(KDKA)- Heading into Week 15, the Pittsburgh Steelers, with an 8-5 record, hold the final wild card spot in the AFC. That may not seem impressive on its face, but if you had told a Steelers fan prior to the year that Ben Roethlisberger would get hurt Week 2, the team would start 0-3 and they’d still be here? They would have likely said you’ve had a few too many Primanti Bros. subs.
And yet, despite the injuries to not just Big Ben, but James Conner, Juju Smith Schuster and others, Pittsburgh is right in the thick of the playoff picture. They face a matchup with the Buffalo Bills Sunday night. Who deserves the credit? According to NFL Today and Inside the NFL analyst Phil Simms, the answer is Mike Tomlin.
“Mike Tomlin has done a great job. He put more emphasis on their defense. The defense is actually getting better. They made a trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick, which was huge. Backups that have come in for injured players have played great,” said Simms.” And they are loaded across the board on the defensive side, which fits right in with what Mike Tomlin wants to do anyway.”
The defense, which gave up 33, 28, and 24 points in the first three weeks of the season, has risen to the third-best unit in the league by Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency metrics. That rise has been key, because on the offensive side of the ball, injuries have greatly affected what the team has been capable of. But, even there, Tomlin’s influence can be felt, as he has successfully navigated the season to this point with Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges handling the duties under center.
“The quarterback playing it really safe. He [Tomlin] has taken the team back,” said Simms. “He’s now the man in charge, and that’s a big deal. He acts like it, manages the game well. It’s been a great year by Mike Tomlin.”
That great year will need to continue as the Steelers playoff berth isn’t locked up just yet. Sunday night’s game against the Bills could determine which team ends up with the top Wild Card spot, and there is still a matchup with the Ravens in Week 17. With the Titans hot on their heels, the Steelers need to win two of their final three games to feel safe in the playoff picture. That all starts this Sunday night with a prime-time matchup against the Buffalo Bills, with kickoff set for 8:20 p.m. Eastern Time.
You can catch Phil Simms along with, Ray Lewis, Brandon Marshall, Michael Irvin, and host James Brown on Inside The NFL every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.