PITTSBURGH — The Steelres coaches expected their team to come out and look like they did all summer and the preseason. But that never happened. Both coordinators, Matt Canada and Teryl Austin, were both shocked by what happened on Sunday. No one in the building saw the complete dismantling of the Steelers coming. Yet, it did. But what caused it? To quote both coordinators:
“I don’t know.”
That’s not the answer any Steelers fans want to hear. But it’s the truth. It’s not that the team doesn’t have the answers on tape. The defensive line got blown off the ball, the linebackers were all over the place, and the secondary did not communicate. Offensively, the quarterback had his worst day as a pro, the offensive line took a massive step back in every way, and the special teams even took a nosedive at times.
All of that is discernible, but why did the team come out like that in the first place? Why did the entire chain of command, from the top down, collapse within itself? That’s a question the Steelers must answer to ensure it does not happen again this season, but it becomes a lot tougher when Diontae Johnson and Cam Heyward miss extended periods.
There is one man who seems to have the answers to why it did happen. It goes to the top, and Mike Tomlin thinks it is a systemic failure. From the start to the end of the week to the division of labor and more, Tomlin places the blame as much on the players as he does on the coaching staff. At this point, all the Steelers can do is look back on the game and be highly concerned by what transpired, but the process to get there is heavily scrutinized, too. Tomlin noted just that on Tuesday.
“On a Monday, win or lose, man we’re always trying to assess what happened and why. Review our processes and our planning, how we divide the labor up, etc,” Tomlin said. “And then plot a course in an effort to move forward. And so, win or lose, that’s the focus. Obviously, based on the last performance we had a lot of work to do yesterday. First, just assessing what happened and why. And then secondarily, man, analyzing the planning component of it, how we allocated our time from a prepared standpoint, what we ask people to do, their level of skill and ability relative to that. And so, I’m just giving you an outline, kind of what I’m talking about when I’m talking about when you perform like that, it’s all of us, its planning, it’s coaching, it’s playing. We’re all in this thing together, man that’s just this game at this level.”
There’s probably some Week 1 weirdness in all of that madness. Look at the quarterback play across the league, but few teams had as much of a systematic deconstruction as the Steelers did in Week 1. It reached the point where the entire slate needed to be wiped clean. Consider this Week 2 game against Cleveland, no matter how much harder it will be without Johnson and Heyward, as the start of a new era. The Steelers can’t afford to do anything else.
The 49ers were the more talented team. But there is a difference between a team being more talented and a complete mishandling from your side, allowing that side to exploit that talent difference at an even higher level. The latter is what happened to Pittsburgh. They probably should have lost that game by looking at it on paper. But should they have been dominated up and down the field all afternoon?
No, and that is where the concern lies from Pittsburgh’s loss. Tomlin has the right approach to all of this. While there will be no knee-jerk reactions, sensible change within the team’s game plan and what they expect to do moving forward needs to happen. It starts in Week 2. It’s no longer just a fluke if they come out flat again. Then, it becomes a pattern.