Tomlin: Moving forward with Faulkner, Sullivan offers challenges

Stating that it was not a decision that was easy or made in haste, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said his choice to replace offensive coordinator Matt Canada Tuesday morning was made with one thing in mind – scoring more points.

Tomlin made the move to replace Canada, the Steelers' offensive coordinator since 2021, following the team's 13-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Running backs coach Eddie Faulkner will take over the day-to-day responsibilities of managing the offensive staff and putting together the game plan, while quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan will handle play-calling duties, starting with the team's game next Sunday against the Bengals in Cincinnati.

"This is a result-oriented business and to be short, the improvements were not rapid enough or consistent enough for us to proceed," Tomlin said Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

"We've got to score touchdowns in this business. You have got to win games in this business. And just the totality of it has us where we are today. I am quite confident and excited for the men who get an opportunity to evolve in terms of their roles. One man's misfortune in this business is another man's opportunity. We say that regarding injury. It's the same thing under these circumstances. I'm excited about Eddie Faulkner coordinating our efforts, organizing staff responsibility in meetings, organizing game planning, leading our unit as a collective in review of our tape in preparation for upcoming opponents and things of that nature, things that the coordinator does. And then from a play caller perspective, the bulk of that responsibility will fall on Mike Sullivan. And that's also a really natural thing. Because he's done it in two different locations in the National Football League. He has tangible experience."

Faulkner, 46, has been with the Steelers since 2019. He has been an offensive coordinator at Ball State, also coaching at Northern Illinois, Wisconsin and North Carolina State before joining the Steelers in 2019 as running backs coach.

"He has a real steady voice and demeanor is really solid," Tomlin said of Faulkner. "I love the way he has managed his room. In the years that he's been here through the times, bad times, etc. There's always great clarity in that space. He's natural with people from a communication standpoint and a consistency of communication standpoint. And so I got no reservations about his ability to do it."

Sullivan, 56, served as offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012 and 2013, and with the New York Giants in 2016 and 2017. He has coached at numerous colleges and has NFL stops with Jacksonville and Denver in addition to his time with the Bucs and Giants. Sullivan joined the Steelers as their quarterbacks coach in 2021 when Canada was elevated from that position to replace Randy Fichtner.

"(He's) a really good solid communicator, highly organized, really consistent," Tomlin said. "He's got experience as a play caller, he's got experience as a play caller in less than ideal circumstances. He's been an interim play caller before and so it's just a good means of calling upon guys who have natural skill sets in those areas or experienced in those areas without disrupting the applecart, too much man and still pushing forward as a collective."

What that all might look like in the final seven games of the 2023 season remains to be seen. The Steelers aren't going to install a new offense at this point in the season.

"You know, that's to be determined," Tomlin said. "There are a lot of challenges obviously doing what it is that we're doing. But the unknown component is a potential positive and so we're gonna hold our cards close to our vest."

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

The Steelers rank 28th in the NFL in both points per game (16.6) and yards per game (280.1) this season. That has come against a slate of defenses that include two games against Cleveland, which is ranked No. 1 in the NFL in total defense, one against Baltimore (third) and San Francisco (fifth).

But the only defense ranked in the top 10 remaining on their schedule in their final seven games will be the regular season finale against the Ravens.

The Steelers have generated 181 yards rushing per game over their past three games, including 172 yards in the loss to the Browns, but have seen their passing game falter. In those same three games, the Steelers have averaged just 118.7 yards passing.

But Tomlin said his decision to replace Canada had nothing to do with the long-term development of quarterback Kenny Pickett, the team's first-round pick in last year's draft, and everything to do with accomplishing the team's goals this season.

"I'll focus on this week in terms of the development of Kenny," Tomlin said. "We're getting ready to play a football game and win this week. That is the only agenda here. There's that big picture and 2024 and all of that. This organization is not wired like that."

Tomlin, however, expressed his continued confidence in Pickett as the team's quarterback.

"I work with him every day," Tomlin said of what gives him faith in Pickett. "And I've been really transparent about him and his willingness to work. In my experience of what that tells me, this guy will do anything and everything. He works extremely hard. I just saw him a few minutes ago in the building. There's such a thing as football justice, those guys usually get what they're looking for. So that's why I remained consistently optimistic about the trajectory of his growth and development."