The Pittsburgh Steelers will rely on their run game more than they have in the last 15 years. The only problem? It’s a unit still figuring it out. An ever-changing offensive line behind a running back who missed a large chunk of the summer. On paper, it makes for a bumpy start, something Mike Tomlin acknowledged to Bob Pompeani on The Mike Tomlin show that aired earlier today. Tomlin spoke to where the o-line and Steelers’ run game currently sits at.
“Lack of cohesion,” Tomlin said when asked what concerns him about the group up front. “But we’ll continually answer that as we proceed through the journey that is the season.”
Pittsburgh added another two starting offensive linemen this offseason in center Mason Cole and right guard James Daniels all under the umbrella of another new offensive line coach in Pat Meyer, the Steelers’ third in three years. Though the group was largely healthy this summer, they went through predictable growing pains of a new system and scheme, struggling notably early in the preseason especially in the second game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Their performance improved in the finale versus the Detroit Lions but their o-line remains the Steelers’ biggest question less than 24 hours from the start of their season.
Despite the concern, Tomlin believes this group will improve, though he reiterated their specific issues.
“It’s reasonable to expect us to get better over the long haul. Not only because we got young players but because we got new players guys that are new to Pittsburgh. And Najee missed a significant amount of time during team development. So there’s a cohesion component there to be developed.”
Harris suffered a Lisfranc injury to his foot during the team’s first day in pads, his first carry of the team’s live-tackling team session. He missed the next month of action and only returned late in the summer, seeing significant time in the finale against the Lions but admitted he felt rusty and didn’t play to expectations.
Pittsburgh’s run-game mission begins tomorrow against the Bengals. The Steelers couldn’t muster 100 yards rushing across their two games against the Bengals last season, a formula that can’t repeat itself if they want to break their losing streak Sunday. For Tomlin, there’s the delicate balance between growing and improving while winning through such adversity.
“We better be good enough obviously to secure victory. But I think it’s reasonable to expect us to be a group in development in those areas because of known variables.”
Winning cures it all. And a “group in development” doesn’t fly as an excuse if this team starts the year 0-1. They have to find ways to win as they figure everything else out. Getting off to a fast start is obviously important but it’s especially so for the Steelers this season. Two of their first three games of the year are against the AFC North, facing Cincinnati Sunday and the Cleveland Browns in Week 3, a Thursday night road game. Dropping both of those games would put Pittsburgh in a major hole that’ll be tough to climb out of. While the Steelers started last year 1-3, only one of those losses came in-division, Pittsburgh finished the year 4-2 in the AFC North. That included two wins over their final two games of the season that vaulted them into the playoffs.