Time to say Goodbye to Mike Tomlin?

Written By: Logan Leslie


Last night the Steelers yet again disappointed us to begin the game, reeled us back in by half time and then broke our hearts in the second half. This is quickly becoming the expected norm by those of us who bleed black and gold. There is no one individual to blame for why but our Steelers appear to be declining and declining fast. This has however, begun to show the true colors of the Steelers coaching staff.

Our Steelers began the season by blowing a double-digit lead to Cleveland, turned over the ball 5 times and barely secured a tie. This performance was followed by an absolute slaughter by the Kansas City Chiefs. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes in his 3rd career start, torched the Steelers defense for 326 yards passing and 6 touchdowns totaling 42 points and only 4 incompletions. In week 3, we began to regain hope in our team after scoring 30 points against the Bucs in the first half. However, that great half was followed by a disastrous second half where the team was outscored 17-0, barely hanging on for the win. In this game the defense allowed journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw for 411 yards and 3 touchdowns, with a few interceptions in the first half.

Finally, last night we yet again found our Steelers down by 2 touchdowns in the first quarter, which would’ve easily been 3 if not for an Alex Collins fumble at the goal line. Then just like they always seem to do, faith was slowly restored as the offense began to creep back in, bringing the score to a tie by the end of the first half. After being reeled back in emotionally and mentally we slowly watched our defense get gutted and our offense completely stall. With 4 Justin Tucker field goals and another scoreless performance by the Steelers in the second half, the Ravens were able to leave Pittsburgh with a win and a share of first place with the Bengals at 3-1. Our Steelers fell to 1-2-1, sharing the basement of the AFC North with the Browns. Next week the struggling defense will take on a hot Atlanta Falcons Offense coming off of their 3rd straight 30+ point game which I am sure will be a relaxing game…

With such a bad start, we as fans are inevitably bound to jump to conclusions, allowing a lot of doubt and negativity to enter into our minds. I am 100% aware of this as a fan but one thing I am sure of is, the formula is no longer working and has not for sometime now. Looking deeper into this we find a common denominator, Mike Tomlin.

Over the offseason I wrote an article titled “Is Mike Tomlin an Elite Coach?” where I claimed him to essentially be overrated. This article received a lot of feedback, including LB Vince Williams who voiced his disagreement with me on Twitter. Today I stand as firm as ever on this claim. The Pittsburgh Steelers have arguably the worst defense in the NFL and are without a doubt the most undisciplined team on and off the field.


Draft Short Comings on Defense

Mike Tomlin is a defensive minded coach therefore it would be fair to expect the team to rely on its defense but as we all know this isn’t the case. The defense since the last Bill Cowher drafted player left the team has finished ranked 5th, 14th, 21st, and 18th. With former players drafted by Cowher, Mike Tomlin led defenses finished 1st, 1st, 3rd and 6th according to ESPN. Mike Tomlin has continually drafted defensive players in the earlier rounds in recent years. Unfortunately by my count the only players who have paid or will pay dividends are Cam Heyward, Ryan Shazier and likely TJ Watt. His defensive busts include Jarvis Jones, Artie Burns, Senquez Golson, Sean Davis, Curtis Brown, Sean Spence and Doran Grant. Then we have Bud Dupree and Stephon Tuitt who have shown flashes of talent but ultimately have proven to often be less than stellar. Finally, there is rookie Terrell Edmunds who has struggled so far this season but it would be very unfair to judge him this early.

The point behind my lists and statistics is simple, it is fair to say Mike Tomlin rode the coattails of Cowher to begin his career earning a Super Bowl and other accolades along the way, en route to cementing a job with a franchise who never fires head coaches. Not only did Tomlin inherit an incredible defense constructed by Cowher but he also inherited a future Hall of Fame QB who was only beginning his career when Tomlin was hired. Now that his inherited defense is 100% gone and Big Ben is getting older Tomlin has no security blanket. He had to step up and has failed time and time again in recent years.


Drama and Lack of Discipline 

On top of defensive woes, Tomlin has next to zero control over the locker room and the players on the field. Just this season the team has constantly been in the headlines for the wrong reasons:

  1. Le’Veon Bell holdout
  2. Offensive Lineman ripping on Bell to the media
  3. Antonio Brown threatening a reporter
  4. Antonio Brown skipping practice after a sideline argument with OC Randy Fitchner

Just as a reminder, we are only going into week 5 of the season. Over the last few seasons we have a much bigger list:

