Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin are great coaches. This season, their teams need them more than ever with limited offenses in the wrong era to be limited.
Look around the NFL, and spot the contenders. They’re almost all helmed by All-World quarterbacks, who general terrific offenses. They’re also married to excellent coaching staffs.
Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, Josh Allen and Sean McDermott, Lamar Jackson and John Harbaugh, Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay, Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur. Then there’s the great quarterback without the proven equal at coach, situations such as Tom Brady and Todd Bowles, Joe Burrow and Zac Taylor, Justin Herbert and Brandon Staley.
You’ll note those teams can all score points at will. Welcome to the modern NFL.
In both New England and Pittsburgh, the coaches are beyond reproach. As the two teams enter their Week 2 matchup at Acrisure Stadium, Bill Belichick has eight Super Bowl rings, six as the head man. Mike Tomlin is in his 15th season helming the Steelers, and hasn’t endured one losing season while racking up a title and two Super Bowl appearances.
Yet both are tied to offensive situations which are either limiting and/or impossible to overcome.
For Belichick, he’s responsible for the mess as the de facto general manager.
New England has the most expensive group of receivers and tight ends (by combined ’22 cap hits) and yet doesn’t have a single explosive playmaker at either spot on the depth chart. Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Henry are quality targets, but neither are keeping opposing defensive coordinators awake.
Under center, Mac Jones had a solid rookie season but doesn’t appear to have elite upside. For a first-round pick, it’s an underwhelming future. And when Jones is paired with a former defensive coach and failed head coach in Matt Patricia as his play-caller, you have disaster.
In today’s quarterback-rich AFC, being well-coached isn’t enough. You also need a star under center who can elevate those around him.
In Week 1, the Patriots’ offense scored as many points — seven — as it allowed. Jones posted a league-worst 9.7 QBR. The stat is backed up on film, with Jones missing open receivers, throwing a bad interception in the end zone, and checking down more often than not.
But to blame Jones for the flop is to simplify a multi-faceted problem, headlined by receivers who can’t separate and a coordinator who has no business in his role.
All of this boils down to Belichick, who while perhaps the greatest coach in NFL history, has flubbed drafts and spent lavishly on the wrong players in recent years.
Now, it’s on him to bail himself out with masterful scheming.
In Pittsburgh, the problem is different.
The Steelers also have a young first-round quarterback in Kenny Pickett, but the rookie remains on then bench behind veteran journeyman Mitchell Trubisky. Last Sunday, Trubisky was largely awful, throwing for 5.1 yards per attempt while the offense generated only 16 points despite five turnovers from the Cincinnati Bengals.
Although Pittsburgh earned a miracle victory in the Queen City, Trubisky’s shortcomings and a horrid offensive line threaten to derail the Steelers in the coming months. Tomlin undoubtedly knows this, which makes the following question so fascinating.
If the Steelers keep winning — their next three games are against the Patriots, Cleveland Browns, and New York Jets — but the offense is mired in a deep funk, does Tomlin go with his rookie in hopes of a jolt, our does he protect him from a toughening schedule with little protection?
For Tomlin, that’s the question that could define the season in Pittsburgh. Nobody doubts the Steelers have an elite offense, but Trubisky is a game-manager on his best days, and a saboteur on his worst.
Both Belichick and Tomlin are savants on the sideline, but each is hindered by a fatal flaw under center and across their respective offenses, albeit in different areas.
The Steelers have the potential for being saved by Pickett, while the Patriots must find ways to accentuate Jones’ strengths and minimize his weaknesses, something so masterfully done last year by offensive coordinator and now Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels.
Smart money usually says Pittsburgh and New England linger in the playoff chase, with one or both even finding their way to the postseason. Great coaching, discipline, and situational football have that effect.
But in today’s quarterback-rich AFC, being well-coached isn’t enough. You also need a star under center who can elevate those around him.
For the Patriots and Steelers, they each only have half the combination needed to be great.