Due to the vanilla-ness on both sides of the football by NFL teams throughout the preseason, it makes it harder to game plan early in the regular season and especially in the first week of the regular season. While the Pittsburgh Steelers will obviously still do their fair share of game planning for the New England Patriots this week, head coach Mike Tomlin detailed during his Tuesday press conference why the team will focus a lot this week on the newly established 53-man roster and why it’s beneficial to do so.
“We know what’s waiting on us at the end of the week, but we’re focused on a lot of things that are within our control,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “Some things that we and others in our position in this week-one need to sort out. I’ll highlight some of them. Obviously, it was a big weekend for us in terms of establishment of the 53 [man roster]. As we push into this week in a heavy game plan day like today on week one, you spend a lot of time talking about the division of labor of that 53.
“How are we going to best utilize these guys and how they best come together? Week-one provides a first opportunity for that. Week-one, if you focus on your opponent, there’s more gray because there’s no establishment of those things. So, we need to focus on the establishment of ours. I’m sure New England is focused on the establishment of theirs. And I think the quality in which we do that will determine the quality of our play.”
That initial division of labor Sunday night against the Patriots will be fun to watch transpire. How much of the load will running back James Conner get to open the 2019 regular season and if he dresses, how much playing time will rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson get. additionally, and perhaps even more importantly Sunday night, will rookie inside linebacker Devin Bush start and how much will he ultimately play in the game, his first official one in the NFL.
Tomlin was asked about Bush on Tuesday in regard to how he might go about balancing wanting to get him on the field right away in the opener but also wanting to not put too much on his plate against a team such as the Patriots on their home turf and on Sunday night in primetime.
“You know, we’ll be discussing that as we develop the plan, Tomlin said. “I don’t have the answers for that as I stand here. In the long term those answers will be based on how he performs based on the amount of work that we give him. So, there’s a certain element of that that won’t be answered as you step into the stadium week-one. But I’m comfortable with that. There’s a lot of things that you can’t answer on a Tuesday before you open, and you hadn’t been in the stadium yet. We’ll know more about ourselves when we walk out of that stadium as will all the other 31 teams in the National Football League.”
Regardless of how much Bush does or doesn’t play Sunday night against the Patriots we’re sure to see new linebacker Mark Barron play some as well. We should even see Barron on the field with bush quite a bit Sunday night as well. On Tuesday, Tomlin was asked if the offseason addition of Barron via free agency has allowed the defense to become more flexible within the defensive schematics.
“You know, we’re going to discover that,” Tomlin said. “I think as we get into this journey and that’s what I was talking about when I mentioned that it’s awesome that we have the 53 set and now we’re working hard to define the division of labor that highlights the skills of those within it. You know, as we get into our game plan things this week, the utilization of him within the linebacking core is an example of that.”
Tomlin also made it very clear on Tuesday that the level of preciseness and detail must be topnotch this week and that includes deciding what the overall division of labor plan will be for the 46 players that will take the field Sunday night to play the Patriots.
“We as coaches have got to be real sharp in terms of what we ask our guys to do,” Tomlin said. “The guys, in turn, have to be able to execute what we asked them to do at a high level and with great detail. And oftentimes when you’re playing in an environment like we’re going to, it better be better than September detail. And thus, the challenge that we have starting into week one, we better be pretty good from a detailed standpoint. We better be thoughtful about what we ask our guys to do. We better give them enough, but at the same time, we better not give them too much.”