Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has made a name for himself as one of the league’s most aggressive coaches.
As we’ve seen in the past, Tomlin isn’t afraid to go for two, and he loves to push the limits on fourth down when an opportunity arises. That aggressive nature, in a sense, has become the Steelers style and it’s helped them become successful over the course of Tomlin’s tenure as head coach.
Yet for some reason on Sunday, when the Steelers needed it the most, Tomlin lost his aggressive nature.
In Pittsburgh’s 27-16 loss to the New England Patriots this past Sunday, the Steelers passed up several opportunities to put pressure on the Patriots and opted for a more conservative route. As a result, it changed the entire dynamic of the game.
The most obvious gaffe from Sunday’s game that went against Tomlin’s aggressive nature was the 54-yard field goal attempt he sent kicker Chris Boswell out for in the fourth quarter with the Steelers down more than one score. Despite them only needing three yards to pick up a first down, Tomlin surprisingly removed the offense from the field and kicked the long field goal.
As kickers typically do at Heinz Field, Boswell missed the long field goal badly and the Patriots were able to milk the game away afterward. As you can imagine, considering Boswell had already missed a 42-yard try in the game and the fact that he has never made a kick longer than 51-yards in his career, Tomlin was heavily questioned after the game. He stood behind the decision though and claimed he has no doubts.
“I did not,” Tomlin said when asked if he considered putting the offense back on the field. “He made a similar kick over a year ago right there in that same spot and [on] the same field when we tried him out, and the weather conditions were worse than they were tonight. We were down there and had an opportunity to make it one-score game, I took that chance.”
Although the 54-yard field goal has gotten the majority of the attention, there were other occurrences in Sunday’s game in which Tomlin’s odd lack of aggression may have cost the Steelers.
In particular, on Pittsburgh’s first drive of the second half, the Steelers had a chance to take the lead and control of the game. The offense easily took the ball to the New England 28 but ran into a fourth-and-4.
Now the Tomlin we’ve seen in the past would have quickly gone for the four yards and attempted to take control of the game. In fact, he did just that earlier this year against the Washington Redskins. On a fourth-and-1 from the 28-yard line, the same spot they were on against the Patriots, Tomlin opted to go for the first down and the Steelers converted a touchdown on the play.
So as you can see, Tomlin’s pattern of decisions this past Sunday was certainly not his normal.
That being said, you have to assume that Tomlin chose the conservative path because backup quarterback Landry Jones was running the offense instead of Ben Roethlisberger. After all, that was essentially the only difference between those two scenarios.
With that in mind, I understand the desire to be conservative with a backup quarterback, but it cannot be at the jeopardy of winning the game. Jones, who played reasonably well in the contest, could have easily converted either of those fourth downs had he been given a chance.
Tomlin would have given Roethlisberger that chance to win the game. So he needs to give Jones that same opportunity.
Because he’s not helping the Steelers or Jones by going to a conservative nature, and Sunday’s loss was proof of that.