Tomlin Vows to Shake Up the Starting Line Up

Reading the Post-Gazette headline “Tomlin may bench some starters against Cleveland,” brought memories rushing back, back 10 years exactly, to the dark days of the 1999 late season meltdown. Let’s take a quick trip back down memory lane…

The Steelers had just gotten upset at home by the expansion Browns, and they were playing in Tennessee. Steve McNair was throwing deep downfield to Chris Samuels. Travis Davis and Scott Shields had him covered, one to the inside and the other to the outside. Both men had perfect position to either take a shot at the ball, or to level a devastating hit.

Instead, both men sort of froze,* and Samuels caught the ball and went 46 yards for a touchdown.

When asked about the play later in the week, Bill Cowher admonished his players, assuring the assembled media that such mediocre play would not be tolerated, nor repeated.

The words sounded hollow at the time, as the latent yet nonetheless apparent question was “Who are you going to replace them with?” Indeed, the starting line up did not change, and less than three weeks later Quardy Ismail lit the Steelers up for 258 yards receiving – empty words indeed.

Lineup Changes Coming in Cleveland

The obvious question for Mike Tomlin is the same. If he wants to sit someone, who is he going to replace him with? About the only back up who has really distinguished himself, outside of the defensive line, is Keyron Fox.

Speaking on Post-Gazette TV, Ed Bouchette outlined a few possible changes.

  • Joe Burnett in for William Gay – Gay is injured so this is almost certain to take place
  • Ziggy Hood to start at defensive end – Hood has looked good thus far
  • Keyron Fox in for Lawrence Timmons – Timmons, has not been bad, just inconsistent
  • Ramon Foster in for Trai Essex – The Steelers rushing attack put up good numbers against Oakland, but those numbers are far, far less impressive after you take out the 60 run
  • Ryan Mundy in for either Tyronne Carter or Ryan Clark – Neither safety has played well lately, but would Mundy be an improvement?

Of course the other change that Tomlin hinted at would be Ike Taylor sitting the pine while Keenan Lewis gets some time. It is funny. Only a short while back, people were saying that interceptions were all that separated Taylor from the status of an elite cornerback.

Nonetheless Taylor’s play has slipped, but so has the play of the entire secondary. Taylor is still their best available player there, and he should continue to start.

Mike Tomlin Speaks

The effect of whatever changes Tomlin makes will remain unknown for another 48 hours, but the way he discussed them in his press conference was interesting:

I think it’s appropriate at this point that we acknowledge that we have an undesirable pattern kind of behavior…. Moving forward this week and beyond, we can’t continue to do what we’ve been doing and assume that that pattern behavior’s going to change and those outcomes are going to change, so… [we] are going to be aggressive in terms of looking at potential changes. Not only what we do schematically but who we have do it. [Emphasis added.]

Ok, Mike Tomlin is a little more cerebral than most NFL head coaches, but all in all its pretty much head coach boiler plate stuff for, heads are rolling.

A few questions down the transcript, he got more intriguing:

You have to acknowledge the potential that this can be kind of a shaken group. We’ve swallowed a lot here of late…. I’m going to be looking very closely at these men. It’s going to provide quality information for me, in terms of who, legitimately, is mentally tough and who can stand the test of adversity, because we have some. And who’s going to lead the charge, more than anything, in terms of getting us out of this and winning the football game. I’m going to be very interested to see who those people are, and who those people aren’t. [Emphasis added.]

Take notes, Daniel Snyder. This is why it is important that the men in the locker room know that the owners have the head coach’s back.

Tomlin probably already has an idea of who is starting to buckle and, without mentioning anyone’s name, he is clearly calling them out. He is sending his team a very clear signal – I am going to be here for the long term, if you want to join me, step it up. Now.

At the very least (in as much as one can gleam “tone” from a transcript), Mike Tomlin’s words did not have the hollow ring that Cowher’s did ten years ago.

Let’s hope they produce a better result on the field.


There’s a lot of analysis floating around, attempting to diagnose what ails the Steelers.

Bob Smizik suggested that perhaps Dick LeBeau has put too much faith into his players. LeBeau certainly did not forget how to coach defense, but Smizik poses a question that few others are asking. He suggests that the answer is for Tomlin take a more active role in the defensive game planning.

Blitzburgh of Behind the Steel Curtain wrote a very expansive article on after the Steelers loss to the Raiders. As always, he made a lot of great points, but he gave his readers a really long look at how Troy Polamalu’s absence is affecting the rest of the secondary.

Finally, Scott Brown of the Tribune Review hails Tomlin’s decision to start more rookies, and suggests that the Steelers be more open to playing rookies. Not a bad idea on the surface, but he misses the point when he contends that Kevin Colbert and company draft players with the idea that they’ll be productive in 2-3 years.

Well, that may be true, but if it is some of it is a function of the fact that the Steelers have regularly picked late in each round because they’ve played so well. One would figure, however, that the Steelers will have better than normal draft positioning in 2010….

*Someone help me here, as my memory is not clear. I can’t remember if both men froze, or if it was one of those uncanny plays where both Steelers bobbled an interception, but Samuels came down with the ball and made the TD.

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