Tomlin Believes Steelers Are Equipped To Play Man Coverage Vs Patriots

Mike Tomlin believes the Pittsburgh Steelers are in a better place to play man coverage this time around. We’ll find out on Sunday. Talking with reporters in today’s press conference, Tomlin says he thinks the defense can play man coverage more effectively this year than last.

“I feel like we are in a better position to do so,” Tomlin responded. “And we have practiced it more globally speaking over the course of the 12 month calendar.”

Looking back on last year, the Steelers did try to play man coverage in the AFC Championship game. But it failed, like pretty much everything else Keith Butler attempted to do to slow down Tom Brady. He could do no wrong, throwing for 384 yards, just ten incompletions, and three scores.

Throughout the offseason, Steelers’ players have said they’re more confident in being able to play man coverage. Statistically, they haven’t run a lot of it but as we noted weeks ago, they’re doing it in the most important situations.

Of course, whether or not the Steelers have Joe Haden back in the lineup is a critical component to how successful the secondary can be this time around. If Cam Sutton is forced to start or see a lot of playing time, you can bet Tom Brady will go after him in the same way he went after Artie Burns last year.

Larger than that, the Steelers’ defense must be able to communicate effectively and cleanly, something even Tomlin acknowledged hadn’t been good enough. They’re still trying to sort everything out after losing Ryan Shazier, the quarterback of that defense.

As we’ve reminded before, it goes beyond just playing man coverage. If playing man-to-man was *the* only key to beating the Patriots, they wouldn’t be as historically successful as they are. It’s just one component to winning and variety, mixing coverages and disguising looks, is how you win the game, not just the down.

About the Author

Alex Kozora
Full-time blogger from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • I think middle pressure on a hobbled Brady is a BIG key to this Sunday’s success.

  • Randy

    Belichick will have his team ready for us on Sunday. He will make adjustments and we the steelers better be ready to handle it. GO STEELERS

  • SteeltheKing

    Just an idea to randomly throw out, but how about switching Heyward and Hargrave at times? Heyward is the most intense player out there and their best inside rusher. Line him over the center and see if he can get a push, or at least get his huge arms up in Brady’s throwing lanes…Idk, I guess with everyone throwing out ideas of people switching positions I didn’t want to be left out!

  • Nunya

    That last sack of the game against Baltimore, Watt was on the left and Harrison was on the right. I was begging for that all game. Right now, that needs to be their primary rotation!

  • rystorm06

    With Haden possibly back, I’m feeling a lot better about this game than before.

  • cencalsteeler

    Playing man is one piece to the puzzle. I do think the bigger piece to have success against the Pats is to establish a lead. You give them the lead and you fall right into their plans. Please Tomlin, don’t defer if you win the toss. Haley, please don’t come out and be vanilla. Put the foot to the floor, get exotic and never let up.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    It’s just a bad matchup for the Steelers. Even if Haden is back, Burns is still an easy target. And losing 50 is the biggest of all. No one to cover Gronk.

    Pittsburgh is going to need to score 50 to beat them.

  • FATCAT716

    No problem


    I think the real key to defending Brady is to knock him on his a– so if man coverage gives them that extra second or two…great, but imo you mix it up. Some man, some zone, but the pressure needs to be relentless.

  • SteelersGeek4Lyfe

    The key to beating Br*dy: PRESSURE! Dial it up!

  • Ray Istenes

    It is the key. He did not look right last night.

  • Randy

    Put hilton on him eventhough he is small

  • Danielsteelstrong81

    Watt can cover him

  • ryan72384

    Even if Haden plays I wonder if Sutton will play too since he’s a capable man corner? If the Pats spread us out it’d be nice to counter punch with Haden Artie Hilton and Sutton. All seem capable of playing man. Artie and Haden are definitely man corners. Sean Davis play man on Gronk all day? Just follow him everywhere. Has the size and speed required.

  • ThatGuy

    As seen last night the key for our defense is physicality, strong play from the front 7 to bully their OL and physical press coverage on their WRs and TEs, none of this play 10 yards off the receiver then go for the open field tackle. Bump them, jam them at the L.O.S. and just overpower them all day long.

