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Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin: Time to ‘smile in the face of adversity’

Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Tomlin
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Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin gave his weekly comments at Tuesday’s press conference ahead of Sunday’s game against the Jets (1 p.m., CBS).

Tomlin said that despite a rough 1-2 start to the season, his team must pick up the pieces, show “Steeler resolve” and “smile in the face of adversity” as they get back to work on Wednesday, in preparation for an unofficial must-win situation against New York (1-2).

The Steelers are coming off of what Tomlin referred to as a long, “mini-bye” weekend, in which he and his staff were able to analyze and evaluate things. It wasn’t only focused on Thursday’s loss, but also to “just look at where we are as a collective in all three phases to this point.”

Tomlin is anxious to turn the page and get back in front of the home crowd this weekend. The Steelers are hoping to avoid a 3-game losing streak and a second-straight 1-3 start, with a very tough stretch coming up before the bye in Week 9. Three of the next four games are on the road, with the next four opponents (Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Miami, Philadelphia) sporting a combined record of 10-2, including the league’s lone two 3-0 teams (Dolphins and Eagles).

Despite overall ineffectiveness, Tomlin said he sees steady improvement on the offense, while at the same time admitting that there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

“We’ve been better with every outing,” said Tomlin, who added that Pittsburgh hasn’t done enough to win, and for that he understands the “reason for alarm.”

Pittsburgh is registering 279.7 yards per game offensively (ranked 28th out of 32), with 49 total first downs through the first three weeks (16.3 per game), as opposed to 72 for their opponents (24 per game).

The Steelers have not been particularly effective on third downs, converting just 13 of 39 attempts (33 percent).

So far, there have been 17 punts and Chris Boswell has gone 6 for 8 on field goals, compared to only 5 touchdowns, as the Steelers have been outgained by 399 yards overall. Pittsburgh also ranks dead last in time of possession.

Nevertheless, Tomlin remains confident in starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky, and went over what he’s been impressed with.

“His decision making and where he’s going with the ball, the time at which he’s making decisions, the proven use of mobility, whether it’s by schematics or by ad-lib, but just generally all areas,” Tomlin said.

Trubisky has completed 62 of 103 attempts on the season (60.2 completion percentage) for 569 yards (189.7 per game), a pair of touchdowns and an interception. He’s ranked 27th in the league in both passing yards and touchdowns. He’s been sacked 5 times for 21 yards, and has a QB rating of 77.7. Trubisky has also rushed for 23 yards and a touchdown on 6 carries.

Fans continue to plead for a change at quarterback, in favor of Pittsburgh’s own beloved rookie Kenny Pickett. After admitting he didn’t hear the chants for Pickett in the Week 2 home loss to New England, Tomlin insisted he won’t let those cries knock his team off the path.

“Our fans are not an issue. We love our fans and the enthusiasm that they bring,” Tomlin said with a smile. “We’re not going to make that a negative. They care, and that’s an awesome thing.”

Diontae Johnson has certainly been one of the bright spots for Pittsburgh, leading the team in targets (33), receptions (21) and receiving yards (196). Johnson has yet to find the end zone, but the attention put on him will continue to open things up for Chase Claypool, George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth and the rest of the Steelers receivers, if Trubisky can get them the ball.

“We’ve got playmakers, but I don’t know if we have an identity,” Claypool said Monday. “I think we’re still figuring that out.”

In addition, Tomlin went on to say that he is “continually encouraged” with the running game, noting improvements within the offensive line, and with rookie Jaylen Warren mixing in with Najee Harris in the backfield for a change of pace. All this despite Harris coming in at 31st in the NFL in rushing yards thus far.

“It’s continuing to shape itself and improve, and I like the general trajectory of it,” said the coach.

Defensively, Tomlin said he has not been focused on star linebacker T.J. Watt not being out there, but rather worrying about the pieces that are currently on the field and finding the best ways to utilize their talents.

Watt is still recovering from a pectoral injury he suffered against the Bengals in Week 1. He will miss at minimum the next two games, and likely more than that.

In his absence, third-year linebacker Alex Highsmith leads the league in sacks with 4.5.

“I don’t think any of us are surprised by what we’re seeing from him,” said Tomlin.

Linebackers Myles Jack and Devin Bush have also stepped up. Jack leads the Steelers in both total tackles (35) and solo tackles (19), while Bush has been in on 20 stops (10 solo), good for third on the team.

Tomlin admitted that his defense didn’t get off the field enough in the second half against Cleveland Thursday, and didn’t do enough offensively to limit the Browns’ rushing attack. The coach said that Nick Chubb “controlled the game, and we didn’t.”

“They were able to sustain long drives,” Tomlin said of the Browns’ 29-17 win. “A lot of it had to do with them converting possession (third) downs, and most of those were manageable downs.”

In three contests, Pittsburgh is giving up 412.7 yards a game, allowing teams to convert on 23 of 49 third-down tries (46.9 percent), and 4 of 7 (57.1 percent) on fourth-downs.

Nose tackle Montravius Adams is now listed ahead of Tyson Alualu on the depth chart. Tomlin said the reason for promoting Adams was an “uptick in his consistency and performance” since returning from a preseason injury.

“He’s been playing better than Tyson, so we just thought that was appropriate,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin added that the Steelers are “in a no-blink business” when asked if there were any additional changes that he has pondered this week.

“Certainly we’re going to do what’s required to handle this week’s business — which is to win — and so I’m open to whatever that entails, but at the same time, we’re not going to blow in the wind.”

Steelers injury report

CB Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring) could be limited in practice, according to Tomlin, while S Minkah Fitzpatrick is in the concussion protocol and there’s still a chance he could play. Fitzpatrick is second on the team in tackles and has a pair of interceptions to lead the defense.

OG Kevin Dotson (ankle) is questionable but has not yet been ruled out for Sunday.

P Pressley Harvin expressed hip discomfort after Thursday’s game and is being monitored throughout the week. Tomlin considers him day-to-day, and said the Steelers could possibly bring someone else in if the need arises.

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe has worked as a freelance writer for several publications over the past decade-plus, with a concentration on local and college sports. He is also a writer and editor for his father’s website, JerryRatcliffe.com, dedicated to the coverage of University of Virginia athletics.