March 19, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin answers questions from reporters during the annual NFL meetings at the Arizona Biltmore. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Is There Still Steel in the Steelers?


Mike Tomlin welcomes how the Steelers are known for being a physical team.  During his media interviews at the owners meeting, someone went on to ask what being physical means and Tomlin was quoted:

One that’s combative. I think that is a word I look for in regards to being physical,” said Tomlin. “Putting together a team that is combative and one that doesn’t run away from combat situations or circumstances, I believe that year-in and year-out we are capable of producing that kind of team.”

I know this has probably been said before, but the term physical certainly means something different than it did when I was growing up watching the Steel Curtain play.  I started wondering if the franchise reputation is still deserved.  Is it still steel or more like a softer metal, maybe tin or even aluminum?  Nah.  No way.  The Steelers are still a physical team.  Here are some areas I considered:


A physical football team has to have an attitude.  I don’t mean a bad attitude either.  I mean that there must be the same mentality from the owner down through everyone in the organization.  There are no excuses for not doing what you are assigned to do.  Even if you aren’t getting the big money right now, do what is asked of you to the best of your ability – PERIOD.  The attitude should be that each and every person in the organization wants to be the best they can be at what they are doing.  Being physical starts with wanting to be the best.  For years, the franchise has been known to not tolerant a half-way attitude.  They have also been known to not tolerant poor behavior off the field because it gets in the way of reaching the top spot.  Admittedly, some may say that some things have been tolerated if a star player is involved.  That is a fair criticism and applies to all NFL teams.  I’d like to think that a lot of thought goes into the Steelers’ decisions, but I’m also sure some are driven by contracts and the NFLPA/CBA.  Regardless of the external factors, I think the Steelers franchise deserves the “physical label.”

New Rules Impact Physicality:

Let’s face it.  The rules have changed the game.  I’m on the fence about how it has actually affected my enjoyment of the game, but it is the reality.  You can’t expect the Steelers to play like they did in the 70s and not give up the game because of penalty yards.  I could wish the penalties that some of the “elite” quarterbacks get would come Roethlisberger’s way, but at least he is physical right back.  Every year the NFL puts out the fine “schedule” which details the type of fines and the associated dollar amounts.  You can get fined for everything from wearing the uniform incorrectly or wearing an unauthorized sponsor’s logo to playing the game incorrectly.  During the 2010 season, after the significant rule change about how to tackle, Harrison was fined $125,000 which was the majority of the fine total for the Steelers that year at $157,500.  I thought Harrison might have been one of the highest fined players, but Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions is waaaay ahead of that.  He was fined $164,000 for kicking in 2010.  Either way, these rules force the players to change how they play.  Concussions and how some people are affected for the rest of their lives can’t be justified.  This is a violent sport and nearly any player would tell you that they acknowledge the risk and still want to play.  I think that is key – the risks are out in the open, the potential health risks are better understood, and there is more transparency about the effects.  It has changed how the game is played and it does no good to bemoan it.  It just is.  I think the Steelers had to adjust for the rules and some of the defensive play reflected that last year.  However, the attitude still counts.  If you make the other player want to avoid your tackle, you are still a physical team.

Bigger, faster, stronger players:

While I think you can debate the bigger and stronger part of this section title, I think everyone will agree that players, on the whole, are faster.  That means the collisions are also coming at a great speed.  Watching people willingly run into each other is part of the violence that attracts many people to the NFL.  It’s the voluntary nature.  Unlike the gladiators of the Ancient Roman Empire, NFL players can walk away whenever they want.  Now, many of them would say they can’t because they are supporting a family, etc.  It’s still a choice.  You can also see a size difference at some of the positions – just look at the quarterback.  Russell Wilson has to be one of the few quarterbacks under 6’.  I think the wide receivers might be taller yet leaner so they can be faster.  While some offensive linemen still look like quite solid and beefy, there are many who go for muscle versus fat.  The defensive players need to be able to chase down the opposition too.  So, the players’ builds have changed and the collisions can be brutal for all concerned.  Who wouldn’t want to avoid the collision?  Ryan Mundy, now with the New York Giants, tackled Darius Heyward-Bey, formerly of the Oakland Raiders, in 2012 and Heyward-Bey lost consciousness.  Mundy was fined $21,000 for that hit because the NFL said it was a helmet-to-helmet hit.  I saw several angles of that hit and while I thought the contact was in the ribs, it was violent.  Mundy was going fast when he made contact.  That’s the Steelers reputation – run though the play, don’t pull up or slow down.  That is physical football.

To me, “physical” football is making the opposite player have to worry about you.  The threat can be effective.  Opposing players sometimes hustle out of bounds just to avoid a hit from Steelers players because the players have a reputation of finishing the play – going until the whistle.  Call it physical or call it combative, the Steelers training emphasizes going until the whistle blows.  Even with the rule changes, I think the Steelers are still deservedly called a physical team.


Tomlin’s quote courtesy of


Next Steelers Game Full schedule »
Sunday, Nov 22 Nov8:30Baltimore RavensBuy Tickets

Tags: Pittsburgh Steelers

comments powered by Disqus