The Steelers began with an 11-game winning streak, but in light of a three-game losing streak that reached a low on Monday night with a loss to the 2-11-1 Bengals when they had a chance to clinch the AFC North Division title, there is the perception they are circling the drain on a once promising season.
During his weekly news conference on Tuesday from the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Coach Mike Tomlin went about trying to calm the waters while also setting a tone for the upcoming week that will be capped by a 1 p.m. game on Sunday against the 10-4 Indianapolis Colts.
"We believe in our formula of preparation. We simply have to do it better," said Tomlin. "Week in and week out, we get singularly focused on the people at our disposal in the formulation of the plan, to highlight their talents and minimize their collective weaknesses. Then the guys work it, and then we go into a stadium and perform. We haven't been doing those things, and when I say us I mean all of us, we haven't been doing those things well enough. We understand that, but there won't be sweeping changes in terms of our approach to what it is we do. We just have to simply do it better. We have to have more thoughtful and creative ideas. We have to have better performances."
Former Oilers and Falcons coach Jerry Glanville was known for saying, "This is the N-F-L. That stands for not-for-long." But Tomlin sent a message that he will stay the course in the face of this losing streak instead of enacting wholesale sweeping changes.
"I'm still extremely confident in that formula, in the men we work with," said Tomlin. "But confidence is one thing, doing it is another. And so we'll shut our mouths and go to work and wait for our next opportunity, and we have a good one this week in the form of the Indianapolis Colts."
One of the items Tomlin highlighted in his appraisal of the team's recent performances were the slow starts by the offense. In the Steelers' 14 games this season, they have scored four offensive touchdowns in the opening 15 minutes. Five times they have been shut out in the first quarter, and two times their only first-quarter score was a field goal.
Tomlin was asked whether the procedure of giving Ben Roethlisberger Wednesdays off from on-field work during the season could be negatively impacting the offense's ability to score touchdowns early in games.
"We've taken this practice approach with (Ben) for a number of years now in terms of the long-term preservation of his physical skills particularly over the course of a season, so that is nothing new for us," said Tomlin. "One man's misfortune or lack of use is another man's opportunity. Those are great opportunities for growth and development in guys like Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs. That's always been our approach. The train does not stop whether or not (Ben) is participating in practice. It doesn't change the trajectory of our practice or the focus, particularly on a Wednesday as we lay some of the foundational things of our week's plan. He's got a 17-year body of work that he can call upon in this system that makes some of that stuff a more fluid endeavor.
"We believe we're providing what's best for all parties involved with that approach, but I'm not opposed to changing it if the circumstances dictate it. Like I mentioned, we'll always have a hardcore plan but I think it's important that we're open to altering that plan based on current circumstances if needed."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"We may have a few guys working their way back from injury. James Conner, Kevin Dotson, and Vince Williams is in the ramp-up procedure as it relates to COVID, so we're excited about potentially having all three of those guys at our disposal and utilizing their talents to build a winning formula. But for us, it's just about what I mentioned. It's about not seeking comfort, it's about every man looking in the mirror and being himself but being his best self, and us putting together a good collective week of work together that culminates in the type of performance we desire." Tomlin also said he had no information yet on the statis of Derek Watt's concussion or Eric Ebron's back injury. Both of those players sustained those injuries in the game against the Bengals.