Perhaps dealing with a brief crisis of conscience, I asked myself a question Tuesday morning.
Have I been too hard on the Pittsburgh Steelers since their ugly 33-3 loss in New England Sunday night?
Maybe I should’ve kept in mind that the Steelers were playing in Gillette Stadium. Against the defending world champion New England Patriots. On banner-raising night. On a day when the Pats were relatively healthy and particularly sharp.
I guess I could’ve cut the Steelers a break.
However, based on what Mike Tomlin had to say at his weekly press conference, I’m starting to wonder if I was tough enough on them.
The head coach himself claimed the team “laid an egg,” described certain moments as “catastrophic,” and other mishaps as “failing miserably.”
Now I’m starting to think I was too understated.
“We’ve got to put play on tape that reflects our intentions,” Tomlin said at the end of his opening comments Tuesday.
That was a revealing statement. Many observers of the game complained that the performance was “un-Steeler-like.”
That’s a very generic way of saying that the effort appeared very passive, reactionary and lacking the Steelers’ usual physicality.
For example, wide pitch plays on third-and-1 instead of slamming the ball into the line. Lots of players running out of bounds. Constant dump-offs to diminutive slot receiver Ryan Switzer. Failure to tackle wide receivers cleanly in the open field and a feckless pass rush.
Maybe that was part of the problem Sunday. It was yet another example of the Steelers simply trying to keep up with the Patriots instead of dictating terms to them.
That’s disappointing. In each of the last two games — granted, at Heinz Field — the Steelers appeared to get away from that habit, winning in 2018 and getting “Riveron-ed” in 2017.
Tomlin was frequently asked to evaluate various aspects of his team’s performance in Foxborough. The wide receivers, the new players, the offensive line. To each point he replied, “We’re 0-1.”
It wasn’t quite Bill Belichick’s “We’re on to Cincinnati” refrain from 2014. But it was flirting with that territory.
“We’re all 0-1, and we better be scalded by that,” Tomlin said. “There will be no division in this group. That’s how we are wired. This is what we put out there.”
Agreed. Although, it’s an easy time to make that comment when everyone on the team was beaten as soundly as they were, both individually and collectively.
A talking point Tomlin consistently emphasized during his 20-minute Q&A was the theme of being introspective. Whether questions were about the Steelers’ troubles containing New England’s rub routes, cracking their rush defense or escaping coverage in the Patriots secondary, Tomlin forced the conversation back to his own team’s shortcomings as opposed to any scheme issues presented by New England.
Similarly, whenever discussing this week’s upcoming game against Seattle, Tomlin punctuated any scouting report with some type of thought about how the Steelers’ own expectation in any given matchup was the greater topic.
“We’re focused on us as we prepare for those guys,” Tomlin said. “With respect to them, we are focused on us and the things that we need to play winning ball.”
In other words, the Steelers need to clean up their own backyard.
That’s no small task because Tom Brady and company left it a disaster after Sunday’s picnic.
Considering Tomlin’s analysis, I guess not.