Mike Tomlin went on the offensive during his weekly Tuesday press conference. Rather than wait to answer questions about an underperforming offense, the Steelers coach began his 20-plus minute press conference by addressing the issue head-on.
Pittsburgh’s offense has not lived up to preseason expectations thus far. Through two games, the Steelers are 26th in the NFL in scoring, last in accumulated first downs, 31st in rushing and 29th in third-down and red zone efficiency. The offense’s lack of success inspired a chant from the crowd calling for the firing of offensive coordinator Matt Canada during the Steelers’ 26–22 victory over the Browns.
“We’ve got to get our mojo back,” Tomlin said of the Steelers’ offense. “We have to get back the mojo we played with in pre-season. We’ve lost that, to be frank, in the last few weeks.”
Doing a better job anticipating schemes, Tomlin said, is one of the things the Steelers can do better moving forward in an effort to help the offense. Tomlin noted that the Browns did things specifically from a run structure standpoint on Monday night that Pittsburgh didn’t anticipate. This likely had something to do with the Steelers rushing for a meager 55 yards on 21 carries, with most of those yards coming in the second half. It also had something to do with the performance of the Steelers’ offensive line, which at times seemed to be outclassed by the Browns’ defensive front.
Tomlin knows that’s not the only area where his offense can improve; he listed a multitude of things Pittsburgh can and needs to do better. And while he acknowledged that improvements are needed, Tomlin said no major changes are anticipated.
“We’re not going to have knee-jerk reactions in terms of trying to make widespread changes in an effort to change this outcome, but we recognize that two is a standard,” Tomlin said. “We have had two exits that are not up to par in that regard and that is why they draw our attention as we prepare for the next one.
“We’re all in this together. We’re not assigning blame to anyone. Obviously, it all starts with training; we need to train better. We need to get them playing faster, more fluidly and more safely. And start faster.
“We realize that there are no secret formulas in this regard. It’s not a wave of a magic wand. What we have to do is continue to work, be true to ourselves and each other and be honest about how we are built, how we need to be built and the things we need to do in an effort to mitigate our strengths and minimize our weaknesses.”
Tomlin was asked specifically about several facets of the offense, including running back Jaylen Warren, wide receiver George Pickens and quarterback Kenny Pickett.
Regarding Warren, Tomlin said that like all rising second-year players, he predicts he will continually see a larger and larger role on offense. Warren had 20 yards on six carries on Monday, but was tied for the top on the team with four receptions and second behind only Pickens with 66 receiving yards. Warren, however, appeared to miss a blocking assignment that led to Pickett’s dismissal.
When asked about Pickens’ big night, Tomlin said it was the byproduct of Diontae Johnson’s absence (he’s currently on injured reserve with a hamstring injury) and the team’s desire to get him more involved. Pickens caught a 71-yard touchdown on Monday night and recorded his second career 100-yard receiving performance.
With Pickett, Tomlin explained why he predicts the Steelers’ second-year quarterback’s play will improve after a rough start. Through two games, the former first-round pick has completed just 60.5% of his throws with more interceptions (three) than touchdown passes (two). He performed better on Monday night than he did during the Steelers’ Week 1 loss to the 49ers. Specifically, Pickett’s relationship with Pickens was better after the two connected five times for 36 yards against San Francisco.
“I just want to see him continue to work the way he’s been working,” Tomlin said of his quarterback, “continue to communicate the way he’s been communicating and lead his group. well in preparation. He could play better. We could all play better. But procedurally I like what I see from him. And usually, when a guy is procedurally in the right place, performance soon follows. “
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Tomlin was then asked about his embattled offensive coordinator, who was being yelled at for his firing during the second half of Monday night’s game. Canada, who is in his third year as Pittsburgh’s OC, oversaw an offense that failed to score 20 points in 23 of his 37 games in charge. Two of the Steelers’ three touchdowns on Monday night were scored by pass-rushers TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith.
“I appreciate their passion. I share their passion, we all do,” Tomlin said of the chants. “We love our fans. They inspire us, they challenge us. It’s an incredible relationship. We don’t shy away from challenges, we run toward challenges. This is the business of sports entertainment. It’s our job to beat them and thus entertain them. And so we don’t begrudge them that. We want them to be fat and sassy and spoiled. It’s our job.”
Tomlin may understand the fans’ passion, but he doesn’t share their level of concern, at least not currently.
“I’m part of the process,” Tomlin said. “When you’re part of the process, it’s less of a problem for you.”