Subtle But ‘Significant’ Changes Could Be Coming To Steelers, Says Tomlin

Will the Pittsburgh Steelers make changes for Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens? Probably. But will they be sweeping, radical moves obvious to everyone watching? Probably not. That’s how Mike Tomlin framed things during his Tuesday press conference, pointing to more subtle adjustments being made to the Steelers’ gameplan.

“We’re open to some schematic changes,” Tomlin said during his Tuesday presser via the Steelers YouTube channel. “We’re open to some personnel changes, obviously. They won’t be drastic in nature. Probably more subtle in nature but hopefully a significant in a positive way.”

It’s unclear what changes Tomlin is referring to, but they sound less likely to be players being flat-out benched for others. That could mean Devin Bush remains in the starting lineup this weekend, especially knowing backup Robert Spillane is dealing with a knee sprain that could keep him out.

It may also mean the Steelers’ offensive line looks the same this week as it did this past one, though Tomlin did say “we’ll see” when asked if the front five would be altered. If so, perhaps Zach Banner starts at RT with Chukwuma Okorafor moving to LT to replace rookie Dan Moore Jr., who has had more than his fair share of ups and downs this year.

Tomlin said personnel changes may be about increasing or decreasing roles as opposed to flat out starting lineup adjustments.

“It might be the repositioning of people, or it might be the leaning on depth as a strength. I made a point this morning in our discussion, last year we went up there and played [Baltimore] and it was a big football game and we felt really good about our quality depth at outside linebacker. And so in that game, we played a lot of three outside linebacker defense with T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree and Alex Highsmith. We don’t over-complicate things. But we are open to change when change produces or has a chance to produce a desired outcome. When you have red paint, you paint your barn red is a motto or a cliché that we live by at times.”

That three outside linebacker package will be much tougher to pull off this season, especially if Watt does not clear COVID protocols. But to the broader point, Tomlin is saying the team may make better utilization of its depth. Of course, it’s hard to find an area defensively where Pittsburgh has great depth. It’s not along the defensive line, it’s not at the EDGE, it’s not at ILB (if Spillane could/does play, maybe his role expands), and the secondary has seen plenty of turnover and may be less useful against a run-oriented Ravens’ squad. Could someone like Arthur Maulet have a different role, an aggressive, run-stopping nickel corner? Perhaps there’s a way to get Miles Killebrew more snaps as a box safety.

Offensively, if Banner does not start, he could be used more often in a jumbo package to try to improve the run game and bring a physical element to this week. At this point, the Steelers’ answers seem limited, though Tomlin is leaving no stone unturned.

“And so that’s what I mean when I’m saying we’re open to change. Is it people and the insertion of people? Yes, if it potentially makes us better. But not for the sole purpose of change. And it may just mean the alignment or configuration of people in an effort to highlight areas maybe where we have depth and maybe minimize some areas where we don’t.”

Pittsburgh will need all hands on deck to beat the favored Ravens. Baltimore has won three out of its last four, including a hard-fought victory Sunday night over the Cleveland Browns.

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