by John Cihon
by John Cihon

Jacksonville Out-Steelers the Steelers


by John Cihon

The Pittsburgh Steelers got completely out-physicaled today in their loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who successfully ran through the former steel curtain like it was tissue paper, as well as succeeded in putting a constant stream of pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Did anyone else watching this game feel like the teams may have accidentally switched uniforms on the way onto the field? The Jaguars out-Steelered the Steelers, just as they did in their meeting last year.

In Coach Mike Tomlin’s post-game conference, he was forthright in saying that the team simply did not play well in all areas and needed to improve. And he was largely right, but he failed to publicly place blame in one area where it is sorely needed. Himself. Fortunately, guys on the internet like me exist to do that. When Tomlin started this season with early success the fans were ready to embrace him as the savior of the Pittsburgh Steelers after last year’s post-Super Bowl meltdown. But the Steelers haven’t played well in over a month now, barely squeaking out wins or losing in disappointing fashion of late. A pattern in Tomlin’s coaching style has started to emerge over this season that is frightening in its Cowherness: failure to make adjustments. Not just at halftime, but the game plan doesn’t seem to change that much from week to week either. The only recent exception would be the Cincinnati Bengals game, where the defense played a little bit more cover 2 than normal, which probably indirectly led young and foolish Anthony Smith to conclude that the Bengals have better wide receivers than the New England Patriots. At the start of the Season, Ben was airing the ball out a lot more than is typical in Steelers football, passing on first downs and sometimes passing on every down, to a wider variety of receivers than normal. But after the loss to the Denver Broncos, they went back to the old Steelers style of run on first, run on second, pass on third. The only time the Steelers tend to deviate from this plan now is when they feel they can’t execute, not when they want to mix up the play-calling. When the rest of the NFL is trying to move forward every week, standing still is just not enough.

Special teams is the one area that has showed signs of improvement. Najeh Davenport returning punts seems to be an admission that Allen Rossum hasn’t panned out. Why not deactivate Rossum and activate Willie Reid? Rossum didn’t do anything anyway, and this team needs all the receivers it can get. The team may not have a choice, as Nate Washington went out with an injury and may not be ready to play the St. Louis Rams on Thursday. Honestly, even though Washington caught a touchdown pass, given his play this year, he might be helping the Steelers more by not playing on Thursday.

Ben Roethlisberger definitely didn’t play his best game this week, but despite lackluster play, he’s far from the reason for the Steelers loss. Any game in which the quarterback throws three touchdowns and no interceptions should be enough. The offensive line has continued to play terribly; giving up five sacks today, as well as making Ben throw on third and long too many times. Alan Faneca has been as lousy as the rest of the line all season long, and he would be vindicating the Rooneys’ decision to not resign him, but the problem is who is out there to replace him with? Even if the Rooneys were willing to sign a big-time free agent in the off-season, offensive linemen of quality usually don’t go on the market. They can and should address that need in the draft, but the need is probably greater than the draft can fill.

As lackluster as the offense was today, they did put 22 points on the board, and that should have gotten the win. The greatest problem with the Pittsburgh Steelers right now is what used to be its greatest strength: the defense. The collapse against the Patriots last week was distressing, but the Steelers have always been particularly vulnerable to a strong passing team. However, the Steelers’ D has prided itself on stopping the run, and they completely failed to do that today. The failure was so complete that it’s hard to even understand or analyze the reasons why a defense could go from the best in the league to what we saw today.

They better figure out the reasons quickly, because the Cleveland Browns won against the Buffalo Bills today, tying Pittsburgh for first place in the AFC North. (Pittsburgh does, however, own the tiebreaker with the head-to-head record). Playoffs still seem to be on the horizon, but nothing is as safe as the Steelers thought it was a month ago.