The Problem is Mike Tomlin

Mike Tomlin oversaw the Pittsburgh Steelers’ late season collapse. A 7-2-1 recorded ended up becoming 9-6-1 without a playoff berth. This isn’t the first time Mike Tomlin has mismanaged his way into accomplishing less than he should with superior talent. It also is not going to be the last.

But with the news that Antonio Brown could possibly/is likely to get traded in the offseason, we should examine the real issue in Pittsburgh. Mike Tomlin has now spent 12 season showing poor leadership, disciplining no one, mismanaging the clock, and throwing blame in every direction that doesn’t have a mirror.

Pittsburgh is talked about as a Super Bowl contender on an annual basis in preseason discussions, yet the team has only even reached a single conference championship game since their 2010 Super Bowl loss to Green Bay. Each year the Steelers seem to find an even more spectacular way to just blow it. At some point the guy overseeing the entire team has to be held responsible.

Lacking Leadership

So, it’s possible that Antonio Brown threw a football at Ben Roethlisberger ahead of the team’s week 17 game. I wonder where Brown would have gotten such a childish idea, or felt that such behavior was OK as a member of the Pittsburgh organization? Oh, probably from this guy.

You can reasonably argue what happened was an innocent mistake. However, that means the best case scenario is Tomlin has an utterly shocking lack of awareness as he stares at Jacoby Jones sprinting down the sideline on the jumbotron.

Worst case scenario is this was malicious. Even giving Tomlin the benefit of the doubt, I can’t imagine being a player getting cussed out by him the next time after making a mistake.

Tomlin isn’t a bad coach. Under his guidance the Steelers have gone 125-66-1 (.654), appeared in two Super Bowls and won one. They’ve reached the playoffs 8 times in 12 years. Pittsburgh has ranked top 10 in DVOA 10 times in 12 years. Most organizations crave that type of success and consistency.

The issue is leadership broken down into two buckets: accountability and discipline. Tomlin on occasion takes some of the blame, but he has a nasty habit of publicly throwing his players under the bus, or pointing to excuses he believes to be out of his control.


The Steelers loss to Oakland this season was the microcosm of all the Mike Tomlin issues. Terrible loss to an inferior opponent. Bad clock management. Curious strategy with an incoherent reason. Blame game.

After the loss the Steelers dropped to 6-5 in road games where they were favored by 9 points or more under Tomlin. Since 2007, the rest of the NFL is 52-10, per Mark Madden. That is a scathing indictment of a persistent, perpetual problem for the organization; playing down to lesser teams and underachieving.

Roethlisberger left for part of the game against the Raiders with a rib injury. Once back on the sidelines, Tomlin didn’t insert Ben back into the lineup immediately. After the game the coach said Roethlisberger could have returned “a series or so sooner, but we were in the rhythm and flow of the game.”

That “rhythm and flow of the game,” was four drives with Joshua Dobbs that resulted in two punts, one turnover on downs, and an interception. Heavens forbid that “rhythm and flow” was disrupted by bringing back in your two time Super Bowl champion quarterback. It’s just a terrible reasoning for a terrible decision.

Then after the game Tomlin couldn’t even get his “it wasn’t my fault” story straight. Initially, Roethlisberger didn’t immediately return due to how long it takes for pain-killing shots to kick in. However, once Monday came, the real issue was how old the Raiders’ x-ray machine was.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. There is always blame to go around when it comes to Pittsburgh losses, especially when the opponent is the Patriots.


Remember this?

The Steelers spent the opening Thursday night of the 2015 season either not covering Rob Gronkowski, or trying to do so with a linebacker. Both are terrible ideas. This resulted in 5 catches for 94 yards and 3 TDs for Gronk on the night.

You’d think afterwards some self reflection would be in store after a 28-21 loss that was really 28-14 until Antonio Brown added a garbage time TD with 2 seconds left in the game. Perhaps, even, a “we didn’t do a very good job covering #87.”

