Mike Tomlin Should Be A Dark Horse Candidate For NFL Coach of the Year| Steelers Remain In Playoff Hunt Despite Issues

The Pittsburgh Steelers hired Mike Tomlin in 2007, and he hasn’t had one losing season during his tenure. The Steelers currently are 6-6-1 amidst a myriad of injuries and a QB in Ben Roethlisberger who just can’t get it done consistently anymore. He’s actually been on the downslope for some time now, but Tomlin has found a way to make it work. 

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The Steelers are still in contention for a playoff spot. He’s gotten the most out of a team that should have tapped out weeks ago. Instead, his name is being mentioned in head coaching “hot seat” conversations, and, similar to years past, there are too many folks looking to push Tomlin out of the door. It doesn’t make any sense. 

That same Mike Tomlin that some critics used to label as an underachiever has been “overachieving” with less the past few seasons and solidifying himself as a Hall of Fame head coach. Too bad it’s not being acknowledged more. 

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The true test of a champion is how he/she reacts in the face of adversity. It’s easy to succeed when everything is aligned perfectly. Tomlin’s been doing a good job with limited resources.

Tomlin signed a three-year contract extension in April, something he earned. Even with the Steelers not being as superior as most delusional Steelers fans think they should be every season, the Black & Yellow remain viable playoff contenders, as they sit just 1.5 games behind the first-place Ravens (8-5) in the AFC North. That’s a credit to the coaching genius of Tomlin.

The Deterioration of Big Ben Has Been A Problem For Tomlin

The Steelers inconsistency is largely due to the inconsistent and erratic play of QB Ben Roethlisberger. Many have been calling for the 39-year-old’s benching, but Tomlin hasn’t pulled the trigger and he won’t. Their quarterback depth just isn’t there. Mason Rudolph is mediocre and Dwayne Haskins isn’t the kind of young quarterback you want to throw into a playoff race. Big Ben came out of the gate looking old and bewildered. 

Former Steeler and current ESPN analyst Ryan Clark was among those devoted members of Steelers Nation asking for Ben to be benched. 

But if you’re Tomlin, does benching Ben really help your team when you have two very unproven backups behind him? Probably not. So although Ben is a shell of the future first-ballot Hall of Famer we’ve come to know, Tomlin has to stick with him. 

He’s made the most of it.

Mason Rudolph And Dwayne Haskins Are Not The Answer At This Point

General manager Kevin Colbert and Tomlin will have their work cut out for them next season when Ben retires. They’ll need to find a new signal caller to lead the franchise. But with the playoffs still very much in play, no way they’re turning to either of these unproven guys to see what they may have. Besides, Tomlin is too loyal to his veteran players. 

Neither of the alternative options really separated themselves throughout training camp.

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When Ben had to sit for COVID protocols there was spirited debate over who should start. It ended up being Rudolph because Tomlin was more familair with him and Haskins hasn’t learned to be a pro yet. They went out and tied the hapless Lions (16-16). That was definitely a low point to the season, but it wasn’t an L. 

The Defense Has Struggled To Stop The Run

The Steelers have always been built on defense, and that’s Tomlin’s calling card.  The Steelers’ run D is ranked 29 out of 32 teams. The Chargers and Vikings both jumped out to huge leads on Pittsburgh, only to see the Steelers battle back and falter at the end.

You can say those slow starts fall on Tomlin, but the resiliency to battle back is another sure sign of Tomlin’s leadership. The temporary loss of Devin Bush and inconsistent play has also been detrimental to the team’s run defense.

We haven’t even mentioned the loss of receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for the season and a shoddy offensive line that can’t open holes for prized running back Najee Harris. Despite all of these obstacles, Tomlin finds a way to win games. 

Colbert will need to retool this roster in the offseason to give Tomlin some adequate pieces to work with. And he can begin with drafting Pitt Panther quarterback and Heisman finalist Kenny Pickett.

No way the Steelers pass on Pickett if he’s there as they did with Dan Marino in 1983 when they overlooked him in their search to find the heir apparent to Terry Bradshaw. Until then, a huge home game against the Tennessee Titans awaits the Steelers this weekend.

Right now, the Steelers’ playoff hopes are still very much alive and Tomlin will be entering this game with some key players who are returning from injury.

According to cbssports, Tomlin said that he is “excited about the possible incursion” of several previously injured players for Sunday’s home game against the Titans. Tomlin specifically mentioned outside linebackers T.J. Watt (going) and Alex Highsmith (knee), cornerback Joe Haden (foot), inside linebacker Robert Spillane (knee), guard/center J.C. Hassenauer (pectoral), and defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs (ankle).

“We’ll see where their participation and the quality of their participation leads us,” Tomlin said, via the team’s website. “We got a good practice that we’re planning for tomorrow. We’ll carry pads tomorrow to give some of those guys an opportunity to display readiness and see where they are, and it can better aid us in terms of some the decision-making that we’re going to have to make as the week unfolds in terms of who we go to and who we don’t go to.”

This season could have been a total disaster for the Steelers. Instead their fans still have something to root for as we enter Week 15 of the first 17-game season. Consistency at the top, starting with Mike Tomlin, always ensures that the Pittsburgh Steelers get the most out of their talent on the field.

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