The Pittsburgh Steelers and Head Coach Mike Tomlin have not successfully challenged a play literally in years. The team is something like 0 for 14 on their current run of failed challenged dating back to the 2016 season.
It reached the point in which they sought outside help this offseason, something that was confirmed earlier on with a report that the team would be hiring somebody to assist with game-day situational scenarios, including challenges.
We later learned that that role would be part of Teryl Austin’s responsibilities. Austin was hired as a senior defensive assistant, a new post on the coaching staff that had been created for him, but his emphasis is in the defensive backfield.
Said Tomlin before the game of Austin, “he’s very adept at the rules and understanding the points of emphasis from a rules standpoint. He’ll provide assistance in some of those areas as well. A lot of that will be developed over the course of the next four weeks during these preseason games”.
As it turned out, the Steelers would challenge one play during the game early in the fourth quarter following a Devlin Hodges touchdown pass to Tevin Jones. On the ensuing kickoff, first-year linebacker Robert Spillane was able to get a fist on the football, dislodging it from the returner’s grasp.
While the initial ruling on the field that the runner was down by contact was incorrect, the reality is that the play never should have been challenged based on the video evidence. Not only was there no visual evidence of a clear recovery of the football by a Steelers player, there was, in fact, clear visual evidence that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had recovered.
It was a good play by Spillane, though he lacked awareness of the potential for a loose ball. He also made a couple of plays in coverage while on defense. But it could even be debated that there was ‘clear and obvious’ visual evidence that the ball was loose before the runner hit the ground, even though I would say there was.
It was not a good challenge. And Tomlin has had too many such challenges. You don’t have to win every play to challenge, but you can’t waste them, either. Said Tomlin prior to the game, “I want to approach it with the level of seriousness that I’m going to approach it in the regular season”.
After the game, he said, “sometimes it might be to familiarize myself” with a rule or the process. It’s unclear as to what he might have been familiarizing himself with at this time, other than, perhaps, to remember what it feels like to waste a timeout.