Coming into Week 11 there was a lot of confidence around the Pittsburgh Steelers as they looked impressive on both sides of the ball in their Week 10 win over the New Orleans Saints. That confidence spilled into the first half against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals, as the Steelers went into halftime with a 20-17 lead. However, that confidence was short-lived, as they had an absolutely brutal second half on both sides of the ball, and ended up losing to the Bengals 37-30.
There has been a theme throughout both sides of the ball when the Steelers struggle, and that is splash plays. After praising the team last week against the Saints for their ability to get big plays on both sides of the ball, as well as limit them on defense, a regression to the norm happened in Week 11.
The Steelers offense was atrocious in the 2nd half on Sunday, as they put up only three points aside from a garbage time touchdown in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. But the success they did have was due to long sustained drives, which alone in itself isn’t a bad thing. However, when you have a rookie quarterback, paired with a very young supporting cast, consistently putting together 7, 8 and 9+ play drives on offense to score isn’t always easy.
After producing six plays of 20+ yards against the Saints, a game they only scored 20 points in, they managed just three against the Bengals. One of those three long plays was a pass from Kenny Pickett to Gunner Olszewski on a drive in garbage time, so in actuality, it was only two plays. That simply won’t cut it in today’s NFL, especially for an offense where the consistency and ability to limit mental mistakes just haven’t been there.
In addition to the offensive struggles, the Steelers’ defense simply wasn’t up to the task either. They made a couple of big plays, the interceptions by T.J. Watt and Levi Wallace come to mind, but overall they simply weren’t making the game-changing plays Steeler Nation has come to expect. Even if we count sacks as a splash play, they still would miss the mark as they were only able to record two on the day.
While the Steelers struggled to produce splash plays no matter which of the two main units were on the field, I’ll leave the special teams unit out as Steven Sims had some impressive returns, the Bengals definitely didn’t have the same issue. On offense, Joe Burrow and crew managed to produce seven plays of 20 yards or more, including countless others that were in between 10 and 20 yards.
As always Tee Higgins managed to look un-guardable, as he had two catches over 20 yards on his way to a stat line of nine catches for 148 yards. Sunday marked his third 100-yard game against the Steelers in five total matchups and in one of the two he didn’t manage 100 yards receiving he had Ryan Finley at QB who didn’t manage 100 yards passing.
The Steelers’ defense has always been occasionally prone to allowing big plays, especially in the passing game, but they usually make up for it with their pass rush getting home or forcing turnovers on the backend. That simply didn’t happen Sunday, and with an offense that can’t carry a team, they will be unlikely to win many games without more big plays.
Matt Canada’s offense has definitely shown improvement as the season has progressed, and it is hard to deny that. That along with the positive, yet slow, development of Pickett to this point has been a slight positive takeaway. The offense however will continue to struggle to put up a lot of points consistently until they can put their talented play-makers in position to make significant plays.
What do you think about the Steelers’ performance against the Bengals? What needs to change for the team to produce more big plays on both sides of the ball? Let us know in the comments below!