It wasn’t just the fact the Pittsburgh Steelers lost a 2nd consecutive game in Heinz Field to start the 2021 campaign 1-2, it was the effort that led to the loss.
Yes, the Steelers have been hit by injuries at an alarming rate early in the season. Since the loss of TJ Watt, the Steelers pass rush has been non-existent. For a second week in a row, the Steelers defense failed to pressure the quarterback, enabling Joe Burrow to have an easily efficient day: 14/18 with 3 TDs. The Steelers failed to bring down the young QB, thus bringing an end to their record of 75 consecutive games with a sack.
But the Steelers inflicted so many wounds on themselves with penalties, dropped passes, poor decisions and lousy play calling that it is hard to categorize where this game ranks in the pantheon of disappointing Steelers losses.
Ben Roethlisberger: 38/58 for 318 yards and 1 TD with 2 INTs. Heading into this season, nobody wanted to see Roethlisberger drop back 60+ times (sacked 4 times) and the stat line doesn’t begin to tell the story of how poorly Roethlisberger performed. It’s becoming evident that this is the last ride for Big Ben, as he either cannot or will not extend the play any longer as he did in his youth. No play showed this more than his unexplainable decision to immediately check down to Najee Harris on 4th and 10 with 4 Cincinnati Bengals defenders surrounding him when a TD was essential. On a personal note, it was legitimately the first time in the 18-year career of Roethlisberger where I thought pulling him might give the team a spark. He seems too afraid to let patterns develop and give chances for his WRs to make plays.
Mike Tomlin: Whatever it is about 8:30 in the 4th on the game clock when trailing, Tomlin demonstrates a complex about making the right decision. Last week, he punted. This week, he immediately sent the FG unit out trailing 24-7. The Steelers had the momentum of an 11-play, 89-yard drive going for them with the ball at the 8-yard line. When a man boasts that his team is not “living in their fears” then proceeds to live in their fears two weeks in a row – he’s clearly demonstrating a playing not to lose mentality. It is time for Tomlin to feel the pressure of the hot seat and see how he responds. The status quo simply will not do.
Defensive Line: This is a very short-handed unit as pointed out last week. Cam Heyward has been a beast but lacking Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt, the way the Bengals shoved them around is reminiscent of the frustration “Mean” Joe Greene was feeling when he nearly walked off the team in 1974. The Steelers aren’t going to manage 6 wins this year with this type of performance.
Pass Rush: With Watt and Alex Highsmith sidelined to groin injuries, in addition to the existing injuries to Alualu and Tuitt, the Steelers not only had their streak of 75 consecutive games with a sack end, but they also had their lowest team pressure rate – 5.6 (courtesy of Next Gen Stats) – since it began being tracked in 2016. The Steelers defense is built around rushing the passer and it’s a grim outlook with the uncertainty of players returning from injury to get this fixed.
Eric Ebron: Personally, I’ve never been a fan of Ebron. He’s quick to boast, slow to block and quick to drop passes. This game might have been his worst performance as a Steeler, but I will give the benefit of the doubt until I can watch game film – but right now, the first change I’d make to the lineup is to pull Ebron completely out and let him watch Pat Freiermuth the rest of the season.
Dropped Passes: The WRs dropped 11 passes Sunday. That means theoretically Roethlisberger could have finished 49/58. Just let that soak in.
Najee Harris: Harris was the only player keeping the Steelers in the game today, but Roethlisberger went to him far too quickly for dump-offs without giving the play a chance to develop. Penalties killed off some great early plays for him and by the end, he was infected with the dropping easy passes pandemic that was going around. Nonetheless, his effort was A+, and I promise you he was alone with that grade.
Chase Claypool: After JuJu Smith-Schuster left the game due to injury and with Diontae Johnson already out due to injury, it was a chance for Claypool to shine and he responded with a 9 catch 96 yard effort. However, the drop he had on final drive that would have given him a 100-game was fitting. He made big catches but did not transform them into bigger plays and 2 OPI penalties really stalled the Steelers momentum.
Joe Haden: Another player on his last ride with the Steelers, although not challenged much, he did surrender a TD and showed why you don’t pay CBs on the plus side of 32 big money contracts.
By no means are these the only players at fault for the performance today. It was a team meltdown and abominable performance. It was by far the worse effort and performance since the 1998 campaign which saw the Steelers lost 5 straight games (3 times failing to score a TD).
This team has absolutely no identity and no unified purpose. It’s a game that puts everyone on the hot seat.
If you are being honest with yourself, the Steelers gave up on this game. If something doesn’t change soon, they are going to give up on the season and begin scouting for Roethlisberger’s replacement as they are trending to the highest draft position since the early 2000s.
The season is far from over, but being clear, something has to be done outside the status quo because the standard right now consists of fear, uncertainty and complacency.
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