The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered their first loss of the 2020 season in Week 13 at the hands of the Washington Football Team. It was a game where the Steelers were originally favored by more than a touchdown, although the line did continue to fall as the game approached. With the Steelers still having more than double the wins of Washington, it surprised many that the Steelers fell in defeat while others expected the let down at some point.
What is quite frustrating to Steelers’ Nation is the opportunities Pittsburgh had to win the game. Whether it be putting their opponent away early or failing to come through late, there were a number of factors which all came together in a bit of a “perfect storm” which contributed to the Steelers defeat.
Had a few of these issues not arose, the Steelers may have very well been celebrating a playoff berth as well as a historic 12-0 start to the season. Instead, the Steelers are forced to regroup as they prepare to face a very tough Bill’s team in Buffalo Sunday night.
So what were some of those factors which all came together which led to the Steelers defeat? Let’s look at 5 of them.
Leaving points on the field, especially early
It would have been to the Steelers benefit to have a much larger lead in the first half where their defense dominated Washington. Yes, the Steelers failed to score on five attempts from the 1 yard line. It’s hard to say if this would have added more points directly as their defense made the corresponding stop and the Steelers scored a 50-yard touchdown on their next offensive play which came from great field position. But having five attempts at the 1 yard line to only come up short, it made a statement which carried throughout the game.
An even bigger issue arose from only 40 total yards on the first three drives as well as a three and out in their last possession of the first half. Had the Steelers been able to get a larger lead, some of these other issues may not have even arose. Such as…
Little change in execution of the offensive game plan
There are several factors which could be to blame in the situation. Personally, dealing with a short week where the Steelers felt it was more important to rest Ben Roethlisberger than have him practice is one thing. The Steelers office sputtered against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 12, and it appeared their game plan moving into Week 13 was more about changing the execution rather then dealing much about the scheme. Unfortunately, the execution did not improve as the Steelers had just as many drops as they did the week before. By not changing up much of the game plan, Washington had to make very little adjustments at halftime as the Steelers were continuing to do exactly what they had planned to stop. Therefore, scoring points in the second half for the Steelers was much more difficult.
For example, Chase Young after the game was quoted saying, “Baltimore exposed some things.” Yeah, they did. Most of us could see that. Because of the time constraints, the Steelers were not able to fix them. The bigger question is would the Steelers have tried to fix them had they been given more time.
Injuries on defense
The Steelers came in to Week 13 down a couple of key players on defense. But Dupree was lost for the season and Steven Nelson was unable to go with a knee injury. The Steelers did a nice job in dealing with these losses. But when taking those losses and adding them onto the two additional ones in game in Robert Spillane and Joe Haden, it became much more difficult to overcome. The Steelers did a great job compensating for being down one starting corner, but once both were gone it became a much larger task.
The loss of Spillane at the linebacker position, particularly in the passing game, was much more difficult to overcome with the additional lack of starting cornerbacks. Between those three positions, the Steelers seemed fine with handling the loss of one, and possibly even two. But with the loss of all three, it was difficult to manage towards the end of the game.
I know these are professional athletes, but they are also playing against other professional athletes. Playing a game against the Baltimore Ravens and turning around to play another one only five days later takes it’s toll on a players’ bodies. This appeared to really come out in the Steelers defense. Coach Tomlin had specifically stated they were trying to rotate more players against Baltimore simply to not wear guys out for this stretch of games. But after dealing with the injuries listed above, the Steelers were left both shorthanded and having their defense on the field for almost 10 minutes in the fourth quarter. Facing a well-rested Washington Football Team, it was a very tall task.
Uncertainty in the kicking game
Injuries happen in the NFL, and teams have to overcome injuries all the time. But Week 13 seem to be a perfect storm for the Steelers.
Another key loss for the game was kicker Chris Boswell. With Boswell missing due to a hip injury, Matthew Wright was called into his first NFL game. There were reports he was struggling with long kicks in pregame warm-ups, so the confidence in Wright may have been shaken by the Steelers. With a chance to take the lead with a 46-yard field goal with just under five minutes remaining, coach Tomlin felt the Steelers had a better chance of converting a fourth and one than for his newly signed kicker to connect from that distance.
This problem brought up a lot of issues. I was asked many questions about the quality of the kicker the Steelers had and why they should even bother having him on the roster if he can’t kick from 46 yards. Remember, mot teams are carrying an extra kicker on their practice squad for 2020 in case a Covid situation arises, so the pool of quality players in much smaller.
It’s not that Wright wasn’t capable of hitting the field goal, it just wasn’t as high of a probability as with Boswell. Had to Steelers gone for the field-goal and missed, I think there would have been more scrutiny for the decision to kick and not go for it based on the result. Also, the reason you make sure you have a kicker, even if he can’t connect from long distances, is to make sure you have confidence in kicking a 30-yard field goal when the team is faced with fourth and goal from the 12 yard line and needing it to take the lead.
Looking back on this list of five things, there is a decent chance the Pittsburgh Steelers are victorious in Week 13 if only four of them occurred, let alone only three. But this perfect storm of things the Steelers had going against them ultimately lead to a loss. But it’s Coach Tomlin often says, teams need to overcome these things regardless of the situation.
Will all of these issues fix themselves? No they will not. The Steelers can’t help but to deal with injuries when they occur. It’s how it works. Will they benefit from having close to a normal week? Hopefully. Will the Steelers change up their offensive philosophy and execute better? We are certainly hopeful they will, because these are the situation’s with the team has the most control over when it comes to improving for their final four games of the season.
So what would your top 5 factors look like? Would you chose the same 5 or would it look completely different? Feel free to leave your list in the comments below.