  • ThePointe

    For 1 entire game Id like to see no mental lapses from Artie Burns. Then build on that performance going into the playoffs. There is no question hes talented enough, the question is whether he can limit the mistakes.

  • Michel Smiffi

    Hilton is much more of a classic zone(-blitz) nickelback.
    But I think he could handle the pass-cathcing RBs for the Pats very well, since he is physical enough for him not to be overmatched in the rungame, and a good enough tackler to get a lighter RB down.
    I think trying Sutton on Gronk could be an idea in obvious passing plays, but on 1st and 2nd down, Sean Davis will have to do it.
    I lost a ton of confidence in him, but he’ll have to step up.

  • ThatGuy

    The real key here is getting last night’s officiating crew who let Howard stay all over Cooks the whole night.

  • Michel Smiffi

    Our D-linemen must finally get back on track.
    They played like trash the past weeks, and if they do vs. NE, they’ll eat up the secondary.
    Heyward, Tuitt and Hargreave must get back to simply overwhelming the interior offensive linemen.
    It’s that simple.

  • Michel Smiffi

    Our LBs are still WAY to slow without Shazier, maybe we must lign up in Dime the entire game and just allow them 6 yards/run.

  • ThePointe

    With our luck, well draw the crew we had against the Ravens. That entire crew should have gotten suspended after that game.

  • PittShawnC

    Just do something different.
    I don’t care if what we try fails.
    I don’t care if we end up losing the game.
    Just do something different.

  • ThatGuy

    They were soooo bad. The only awful call last nights crew had was that roughing the passer against MIA where the guy barely touched Brady’s shoulder pad lol.

  • ThatGuy

    Beating New England would be doing something different though lol

  • Jones

    We’re not going to hold them to under 20. We’ll have to settle for holding them to a field goal and maybe getting them to punt a couple of times because of pass rush. On the other hand, this offense has beaten some of the best defenses in the league. We need to carve them up through the air and run the ball down their throats to keep Brady on the sideline as much as possible. Go in with the mindset of aiming to win a shootout.

  • Steelerfan4lifeinAZ

    Cook is going to be a tough match up. Who do you have cover him? Artie? And Hogan is a Safeties nightmare.. He is always killing teams with the post or crossing route. This kid seems to always get open and i didnt even start with Gronk. Boy i hope Butler has a good plan… but either way we need our front to really push the pocket to avoid Brady killing us

  • Ni mo

    4-2-5 cover 1 DE: Dupree DT : hargave , Tuitt , DE cam . LB watt and Vince. On third downs take Vince out out Dupree at LB and bring Harrison DE. CB : hade , burns : safeties , Golden , Mitchell , DAvis , slot : gay and Hilton

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Based on..?

  • jsteeler72

    Based on the fact he was a tight end his entire life before these last three years. That’s why he is so good in zone coverage has mad ball skills and was one of the most athletic outside LB’s at the combine.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    That’s great – has he ever covered a TE on a seam route?

  • jsteeler72

    Holy cow really that’s like asking ? ” Hey TJ did ya ever run a seam route.” DUH!

  • Don

    Looks like a 4-2-7 you got there. I like our chances to be able to slow them down with that.

  • Don

    Hold them to FGs, try to turn it over a couple times, and outscore them.

  • will

    Yep…..been planning that since training camp.

  • gdeuce

    outscoring them sounds like a good plan to win the game

  • Don

    Meaning it will be a high-scoring shootout. Sorry, thought that was clearly implied.

  • srdan

    We need two things in this game assuming ben plays the way he has.
    1. One of the defensive units to ball out. Dline to get pressure, cbs to blanket wr or lbs to get Gronkowski and rbs under control.
    2. Bell and ol to control the clock vs that weak front 7

    I really don’t think this pats team is near as good as their record.

  • Michel Smiffi

    The Pats cheat all of the time, maybe we can get away with playing 13 defenders, too.

