For Steelers, Adaptability is Mandatory, Distraction is Unacceptable
Mike Tomlin's squad faces a different team this week, but the same opponent.
The challenge Sunday is very similar to the one that confronted the Steelers last Sunday, but this time Mike Tomlin is attacking it from a different angle.
Just as there are different schematic approaches for different opponents, there are different ways to grab and retain a team’s individual and collective attention in preparation. The best of coaches and coaching staffs pick and choose as necessary.
And before we get too far along into this week’s thesis, yes, this is a second consecutive column about Tomlin in celebration of the Sports Section’s triumphant return.
Maybe next week we’ll get around to talking about Ben Roethlisberger, or Chase Claypool, or T.J. Watt.
But for now, it continues to be all about the coach who has orchestrated 9-0.
Last Sunday the idea was for the Steelers not to take their foot off the gas against two-win Cincinnati. Having to adhere to the NFL’s intensive COVID-19 protocols, while complicated and atypical even in a season beyond anyone’s experience, provided the perfect point of emphasis to the players beyond the perceived threat level presented by the Bengals.
The quarterback can’t practice? Win, anyway.
The meetings are virtual and impersonal? The job must still get done.
You can’t afford to take anyone or any team lightly because the old normal no longer applies.
Adaptability is mandatory, distraction is unacceptable.
It was a 2020 variation on Chuck Noll’s classic “whatever it takes” mantra.
And it worked.
This week, as the Steelers prepare for one-win Jacksonville, Tomlin has taken to coaching against COVID by coaching his coaches.
The objective, as it was a week ago, is to handle anything the pandemic throws at the Steelers and perform to the established standard. But Tomlin made it clear on Tuesday that it’ll be up to the assistants more than the players to pick up their games, particularly as it relates to virtual instruction.
“It’s easier to be wired in and engaged in conversation when there is close proximity,” Tomlin explained. “You can feel body clues as someone who teaches and instructs. It gives you an indication of whether you need to move on or repeat on a particular subject. I think just as teachers, and that’s what we are as coaches, you need that feedback, you need that feel. It’s challenging and difficult doing it via Zoom and things of that nature.
“Again, I’m not complaining. I’m just acknowledging and I’m really trying to set a mentality for the week for us as a staff that we can get better in that area. I’m working hard not to be resistant to it. Our coaches are doing the same but some of us are dinosaurs. We give ground grudgingly if you will, but more than anything we are gaining experience with it.”
Setting a mentality for the staff isn’t something I can recall Tomlin emphasizing previously during a game week, especially publicly.
But a more motivated, a more focused and a more engaged coaching staff has a better chance, in theory, to instill the same characteristics in the players, position group by position group.
If even the most set-in-their ways and the most unfamiliar with the new technology and the new methods of communication among Tomlin’s staffers can adapt – including himself among the “dinosaurs” put the same onus on Tomlin as his coaches – it’s much more likely the players will, in turn, understand and absorb what needs to be heard.
And if that happens the Steelers should avoid slipping on a banana peel in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars may be 1-8 and they may have lost 29 of their last 41 games, but they had enough of an attitude and enough of a commitment to physicality to keep things interesting inside the two-minute warning last Sunday in Green Bay in what turned out to be a four-point loss to the Packers.
This isn’t a just-show-up-and-collect-the-W proposition for the Steelers.
Just as it wasn’t last Sunday against Cincinnati.
Just as it seemingly never has been against Jacksonville.
So Tomlin is leaving no motivational stone unturned.
That’s the path that can best get the Steelers to 10-0.
It’s also a big reason why they’ll have an opportunity to get there in the first place.