Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers is one of the most universally respected head coaches across the National Football League, seemingly, just about everywhere but Pittsburgh, where he is routinely criticized and second-guessed, receiving regular calls from fans to be fired, fans who insist that the franchise will never win a championship again as long as he is there (as though it’s a simple thing to do).
By no means am I suggesting that he is beyond criticism, and I have shared some critiques of his decision-making myself frequently over the years, one recent incident being his failure to call a timeout on third down on a defensive possession at the end of the first half against the Indianapolis Colts.
But he also deserves a lot more credit for his intelligence than a lot of people are willing to give, some of whom seem to assume that as long as it’s something he decided, it must be a bad strategy. Take, for example, his acknowledgement that he somewhat ‘managed’ rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool’s snaps this season, which is pretty par for the course for the vast majority of rookies on the vast majority of teams, with the idea of keeping them somewhat fresh for later in the year, especially the postseason.
“That was the intention”, he said of that decision on The Mike Tomlin Show last night. “I’ve had young wideouts in the past and I’ve worked hard to manage those guys. If you look back to 2010, the run that young Antonio Brown in the playoffs, really a lot of people didn’t know a lot about him until that playoff run”.
“Particularly when we thought that they could have a significant role in terms of the offense, we’ve worked hard to kind of leave some bullets in the chamber”, Tomlin said, “to manage them over the course of the second half of the year in an effort to put them in position to be on an upswing, to have the energy, and to be able to deliver the plays that are going to define their season and ours”.
It would be fair to say that Claypool still has some bullets in the chamber after 16 games. He caught five passes for 101 yards and a touchdown in the Steelers’ regular season finale against this same secondary of the Cleveland Browns, and he’ll be back out there for more. He set a new franchise rookie record for receptions, tied the record for touchdown receptions and total receptions, and made a run at the rookie receiving yardage record as well.
It’s also worth noting that he still routinely played between 60-70 percent of the snaps even when he was being ‘managed’, and he had plenty of opportunities to make plays. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t, and sometimes he drew a DPI instead. But now the table is set for him to be at his full potential when the games matter most.