Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Mike Tomlin won’t give an inch on why Steelers can’t get a yard
Mike Tomlin had the same response to the individual efforts of the Pittsburgh Steelers as he did their collective performance in their season-opening loss at the New England Patriots.
Zero. And. One.
It was as submissive as it was dismissive, the Steelers coach showing no one deserves accolades after a 30-point loss while acknowledging the Steelers stunk against the reigning Super Bowl champions on “Sunday Night Football.”
Tomlin wasn’t giving an inch, considering the Steelers couldn’t even get a yard.
Apparently, Roosevelt Nix’s knee is to blame.
1. Nix nixed
The Steelers looked like the walking wounded Sunday night, as everyone from Joe Haden to Maurkice Pouncey to JuJu Smith-Schuster to T.J. Watt endured an array of injuries.
None of them was serious, except for Nix.
And I didn’t realize he injured his knee, given he got no snaps at fullback and played only on special teams.
The good news is, Tomlin didn’t rule out any of the Pro Bowl-caliber players from Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks. The bad news? Nix might miss a few.
2. Coming up short
Tomlin counted four or five situations where the Steelers failed to convert on third- or fourth-and-1 as their foremost failure.
Coming up short didn’t allow the Steelers to sustain drives or win the time-of-possession battle, let alone score points.
Tomlin cited the fourth-and-1 at the Patriots’ 47 late in the second quarter as an example. The Steelers initially sent out a jumbo package, but a Patriots linebacker plugged the gap so quarterback Ben Roethlisberger called a timeout.
When the Steelers went to a five-receiver set, the Patriots stayed in their nickel defense. Tomlin said the Steelers ran a “nice zone concept” to counter, but Donte Moncrief dropped Roethlisberger’s pass for a turnover on downs.
“Is it a good plan? Only if it works,” Tomlin said. “If you don’t catch the football, it’s a bad plan.”
3. Fullback fallback
The short-yardage plan could have been different if Nix was available at fullback.
Of course, that requires some imagination.
Nix played 110 offensive snaps last season. That’s one more snap than receiver Eli Rogers, who missed the first 13 games while recovering from a torn ACL.
The Steelers barely use a fullback, as evidenced by Nix’s one carry for 4 yards and four catches for 38 yards last season. Even so, Tomlin was asked which Steelers player would line up at fullback in Nix’s absence.
The possibilities are endless, but Tomlin hinted it could be a tight end. Xavier Grimble would be my guess, although Jaylen Samuels is another possibility.
“If we need a fullback,” Tomlin said, “there will be somebody representing that position on Sunday, I assure you that.”
4. Nothing special
If the Steelers are going to miss Nix, it will be on special teams, where he’s a captain.
Nix got 68.9% of the special-teams snaps last season, the fourth-most on the team behind L.J. Fort (72.5%), Anthony Chickillo (71.2%) and Tyler Matakevich (69.1%) and just ahead of Jordan Dangerfield (68.6%).
Only Fort isn’t with the Steelers this season, yet the special teams didn’t make much of a difference against the Patriots. They didn’t block any kicks or force any fumbles.
5. Dot on Watt
The Steelers designated T.J. Watt to wear the green dot, indicating he was wearing the headset in his helmet to communicate with coaches.
That an outside linebacker was handling the calls is unusual, as the dot is typically worn by an inside linebacker.
But continuity was a concern, with Mark Barron, Devin Bush and Vince Williams rotating at inside linebacker and AAF alum Kameron Kelly starting at free safety in place of the injured Sean Davis.
“I don’t want to make more out of that than what it is,” Tomlin said. “(Watt) was the most indispensable second-level defender, a guy that’s positioned within the group to communicate with those in front and those behind.”
Tomlin wouldn’t pin the defensive breakdowns on Watt, however, saying that “there’s always communication problems early in the year.”
Either way, the Steelers are zero and one.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .