Mike Tomlin's response to a question regarding his handling of perceived "trap games" has garnered some headlines since the Steelers' coach concluded his weekly press conference. Tomlin's Steelers, the NFL's last undefeated team at 9-0, is preparing to face a Jaguars team that has lost eight straight games after defeating the Colts in their season-opener.
Specifically, Tomlin's analogy when answering the question is what has received the most attention.
"I'm not into the trap game discussion," Tomlin said. "This is the NFL, and more than anything, the guys know my attitude regarding that. We are not a Big Ten team playing a MAC opponent this week. Every time we step into a stadium, we're playing professional players and coaches, and we've got a ridiculous amount of respect for that."
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a proud Miami (Ohio) graduate, didn't even wait for a reporter to finish asking him about Tomlin's comments before weighing in on Wednesday. Roethlisberger was part of the MAC's official Twitter handle's response to Tomlin's comment on Tuesday night.
"I haven't had a chance to get him yet," Roethlisberger said. "He mentioned it again in the team meeting, too. I wasn't too happy about that. I'll get him back, don't worry. I have to figure out what conference William & Mary (Tomlin's alma mater) is in, and we'll say something about that."
While Tomlin's comment could be perceived as dig on the MAC, there's no question how much Tomlin and the Steelers value the talent that exists within the conference. Pittsburgh currently has a league-high six players on its roster who hail from MAC schools: Roethlisberger, linebackers Jayrone Elliott (Toledo) and Ola Adeniyi (Toledo), receiver Diontae Johnson (Toledo), offensive lineman Chukwuma Okorafor (Western Michigan) and linebacker Robert Spillane (Western Michigan). The only school that makes up more of Pittsburgh's roster than Toledo is the University of Maryland, which has five former players suiting up for the black and gold. The Rockets are tied with Alabama and Kentucky for second place.
Since 1970, the Steelers have drafted 18 players from MAC schools, including Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert (Kent State) and receiver Antonio Brown (Central Michigan), a member of the NFL's 2010s All-Decade Team. That total does not include linebacker James Harrison (Kent State), a former Defensive Player of the Year who made Pittsburgh's roster as an undrafted free agent.
"The MAC has been a very productive conference for us," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said after the 2019 draft, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I don't consider the MAC to be a small conference. It's not a Power Five conference, but we've been pretty fortunate with players, starting with our quarterback."
The real message behind Tomlin's quote on Tuesday is the fact that he and his team are not taking the Jaguars, despite their 1-8 record, lightly.
"We understand what we're going into in Jacksonville," Tomlin said. "That's a group that's trying to kick our butt. A professional group. A capable group. And we're preparing with that understanding."