You might not know it by looking at the games, but Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is among the most aggressive in the NFL. At least that is the case that Nick Shook made in an article for the league’s website earlier this month listing the 10 most aggressive head coaches in the game.
Tomlin was ranked eighth, between Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott and Matt Nagy of the Chicago Bears, given an ‘Average Aggressiveness Score’ of 16.33, and figuring out what this aggressiveness score is will help to understand how this makes sense.
The piece looks at six statistical categories to come up with an aggressiveness score, those being the rate of going for it on fourth down, blitz rate, deep passing percentage, total deep passes, two-point attempt rate, and air yards to the first-down marker. As you might guess, Tomlin’s blitz rate drove his high score:
This mark is carried heavily by Pittsburgh’s hyper-aggressive defense, which blitzed at the third-highest rate in the league at 39.59 percent and caused plenty of pressure, led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate T.J. Watt. The rest of these numbers are near the middle of the pack, save for Pittsburgh’s two-point conversion attempt rate, which tied for 11th at 10 percent. Downfield passing and air yards to sticks were predictably low, especially if you managed to catch any of the Steelers’ games from Week 11 on, and even their total passes downfield still landed outside the top 10. The Steelers’ strength is on defense, and Tomlin knows where to flex his aggression.
There was a time not too long ago, of course, when the Steelers’ offense was more aggressive. They were more likely to attempt fourth-down conversions, more likely to attempt deep passes in a variety of different situations, etc.
Offensive limitations bottled that up somewhat, and one would guess that a lot of it had to do with protecting Ben Roethlisberger. The one curious thing to note, though, is that Roethlisberger did actually attempt a lot of deep passes—they just weren’t very successful, and the rest of his pass attempts tended to be far shallower than the average passer.
Will the Steelers have a more aggressive offense under Matt Canada? Would Roethlisberger’s continued presence hold that back, or would he be expected to do what is asked of him? Some things wouldn’t make a difference, of course. For example, it’s Tomlin who decides when to go for it on fourth down.