The Steelers are now entering week nine, their eighth game of the season. The thing is, they should be coming into this game against the Dallas Cowboys fresh, as they were originally scheduled to have their bye week in week eight.
Because of forces beyond their control, however, they were forced to take their bye week in week four, and they only learned this late in the week after they were already deep in preparation for their next game, which they would ultimately play weeks later.
As a consequence of this move, the Steelers were left with the prospect of finishing the regular season playing 13 consecutive games. While it’s not as though no team has ever been asked to do that before, it still presents its challenges, and that is especially the case when it is not something that could have been planned for in advance.
Head coach Mike Tomlin has been trying to accommodate his veteran roster where he can, with multiple players this past week talking about how the Steelers held a ‘hats’ practice on Wednesday, which means no pads, no helmets.
“It definitely isn’t completely rare. It happens from time to time”, T.J. Watt told reporters, via audio from the team’s media department. “it’s all the head coach’s decision. I’m a guy that just shows up and does whatever I’m told. It doesn’t really change a lot for me, personally. If anything, I’m just trying to watch more and more film, and you take those ‘hats’ practices even more seriously than you would a walkthrough, because you know you’re not going to get the opportunity to go full speed”.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also talked about the role that Tomlin has played in keeping the team prepared by doing what he can to help them spare their bodies during the work week—especially after such a physically and emotionally demanding stretch of games.
“I think Coach T has always done a great job of making sure that we’re ready for Sunday, understanding that a lot of what goes on at this time of year is trying to be mentally prepared as much in the film as physically”, he told reporters on Wednesday.
“There’s definitely a balance that you have to figure out. When you have guys that need an extra day to get ready, it makes more sense to almost got on a ‘hats’ day and go through walkthrough and just learn as much as you can in the film room, and then apply it to the practice field, so we can get quicker as the week’s gone”.
It’s all they can do to get rested in preparation for Sunday’s game in Dallas, which if they are able to win, will not only preserve their division and conference lead, but will give them their longest winning streak to open a season in franchise history.