Pittsburgh Steelers: Rex Ryan

NFLN survey/popular coach: Steelers

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
PITTSBURGH -- An ESPN NFL Nation survey identified Seattle's Pete Carroll as the coach whom players would most like to call their own.

That is not a surprise given Carroll's success in Seattle, his caffeinated and optimistic approach to coaching and his reputation as a players' coach.

What is also not surprising: that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin finished second in the polling of more than 320 players.

Tomlin collected 44 votes compared to 71 for Carroll, and he might have received more had some of the Steelers' players I polled not answered the question as the coach they would most like to play for aside from their own.

Tomlin collected five votes in the Steelers' locker room compared to four for Carroll and one for the Jets' Rex Ryan.

Tomlin's greatest strength is his ability to connect with his players and motivate them. He has done this while also maintaining a clear line between a coach and his players that is necessary for the kind of sustained success Tomlin has enjoyed, the last two seasons notwithstanding.

The seventh-year coach is cool, confident -- and, yes sometimes arrogant -- and if there is any doubt how much faith the Steelers' players have in him, witness the second half of last season.

The Steelers went 6-2 in their final eight games and came within a missed field goal by inches -- and a missed call -- of sneaking into the playoffs.

Tomlin never lost his players despite 0-4 and 2-6 starts, and there were multiple times that the season could have jumped the track but didn't.

To get an idea how his players feel about Tomlin, consider what Jerricho Cotchery said recently when talking about why he would love to stay in Pittsburgh (the veteran wide receiver can become an unrestricted free agent on March 11).

"He's just an unbelievable guy to be around and work for," Cotchery said of Tomlin. "He's a guy that you would love cutting his grass."

Tomlin should get that written in Cotchery's next contract if the latter re-signs with the Steelers.

And such effusive praise of Tomlin is pretty typical around the Steelers' locker room. It also comes from those who have played for him and are no longer on the Steelers

Tomlin can be as blunt as any coach behind closed doors but players appreciate that honesty. And I've never heard any player complain -- and we're taking off the record here -- about not knowing where they stand with him.

My guess is that Tomlin will stay in Pittsburgh as long as he wants, and that will be until he no longer wants to coach.

Here is a breakdown of the voting after the top two spots: The Broncos' John Fox (26) and the Patriots' Bill Belichick and Ryan (23) rounded out the top five. Other top vote getters included the Chiefs' Andy Reid (22), the Saints' Sean Payton (21) and the brothers Harbaugh.

The 49ers' Jim Habaugh received 16 votes and the Raves' John Harbaugh got 10 votes.
PITTSBURGH -- If the Steelers win Sunday at Heinz Field, they will finish 8-8 and also end the season with eight wins in their final 12 games after the franchise’s worst start since 1968.

Whether a 10th consecutive win over the Browns in Pittsburgh is enough for the Steelers to extend their season will depend on three other teams. The Steelers also need the Jets, Bengals and Chiefs to win to emerge from a logjam and secure the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs.

Despite the Steelers needing outside help, right guard David DeCastro insists their focus won’t stray from beating the Browns.

“I think we’re all professionals,” DeCastro said. “We want to win and go out there and beat the guy ahead of you. It’s as simple as that.”

If only the same could be true of the Steelers’ precarious playoff situation.

Here is a look at the three other games will impact their chances of sneaking into the playoffs:

Jets vs. Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET at Sun Life Stadium

Last time they played: Miami beat New York, 23-3, on Dec. 1.

What’s to like: The Jets would love to knock the Dolphins out of playoff contention and they may be playing for coach Rex Ryan’s job. Ryan appears to have the support of his players and they figure to at least give their best effort. Their defense is legit and the Dolphins managed just 103 total yards in a 19-0 loss at Buffalo last Sunday.

What’s not to like: The Jets are just 1-6 on the road this season and they have been beaten by an average of 19.5 points in those six losses. The Jets – and the Steelers – will depend on rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who has been all over the map this season. Smith completed just 4 of 10 passes for 29 yards and was intercepted before getting benched the first time he played against the Dolphins. Yikes.

Ravens vs. Bengals, 1 p.m. ET at Paul Brown Stadium

Last time they played: Baltimore beat Cincinnati, 20-17 in overtime, on Nov. 10.

What’s to like: The Bengals have an outside shot of securing the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs – and the all-important bye that come with it – and they need a victory to assure themselves of the No. 3 seed. There shouldn’t be any worries from the Steelers’ end about the Bengals playing to win, and coach Marvin Lewis’ team is almost a touchdown favorite at home.

What’s not to like: Andy Dalton threw three interceptions last month in Baltimore and he is always a bit of a wild card. The Bengals needed a Hail Mary touchdown pass from Dalton to A.J. Green the last time the AFC North rivals played just to send the game into overtime. The Ravens should be sky high for this game as they want to at least get a chance to defend their Super Bowl title, and history says they will play considerably better after getting shellacked by the Patriots last Sunday.

Chiefs vs. Chargers, 4:25 p.m. ET at Qualcomm Stadium

The last time they played: San Diego beat Kansas City, 41-38, on Nov. 24.

What’s to like: The best thing for the Steelers, if this AFC West game means something to them, is that everything broke their way earlier in the day. The Steelers would love nothing more than to still be alive for the playoffs after the 1 p.m. ET games – even if that means depending on team that is locked into its playoff seed and won’t play key starters the entire game.

What’s not to like: Where to start? Philip Rivers torched the Chiefs for 392 passing yards and three touchdowns last month -- and that was when he played against Kansas City’s first-team defense. Chiefs No. 2 quarterback Chase Daniel could get significant playing time, and he has thrown all of 17 passes in his NFL career. The Chargers will have everything to play for if the Dolphins and Ravens lose in the early games.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers’ offense appears to be heading in the right direction. The return of tight end Heath Miller and addition of running back Le’Veon Bell has totally changed the dynamic of a unit that had been woeful in the Steelers’ first two games.

Now the defense has to step up if the Steelers are to get their season untracked. The Steelers traditionally torment rookie quarterbacks such as the one they will face Sunday when they visit the Jets.

But Geno Smith shouldn’t be lacking for confidence when he faces the Steelers, and not just because the former West Virginia star threw three touchdown passes and led a game-winning drive that stunned the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night.

The Steelers have not put enough pressure on the quarterback this season, making it debatable how uncomfortable they will make things for Smith at MetLife Stadium.

Defensive end Cameron Heyward has replaced Ziggy Hood in the starting lineup, and he is second on the team in quarterback hurries with nine. Hood joins left tackle Mike Adams as the two players who have been demoted following the Steelers’ first 0-4 start since 1968. Will more players be on the hot seat if the Steelers continue their losing ways?

Their 1 p.m. game against the Jets looked like one of their easier road contests before the start of the season.

But the Jets are 3-2 and have emerged as one of the NFL’s early surprises. Coach Rex Ryan appeared to be on his way out of New York after a disastrous 2012, but he has the Jets playing well despite starting a rookie quarterback who is surrounded by no-name skill players.

At least one NFL analyst has Ryan and the Jets beating the Steelers and moving to 4-2.