Part of being a head coach in the NFL is making in-season personnel changes, whether it be a change in the starting lineup or some altering of the roles certain players have. Back in September Mike Tomlin talked about whether such changes are made more as a result of the replacement's performance or more as a result of the performance of the guy being replaced.
"It's all of the above," said Tomlin. "The alternative is always an element of the decision, but sometimes the performance is such that it dictates a change regardless of the alternative. It's inter-related, and one is weighed more heavily than the other, depending on circumstance."
The Steelers' current circumstance is they are a 3-3 team coming off a decisive loss to the Browns in Cleveland, and during his news conference today Tomlin indicated change is coming.
"For us moving forward, we have to put ourselves into a position where we make more plays," said Tomlin. "We need to look critically at what we're doing. We need to look critically at who we're doing it with. We're open to all of those things this week. Those are some of the discussions we're going to have this week as we prepare for Houston. We're going to turn over all the stones to produce more playmaking, and in particular more situational playmaking."
The situation where the Steelers have had obvious issues to this point in the season is when their offense is inside the opponent's red zone. Following an 0-for-3 against the Browns, the Steelers dropped to 31st in the NFL in red zone efficiency, with seven touchdowns in 19 trips (36.8 percent).
Following the loss to the Browns, Tomlin spoke about the lack of consistent execution by the offense in the red zone, and he was asked today whether game-planning also was a contributing factor.
"And not only game-planning, but schematics and who we're utilizing," said Tomlin. "Schematics and the personnel we're utilizing need to be evaluated."
During the 2014 NFL Draft, following the selection of 6-foot-4 Martavis Bryant on the fourth round, wide receivers coach Richard Mann said, "He is the big receiver we were kind of hunting. We needed a guy different from what we have. We are delighted to get him. We think he has great length. He will be a great weapon in the red zone for us."
Check out the highlight photos from the Steelers vs Browns game.
Through the season's first six games, Bryant has been inactive, but Tomlin left open the door for him to play in the upcoming game against the Houston Texans, even though he is not a part of any of the special teams.
"It helps his effort and ours if he is (a special teams contributor), but it's not a single prerequisite, no," said Tomlin. "And given some of the things that happened in the red zone and our lack of execution in situational football, we'll explore the possibility of utilizing him this week."
Two other rookies could find themselves either getting a first chance to play in a regular season game, or getting more playing time in this upcoming game, because of injuries at their position.
Tomlin ruled starting nose tackle Steve McLendon out of the Texans' game with a shoulder injury, and he explained that defensive end Brett Keisel's availability could hinge on how his knee sprain responds over the course of the week. Nose tackle Daniel McCullers could be added to the game day roster, and defensive end Stephon Tuitt could see his playing time increase.
"With Steve out, that puts (McCullers) in play to be considered," said Tomlin. "He has worked hard. He's a young guy who has worked hard to develop his skills throughout the course of the work weeks here at the practice facility and has improved over the course of the last six weeks. We'll see if he gets an opportunity to ascend, but he's a strong candidate if Steve is unavailable."
Tuitt has seen a gradual but steady increase in playing time over the previous three weeks. Tuitt played three defensive snaps vs. Tampa Bay on Sept. 28, 12 in Jacksonville on Oct. 5, and 18 last Sunday in Cleveland. Tuitt has two tackles on the season.
But a guy who could see an increased role without injury impacting his position is cornerback Brice McCain, whose pick-six sealed the win against the Jaguars in Jacksonville.
"Not only (McCain's) play is deserving of consideration, but under the circumstances, because of some of the inconsistent play of others, he's under consideration for more playing time," said Tomlin. "And rightfully so."
Tomlin often describes his view of his job as providing the team what it needs to be successful, and he explained his immediate plans along those lines.
"Right now, it's not sweeping or drastic changes in terms of who and what we are schematically," said Tomlin, "but I will look at who we're utilizing and where, particularly situationally in all three phases, in an effort to maximize the capability of guys and to adjust the mix of guys we're playing right now. But those are just normal adjustments you make over the course of this journey, and we'd probably be doing those things week to week regardless of the outcome of football games."
But the outcome of the most recent football game likely accelerated the process.
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"Ike Taylor (forearm) is still out with his injury. Ryan Shazier (knee) will practice some this week, and we'll let his practice participation dictate his availability. You can say the same thing for Shamarko Thomas (hamstring). Steve McLendon is going to be out with a shoulder injury. He is being evaluated today, but you can characterize him as out this week. We had a couple of other in-game injuries that are going to be based on practice availability, and I'm talking about Brett Keisel and Mike Mitchell. We'll watch those guys closely and let their participation be our guide. Cam Heyward also got hurt in the game, but we expect him to be OK since he did return to the football game."