Labriola On

Tomlin points to lack of physicality

Nearly 24 hours later, it didn't look any better or feel any better, and if anything what Coach Mike Tomlin saw on video of his team's first loss of the 2020 regular season only hardened his opinion of the performance that led to a 23-17 loss to Washington at Heinz Field.

"I live by the coaching creed, 'If you can't get a yard, you don't deserve to win.' That was the case for us in this game," said Tomlin during his weekly news conference from the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. "We had several sequences where we had an opportunity, if we gained a yard, it was significant in terms of the development of the outcome of the game, but we were unsuccessful.

"We had a goal line sequence where we had four or five shots from at or around the 1-yard line. We were unsuccessful. That was catastrophic. Later in the game, we were in a tied ballgame with about five minutes left to go, and we had a third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 sequence in (Washington) territory, and we were unable to get a yard in that sequence as well. Obviously, that allowed them to gain possession of the ball and move down the field and kick the go-ahead field goal. If you can't get a yard in our game, you don't deserve to win. That's the nuts and bolts element of football, the physicality element of football. We didn't meet that challenge, so we have some work to do in that area."

After a slow offensive start to the game against Washington, the Steelers appeared to be on the verge of taking control midway through the second quarter. After a touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson provided a 7-0 lead, the Steelers defense turned the ball over on downs at the Washington 31-yard line, and a couple of plays later the offense was looking at a goal-to-go situation from the 1-yard line. Five plays later, the ball still was at the Washington 1-yard line.

"The big thing for us is to examine why and get back to the lab and recapture some of the rhythm that we've had in those situational moments throughout the year," said Tomlin. "There have been times during the year where we haven't run the ball as well as we would like, but even in the midst of those, in situational moments we have been solid. We weren't (solid) in our last performance, and we have to own that. There were many reasons why, but none of it is relevant, to be honest with you. If you're a legit unit, if you're a unit that has the goods, you can absorb irregularities in schedules, in significant players being missing and still rise up in those moments. That's our charge as we prepare for this next game."

Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley, Steelers offensive linemen during the entire decade of the 1980s, often recall that when the team's running attack would not perform to Chuck Noll's standards, he would proclaim it was time to "go back to basics," which was code for a week's worth of full-padded in-season practices that were tantamount to scrimmages. These sessions would refine the hitting and the timing necessary to run the ball successfully.

But the current climate in the NFL prohibits that approach. The Collective Bargaining Agreement limits the number of padded practices permitted over the course of a 17-week regular season, and teams simply do not put their players through demanding physical workouts at this time of the year. Tomlin was asked how a team works on being a physical offense when it cannot practice being a physical offense.

"We've got a lot invested in that, not only in the short term but over the course of this journey in the long term," said Tomlin. "We carried our pads every day through the team development process, and we worked in that area probably more than most of the people we compete against. We have to draw from that well as we continue to work to find the rhythm that's required for us to have it look the way we desire to have it look."

"On the injury front, Robert Spillane has a knee injury that's being evaluated. I don't know about his availability as I sit here. Joe Haden had a concussion in game, so he will be in the concussion protocol. We will let that protocol be our guide in terms of his availability. Steve Nelson has a chance to be back. We anticipate Steve working this week. We have a couple of guys who have missed time because of COVID. They probably have an opportunity to come off this week – James Conner and Maurkice Pouncey … I'm hopeful that Chris Boswell will be available this week. We'll let his participation (in practice) and preparation be our guide."

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