Plenty of predictions have been written for this week’s game with the Atlanta Falcons—how Dennis Dixon is going to fare, what the Steelers' record is going to be when Ben Roethlisberger rejoins the team after his four game suspension.
Beyond those topics there is still a lot of other fodder here in the barnyard for us Steelers fans. Will Troy Polamalu return to his 2008 performance? Will Flozell Adams be able to pass block anyone? How will the offensive line play?
All of these questions are great, and I hate to use a cliché, but that is why you play the games. There are going to be good things that will happen, surprising performances, bad plays, and most will come out of the blue. My key to the season, and in particular the first four games, is the coaching job that Mike Tomlin does with this team.
I don’t care what anyone says, and I won’t be convinced otherwise: Mike Tomlin lost this team in the second half of last year.
Let’s step back into the time machine. At week 12 of the 2009 season the Steelers were 6-5 having just suffered their third straight loss (in overtime) at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens with Dennis Dixon at quarterback. Right after that game, Mike Tomlin tells the world that the Steelers were going to “unleash hell” during the month of December.
How did that work out?
The Steelers immediately dropped a 27-24 game to the Oakland Raiders, and in the process made Bruce Gradkowski look like the second coming of Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf.
It could not have gotten any worse, right?
But the next week the Steelers lost 13-6 to the Cleveland Browns of all teams. In total, five straight to the loss column moving their record on the season from 6-2 to 6-7. How bad was it? Hines Ward was going after Ben Roethlisberger’s toughness with the media. Jerome Bettis was calling his former teammates “done.” Tons of stories circulating about locker room dissension.
My personal theory was that at this point, the veterans on the team stepped in and righted the ship amongst themselves. The Steelers won their final three games of the season and narrowly missed the playoffs.
Here we are now and I believe that the Steelers have to split their first four games to be 2-2 when Roethlisberger returns. The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals are just too good this year to be any further back. To do this Mike Tomlin is going to have to do the coaching job of his life. Here are the four things that need to happen:
- Tomlin must be the picture of calm confidence even if it means toning it down with his remarks to the media. What is being said to the team needs to stay in the locker room.
- He has to get more involved with the offensive game planning. Bruce Arians cannot be trusted to do anything other than what he wants to with what he refers to as “his” offense. This means running the ball.
- Be prepared for the second guessing that is going to come if Dennis Dixon can’t get it done. It will be everything from having made the wrong decisions going into camp over the competition for the job, giving Roethlisberger too many repetitions, showing no confidence in Dixon as a starter, etc.
- Don’t be afraid to admit a mistake and put Charlie Batch in the starting job if the offense is not scoring with Dixon at the helm. Sometimes pride can be a bear, but you can’t lose site of the big prize over your ego. If there is a problem with the offense this change needs to happen by halftime of the second game against the Tennessee Titans.
Hopefully none of this will come to pass, all will be well in the Steel City come October, and we can consider this unbroken glass on the big red box.