The Steelers upheld their penchant for losing to bad teams by falling to the Chicago Bears 23-17 on Sunday. There’s a ton of stuff to unpack this week, so we’re just gonna dive right in, sans the lengthy introduction:
Tackling mechanics: Stock down
Whoa boy! The Steelers missed, in my estimation, 109 tackles. I don’t want to downplay the contributions by Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard, both of whom pulled off some absolutely goofy moves to evade Steelers tacklers, but Pittsburgh’s tackling mechanics were downright contemptible. To a point, you can’t even rightfully call foul on Keith Butler’s defensive game plan. It certainly had its issues but, more often than not, Steelers defenders were in position to make plays, but didn’t.
I took a cursory glance at Twitter post-game and noticed that many folks seem to think Joe Haden was held on Cohen’s dazzling, highlight-reel, almost-game-ending foray on the third play of overtime. An even larger quantity of folks think that Artie Burns was held on Howard’s game-winning touchdown run. It’s irrelevant, if you want the truth. Holding occurs on every play. Sure, you’d like to see officials exhibit more vigilance with the game on the line, but these guys aren’t robots.
Frankly, the Steelers should’ve done more to avoid being in a situation in which a missed holding call influenced the outcome of the game. Howard and Cohen are a very good backfield duo, but the Steelers made them look like LenDale White and Reggie Bush circa 2005. Pittsburgh did a lot of stuff wrong, but Sunday’s loss was mainly attributable to poor tackling.
The defensive game plan: Stock down
I’m not really qualified to speak on Xs and Os, but I play a ton of Madden, so here we go. It was evident that Chicago was running one of my favorite in-game concepts: stretch (or whatever teams actually call it; I doubt that Madden 18 is strictly technical with its terminology). Much like pretty much any zone concept, stretch plays are designed to pull defenders toward the sideline and create massive holes for the running back to identify and attack. If you’re facing a particularly aggressive defense (like the Steelers, who have arguably the best gap-shooting linebacker in the NFL in Ryan Shazier), a well-orchestrated stretch play will allow the running back to cut back to the inside and reach the second level. The Bears ran this scheme for the entire game, and the Steelers couldn’t stop it.
Special teams: Stock down
I attended a birthday party on Saturday. As is wont to happen on gorgeous early-Fall afternoons, I found myself outside with a gaggle of elementary-age children and my brother-in-law, who, despite having no football experience, can totally demolish a football with his right foot. It’s incredible. I’ve witnessed enough training camp sessions and attended enough games to say this: the apex of his punts is legitimately pro-level (though his NFL dreams will never transpire because No. 1, he’s in his mid-30s and No. 2, an 85-foot punt doesn’t do much good if it only travels 30 yards or so).
Anyway, he was sending some skyscraping punts to me and the aforementioned gaggle of small humans. He managed to strike one kick particularly clean, sending the ball high enough to mitigate any of the kids’ interest in attempting to catch it. Clear of swinging elbows and unclipped fingernails, I settled under the ball to field it.
And I dropped it.
“Bahhh, that’s really hard to do,” I said. “I won’t even be mad if someone drops a punt tomorrow.”
Of course, my newfound sympathy for the plight of the NFL returner did little to placate the disappointment I felt when Rogers misfielded a punt in the first quarter.
Fortunately for Rogers, his blunder wasn’t the ugliest special teams snafu of the afternoon. That honor belongs to Pittsburgh’s field goal group, which allowed Chicago to block a chip-shot field goal seconds before the first-half whistle. Because Marcus Cooper’s brain stopped working for five solid seconds, the Steelers were spared from having to dig themselves out of a 14-point hole in the second half. Nonetheless, they trailed by two possessions, which proved insurmountable.
Ben Roethlisberger: Stock down
I touched on this last week, but Roethlisberger’s home/road splits are absurd. Statistically, he is Tom Brady at home and Andy Dalton on the road. In fact, Pittsburgh’s notorious ineptitude against bad teams is largely derived from Roethlisberger’s tendency to underperform beyond the confines of Heinz Field. His numbers were characteristically underwhelming (22/39 for 235 yards and a touchdown), and he missed a multitude of throws that he usually makes with relative ease, including a pair of deep throws to Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant (the latter of which easily would have gone for six).
(Yes, I realize Bryant kind of, maybe, somewhat dropped that pass, but Ben should’ve thrown a better ball.)
The secondary: Stock down
The Steelers held Mike Glennon to just 101 yards passing, which is an accomplishment worthy of praise. Most impressively, the Steelers allowed only three completions to non-running backs, and just a single completion to Chicago’s receivers. Pittsburgh’s defensive backs were so busy locking down the Bears’ passing game, in fact, that they seemingly forgot how to play run support.
