After a weekend of team evaluation, Mike Tomlin is making a change in his team's starting lineup, though it might not be the adjustment some have been hoping would occur.
Tomlin released his depth chart for the Steelers' upcoming game Sunday at Acrisure Stadium against the New York Jets and it included a new starter at nose tackle, where Montravius Adams has been elevated ahead of veteran Tyson Alualu.
It's not the change at quarterback for which some have called, from Mitch Trubisky to rookie Kenny Pickett. But it's a change nonetheless.
"He's been playing better than Tyson," Tomlin said Tuesday at the UPMC-Rooney Sports Complex of the move to Adams. "So, we just thought that was appropriate."
The move comes after what Tomlin dubbed a "mini-bye week" after playing the Browns last Thursday night in Cleveland. The Steelers lost that game, 29-17, allowing 171 yards on 38 carries to the Browns, including 113 yards on 23 attempts by Nick Chubb.
It marked the second consecutive game a team has worn down the Steelers defense in the second half, with Cleveland holding a 36-27 advantage in plays run in the second half. Chubb was a big part of that, grinding out 55 yards on 15 carries in the second half.
"I thought he controlled the game. As I mentioned after the game, I thought in the second half, he controlled the game, and we didn't in all phases," Tomlin said. "We didn't do enough to minimize him. We didn't do enough on offense to possess the ball and minimize his impact on it. We didn't do enough splash on special teams. Often times, the team that loses on Thursday nights is the team whose defense plays the most snaps, and ours did. He had a lot to do with it."
The result is a 1-2 start going into the game against the Jets (1-2). And an angry, frustrated team and coaching staff.
"I know that we're all pretty hacked off that we haven't won the past two games," Tomlin said. "We realize that football is our game, and our business is winning. So, we've got to get back to business."
The Steelers signed Adams Nov. 30 of last year off the practice squad of the New Orleans Saints with Alualu out for the season with a fractured ankle. The team had tried a number of different players at nose tackle before settling on Adams, a former third-round draft pick of the Packers.
Adams wound up appearing in five games, starting four, for the Steelers last season, but slipped back into a reserve role this season when the 35-year-old Alualu returned. Adams also suffered an ankle injury in training camp that slowed his progress during training camp, but made it back at the end of the preseason.
Adams is more of a penetrator at nose tackle than Alualu, offering the Steelers perhaps more big-play ability from the position.
"You could say that, but not significantly, no," Tomlin said when asked if Adams is a different style of player than Alualu. "He's capable of doing the things we ask him to do. He's played a lot of football for us. He played a lot, started a lot for us last year. He missed a lot of time during team development, and that probably slowed his progress. Since he's been back from injury, we've just seen a real uptick in his consistency and performance."
The Steelers could be looking for a little more splash from their defensive front, especially with All-Pro linebacker T.J. Watt on the Reserve/Injured List for at least two more weeks with a pectoral muscle injury.
Tomlin said he's not using Watt's absence as an excuse for the Steelers allowing 171 rushing yards to the Browns. The rushing defense is allowing 4.2 yards per carry – better than last season's NFL-worst 5.0 yards per attempt – but is 28th in overall run defense, giving up 142.7 yards per game. That's only slightly better than the NFL-low 146.1 yards per game the team allowed last season.
But that could have helped lead to the change at nose tackle.
"Sometimes you can spend a lot of time or waste a lot of time worrying about people who aren't at your disposal. I think that's my mindset and our mindset as we're here today, is to utilize the makeup of the guys that are available to us right now in an effort to play better," Tomlin said. "Although, T.J.'s absence is a component of what's going on with us, I just think that's the proper approach with how to look at it."
One thing the weekend of self scouting didn't call for the team to do was make a change at quarterback – or anywhere else on an offense that is 19th in the league in scoring average despite putting up just 18.0 points per game.
Tomlin said he's happy with the progress both Trubisky and the offense as a whole have been making.
"In all areas," Tomlin said when asked where he has seen Trubisky making progress. "The decision making. Where he's going with the ball. The timing with which he's making decisions. The prudent use of mobility, whether it's by schematics or ad lib. But just generally, all areas."
Like many people, Tomlin has heard different people saying it's time for a change at quarterback. That included chants for Pickett during the team's 17-14 loss in their home opener two weeks ago against the Patriots.
But Tomlin doesn't see that in a negative light.
"Our fans are not an issue," he said. "We love our fans and the enthusiasm that they bring. We're not going to make that a negative. They care, and that's an awesome thing."
That doesn't mean further changes won't come down the line if the Steelers don't turn things around. It just means Tomlin doesn't see the need to drastic changes at this point – other than making a move at nose tackle.
"Certainly, we're going to do what's required to take care of this week's business, which is to win," Tomlin said. "I'm open to whatever that entails. At the same time, we're not going to blow in the wind. I think that's the sentiment I want to relay.
"The last couple of games haven't unfolded the way we would like, but we're in a no-blink business, particularly if we believe in what we do and the people we're doing it with. Sometimes, you've just got to show steely resolve and smile in the face of adversity that the last couple of game's results have produced for us."
Seeing improvement from the offense: The Steelers offense showed improvement against the Browns despite the loss, getting in the end zone in the first quarter for the first time this season when Najee Harris scored on a five-yard run. They continued to move the ball in the half, and Trubisky scored on a one-yard run.
That being said, Tomlin knows the offense has to remain on an upward trajectory to get the Steelers back in the win column after two straight losses.
"There are a lot of things that we need to do better. There are a lot of things that we'd like to do better," said Tomlin. "I think the best way to sum up my evaluation of it, whether it's the collective unit or components of the unit, is that we've been better with every outing and so it's reasonable to expect those improvements to continue.
"We haven't done enough to win the last two football games and so there's reason for alarm as it pertains to that. But largely I'm seeing improvements in all areas, whether it's individuals or whether it's the collective. So, it's our job to tune out the noise and to remain committed to the path that we're on and work to get better in an effort to change the outcome of these games. I expect our guys not to blink and to continue to work and so I have to display that as leader and I intend to."
Tip of the cap to Cam: Tomlin was sporting a new look at the press conference on Tuesday, wearing a 'Cam's Kindness Week' t-shirt to support the efforts of Cameron Heyward this week. Heyward is doing a week-long community endeavor, out and about daily spreading kindness.
"I'll start by acknowledging my 'Cam's Kindness Week' t-shirt," said Tomlin. "I can't say enough about what Cam does in the community with The Heyward House and so I thought the best way to support him is just by donning the t-shirt. I know he's out in the community each and every day this week, displaying acts of kindness and other things. We're just so honored to be associated with that guy and the way that he leads not only within the organization, but within the community. And so, tip of the cap to Cam and all the great work that's being done at The Heyward House."