One of the great streaks in NFL history appears to be on thin ice following "Thursday Night Football." Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is famously known for never having a losing season in the NFL, but after watching the Steelers' offense in a 21-18 loss to the New England Patriots, it’s fair to wonder if the Steelers can steer themselves toward two more wins to keep that streak alive.
Tomlin was already looking to what's next after the game.
"We get ready for our next opportunity next week," he said. "That's what we always do. Obviously, this stings, but we'll be back."
Yet this type of football can't keep coming back.
This is how the Steelers have been playing the past few years since Ben Roethlisberger’s decline was apparent and they selected Kenny Pickett in the 2022 NFL Draft. They spend most games wasting away on offense while the defense makes just enough plays to keep the team in it through the fourth quarter. This isn’t sustainable. Even if the Steelers win enough and make the playoffs this season, major changes need to come on offense.
This is not a call to fire Tomlin. Being in the mix for the playoffs every single year since 2007 is a reality most teams would love to exist in, but the Steelers are playing such a difficult brand of football to turn into wins.
Subbing in Mitch Trubisky for the injured Pickett on Thursday produced about the same results as what the Steelers have seen the whole season — bad. According to RBSDM.com, the Steelers are 25th in expected points added per play on offense (minus-0.092) and 22nd in success rate (41.5%). This is the realm in which they’ve existed for the better part of three seasons now — they’re 23rd in expected points added per play (minus-0.038) since the start of the 2021 season. At some point, something has to change for this team to be an actual threat in the playoffs instead of just making it.
Tomlin appears to know how bad the situation is on offense. The Steelers fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada two and a half weeks ago, and he had been running the offense since the start of the 2021 season. It was the first time the Steelers made an in-season coaching change since 1941. They responded with a 400-yard game in a win over the Bengals before falling back into a constipated offense. The Steelers have scored 28 points the past two weeks, showing that Canada was a problem but not the problem. Major changes need to be in store for a franchise that doesn’t dabble in major changes.
The frustrating part is that the cupboard isn’t bare for the Steelers. Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Jaylen Warren, Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth might not be The Avengers, but they’re a good enough group to support at least a league-average offense.
Trubisky specifically mentioned helping Pickens, who dressed and left the locker room quickly after Thursday's loss, per The Athletic's Mark Kaboly.
“Would like to get him the ball more, get him going,” Trubisky said. “He’s a special talent, and once we figure that out — and just everyone has to manage their emotions, and we got to drive in the same direction to be successful.”
With Canada out of the picture, the next point of evaluation has to be quarterback. Pittsburgh's quarterback talent is easily the biggest anchor on the team. Pickett hasn’t shown much promise as a franchise QB, a realization that becomes exacerbated when the team's poor production doesn’t change at all without him in the lineup.
Despite all of their offensive woes, the Steelers are still 7-6 with an outside shot of making the playoffs and allowing Tomlin’s miraculous streak to continue. That’s a good base to build on if they’re willing to take an outside swing for a new starting quarterback next season. Football doesn’t have to be this hard, especially when the Steelers have been pretty solid at drafting skill players. A team that performs poorly and still wins should entice an organization to make changes to allow it to ascend to the next level.
The Steelers have been treading water for the past few years, and that needs to change this offseason. Running it back again with this group would be ridiculous. They need to make a solid offensive coordinator hire and make a serious move at quarterback unless Pickett blacks out and overperforms to end the season. The Steelers have the core to play for more than 9-8 records every season. It’s time to maximize it.