“It’s put up and shut up time”, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday, following a string of negative results for his team, which prior to this most recent run seemed poised to be in the running for a top seed in the AFC. Only he’s not the one shutting up. In fact, he’s practically the only one talking inside the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex this week, according to linebacker Joe Schobert.
“Coach Tomlin was very loud”, he said. “Cam Heyward is always gonna be talking. T.J. Watt obviously wasn’t in the meetings, but during the games, talking loud, making himself known. There’s a lot of leaders on the team, but Coach Tomlin pretty much took the floor for the meetings this week”.
The team is, of course, coming off of a terrible performance that has been alternately described as embarrassing and unacceptable, dropping a divisional game 41-10 to the Cincinnati Bengals. They are now preparing to host the Baltimore Ravens, with the margin for error almost entirely gone.
“I’m not gonna comment on anybody else’s play”, Schobert said. “I look at myself in the mirror, and there are things that we can all get better at from the game tape. Coach Tomlin to a man made sure that everybody knew it on Monday, and I think guys are really stepping up to the challenge”.
The challenge this week, or at least one of them, is practice in pads, which Tomlin suggested with extreme strength yesterday would be happening. Teams are allowed very few days of practices in pads during the regular season, so teams must ration them diligently through the course of the year. This felt like the time to break them out, after giving up nearly 600 rushing yards over the past three weeks.
And the team has embraced, it so it seems, according to Schobert. “It was good. A lot of fun”, he said in describing the Steelers’ Wednesday practice. “A lot of people flying around and hitting, pads were popping. It was a good day of practice”.
Will that translate into a more physical brand of football that includes better tackling, better ability to shed blocks, and everything else that comes with the territory of playing significantly better rushing defense? Because they’re going to need every aspect of it, especially while likely being without Watt this week.
Which Steelers defense will we see on Sunday? Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick said on Monday that everybody knows this is not who they are, not their standard, and that’s why everybody is surprised by it. But if they can’t turn the tide, then how is it not the standard, at least for this season?
Sunday’s showdown with the Ravens will be a statement game, one way or another, and everybody will be listening to hear what the Steelers have to say for themselves.