During his press conference on Sunday after the loss to the New York Jets, Mike Tomlin let an important piece of information slip. He all but admitted still being the primary play caller on this defense. https://youtu.be/XfReRvSX2Bc
This does not come as a shock to anyone who pays close attention to this team. What it does point out is that Mike Tomlin needs to fire himself as defensive coordinator, and let someone else take charge of this defense.
We first got confirmation that Tomlin was in complete control of the defense back when Keith Butler announced his retirement. Butler was quoted as saying that Tomlin called the majority of the plays on defense as far back as the end of the Dick Lebeau era. Since that time, the defense has never looked the same. Look no further than the last three Steelers playoff performances as evidence. Pittsburgh has averaged a whopping 45 points per game given up in those games. It has been a decade since this franchise has been able to consistently stop the run as well. All these defensive failings have one common thread, Mike Tomlin being in charge.
The Tomlin supporters will point to the great defensive performance in 2019. That defense was unquestionably one of the best in the league that year. Dig deeper, and you will see that unit had a Pro-Bowl caliber player at nearly every position. The Steelers had a front three of Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Javon Hargrave. They got a prime year out of Bud Dupree, and of course TJ Watt as a pair of elite pass rushers. Probably the best part of corners this team has had in a decade in Joe Haden and Steven Nelson. Not to mention an elite slot corner in Mike Hilton. And finally they added what would become the best safety in football in Minkah Fitzpatrick three games into the season.
If anything, Kevin Colbert should be given credit for assembling a can’t miss group of players in 2019. No one could have screwed up this unit.
Getting Tomlin to relinquish control will be no easy task. The reality is the only way to get Tomlin to back away from such a significant part of the defensive play calling is to hire a coordinator with a considerable pedigree. A personality that will not accept intrusive involvement from the head coach.
Brian Flores could be that guy. He of course was a very successful defensive coordinator under the tutelage of Bill Belichick, and also a pretty successful head coach as well. Unfortunately he probably has his eyes on another head coaching job for the 2023 season. Vic Fangio, the former Denver Broncos head coach, is another good example of what this team needs as a defensive coordinator.
Fast forward to 2022, and we are seeing the same type of defensive struggles costing this team games. It is time for a complete fundamental change in how this team approaches defense. The only way to achieve this kind of change is to have Art Rooney III step in and forces Tomlin’s hand. There is no one else in this organization with the clout to make this happen. At this point we question whether or not Rooney has what it takes to make such a move. Until he does, nothing will change for this Steelers defense.