Tomlin 'In Tune'; Big Ben Getting Better
It's the Game of the Year, Part III, when Pittsburgh visits Foxboro on Sunday afternoon. The Steelers are trying to stay within striking distance of a first-round bye in the playoffs, and New England is hoping to stop Pittsburgh from breaking another winning streak. Blitzburgh is here to discuss the game and give us a peek Behind the Steel Curtain. (I have to say, that's a great name for a blog.)
tommasse: I'm guessing you're satisfied with Mike Tomlin's freshman effort. How does he differ from Bill Cowher, and how will he approach Sunday's game differently?
Blitzburgh: Well, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what new head coach Mike Tomlin has meant to this team because he has allowed his coordinators to have free reigns over their respective units. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who is in his 49th consecutive season as either a player or coach in the NFL, was allowed to keep the 3-4 scheme that he has deployed since, well, forever. Tomlin, who is best known for his acumen on the defensive side of the ball, has resisted the temptation to overhaul things dramatically, and has instead deferred to the older, more experienced LeBeau. It is worth mentioning that the Steelers pass defense has improved dramatically since Tomlin arrived. After several years of mediocre play from the secondary, Tomlin, who got his first shot as a DB coach under Tony Dungy, has this group playing at an elite level.
Tomlin also does not call plays on offense, but instead allows Bruce Arians to call the shots. Tomlin no doubt is a players' coach that does a fantastic job relating to and motivating his team. At just 34 years of age, it's easy to understand why he's so in tune with what makes his athletes tick.
I do think, at least we Steelers fans are hoping, that Tomlin will approach this Sunday's game with a less cautious gameplan than what might have been expected from a Bill Cowher-coached Steelers team. In the past, if the Steelers were down by 10 or 14 points, you could just about kiss that game goodbye. Now, there's no panic when teams jump out to an early lead, as the squad knows that its more aggressive, multi-dimensional offensive attack is more than capable of putting up points in a hurry.
tommasse: Pittsburgh is 2-3 on the road with losses to Arizona (21-14 in Week 4), Denver (31-28 in Week 7) and the Jets (19-16 in Week 11). How confident are the team, the fans and you about a trip to Foxboro?
Read more from Blitzburgh after the break. Also, don't forget to check out my answers to Blitzburgh's questions at Behind the Steel Curtain.
Blitzburgh: Well, no doubt the Steelers are a different team away from Heinz Field where they're as good as anybody. I've been preaching all year however that this team has what it takes to win, no matter the circumstances. Two of our three road losses -- Denver and NYJ -- came after our opponents' Bye Week. Any fan of this league should know that when you give head coaches two weeks to prepare, they are far more likely to pull an upset. I don't think there are too many Anthony Smith's in our fanbase, but that being said, none of us believe that the Steelers are incapable of pulling off the upset if they play their best football.
tommasse: The early weather forecast says it will be cold and cloudy but dry, and they'll be playing on FieldTurf. How will that affect Pittsburgh after playing back-to-back weeks in terrible weather on a horrible field?
Blitzburgh: There's been some minor disagreement about this on my site. Most of us are eager to see the Steelers play on a track that doesn't dictate the game, but I tend to believe that the Steelers would be better off playing the Pats on a sloppy field. I don't think there's a better warm-weather offense in the history of the league than this year's Patriots unit. Even though it's no longer warm, I still think the Pats are going to be hard to stop if either wind, rain, snow, or some other element is not affecting the timing and precision of Brady's passing game.
tommasse: Ben Roethlisberger is having his best season ever. Is this just natural progression? Is it Tomlin's system? Has something else changed?
Blitzburgh: Part of it is most certainly natural progression. People tend to forget he's still only 25 years old. And then of course there's the slew of setbacks he experienced last year, starting with the motorcycle accident. Then, just as he was recovering, he had an emergency appendectomy. Then, as he was slowly rounding into form, he experienced a concussion, and in my opinion, was rushed back too soon by coach Cowher and his staff.
Ben has been given more input on game-planning and play-calling at the line of scrimmage under Bruce Arians and QB coach Ken Anderson. Roethlisberger still needs to learn to throw it away when nothing is there, but Steelers fans could not be more pleased with his play this year. If not for that guy named Brady, Big Ben would have to be considered as the QB playing the best football in the AFC.
tommasse: What do you think of the "blueprint" concept, and will Pittsburgh follow any part(s) of it, offensively or defensively?
Blitzburgh: Well, I think the strategy of getting after the opposing QB and taking advantage of mismatches in the middle of the field is a "blueprint" that would work against every NFL team, not just the Patriots. I don't tend to buy that kind of stuff, as each week presents a new challenge and new opportunity to confuse your opponent and dictate how the game will be played.
I do think that you'll see Dick LeBeau dial up a bunch of blitzes, but I also wouldn't be surprised to see the Steelers drop back in Cover 2 and Cover 3 at various junctures as well. Hard to say what to expect from our offense, as we really haven't played a complete game in nearly a month. The running game has been inconsistent at best, and although I think we can put up a decent number on the Pats defense through the air, our chances certainly go up exponentially if our struggling offensive line is able to create some running lanes for Willie Parker. These are two dynamic teams that can win in a number of ways, so I don't think any of us can for sure say how exactly this one will play out.
tommasse: Many thanks to Blitzburgh for taking the time to provide us with some insight you don't get through the mainstream.
Remember to check out my answers at Behind the Steel Curtain.