By Christina Rivers
It’s December and the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking forward to an opportunity to erase the past two seasons as an average team by putting themselves in position to clinch a playoff spot. Head coach Mike Tomlin has the team focused on Kansas City, however, keeping the perspective on what goes on this week as they prepare for the Chiefs. “We don’t need to look outside our stadium this week,” Tomlin said in his Tuesday press conference. “For the fourth week in a row, since our bye week, we’re playing a team that’s vying for playoff contention.” Tomlin pointed out that the sense of urgency the Steelers feel as a team had motivated them to prepare for big performances.
The Steelers were able to secure contributions from every unit against the Atlanta Falcons, and the team is focused on building on that success. Tomlin has stressed all season that the Steelers strive to be balanced in every phase of the game. When teams throw something new at them, Pittsburgh has been better in the past few weeks making the appropriate adjustments to compensate. One way the Steelers have done so is by bringing in some of their younger players. “I just liked the way our young guys in particular wore the urgency of the moment,” Tomlin said when speaking about the way his team played in Atlanta. “I just thought, largely, our group took it in the right way and used it as positive fuel.” Tomlin called the performance a “springboard” that the team can use moving forward.
Tomlin and the coaching staff aren’t opposed to putting players on the field that aren’t so-called “starters” against the Chiefs. Tuesday, he reiterated that the team will put the personnel that are most prepared to play on the field, regardless of their place on the depth chart. Marcus Gilbert practiced last week, but Mike Munchak and the staff opted to play Mike Adams. “We say we’ll let (players) participation over the course of the week be our guide,” said Tomlin. “We decided to go with the healthy hand…we’ll go through the same process this week.” Sean Spence and Vince Williams split time over rookie Ryan Shazier, but Tomlin said that who is on the field will be determined by how effective the players are in practice and preparation. “That’s just the right thing to do,” he said.
Tight end Matt Spaeth and safety Mike Mitchell were both hurt in the game against the Falcons, making it likely that Will Allen and Michael Palmer will be given time with the first-team. Ike Taylor, James Harrison and Gilbert will also get an opportunity to practice while they are evaluated as to the level of play they would be able to give on Sunday. Tomlin said that readiness is gauged by details. “Are they utilizing the proper technique to play from a penalty-free standpoint or to win the possession downs against skilled individuals…so much of that is above-the-neck.” Yes, football is a thinking game as much as it is a physical one.
Depth has been something the Steelers have been without in several locations, especially in the defensive backfield. “As you get your health back from the guys that are injured then you have quality depth,” Tomlin stated. “It’s playing out at the linebacker position, but it’s also paying out in the secondary with guys like Brice McCain and Antwon Blake. It’s also playing out at the outside linebacker position with guys like Arthur Moats. Hopefully as guys like Taylor, Harrison and Shazier gain their health, we’re fortified from a depth standpoint and a quality depth standpoint with playing experience because of it.”
“Kansas City, much like the last several teams we have played, is (on) the brink,” said Tomlin of how important it is for the Steelers to be ready to face the Chiefs. “This is a big game for them. It’s a big game for us. We will prepare with that in mind. But again, we are not looking at if from any standpoint other than we have a big game versus a good team. We have to step into (Heinz Field) and do what is required by us to win.”
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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on