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Steelers loss to Jaguars falls on Mike Tomlin, coaching staff and defense

After a 13-3 regular season filled with promise and drama, the Pittsburgh Steelers laid an egg Sunday at home to Jacksonville. And the blame starts right at the top with Mike Tomlin.

Divisional Round - Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Where do I start?

Is it even possible to pick one jumping point regarding Sunday’s humiliating 45-42 loss the Jacksonville Jaguars laid on the mighty men of steel? Is it fair to pick one talking point among a bevy of possibilities in front of us?

I don’t know where to begin, other than with the head coach in charge of it all. Say what you want about Mike Tomlin, he does things his way. Since he was hired, Tomlin has been his own man, calling the shots of this team. Love him or hate him, it’s his team from the top down. From players to personnel, he has the final say on how things run.

And brother, they aren’t running so smooth.

I guess starting with the horrible defensive effort is first. Granted, the loss of Ryan Shazier was a killer. Since his injury against Cincinnati, teams have been more than eager to run through, around and over what was once a formidable unit. It goes without saying that the front seven of the Steelers defense had a really bad day, at a really bad time.

I’m not going to get into the play of guys like Sean Spence and Vince Williams all that much. Spence was on his couch when the Steelers called him after Shazier went down. He was familiar with the team’s scheme and did what he could when called on. As for Williams, he’s nothing more than a backup, playing up because of injury and out of sheer need.

But where was Bud Dupree yesterday? And T.J. Watt for that matter? Didn’t see much of either, unless it was watching them chase Leonard Fournette as he rambled all over the field. The Steelers knew the Jags game plan and were unable to stop the visitors from Florida who racked up 164-yards rushing, averaging 4.7 yards per carry.

And we can’t forget Blake Bortles. He was the Jaguars’ Achilles. He was going to fall apart in the white hot spotlight. Crumble. Fail.

He didn’t.

And once again, he did his job both passing and running, averaging seven yards per carry. Converted multiple 3rd and long’s both passing and running.

It’s enough to make you sick.

Tomlin should be better than this. And so should his staff. Keith Butler isn’t an innocent bystander in all of this. His job is to figure out the problems and fix them.

That clearly didn’t happen.

Then we have the two 4th down-and-short plays. When you need a foot, you get there by taking the closest path, not by running wide on a fast and athletic defense to the outer perimeter of play. You don’t pitch a ball to a running back who is 5-7 yards behind the line of scrimmage. In his career, Ben Roethlisberger has run 19 4th and short plays, converting on 18 of them.

But for some strange reason, or at least according to Tomlin, those days are over in order to keep the franchise quarterback from injury.

Are you serious?

This is big boy football. They play hard. They hit hard. Everybody involved in the National Football League signs up knowing that injuries happen and each scenario is different. If you want to live in fear, go do something else for a living.

That excuse is pathetic and laughable at best. You have a quarterback who is six foot five. You run him behind an all-pro center and left guard and get that foot. Period. Any other play is doomed. The old belly dive to the fullback isn’t an option, nor is pitching wide to a running back seven yards away from where he needs to go.

The 2nd 4th down play was another botched attempt. Ben may have checked out of what was called, but even he has to know that his best option his him over center. But for some reason, Ben has not been asked to get a tough 12 inches in over three seasons now.

It’s simply mind-blowing.

And that’s on Mike Tomlin.

It’s hard to understand Todd Haley’s place in all of this as well. I mean the offense did score 42-points, their biggest output of the season, but again, I wonder about him. The team had just allowed a 75-yard drive to begin the game. If there was a point shortly after that drive ended where Haley began to think about his team’s first offensive drive, it sure didn’t seem that way.

To open the game, Ben and the offense opened up in an empty set. And they did it on the first two plays! I was speechless, given the fact that all anybody talked about before the game was the need to run the ball on the Jaguars. That a heavy dose of Le’Veon Bell was the key to a victory.


The answer was to go empty on the first two plays that resulted in an incomplete pass and a two yard gain. On 3rd-and-long, a bubble screen was called to Eli Rogers that got six yards. Going three-and-out on your opening drive is not what the doctor ordered in that spot. It got worse on drive two when everybody knew Bell would get the ball right away. The end result was a gain of 1 and -2 by Bell.

And then the interception.

It felt like game over at that point.

Finally, the decision to go with an onside kick late in the game. In his post-game comments, coach Tomlin said he had no faith in his defensive unit trying to stop the Jacksonville offense, hence his decision to try and get the ball back.

You have 2:18 on the clock. You have two time outs and the two minute warning. You are down seven. Despite the fact the defense looked like a sieve all day, despite the problems they faced, despite the desperate situation you are in, the last thing you want to do is give the Jaguars the ball deep inside your territory. You haven’t converted an onside kick in a decade, the last thing you want is to give the ball back to a team who would only need five yards to have a chance to kick a field goal and ice the game.

But Mike Tomlin thought otherwise.

And that is why the Steelers are done, and Jacksonville keeps playing.

If you are Tomlin, you go tell your defensive unit to make a stop. You tell them to earn their salary and force a punt. You take your chances in that spot all day long in order to give your team a chance at tying the game back up with a 3-and-out.

Tomlin though otherwise. And he was wrong.

I didn’t even get into the ‘looking ahead to New England’ angle either. When your head coach makes comments about a rematch, the players are going to do the same. Tweeting and talking only provides motivation to your opponent who already feels insulted.

It’s simply unacceptable.

And simply on Tomlin.

I’m not advocating the Steelers should fire him. They won’t, and they shouldn’t. There will be personnel changes for sure. I can’t see both coordinators surviving this. I would expect Joey Porter and Carnell Lake will be getting a pink slip as well. Whatever way you look at this, changes will happen. I would expect Dupree, Mike Mitchell, and others on defense won’t be back.

However things work out, this is the worst loss of the Mike Tomlin era. Shameful really. He’s the boss, and responsible for this mess. It’s going to be up to him to fix this, and fix it fast. The clock is ticking on your franchise quarterback. Time will tell if he’s got the formula to achieve what this franchise expects. The odds are stacked against him after what unfolded Sunday.

John Phillips is the author of this article. JP has written for BTSC since 2014. You can follow him on Facebook if you can find him.