Mike Tomlin is well-known for waxing poetic during his press conferences. He has ways of saying something without saying anything, fondly referred to as Tomlinisms. Well, here are two sayings that are pretty clear: “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be” (John Wooden), and “Resistance is futile” (the Borg).
The Pittsburgh Steelers are managed by a defensive mind in an offensive world. With rule changes that benefit offenses, the NFL has shifted from “defense wins games” to “offenses must dominate.” And when the shift happened, head coach Mike Tomlin never adjusted. His resistance to change has caused the failure of the Steelers since their last Super Bowl appearance in 2011.
Gone are the days when quarterbacks could throw for a couple hundred yards and one score and still win games. To get to the playoffs and make a solid run, offenses must steal the show and light up the scoreboard.
The prime examples are the quarterbacks who pitted against each other in Super Bowl 2023 — Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts. Mahomes has thrown for 5,000+ yards in two of his five seasons as a starter, two of which were fewer than 300 yards from that pinnacle. In 2022 alone, he threw for multiple touchdowns in 14 of 17 weeks. Since he entered the league, Mahomes has thrown 192 touchdowns. Even Hurts, whose offense has a more balanced approach, has thrown for 3,000+ yards and 44 scores in his first two seasons as a starter.
Tom Brady became less of a threat to Pittsburgh once he swapped conferences and is now retired. But his talent and ability to dominate have been supplanted by Mahomes, 27. Ultimately, it boils down to being able to contend with and defeat Mahomes for the next decade-plus should the Steelers have their hearts set on hoisting a seventh Lombardi Trophy.
Steelers Legend Jerome Bettis Questions Team’s Identity
Media personality Colin Cowherd hit the nail on the head when talking with Steelers Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis about Mike Tomlin and his Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I like Mike Tomlin a lot, but we have a trend happening in the NFL… He’s a great leader and a motivator,” Cowherd said on the February 10 edition of The Herd. “But like Sean McDermott, can’t get the O-line right. Five years now. And I do worry that defensive coaches don’t have the sensibility of offense. I don’t love the OC, I don’t love the O-line, I don’t love the offensive identity. Is it a fair criticism of Mike that he is a defensive mind? A defensive culture? The league has pivoted strongly, and he has sometimes made mistakes or missed on offense.”
Bettis agrees that Pittsburgh’s tunnel focus on defense has been its Achilles heel.
“One hundred percent. I believe that is the case,” Bettis said. “Because when you look at the team, you say, What’s the strength of this team? In 90% of the NFL, the strength of your football team is gonna be your offense. And we look at this team, and they’ve got the pieces to be special. They’ve got a great tight end, they got two wide receivers, they got a quarterback, they’ve got it all. But the question mark is: What type of offense are we? And it’s been a question mark for the last three years. It’s like, they don’t know what they are.”
They are lightyears away, but it’s not too late to right the ship. And now is the time with a new sheriff in town named Kenny Pickett. Modernizing the Steelers’ offense will start with current offensive coordinator Matt Canada doing an about-face or, better yet, hiring an offensive genius in 2024. But the latter would require Tomlin to swallow his pride for the sake of the team’s success.