PITTSBURGH (AP) – Mike Tomlin spent four years with Jon Gruden’s team in Tampa Bay in the early 2000s, helping shape a defense that won a Super Bowl and gleaning what he could from his fiery boss.
Almost two decades later, the lessons Tomlin – now in his 15th season as head coach at Pittsburgh – learned from Gruden live on.
âGruden is not afraid,â said Tomlin. âHe’s not afraid. He looks at a problem or a problem, and he sees it as an opportunity. I worked for him for four years. You can’t pretend. It’s all day to him.
And so does the former student of Gruden, who will stand opposite to one of his mentors when Tomlin and the Steelers (1-0) host Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders (1-0 ) Sunday.
One of the tenets of Tomlin’s coaching philosophy is the idea of âânot living in fear. His team embodied that philosophy in a season opener in Buffalo last week, rallying 10 points to stun the defending AFC East champions.
Even veterans shouted it out after the Steelers sent a message that even with a rookie-laden offense and Ben Roethlisberger, 39, throwing on a rebuilt right elbow, they’re still relevant in the tough AFC North.
It was exciting for Pittsburgh. It was also only one game in 17. The same goes for Las Vegas, which passed Baltimore on Monday night, suggesting that Gruden’s rebuilding began when he returned to training in 2018 after a decade. absence could finally set in.
It also looked like this a season ago, before a 2-0 start faded to an 8-8. So Gruden, quarterback Derek Carr and the rest of the Raiders aren’t getting too far ahead of themselves. Still, Las Vegas is heading east with a chance to send the same kind of message the Steelers sent Buffalo.
âAs a football fan I’m honored to even be able to step onto the Heinz Field and play against these guys,â Carr said. “It’s cool for me as a fan, but as a competitor you want to do well and win the game.”
Las Vegas did it lately against the Steelers. The Raiders are 5-2 against Pittsburgh since Roethlisberger joined in 2004. All five wins came in seasons in which Las Vegas finished in a loss record and Pittsburgh was 0.500 or better.
Weird, isn’t it? Then again, the weird always seems to come with the territory when the Raiders and Steelers meet. It was the rivalry that produced The Immaculate Reception, after all. The painful memory of the Raiders still resonates nearly 50 years later.
âLike I said, that ball hit the ground (on the spotless reception),â Carr said.
HARRIS IN PRESS?
Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris had a relatively calm NFL start, running 45 yards on 16 forwards behind a new offensive line that needed a full halftime to start finding his place.
Still, Harris didn’t miss any of Pittsburgh’s 58 shots, a sign of Tomlin’s confidence in Harris’ conditioning and potential. The sled for Harris and the line might be a little easier against the Raiders, who gave Baltimore 189 yards in Game 1, even with the Ravens decimated by injuries to their top three running backs.
The Raiders have reworked their offensive line this offseason and the early results weren’t very impressive. New center Andre James and rookie right tackle Alex Leatherwood both struggled with blocking and protection. Las Vegas also lost right guard Denzelle Good to a season-ending knee injury but are hoping to get left guard Richie Incognito back, which could be crucial against the Steelers.
âWe’re really proud of these guys, but we’re still improving and playing more games together,â Carr said. “Every game that passes is more experience together so I hope this game against a great defense and a great team like this will be a big challenge for us.”
Carr targeted 6-foot-6 tight end Darren Waller 19 times in Game 1, with Waller hitting 10 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. He presents a matchup issue for anyone, even a defense that kept the mighty Bills at 16 points in Week 1.
âYou can describe it as a tight end, but I think it sounds less than appropriate, to be honest with you,â Tomlin said. “It puts him in a box.”
Tomlin thinks the Steelers can’t really stop Waller, just limit him like they did Buffalo wide receiver Stefon Diggs in Game 1. Diggs averaged 7.7 yards per reception against the Pittsburgh secondary swarm that limited shots at depth.
The Raiders have a tough job this week, heading for a long journey after an emotional victory Monday night. They’ve lost the last six times they’ve had to travel after a Monday night game. Last season they were beaten 36-20 by New England after a home victory over New Orleans in prime time in their very first game in Las Vegas. Gruden gave the team a lighter week with just a guided tour on Wednesday before two days of training.
âYou’re just trying to fit into the schedule,â he said. “Do your best.”
AP Sports writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.
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