Tomlin says there will be changes

The past couple of weeks, Mike Tomlin's weekly news conference at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex has been must-see-TV, last week for the manner in which he laid out what was at stake in the upcoming game against the Bengals and then Tuesday for how he was going to choose to expound on what he said after the 41-10 loss in Cincinnati.

As a refresher, last Sunday afternoon Tomlin said, "We didn't play nearly well enough in any of the phases, and — significantly I thought — we got beat up-front on both sides of the ball, and they won the line of scrimmage. When you win the line of scrimmage, the game has a chance to look like that. So, we've got a lot of work in front of us. We make no excuses. We seek no comfort. We stunk it up today."

The follow-up question was: "Can we expect to see change on either side of the ball when it comes to the lines?"

And Tomlin answered, "You know, we're open to doing whatever is required to change what's trending."

As was the case last week at his news conference, Tomlin didn't wait for questions to get to the topic of the day. He dove right in during his opening statement.

"As always, I'll start with a synopsis of our last performance," Tomlin began, "and really like I said after the game, and I still feel this way, we just stunk the place up when you play the way that we played and the score is as lopsided as it is. That's just a reality of it. We didn't coach well enough, we didn't play well enough, and you don't get that stench off you in a number of days. It'll be some time as we work our way back to respectability, and we understand that it's going to require good days, good focus days, good decision-making, good strategy, good play.

"In order to start moving on from it, and notice I said, 'moving on from it,' because the times I've been involved in games like that, I don't know that you get over it. I think you move on from it. I think you carry those lessons learned, and if you're smart, you carry them in an appropriate way. It's a catalyst for action, for thoughtful action, and I know it's going to be for us, whether it's strategic or whether it's personnel based."

No one could have expected Tomlin to get specific about the kind of changes he might be planning for the game against the division-leading Ravens at Heinz Field on Sunday, but his options would seem to be limited. Tomlin mentioned that in one of the two wins over the Ravens in 2020 the Steelers realized their depth at outside linebacker and devised a scheme to play T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and Alex Highsmith together to take advantage of that depth. Against the Bengals, in an effort to fortify the middle of the defense against the run, Cam Heyward slid inside and played nose tackle.

But this time around, injuries, roster limitations, and the difficulty in bringing in players from the outside to execute the offense and defense in short order would seem to preclude the types of changes fans might have in mind.

"You know, we've got to comb through it," said Tomlin. "We've got to ask critical questions … as we shape our next plan and make critical decisions regarding our next plan. The schematics that we choose to employ. The personnel that we choose to highlight or emphasize or de-emphasize. All of those variables are debatable at this juncture, because what you can't do is continue to do the things that you've been doing and expect a different result. We're open to some schematic changes, we're open to some personnel changes. They won't be drastic in nature, probably more subtle in nature, but hopefully significant in a positive way."

It did sound, though, as if Tomlin had a specific plan in mind for at least one of the team's practices this week.

"We just have to continue to focus on the things that we value, the fundamental things," said Tomlin. "We have a limited number of padded opportunities. Everybody does based on the rule and where we are in the season, so we've been thoughtful about the utilization of those. But given our current circumstance, attire is something that could change this week in an effort to position us to play a better brand of football. I'm open to all of those things."

TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"We have some guys who lack availability. Robert Spillane has a knee sprain and that probably will make him less than available this week. Pat Freiermuth is in the concussion protocol. We'll continue to follow that progress and see where that leads us. A guy who hopefully will be working his way back to us is Joe Haden with his foot injury. As you guys know, T.J. Watt is in the COVID protocol and so we'll adhere to that protocol and see what that leaves us. Christian Kuntz has a hip injury that may limit him in the early portions of the week. We'll see where those limits lead him and us in terms of availability there."

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