not how it played out. Not to mention the team looked very slow and unmotivated at the end of that last drive after the intentional grounding. They didn’t move with urgency.
Isn’t the coach responsible to remind them that time is of the essence?
They knew the game was over.
And I fault Mike Tomlin for that.
I’m not advocating the Steelers front office make a head coaching change. The news recently that a large portion of minority owners in the Steelers were planning on going to Art Rooney II to petition him to fire Mike Tomlin is ludicrous, at best. They, combined, own less than 5-percent of the team, and should have no say in how things are run.
With Todd Haley’s subsequent departure on Wednesday, the news that Randy Fichtner would replace him, along with word that Tomlin was not going to make changes to his defensive staff cleared up all you need to know about next seasons coaching staff. Haley had to go and did. As for Keith Butler and a few others, I guess not.
I wouldn’t fire Mike Tomlin. He’s won a lot of regular season games, but I would make it very clear to him that his preparation in the most critical of moments must get better — and fast.
And there needs to be some sort of change in attitude because when the head coach is barking about a rematch with New England weeks before it takes place, that mindset will trickle down to the players, case in point Mike Mitchell, among others running their mouths and going on social media doing the same.
You don’t give your opponent, one who is already feeling slighted as an underdog, bulletin board material to get fired up over.
Do I even need to rehash the ending of the Patriots game, and how unprepared Tomlin and his staff were?
We all know the answer to that one.
Mike Tomlin needs to be better. And the Steelers front office needs to make that clear to him. 2018 will most likely be the last year of the Killer B’s. It’s got to be now, or it will be never, and if that’s the case, the Steelers might be forced to make a coaching change sooner than they had ever planned if more of these late game coaching meltdowns continue to cost the Steelers a chance at a 7th Vince Lombardi trophy.
John Phillips is the author of this article and a secret member of the Galactic Empire. When he’s not facing down Jedi scum behind Primanti’s in the Strip, he can be found writing opinion articles for BTSC. Something he’s enjoyed doing since 2014.