Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: As Steelers get set for opener, Mike Tomlin in midseason form
We don’t know what to expect from the Pittsburgh Steelers when they open the regular season at the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on Sunday night.
But take comfort, Steelers fans.
Mike Tomlin is in midseason form.
In the first weekly news conference, the Steelers coach Tuesday delivered a handful of colorful coaching cliches from the Book of Tomlinisms. We heard about the Division of Labor, how If You Have Red Paint, You Paint the Barn Red, even though Tomlin doesn’t like to Paint with a Broad Brush. We even heard about the Elephant in the Room, Tomlin’s reference to the Patriots two years ago in his Football Night in America interview with Tony Dungy.
And Tomlin added a couple of new one-liners, from how Cooks Like to be in the Kitchen to the humorous moment when Tomlin was asked about Steelers nose guard Javon Hargrave.
“I like how he continues to add to his portfolio,” Tomlin said. “I often kid him (that) a nose guard is like Blockbuster video. He better diversify.”
Tomlin talked about how Hargrave has reinvented himself as a pass-rusher in subpackage situations, which led to this exchange with my fellow Trib columnist, Tim Benz.
Benz: “So he’s become more Netflix and less VHS?”
Tomlin: “Certainly. Certainly. And he better.”
1. Division of Labor
Tomlin emphasized his focus is generally on the Steelers more so than the Patriots at this point, given this is Week 1.
Yet Tomlin steered clear of tipping his hand over the distribution of playing time at inside linebacker between Mark Barron and Devin Bush next to Vince Williams.
“We are going to discover that as we get into this journey,” Tomlin said.
Barron was one of the Steelers’ top free-agent signings this offseason. And they made a trade to move up 10 spots to select Bush with their No. 1 pick at 10th overall.
Expect to see plenty of both.
2. Paint the Barn Red
Tomlin didn’t mince words with his Patriots scouting report: It’s all about No. 12.
“Obviously, if you’re talking about New England, it starts with Tom Brady,” Tomlin said. “I don’t know what I can say about him that hasn’t already been said.”
That didn’t stop Tomlin from talking about his respect for Brady as a competitor, as a tactician and as a passer whose accuracy and arm strength are “exceptional.”
But the tough part is beating Brady’s brains.
“His above-the-neck game kind of exemplifies a guy that’s been on the job for 20 years,” Tomlin said. “He is very difficult to trick. Even if you do, it won’t happen over an extended period of time or over a football game.”
In other words, Tomlin knows the Steelers aren’t going to outsmart Brady with their scheme. They have to put him in positions where he succumbs to their pressure.
Just don’t expect Brady to get sacked much.
“He gets the ball out on rhythm and changes the pace of play so much that nobody takes him down a bunch,” Tomlin said. “The key is to be able to rush him significantly in the moments where you need to do it. …
“But you better get him in those moments before those things can happen.”
3. Elephant in the Room
Tomlin expressed no relief the Patriots no longer have Rob Gronkowski at tight end, now that the Woodland Hills graduate has retired.
“Any discussions with the Patriots offense starts with Tom Brady — and always has,” Tomlin said. “I think that he’s that type of player that he’s thoughtful about how he attacks you from time to time. He’s going to hit you with known weapons. He’s going to hit you with lesser-known weapons. You better focus your energies on him and work out from there. That’s always been our approach.”
But Brady’s favorite target was Gronkowski, a game-changer over the middle and in the red zone. And Gronk was a Steelers killer, with 41 catches for 685 yards and eight touchdowns in seven games.
“I know that Gronk was an awesome contributor,” Tomlin said, “but I’m sure they’re poised to redistribute the ball to other people.”
That’s a good thing, considering Gronkowski averaged about six catches for 98 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers — more than any team he faced at least five times in his nine-year NFL career.
4. Cooks Like to be in the Kitchen
Tomlin used this dandy when discussing why Steelers players are embracing playing at Gillette Stadium.
But it applies to Chris Boswell, who survived the pressure cooker of training-camp competition from Matthew Wright to keep his job as the Steelers kicker after converting 13 for 20 field goals and 43 of 48 extra points last season.
“He was really consistent throughout the process, and he essentially answered all the challenges that we presented to him,” Tomlin said. “We in this room talk openly about some of the challenges that we created for him in practice, in stadiums, situationally and so forth, and he was really consistent.”
Consistency is the key for Boswell.
He has been anything but in the past two games against the Patriots. Boswell missed an extra point but converted a 23-yard field goal in the 2016 AFC championship game at New England. Last year, he missed a 33-yard field goal that would have given the Steelers a 10-point lead but later made a 48-yarder that helped clinch the 17-10 victory.
5. Paint with a Broad Brush
Finally, Tomlin was asked about Ben Roethlisberger not being surrounded for the first time in years by a dominant player that demanded the ball.
That was as close as anyone came to bringing up former Steelers All-Pros Le’Veon Bell or Antonio Brown, but Tomlin scoffed at the suggestion the Steelers don’t have any players with that type of personality.
“I haven’t been around a good receiver that doesn’t want the ball,” Tomlin said. “I’m sure JuJu Smith-Schuster wants the ball. I haven’t been around a top-flight wideout that doesn’t want the ball. So forget what they said.”
Maybe JuJu won’t be so vocal about begging Ben?
Tomlin’s response: “Give ’im time.”
That was Tomlin’s way of telling us to keep a close check on the guy with the YouTube channel.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .