Steelers’ Tomlin uses news conference to challenge his players
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin uses his weekly news conference to send motivating messages to players, to massage their egos, to give them confidence, to lay out the theme of the week.
This time, he’s doing something he rarely does: He’s calling them out.
Tomlin almost never singles out players publicly for pointed criticism, preferring to do that privately. However, while looking to turn around his team after a 21-point loss in Cleveland, Tomlin isn’t hiding his displeasure with the his team’s substandard play.
“Hopefully, we carry the baggage or the stench of that one for some time and use it as positive fuel,” Tomlin said Tuesday.
Tomlin hinted at possible changes when the Steelers (3-3) play the Houston Texans (3-3) on Monday night, though most personnel moves could be more injury-related than performance-driven.
Tomlin took time to critique:
Markus Wheaton — The wide receiver caught only four of 11 passes thrown his way, and it was evident Ben Roethlisberger was fooled by the way Wheaton ran multiple routes.
“He’s got to do a better job,” Tomlin said. “Oftentimes, you want to make it complex, and a lot of it is. But ultimately, sometimes when it’s just one-on-one football, it’s about who’s making plays and who’s not. … We didn’t make situational plays, and that’s why we lost.”
Tomlin said when the Browns were shadowing Antonio Brown as tightly as they were, “it usually creates opportunities for the other guy” — and Wheaton couldn’t take advantage.
Cortez Allen — Allen gave up 118 yards in pass coverage, including a 51-yard touchdown catch to Jordan Cameron in which he apparently expected safety help. According to Tomlin, he shouldn’t have.
“He’s got to be able to stay on top of that tight end and prevent that play from happening,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, he didn’t, and it’s something we have to work hard to rectify.”
Cornerback Brice McCain, who made a pivotal interception return touchdown in Jacksonville, “(is) under consideration for more playing time, and rightfully so,” Tomlin said.
Jason Worilds — He’s making almost $10 million to get after the quarterback in a contract year, but the outside linebacker has only two sacks. He’s not always playing a rush linebacker’s position, but Tomlin won’t use that as an excuse.
“He’s had some good games and performances in pockets of games, and he’s had some games where he’s been less impactful,” Tomlin said. “We’re compensating him to be consistently impactful, and that’s what we’re searching for.”
Young players — In essence, Tomlin said it’s time for them to grow up.
“I think the larger thing is for them to rise up to the level of standard of expectation in terms of the detail and the energy and the physicality we want them to play,” Tomlin said. “It’s less about the adjustments or what we dial back. … We’ve got to put a more positive, consistent performance on the grass than we’re putting right now.”
So is Tomlin effectively saying some are playing too soft? Bill Cowher and Hines Ward would be happy with that.
Ben Roethlisberger — The quarterback rarely gets anything except considerable praise from the coach, but this time, Tomlin said, “He left some plays out there. … It’s his job to win. That’s what drives him. That’s what drives this position at this level in this game, and we didn’t (win).”
Tomlin’s critical evaluation wasn’t reserved for the players, either. Unhappy with the offense’s performance in generating only one touchdown in seven red-zone opportunities the past two games, he said the game planning — in effect, the coaching — is partly at fault.
“Not only game planning, but who we’re utilizing,” Tomlin said. “Schematics and the personnel that we’re utilizing needs to be evaluated.”