By: CJ Lester, @CJLester58
The Pittsburgh Steelers took a loss for the first time this season last Monday night. The Washington Football Team defeated the Steelers 23-17. With the loss the Steelers fall to 11-1 on the season, but remain the AFC’s number 1 seed. The Steelers led the game at halftime 14-3, the team would go on to tack on another field goal in the second half, but that was the only successful drive the Steelers’ offense had in the second half. The offense just couldn’t seem to get into rhythm, they had several miscues and dropped passes, and were stopped on 4th and 1 inside Washington’s 28-yard line late in the 4th quarter with a chance to take the lead back. One thing is for sure, the Steelers have to improve in short yardage situations. The Steelers’ offense has continuously struggled in short yardage situations all year, but it was costly on Monday against Washington. In addition to the non-conversion on 4th and 1 late in the 4th quarter, the Steelers were stopped SIX times on the goal line with about 5 minutes left in the 2nd quarter. (The Steelers gained a new set of downs on 2nd and Goal due to an unnecessary roughness penalty on Washington.) The Steelers traveled this morning to take on the Buffalo Bills tonight on Sunday Night Football. How will the Steelers respond after losing for the first time this season? Before we take a deeper dive into this week’s matchup against the Bills, let’s review last week’s matchup against the WFT.
Last week in review
The three things I noted that we should keep an eye on last week were:
- Next Man Up: OLB Alex Highsmith
The Steelers lost OLB Bud Dupree for the season due to a torn ACL in Week 12 against the Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers have called on Rookie OLB Alex Highsmith to fill in for Dupree. Highsmith played well in his first career start even though he didn’t post a Dupree-esque stat line. Highsmith totaled four QB pressures on the night as he was able to help the defense put pressure on Washington QB Alex Smith. Highsmith finished the game with 5 total tackles (two solos). According to the national media’s conversations, losing Dupree was going to allow offense’s to solely turn their focus on OLB TJ Watt. Watt continued his campaign for Defensive Player of the Year finishing with 6 total tackles (5 solos), 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, and 4 QB Hits.
- Washington: Much Better than their 4-7 record
The Steelers had their struggles, but you have to give credit where credit is due. Washington played well and battled the entire 4 quarters of the game. The offense was able to score points in the second half and the defense was very impressive as well. Washington’s defense held the Steelers offense to 21 yards rushing on the evening with a season low 1.5 yards per carry average. Smith completed 31 of 46 passes for 296 yards and 1 touchdown. TE Logan Thomas and WR Cam Sims both came close to 100 yards receiving on the night. Thomas finished with 9 receptions and 98 yards and Sims caught 5 passes for 92 yards.
- Keep Washington’s Playmakers in Check
Washington lost RB Antonio Gibson to turf toe on Monday Night very early on in the game. Gibson finished with just two carries. The Steelers were able to hold WR Terry McLaurin in check, holding the receiver to 2 receptions for 14 yards. Washington found other playmakers to get the win. The Steelers’ defense kept Washington’s running game in check, but three pass catchers finished with at least 5 receptions and 70+ yards.
Let’s take a look at 3 things we should watch for in Week 14 against the Bills:
- Can the Steelers decrease the drops?
According to the NFL on CBS Twitter account, the Steelers are currently 1st in the NFL for the most dropped passes on the season with 33. The past two weeks have been a brutal stretch for the Steelers’ pass catchers. The Steelers’ have struggled to haul in catchable passes. Receivers are thinking about their next move with the ball before securing the ball. This group of pass catchers has the potential to be one of the most dangerous groups in the NFL. However, they have to start catching passes thrown their way. HC Mike Tomlin wasn’t happy when discussing the recent increase in dropped passes. Tomlin told reporters on Tuesday, “They can catch the ball or they can get replaced by those that will catch it. I expect guys to make routine plays routinely.” Will this statement motivate guys to improve in that area? I sure hope so! Especially, facing a very talented team like the Bills, the Steelers are going to have to make routine plays in order to keep drives alive.
Most drops in NFL this season:
1. Steelers: 33
2. Lions: 30
3. Cowboys: 29
4. Packers: 27
t-5. Falcons: 26
t-5: Bucs: 26 pic.twitter.com/foAQtThdsu
— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) December 9, 2020
- Run the Ball More Effectively
Last week the Steelers were held to 1.5 yards per carry on Monday night against the WFT, which is by far their worst ground performance of the year. The Steelers running backs finished with 14 carries for 21 yards. I have stated this before, this is not your father’s Pittsburgh Steelers anymore. We should already know that the Steelers aren’t going to run the ball 30+ times during a game anymore. The Steelers’ offense just needs to run the ball more effectively. There is no reason the Steelers’ should have been stopped SIX times on the goal line last week. This week, the Steelers’ offense will get their lead RB James Conner back in the mix of things after being removed from the COVID/Reserve list earlier in the week. Conner is averaging 4.4 yards per carry on the season and should immediately upgrade the backfield. The Bills’ defense is ranked 24th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game with 126 yards per game. The Steelers should look to take advantage of that weakness and run the ball more effectively this week.
- Next Men Up
The Steelers’ defense will be missing several key pieces for tonight’s matchup due to injury or COVID related issues. In addition to the season ending injuries to Dupree and Devin Bush. The Steelers’ lost backup ILB Robert Spillane to injury last week and ILB Vince Williams was placed on the COVID/Reserve list earlier in the week. That leaves ILB Avery Williamson, who was acquired near the trade deadline earlier this season, and ILB Marcus Allen as the defense’s starting inside linebackers for tonight. Williamson is expected to wear the green dot for the defense tonight and he is no stranger to the Bills offense. Williamson has already played the Bills twice this season as a member of the New York Jets. CB Joe Haden is currently in concussion protocol and is listed as put for tonight’s matchup. Look for CB Justin Layne to get more opportunities as he did last week when Steven Nelson was out due to injury. The Steelers may have some new faces getting some increased playing time tonight, but expectations will be the same. Next Man Up.