As a head coach in the National Football League, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has never before had to prepare to face a Cincinnati Bengals team that was not instructed by Marvin Lewis. In fact, there are probably only a couple of coaches who could say otherwise prior to the 2019 season.
But this is a new era in Cincinnati. The Bengals parted ways with their long-time head coach, going in a completely different direction with first-year Zac Taylor, who comes from an offensive background. Although it’s yielded the same results so far, with their team off to an 0-3 start—not that the Steelers can talk, since they’re in the same boat.
Still, divisional rivalries are the sort of affair where, if it’s actually a good one, the records get thrown out the window. A lot of that has to do with familiarity, built upon years and years of playing against one another and scouting each other. With so much turnover since last season, and in years past, it’s been a difference experience this week, according to Mike Tomlin.
“It’s an interesting thing getting ready to play Cincinnati this time around because, particularly in recent years, the continuity that they’ve had in players and schematics and the continuity in players and schematics that we’ve had has always started the strategy of preparation kind of on third base”, he said.
Just on the shortlist of notable names no longer in-house are Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones, both of whom had played major, major parts in the rivalry over the course of recent years.
Still, there are another familiar faces like Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, Andy Dalton and Giovani Bernard. There is some comfort in familiarity there. Even Tyler Eifert is actually on the field and will be out there Monday night. But that, too, comes with change.
“We know and understand them intimately; they know and understand us intimately”, he said. “But it’s interesting to look at the new regime and see some of the familiar faces but the different ways that they’re employing them. That produces some interesting challenges for us”.
There are a lot of old faces doing new things. But there are new or relatively new entrances into the rivalry playing key roles as well, such as Sam Hubbard and Jessie Bates, a couple of second-year starters on the defensive side of the ball.
As should go without say, the Bengals will begin to morph into something different under Taylor with each passing year, at least assuming that he has a few years to actually carry out his vision—which may very well include another quarterback. Dalton could easily be gone after 2019 with no salary cap consequence.