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5 for Friday: Tomlin shows his value in close games

Winning is the bottom line when it comes to coaching.

And winning close games is something that helps separate the good coaches from the great ones.

Given the analytics involved, all NFL coaches should have a record right around .500 when it comes to winning one-score games, which is defined by a game decided by eight points or less.

There are people who scoff at Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's run of 17 seasons without a losing record to begin his career. The people who do that don't understand how difficult and rare that truly is.

But what's even more impressive is Tomlin's record in one-score games.

Since 1970, only four head coaches who have coached at least 100 games have more than Tomlin's 98 wins in one-score games. And those coaches – Bill Belichick (120 wins), Andy Reid (110), Don Shula (106) and Dan Reeves (105) – all have coached far longer than Tomlin.

Even more impressive is Tomlin's career winning percentage in one-score games. Tomlin has compiled a 98-61-2 record in one-score games, a winning percentage of .615 that is the highest in the NFL, tied with Tony Dungy for that honor.

Just behind him are Shula (.612), Marty Schottenheimer (.597) and Bud Grant (.596).

Tomlin's record in one-score games is even more impressive when things are broken down since the 2007 season.

His 98 wins in one-score games in that time are 20 more than Reid, 27 more than John Harbaugh and 29 more than Belichick.

And lest anyone think those other coaches haven't had as many opportunities, that's not the case. For example, since 2007, Belichick is 69-50 in one-score games, a .580 winning percentage, while Reid is 78-67-1, a winning percentage of .538.

Knowing how to win one-score games is an art. The Steelers, for example, went 9-2 in one-score games in 2023. The Ravens, as another example, went 4-4 in one-score games last season.

Analytics say that having a 9-2 record in one-score games in one season means that a team will slip back towards the norm the following season.

But Tomlin is an outlier when it comes to winning games in that fashion. It's the same reason the Steelers have 15 wins since 2000 in games in which they entered the fourth quarter trailing, five more than the next closest team, the Chiefs.

Knowing how to finish and win close games is an art. And Tomlin is a grand master of knowing how to win such games.

• The start of training camp is still a few weeks away for the Steelers. And it will basically be another week after camp opens on July 24 before players put on the pads and start to ramp up the physicality.

But there's a definite buzz starting to be created about the offensive line the Steelers have assembled.

As mentioned in this space last week, this is the time of year for lists, as everyone is struggling to come up with interesting content.

Multiple outlets have their rankings of different units across the league, and the Steelers' offensive line is getting plenty of love.

Just this week, Pro Football Focus ranked that unit as the ninth-best group in the NFL.

The site's reasoning? "The Steelers spent back-to-back first-round picks on offensive tackles, and then selected center Zach Frazier in the second round of this year's draft. Those investments should pay off soon, and the team already got solid play from its guards in 2023."

Thing is, neither 2024 first-round pick Troy Fautanu nor Frazier took many, if any, snaps with the first-team unit during OTAs or minicamp. Both are going to have to earn their spots.

And that will begin in earnest once the pads go on at Saint Vincent College.

• Training camp is an area where Tomlin is at his best. He's in his element.

Watching the Steelers head coach work the field during training camp practices is like watching an award-winning conductor get the most out of his orchestra.

Tomlin moves from unit to unit during individual drills. He'll jump in and coax a little more out of each position group. He's on top of everything that's going on.

The real fun, however, starts when the competition periods begin. Tomlin knows just what buttons to push to get his players to go through those portions of practice at game speed, challenging both sides of the ball to get the most out of them.

• The 33rd Team web site has been ranking the top-10 players at each position in NFL history. It's a heck of an undertaking, especially when comparing players from previous eras to more recent ones.

Most have been fine, but there was a glaring omission from the top-10 cornerback list compiled by Marcus Mosher that boggles the mind.

Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson topped the all-time cornerback rankings. Few would argue that those two weren't dynamic players.

Missing from the list altogether, however, was Mel Blount.

No offense to anyone else who made Mosher's list, but to not include Blount on a list of the top-10 greatest corners to play the game is borderline criminal.

Not only was Blount the first cornerback to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award, which he accomplished in 1975, he's one of just six cornerbacks to win the award.

Four of the other five cornerbacks who have won NFL Defensive Player of the Year, including Sanders and Woodson, made Mosher's list.

The only other NFL DPOY winner than Blount who did not make Mosher's list was Lester Hayes. Even the most ardent Raiders fan would not argue that Hayes is as good as Blount.

Then there is this: Pro Football Reference's Pro Football Hall of Fame Monitor scores Blount at 110.18 points. That would put him 6th on the all-time list among all cornerbacks to have played in the NFL.

Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

And oh, by the way, Blount forced a change in the rules to the game because he was so dominant at not allowing wide receivers off the line of scrimmage.

Blount also is 11th on the NFL's all-time interception list with 57.

He should have been on Mosher's list somewhere, if not in the top 5.

• One of the criticisms thrown at Tomlin is that he is terrible at challenges.

That argument doesn't actually hold much water.

In his career, Tomlin has thrown the challenge flag 93 times. He's won his challenge on 40 occasions, losing 53 times.

That gives Tomlin a 43 percent success rate on challenges.

There was a good stretch of time in the NFL during the Al Riveron era where coaches just didn't win their challenges. In the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Tomlin went 0-for-9 on challenges that were decided by Riveron.

Take those out of the equation, and Tomlin is nearly 50-50 on his challenges. Last season, he successfully challenged four plays and had three challenges upheld.

Tomlin's overall record on challenges is actually better than two coaches with which he is often compared, Belichick and Harbaugh.

Belichick's career winning percentage on challenges is just .405 (53-78). Harbaugh, meanwhile, is at .425 (54-73) after going 0-for-3 on replay reviews in 2023.