Of all the various forms and fashions of dysfunction that the Steelers periodically display on the watch of coach Mike Tomlin, none have called into question his basic knowledge of and approach to the game. The gaffe that emerged on Friday regarding defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s stunning misbelief regarding the status of Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert does, indirectly.
In an interview with the team’s website, Keith Butler answered a pair of questions about Eifert, who last played in Week Four. From saying “well, Tyler’s doing a good job” to providing a longer assessment of Eifert’s skills, the man who runs Pittsburgh’s defense and who presumably has been studying film in advance of a showdown with the Bengals on which a playoff berth hinges didn’t realize immediately (or at all) that Eifert landed on injured reserve in early October.
Remember when Rams coach Sean McVay rattled off in a minute or so the strengths of every player on the Bears’ starting defense and how some in the media reacted to the display in hyperbolic fashion and how some in the media then pointed out how hyperbolic it was to praise an offensive-minded head coach for knowing the names of the players on the defense he is preparing to face? Maybe it’s a talent more rare than previously believed.
Or maybe not. Maybe Butler’s blunder exposes him as potentially unfit for the job he holds. And maybe the accountability will move up a level to the man who supervises Butler.
If Butler’s brain fart wasn’t a one-time thing, Mike Tomlin knows or at least should know that Butler either isn’t putting in the work or can’t process the information, unless Tomlin also isn’t putting in the work or processing the information. Indeed, if there’s a flaw so basic and fundamental in Butler’s understanding of the players he’ll be trying to stop on Sunday, how many other flaws exist that aren’t widely known, both as to Butler and as to Tomlin?
The Steelers pride themselves on not firing coaches, and this isn’t a “fire Tomlin” take. It’s a fair, objective look at one of the most surprising cognitive lapses in recent coaching history and the consequences that could flow from it.
Next month, the Steelers celebrate the 50th anniversary of the hiring of Chuck Noll. They’d have only two other coaches since then, with Tomlin wrapping up his twelfth season. If they fail to qualify for the postseason this year, it will be only the fourth time that has happened under Tomlin. Surely, one season of significant underachievement won’t be enough to get Art Rooney II to make a change.
But this Tyler Eifert thing should at a minimum get Rooney, a lawyer by training and trade, to ask some tough, pointed questions behind closed doors, the answers to which at a minimum could cause Rooney to view Butler and/or Tomlin differently as 2019 approaches.