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Steelers first quarter issues on offense are less ‘penalty driven’ than Mike Tomlin suggests

After telling reporters that the Steelers’ early struggles on offense were due to penalties more than anything else, Mike Tomlin might want to review the tape.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Of all the ways the Pittsburgh Steelers have disappointed each week, one of the more frustrating aspects is the way they’ve performed on their opening drives. After three consecutive weeks of 3-and-outs to start the game, Pittsburgh changed the pace with a fumble on their third play of Week 4, once again setting a negative tone they would fail to overcome.

While acknowledging the Steelers’ early struggles in their recent matchups when speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Mike Tomlin might be mistaken if he truly believes what he said to the media.

“Offensively, it’s been penalty driven, more than anything else.”

In reality, none of Pittsburgh’s opening drives have seen the offense flagged for a penalty through the first four weeks of the season. Only once have they incurred a penalty during their second drive of any game. Nevertheless, the second time the offense has touched the ball in every game so far has ended with either a punt or a turnover.

We will never know how far into a game the coaching staff scripts their plays on offense, but it’s safe to assume they have more than four plays prepared. Despite an entire week of practice to get ready, the Steelers continue to look unprepared in their opening drives. It remains to been seen if this is the consequence of having installed a new offensive coordinator in Randy Fichtner, or perhaps the absence of Le’Veon Bell in the backfield. But it’s worth noting that Pittsburgh faced similar problems during the first few games of 2017.

The issues eventually were fixed last year, and the Steelers were 9-8 on the season in terms of opening the game with a scoring drive versus punting or turning the ball over. So perhaps it is too early to panic at this stage.

Over the past few weeks, Pittsburgh’s third possession of the game has become their first scoring drive and perhaps it should have been in Week 2 as well, if not for a missed field goal. A total of just six first-quarter points through four games is unacceptable for team that had championship ambitions at the start of the year. It can only be hoped that the Steelers acknowledge behind closed doors that penalties aren’t actually the problem holding them back at the start of their games.

Later in his press conference, the line of questioning returned to the team’s first-quarter struggles, and Tomlin at least offered some hope that the coaching staff might be addressing the problem logically.

“We’re looking at what we’re doing schematically, what we’re doing in terms of preparation logistically leading up to the game. We’re looking at things that are within our control.”

But if the Steelers’ brain trust doesn’t accurately assess the problems currently plaguing them, it’s hard to believe they’ll be able to fix them. Looking consistently flat and out of sync early on in games, players at every offensive position have started poorly each week — but that has nothing to do with penalties.