  • JT

    It would be a nice game for the Grave Digger to break out, that’s for sure. And has anyone seen Stephon Tuitt lately, for that matter?

  • Michel Smiffi

    I think Artie is actually a good match-up for him. He has the speed to go downfield with him and he can press him pretty well. He might draw a few flags, though. Especially since it’s a very special opponent in terms on officiating.

  • JT

    I’d take holding calls all day instead of a bunch of 50 yard TDs.

  • Michel Smiffi

    Yeah, I hate to say it, but we kind of have to hope it becomes a point race just like the Ravens game.
    I fuly trust our offense to pull it off late if we stay in a shootout long enough.

  • Michel Smiffi

    Maybe somebody should tell Cam Heyward and Vince Williams that Brady made a really inappropriate joke about Shaziers injury right before the game.
    That would make things interesting.

  • Cormel Bovan Sr.

    I’m hoping this is why Harrison got some snaps last week. I would like to see those blitzes we use were Harrison comes up the middle right in Brady’s eye sight, I bet just seeing him coming from there would make him uneasy . I think letting Harrison play off of Hargraves hip on some blitzes would get either one some pretty good shots on Brady.

  • Intense Camel

    He’s been really disappointing.

  • Kevin artis

    Whatever we do don’t do what we did last year.

  • D.j. Reynolds

    6 yards per run is better than we were giving up to Baltimore with Moats/Spence – especially on outside runs!

  • TroymanianDevil

    It’s not hard to cover, you just have to be athletic enough to do it and I think the point is that TJ has the necessary athleticism

  • Michael Conrad

    The key is mix up the coverage and pressure up the middle and tackling. Slow them down. May not stop them but don’t make it easy.

    The biggest key is to score TD’s not field goals and for the Offense to have another good game. The last two times we played the Pats the O was less then good.

  • Tuitt was second on the team against Baltimore with 6 pressure according to PFF.

  • You had it planned since training camp the Brady would have a bad foot against us 3 months later?

  • thegoodzz

    Pretty sure he meant getting pressure on brady

  • Chad Weiss

    Yeah ok

  • Intense Camel

    You disagree?

  • Chad Weiss

    Yup.. He had 6 hurries,2 qb knockdown,tipped pass that gave us ball for getting driv3,hit on flacco drive before that to cause incomplete pass,caused interception,caused what should have been another,got penetration on all but three snaps despite being double team on 94 percent of plays and tripled another three. Still got his hands on rb in backfield,made multiple plays that opened up Steelers for missed tackles. Tuitt played at an ALL PRO level against ravens and was probably best defensive player on either side. Now tell me what’s so disappointing. I know you obviously didn’t go back to film room as if tuitt played like that every game he’d be under paid by millions. I’m dying to know where u are all coming up w this crazy ass oppinin on him but I guarantee you it’s not from watching film

  • Talyn Scarbrough

    You really want to see Williams kill Brady don’t you?

  • Steeldog22

    Need to be like the Patriots and have the DBs hold until it is called, determine what the acceptable level of holding/handfighting is for that crew, and run with it.

  • Intense Camel

    His personal goal was 10 sacks, how many does he have? You’re talking about one game. I’m talking about the season. Heyward is playing like an All-Pro. Tuitt has been ok, no better than any of his previous years.

  • Getting pressure on opposing QB is part of every weeks game plan, not just on NE week.

  • Ni mo

    I guess you didn’t read the whole thing

  • Ni mo

    You can slow them down playing 4-2-5 cover 1 , I guess you rather have the 3-4 and the get beat like last year .

  • pittfan

    Burns is a basketcase in zone. Put him on Cooks man to man and he’ll do just fine.

  • Don

    Easy, Tiger. Just making a joke. You listed 7 DBs. 2 CBs, 3 Safeties, and 2 Slots.

  • pittfan

    it was mentioned a couple of times that their left guard sucks in pass pro. goodie goodie.

  • Chad Weiss

    I can’t speak fok for every game only Sunday and tuitt was by far superior to heyward and that’s the facts

  • Chad Weiss

    Tuitt was double teamed on 94 percent of his snaps and was still a beast

  • Intense Camel

    Yea well I’m talking about the season. Heyward has been far superior in that regard.

