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Flavell's Five Thoughts: Time to Talk About Tomlin

The Pittsburgh Steelers' flaws were on full display in Week 4. Is the head coach being protected too much?

Disgraceful. Unprepared. Fraudulent. There are about a million negatively connotative words that describe the Pittsburgh Steelers' embarrassing 30-6 drubbing at the hands of the Houston Texans. Nothing, and I can't stress enough that nothing, went right for Pittsburgh, and their starting quarterback went out with an injury, too.

There have been a lot of games that were seen as the "worst" of the Mike Tomlin era, but this one truly might be it. The Texans were one of the league's worst teams last season. They have a rookie head coach. Their rushing attack was putrid in their first three games of the season. Four of their starting offensive linemen were out of the lineup and yet the Steelers didn't get a single sack.

Speaking of Tomlin, he is where our focus is going to start. 

It's Time to Talk Tomlin

Look, it's very easy to like Mike Tomlin as a figurehead. Listening to him speak his way around questions without saying anything at all truly is a spectacle. The old "Tomlinisms" are always hilarious but at some point, football results are what matter, and the facts are these:

- Two playoff wins since 2016, both coming that season.

- A lifeless offense since the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger.

- Not only a retention but continued endorsement of offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

- A star-studded defense that leaves a lot to be desired more often than not.

- That one loss every season that leaves you wondering how he hasn't been fired yet.

The Steelers were down 16-0 in Week 4. Instead of going for a fourth-and-short, Tomlin elected to kick a field goal. Okay, move past it. He then made a similar decision later in the game, leading to another field goal. 16-6.

The Steelers got all the way down toward the end zone and faced another fourth-and-short. This time, Tomlin went for it instead of making the game a one-score game with a 51-yard field goal attempt with a kicker like Chris Boswell. Kenny Pickett lined up in shotgun, faked a hand-off, and was wrapped up and injured on the play.

"We don't live in our fears." That is one of Tomlin's favorite quotes, and yet he defied that quote like no other in Houston.

Pittsburgh has underachieved with Tomlin as head coach. I've defended him for a long time. This week may begin to change my tune. Canada can't be trusted. Pickett's development is likely being hindered because of the decision to keep him around.

There was once a time when a young Tomlin took the league by storm and took down all the long-tenured head coaches. Now Tomlin, by football standards, is the old guy who is getting outclassed and out-schemed by the young guys. Mike McDaniel and Nick Sirianni last season. Kyle Shanahan and DeMeco Ryans this season.

Tomlin refuses to hire up-and-coming coordinators because he doesn't want his job to feel threatened. He picks guys that he can control instead of guys who can have creative control of the offense. The Steelers are settling for mediocrity because Tomlin has become too comfortable in his role as the head coach of an organization, which has become too comfortable allowing stability to outweigh on-field results.

While We're At It, Let's Talk Pickett

Negativity is going to abound after a performance such as the Steelers had this week. No touchdowns and no sacks against an offensive line that didn't play a single starter because of injuries.

For those of you still hopeful about Pickett, it might be time to take the Pitt glasses off.

Pickett succeeding in Pittsburgh would be an awesome story, and certainly, there is still hope for that to happen. But the trends that bear caution continue to show up on a weekly basis with Pickett.

Pickett has happy feet in the pocket. He bails quickly, and while the offensive line isn't playing well, Pickett bails out of the pocket directly into sacks on a lot of his dropbacks. The accuracy that was supposed to be one of his crowning assets isn't there through four weeks of football.

Canada isn't very good. We've established that. However, an elite quarterback will be able to overcome the deficiencies of his offensive coordinator and show some promise. Yes, he did that down the stretch last season, but he never had any gaudy statistical games.

His two-touchdown performance against the Raiders last weekend was the first time he's done that in his career. His next 300-yard passing game will be his first. It's very concerning after spending a first-round pick on him in 2022. It's even more concerning when a rookie quarterback in C.J. Stroud looked light years ahead of Pickett in just his fourth NFL game.

Pickett will be 26 years old at the start of next season. He isn't the traditional "give him time" quarterback simply because he is much older than most second-year quarterbacks. He deserves some time post-Matt Canada to prove himself, but there is absolutely reason to be concerned that the Steelers don't have their guy.

If Trubisky Plays Next Week... Yikes

Mitch Trubisky entered the game this weekend without much of a chance to prove anything. Pickett went to the locker room, the Steelers were down multiple scores, and he wasn't going to suddenly change that.

Pickett and Trubisky were both first-rounders. Trubisky put the Bears on the map for a short minute before flaming out as their starter. He signed on to be the Steelers' guy last season until Pickett fell into their laps in the first round. Trubisky couldn't have been happy after surely being told he'd be the guy.

Yet, he took it in stride, won the job despite having to look over his shoulder, and eventually got benched in Week 4, knowing that once he was replaced, there was likely no entering back in unless there was an injury.

Look, I'm sure Trubisky is a good teammate. In fact, I know he is based on how he's taken Kenny under his wing and became good friends with him instead of isolating him just because Pickett took his job. Trubisky is, however, just a backup quarterback.

He was serviceable last season by beating both Tampa Bay and Carolina following Pickett's concussion. When he had to enter the game against Baltimore following Pickett's second concussion, we saw that Trubisky was who we thought he was.

The Steelers' next opponent is, ironically, Baltimore at home. There is no official word on the extent of Pickett's injury, but Trubisky could be in the offensive driver's seat in Week 4. One can only hope he'll hold down the fort for as long as his services are needed.

Defense Cannot Be Absolved of Blame

Tomlin is a defensive coach. Teryl Austin is the defensive coordinator. Yet, this Steelers' defense continues to show their weaknesses on a weekly basis. This just can't happen.

Nothing worked on defense against the Texans. C.J. Stroud spent the day getting rid of the ball in 2022 Roethlisberger-like fashion: quickly. This kept the Steelers' pass rush at bay and helped the Texans' depleted offensive line tremendously. If the Steelers, don't have a pass rush, they might not have much of a defense.

Levi Wallace and Patrick Peterson reverted back to their Week 1 and 2 versions while the front seven stood around like not-so-innocent bystanders. Minkah Fitzpatrick wasn't great, but no one wearing a white jersey really was.

I understand that Cam Heyward is out long-term. That isn't great for the run defense. However, everything lined up perfectly for the Steelers to stop the run today, especially with Texans running back Dameon Pierce struggling in the same ways that Najee Harris is to find running room. Pierce ripped off 81 yards behind you, me, Joe, and Steve playing offensive line.

There are many problems for the Steelers right now and that isn't a good thing. They're in need of a solid performance next week against the Ravens prior to the bye, or else things are going to get real tight in that locker room.

Washington Finally Gets a Target

Pat Freiermuth getting hurt is less than ideal for the Steelers. They already have a lot working against them. Losing their starting tight end isn't ideal. On the bright side, their third-round tight end is eager to have a chance to step in...if they choose to use him.

Darnell Washington had not seen a target this season until the fourth quarter when he ironically caught the ball and ran over the defender with his massive frame to get the first down.

There are no positives to the starting tight end getting hurt, but to see Washington actually get involved in the offense would be welcomed. It isn't like any of the Steelers pass catchers is lighting the world on fire, so adding in a player like that is massive.

Considering this got an entire bullet point in "Flavell's Five" this week shows how little actually went right for the Steelers. One can only hope next week provides a better one.

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