After the most anxiety-filled opening day victories in history, the Pittsburgh Steelers turn the page of the 2022 season to the New England Patriots and their first home game of the season. In their first game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers’ defense shouldered the majority of the heavy lifting while the offense was still trying to find themselves between three-and-outs. After an abysmal 2021 offensive showing, fans already had relatively low expectations for 2022, let alone the first game of the season. But as the game unfolded, there were very few surprises as to what we can expect moving forward.
There was a multitude of sweep and extended run plays, featuring the Steelers’ leading rusher, Chase Claypool. Paired with those was a fairly mediocre passing attack led by Mitch Trubisky in his first start with the Steelers. But in typical head coach, Mike Tomlin, fashion, the offense was able to make the right plays at the end of overtime to get the ball into Chris Boswell’s range to nail the game-winning, 53-yard field goal.
Although the game was won, there was a lot that the offense left to be desired. They finished with converting only 4 of 15 third downs, only ran 61 plays on offense, compared to the Bengals’ 94 offensive snaps and only tallied 267 total yards. For reference, although he threw 4 interceptions, Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow threw for 338 yards. That equates to over 26% more yards than the entire Steelers’ offense. Needless to say, Tomlin is pushing Trubisky and his offensive unit to possess the ball for longer than 26:11 (which they did in Cincinnati) and convert third downs.
When Mitch Trubisky met with the media on Wednesday before the Steelers’ practice, it is clear what their intentions are in the preparation for this week’s matchup and where they’re looking to improve:
“We’re looking to get better,” Trubisky said. “We won the game, but there’s a lot we can improve on, specifically third down, just overall execution. I like the calls that were ran, we just got to execute them more to stay on the field and keep our defense off the field. So, we’re looking to be better on third down this week.”
Although Trubisky saw the field in all three preseason games, nothing beats live, regular season action. Although the fact the offense needs to “execute” on third down, there’s a lot that goes into that. Trubisky was playing with, and throwing passes to, a variety of different receiver lineups and building chemistry with the final starters is still being polished. Therefore, in terms of what the primary focus is in practice this week, it’s exactly that. Going back into the lab and building that chemistry.
“I think it might be first-game stuff,” Trubisky admitted. “Continuing to build chemistry with the wideouts and receivers, getting on the same page. It’s different when you’re practicing it in practice, and you get in the game and everything is a little bit faster. You’re going against a defense that is either playing you a little bit differently or you’re seeing a receiver differently. You get those different looks. We’ll continue to work on it and get that timing down in practice.”
It’s clear and obvious the offense has made major strides since their first preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks. But as Trubisky alluded to, there were a lot of opening day jitters on offense that led to missed plays in the game. There was a multitude of missed passes and catches that seemed fairly routine which could’ve opened the game up and possibly avoided the hassle of overtime.
To put it another way, Trubisky finished with just over 55% completion percentage with his longest pass being 32 yards. This is certainly not ideal for a winning formula. With big plays missed on the outside to Miles Boykin and George Pickens, those opportunities and timing patterns are going to play a critical role in that ‘chemistry’ this week in practice.
“We’ve just got to hit those. We hit those in practice. We hit a couple of those in the preseason,” Trubisky explained. “The one early to Boykin, I think if we hit that one, it opens up a lot of things for us. Maybe it’s a different story on third downs, or a different feel about the offense. We’re going to continue to take those shots, continue to work the timing in practice. We would like to come up with those big plays.”
“We’ve got to have that aggressive mentality to take teams out of the game and not just let them keep it close. I was proud of the way we took care of the football, but you’ve got to have that aggressive mentality to score points. It’s not just the calls. It’s got to be everybody on the field’s mindset,” Trubisky ended.
There is no lack of skill in the Steelers’ receiving corps. We saw Diontae Johnson make incredible and crucial catches late in the game. Although he was mostly used in the running game, Claypool made a crazy one-handed catch inside the 5-yard line with a defense draped over him. Boykin and Pickens have big play ability and can blow the top off downfield. With all of that being said, Trubisky is eager to give the play-makers more looks early and often in this week’s game.
“I think we took a good amount of deep balls in the last game, we just got to hit them, and I think if you hit them earlier then it opens up the intermediate and shorter stuff as well,” Trubisky said. “But you want to connect on those and then they either open up more of those or it opens up other routes and it opens up the run game as well. Once you hit those, I think you really see where you’re at and what else opens up within the offense.”
The Steelers are slated to take on the Patriots on Sunday afternoon at Acrisure Stadium.
What are you looking for in practice this week? What do you think the offense’s focus should be in their game preparation? Let us know in the comments below!