  • Charles Mullins

    I have no idea if thats true or not but it made me chuckle.

  • Ni mo

    No I didn’t I guess you can’t read correctly 4-2-5 and said gay and Sutton can alternate at slot

  • Ni mo

    Let me make it easy for you 4-2-5 cover one DE: Tuitt , Dupree . DT hargrave , cam . LB : watt and Vince . CB Haden , Burns , safeties Mitchell , Golden , Davis .

    On third down take Vince out let Dupree play LB and Harrison DE . On dime if they want to go 6 Dbs they can take out a LB and use either gay or Sutton in the slot is that plain enough for you

  • Don

    Calm down, dude. First of all, does anyone else see anything in his original comment about alternating anyone in at slot? No. You simply listed seven guys. I assumed (correctly) that you made a simple mistake and made a little joke. You didn’t have to get your panties in a twist and get all defensive about it.

    Second of all, have you even read your own comments? Your new clarification did helpfully include the idea of mixing in other DBs in a rotation, but you eliminated Hilton and added Sutton in his place. You can’t keep things straight in your own head, and you’re sarcastically questioning my comprehension?

    I understand you must have some wonderful thoughts dancing around in your head. But if you can’t get them down onto the page accurately, we can’t necessarily tell what they are. Don’t get pissed at me because I can’t read your f-ing mind. Proofread your comments before hitting “Post”, and get a GD sense of humor.

  • Don

    Oh, did you now? Where exactly does it say that? Sutton wasn’t even included in your original post. LOL You did mention a rotation between LB and DE (had to infer the second “out” meant “move”, but the idea was there). But CBs were just three lists.

    Learn English before trying to call someone out for misreading your stuff.

  • will

    HPK….you are so easy to get a rise out of……..okay I will stop.

  • Lucious Myers

    ryan is our eraser on defense.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Maybe! Hopefully we’ll find out.
    But whatever Burns we’ve had so far this year would be a liability.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Dude.. seriously not pointing at you or anyone specific,
    but the concept that someone who’s new to playing linebacker could just switch to ILB mid-season, understand all of the reads from a completely different perspective and be effective is sheer lunacy – or more likely just not a clear understanding of all that would need to go into a position move like that for a guy no one has ever seen play that position.

    Nothing personal and all just . . . . not a real thing that can happen.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I forgot who it was that covered him once and did a pretty good job, but recall it wasn’t someone you’d expect.

    At least you know he’s be right with him the whole way.

  • HondoCogburn

    Man against Brady and Gronk, Merry Christmas cheats!

  • HondoCogburn

    Just don’t look at tommy wrong that’s a 30 yrd game misconduct penalty with ejection!

  • HondoCogburn

    Show up?

  • dany

    I don’t know how much impact he’s had in this, but the only tight end that has really made the steelers pay this year is Delaine Walker, and they’ve faced some good ones. Starting with shutting down Ben Watson (their leading receiver) last sunday, and other big names like Rudolph and Kelce. Regardless, Gronk is key, if he is contained I have no doubt they’ll win

  • thegoodzz

    ya but thats a key to winning against new england which is who we play this weekend smartass

  • 2winz

    can JuJu play defense? :0

  • 2winz

    he defended the pass against jordy nelson, let’s try him on Gronk. I think Watt is our best defender.. although I would like to propose that JuJu plays man coverage on Gronk :b

  • Wayne’O

    Truthfully it really doesn’t matter who covers Gronk, just as long as somebody covers him? As I recall he has done most of his damage against the Steelers running around with his own zip code.

  • joewalsh

    Pressure on Brady is his kryptonite.

  • pittfan

    It always seems we get a WTF moment with burns when he’s playing zone. Slap him on a guy and tell him to dog him all game and he’ll do fine.

  • Crowned

    Honestly Artie and Sutton are both at their best in the receivers face. Throw off Brady’s timing could go a long way Sunday.

