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Tomlin wants the Steelers to keep grinding

Mike Tomlin has been in tough situations as a coach in the NFL before. That's why he's not just hitting the panic button when it comes to the Steelers' current four-game losing streak.

That was his message to his team in the aftermath of a 38-3 loss last Sunday in Buffalo to the Bills that dropped the Steelers to 1-4 heading into this Sunday's game at Acrisure Stadium against the 3-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tomlin's message to his team was a simple one. It took a month for these losses to mount. They won't be fixed with a snap of the fingers.

"One thing that I want our team to know and stated to them is that we're not going to cure our ills in one or a couple of good days, or a good plan, or a good performance," Tomlin said Tuesday in his weekly press conference at the UPMC-Rooney Sports Complex. "The state that we're in, we're going to have to put our heads down and work diligently and stay together for an extended period of time as we grind our way back to respectability. 

"It's a mindset we need to have, understanding where we are. There are no quick fixes. It's not going to be based off one good performance or good plan. As we prepare and lean into this next opportunity, I think it's important that we say that. We keep working our tails off. We didn't dig ourselves into this circumstance in one day, so we're not going to dig ourselves out of this in one day or one performance."

But a good performance would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Unlike the Steelers' previous three losses in which each game was within one score late into the fourth quarter, that was not the case against the Bills, who ran out to a 31-3 lead.

Tomlin noted there were some positives in the game, such as the offensive line holding up well in pass protection in a game in which rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett was forced to throw the ball 52 times in his first career start, but there weren't many.

"Largely, we were a disaster in all three phases, and we have to own that, starting with myself," Tomlin said. "And I do. Equally as important, we've got to build a plan for moving forward."

What might that plan entail and who might be involved in formulating it has been a large point of speculation, particularly after Tomlin acknowledged that he would be open to making personnel or coaching changes if he felt they would help the Steelers change the outcome of a particular game.

He still feels that way.

"All things are on table after a performance like that. I wasn't just talking tongue-in-cheek. I mean it," Tomlin said. "When you're up against it, you've got to look at all components of what it is that you do – not for the sake of changing, but change for the better."

The Steelers are 30th in the league in scoring offense after posting just three points against the Bills, prompting some to question the play calling of second-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

But Tomlin feels the issues are beyond just the plays being called.

"We haven't done enough in situational play. We haven't done enough in terms of splash in situational play," he said. "We had the ball down in the red zone some. We didn't punch it in. We lost possession downs in those weighty moments. We moved the ball some in the open grass, but when it got thick, we weren't able to perform, so we've got some room to grow there."

To that point, the Steelers did post a season-high 364 yards against a Bills defense that entered the game as the league's No. 1 defense, not allowing any opponent more than 296 yards in a game. But the Steelers were 0-4 in the red zone and missed two field goals.

The way to correct those mistakes is not to make wholesale changes, but perhaps go a different direction according to Tomlin.

"It's man versus himself when we're in the state that we're in, you simplify. You don't make things complex," he said. "You ride with the concepts you can execute, regardless of circumstance. You highlight the players that can perform well in those circumstances and work to minimize the negative components of it. You put your head down and keep your mouth shut and work and wait for your next opportunity."

Still, he understands the questions regarding Canada's performance, though he gave him a vote of confidence.

"I'm confident, but confidence means very little," Tomlin said. "It's what's on tape. We understand that. That's just where I'm at right now. I'm not changing for the sake of changing. I'm changing if I feel like it produces a better-desired outcome in any area. We're looking at those things. We're open to those things, but not in an effort to quell the masses or anything of that nature."

The way to get out of this current doldrum is to keep working and getting better. With 12 games remaining, there is a lot of football remaining to be played.

The Steelers can't do anything about their 1-4 start. But they can do something about how they perform the rest of the way.

"It's about the development of players and concepts. That's what it's about," Tomlin said. "Our windshield is bigger than our rearview (mirror). We can waste a lot of time talking about things that have transpired. We've talked about this collection of young guys we have that are playing in some instances and can highlight what they do well and stimulate their growth and development and minimize what they don't do well. 

"Those are some of the things that have our attention as we sit here, formulating our plan for our next opportunity."

Laundry list: The Steelers are dealing with a laundry list of injuries, in particular in the secondary where the two starting corners and both safeties are dealing with injuries.

Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick has a knee injury. Safety Terrell Edmunds remains in the concussion protocol, although he is progressing. Cornerback Cam Sutton has a hamstring injury that is lingering from the Jets game and although he played against the Bills, he didn't finish the game. Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon is still dealing with a hamstring injury that forced him to miss two games, but is progressing and should practice this week. In addition, Cornerback Levi Wallace is in the concussion protocol following the Bills game.

And it doesn't stop there, with two starters on the defensive line hobbled. Nose tackle Montravius Adams has a hip injury, while defensive end Larry Ogunjobi is dealing with a back issue.

On offense, the team's top two tight ends are both injured as well. Pat Freiermuth is in the concussion protocol, while Zach Gentry is still dealing with a knee injury.

"Many of these will be management and we will let their participation be our guide in terms of availability," said Tomlin. "In situations such as the secondary, when there are several guys, we are going to have some backups that we are going to have an opportunity to get ready to play. We've got days to prepare. We're not going to seek comfort in that component of it. When you have an opportunity to put together a plan based on known circumstances, there are no excuses in our business at this level. I am excited about putting together a plan under those circumstances and utilizing the talents of the guys we have available. So, we roll our sleeves up and go to work.

"A lot of times we say in the National Football League there is not a lot of difference between a starter and a non-starter other than opportunity. Sometimes when attrition happens the way that attrition has happened with us, particularly with the secondary position of late, it provides opportunity for guys to make that real. Clichés are cool, but guys through their efforts and play making, they make clichés real. Things that we live by, such as the standard is the standard, has been made real by guys stepping up in similar adverse circumstances. With that in mind, we roll our sleeves up and get back to work this week."

Tomlin was asked if he will try to bring more pressure from the front end because of the injuries in the secondary, but with Ogunjobi and Adams both dealing with injuries, that is tough as well.

"We have some attrition in that space as well," said Tomlin. "We'll make decisions. And oftentimes, where we place pressure in terms of delivering plays are circumstantial. In some instances and run circumstances, you place pressure on the secondaries, you load the box. In other instances, in passing circumstances, you place the pressure on the front. I think that that's just a common component. There are multiple variables. All those conversations are always complex ones, ones that we're definitely willing to have, and appropriately so given the state of some of the availability. It's a coach's challenge. And it's something that I'm excited about generally."

One player Tomlin didn't mention at the top of his presser was return specialist Steven Sims. Sims had an eye injury pregame against the Bills that caused some blurriness. He wasn't able to go at the start of the game, but did play later when his vision cleared.

He is expected to be fine this week and will be the returner.

"We expect him to be healthy, and if healthy he is going to be our return man," said Tomlin.

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