Nah. Instead we got this. Tomlin complained the headsets weren’t working, his coaches spent the first half listening to the Patriots radio broadcast, and that’s “always” the case in Foxborough.

Apparently he had no interest in knowing, nor did anyone have any interest in telling him, that the NFL is in control of the headsets on the sidelines.  And before you go off on some “THE PATRIOTS ARE CHEATERS” garbage, headset issues happen all around the NFL.

The real issue here is Tomlin since headset issues have affected Steelers games before. In the 2010 AFC Championship, played in Pittsburgh, the Jets had issues with their headsets. Per Mark Sanchez:

“The problem was the headset kept going out multiple times during the game,” Sanchez said, “so I had to run over and get a couple calls, piece together some calls on the headset that came in broken up. It was one of those things we were fighting through. I was proud of our guys for trying to piece it together.”

To answer your next question, no, Rex Ryan did not blame the headset issue for why the Jets lost. He didn’t accuse the Steelers of foul play either. As for Tomlin’s reaction to all this? He obviously was unaware of it all.

When you’re getting outclassed by Rex Ryan, you’re losing.


The Patriots win at Heinz Field, and everyone is to blame but the coach:

“We realized that our margin for error was minimal. We left some red zone possessions out there offensively, we threw an interception when we were down there, we missed a field goal … you can’t do that against good people,” said Tomlin in his postgame press conference. “On the other side, we didn’t come off blocks or make enough tackles in the run game.”

Matt Dolloff, of CBS Boston, calls this out for what it is:

“None of that is necessarily wrong, but at no point did Tomlin say anything resembling, ‘I’ve got to coach better.’ That’s all he would have needed to say not to come off like he passed the buck to his players – especially Boswell, who missed a 54-yard field goal with just 9:05 left in the fourth quarter.”

In regards to that missed fourth quarter field goal, it was another mismanaged situation by Tomlin. Dolloff continues:

“The situation looked like a clear time to go for it on fourth down. The Steelers were running out of time and had struggled to stop the run for most of the game. You’d think one of their playmakers could pick up three yards. That didn’t feel like a daunting task compared to trying a long field goal in that spot.

But when asked about whether he even considered going for it on fourth down, Tomlin said, ‘I did not.’”

He didn’t even consider going for it on 4th and 3, with 9:05 left in the game, trailing the freaking Patriots 27-16. Roethlisberger missed the game with an injury. Landry Jones played quarterback that day. You’re not going to beat Tom Brady with your backup quarterback by attempting 54-yard field goals.

Trickle Down Affect

Players notice this shit. Everyone’s favorite “my receivers keep fucking up” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sure does. Roethlisberger loves calling into radio shows to publicly chide his receivers, since apparently he has “earned the right,” to do so. Sounds like a bad idea from an outsider’s perspective.

Maybe handle such issues internally? If you want Antonio Brown to run a flatter route, that’s fine. Talk to him about it and move on. Don’t call into a radio show to lament him. Or complain how a rookie isn’t good enough for the snaps he is getting. Or how your receiver isn’t tall enough because you air mailed a pass 10 feet over his head.

Keep in mind the route Ben is talking about. It’s the game losing interception he threw against Denver where he just tossed straight to a Bronco’s defensive lineman. I don’t care how flat Brown runs that route, it was a terrible pass that wasn’t getting completed.

While we’re on the “Roethlisberger blew it, this team always blows it,” track for a second, let’s rehash the 2017 loss in Pittsburgh to New England. Steelers punted leading 24-19, giving Brady 2:06 to go 73 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. Pittsburgh then sprang into their favorite defensive scheme; don’t-cover-Gronk-this-might-work-for-once.

It didn’t work. Brady threw three straight passes to Gronk for gains of 26 yards, 26 yards, and 17 yards. Next was an 8 yard Dion Lewis touchdown run, followed by a successful 2-point conversion caught by, you guessed it, Rob Gronkowski.

