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Thread: Tomlin's proactive approach quickly puts Steelers back on track

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    Default Tomlin's proactive approach quickly puts Steelers back on track

    Tomlin's proactive approach quickly puts Steelers back on track

    By Jason La Canfora
    NFL Network Insider
    Published: Nov. 23, 2010 at 08:20 p.m. Updated: Nov. 24, 2010 at 06:02 p.m.

    Mike Tomlin sent a message to his team last week and the Steelers responded by blowing out the Raiders.

    In a week in which a second NFL coach was fired for his team's failings, Mike Tomlin quietly showed once again why he might be one of the best young coaches in the history of the game.

    Tomlin smoothly navigated the Pittsburgh Steelers through what could have been a troublesome week with a series of bold decisions, displaying a keen sense for the pulse of his locker room, something often lacking in other organizations this season. Coming off a dispiriting performance against New England at home in Week 10, Tomlin faced the challenge of quickly redirecting the energy of his ballclub, with a bit of panic setting in around Pittsburgh that this group might fade in the second half. Instead, Tomlin's moves -- jettisoning a high-profile kicker; juggling his offensive line; marshaling his players through more tough practices; restoring an emphasis on the run game and physical football -- culminated in a thrashing of the Raiders on Sunday that catapulted the Steelers back into the Super Bowl conversation.

    "We all knew how big this game was for us," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said after the 35-3 victory. "We had to get back to playing our kind of football."

    Linebacker LaMarr Woodley said: "Coach was saying it was time to get back to playing Steeler football. He kind of laid down to us that it was time to get back to playing physical football."

    A loss to Oakland, or even a lackluster performance in a victory, would have been a setback. Early in the week Tomlin stressed the need to play Steeler football, to display more urgency on defense and adopt a more direct approach on offense. He drove the point home by putting the team in pads Wednesday, a rarity for teams as accomplished as this bunch.

    "It was different for us, and there was more contact," Woodley said, "but at the same time it was still under control. It was smart."
    Tomlin's message carried through the week.

    "Coming off that New England game, we kind of went out there and embarrassed ourselves," Woodley said. "On defense, we couldn't stop them; on the first series they marched the ball on us and they put up all kinds of points on us and controlled the game and ran the ball on us.

    "We couldn't stop them and this is the road to the Super Bowl and then the next week we're playing a good team like the Raiders that beat us last year and kept us out of the playoffs. We had something to prove. We had to go back out and get our respect back after New England dominated us."

    Tomlin, 38, often appears to be very much like his players. He's close in age, dealing with similar life experiences. He walks and talks like them. But he's also clearly a leader of men, and has shown an ability to deliver a stern hand when necessary. And unlike a year ago, when his vow to "unleash hell" in December fell hallow, Tomlin's actions last week did more than those words ever could.

    Kicker Jeff Reed, despite his immature off-field foibles and dip in productivity this season, was well regarded within that locker room based on his prior big kicks. He had kicked on championship teams. The conditions at Heinz Field are among the most rugged in the league, and, up until this year, Reed had handled them with aplomb. So, even despite his untimely remarks about fans following the loss to the Patriots, cutting the veteran the next day certainly read like a statement to the entire team.

    "A lot of us were surprised by that," Woodley said. "I definitely was surprised he got let go."

    Tomlin also took a proactive approach to the offensive mindset. Trai Essex, when healthy, had been a regular starter the past two seasons. But Tomlin benched him for the Oakland game, with second-year reserve Ramon Foster getting that spot at guard. The Steelers ended up run blocking better than they had in weeks, particularly to the right side, and, whereas the Patriots were assaulting Roethlisberger all night, the Raiders' big defensive line didn't sustain much pressure until deep in the game.

    The will to run the ball was also there, another factor born of the more physical practices. The Steelers' first scoring drive -- while trailing, 3-0 -- was a testament to that. This was quintessential Pittsburgh football -- 14 plays, 85 yards, 8:06 time of possession. Six of the final eight plays were rushes by Rashard Mendenhall, including the touchdown, and the Raiders never quite recovered.

    The Steelers regained their swagger as the game went on. Things turned chippy early, with Chris Kemoeatu going at it with Richard Seymour and then Seymour ultimately getting ejected and fined $25,000 for punching Roethlisberger in the head after a play. So it was no surprise that Roethlisberger continued to look for Mike Wallace deep downfield even with the game out of hand, and Tomlin opted to play many key veterans very late into the blowout.

    There was plenty Tomlin still wanted to get on film for the rest of the league to see. Pittsburgh football is never without a hint of intimidation, and this was no time to show mercy to an inferior opponent. Raiders quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski could never get comfortable, and the beating spanned all spheres, from the mental to the physical to the emotional.

    But having already lost to the Ravens (on a last-second drive) and Patriots at home, Tomlin and the Steelers know that only so much can be proven in November. A Week 13 trip to Baltimore looms with the AFC North on the line. However, with a meeting against the offensively potent Bills next, you can guarantee Tomlin is railing against any signs of complacency.

    I have the suspicion that when that Ravens game does come near, his Steelers will be ready to play.
    Last edited by Skeeter; Nov-24-2010 at 11:01 PM.

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