Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Mike Tomlin attributes Kenny Pickett, Steelers’ recent late-game success to being fearless: ‘We play to win’

Mike Tomlin has learned something about his team through six games, something that has helped the Pittsburgh Steelers get off to a 4-2 start. 

The Steelers’ longtime coach was asked what has led to the Steelers’ recent fourth-quarter success. Over the past two games (both wins), Pittsburgh has outscored the Ravens and Rams by a combined score of 28-0 in the fourth quarter. 

“We’re not scared,” Tomlin responded. “We play to win, we don’t play not to lose.” 

Tomlin added that his quarterback, Kenny Pickett, shares that mentality. It’s something that compelled the Steelers to select him in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft

While he and the Steelers offense haven’t started fast, Pickett and his teammates have had recent success late in games. Against the Ravens, Pickett hit George Pickens for the game-winning score with 1:17 left. Pickett led the offense to 21 second-half points on Sunday that included a pair of scoring drives in the fourth quarter. 

“We’re going to continually go to work on more fluid and more productive starts. But it’s a component of it that’s not new, and that’s his ability to rise up in moments,” Tomlin said of Pickett, who has won nine of his last 12 starts.

“I don’t know that any of us are surprised by his ability to make the plays that he makes when it really gets thick. I just think that some people are built like that. Some people relish the opportunity. Some people really smile in the fact of adversity. Some people are competition junkies. I think he’s all of those things, but that’s not something that we just discovered, as I mentioned. It’s something that we knew even prior to him being a Pittsburgh Steeler.”

While the Steelers’ strong finishes have been impressive, Tomlin acknowledged that a faster start from his offense is something that is being worked on. Tomlin said that a lack of execution at the start of games has been more of a reason for the slow starts rather than anything the team does from a structural standpoint. 

Specifically, Tomlin pointed to two miscues that occurred on Pittsburgh’s first offensive possession on Sunday. After Najee Harris ripped off an 8-yard run on first down, a missed blocking assignment led to a sack of Pickett on second down. Pickett and Pickens then failed to connect on a deep pass on third down as Pickett caught the ball but was unable to keep both feet in bounds. Had those plays been successful, Tomlin said that he probably would not have been discussing Pittsburgh’s slow starts during Tuesday’s presser. 

While his team may have found its identity from an intangible standpoint, Tomlin said that teams seldom have a tangible identity in today’s NFL, especially on offense. 

“I think in 2023, when you’re talking about team identity, you’re talking more intangible quality things,” Tomlin said. “A grit, a mindset, the approach in which you take the circumstances. Are you a calculated, risk-taking group? Are you a fundamentalist group? Are you a small menu group? Those are the things that really kind of comprise identity today. If you start talking about, ‘We’re a running group,’ then people are going to show up in goal line defense and open field on you. So it doesn’t behoove you to marry yourself to an identity. All it does is make the sledding more difficult in 2023.” 

From an intangible standpoint, the Steelers have showcased a fearlessness late in games that has led to recent success. The same can be said of Pittsburgh’s quarterback, who despite not having gaudy stats continues to come out on the winning side more often than not. 

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