It’s fair to criticize Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers for “playing down” to their opponent. Maybe a little vague, maybe a little too easy of a phrase to throw out there but yeah, there’s a nugget of truth to it. But I thought Mike Mitchell made an interesting counterpoint in a recent interview on Steelers.com. When teams see Pittsburgh on their schedule, they know to up their play.
“That’s just the honor that they give us,” Mitchell said. “When you’re playing Pittsburgh, they’re going to give you their best shot because they know what this organization means, all the wins it has, all the great players we’ve had on our team in the past and all the great players we have on it now. They know they gotta give their best and they do every time.”
Mitchell cited the play of Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Brett Hundley, who tossed three touchdowns and led a fourth quarter game-tying drive despite sputtering since taking over for Aaron Rodgers.
He cited his own time in Oakland as an example of coaches constantly reminding players of who they’re going up against.
“In Oakland, we were fortunate enough to get the win…I know for a fact it’s like that. The coaches pretty much scare you all week. ‘Pittsburgh, they’re so physical, they’re going to hit you, you better come ready to play.’ Now, I’m on the receiving end of it. Everyone is trying to do it to us now.”
That doesn’t excuse the Steelers playing poorly and the classic, Steelers beating Steelers fans have become accustomed to, or at least, come to expect it, but it’s an interesting element of the “bad team, close win” equation that gets harped on all the time. And it’s one reason why these games wind up as close as they do.
Mitchell, who isn’t expected to play Monday night, also made note of the “next man up” mentality in the secondary, one that is shared by the entire team and cultivated by Tomlin. Robert Golden, no stranger to stepping in or starting, will take his place. Mitchell said the communication and continuity the secondary has created allows them to integrate whoever steps into the starting lineup.
Of course, not all in the secondary has been perfect. Far from it. It will likely be Golden and the rest of the secondary to find a way to solve A.J. Green and a Bengals offense that has begun to find its groove. Given that it’s AFC North football, and Cincy’s playoff hopes on the line, expect them to give Pittsburgh their best, too.