The Pittsburgh Steelers have seen better days than they currently are experiencing. The black-and-gold have dropped back-to-back games for the first time since 2016, after losing to the Broncos and Chargers in consecutive weeks. Now they turn their attention to another AFC West opponent, the Oakland Raiders, in Week 14.
Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at the team’s response to their most recent loss, and how as a collective group they still feel very strongly about their chances in this postseason push.
Let’s get to the news:
By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN
The Pittsburgh Steelers were left to process a loss that checks virtually every bad-loss category.
Blowing a 16-point lead at home for the first time in franchise history.
Extending a losing streak.
In conference, thus negatively impacting playoff positioning.
The 33-30 loss to the Chargers cuts deep, but the Steelers know how to spin this forward with optimism. Asked about panic levels, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said “none.”
“It’s just two losses. We good,” cornerback Joe Haden said about back-to-back losses to Los Angeles and Denver. “We’re still on the path of what we need to do. We’ve still got four games left. We’ve just got to tighten back up.”
Even if all that’s true, the Steelers (7-4-1) are about to find out whether these recent gaffes are out of character or a byproduct of a pretty good -- but not great -- team.
They might face these concerns without James Conner (lower body contusion) and wide receiver Ryan Switzer (concussion protocol), who were injured Sunday night.
They definitely face these concerns with the Baltimore Ravens (7-5), winners of three straight, climbing to within a half-game of first place in the AFC North.
The miscues are glaring enough where questions must be answered starting Sunday in Oakland. The four turnovers in Denver might have been an aberration. But on this night, the offense looked rattled early in the second half when the Chargers turned up the pass rush. And Los Angeles’ offense went for 231 yards and 19 points on its final three drives. Receivers going for too many yards after the catch was an issue, and once that happened, the Chargers ran the ball effectively. The defense is predicated on sacks and turnovers, and with two sacks and no turnovers, it’s hard to beat top-shelf quarterbacks such as Philip Rivers.
”You can’t say anything about our offense -- our offense scored 30 points,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “As a defense, we’re not getting the job done.”
By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stopped short of criticizing officiating after Sunday night’s controversial 33-30 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
”You know, I’ma keep my mouth shut. I’ma do that,” Tomlin said when discussing how penalties affected his team’s momentum. “‘Cause I’ve sent enough money to New York.”
In the first quarter, officials missed a clear offsides call on Chargers right tackle Sam Tevi that would have negated Philip Rivers’ 46-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin. Tomlin called the miss “unfortunate.”
In the second half, Steelers cornerback Brian Allen appeared to get blocked in the back on Desmond King’s 73-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Cornerback Joe Haden said “hell, no,” he wasn’t offsides on kicker Michael Badgley’s missed field goal attempt in the final seconds. The Steelers were called offsides twice, and Badgley hit the game winner from 29 yards as time expired.
The NFL hit Tomlin with a $25,000 fine in October after he called some officiating calls a “joke” that are “costing people games and jobs.” Nearly two months later, Tomlin was mum.
”Hey guys, I’m not getting into the officiating elements of what transpired and how it was communicated,” he said from the podium. “I’m just not. It’s fruitless. It doesn’t change the outcome of the game.”
From the locker room, several players maintained that they can’t blame wins and losses on officiating.
”Nah, we’re not gonna put it into the refs’ hands. We need to play better football,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who finished 29-of-45 passing for 281 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. “Like I said, we didn’t play well enough on offense.”
By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
On the very first snap of Sunday night’s game, star Los Angeles Chargers receiver Keenan Allen lined up in the slot, only to see a linebacker in Bud Dupree across from him.
Philip Rivers, of course, saw it too. And the veteran quarterback knew exactly where he was going with the ball.
It was a 14-yard completion, the first of 14 on the game for Allen, a reigning AFC Pro Bowl pick who is tied for the conference lead in receptions this season. Allen would be the target of a career-high 19 passes from Rivers – including three in what was the winning drive – during what ultimately was a 33-30 Chargers victory at Heinz Field.
And according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, a linebacker was the man closest to Allen on almost half of those 19 targets (nine) – the most that a receiver has been targeted against a linebacker in a game since the service began tracking such metrics in 2016.
“They were always looking for a matchup – every time I looked up, (Allen) was on me, (inside linebacker L.J.) Fort….” Dupree said, “guys who they knew they would get good matchups from. They were throwing him the ball and targeting him right away. We could have done a better job of covering him.”
Allen had seven catches on 10 targets in the first half and seven catches on nine targets (10, if you count his 2-point conversion) in the second half. And through it all, Los Angeles offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and Rivers found it too easy to keep getting Allen against a linebacker – including even at least twice on the final winning drive.
“(The Steelers) kind of stuck with (their approach),” Rivers said. “That is what this team does, they stick with what they do and they do it very well. Keenan is a tough cover in the slot and inside.”
Rivers speculated that the Steelers were content to, in effect, allow Allen catches as long as he didn’t have any big plays. After that 14-yard gain on the first play and 18-yard gain to Allen on Rivers’ second pass, only one Allen catch all game went for longer than 14 yards and none went for longer than 21 yards.
That said, though, 10 of Allen’s receptions accounted for first downs – including a touchdown – and another for a two-point conversion. Allen averaged 10.6 yards per reception.
“We got caught in a lot of zone coverages that put our linebackers on Allen,” cornerback Mike Hilton said. “They took advantage of it. It was frustrating.”
Hilton also said he wasn’t covering Allen in the slot as often as he covers most receivers in that position.
“They schemed that well,” Dupree said. “I feel like they knew how we played our leverages today, so we need to make sure that when we have a real skilled athlete (in the slot) – because I am covering (slots), Fort is covering (slots) – we have to make sure we are on top of our game and instinctive about having help and making sure we identify the matchups ahead of time while we are on the field.”
The Steelers consider Fort to be their best coverage linebacker. The defensive coaches also take pride in having their outside linebackers be able to drop in coverage because it allows them to disguise blitzes better.
But, ideally, even the best linebackers in coverage are only excelling at that job against tight ends or running backs. In particular, the worst-case is matching up against a skilled, high-level wide receiver.
“(The Chargers) create matchups, and they did a good job,” Dupree said. “They do a lot of good coaching, and Philip is a great quarterback too. And he did a great job looking at us and seeing who was on Keenan and throwing him the ball.
“We’ve got to, as players go out and identify that so that matchup won’t be as significant.”