Tim Benz: Steelers get what Mike Tomlin asked for with 'splash plays'
Mike Tomlin often said in the early stages of this season that he'd use the bye week at the halfway point of the season to “globally assess” some facets of his team.
One assessment he made is that the club needed more “splash plays.”
In other words, long scoring plays or big gains on offense, turnovers or sacks on defense and kick blocks or significant returns in the special teams game.
Let's go back to a quote from Tomlin as his team was coming out of the bye Nov. 7, before the win in Indianapolis.
“Being capable of cashing in on opportunities that are presented, that needs to define us in this second half of the season,” Tomlin said at that press conference. “We've had splash-play opportunities on offense that have been missed which could have made our journey easier. And we have had splash-play opportunities on defense that have been missed.
“Great teams seem like they have a flair for the dramatic. They make those plays when given the opportunity.”
Tomlin went on to specifically reference a Ryan Shazier interception that likely would've gone for a touchdown near the end of an eventual win in Detroit as evidence. He also pointed out a misplayed deep throw from Ben Roethlisberger to Martavis Bryant on the opening play of the loss in Chicago.
So what did Shazier do the next Sunday against the Colts? He picked off a pass at Indianapolis' 10-yard line, which set up a touchdown.
What did the offense do against the Titans last Thursday night? Ben Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for a 41-yard touchdown on the first drive.
Ask, and you shall receive.
Those two plays were by no means the only examples of Tomlin's players following through on his request for more splash plays. In the two games since the coach's decree, the defense has eight sacks and five turnovers. In that same time frame, Brown also had a 32-yard catch to go along with his 41-yarder. JuJu Smith-Schuster had a 44-yard reception. Even Bryant had a 20-yard catch.
Baby steps there, folks. Baby steps with Martavis.
Oh, and on special teams, T.J. Watt even blocked a field goal.
“I think Coach should play some lottery numbers or something,” Shazier said after Pittsburgh's victory Thursday.
Maybe. After all, turnovers and things such as kick blocks are somewhat random and partially reliant on your opponent messing up.
But hitting on big plays offensively and sacking the quarterback are more a product of your own players winning individual battles and properly executing plays that were designed well and called for at the right time.
So how can the Steelers enter the “Splash Zone” even more often during these last six weeks of the regular season? Can you really practice “splash plays” on defense and special teams, too?
“People that are on their details and are ridiculously consistent at doing so are generally more opportunistic,” Tomlin said.
“Oftentimes knowledge increases your opportunity for the dramatic.”
Tomlin punctuated that theory by using Shazier as an example as someone who does have a flair for the dramatic.
Shazier is a remarkably gifted athlete and a renowned film nut who is just now absorbing football information as fast as he can play it.
Conversely, I'd argue Bryant is exactly the kind of guy Tomlin should be speaking to with this message.
He's a player who has all the “splash” ability that Shazier does. But he is also someone who isn't — to use Tomlin's words, here — “on his details” nearly as much as he should be.
Tomlin has been pressing a lot of the proper buttons over the last six games as his Steelers have gone unbeaten in that time.
The other demand Tomlin made of his team coming out of the bye was to get better in the turnover ratio department.
The Steelers were minus-1 in that regard after their first eight games. That's surprisingly low for a team that stood at 6-2 at the time. However, they are plus-4 in the last two since the bye.
“Maybe Coach should just go tell us to win the Super Bowl, then,” joked Bud Dupree. “If the coaches say we need to do stuff, we try to make it happen.”
Wait, he hasn't told you to win the Super Bowl yet?! Hey, Mike, get on that!
While you are at it, Coach, you might want to mention something about that Dec. 17 game at Heinz Field against the Patriots, too. It could be kind of important.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.