Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad
Most times, coaches' regularly-scheduled press conferences include a nauseating amount of gorgonzola served up for the masses in accordance with some unstated but obvious agenda. Mike Tomlin's session with the media this week satisfied at least the minimum daily requirement along those lines as only Tomlin can provide it. When asked to what he attributed Jamaal Charles' declining production of late in Kansas City, Tomlin offered up the following: "I know they've been behind some and sometimes game circumstances dictate how often your featured runner gets touches." Behind some? With the exception of those blissful minutes in the wake of the Chiefs' game-winning field goal in overtime against New Orleans, Kansas City hasn't been ahead in a game this season. The point is you almost always have to take this kind of stuff for what it's worth, which is usually very little. But every once in a while a coach will decide to let the public see what's behind the curtain, and Tomlin came through in that regard on Tuesday, as well. The subject was the Steelers' three-game winning streak and what was the sudden catalyst that sparked it. Tomlin allowed that what's been happening hasn't been happening by accident. "Some of the big themes that we started to focus on the past couple of weeks we saw develop in our play, which is a good sign," Tomlin said. "We talked openly about improving our yards per carry on offense. On defense, we looked back and opponents were converting 49 percent of their third-down opportunities. We challenged ourselves in that way. In the special-teams game, we felt like we had dangerous return men when we weren't shooting ourselves in the foot (with penalties)." The Steelers' attention to those details has made them a different team. But they're not quite done cleaning up the entirety of the mess that was their unforeseen and uncharacteristic 2-3 start. The running game was averaging 3.0 yards per carry prior to the Steelers' Oct. 21 visit to Cincinnati. Since then they've mashed their way to 465 yards on 91 carries. That's a 5.1 average per carry over that span, and it's raised their overall figure this season to 3.9, which is getting dangerously close to respectable. The defense was allowing third downs to be converted at a rate of 49.2 percent prior to engaging the Bengals. Since then the Steelers' defense has sizzled on third downs, allowing just 10 conversions in 35 attempts (28.6 percent). The only area yet to be adequately addressed is special teams. Yes, the Steelers were able to pop kickoff returns of 50 and 68 yards and a 63-yard punt return against the Giants. But they still had three special-teams penalties in last Sunday's 24-20 triumph. And they had one enforced special-teams foul the previous week against Washington, but that one was enough to negate a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown by Antonio Brown. And the week prior to that in Cincinnati the Steelers committed five penalties on special teams, four of which were enforced. So there's work yet to do in completely cleaning up their act. In the meantime, two out of three ain't bad – if you will. But if the Steelers can keep identifying problems and correcting them at this pace, they'll be more than ready for that upcoming two-out-of-three stretch against the Ravens. In the meantime, they can justify the still-too-often-penalized special teams any way they like. They have, after all, been behind some this season.