Deep problem? Steelers look to revive slow passing game


PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mitch Trubisky won the starting quarterback job in Pittsburgh during training camp with virtually no loss.

He didn’t turn the ball over during pre-season and won praise from the coaching staff for his decision making.

However, that same pragmatic approach doesn’t work so well now that games matter. And Trubisky knows it.

The Steelers (1-1) had two touchdowns in two games heading into Thursday’s visit to Cleveland (1-1), a ratio that needs to change if Pittsburgh is to be a factor in what looks like a wide-open AFC. North.

“We just need to score more points,” Trubisky said on Tuesday. “So no matter how we do that, that has got to be our mindset.”

This is where the problem lies. Pittsburgh’s biggest moves in the offseason were aimed at reviving an offense that finished in the bottom third of the league in most major offensive categories.

The Steelers signed Trubisky and drafted eventual franchise quarterback Kenny Pickett, revamped the offensive line and added 6-foot-3 wide receiver George Pickens to a wide receiver room that already included Pro Bowler Diontae. Johnson and the 6-4 conundrum Chase Claypool.

Yet for nine quarters, the through game is non-existent. Trubisky is 32nd in the league in yards per attempt. His two longest completions were tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry on plays where Freiermuth and Gentry’s legs did most of the work while turning short throws into 30+ yard gains and Pickens – a standout during camp – was basically invisible while catching two passes for 23 yards.

Coach Mike Tomlin declined to blame anyone in particular, but said the quarterback and game plan could be more aggressive. Trubisky insists he doesn’t need to be told twice.

“I think every quarterback in their heart loves to throw the ball as far as they can on the football field and watch their point guards come up and get it back,” he said.

Trubisky’s point guards are waiting. Johnson became obviously upset at one point in last Sunday’s 17-14 loss to New England after Trubisky went elsewhere with the ball on one play. Johnson felt he had game advantage.

Pickens reckons he was open “90 percent” of the time against the Patriots, a percentage more symbolic of Pickens’ confidence than reality, a perception that suits his head coach.

“We have playmakers, young playmakers, guys with a lot of talent, guys who want to be the reasons for our success,” Tomlin lamented. “I would much rather say ‘whoa’ than ‘sic’em.’ I think it’s just a general attitude that we have as competitors in a competitive football team in a competitive organization.

It’s an attitude Trubisky insists he shares, though he’s also quick to point out that he doesn’t need to start channeling Kansas City star Patrick Mahomes and kicking the ball around. all over the field. A little daring could go a long way with a defense that looks vastly improved from last year’s squad that finished last in the league against the run.

“There’s a fine line between protecting football and (wanting) to be aggressive,” Trubisky said. “So you want to be aggressive as a quarterback. But when you have great defense (like we do) you also want to protect football because they are always going to keep us in games.

Maybe, but the Steelers are currently missing All-Pro outside linebacker TJ Watt, who is out indefinitely with a left pectoral injury. Pittsburgh didn’t have a sack against the Patriots and produced just one turnover after racking up five in Week 1 at Cincinnati.

If Pittsburgh wants to do more than tread water in Watt’s absence, the offense needs to pick up the slack. The Steelers got off to a similar start last season and recovered to qualify for the playoffs.

It’s far too early to panic, especially in a season that now stretches well past New Year’s and the attack is incredibly young. Pittsburgh’s longest-serving offensive starter is right tackle Chuks Okorafor, who is in his fifth season. Trubisky has been in offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s system for a few months. Every starting skill position player has been in the NFL for four years or less.

Canada used the words “grow” or “growth” repeatedly on Tuesday, essentially saying the Steelers should trust the process. It’s a sentiment shared by Pickens, 21, who has only been a professional since May but understands how quickly perceptions and production can change.

“Someone might catch a bomb from 90 yards (Thursday),” Pickens said. “And now everyone is excited again. So it can happen at any time. »

The sooner the better in Pittsburgh.

NOTES: LB Devin Bush (foot) practiced Tuesday and is expected to play in Cleveland. … The Steelers signed WR Jaquarii Roberson to the practice squad and released CB Mark Gilbert.


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