  • mhurk

    At least let Watt jam Him off the line to slow Him up, The last few times We played Them it looked like nobody was covering Gronk, He just abuses our DB’s like They aint even there.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I’m a big Watt fan too, but.. there’s just no way he switches to ILB mid season without ever playing there before.

    I dunno.. maybe they could come up with some sort of man coverage scheme where Watt ultimately takes Gronk off the line?

    That Jordy play – great play – wasn’t that just one play? I’m guessing Butler did Not intend to have Watt on the other team’s #1 receiver.

    General comment.. I think next year Watt is going to be a machine.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    It’s true, he’s been uncovered more by the Steelers than likely all other games combined.

    Still.. when they’ve tried, they haven’t been able to slow him down. His role and success are the result of the Pats offense spreading the ball all over before ultimately hitting him for a long gain.

    Shazier was growing in his coverage abilities and had the size and athleticism for the role.

    Maybe a B. Allen out of man. He’s big, tough, fast..

  • Arnold Ziffel

    I’ll believe it when I see it on man coverage against the Patriots being the main defensive calls. Tomlin and Butler will resort to 3 man rush and zone…they always do. What should add some extra excitement is watching the nose tackle or DT cover a back down field. Who’s great idea is that? Unbelievable and Tomlin is supposed to be a Defensive genius. Sure, and I’m supposed to be king of the world too.

  • Ehrren Lee Phyzeque

    Heavy dose of man is excellent versus New England because Brady does not like to get hit and Brady is definitely not a threat to take off and run downfield with the DBs backs toward him.

  • TroymanianDevil

    Let’s back up for a second. I never said he can or will or should play ILB. You’re completely right about that.

    All I said is he can cover Gronk. In man-to-man situations. We ask our OLB and even DL to do that occasionally. Remember Hargrave chasing Woodhead downfield? ( personally not a fan of doing that against NE b/c we’ll get eaten alive imo ). If we have 5-6 guys on the line. We can drop Watt into coverage, asking him to cover Gronk 1 on 1. That’s all I’m saying

  • 2winz

    whoa back up a bit there lol I am not saying to move him to ilb. just saying hes been pretty decent in coverage this year from what Ive seen. honestly, i think the best way to cover gronk is to switch it up and not let brady know who is covering. make it look like dupree, and its actually hilton. and if anybody should move to ilb like i said.. I want it to be JuJu. if he can knock Burfict out, what could he do to Brady? :0 is this realistic? no, but leave me alone lol

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Yep, wasn’t trying to go after you – more the culmination of crazy ideas thrown out on this board at times.

    So, how do the Steelers handle that if Gronk lines up wide right (to the other side)? Brady would just toss left without a LB there.

  • TroymanianDevil

    Oh no offense taken.. And yes, people have some very interesting, crazy ideas on scheme. I was just trying to point out that my thoughts were separate from the people saying Watt can replace Shazier. I agree with you, it’s crazy to suggest Watt can suddenly play ILB.

    But I think we can use his ability to cover Gronk in many situations, and we know that our OLBs have to cover so it fits within our scheme. To answer your question. I guess it depends where on the field they are. If Gronk lines up wide, there’s no/little threat of his run blocking being a problem. At least in comparison to if he’s lined up tight. So we could cover him with a DB out wide. The caveat being on the goal line, I’d make sure it’s a taller DB so we’re not susceptible to the fade/jump ball. But in general, I don’t think it’s a big deal to ask Watt to follow Gronk around the field, assuming we’re in man. This happens all the time, you get bigger LBs lined up against fast RBs all the time. NE practically invented that. In theory against NE, in man, I’d always keep a DB on their RBs, b/c none of them are big anyways so we don’t really have to worry about our DB getting run over. And Watt and maybe occasionally Bud on Gronk. Although I’d much rather Watt follow Gronk but I think Bud could handle it, but I’m very confident in Watt’s ability. So the directly answer your scenario, I just flip Watt to the other side, if it’s out of the huddle. If you’re saying Gronk goes in motion to do this, then that’s when Watt would pass him off to Bud