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Steelers Analysis

Did Mike Tomlin Learn a Lesson about Being Aggressive?



Steelers HC Mike Tomlin
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin at practice on Jan. 2, 2024. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers under Mike Tomlin have not always been the most aggressive team when it comes to in-game decision making.

Despite Tomlin’s “we don’t live in our fears” philosophy, the Steelers have been a fairly conservative group most of the time under his leadership.

That came out in an unsettling way during the nadir of the team’s season in Week 15. As the Steelers were losing by two scores last against the Indianapolis Colts, the Steelers had the option to attempt a 57-yard Chris Boswell field goal to get it to one score. Instead, Tomlin elected to punt.

RELATED: Chris Boswell Isn’t Hurt, Mike Tomlin Just Didn’t Trust Him

Tomlin was blasted for the decision, which amounted to giving up on the game. He defended it publicly both post-game and at his press conference the following week. But it’s possible that he learned a lesson from his experience in Indy.

Last week against the Seattle Seahawks, Tomlin showed that he doesn’t have to be buttoned-up.

That came from the first series of the game, when he chose to go for it on a 4th and 5 from the Seattle 41-yard line instead of attempting a long Chris Boswell field goal or punting from plus territory.

Later in the game, when the Steelers got the ball back at the Seattle 44 with 2 minutes to play, leading by seven, they needed to run five plays to run the clock out, and if they moved at least 10 yards, they could try a field goal to make it a two-score game, even if they had to kick it back to Seattle.

Steelers running backs Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren had been shredding the Seahawks defense all game, but in that instance, Tomlin decided he wanted to go for the jugular.

“Hey, Sully (Steelers quarterbacks coach and offensive playcaller Mike Sullivan), I don’t want to get conservative, they’ve been pounding that run,” Tomlin said via NFL Films. “Rhythm pass, play to win. … Talk to 2 (Mason Rudolph). We’re not gonna get conservative and scared. Rhythm pass, play to win.”

The play went for 24 yards, setting the Steelers up in field goal range, and allowing Harris to run out the clock.

“Scared money don’t make money,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin has been known to insert his ideas into the play-calling from time to time especially on defense. Him making the decision to be bold and aggressive on offense was well received.

“I think it’s awesome when you have a head coach that’s willing, like he always says, not live in your fears and just you go play and call it like you see fit,” offensive coordinator Eddie Faulkner said. “In that particular play, we had been running in clubs and 13 personnel, and then you get out there and everybody in the stadium thinks you’re about to run it. And then you throw it and GP gets a big gainer, those are the calculated risks that you take, and that one worked out for us.”

The Steelers seem to appreciate the aggressive gesture.

“He’s our leader, and he sets the trajectory,” Faulkner said. “It’s kind of his vision, our words, and we ride whatever he’s saying. We’re selling it. So I feel like the guys have been buying into it pretty good.”