By Curt Popejoy,
For football players, the question when it comes to losing is, “What is the best way?” If you had to choose, would you rather get blown out, or lose a close one? I always said I’d rather be blown out.
The Pittsburgh Steelers might share in that opinion after a heartbreaking loss to the Oakland Raiders, 21-18. The Steelers fell behind the Raiders early and could not make enough positive plays to account for their negative ones down the stretch.
Let’s see what kind of takeaways we can glean from a loss like this.
Injuries Continue to Plague
Once again, the Steelers were victimized by injuries. And they were victimized on the offensive line, where they are the most thin. The TV broadcasters handed out injury updates like punches in the stomach as both guard Ramon Foster and tackle Guy Whimper went down.
And as if that wasn’t enough, not long after that they reported the team’s best guard, David DeCastro, was also lost with an ankle injury. The Steelers dressed eight linemen and used them all. I’m not sure of the status of any of these players for next week, so it’s hard to speculate what this unit will look like next Sunday.
Todd Haley Forgot His Playbook
I understand you don’t want to follow up one week’s game plan with an identical game plan the following week. That would be terrible coaching. But Haley chose to go ultra-conservative this week, sucking all of the creativity and imagination out of the offense for the majority of the game.
The Raiders defense was able to key in on players, and more importantly, it allowed their pass rush to overwhelm the Steelers offensive line. At the end of the game, the TV broadcast showed Haley and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a rather heated exchange. These two have never been on the same page and likely won’t ever be, much to the detriment of this team.
The Defense Never Gave Up
Right up until the very end, even after multiple mistakes by the offense, this defense continued to come out and play hard. This unit took a serious punch in the gut on the game’s opening play after quarterback Terrelle Pryor ran the first snap 93 yards for a touchdown.
It took them a couple of drives to get their heads back on straight after that, but from that point going forward, the defense harassed Pryor and kept running back Darren McFadden in check. This group should be applauded for trotting back onto the field, even when the offense kept letting them down.
Don’t Blame Antonio Brown
There were two instances late in the game where Brown missed on plays that were vital to the outcome of the game. A third-down drop on a long pass and a drop that turned into an acrobatic interception cannot be denied.
Nevertheless, on a day when the rest of the Steelers receivers ran lazy routes and didn’t work to get open when Roethlisberger was under pressure, Brown continued to deliver. Brown finished with nine more catches, bringing his season total to 56 on the season.
A lot of blame can be laid at the feet of the offense for what happened on Sunday, but I don’t count Brown among those who should be vilified.
Lazy Skill Players Hurt Big Ben
One of the great things about the TV broadcast is that at times you get to see camera angles on replays that we aren’t privy to during the live play. This week showed that on several of the plays where Roethlisberger was either hit or sacked, the wide receivers didn’t do their part.
When you play with a quarterback like Roethlisberger and a sketchy offensive line, you have to understand the circumstances and know what’s going on behind you. The receivers and tight ends did not go back to the football, didn’t break off their routes properly and left Roethlisberger high and dry multiple times.
Still Losing the Turnover Game
Anytime the Steelers can say they forced three turnovers in a game, fans have to be excited. However, Sunday, for as great as that was, there was something much worse.
The Steelers had two costly interceptions that far outweighed the three turnovers they forced. Both were in the fourth quarter, and both stalled out vital drives that could have helped the Steelers get back in the game. Granted, the second interception was a fluke play and quite questionable, but their importance in the outcome of the game cannot be denied.
Sunday proved that it goes beyond getting the turnover. It’s capitalizing on them that really separates teams.
Special Teams Not so Special
If there is one thing the Steelers have been able to count on all season, it’s been the play of kicker Shaun Suisham. So, Sunday was a real head-scratcher, as Suisham missed not one, but two field-goal attempts.
Both were incredibly costly as the Steelers ended up losing by only three points. Whether it was the long snapper, holder or kicker, someone could find themselves out of work before the next game.
The Season Might Be Done
At this point, 2-5 in the AFC North might be a gap that is insurmountable. The type of winning streak this team would need to remain relevant in the AFC would be something of legend, and I am afraid this team isn’t capable of sustaining that level of intensity for nine games.
It’s hard to say what this team’s motivation will be going forward, but staring up at the Cincinnati Bengals and their 6-2 record has to be a tremendous source of frustration at this point.