Mike Tomlin went on the offensive during his weekly Tuesday press conference. Instead of waiting to respond to questions concerning an underachieving offense, the Steelers head coach led off his 20-plus minute press conference addressing the topic head on.
Pittsburgh’s offense has not lived up to preseason expectations so far. Through two games, the Steelers are 26th in the NFL in scoring, last in first downs accumulated, 31st in rushing and 29th in both third-down and red-zone efficiency. The offense’s lack of success inspired a chant from the crowd calling for offensive coordinator Matt Canada to be fired during the Steelers’ 26-22 win over the Browns.
“We have to get our mojo back,” Tomlin said of the Steelers offense. “We have to get the mojo we played with in the preseason. “We’ve lost that, to be blunt, in the last several weeks.”
Doing a better job anticipating schematics, Tomlin said, is one of the things the Steelers can do a better job of moving forward in an effort to help the offense. Tomlin noted that the Browns specifically did things from a run structure standpoint Monday night that Pittsburgh did not anticipate. That probably 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 that at times appeared to be overmatched by the Browns’ defensive front.
Tomlin knows that is not the only area where his offense can improve; he listed off a myriad of things Pittsburgh can and needs to do better. And while he acknowledged that improvements need to be made, Tomlin said no major changes are coming.
“We’re not going to have knee jerk reactions in terms of trying to make wholesale changes in an effort to change that outcome, but we do acknowledge that two is a pattern,” Tomlin said. “We’ve had two outings that are not up to snuff in that regard, and so it has our attention as we are preparing for this next one.
“We’re all in this thing together. We’re not assigning blame for anyone. Obviously it starts with coaching; we’ve got to coach better. We’ve got to get these playing faster with more fluidity, and surer. And start faster.
“We realize that there are no secret formulas in that 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 honest about how we’re built, how we need to be built and the things that we need to do in an effort to extenuate our strengths and minimize our weaknesses.”
Tomlin was specifically asked about several facets of the offense, including running back Jaylen Warren, receiver George Pickens and quarterback Kenny Pickett.
Regarding Warren, Tomlin said that, like all ascending second-year players, he anticipates him continually seeing an increased role in the offense. Warren had 20 yards on six carries Monday but was tied for tops on the team with four catches and second behind only Pickens with 66 receiving yards. Warren did, however, appear to miss a blocking assignment that led to a sack of Pickett.
When asked about Pickens’ big night, Tomlin said that was the byproduct of both Diontae Johnson’s absence (he is currently on injured reserve with an injured hamstring) 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 anticipates the Steelers’ second-year quarterback’s play to 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 did perform better Monday night than he did during the Steelers’ Week 1 loss to the 49ers. Specifically, Pickett’s rapport 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 in the manner of which he’s been working,” Tomlin said of his quarterback, “continue to communicate in the manner in which he’s been communicating, and lead his group. He’s done a lot of things well in preparation. He could play better. We all could play better. But procedurally I like what I see from him. And usually, when a guy procedurally is in the right spot, the performance soon follows.”
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Tomlin was then asked about his embattled offensive coordinator who was on the receiving end of chants calling for his termination during the second half of Monday night’s game. Canada, who is in his third year as Pittsburgh’s OC, has overseen an offense that has failed to score 20 points in 23 of his 37 games on the job. Two of the Steelers’ three touchdowns on Monday night were scored by pass-rushers T.J. 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 awesome relationship. We don’t run from challenges, we run to challenges. This is the sport entertainment business. It is our job to win and thus entertain them. And so, we don’t begrudge them for that. We we want them be fat and sassy and spoiled. It is our job.”
Tomlin may understand the fans’ passion, but he doesn’t share their level of concern, at least not currently.
“I’m a part of the process,” Tomlin said. “When you’re part of the process, it’s less troublesome to you.”