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3 ways Mike Tomlin can ignite the struggling Pittsburgh Steelers offense

Pittsburgh Steelers offense

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett underwent a special procedure Monday to accelerate the healing of his high ankle sprain, which will sideline him for the next 2-4 weeks.

In the meantime, more surgery needs to be performed on the ailing Pittsburgh Steelers offense – and the onus is on head coach Mike Tomlin to fix it quickly.

Pickett went down late in the second quarter Sunday of an embarrassing 24-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The game was delayed twice due to severe thunderstorms in Pittsburgh, but it’s questionable whether the Steelers’ offense ever emerged from the locker room the entire day.

Mitchell Trubisky replaced Pickett and didn’t get the Steelers into the end zone until there were four minutes left in the game, and the Steelers were already down, 24-3.

When the Steelers fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada two weeks ago, the move appeared to jumpstart the offense, at least temporarily. In a 16-10 win over Cincinnati the previous week, Pittsburgh surpassed 400 yards of total offense for the first time in 58 games.

The offensive outburst, however, generated yards, but not points, and against Arizona, the Steelers scored fewer than 20 points for the third straight week.

As it stands now, Pittsburgh (7-5) is the No. 5 seed in the AFC and plays another struggling offensive team, the New England Patriots, on Thursday night.

So, what can Tomlin do to field a Pittsburgh Steelers offense that produces yards and points? The solutions are rather limited to only in-house options at the moment, but here are three suggestions that might give them a much-needed spark — and even help Tomlin keep his job beyond this season, his 16th as the Steelers’ head coach.

Pittsburgh Steelers offense
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1. Pittsburgh Steelers offense must trust Mitchell Trubisky

Perhaps Steelers fans don’t trust Trubisky. But for Tomlin, Trubisky is his best QB option until Pickett returns. Beyond Trubisky, there is Mason Rudolph, who is now elevated to the backup role, and Trace McSorley, who was signed to the practice squad Monday.

Trubisky, the former No. 2 overall pick in 2017, replaced Pickett on Sunday and completed 11-of-17 passes for 117 yards and one touchdown, yet he also lost a fumble. For Tomlin to trust Trubisky, however, it means his offensive assistants — interim offensive coordinator Eddie Faulkner and quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan — need to open up the playbook and be aggressive with their play-calling.

This isn’t the time to pull back the reins and run an ultra-conservative offense — just because the backup is running the show. Trubisky has played some good football in the past – most notably in 2018, when he passed for 3,223 yards and 24 TDs to go with a 95.4 passer rating –so give him the keys to succeed without any restrictions. Show some confidence in Trubisky, and maybe he’ll reward you for it.

Pittsburgh Steelers offense
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

2. Pittsburgh Steelers offense must go vertical

The Steelers have a nice mix of receivers who can make big plays in the passing game if they are given the opportunity. So, why not place more of an emphasis on attacking down the field?

Pittsburgh’s biggest play of the day Sunday was a 38-yard strike from Pickett to receiver George Pickens on its third play from scrimmage, and it set up the Steelers for their first score, a field goal in the first quarter.

Pickens, a second-year pro who had four catches for 86 yards, is talented and capable of creating matchup problems in the secondary with his size and speed. While Diontae Johnson is more of a possession receiver who can move the chains, tight end Pat Freiermuth has shown an ability to get open and hurt teams on seam routes.

Trubisky has enough weapons to attack opposing defenses vertically instead of settling for passes that barely cross the line of scrimmage.

Pittsburgh Steelers offense

3. Pittsburgh Steelers offense must go from pounding to play-action

The Steelers have two running backs who complement each other well in Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. Harris is more of a battering ram who can soften the defense, while Warren is the home-run hitter who took one 74 yards for a touchdown only two weeks ago against Cleveland.

With Trubisky at QB, teams will fear the running game more than the passing game. They will dare Trubisky to beat them with his arm. But the best way to accomplish that is with a steady diet of Harris and Warren — or at least enough of a commitment to them to hold a defense’s attention.

That will open up the play-action passing game and opportunities for some successful throws against man coverage, which should play to the Steelers advantage. Especially with Pickens and Freiremuth.

The question is, what will Mike Tomlin really do? Regardless of how long he’s been the Steelers’ head coach, what Tomlin does with the Pittsburgh Steelers offense over the next several weeks could determine his coaching fate beyond this season.

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