On one of Howard’s many 10-yard runs, for example, Artie Burns attempted to shoot the gap. He missed said gap, which apparently made the part of his brain that controls his legs explode, causing him to fall to the turf like a bag of potatoes. On Howard’s walk-off touchdown, Mike Mitchell took an angle that was so obtuse that every trigonometry teacher in the United States simultaneously voided their bowels. Mitchell also dropped an interception, which would have given the Steelers a realistic chance to win the game in regulation. J.J. Wilcox, who did have an interception, had an opportunity to recover a late fumble, but tried a scoop-and-run instead of just falling on the ball. (Wilcox’s “failed” fumble recovery is a matter of perception, but I think he probably would’ve had a shot at it had he dived.)
With all of that said, the Steelers did hold Glennon to 4.6 yards per attempt. Once everyone gets this whole tackling thing figured out, this should be a formidable unit.
Antonio Brown: Stock up
Not everything sucked. At age 29, Brown is playing arguably the best football of his career, routinely getting open at will and making a multitude of nauseating catches for those trying to cover him. He’s currently leading the NFL in catches and receiving yards by a comfortable margin, and if you extrapolate his current stat line to a 16-game season, he’d finish with 138 catches for 1,888 yards. Remarkably, Brown could easily match or surpass both of these milestones.
Sending a message: Stock up
I’m gonna keep this relatively short because this article is called the “Stock Report” and not “Dan’s Political Commentary Corner,” but I want to take just a second to remark on the pregame anthem protest (or "demonstration;" whatever is more palatable). If you haven’t heard, here’s a brief rundown: Mike Tomlin announced that the Steelers would remain in their locker room during the national anthem. Instead of remaining in the locker room, the majority of the team stood in the tunnel behind Alejandro Villanueva, who occupied a position in view of field, with his right hand placed over his heart.
I’ll save the 2,500 think-piece for a more appropriate venue, but my Tweet-length take on the subject is this: the days of professional athletes “sticking to sports” are over. Remember, it wasn’t just the Steelers who protested en masse. The Titans and Seahawks both remained in their respective locker rooms during the anthem. Dozens of players on the Raiders, Ravens, Buccaneers, Broncos, Saints, Patriots and Chiefs all kneeled or sat on their respective benches during the national anthem. Odell Beckham Jr. lifted his leg and pretended to pee like a dog following a touchdown catch on Sunday (while this wasn’t explicitly attributed to the President likening players to female dogs, it does stand to reason that this was Beckham’s intention).
It’s clear, then, that what Colin Kaepernick started by kneeling for the national anthem during a preseason game in 2016 isn’t going to stop anytime soon. Players are, perhaps more than ever, actively contributing to the current societal discourse. This is in direct contrast to the longstanding “protect the shield” paradigm, which has kind of tsk-tsked the whole “speaking up for what you believe in” thing. Say what you will about Kaepernick’s capabilities as an NFL quarterback, I think we can all agree that his protests have played a role in rendering him unemployable. But that’s the thing: you can justify blacklisting one dude, especially if he was struggling on the field. The league (and sponsors, for that matter) can’t rightfully shun dozens of players, a sizable contingent of which is composed of superstars.
And naturally, these demonstrations have divided NFL fans. Plenty of folks support the protests, which is great. A considerable number of people view the protests as an unwelcome intrusion on their weekly escape from the omnipresent political rhetoric and therefore do not support the protests, which is also fine. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, the players will not be silenced. Week 3 served as a stark reminder that NFL players are people, too—cognizant of contemporary political issues and frustrated by perceived social injustices, just like many of us.
The game ball: Jordan Howard
Howard rushed for 138 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 23 carries. He also added five catches for 26 yards, for good measure. Howard’s usage rate is startling in and of itself, but it becomes even more remarkable when considering that he played through a shoulder injury during the fourth quarter and the overtime period.
The Ben Roethlisberger Retirement Index
So, there’s a lot going on here this week. Roethlisberger regrets the anthem protest, for one, as exemplified by his apparent “inability to sleep” Sunday night. Notable, too, is the fact that Roethlisberger was sacked three times against Chicago, bringing his season total to six (interestingly, the Steelers have surrendered as many sacks in their past three regular season games as they did in their final eight games in 2016).
Pittsburgh’s offense has been atypically stagnant, and this is largely the result of Ben’s inconsistency under center. The outlook is bright, however, as Roethlisberger followed a customary road loss to Philadelphia last season by utterly torching the Kansas City Chiefs at home.
All things considered, we’ll set the BRR Index at 8.5 for this week.