The vibes surrounding the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers have been quite positive, starting in the spring, when they finally moved on from all of the drama that seemed to plague them for far-too long.
Even after the 0-2 start to the year and the loss of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the remainder of the season, the talk was mostly positive leading up to a Week 3 encounter against the 49ers at Levi Stadium on Sunday, a game in-which Mason Rudolph would make his first-career start at quarterback.
But while the vibes have been positive, the results continue to be negative for the Steelers, as they fell to the 49ers, 24-20, to drop to 0-3. And their performance and the way they lost continued a theme that started late last year: they just couldn’t get out of their own way.
How do you pass three times to open the offensive portion of your day following a takeaway by your most dynamic defender—T.J. Watt—that sets up your young quarterback at the San Francisco 33?
Isn’t that when you put him under center and begin the drive with a steady diet of running back James Conner? No, instead, it was shotgun and three quick passes that gained just five yards and led to a Chris Boswell field goal.
How do you enter the locker room with just a 6-3 lead following a first half in-which your defense took the football away four times? You might say it was because the young quarterback was in the game. I’d give you that, if the offense didn’t look equally bad in the first halves of the first two games with the veteran quarterback running the show.
The Steelers tallied just 76 yards in the first half on Sunday, which was pretty much on par with what they had by halftime of the first two games with Roethlisberger at quarterback.
As for the defense, hey, I get it, it was probably worn down in the second half. No sustained drives on offense. Again, a failure to uplift the entire team with a touchdown on the heels of at least one of those turnovers. When you look at the stats and see that the unit was on the field for 73 plays and over 36 minutes DESPITE taking the football away five times, in all, that’s quite the indictment of the offense. But, still, in terms of situational football, this defense stinks. It stinks on third downs. It stinks in the fourth quarter. It stinks against the run. It stinks in tackling. It stinks when it comes to overcoming any sort of adversity.
I realize the offense put it in some tough spots—including two turnovers deep in Pittsburgh territory. But, come on, how about a field goal try, instead of so easily collapsing like one of those goats that falls paralyzed to the ground after even the slightest scare?
How about stepping up and forcing a three-and-out after the offense actually scores a touchdown, which it somehow managed to do early in the third quarter on a 76-yard touchdown catch and run by receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster?
How did the defense respond to being handed a 13-10 lead? By doing its best impression of Swiss cheese, as the 49ers quite easily poked through it to regain a four-point advantage.
After jumping back in front on a 39-yard touchdown catch by rookie receiver Diontae Johnson early in the fourth quarter, how did the defense respond? That’s right, Swiss cheese. Thankfully, it was rescued by a 49ers self-inflicted miscue that Watt recovered at the 14.
Did you have confidence in the team finishing things off? If you were paying attention over the previous eight games, you shouldn’t have. And, quite fittingly, Conner fumbled the football right back to San Francisco at the 24. And, quite predictably, the defense fell paralyzed to the ground, as the 49ers ultimately scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:15 remaining.
Just like the games against the Broncos, Chargers, Raiders and Saints to close out last season, just like the game against the Seahawks last week, the Steelers managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on Sunday.
How did Rudolph look? Like a quarterback making his first-career start, which is to say, not too awesome.
He wasn’t horrible, though, and he could really become something before all is said and done if he gets a lot of help.
But who’s going to help him? Who’s going to step up?
A veteran offensive line full of Pro Bowlers would seem like the easiest place to start. But it’s begun 2019 by performing in such a way, people are now convinced Mike Munchak is an even better coaching guru than they already thought he was.
The receivers haven’t done a whole heck of a lot to fill the vacuum created when Antonio Brown and all his foolishness left town.
As for that ground game, it’s non-existent. There’s no rhythm. There’s no determination to make it work beyond a play or two at a time.
Maybe that’s a good thing, since Conner may not be trustworthy enough to be an actual workhorse.
The defense seems like it could be really good in the not-so-distant future. But it’s not there yet. And by the time it is, it might be too late for these 2019 Steelers.
It may already be too late for them—0-3 is a pretty rough start.
Few teams have overcome such beginnings and gone on to have successful seasons.
If not for those failings at the end of last season, perhaps there would be hope. But those failings from last season were a reality, and they have bled over into this season.
2-7 over a nine-game stretch—even when that stretch spans two seasons—is quite telling.
And it tells me one thing: these Steelers are bad.
Did I say that last week? Maybe. But, much like these Steelers, I have a bad habit of repeating myself as of late.