Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mack: When Does Tomlin Answer?

Steelers' defensive struggles go straight to the top

Chris Mack
September 17, 2018 - 10:37 am

After a disappointing early exit to last season's playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a decision to make about how they wanted to hold their head coach, Mike Tomlin, responsible for a disastrous effort against Jacksonville in the Divisional Round.

It was time, after getting torched by the Jaguars, to tell Mike Tomlin to fire his defensive coordinator, Keith Butler.

Instead, the Steelers fired Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley, submitting to Ben Roethlisberger's request to work with a coach he was more comfortable with.

As much as the Steelers' offense struggled in the red zone under Haley, here's the truth: They fired the wrong coordinator.

Keeping Keith Butler was essentially doubling down on the belief that he, and by extension Mike Tomlin, were going to figure out how to replace Ryan Shazier with a scheme - or multiple schemes, really - based on handfuls of defensive backs and a reduced number of linebackers on the field.

It hasn't worked. And it doesn't look as if anyone is any closer to figuring things out after getting torched by the Kansas City Chiefs, 42-37 this past Sunday.

What now? At 0-1-1, the Steelers are one of five teams in the AFC without a victory in the first two weeks. It's not exactly illustrious company they're keeping: The Raiders, Bills, Texans, and Browns are all winless as well. The only other time a Tomlin-coached team waited until Week 3 or later to get their first 'W' was 2013 when they started 0-4 and had to close out the season on a three-game winning streak just to limp in at 8-8. In fact, it's been 16 years since the Steelers went winless in the first two weeks and managed to make the playoffs.

The Steelers - and Tomlin, in particular - were presented an opportunity to turn their defense in a different direction this past offseason, and take accountability for one of the more embarrassing losses in franchise history. Instead, they paid no mind to the elephant in the room (or, wait a second… are the Patriots the elephant??) and are now in a position of having to figure out a defense on the fly, already two weeks deep into what should be another Super Bowl-window-for-Ben Roethlisberger season.

That’s the only option. Figure it out now, or bear the responsibility for another wasted season of Roethlisberger’s twilight.

It’s on Tomlin to figure this out, and it’s on the organization to pressure Tomlin to explain to Butler just how tenuous his position is. Make no mistake, if Tomlin doesn’t put it to Butler that he has limited time to turn his defense around – or else, then the next call on the carpet should be by Art Rooney II to Tomlin.

With all the talk of accountability for players off the field, in their social media dealings and sideline tantrums, (Hi there, Antonio. Yes, we know you're 'excreamly fruscrated.' So does Randy Fichtner.) the weekly soap opera that is the Pittsburgh Steelers has obfuscated the one, real issue at the heart of this team: When will their head coach assume accountability for their abysmal defense?