Deep trouble? Steelers look to revive sluggish pass game

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool (11) hauls in a pass from quarterback Mitch Trubisky with New England Patriots cornerback Myles Bryant (27) defending during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

PITTSBURGH — Mitch Trubisky won the starting quarterback job in Pittsburgh during training camp by basically not losing it.

He didn’t turn the ball over during the preseason and won raves from the coaching staff for his decision-making.


That same pragmatic approach however, isn’t playing so well now that the games count. And Trubisky knows it. The Steelers (1-1) have put together two touchdown drives in two games heading into Thursday’s visit to Cleveland (1-1), a ratio that needs to change if Pittsburgh wants to be a factor in what looks like a wide-open AFC North.

“We’ve just got to score more points,” Trubisky said Tuesday. “So however we do that, that’s got to be our mindset.” Therein lies the issue. Pittsburgh’s biggest moves during the offseason were aimed at trying to jumpstart an offense that finished in the bottom third of the league in most major offensive categories.

The Steelers signed Trubisky and drafted eventual franchise quarterback Kenny Pickett, revamped the offensive line and added field-stretching 6-foot-3 wide receiver George Pickens to a wide receivers room that already featured Pro Bowler Diontae Johnson and 6-4 enigma Chase Claypool.

Yet through nine quarters, the deep passing game is non-existent. Trubisky is 32nd in the league in yards per attempt. His two longest completions have been to tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry on plays where Freiermuth’s and Gentry’s legs did most of the work while turning short tosses into 30-plus yard gains and Pickens — a standout during camp — has been basically invisible while catching two passes for 23 yards.

Coach Mike Tomlin declined to place blame on any one specific person, but added both the quarterback and the game plan could be more aggressive. Trubisky insists he doesn’t need to be told twice.

“I think every quarterback in their heart likes to throw the ball as far as they can on the football field and watch their playmakers go up and get it,” he said.

Trubisky’s playmakers are waiting. Johnson became demonstrably upset at one point during last Sunday’s 17-14 loss to New England after Trubisky went elsewhere with the ball on a play Johnson felt he had a matchup advantage.

Pickens estimates he was open “90%” of the time against the Patriots, a percentage more symbolic of Pickens’ confidence than reality, a perception that’s fine by his head coach.

“We’ve got playmakers, young playmakers, guys with a lot of talent, guys that want to be the reasons why we’re successful,” Tomlin sad. “I’d much rather say ‘whoa’ than ‘sic’em.’”

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