PITTSBURGH — Less than 13 hours after a victory, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin admitted his offense wasn’t playing up to the level it achieved in the preseason.
Through two games, the Steelers’ offense is averaging 9.5 points per game and a league-low 12 first downs. On Monday night, Pittsburgh only had nine first downs and didn’t run a single red zone play in a 26-22 victory against the Cleveland Browns.
And yet, Tomlin said the solution wasn’t in making “knee-jerk” reactions to enact “wholesale changes.”
“We have to get our mojo back,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “We got to get that mojo that we had in the preseason where we’re playing fast and fluid with confidence, individually and collectively. We’ve lost that, to be blunt, in the last several weeks.
“… We do acknowledge that two is a pattern. 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.”
The 26 points scored by the Steelers without a red zone drive were the team’s most in the past 45 years — and the most in the NFL since the Kansas City Chiefs had 27 vs. the New Orleans Saints in 2016.
The Steelers managed just one offensive touchdown in each of their first two games, a far cry from the five touchdowns scored on the first team’s five preseason possessions. Pickett has been erratic so far this season, completing just 60.5% of his attempts — ahead of only starting quarterbacks Bryce Young, Joe Burrow, Bryce Young, Deshaun Watson and Zach Wilson.
“He’s done a lot of things well in preparation,” Tomlin said of Pickett. “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.”
The run game is also stagnant with only 96 total rushing yards at an average of 3.1 yards per carry, which ranks 27th in the league. The Steelers have also punted 13 times this season, tied for most in the league.
Since Matt Canada was elevated to offensive coordinator in 2021, the Steelers’ offense has sputtered and struggled to consistently move the ball. Since that time, every other NFL team has had at least three games with 400 total yards of offense; the Steelers have had none.
“We’re not assigning blame for anyone. Obviously it starts with coaching,” Tomlin said of the offense’s slow start. “We got to coach better. We got to get these guys playing faster with more fluidity. We got to start faster. We have to play more coordinated, particularly at the early stages of games.”
With the offensive struggles predating the 2022 season, the frustration among the fan base reached a fever pitch Monday night.
Steelers fans at Acrisure Stadium grew restless with each additional punt Monday night, booing the offense when it came off the field after fruitless drives.
“It’s got to get us going,” tight end Pat Freiermuth said after the game. “Obviously it’s never fun, but we got to learn from that, and obviously it’s more of a motivation to let’s get this thing going. We love the fans here, and obviously they expect good football, so I’ll be trying to continue to get good football and wins for them.”
By the team’s seventh punt Monday night, a loud chant imploring Tomlin to fire offensive coordinator Matt Canada enveloped the stadium.
Asked about it Tuesday, Tomlin didn’t criticize the fans for their words.
“I appreciate their passion,” Tomlin said. “I share their passion. We all do, man. We love our fans, man. They inspire us. They challenge us. It’s an awesome relationship, man. We don’t run from challenges. We run to challenges.
This is a sport entertainment business. It is our job to win and thus entertain them, and so we don’t begrudge them for that. We want them to be fat and sassy and spoiled. It is our job.”