1. Mike Tomlin trips player
2. Bell and Blount arrested
3. Martavis suspended
4. Big Ben complains about Todd Haley
5. Bell suspended again
6. Bryant can’t stay off the weed again
7. Big Ben complains about Todd Haley (part 2)
8. Antonio Brown goes live in the locker room
9. Ben says hes thinking about retirement
10. Bell skips training camp
11. Ben calls out coaches (Parts 1,2,3,4,5…)
12. Martavis throws a fit about JuJu on Instagram
13. Tomlin looks way ahead to the Patriots
14. Ben decides against retirement and says he wants to play 3-5 more years
15. Ben calls out management of draft

This is 19 instances over a 3-4 year period where the Steelers were in the headlines for the wrong reasons, distracting them from their ultimate task of winning football games. He has to have more control over his team, and claiming this has no effect on their on field performance is wrong. Winning a championship takes complete focus in the workout room, practice field and come game time. In New England the Patriots players are not even allowed to discuss touchdown celebrations with the media but for the Steelers players it seems as though anything is fair game.

On top of the drama the Steelers are by far the most penalized team in the league with 42 total penalties thus far which is 14 more than the league average. Their 37 penalties through 3 weeks was one of the most in history. The penalty that specifically points to poor discipline to me is unnecessary roughness which the Steelers have been called for 5 times thus far, the most in the league and 3.5 more than the league average per team.


Playing Down to Opponents and Playoff Short Comings

When was the last time the Steelers played an opponent they’re supposed to beat handedly and you as a fan began watching that game and thought “well this is going to be relaxing”? Personally I haven’t felt that way in a long time. Dating back to last year the Steelers have played 9 games against below .500 teams, they are 7-1-1 in those games but in 5 of those wins they only won by 4 or fewer points with 3 coming via last second field goals. Does that sound like a team that should be considered a prime Super Bowl contender? Not by my measure. Many of these games followed the formula we saw yesterday with the Steelers starting off in a hole and needing to crawl back. Well coached teams with exceptional players come out and win with ease, but for some reason Mike Tomlin coached teams are unable to do that. The problem here possibly could be the fact that  Tomlin relies too much on emotion to get his teams to play well, practice hard, and devote the time needed for success. This is what Terry Bradshaw means when he calls Tomlin a “cheerleader guy.” Every game needs to have the same intensity but it has become obvious Tomlin is unable to offer or promote that in games against lesser opponents.

In the playoffs the Steelers have only 3 wins since their last Super Bowl appearance, all 3 wins were less than impressive:

  • January 9th 2016: @Cincinnati Bengals; Win 18-16
    • This is the famous game where the Bengals virtually handed the Steelers a win. The penalties to Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones on the Steelers final drive ultimately are what allowed them to kick a game winning field goal. Throughout this game the Steelers had 10 penalties for 143 yards and were 2-13 on 3rd down. Not exactly a recipe to win. Backup Bengals QB AJ McCarron started this game as well.
  • January 8th 2017: vs Miami Dolphins; Win 30-12
    • This game was the only playoff win in recent memory where I wasn’t ripping my hair out. Which is due to the fact they were facing a vastly inferior team playing their back up quarterback at home. Which was unimpressive to say the least.
  • January 15th 2017: @ Kansas City Chiefs; Win 18-16
    • This game is the most frustrating of the Steelers recent playoff wins where they needed to use just 6 field goals to win the game. In this game the Steelers produced at least 45 yards on 5 of 9 drives but were unable to score a touchdown all while dominating the time of possession. They barely squeaked out with a win.

The Steelers last playoff loss also tells the story perfectly:

  • January 14th 2018: vs Jacksonville Jaguars; Loss 45-42
    • This game will haunt us for a while. The Steelers found themselves down 21-0 by the beginning of the 2nd quarter. Allowing the Jaguars to score 3 rushing touchdowns to begin the game. Then, like typical Steelers football they woke up and started to mount a come back. But in the end, poor defensive preparation against the run and very poor offensive play call in key situations such as the 3rd and inches play where Todd Haley decided to run a pitch play instead of a QB sneak. On top of all the in-game miscues, it seemed as though Mike Tomlin did not have his team prepared for the Jaguars, likely because he was looking ahead to New England.


Possible Solutions

The best solution would be to move on from Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler, then attempt to fill Tomlin’s shoes with an offensive minded coach. The league has moved toward an offense first strategy. Look at the last few head coaches hired in the NFL; the Eagles, Rams, Colts, Dolphins, Raiders, Giants, 49ers, Redskins, and Bears have all hired offensive minded head coaches. The Steelers should follow suit.

In terms of the defense they need major help up the middle and in the secondary. Allocating some of the money saved by the departure of Le’Veon Bell should allow them to add some free agent help after this season. Or they may be able to trade Bell and receive a quality player in return.



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