Mike Tomlin’s Elusive 2010 Challenge

At 38, Mike Tomlin has accomplished more than most NFL coaches achieve in a life time. Beginning their 78th, season the Pittsburgh Steelers have one more Lombardi Trophies than any other team in NFL history.

Tomlin, for all of the accolades that accompany his sterling track record, nonetheless leads the Steelers into their opener against Atlanta with one (ok, two) open questions about his coaching acumen. Similarly, the Steelers, in spite of serving as the NFL’s model of stability, commence this campaign after having weathered one of the worst off seasons in franchise history.

Ironically, the wake created by the off season turmoil may obscure Mike Tomlin’s chance to fill the pending hole in his coaching repertoire.

And the ultimate irony might be that this just might be the best thing that could happen for Steelers Nation.

252 Tumultuous Days

The 252 days that have passed between the Steelers ’09 finale against Miami and the ’10 opener against Atlanta have not treated the Pittsburgh Steelers well. You know the litany.

Off season indiscretions and ill fortune have robbed the Steelers of the services of Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes, Willie Colon and, although less dramatic of a loss, Limas Sweed.

And just some stability seemed to be setting in, Byron Leftwich sprained his MCL.

The State of the Steelers

In many ways, the Steelers begin the 2010 season as a study in contrasts.

  • They have the best depth at quarterback in the NFL, but no one player is without weakness.
  • One of the Steelers 2010 goals is to run the ball better, yet they begin the season with the smallest stable of running backs in recent memory
  • The Steelers have one of the oldest teams in NFL, yet 12 players on the active roster hail from the 2010 and 2009 drafts

Each point raised above represents both promise and peril for the Steelers in 2010, and that in-and-of-itself, might be a good thing.

The Hole in Tomlin’s Game

Mike Tomlin has exceeded everyone’s expectations in just three years as Steelers head coach. His accomplishments need not be reviewed again.

One thing, that does bear rehashing, is the one, indisputable, coaching weakness.

That weakness was on display as a rookie head coach in games against Arizona, Denver, New York, and Miami.

Last year it was apparent for all the word to see against Chicago, Kansas City, Oakland, and Cleveland.

The common thread in each of those games?

The Steelers played down to the level of competition.

Notice, no games from 2008 serve as examples, because this did not occur to the Steelers in 2008. They played the NFL’s toughest schedule, and were ravaged by injuries during critical junctures of the season.

Yet the Steelers did not blink, to Tomlin’s credit.

The Steelers begin their 2010 season without their All Star quarterback, with no proven depth at running back, and with a defensive line that continues to age, save for the arrival of Ziggy Hood.

They have little margin for error or injury.

And that might be just what they need.

In 2007 and 2009 Mike Tomlin had difficulty keeping his players focused on the proverbial “Eye of the Tiger.” Bill Cowher had similar difficulties early in his tenure, and in time Tomlin will learn too.

But that probably will not happen in 2010, because extenuating circumstances will likely obviate that need.

Instead, Tomlin must prepare his team to play with their backs to the wall from the outset – a situation in which both he and they have excelled at before.

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