Steelers continue to lose critical timeouts
I’m usually not one to focus too much on things like clock and timeout management. If it’s really bad, sure, I’ll mention it, but in those situations, we everything know it’s a bad call and I don’t have much to add. But an underrated part of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive problems is their lackluster offense late in the half. In the past two weeks, the Steelers had two chances to get a field goal late in the first half. Ball around midfield, around 25 seconds left. And both times they came up short, unable even to out Chris Boswell for a lengthy placement tryout. A chance to steal points for an attack that needs all it can get.
It’s bad enough. What’s compounded is how much the Steelers wasted their first-half timeouts only to need them as the second quarter clock draws to a close. And it hurts this team in a sloppy way. Let’s review what happened in each of the last two games.
Week 2 – 3rd and 1 offensive timeout
This one just confuses me. The Steelers offense facing a 3rd and a 1. The Steelers come out heavy, 22 with Mitch Trubisky under center. Playclock is coming to an end and instead of breaking the ball, Trubisky is counting hard to try to draw the Patriots defense offside. They don’t, it’s a team coached by Belichick, so you know they’re fundamental (teams have tried to fool them before, it doesn’t work well) and the Steelers burn a timeout. I’m not going to fall behind third-and-one, obviously.
This is the team’s first time out of the half. You won’t hear Trubisky on the hard count below, but here’s a preview for now.
After the Patriots scored a critical 44-yard touchdown, the Steelers got the ball back with 25 seconds left at halftime. A 23-yard completion to George Pickens is promising and sends the Steelers out of bounds at their own 48 with 17 seconds left. But the drive crumbles from there, an incompleteness and a terrible sack from Trubisky to end the half, leaving Pittsburgh with an unsuccessful Hail Mary that doesn’t even reach the end zone.
To be fair, the Steelers always had a timeout with them in the half, but it was still bad management and there was no reason for Pittsburgh to burn that timeout on 3rd and 1. Can -being having all three time outs on that last halftime drive changes things up a bit more knowing they have a couple to play with and can really use the midfield without any worries instead of immediately working on the key. Chances are it’s still the same result, no points, but it’s a bad process.
Week 3 – 12 men on a break on the pitch
Here’s what it’s starting to get ugly. Start of the second quarter Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers are in their 3-4 defense with three inside linebackers on the field: Robert Spillane, Devin Bush and Myles Jack. But they have all 11 men on the field. With the clock already around 15 seconds, NT Tyson Alualu is for some reason sent to the field only to get most of the way, to realize that the Steelers have the three linemen they need and that Alualu is the 12th illegal man. He tries to run back and get out of the field, but the Browns are ready to break the ball and could easily get five free yards from it. Pittsburgh is forced to burn its first timeout instead.
I don’t know what wires were crossed here to send Alualu. Typically, position coaches are responsible for replacing their group inside and out, so I’m going to assume the error lies with DL coach Karl Dunbar. A self-inflicted error.
Week 3 – Issue timeout before snapshot
At the end of the first half. 3rd and 8 with 50 seconds left. I don’t know what the Steelers saw they didn’t like here, but something with the pre-snap look has Tomlin burning his second timeout. Maybe he had a really good reason for it and hey the Steelers got the turnover on the downs two games later (thanks to Amari Cooper dropping a 4th pass) but still you hate to see the downtime here. Less blatant than the first but it comes back to bite Pittsburgh on the ensuing possession.
So that’s two timeouts taken because of defensive errors. After the fourth save, the Steelers get the ball back with 30 seconds left on their 32-yard line with a timeout. Trubisky hits Chase Claypool on a scramble drill for 20 to get to the Browns 43-yard line, but they are forced to burn their final timeout with 17 seconds left.
At this point, the Steelers attempt to use the sideline and the Browns pull it out, including on the last play of the half. Pittsburgh takes two designed touchdowns that are incomplete, but a final rollout designed to try and get 6-7 yards and give Chris Boswell a chance. But the Browns know that, too, and deliberately play defenders on the sideline on the field. Looks like this.
After the match, Trubisky was asked about the lack of late-period success and responded by wishing the team had more time-outs. Pittsburgh’s own mistakes, personnel issues, game errors, a stupid decision to count hard, robbed them of their own chances. I bet if the Steelers had at least two timeouts for the Browns’ drive, they’ll at least be in range for a Boswell field goal. It was a windy night so who knows if he got it, the wind had already pushed a wide right, but three runs at the end of a half would have been huge.
The Steelers offense has enough problems. They don’t need to create more with timeout issues. It costs them points and they have no room for error to give points. These issues could fall on a lot of people, but ultimately they reflect Mike Tomlin and the work he does. Right now that’s not good enough. Must be cleaned for the fourth week.