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5 for Friday: Adjustments matter, but not how many think

Adjustments. You hear about them all the time in football, whether they be halftime, in-game or season-long.

Critics often like to trot out the opinion that the Steelers don't make halftime adjustments well. But that's incredibly unfair.

For example, in recent weeks, the offense has performed well in the first half of games, outscoring their past four opponents 62-36 in the first half of those games.

That each of those games got close in the second half, or the Steelers gave up the lead, doesn't really factor into things. It's the NFL. The opposing teams have plenty of good players, as well.

The bottom line is that the Steelers have gone 3-1 in those games.

And here's the thing, you don't make drastic halftime adjustments to what is working.

If, for example, you're leading the Falcons, 16-6, heading into the second half, what exactly are you adjusting? You might make a tweak here or there. But by and large, what you've done has worked.

And sometimes, there are other variables at play.

"Sometimes, it's just the nature of the game," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "Like in Indy, they got a big kickoff return and produced the touchdown and that produced the ebb and flow that was momentum that they were able to ride for a while until we could get it turned. In this past game, Atlanta got the ball to start the second half and they did a great job of winning the line of scrimmage and possessing the ball. I think we had one possession in the third quarter. … Oftentimes, production, particularly when you're looking at a small window, half a play or things of that nature, there's often other variables that weigh into it beyond the obvious."

That's just the reality of an NFL game. Game flow is going to change. Momentum that you had in the first half can be killed by that break between the second and third quarters.

And, again, why would you go away from doing things that worked in the first half so well?

Now, your opponent is going to make adjustments based off what you were doing against it that worked so well in the first half. And that's when the adjustments to their adjustments come into play.

But the biggest mistake a coaching staff can make is to go away from what was working simply because they felt like the opponent would adjust to it.

Look at the Steelers' game against the Falcons last week as a perfect example of that.

Atlanta came into that game averaging 160 yards rushing per game. But instead of coming out and doing what they do best, the Falcons came out throwing against the Steelers, running the ball just six times in the first half.

It wasn't until the second half, when they ran the ball 22 times, that they got back into the game.

"I think they were trying to throw us off guard because they knew that we knew they were going to try to run the ball," said Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. "So, they were getting into big personnel and throwing the ball, which was not something they did often. I think they were trying to throw us off a little bit. Then, they just reverted back to what they do in the second half."

You don't want to overthink things. That's where teams get themselves into trouble.

• If you want to talk about adjustments, Tomlin's teams are now 99-50-1 in his career after the Steelers have their bye week, including 3-1 this season.

That .663 winning percentage is fifth-best in the NFL since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.

That tends to lead to the conclusion that Tomlin has done a good job in his career of evaluating his team during the bye week and making adjustments.

• Remember when critics said Kenny Pickett was "turnover prone," because he had eight interceptions in his first five career games?

Pickett has now gone 128-straight passes without an interception, a Steelers' record for a rookie quarterback.

The NFL record for a rookie is 211-straight passes without an interception set by Arizona's Kyler Murray in 2019.

Pickett will face a tall task to continue his record against the Ravens this week. Baltimore has 11 interceptions in its 12 games this season, which is tied for the fifth-most in the NFL.

Then again, the Falcons, who Pickett faced last week, entered that game with 10 interceptions this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Pickett didn't have a single turnover-worthy throw in the game and has just two such throws in the past four games.

His percentage of turnover-worthy throws sits at 2.7 percent, which ranks seventh in the league. He's taking outstanding care of the football.

Obviously, a big part of that is Pickett valuing the football and making smart decisions. But coaching also has played a big part, as well.

Pickett's learning curve has been short.

• The Steelers have been playing well over the past four weeks, as their 3-1 record in that span would suggest.

Per Football Outsiders website, since their Week 9 bye, the Steelers are 12th in DVOA (Defensive-adjusted Value Over Average), which measures a team's production in offensive, defensive and special teams performances, weighting them against who they are playing against so things aren't skewed by simply playing bad opponents.

Since the bye, the Steelers are 12th in the NFL in overall DVOA, including 14th on offense and seventh on defense.

The offensive resurgence coincides with the team running the ball more. The Steelers are second in the league in rushing DVOA in that span.

The defensive resurgence coincides with the return of outside linebacker T.J. Watt. In fact, the Steelers are 4-1 with Watt in the lineup this season, despite the fact he's recorded just 1.5 sacks in those games.

Watt's value to the Steelers goes beyond simply taking the opposing quarterback down.

"I think everybody wants to count sack numbers, but there's a lot of different ways that T.J. impacts the game," Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. "He impacts it in protection. Guys are always going to make sure they're going to him. He makes tackles for loss. He disrupts a lot of things. So, to put his play just on stat numbers, I think is misleading because he is an impactful football player. Since he's been back, I think it's helped our defense period, and our defense is better with him on the field."

• The names and faces have changed greatly in the Steelers-Ravens rivalry. With the retirements of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Ravens punter Sam Koch, there are no players remaining from the knock-down, drag-out battles the two teams had from 2008 through 2010, when the physicality of the games between the two helped lead to the NFL changing the rules on how game would be played.

But the rivalry itself? It hasn't gone anywhere.

"John (Harbaugh) is there and Mike (Tomlin) is there; it's not changing," said Austin, who has seen the rivalry from both sides, having now coached for both teams. "The cities are still there; it's not changing. It is a great rivalry. It's tough. Being involved in it, it is. Their games, they're hard hitting. I think both teams have a lot of respect for each other because it's very similar. I don't think because the guys are younger it's going to change the rivalry, I think the rivalry is what it is. That's what it'll have."

Tomlin, at 16 years, and Harbaugh at 15 years, are the second- and third-longest tenured head coaches in the NFL. And they happen to be in the same division.

It's a rare occurrence. But both coaches have some work to do to have the longest coaching tenures in league history with just one franchise. That honor belongs to Tom Landry of the Cowboys, who spent 29 years as a head coach, all in Dallas.

In fact, Tomlin still has some work to do to reach Chuck Noll's record of 23 years with the Steelers, which is the fifth-longest such tenure in NFL history.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

But in a league in which only Bill Belichick, who has been in New England since 2000, has been with one team longer, and only Seattle's Pete Carroll and Kansas City's Andy Reid have been with the same team for even 10 seasons, it's pretty unique.

Sunday's game will mark the 32nd meeting between the two coaches, counting the postseason and move them past the Giants' Steve Owen and Packers' Curly Lambeau for the second-most meetings in league history.

The only coaching matchup in league history that has more meetings is that of Chicago's George Halas and Lambeau, who faced each other 48 times.

Owen, Halas and Lambeau are all in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Pro Bowl Games Voting: Steelers fans can do their part to send the team's players to the Pro Bowl Games this season by voting here or on Twitter as part of the social media voting.

Any tweet or retweet that includes one the options below counts as one vote through Dec. 13 and doubles to two votes on Dec. 14 and 15.

Make sure your tweet or retweet includes one of these options and you can vote for any and all Steelers players:

ProBowlVote + @(PlayersHandle) – example: #ProBowlVote @CamHeyward

ProBowl Vote + Full Name – example: #ProBowlVote Minkah Fitzpatrick