It may feel to some like a tired and warn mantra, but the Pittsburgh Steelers embrace the ‘next man up’ philosophy. As cliché as it might be, after all, clichés spring from a grain of truth. And really, what else can you do? The next man up has no choice but to fill in.
The Steelers are facing that prospect this week after starting cornerback Joe Haden suffered an injury that will sideline him for a while, as Coty Sensabaugh, who was brought in early in the offseason to secure depth at the position, steps in as the ‘next man up’.
The sixth-year veteran saw his first playing time on defense all season, and filled in for more than half of the game, and frankly was rarely tested. I will have to take a deeper look at it, but from memory one of the only targets I can recall was on a comeback on third and six in the fourth quarter, on which he allowed six yards. He also gave up 16 yards to T.Y. Hilton on a double move.
The Colts were winning for most of the game, of course you’ll recall, so they didn’t spend a lot of time throwing the ball around, instead trying to run the ball as much as they could in the second half. They also had two drives end in long touchdowns and another end quickly on an interception, so those limited their opportunities to run plays.
While this might seem like the most high-profile instance, however, we all should be quite aware that the Steelers have been living the mantra all year. Chris Hubbard and Tyson Alualu have steadied the ship for most of the season in the long absences of starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert and defensive end Stephon Tuitt, respectively.
As Mike Tomlin said during his press conference yesterday, “Hubbard’s play made [Gilbert’s missed time] a non-discussion. We didn’t talk about it a bunch because his play was above the line. The same can be said of Tyson Alualu and him replacing Stephon Tuitt when he missed a substantial amount of time”.
One can only hope that the Steelers—and Sensabaugh—will weather the storm as well as Hubbard and Alualu allowed them to. The former Titans cornerback was actually in the discussion for the starting job before the Steelers were able to sign Haden following his release by the Browns.
Tomlin added that the success of players like Sensabaugh and Alualu, as well as other young risers like Mike Hilton and JuJu Smith-Schuster, “have fortified [the next man up] mentality”, which has admittedly served the team well for years.
It is of course a sentiment that is not unique to the Steelers by any means. Every team deals with injuries, and every team has a next man up that is expected to perform. I’m not sure many others have quite turned it into the unifying identity that Tomlin has crafted in Pittsburgh, though.