Steelers 17 – Jaquars 9
The old adage will be thrown around that “a win is a win”, and Dick Lebeau beats yet another Rookie Quarterback. Well, in the grand scheme of things the W is what ultimately counts, however this team is not showing much signs of urgency and the penalty issues have not been corrected. Steeler Nation is eagerly waiting for this team to become dominate again, similar to the play in the Carolina game. However, the personality of this team has become one of scrapping and clawing our way through games, no matter how bad the opposition is. With an offense that could only muster up 10 points in the first half, it was the defense that was able to capitalize on a rookie mistake by Blake Bortles early fourth quarter, which which resulted in a pick six and a 17-9 victory.
There were the usual splash plays, AB was his usual dazzling self, Heath Miller was wide open for some crucial 3rd down conversions, and running game was churning and grinding. However, a whopping total of 10 points is all the Offense could muster up against a winless team who was near the bottom of the league in pass defense. Though Big Ben had decent stats on the day, his incessant pump faking and uncertainly were more than a little discomforting. When the line gave him time to throw, he couldn’t seem to find the open receivers, when the pocket broke down he was slow to scramble or extent the play, something he’s famous for.
The offensive line had it’s struggles in pass protection, Big Ben was sacked four times, one of which was a strip sack while they were in the red zone early fourth quarter, ending an important scoring opportunity yet again. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum said after the game “we’ve still got a long way to go”, how much longer seems to be unclear, and by week five one would like to think that they’re catching on a little bit by now. It’s not so much the productivity per say, it seems as if the same nagging red zone failings just won’t go away. It took Big Ben and crew until the start of the second quarter to reach the opponents four yard line, then what followed was, a bubble screen for no gain, an overthrown fade pass, then a sack on third down resulting in a field goal.
As soon as Ben started to distribute the ball around to different players, the offense clicked a little better, though wide receiver Markus Wheaton was only targeted twice for one catch, the other he dropped on a crucial third down play. Wheaton has shown he’s got the talent, this guy should be lighting it up every week, especially given that teams will be trying to guard Antonio Brown. Yet after five games Wheaton has 20 catches for 244 yards and no touchdowns, poultry stats for a number 2 receiver whose QB is Big Ben. The Steelers would finally score a touchdown with 1:58 left in the first half, and that was it, it was a wrap, zero offensive points in the second half.
It’s perhaps safe to say the Defense is playing with a little more unity, a better showing that they know what they’re doing and playing with a sense of purpose. At the same time it’s difficult to crow about holding a last place team with a rookie Quarterback, rookie receivers, and no running game to speak of, but we’ll continue to keep hope alive. There is still that nagging fact that the Defense is giving up long scoring drives at the start of each half, that being a very significant problem that still hasn’t bee addressed or corrected. Substitute Middle Linebacker Sean Spence is filling in nicely for injured first round pick Ryan Shazier, which is for sure a good sign, fully expect to see his play continue to progress.
The Defense did bail us out of this game to be sure, after Big Ben coughed up the ball on a 3rd and goal from the Jaquars 13 yard line, it didn’t take long for back up Bryce McCain to jump an ill advised sideline pass and take it to the house. This Defense is still a work in progress, I do however suspect they will improve, albeit slowly. The inclusion of James Harrison should help fuel their momentum, as well as the return of Ryan Shazier when he’s healthy. The line should also be in a better place once some of the rookie class gets more snaps under their belt, though it’s unclear how much playing time Daniel McCullers will be granted. Also hoping Troy Polamalu will come out of his shell, the pro bowl safety has appeared slow and inconsistent thus far this year, perhaps due to a combination of age and adjusting to free agent acquisition Mike Mitchell, who hasn’t shown much metal to this point other than occasional chest pounding and high fiving.
Really not a lot going on in the return game, very poor execution in setting up blocks, no room for the returners to run, and given where the opposing team is generally kicking from, this unit needs to improve in that regard. Punting was pretty decent in this game, just hoping Sean Suisham can stay consistent because those three points seem to be all we can cling to in these close games.
So much for Coach Tomlin cracking the whip and instilling better on field behavior to his team. Seven penaltiess for 50 yards is half of last weeks total, but it was the one called on veteran receiver Lance Moore for egregious chest pounding and unwarranted bravado that caught Tomlins ire. Even without the ability to lip read, it might be safe to say the conversation between Tomlin and Moore went something like this: “Coach Payton never talked to me like that”, “you’re no Saint and I’m the man in charge here”, “you’re just a big meanie”, “sit your ass down and pray you’re gonna see the field again”. And so goes our big time veteran free agent acquisition that was supposed to come in and do some of the things that Hines Ward did, minimal playing time and already in the dog house. That’s tough love in the Mike Tomlin era, he’s going to have to continue to back up his words if he wants to get better results moving forward.
Not real certain what’s going on with Todd Haley, all the weapons, all the talk about improved red zone efficiency and there we are just as in the Bruce Arians era, throwing the ball to the sideline on crucial downs, getting sacked and/or strip sacked on 3r and goal. Why this offense doesn’t point the ball towards the end zone when they are on the doorsteps has become a big mystery, yet that seems to be the preferred method of attack, which usually ends up in just three points.
All the talent, all the Coaching, all the promise that was pointing to this being a much improved and dynamic team, is still showing a big question mark as to identity and durability. A meager ten points against a lowly win-less team who was starting a rookie QB in only his second game, one can only imagine what will happen next week against an upstart and hungry tream in Cleveland. We’re gonna need the team that beat the Carolina Panther to show up again some time soon, the schedule is not going to get much easier than it has been in the last two weeks. The numbers are certainly gaudy, and for sure some players are having a pro bowl type season, but unless the points start to add up, this is going to be a season long nail bite from here on out.