The Pittsburgh Steelers have seen better days than they are currently 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 how the injury, and Injured Reserve designation, of Justin Hunter re-opens the door for James Washington to get more snaps on game days. Mike Tomlin talked about this in his weekly press conference, and described it as being “excited” for Washington.
Should fans buy, or sell, what Tomlin is selling here?
Let’s get to the news:
By: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Staff
Justin Hunter’s shoulder injury has opened the door for wide receiver James Washington to salvage something of his rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Washington, the team’s second-round draft pick, will return to the roster after being inactive Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers. It coincides with the Steelers placing Hunter on injured reserve.
Tomlin said Hunter’s injury provides “an opportunity for things to boomerang back around” for Washington.
“I’m kind of excited about that, to be quite honest with you,” Tomlin said.
Before Sunday, Washington had three catches on 14 targets over his previous six games. He was benched after leaving his feet and dropping a deep pass from Ben Roethlisberger in a 24-17 loss to the Denver Broncos.
“Such is life in this game at this level,” Tomlin said. “Sometimes you get knocked down, you’ve got to get in the lab and work and oftentimes that is done in obscurity. You wait for your opportunity to get back on and ride again and show what you are capable of.
“It wasn’t a lot of time on the shelf for James, so it’s going to be exciting to watch him get back on this week and take advantage of someone else’s misfortune and be a positive contributor of our efforts.”
Washington has eight catches for 77 yards and a touchdown in 10 games this season.
Hunter replaced Washington as the No. 3 receiver against the Chargers and didn’t have a catch on three targets. He played 18 snaps before he landed awkwardly on his shoulder in the end zone while attempting to catch an overthrown pass from Roethlisberger.
Hunter will finish the year with three catches for 21 yards in five games.
By: Chris Carter, DKPittsburghSports
While officiating issues were rampant in the Steelers’ 33-30 loss to the Chargers, there were plenty of factors in their control they failed to grasp.
Let’s dig deep …
• Where scheme beat team: The Steelers had to know the Chargers’ offensive plan, especially with their star running back, Melvin Gordon, injured. Even if Gordon was active, a study of the Chargers’ offense shows that it runs through its star receiver, Keenan Allen. Allen currently has 996 receiving yards this season after his 148-yard night against the Steelers, and that’s 543 yards more than their next highest player, both being running backs.
This was the prime opportunity for Keith Butler to find a way to force the Chargers to win with a different player and showcase how he could adjust for the many ways Ken Whisenhunt, former Steelers’ offensive coordinator, would scheme to get Allen open.
That didn’t happen.
Allen is a receiver who can line up anywhere on the field and find success, but he’s at his best in the slot. He likes his matchups there and flashes great footwork to get open. His skills bring a challenge for defenses to either assign their best cornerback to him no matter where he lines up, or pass the duties around between interior defenders, including slot cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers.
The Steelers went with the latter approach, as Allen caught 14 passes on 19 targets, gaining 10 first downs and converting three-of-six when targeted on third downs.
Even when the Steelers assigned cornerbacks to guard Allen, he was getting open. Here’s a big third-down conversion that kept the Chargers’ first second-half touchdown drive alive. The Steelers are in man coverage and put Mike Hilton on Allen, but Allen is lined up behind Mike Williams, who is being guarded by Coty Sensabaugh.
Similarly to how the Steelers have used Antonio Brown to get open behind other receivers, the Chargers had Allen run a zig route behind Williams, who ran right at Hilton, to spring him open. The zig is a route that starts to the inside and then works outside, forcing the defender to display elite footwork. Hilton never has the chance to test his footwork against Allen because he gets cut off by Williams and loses sight of Allen on his zig.
(For more...click the link in the title.)
By: Mark Madden, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Boy, are the Steelers stupid.
A linebacker covered Keenan Allen on nine targets Sunday. He’s the Los Angeles Chargers’ No. 1 wide receiver. As a result, Allen had 14 catches. That’s stupid.
Joe Haden was about to snatch an interception. Sean Davis went for a big hit on Allen, the intended receiver. Instead, he jarred the ball from Haden’s hands and into Allen’s for a Chargers touchdown. Was Davis even aware Haden was there? What was Davis watching? That’s reminiscent of Mike Mitchell. That’s stupid.
The Steelers jumped offside three times on the Chargers’ game-winning field goal. That’s a rookie kicker. Let him miss. He did, the first time. But he kept getting do-overs. That’s stupid.
