2022 Offseason Questions: How Collaborative Will Defensive Play-Calling Be On Gameday?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is over, already eliminated from the postseason after suffering a 42-21 loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. They just barely made the postseason with a 9-7-1 record and a little help from their friends.

This is an offseason of major change, with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the possible retirement of general manager Kevin Colbert, and the decisions about the futures of many important players to be made, such as Joe Haden, Stephon Tuitt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and others—some already decided, some not.

Aside from exploring their options at the quarterback position, the top global priority, once again, figures to be addressing the offensive line, which they did not do quite adequately enough a year ago. Dan Moore Jr. looks like he may have a future as a full-time starter, but Kendrick Green was clearly not ready. Chukwuma Okorafor was re-signed, but Trai Turner was not. James Daniels and Mason Cole were added in free agency.

These are the sorts of topics among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: How collaborative will the gameday defensive play-calling actually be between Mike Tomlin and Teryl Austin?

One of the things that head coach Mike Tomlin always says is that he doesn’t care where good ideas come from. But generally, those good ideas come in the week of game preparation, because apparently he has largely wielded responsibility for the gameday defensive play-calling duties for at least the better part of the past decade.

Outgoing defensive coordinator Keith Butler more or less spilled the beans about Tomlin basically being the team’s primary defensive play-caller throughout his tenure as defensive coordinator and even in the late stages of Dick LeBeau’s time here.

But now Teryl Austin is defensive coordinator, the first defensive coordinator he’s had whom he actually hired himself and brought into the organization. He even created a role—senior defensive assistant—they previously didn’t have just to find a space for him on the staff.

Austin insisted during spring drills that he will be a defensive coordinator who coordinates, but he quickly got vague when it came to being asked who would call the defense. The players who were asked similar questions took a similar approach, simply saying that whoever calls the plays, it will end up in the right hands.

I have no doubt that Tomlin is going to call plays. He always does that, even on offense and on special teams. It’s the head coach’s prerogative. But what role will Austin have, during games, in deciding what plays will be run?

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