The latest Tomlinism to stick in 2020 is ‘the strength of the pack is the pack’, a phrase that he used to invoke the depth that the Pittsburgh Steelers have at the wide receiver position, referring at that time to players like Chase Claypool and James Washington stepping up and making plays while Diontae Johnson was sidelined.
In each of the first five games of the season, there was a different pass-catcher at the top of the stats for that week. It was JuJu Smith-Schuster in week one, then Johnson, then Eric Ebron, then Claypool, then Washington. This past week, it was back to Johnson with two touchdowns.
When Mike Tomlin was asked last week about determining who has the hot hand, he said that a lot of that is determined by their opponents, that he lets them decide who is going to be the most likely to have the opportunity to make plays that day. He elaborated on that in speaking to reporters on Tuesday.
“You know, it reveals itself leading up to the game, in the personality, in their style of play, schematics but also people”, he said. “We have to forecast a little bit, but no question, we go into the game with an understanding of who may have an opportunity to have a big day from a matchup or schematic standpoint”.
Because the Tennessee Titans like to play in a Cover 2 look, the Steelers were more comfortable keeping the ball underneath for most of the game, and that favored the more precise, short-area route-running of Smith-Schuster and Johnson, who combined for 29 targets, 18 receptions, 165 yards, and a pair of touchdowns on the day.
What matchups will the Baltimore Ravens present that dictate who is going to be the ‘hot hand’ on Sunday? Arguably the strength of their defense is their two fantastic cover corners in Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey, so working on the outside will be difficult—except that Humphrey spends most of his time in the slot, with Jimmy Smith coming on outside, since Tavon Young went down.
Tomlin had praise for Smith, who is perhaps the most veteran player on the Ravens’ defense at this point but who has dealt with a litany of injuries over the course of his career. If there is a ‘weak’ link, though, it would be there.
Patrick Queen is very talented as a first-rounder, but he’s also a rookie, so I like any matchup that puts him in zone coverage over the middle. Ebron and Smith-Schuster can work in these areas, as can James Conner out of the backfield.
This is a team where I really don’t care who has the ball, because they have so many capable people. I just want them to put themselves in the best matchups to make plays, and then go out there and make them. Let the Ravens decide who they want to be beaten by.