For a former Super Bowl winning coach, Mike Tomlin came into the 2019 NFL season with plenty to prove.
Well, he's done just that, authoring his finest coaching performance for the Steelers, which is saying something because, again, he's won one Super Bowl and appeared in another.
Remarkably, after starting the year 0-3, after losing their starting quarterback in Week 2 and having two unproven quarterbacks rotate in and out since, after losing their Pro Bowl running back James Conner for most of the season because of the injury, the Steelers are now 7-5 and in position to make the playoffs.
Even more remarkably, they've done it by completely changing their identity, something Tomlin has to get full credit for. Previous to this year, they were a pass-first, high-octane offensive team. They may have came into the year wanting to do the same thing. Then Ben Roethlisberger went down and they had to adjust. So what does Tomlin do? Doubles down on defense, the smartest decision he's made as a coach.
The Steelers, despite being 0-2 at the time, traded their 2020 first-round pick (and other picks) for corner and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Since the move, Fitzpatrick has had five interceptions, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, and one touchdown. That injection of life has been complemented by T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and Cameron Heyward providing big pressure up front. The defense as a whole is giving up 16.4 points per game since the trade. He's made all the right moves at all the right times, and it's added up to wins.
Perhaps most impressively, and most importantly, Tomlin has managed the emotions of a team that was in a cultural transition following the departures of Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell and the loss of Roethlisberger. He got his players to believe in what they were trying to do, to believe they could compete for a playoff spot despite being 0-3, to believe they were right and all the pundits who said they had no chance to win were wrong. The players listened, they believed, and the Steelers can make a run at a Wild Card spot because of it.
Of course, that Super Bowl win was impressive, too. But let's not forget, that team had veteran leaders on both sides of the field (Hines Ward, James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley and others) who played a huge role in that run and the other run that ended in a Super Bowl loss to the Packers. While there are veterans and great players making huge contributions to this team, Tomlin has orchestrated the whole thing this year; he saw what his team's strengths could be, and put his players in a position to succeed. It's paid off, and all thanks to Tomlin, who has answered any questions remaining about his ability as a head coach.