The Pittsburgh Steelers offense was anemic in the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday, but who was to blame? Continuing the previous analysis of the first half, we’ll move onto the second half performance.
8:47 – 3rd quarter. Plays: 3, Yards: 6, Result: Interception
Ben Roethlisberger throws two screens to Najee Harris. The first is complete for 6 yards, the second is incomplete. Ben has solid protection on 3rd and 4, but when he steps up in the pocket, the Bengals lineman manning the line of scrimmage beats Kendrick Green (flagged for holding) and the impending pressure results in a panic throw to a quadruple covered JuJu-Smith-Schuster and is intercepted.
Both Derek Watt and Harris were wide open for an easy conversion, making it one of the worst throws of Roethlisberger’s career.
6:18 – 3rd quarter. Plays: 7, Yards: 52, Result: Missed FG
Roethlisberger has time vs. a *4-man rush and throws a bullet to Pat Freiermuth. They go up tempo with a no huddle, but Harris misses a gaping hole up the middle and is stopped for a gain of 1. On 2nd and 9, Trey Hendrickson beats Dan Moore Jr. worse than the whipping I’ve delivered through the first 3 weeks against the Steeler Nation staff fantasy football league, and delivers a brutal and dirty late hit on Roethlisberger. Harris snagged in the safety valve catch, broke the ankles of Logan Wilson, and ignited off a 21-yard gain + 15 for the roughing the passer. Three **atrocious play calls later, the Steelers blow a golden opportunity to take advantage of a 1st and 10 from the Cincinnati 24, running shotgun 3 consecutive times and not coming close on two deep corner routes to Freiermuth and Chase Claypool. When Chris Boswell misses a 42-yard FG that he makes 9 out of 10 times, it’s perhaps a sign the team has begun quitting mode.
- *The respect Harris gets is remarkable, as a DL held off rushing to account for Harris out of the backfield. Harris is obviously being held into block and/or release as the safety valve. Regardless, teams are already paying keen attention to him.
- **The atrocious play calls included literally a screen to Harris that should have been checked off and two WRs standing essentially with their hands on their hips and not even running a pattern.
2:12 – 3rd quarter. Plays: 18, Yards: 88, Result: FG
Starting on their own 4-yard line due to a holding penalty on a downed punt by Justin Layne, it was an ugly 3 plays capped off by a false start by Chukwuma Okorafor. The Bengals then played less aggressive and in the rare instance of having time, it looked like 2017 again as Roethlisberger connected with Chase Claypool for a 16-yard first down. If the Steelers can find a way to make teams back off like this more often, their offensive problems will vanish. Two predictable plays later, Hendrickson abuses Moore again, but Roethlisberger stands tall delivers a classic Roethlisberger bullet to Ray-Ray McCloud, who just plain beat Mike Hilton and turned it up field for a 24-yard gain. Roethlisberger began to find some rhythm with 9 straight completions and was stepping into his throws in spite of pressure. It was vintage Big Ben and when he attacked deep to Claypool, who abused Eli Apple and drew a DPI. The Bengals caught a break as the penalty was only for 11 yards despite Apple being inside Claypool’s jockstrap the entire pattern. A dead-on accurate pass to Freiermuth was dropped, but Ben found James Washington on the opposite side for 8. Another quick hitch to Najee could have resulted in paydirt if not for a second Bengals defender preventing the broken tackle. But the Steelers were on the Bengals 3 with a chance to get back into the game until Matt Canada tried to get fancy with a gimmick play.
A penalty, sack and false start later and despite falling back to the 21 and reaching the 8, Mike Tomlin hurriedly called for the FG unit over Roethlisberger’s obvious objections.
6:25 – 4th quarter. Plays: 12, Yards: 73, Result: Turnover on Downs
Needing a miracle, the Steelers almost experienced two. But Eric Ebron dropped a first down between the numbers and Roethlisberger overthrew James Washington – who had his man beaten by two yards – on what would have been easily an 85-yard TD pass. But with the Bengals bringing only 4, Roethlisberger just stood strong, stepping into every throw and even with Bengals defensive linemen closing in, he just delivered rockets down the field, even brushing off a sack to put the Steelers at the 11 when he made the mistake of going back to Ebron, who’s effort to make the catch was embarrassing. Then the final play call deserved all the displeasure it received from the fans in attendance at Heinz Field.
The final play call was an absolute sham, the final series doesn’t merit the time to describe it and Tomlin’s excuse of having nothing else to go to was baffling. The only explanation that I could think of was not having confidence in the WRs on the field with Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson out, but to not even try was worse. And of course The gimmick play call when on first and goal from the three when Harris was just beating the Bengals up was plain idiotic.
Mike Tomlin and Matt Canada were failures this game. They blew a 9:03 minute drive to kick a FG after reaching the 8-yard line with 8:12 left and down 24-7 – that is basically the second week in a row Tomlin effectively gave up the game with just over 8 minutes left. Najee Harris played like a beast. Ben Roethlisberger seemed like when his competitiveness kicked in, getting hit didn’t seem to be as big a deal. As a result, he began throwing targets as he found a rhythm. Still, what should have been an 85-yard TD to Washington has got to gnaw at him and the 3rd quarter interception was among the worst of his career as it handed the Bengals an easy opportunity to score. Nonetheless, as Roethlisberger seemed to stop fearing being hit and found a rhythm, the OL did as well. That’s not to say the unit was good overall, as it was awful, bad, and horrendous. Hendrickson abused Moore all day. Green was warm and cold but never hot. They killed drives and momentum with bad penalties. Okorafor was missed as Joe Haeg blocked like a doormat. The inconsistency of Green and Moore should be examined and perhaps a change made with J.C. Hassenauer and Zach Banner should get a look.
All that being said, one has to wonder:
- What if Boswell splits the uprights on a FG he makes 90% of the time?
- What if, when they had the ball on the 3-yard line and first down, they play “Steeler Football” instead of gimmick football and run Najee Harris right down their throat 4 times if necessary? He had been brutalizing them all day.
- What if Roethlisberger connected on that deep pass to James Washington? It’s a pass he has a history of connecting on after all. Maybe if Diontae Johnson wasn’t hurt on the meaningless final play of the previous game, does he have the wheels to make that catch?
Three plays and the entire game could have taken a 180 degree turn – on one of the worst performances in franchise history. Just one thought I considered.
What are your thoughts? Share them in the comment section below.