'Next Man Up' Becoming Mantra of 2019 Steelers
The 2019 season has easily been the most trying season for 13-year head coach Mike Tomlin. But you would never be able to guess that when he gets behind the podium. His demeanor remains the same, regardless of the circumstance he's thrown into.
Tomlin is also a man of many clichés, or "Tomlinisms" if you will.
"We don't live in our fears."
"...or things of that nature."
"The Standard is the Standard."
There are also lots of references to varsity or JV levels of play, math references like common denominators, or painting their barn red...or yellow. It's seldom a Mike Tomlin press conference without some sort of Tomlinism that resonates our minds, for better or for worse.
A pretty common Tomlinism that we have heard quite a bit in 2019, or at least referenced ourselves, is only three simple words.
"Next man up."
Ben Roethlisberger. Roosevelt Nix. Sean Davis. Vince Williams. Vance McDonald. Mason Rudolph. Mark Barron. Steven Nelson. Jaylen Samuels. James Washington. And now, Stephon Tuitt.
All of these players have missed or will miss significant time. Two of which, maybe even three, suffered season-ending injuries.
These are not role players or scrubs. The success of the team hinges on all of these players and what they bring week in and week out. You can't replace a Ben Roethlisberger or a Stephon Tuitt.
With the injuries these players have suffered, other players have been thrown into the fire. Mason Rudolph became the Steelers' starting quarterback in Week 3. Even Devlin "Duck" Hodges, who didn't even make the 53-man roster out of preseason, started a game at quarterback this past week against the Chargers.
We've even seen the impact of missing guys like Vince Williams and Steven Nelson. Williams' ability in the defending the run was evident while he missed time with a hamstring injury. Artie Burns saw a rare start at cornerback with Steven Nelson missing last week's game and we saw the drop off from Nelson to Burns pretty clearly.
The loss of Ben Roethlisberger alone is enough to punt on the season. Nothing against Rudolph or Hodges, but neither one are Big Ben. It's just about impossible to replace a quarterback like Ben. Ben's physical traits are hard enough to replicate, not to mention his football IQ and his ability to pick apart a defense mentally.
Despite all of the injuries, the leadership of this team has not changed their mindset. General manager Kevin Colbert displayed his confidence by sending away a 1st-round draft pick away for the first time since 1967 for Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The Steelers sit at 2-4 heading into their bye week. All things considered, the Steelers are very fortunate to be only two games out of first place, 1-1 in division play, and 2-2 against the AFC.
After their bye week, they host three straight games against Miami, Indianapolis, and the Los Angeles Rams. This will easily be the stretch that defines their season. Lose two out of three or worse, and the already slim chances of the playoffs vanish even more. Taking two out of three or better puts the Steelers in great spot heading into the remaining seven games of their schedule, which looks like this:
at N.Y. Jets
Those seven games, even with a young backup quarterback and relatively healthy squad, are winnable games. Cleveland is failing to live up to any offseason hype, Indianapolis is hot and cold, and the Rams don't necessarily look invincible at 3-3.
The AFC North is a mess. Cleveland failed the brutal start to their schedule and Baltimore looks limited. Cincinnati may be the best team to challenge Miami for the first overall pick in the 2020 draft.
Even after a 1-4 start, the playoffs are not out of the question. A lot has to happen. The Steelers will have to win some games that they probably shouldn't, and make sure they don't lose games they shouldn't either.
With Stephon Tuitt now out for the season, that leaves a gigantic hole up front on defense. Tuitt looked to be having a career year, and arguably may have been their best player so far this season.
Watching Tyson Alualu come in against the Chargers and make an impact is encouraging. He even got a hand up to tip a Philip Rivers pass at the line of scrimmage, gifting Devin Bush with an easy interception.
Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges coming in and playing smart football at quarterback and being efficient is huge for the success of the team for the rest of 2019.
These scenarios show why this team is willing to buy into the "next man up" mantra. No matter who goes down with an injury, someone has to step up and make an impact like Alualu.
Despite their record or their chances of making the postseason, this team buys into each other. They would if they were 6-0 or 0-6. The talent level may drop off when significant players get injured, but the Steelers are actually a better team because of talent drop off.
The Steelers said goodbye to ultra-talented players like Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell because of the negative impact they had on the team. Bell wanted more money than the team was willing to pay, and Brown burned more bridges than the city of Pittsburgh boasts on the way out of town.
Some of the greatest teams in history weren't the most talented teams. But they relied on each other and fed off each other and learned to play together correctly as a team.
The 2008 Steelers defense was one of the all time greats not just because of their talent, but because all eleven guys knew their role and did their job well. Take eleven high-performance parts in Dick LeBeau's well-oiled machine, and you've got yourself an all-time defense.
The 2019 Steelers aren't nearly as talented as the 2008 championship team. And no one expects this team to bring a Lombardi back to Pittsburgh this season.
Don't tell the guys in the locker room that. They have the belief that no matter who has to step up, they can get the job done. I don't know about you, but I will take that attitude over a failing, ultra-talented team that relies solely on the player's ability all day, every day.
Attitudes like that are infectious. One guy buys in, then another guy, then another. It's the true definition of "next man up."