Steelers Mike Tomlin ranked worst head coach on fourth-down calls

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. /

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been far too conservative on four downs in recent years. Here’s why Mike Tomlin is the lowest-ranked head coach on fourth-down calls.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt like pulling my hair out at times when watching the Pittsburgh Steelers this year. Lack of execution has been a big issue with this team this year, and quite frankly, we lack talent. However, one thing that pushes me beyond my boiling point is when Mike Tomlin makes some head-scratching decisions on fourth downs.

For a man who coined the phrase ‘we don’t live in our fears,’ the Steelers certainly seem to do just that with routinely conservative fourth-down calls. When Pittsburgh has trailed by multiple scores and needs to mount a comeback, Tomlin is too content to punt the ball back to the opposing offense — even with a struggling defense this season.

Recently, a panel of experts at ESPN ranked each NFL head coach in terms of their play-calling on fourth down. Mike Tomlin ranked 32nd in the league.

What was the reasoning for this? Essentially, it comes down to living in our fears. According to stats compiled from ESPN since 2017, Tomlin has a 33.1 percent win probability sacrificed on fourth-down errors. This ranks 30th in the NFL. In the same way, Tomlin ranks 26th in difference in expected vs. actual fourth-down conversions (-8.3 percent) and 28th in non-obvious fourth-down error rate (28.9 percent).

While these might seem like some pretty obscure stats, it’s not hard to believe that Mike Tomlin would rank this low among head coaches after watching how questionable his fourth-down play-calling has been over this span. Whether it’s a pitch to Le’Veon Bell during the 2018 playoff game vs the Jaguars, a fake field goal-pass from Chris Boswell, or simply a punt on 4th-and-1, the results have been less than desirable.

Steelers need to be more aggressive on fourth-down calls

So what does Pittsburgh need to do in order to right this ship? The answer is pretty simple: the Steelers to be more aggressive when it comes to fourth-down play-calling.

For starters, Mike Tomlin can’t simply ignore what analytics say you should do in certain situations. If Pittsburgh is punting the ball back to their opponent on a play where the team has crossed midfield and has a reasonably high chance of success, this is a poor decision. Sadly, it’s one that Tomlin makes routinely.

Part of the reason the offense has been as bad as it has this year is that Tomlin has given this team almost no opportunity to keep drives rolling on fourth downs. Though they aren’t going to convert every time, studies have shown that this aggressiveness typically pays off.

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At this point, what have the Steelers got to lose? What they’ve been doing clearly isn’t working. Mike Tomlin is a good coach and a lot of the problems on this team come from a lack of overall talent. However, he needs to start being more aggressive on fourth down if he wants to see better results on the field.