The Pittsburgh Steelers went to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday fired up after a fantastic finish in week six over the Arizona Cardinals only to come out flat against the Kansas City Chiefs. Mediocrity was the theme of week 7. There are three things that stood out in this game.
Steelers have little confidence without Big Ben
Since quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was injured, the Steelers offense has looked rag-tag and inconsistent. Sure, there have been flashy moments, but overall they have not performed exceedingly well.
With Michael Vick and Landry Jones at quarterback, it has appeared to limit the production of the offense as a whole. The players can give rah-rah speeches about how they “trust” the next guy up, but it feels like hot air when you watch receivers not coming back for the ball, creating opportunities or making themselves better targets.
Yes, there are a couple guys on the offensive line: Alejandro Villanueva and Cody Wallace. They shouldn’t be the only reason Le’Veon Bell has struggled at times to gain yardage. Even DeAngelo Williams looks less effective than he did at the beginning of the season, even if he is getting more snaps.
This Steelers offense has huge potential and plenty of weapons. There really is no good explanation for their mediocre play outside of an overall lack of confidence without Roethlisberger leading them. By falling to 4-3 on the season, this team is putting pressure on a Roethlisberger return that wouldn’t be necessary if they would simply execute.
The defense needs more turnovers
The Steelers defense has been a bit of a strange mix between fierce and flat. Against the Chiefs, the defense did not look like Keith Butler or any of his assistant coaches planned very hard to get to Alex Smith; a guy that, when rattled, has fallen apart week after week this season. Smith has never been strong under extreme pressure, so it is perplexing why Butler didn’t mix in more blitz packages.
The defensive backfield gets picked on a lot by critics. Whether it’s Cortez Allen just warming the bench or the inability to make a solid wrap-up tackle, the reason they struggled to contain Travis Kelce was because they simply can not handle coverage of tight ends. Some of that would be solved if the linebackers and corners bumped tight ends coming off the line. On Sunday, the Steelers often gave huge cushion in coverage and got burned by it.
If the defense has to see-saw between up front pressure versus better coverage, they are going to continue to need turnovers to go their way. Unfortunately, no one player has really stepped up. Again, there have been flashy moments but no real defensive spark week-to-week that puts opponents in positions to make mistakes. That needs to change.
Management of games an issue
You can argue that Mike Tomlin has made some questionable calls this season, especially with the offense. On Sunday, he went for a fourth-and-one instead of trusting Chris Boswell’s leg. It would be valid to argue that a near 49-yard field goal is folly when you have Williams and Bell in the backfield. In two games, Tomlin has gone for it and watched his backs get stuffed. Maybe it’s time to get over the kicker PTSD of Josh Scobee and trust the kid who made a 48-yard kick last weekend. They don’t call him “money” because he is rich. He has been perfect since being signed.
On Sunday, the Steelers were forced to burn two early time outs in the second half for one reason: the team was not on the same page as the sidelines. Roethlisberger was on the sideline motioning in a circular manner that the offense needed to get lined up and one of those timeouts was due to the play clock nearly expiring. This is the type of thing that should be a focal point in practice. Timing is everything in tight games and the Steelers just couldn’t get in step.
Until this team is able to exit a week of practice with a solid game plan they can effectively execute on game day, there is concern they will continue to be unpredictable week-to-week. The coaching staff should be placing emphasis on planning instead of catering to the “personality” of individuals, something Tomlin has begun saying a lot more frequently. Focus on the personality of the team as a whole. If the standard is the standard, why are they not playing the way they’ve practiced? Or are they? It is really hard to say. And for heaven’s sake, get the ball to Heath Miller!
Week 7 was just one of those weeks when the Steelers hurt themselves.