Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin gave his usually pre-game press conference ahead of Sunday’s game at Heinz Field against the Arizona Cardinals. Some usual housekeeping items were discussed, as were the team’s plans on handling Arizona, but a few things between the lines may speak volumes.
Ryan Shazier: Issue or non-issue?
When defensive coordinator Keith Butler told the media he would defer to Tomlin to speak about Shazier, he mentioned that he didn’t want to speak out of ignorance. It’s hard to believe the defensive coordinator does not know whether one of his linebackers is healthy or not, so the move was a bit surprising. Tomlin had told the media, “Ryan Shazier, we expect to be available to us.” That is pretty close to what was being touted last week before the Steelers played the Chargers on Monday Night Football, yet Shazier was inactive. What is going on with this kid?
Instead of addressing anything specific, Tomlin pointed to how well Sean Spence and Vince Williams have played in Shazier’s stead. It’s speculation to say that there really is a deeper meaning to anything the coaching staff is or is not saying, at this point, but Shazier’s durability is in question among both fans and NFL insiders.
Cortez Allen: Continued lack of practice, performance
Tomlin told the media, “Cortez Allen will continue to work his way back.” By the time the cornerback works his way back, Antwon Blake will have completely locked up the spot. Robert Golden was getting more love from Butler this week as well, with Butler calling him a guy he is comfortable with and who is always ready to go. Note to Allen: Week after week, coaches are either addressing you as not ready, working back or bringing up policy about not playing guys that aren’t giving their all in practice.
That Allen has had a bad knee isn’t in dispute; it’s whether his heart is bruised as well.
Arizona is going to be a tough opponent
Tomlin spent a bit of time talking about the opponents this week, and he sees what most see: the Arizona Cardinals are not pushovers. “I really think the strength of their offense is in the balance, the running, passing and the variety of receivers at (Carson Palmer’s) disposal, and the way he makes good and quick decisions and how he spreads the ball around to people.” It’s true. Palmer is looking like one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the league right now. With Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, he has good-sized receivers with talent. John Brown and tight end Darren Fells can hurts teams as well. The Cardinals like to get their rushers into the receiving mix as well, and right now David Johnson is their young, talented weapon.
On defense, Tomlin pointed out how often the Cardinals take advantage of miscues and errors in their favor. “They are an opportunistic group. They have some guys on the back end with tremendous ball skills, guys like Rashad Johnson, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu,” said Tomlin. “They are really doing a great job of getting the football.” Arizona has been giving their opponents fits mainly due to takeaways that they have been able to turn into points on the scoreboard. Once they get the lead, the defense is holding onto it and trying to get the offense back on the field. They will test Mike Vick, often.
Vick: Not handcuffed
One of the biggest topics centered on the play of Vick and whether or not Tomlin and the Steelers coaching staff have in any way kept him from being the quarterback he has shown himself to be in the past. When asked if he had placed “shackles” on Vick, keeping him from using his legs to create plays, Tomlin said, “We are just trying to win football games and whatever that entails…he’s played quarterback for a long time and he understands the importance of staying healthy and staying up for the guys that he plays with…” Tomlin didn’t come right out and say that Vick is being asked to play smart and not get hit because of the Steelers’ unique situation with Roethlisberger not yet ready to return, but it seemed inferred. “I really think it’s just good, sound football,” Tomlin continued. “Take care of yourself and protect the football.”
Vick appeared to be more comfortable against San Diego when he wasn’t stuck behind Cody Wallace and enveloped by the offensive line. One of his best passes was on a boot-leg. And when he hit Markus Wheaton long, Vick looked the most relaxed he had in two weeks. But, Vick doesn’t get to automatically check out of a play when the opposing defense stacks the box, per Tomlin. Tomlin insists that Roethlisberger isn’t given the leeway to just check down either. But, this puts things in a different perspective in respect to how Vick handled some of the defensive rush the Chargers threw at him. A lot of plays would have been successful had Vick checked out of what was an obvious play. Tomlin may say that the coaching staff expects their quarterbacks to keep to the script, but perhaps it’s time to give Vick more options at reading the defense (he was criticized for not doing that – now we know the back-story).
Who is Jon Gruden?
Steelers fans love to call him “Chuckie”. Gruden does resemble the doll from the horror films, especially when he gets upset. Gruden was repetitive in saying that it was time the Steelers turn to Landry Jones on Monday night. When asked about Gruden’s comments, Tomlin responded in one of the funniest moments in press history with the team this season.
“The commentator? I don’t take advice from those guys.”
In 99.9 percent of cases, I would recommend Tomlin stick with that plan, especially in regard to Gruden.
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