Leading 27-24 with 52 seconds remaining, the Patriots decided to just not tackle JuJu Smith-Schuster as he sprinted down the sideline for a 69 yard gain. Pittsburgh then took their final timeout with 34 seconds left and at the Patriots 10 yard line. All the Steelers had to do was not blow it and the game goes to overtime.

Don’t worry, they blew it. Big Ben threw a pass not close enough to the sidelines for Darrius Heyward-Bey to get out of bounds. Then, from the 7 yard line, with 9 seconds remaining and scrambling to the line, instead of spiking the ball to set up a field goal, Roethlisberger faked a spike and fired a pass across the middle into triple coverage. The pass was batted up in the air only to be intercepted by New England’s Duron Harmon.

I wonder if Ben complained after the game that intended target Eli Rogers doesn’t have a 90-inch vertical leap.


It seems rather insane that Brown thought he could get away throwing a football at a teammate. It’s rather par for the course in Pittsburgh though. Let’s check in with James Harrison on the topic, shall we?

“Mike Tomlin is good as a head coach. He’s a player’s coach. I think he needs to be a little bit more disciplined. Other than that, the big thing with Belichick, he’s very regimented, he’s disciplined. Everybody is going to be on the same page … Over there, their coaching staff is like that. … I ain’t never been to so many meetings in my life.”

“Harrison went on to talk about how all of the meetings in New England helped him pick up the defense in a short time fame, and how everybody shows up on time to meetings because they’re all afraid of being late, including Tom Brady. He also said Tomlin could be ‘more consistent across the board with everyone, from your stars to your special teams.’

A culture that lacks discipline where star players get special treatment. What could go wrong?!

A lot of infighting. That’s what could go wrong. Consider the Steelers’ players reaction when it became clear Le’Veon Bell was going to holdout this year.

Typically speaking when an athlete holds out for money, the response from his teammates is something along the lines of, “yea, it sucks not having him here, he’s a big part of what we do. But at the end of the day it’s a business, and we all understand that, and he needs to do what’s best for him and his family.”

The “he made us look stupid,” “he doesn’t give a damn,” “he makes all the money, we do all the work,” is rather, uh, unique to this situation.

Fun Fact

Mike Tomlin has not won a challenge in two years. He also refuses to hire a specialist for challenges because he won’t pay a guy to “make 1.2 decisions per week.”

Lack of Focus

If there was ever a polar opposite to “we’re onto Cincinnati” it’s Tomlin. Ahead of their showdown in 2017, Tomlin did an interview prior to a Sunday night game against the Packers. He couldn’t stop talking about the Patriots.

It’s not just that they were playing the Packers that week, but there were two more games prior to the matchup with New England as well. Those games were against the Bengals and Ravens. In other words, Tomlin was looking ahead of a game against Aaron Rodgers and two divisional matchups, just so he could think about and talk about the Patriots.

To everyone’s credit, Pittsburgh won all three games before Ben blew the England game in the final seconds. The aftermath was predictable, with every member of the Pittsburgh organization with a microphone in his face crowing about how if anyone handles their business, the Steelers will for sure exact revenge in Foxborough in an AFC title game rematch.

Except the Steelers never made the AFC title game. They let Blake Freakin Bortles walk into Heinz field and drop 45 points to eliminate them.

Maybe this is how the Steelers took a 7-2-1 start and managed to go 2-4 down the stretch and miss the playoffs. Two of the losses were against teams picking in the top ten, Oakland and Denver. Another was at home against the Chargers where the Steelers blew a 16 point half time lead. The team even had trouble putting away the 6-10 Bengals in week 17 to keep alive their slim chance of winning the division. Pittsburgh won 16-13, but it was a home game against Jeff Driskel with the playoffs on the line.

Do better.

Do better at head coach.

filed under: NFL

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