View Full Version : Harris: Defensive coaches escape shakeup

01-09-2010, 07:52 AM
Harris: Defensive coaches escape shakeup
By John Harris
Saturday, January 9, 2010

It's the defense's fault the Steelers missed the playoffs in 2009. That's what coach Mike Tomlin told us throughout the team's five-game losing streak.

"We had an opportunity to win the Baltimore game in regulation, but we didn't because we gave up a big play on fourth-and-5," Tomlin said following another ugly defeat.

"We had an opportunity to win the Oakland game. We had a ball hit us in the chest during that last drive. We didn't make that play," Tomlin said in describing rookie Joe Burnett dropping an interception right before the Raiders scored the winning touchdown.

When the offense failed to convert on third-and-short twice in the first quarter against Cleveland, and finished the game only 3 of 14 on third-down conversions while allowing a season-high eight sacks in a 13-6 loss to the Browns, Tomlin said it was everybody's fault.

"The protection of our quarterback and the conversions of third downs is an 11-man job, and it's a staff job. And we all failed," Tomlin said.

Once again, Tomlin's words are coming back to mock him.

The same coach who said prior to the Oakland loss that "we won't point fingers; we won't come apart," made his first decisive moves as an NFL coach this week.

Tomlin fired offensive line coach Larry Zierlein and special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky. And if you believe the rumors and innuendo surrounding offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' job security, Tomlin thought long and hard before retaining Arians.

The source of my confusion is that Tomlin has so far left his defensive coaching staff intact. How can that be considering Tomlin's repeated public critique of his secondary?

Tomlin never called out the performance of his offensive line the way he ripped his secondary. Yet, Zierlein was the first coach he fired, while defensive backs coach Ray Horton remains on staff.

Horton, predictably, defended his performance.

"Statistically, there's nothing wrong with us. We just didn't turn the ball over enough to stop some of the big plays," Horton said this week. "That's the only thing we didn't do."

The Steelers were No. 5 in total defense following a No. 1 ranking in 2008. They were No. 16 against the pass after finishing as the top-ranked unit a year ago.

Maybe Tomlin took into consideration the absence of defensive end Aaron Smith and safety Troy Polamalu for most of the season. How could he not?

If his secondary's performance was, in Tomlin's words, "below the line," I can only assume the secondary will be revamped because by not firing Horton, Tomlin must have found fault with his players rather than the assistant who works with those players every day in practice.

Clearly, Tomlin found fault with Zierlein's performance. Presumably, that's why he fired him.

On the other hand, if the secondary remains intact next season, Tomlin will have more explaining to do because of how he characterized the play of his defensive backs.

Remember, Tomlin was Tampa Bay's defensive backs coach for five years. It isn't a stretch to say he knows more about the nuances of secondary play than what's taking place on the offensive line.

That speaks volumes about Tomlin's decision to retain Horton, who believes there will be personnel changes in the secondary.

"We will inevitably have turnover this year. We will not stay the same," Horton said. "Part of it is getting a different mix of people. That's just the way the business is."

Speculation has it that one of the reasons for the uncertainty of Arians' return in 2010 is that he may have to transition back to becoming more of a ball-control coordinator featuring the run.

The Steelers finished No. 7 in offense, their highest ranking since 2002, as they featured a 4,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time in the same season.

But wasn't it Tomlin who said he saw Lombardi trophies and not rushing titles on his way to his office when he responded to Willie Parker's plea last season to emphasize the running game?

With that in mind, some of the fascination surrounding this year's statistical smorgasbord might be short-lived considering the Steelers ranked No. 21 in red-zone offense and finished with a 39 percent third-down conversion rate.

At times this season, the Steelers offense was a joy to behold. The 37-36 comeback win against Green Bay was breathtaking.

But do Steelers fans prefer a high-octane attack or winning Super Bowls with a boring offense?

I believe we all know the answer to that.

Will Tomlin's next line coach have a proven resume for developing a power running game, or will it be someone with a track record for standout pass-blocking?

Whoever it is will provide a clear answer where the offense is headed.

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

01-09-2010, 08:09 AM
They probably got a bye because Polamalu and Smith were out.

01-09-2010, 09:26 AM
I agree , some what, with Coach Hortons assesment. They didn't turn the ball over enough. There were times this season where DB's had the ball in grasp and dropped it, times when fumbles were there for the covering and we missed it. Sure our coverage was horrible this season at times, but one thing I have always maintained to my players when I coached was this, you can't afford to drop sure interceptions, because giving offenses a second chance usually bites you in the ass. This team didn't make plays on the ball when they presented themselves, we did last season. We catch the ball when it's in our hands we win the division, and probably have the 3rd seed. YOu give NFL offenses and players second chances whether by dropping pics, not recovering fumbles or penalties and you are going to lose, the talent level in this league is too high and too close from team to team. Make those plays we talk about a good defense , even in the absence of Troy, we didn't make the plays and we blame them for a lost season.
I also certainly agree with AIID about the injuries to Smith and Troy giving the D coaches a little more "leash"

01-09-2010, 09:42 AM
Basically, you don't fire a coach for players mistakes. Dropped balls happened on both sides of the ball this season and neither the DB coach or WR coach will lose his job.
Coaches lose their job when their system fails, not when individual players fail. Zierlein lost his job because our OL has been weak for years and his system failed to protect Ben adequately.

01-09-2010, 11:45 AM
Great read by John Harris and thanks for posting it Mesa.

01-09-2010, 11:54 AM
The offense didn't fail necessarily form lack of talent, but poor coaching. The defense lacked the talent to backup the injuries that occured up front and to Troy. And our corners are just sad, sad, sad. I'm looking forward to a draft that leans on the defense side. And hey....Logan and Melwelde Moore were two gems we found in free agency......we do manage to do that once in a while. And please find someone to block for Logan.....that kid gets so frustrated when he gets stopped.

01-09-2010, 01:09 PM
B*** SH** ........We need draft picks to step up.......Those dudes got old real quick.........Play was unaccaptable......I forsee a total defensive draft........I would find a new BIGSNACK first and then a little POTTSIE.........