One of the central responsibilities of a head coach is to identify and address his team’s issues, a task that is even more important after a comfortable and convincing victory than it is after a painful loss. Mistakes are obvious in a loss. It’s a lot easier to glance by them in the shower of a 15-point victory.
I am of course discussing the Pittsburgh Steelers and Head Coach Mike Tomlin, who spent the first portion of his pre-game press conference yesterday harping on the mistakes that his team made in the beginning of the game on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
By the end of the first quarter, the defense had already allowed the Browns to march down the field a couple of times while the offense went three-and-out three times, once ending the drive via interception, while foiling a conversion on third and short due to a penalty.
“Some of the things that have characterized some of our negative performances did turn up in the early portions of the game, and we’ve got to continue to work hard to work through those things”, Tomlin told reporters about the first quarter of the Browns game.
The Steelers have been the worst team in the league in terms of points differential through the first quarter, and Sunday’s game was no different, ending up trailing 6-0, though it could have been even worse. But they added two touchdowns in the second quarter as they came out of their bye week slumber.
“In terms of finding rhythm early, we didn’t get much done in the first quarter of the game”, he said. “Penalties were an issue there. We turned the ball over, and we acknowledged last week that Cleveland was the best in the world at producing turnovers, so to go into a stadium acknowledging that somebody is really solid in an area and still not have a good enough performance in that area is troubling. We’ve got to do a better job with ball security. That’s going to be catastrophic to our efforts if we don’t improve in those areas”.
The Browns came into the game with 20 takeaways, six of which already had come against the Steelers in week one. Pittsburgh turned the ball over twice against Cleveland again on Sunday, including a Ben Roethlisberger interception. Running back Stevan Ridley also fumbled.
“That first series of the game we converted a third down and two [and] got a penalty that pushed it to third and 11 and then we were punting”, Tomlin noted. “Those are more than just plays; those are possessions. And possessions are obviously significant. You look around today’s NFL, particularly the dominant teams, you can’t afford to waste possessions. It’s just the reality of it”.
The question to be answered is whether the slow start is a continuation of a theme from earlier in the season or a sidebar from coming off the bye week. No matter what the reasons are, improvements must be made, of which Tomlin is well aware, despite the overall convincing win.