Don’t blame the officials. That’s stupid. Some decisions were egregiously bad, especially the noncall on the obvious false start that preceded Los Angeles’ first touchdown. But Franco Harris trapped the ball, and the Steelers got every call possible in their Super Bowl XL win.
So don’t whine, especially when the Steelers led 23-7 at halftime. Prior to Sunday, the Steelers had 220 wins and two ties when leading by 14 or more at home. They are now 220-1-2 in that situation.
It was the biggest choke in Steelers’ history. If it wasn’t born of stupidity, abject idiocy certainly suckled that disaster.
If stupid was the Steelers’ defining characteristic, weird wasn’t far behind.
Ben Roethlisberger played well, except for a couple throws. That’s becoming his defining characteristic this season. He served up an easy interception off a snap just outside the red zone, and he overthrew Justin Hunter when Hunter had broken free for what should have been a simple touchdown toss.
Hunter got hurt diving for that throw and had to leave the game. Weird.
The Steelers’ defense was rock solid in the first half. In the second half, the Chargers drove 88, 79 and 64 yards for two touchdowns and a field goal.
The Chargers got another touchdown on a punt return. (Aided by a block in the back that was not flagged.) But that wasn’t weird, because the Steelers’ special teams are too often ineffective, penalized (24 times, most in the NFL) and disorganized. Again, witness the chorus line of Steelers going offside on the Chargers’ game-ending field-goal tries.
So, can the Steelers fix it?
That depends on what you mean by “fix it.”
The Steelers lead over Baltimore in the AFC North is down to a half-game. The Steelers’ remaining schedule looks slightly tougher than the Ravens’, but going 2-2 to finish 9-6-1 likely wins the division.
Home field is out of the question. A bye is out of the question. Anything better than the No. 4 seed is unlikely.
That would almost certainly get a rematch with the Chargers at Heinz Field. Uh-oh.
It was going so well, and then it all turned so stupid. The Steelers won six straight, then lost two games they were favored to win.
That bounces back to coaching, except it can’t. Mike Tomlin will never get fired. (That’s your cue to scream his regular-season record at the top of your lungs.) Nor should Tomlin be, because his replacement would be inferior.
But that doesn’t mean the Steelers are up to snuff when it comes to structure and accountability. It doesn’t mean Tomlin coaches perfectly. (Not even close.)
By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The unseasonably warm temperatures that passed through the region Sunday are gone and with it went the Pittsburgh Steelers margin for error.
Once firmly in control of the AFC North and a first-round playoff bye, the Steelers are reeling from back-to-back losses that has put a fifth consecutive postseason trip and third straight division championship in jeopardy.
When their winning streak reached six games after that fourth-quarter comeback two weeks ago in Jacksonville, the Steelers had a two-and-a-half game edge on Baltimore for the division lead and the No. 2 spot in the AFC playoff race.
But after blowing second-half leads against Denver and the Los Angeles Chargers in a span of eight days, the Steelers (7-4-1) are just a half-game ahead of the Ravens (7-5), winners of three in a row. With four games to play, the Steelers also have two fewer wins than division leaders New England and Houston and three fewer than Kansas City, meaning they are ticketed to play on wild-card weekend — if they get into the playoffs at all.
“We’re not panicking,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “We’re not worried. We still have got four games left. We still can control our destiny.”
Trouble is, games against New England (9-3) at home and New Orleans (10-2) on the road remain on the schedule. Another 2-2 stretch like the one the Steelers just completed is a distinct possibility. That would leave the Steelers at 9-6-1, which could be enough to get into the postseason as a wild-card provided one of the four 6-6 teams — Miami, Indianapolis, Tennessee and Denver — doesn’t run the table.
A 9-6-1 record also might be enough to secure the AFC North title provided the Ravens don’t go 3-1 or better the rest of the way. Baltimore has Kansas City (10-2) and the Chargers (9-3) left on its schedule, and both games are on the road for the Ravens.
“It’s a quarter left of football,” wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “We’ve got to continue to figure out a way to win and get ourselves a chance to get to the dance.”
The Steelers won’t dance unless they end their losing streak Sunday at Oakland. The Raiders have a 2-10 record but are a historically bothersome opponent at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Steelers have lost their past three trips to Oakland, falling to teams that finished 2-14 in 2006, 4-12 in ‘12 and 4-12 in ‘13.
To compound matters, the Steelers head into the stretch run with some glaring weaknesses and at least one potentially significant injury.