Remember when the Pittsburgh Steelers were 0-4? When they were the laughingstock of the AFC North? Vegas odds couldn’t find a number small enough to brandish on the Steelers’ chances of making the playoffs or the Super Bowl.
Yet, here we sit after 11 games, and the Steelers have clawed their way to a 5-6 record, winning five of their last seven games. Not only are they in the discussion within the AFC North, but also in terms of the AFC wild card picture. There are six AFC teams currently sitting at 5-6 and vying for that coveted sixth seed in the AFC, but before I go any further, did anyone see this coming? This turnaround for the Steelers?
Well, there were three people who did — the Steelers’ coaching staff.
Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley and Dick Lebeau never faltered in their trust and confidence in this team to not only turn things around, but also to be a formidable force to be reckoned with.
Tomlin has been criticized throughout this season and rightfully so, but you have to give credit where credit is due. As silly as it was to ban games in the locker room, can you not argue that it has had an effect on the team? It might not have led to wins or losses, but players across the board have spoken about the attitude in the locker room has changed, how meetings have become more detail-oriented, and how the organization has adopted the “one game at a time” mentality.
Tomlin truly is the right man for the job in terms of keeping his players focused, motivated and constantly keeping the team looking ahead.
It is rare that a coordinator takes more heat than a head coach, but it comes with the territory in Pittsburgh. Haley was brought in to a situation that would be tough for the most experienced coach, but he has handled the criticism well for the most part. Offensive coordinators are a rare breed that gets criticized often. If a play works, well, you did your job. If it doesn’t, then fans are clamoring for your departure.
Haley’s trust in Ben Roethlisberger and willingness to give some of his power to the franchise quarterback via the no-huddle offense has improved the offense tremendously the last few weeks.
Change is difficult for coaches, and Haley isn’t the only one that has changed. Legendary defensive coordinator Lebeau, has been under scrutiny for the first time in years with the Steelers. People like myself were writing articles in regards to Lebeau’s schemes being obvious and deliberate, stating that it might be time for the Steelers’ coordinator to hang it up.
Lebeau answered that call with change. As his players become more comfortable and got more experience, his schemes have shown to make an impact. Young players like Vince Williams, Jarvis Jones, Cam Heyward and even Shamarko Thomas have the team playing great defense. They aren’t just taking the ball away, but also playing that intimidating style that is synonymous with the Steelers.
The credit goes beyond the head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator, but also to all the specialty coaches that have kept this team focused on the task at hand. The Cleveland Browns game was a perfect trap game as the Baltimore Ravens await the Steelers on Thanksgiving night, but the credit goes to the coaches and their approach to each game.
Someone once said the coach gets too much credit when a team wins, and too much blame when they lose. Coaching is an imperfect science, but I give a lot of credit to the Steelers coaching staff for keeping this team relevant when no one else gave them a puncher’s chance.
Jeff Hartman covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for RantSports.com and also contributes for the Penguins and Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @BnGBlitz