Whenever you listen to Mike Tomlin speak, you can count on a few of his favorite clichés.

“Their play was ‘above/below the line’ this week” is one of them.

“Next man up” &/or “The standard is the standard” are a few more.

In fact, “the standard is the standard” is so often employed as a team credo by Tomlin, it was even bolted up on the walls of the Steeler’s locker room.

But those catch phrases came into direct contrast with one another as the coach assessed his team’s Sunday loss vs the Bengals.

When I asked Tomlin on Tuesday about his offensive line play Sunday, he said “I thought they were above the line in the running game and the passing game. Not perfect by any stretch. But I think they represented themselves well and are doing a nice job in finding the necessary continuity given some of the adversity that they’ve faced.”

Really? What line were they above exactly? Ben Roethlisberger was sacked three times. Hit three more times. Pressured many others. The line allowed six tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Aside from a 55 yard run from DeAngelo Williams, the running backs managed just 3.3 yards per carry on the other 18 attempts.

If the “standard is the standard”, I kind of thought the standard was set last year. When Roethlisberger had all day to throw. When Le’Veon Bell had vast expanses of space to run through. That’s a high standard to live up to.

And this line wasn’t up to it. Not on this day anyway. Probably not last week in Kansas City either. And how could it be? Two of those guys are gone. Kelvin Beachum and Maurkice Pouncey are hurt. How can that unit be at that line, let alone above it?

So is Tomlin’s “line” actually on a sliding scale? Is the “standard only the standard” if the standard players are playing? That doesn’t say much for “next man up” does it? The nature of that saying is to suggest the next guy on the depth chart is supposed to be as good as the starter. Because “starter in waiting” is another Tomlinism I believe I’ve heard before.

Cody Wallace and Alejandro Villanueva aren’t bad. But they aren’t Pouncey or Beachum. Although by the alleged Tomlin “standard” they should be, right?

By comparison, look at how he answered a question about if his defense was “above the line”.

“At times,” Tomlin responded before praising the defense. But he then further couched that congratulations by adding: “But we didn’t come out of the stadium with the win.”

At times?! Wait a minute. At times?! This defense is sixth best in the league in points per game. This defense just held a Bengal team with numerous skilled offensive players to 16 points. Yeah, I know. The unit allowed the two biggest third downs of the game on a pivotal fourth quarter drive. However, they were 9-of-11 on third downs at one point prior to that.

But that “standard” isn’t good enough? Hell, that standard is a helluva lot closer to the ’76 “Steel Curtain” Steelers than the “shower curtain” of recent seasons. But now Tomlin isn’t satisfied?

And oh by the way, you’re missing starters on that unit too. No Stephon Tuitt. No Will Allen. Frankly, way too much Antwon Blake.

Who…by the way…is another inefficient player that Tomlin defended this week.

So let’s just state it flatly. When Tomlinisms collide, consistency loses. “The standard is the standard” depending on who is setting the standard and at what time. “Next man up” sounds good. But it means nothing. The “line” slides. And whoever is above or below it depends on the circumstantial evidence.

The platitudes are starting to ring as hollow as a coach’s record that is absent of a playoff win since 2010.To read this insider news, subscribe to get “Inside Access”!