Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Mike Tomlin sees fine line between Steelers and Dolphins
Mike Tomlin is well aware that the Miami Dolphins are one of only two winless teams in the NFL, yet he wasn’t about to allow any suggestions that the Steelers are somehow superior.
When asked how the Dolphins (0-6) kept their past two games close, following a one-point loss to the Washington Redskins with a respectable 10-point loss to the Buffalo Bills, Tomlin turned the tables by comparing the Dolphins to his Steelers (2-4).
“They’re a professional football outfit, you know?” Tomlin said. “There’s a fine line in our game between winning every game and losing every game. Look at how our games have unfolded.
“We’ve lost a significant number of games by very small margin but they’re losses nonetheless, so that’s just life in the National Football League.”
Life is about to get much better — or way worse.
1. Common ground: The Steelers are coming off a bye after a 24-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, one of three common opponents they share with the Dolphins through the first seven weeks. The Chargers beat Miami, 30-10, in Week 4.
Both teams have lost to the New England Patriots — the Dolphins by 43, the Steelers by 30 — and the Baltimore Ravens. That outcome was a drastic difference, as the Dolphins lost to the Ravens in their opener, 59-10, while the Steelers fell to Baltimore, 26-23, in overtime at Heinz Field.
If not for single-digit losses to Seattle, San Francisco and Baltimore, the Steelers could be 5-1. But their only convincing game from start to finish was a 27-3 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football in Week 4.
And the Bengals, like the Dolphins, are winless.
The Steelers could just as easily be 1-5.
So, as grateful as they are to play another winless opponent, they certainly shouldn’t be taking a victory for granted.
2. Swimming with sharks: It’s not uncommon for Tomlin to heap praise on an opponent, even one that’s winless.
The Dolphins are still something of a disaster, but the turmoil over tanking at the start of the season is subsiding.
They traded three of their best players — offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills to the Texans and free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Steelers — for three future first-round draft picks.
And defensive end Taco Charlton, a 2017 first-round pick by Dallas that the Dolphins claimed off waivers last month, has three sacks in the last four games.
No wonder Tomlin called them “a very capable group” with “talented people at every level.”
3. Pat on the back: Tomlin showed his respect for Dolphins first-year coach Brian Flores, who spent the previous 15 seasons working in defensive roles under Bill Belichick in New England.
In doing so, Tomlin gave an indicator of one of his primary concerns.
“They do a lot of things, Coach Flores and company, they really challenge you schematically with a number of pressures and personnel packages and so forth,” Tomlin said. “Particularly when you’re working with an inexperienced quarterback, it’s troublesome.”
That’s not a ringing endorsement for Mason Rudolph.
Nor was Tomlin’s comment that Rudolph’s post-concussion performances were “nothing worth speaking of” because the Steelers “haven’t done much” in practices.
4. Fitz Tactic: No surprise that Tomlin downplayed the significance of the Steelers coaching staff tapping into Fitzpatrick’s knowledge of the Dolphins.
“It depends on the player, not only because of his ability to understand and communicate but also the length of time spent,” Tomlin said, noting that Fitzpatrick is a second-year player who spent only a few months in Flores’ system. “That’s probably something worth mentioning in this circumstance. Minkah didn’t spend a lot of time with those guys, so I would imagine it’s not going to be significant.”
Tomlin also added that the Dolphins have covered a lot of ground since the Steelers traded for Fitzpatrick, so the team is different after his departure.
All of that is true, but the Steelers also love Fitzpatrick’s mental approach and football IQ. So you know Tomlin and his coaches are tapping into that resource for any tips.
5. Fitz Magic: Tomlin also is well aware of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the 36-year-old journeyman who unseated Josh Rosen as the starter.
The Steelers are 6-0 against Fitzpatrick, but he has a way of making things uncomfortable.
Fitzpatrick completed 30 of 50 passes for 411 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions in rallying Tampa Bay in the second half of a 30-27 loss to the Steelers on Monday Night Football in September 2018.
“Fitz is a guy that we have a lot of respect for — we’ve seen him a lot over the years,” Tomlin said. “I think he’s a catalyst for a lot of good for those guys, and his talents and experience are the reasons why.
“He’s a really talented guy. He’s always been adept at creating as plays get extended. That’s troublesome and worrisome from our perspective. We’ve got to rush him, but we’ve also got to rush him smart.”
Fitzpatrick’s numbers aren’t all that impressive, as he’s completing 59% of his passes and has more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (three) and a 69.4 rating. But they’re better than Rosen’s statistics — he is completing 53.2%, with five interceptions and one touchdown for a 52.0 rating — and Fitzpatrick is adept at escaping the pocket, extending plays and finding the end zone.
“I don’t think it’s any surprise that they’ve had an uptick in production and so forth with him in the game,” Tomlin said. “This guy’s been doing it a long time and doing it at a high level. … He’s the type of guy who can really move the ball and can really light up the scoreboard.”
The Steelers just have to make sure he doesn’t light up the win column.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .