The 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers lost their home opener 17-14 against the New England Patriots after a frustrating performance by the black and gold. The team had a chance to deliver a significant blow to a bitter rival. It was like a heavyweight fight, where one of the combatants just circles endlessly hoping to land a knockout punch while falling hopelessly behind on the scorecards. The Steelers forgot to throw any punches on Sunday and in the end, it cost them dearly.
The defense did not generate much pressure on Mac Jones, content to sit back in coverage and try to force mistakes that just did not come. The Steelers rarely blitzed, had no sacks and with the exception of one interception, played bend, but not break defense all game long. If not for a Gunner Olszewski muffed punt, the defense likely would have held the Patriots to 10 points. When you build a team around the highest paid defense in the NFL, bend but not break just isn’t good enough.
The Patriots won the time of possession battle, but did not dominate the statistics like the Cincinnati Bengals did in Week 1. The Steelers did not have the nasty edge against the Patriots that they clearly showed in Cincinnati, and it cost them a victory. The defense must get ready quickly as the Cleveland Browns are coming off a baffling loss to the New York Jets, 31-30, and despite starting a journeyman in Jacoby Brissett for the last two weeks, they have scored 56 points in two games and should be 2-0. The Steelers offense has generated 30 points in two games.
The offense was near 100 percent heading into Sunday and the body language of the leader of the unit is disconcerting. Mitch Trubisky has been granted a second life in the NFL and he is not playing like it. Mike Tomlin made clear on day 1 of training camp that they were not going to make knee jerk decisions and let the process play out. Trubisky is not displaying any consistent creativity, which could be because of the Matt Canada play-calling, but unlike his predecessor, he either can’t or won’t disregard the sideline in favor of his teammates.
This was exactly the game that called for a significant amount of freelancing, and it was exactly the kind of game that the previous Pittsburgh quarterback would have found a way to win late by calling his own plays at the end of the game. Generally, I don’t think it is a good idea for players to disregard coaches’ instructions, but at this point, I would rather Trubisky throw caution to the wind, even if it resulted in a wider margin of victory for the Patriots.
Tomlin is an outstanding motivator, and the defense while not aggressive, was adequate. However, we are going on over a decade since Bruce Arians coached Ben Roethlisberger. No Pittsburgh offensive coordinator since had any influence on Roethlisberger and worse, the current one seems to be punishing Trubisky for it. The future Steelers Hall of Fame retired quarterback would do well to reach out to the current occupant of the position and let him know just how much he improvised in those endless, come from behind victories.
The fans and media calling for Kenny Pickett to get his time on the field are going to reach a fever pitch unless Trubisky relaxes and lets it rip against the Browns. If Trubisky cedes the job at this point, it will not be because he isn’t talented enough to play the position. It will be because he wasn’t willing to overcome the coaching he is getting by trusting his own instincts. It would be extremely unfair to throw Pickett in and expect him as a rookie to disregard the offensive coordinator in the fourth quarter to win close games.
It is easy as a fan to blame Canada, Randy Fichtner and Todd Haley, but now that a new signal-caller is behind center and the same problems exist, Tomlin needs to answer some questions. Even the great Chuck Noll had to fire Tony Dungy and most of his defensive coaching staff when they slipped in the late 1980’s. Noll gave in, and the Steelers immediately returned to the playoffs and won a playoff game in 1989.
Omar Khan needs to have the hard conversation with his veteran head coach that it is time for someone else to help him pick an offensive coordinator before they thrust Pickett into a bad situation. It is time for Tomlin, like Noll, to admit he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.
What do you think, Steeler Nation? Should the Steelers really expect young quarterbacks to understand when they are supposed to ignore coaching and the game plan? Please comment below or on my Twitter @thebubbasq.