Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin often finds himself in the limelight when it comes time for the league to speak about matters of player safety. As one of the most veteran head coaches who is on a number of committees, that’s not altogether surprising.
His response to a question about the hit by Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Roquan Smith that left his rookie quarterback concussed for the second time in a matter of months might be a little more surprising to people.
Asked if he had a problem at all with Smith’s hit on Kenny Pickett, and noting specifically the facemask penalty element of the play that was not called, Tomlin gave a concise and simple answer. “I did not,” is all he said, according to the transcript.
Now, Tomlin is a football lover, of course. Still, this is a play where a defender used a quarterback’s facemask, which in and of itself is a penalty, to drive his head downward in a way that resulted in significant impact with the ground, causing a concussion.
I have no doubt that Smith had no intentions of injuring Pickett, or even grabbing his facemask, but there was obviously a penalty missed here even if it wasn’t roughing the passer specifically (Pickett was out of the pocket, and thus lost certain protections, but not protection against a facemask penalty).
I suppose Tomlin only meant to comment specifically on the tackling element of the play, the manner in which Pickett was brought down and the mechanism of injury, perhaps the intent behind it. Injuries are going to happen, including concussions. That’s simply an element of the game and that’s never going to be legislated out as long as football is still being played.
Smith was in coverage at the start of the play and broke off when fellow linebacker Patrick Queen flushed Pickett out of the pocket by nearly sacking him himself. When Smith came into the play, he nearly overran Pickett, who hunched over in an attempt to turn back inside.
That caused Smith to wrap his arms around the quarterback in any way he could as he swung by and then used that forward momentum to torque and twist him to the ground. I wouldn’t call it a dirty play and certainly a non-football play, but given that Tomlin was asked a question a component of which specifically mentioned the facemask, his answer could be seen as at least somewhat surprising.