The Pittsburgh Steelers opened up the 2018 season with a game that encapsulated every stereotype of the Steelers bottled into one. They played down to inferior competition, “Road Ben” showed up in great fashion, and the coaching staff made some mind-boggling decisions. If this team is to be what it ought to be, some things have to change. Thus, here are five things that need to change for the Steelers between this week and when they face the Kansas City Chiefs in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers looked like they would win this game heading into the third quarter when they were up by two touchdowns with just about nineteen minutes left to play. All they had to do was not take their foot off the gas pedal.
Unfortunately, they did just that.
The Steelers became passive, and Randy Fichtner’s play-calling shifted from a game plan designed to attack the Browns to one playing not to lose. Instead, the Steelers ran James Conner on a 3rd-and-10 and then proceeded to punt the ball. That type of passivity is what will kill you in the NFL. It’s what lost the Steelers the game against New England and it’s why they tied Sunday. Hopefully, this will be a lesson for new Offensive Coordinator Randy Fichtner, and he’ll learn never to take his foot off the gas. Simply put, Fichtner was extremely conservative in his play-calling on many third-down plays, and that included a few screens sprinkled in.
Fichtner overall didn’t have a bad game, but being that conservative after showing you could drive the ball up the field isn’t appropriate. Regardless, this was Fichtner’s first meaningful game calling plays, and let’s hope he learns from these mistakes. I’m sure it will haunt him during the coming week.
Ben Roethlisberger’s Play
I’m not going to pin the sole blame for this game on Ben, but it was one of the worst games of his career. If he has a decent game, the Steelers win easily. Having three interceptions and two fumbles is far from ideal for Ben, and his play as a whole was just sloppy.
He looked uncomfortable in the pocket, was inaccurate at times, and didn’t see the field as he usually does. This was on a par with the Jacksonville game (the first one in 2017) in terms of bad for Big Ben. I’m not sure which one was worse, but he has to be better if this team wants to go anywhere.
Luckily, it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if this turns out to be the worst game of Roethlisberger’s season. As the season goes on, Ben will get better, and we’ll need him to be against the high-powered Chiefs’ offense. As long as Roethlisberger learns from his mistakes and tightens up his performances on the road, the Steelers should be fine. But another performance like this against a good team and the Steelers are losing by 30-points.
Offensive Line Play
The Steelers have a great offensive line — it’s one of the best in the NFL. However, this week, the offensive line didn’t live up to its reputation. Unfortunately, this mostly falls on Alejandro Villanueva. While he’s a good offensive tackle, he simply couldn’t handle the monster that is Myles Garrett. I can’t blame him for that, but he had some absolutely terrible pass sets that would have gotten him beat by a lot of average rushers too. Villanueva is easily the weak link on this line and he’ll need to play better against the likes of Justin Houston next week.
As for the rest of the line, there were too many penalties and the run-blocking lacked at times. David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert both played very well, but Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey still don’t finish some of their blocks against the run. They’re inconsistent in this regard, and since they don’t finish them, the result is often the two- or three-yard gains we saw this week.
This offensive line is a great unit, but when they face top-tier talent they just have to be that much more locked in.
There were way too many penalties this week. In all three facets of the game, the Steelers were undisciplined.
I couldn’t tell you how many holding calls, illegal blocks in the back, and pass interference calls the Steelers drew. Were some of them bad calls? Sure, but that doesn’t excuse some of blatant ones called. Even if this were a leniently-called game, the Steelers likely still would have had more than 100 yards in penalties.
The peak of this undisciplined fiasco was Artie Burns getting into a scuffle with Jarvis Landry for little to no reason. That’s uncalled for and I hope Mike Tomlin had a good talk with Burns about his hot-headed display.
Going forward, if the Steelers can play a more-disciplined brand of football in all three phases, it will be a much better experience for all involved. They might have been more grabby on Sunday in Cleveland, but I’ve got no issue with that considering how aggressive they were.
Washington was barely on the field and I have no clue why. What does Justin Hunter offer over Washington as a player?
The answer to that would be “nothing.” Washington is just as good of a deep threat as Hunter and he’s much better on contested catches. Washington has better hands, route running, and blocking than Hunter does. I just don’t understand why Hunter is playing instead of Washington when Washington can do so much more than he.
Washington also is not a strictly deep-ball receiver, so while they might wait until the weather is better for the deep balls Washington loves, he can be used in lots of other areas, especially on slants.
Simply put, James Washington offers so much more versatility and options as the Z-receiver compared to what Justin Hunter could, so the Steelers need to play the man.