After taking down the Los Angeles Rams at Heinz Field to begin the second half of the NFL season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, many fans had hope the Steelers could possibly even run the table. Most fans had a more realistic view of the season, but there was always the possibility which creeps into the back of one’s mind. This hope didn’t last long as the Steelers dropped the next game to the Cleveland Browns.
But what can we learn about the Steelers through this loss? There are some very interesting positives which could be taken as well as assessing a whole lot of negatives. So here are my opinions of what I was able to gather about the Steelers latest game. One of the biggest issues as to why this game may have been so awkward for the Steelers was that it was on a short week. I hate to beat a dead horse, but this issue and how the Steelers responded to it will be driving most of these points.
Mason Rudolph is going to have some rough patches along the way
This is a massive understatement considering the game that just occurred. Throwing four interceptions, many of which looked very bad, made this game far from Rudolph‘s finest moment. Yes, he was dealing with a plethora of injuries at key positions around him but we will save this for another point. As with a lot of young quarterbacks, whether or not they are playing well, they are due for a rough game eventually.
Some people are ready to move on from Rudolph after one very poor performance. But the fact that Rudolph has been pushing the ball more down field then he was in previous weeks shows his progression. But we must remember, progression doesn’t always occur without setbacks.
Mason Rudolph is by far not the first young quarterback to throw four interceptions in a game early in his career. In fact, the list of NFL quarterbacks who have had four or more interceptions in a game within their first 16 starts over the last 20 years has some interesting members. Other players who have had such a game include Sam Darnold (twice), Jameis Winston, Kirk Cousins, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford (twice), Tony Romo, Eli Manning, and Alex Smith. Oh, and I forgot one… Tom Brady.
Almost every young quarterback will struggle at times. They will also be games where nothing seems to go right. Hopefully that game is already behind Mason Rudolph.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is a student of the game
Since arriving in Pittsburgh, fans have absolutely fallen in love with Mikah Fitzpatrick. He sured up the back end of a defense in a way fans didn’t even realize was as necessary and as fixable as it was. But on Thursday night’s game, Fitzpatrick’s only stat line was two assisted tackles. Did Mikah just have a bad game?
I have a completely different take. From everything his teammates have said, Fitzpatrick truly is a student of the game. He is constantly studying film and figuring out tendencies of the opposing team. Unfortunately, with hardly any preparation time from Sunday’s game to Thursday, Fitzpatrick was not been able to put in as much preparation time as all of his other games. Is this definitely what happened as to why he wasn’t as much of a factor? Nobody can say for sure. But I think knowing how much study Fitzpatrick does each week and the lack of time available to do it against the Browns did not give him as much as an advantage as it had in his previous games.
The short week hurt the defense’s communication
The Steelers gave up three touchdowns to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday. If we look at the actual plays in which players scored or set up the score it is very telling. On the first score by the Browns which was originally called a touchdown before Odell Beckham Jr. was ruled short, Steven Nelson was looking around as if he expected inside help on the route. It is unclear whether or not Minkah Fitzpatrick was pulled in by the play fake or if there was a miscommunication. Regardless of who’s fault it was and why, it was one of the few breakdowns in the secondary the Steelers have seen in recent weeks.
On the second touchdown which was thrown to a wide-open Jarvis Landry, fans may not have caught that Joe Haden had come out of the game in favor of a goal line defense but then had to rush back onto the field at the last minute as there were not enough players. Chances are it was a miscommunication as to who was going to stick with Landry as he crossed the field and ended up wide-open for the score.
The third touchdown by the Browns was set up when Mason Rudolph was intercepted with a return to the 4-yard line. After an incomplete pass and a run for a loss of 4 yards, the Steelers had a chance to hold the Browns to a field goal. But on a play where the pass rush could not get to Baker Mayfield as he escaped, the Steelers could have turned the game around in one play had Mark Barron looked up a half a second sooner and intercepted the ball rather than giving up a touchdown. While this touchdown isn’t directly related to any kind of communication issues per se, it is worth noting it was almost completely avoided.
The coaches may be the MVPs of the Steelers offense
It pains me to say this, but the coaches on the offensive side of the ball may not be getting the kudos they deserve. Personally, I’ve had some issues with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner recently. But I’m willing to put those aside and look at exactly how this week went down for the Steelers.
I had gone on record as saying I thought the Steelers held the advantage over the Browns with a short week because first year coaches generally do not perform well. It was a complete oversight on my part as I should have been focusing on the young players of the Steelers’ offense and the preparation they would need for their next game.
It’s hard to argue against the Browns having a strong roster when it comes to player pedigree. They have been drafting in the very top of the draft for years and have the high-profile players it produces. Interesting enough, I now feel the short week of preparation played to the Browns advantage as their “Super Bowl caliber off-season roster” was able to just play the game and not get screwed over by the Brown’s coaching staff as they have many times this season.
As for the Steelers offense, it was apparent to me that they need a lot of prep time for each game. They have young wide receivers, running backs, and quarterbacks. Add in the fact the Steelers top running back and top two receivers went out of the game with injury, this was a recipe for disaster for a very young offense. Not only did this team not have much time to prepare with the pieces they planned on having, there was hardly any time to prepare for the personnel who ended up on the field by the end of the night.
The Steelers response to this game will define their 2019 season
As bad as this game was for the Steelers, how they respond over the 10 days following the loss will set the tone for the rest of the season. With the added preparation time to deal with new players to the roster and to recover from injury, coupled with the fact they are playing a team who has yet to win a game, how the Steelers respond on both sides of the ball is key. Usually winning is the biggest take away from every game. But for Week 12, the Steelers need to play quality football first and foremost. Especially since “quality” is not a word that could have been used for Week 11.