I like to make my own pizza. And I make pretty good ones, at least that’s what my friends tell me. I have good pizza flour, I buy specific cheeses to blend, I’m a bit crazy about the oven being the right temperature and the vegetables being really fresh.
If I have crappy ingredients, I’m not going to make a very good pizza.
Making pizza is a lot like football, don’t groan, you knew it was coming. You go out and draft quality ingredients, put together a good plan to use them, you get good results and fans are happy. If you have a crappy recipe, or a cook that doesn’t know how to balance the hot spots in an oven, you get poor results. But even a good plan and a good cook need good ingredients.
You get what I’m saying. Let’s look at the ingredients the Steelers put on the field to face the Chargers, and judge the results accordingly.
The offense was missing one key piece, Kevin Dotson. Kevin Dotson has fallen off in public opinion from his 2020 rookie campaign. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t played well. He’s the Steelers’ best offensive lineman, and a leader in their run game. J.C. Hassenauer has improved a lot since 2020, and is a fine backup center in only his second season, but when he replaces Kevin Dotson, the interior run game takes a giant step backwards.
Hassenauer was hurt in the game and replaced by Joe Haeg, who may have been a slight upgrade in run blocking, but was a pretty significant step down in pass protection.
The Steelers had 4 of their 5 main offensive linemen, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Chase Claypool returning to the field, and the offense improved, even if it stalled too much in the red-zone. In 10 drives the offense scored 37 points, a far cry from the 16 points on 13 drives against the Lions. And there is room to complain about the play-calling, as some of the plays that have worked with occasional use this season all failed to work in this game. And the Steelers several times failed to gain a few key yards that would have sealed a win.
But again, 37 points on 10 drives is pretty good, and a huge improvement over 16 points on 13 drives in Week 10.
It’s almost like having Ben Roethlisberger, Trai Turner and Chase Claypool playing mattered a lot.
Just as we can look at the offense from Week 10 to Week 11 and point out the different players that were on the field and the very different result achieved, we can look at the players on the field and see the struggles on defense.
Tre Norwood makes his first appearance as a member of the 100% club, obviously setting a career high for snaps and percentage of snaps played. Joining him in setting a career high in snaps played is James Pierre, Derrek Tuska, Henry Mondeaux, Daniel Archibong and Delontae Scott. The last two made their NFL debuts against the Chargers.
A few other players set new highs in snaps played as a Pittsburgh Steeler: Taco Charlton, Akhello Witherspoon and Karl Joseph.
That’s nine Steelers playing more snaps than they have ever played with this team in the same game. What’s more telling is the players they were replacing. Akhello Witherspoon and James Pierre were playing more because of Joe Haden’s absence. Tre Norwood and Karl Joseph because of Minkah Fitzpatrick missing this game. Derrek Tuszka, Taco Charlton and Delontae Scott all played more because of T.J. Watt, and Mondeaux and Archibong played more with Isaiahh Loudermilk out.
Loudermilk has become a solid rotational defensive lineman, but the other three are key players on the Steelers’ defense. The Steelers haven’t won a game this season without a healthy T.J. Watt, and the Steelers haven’t won a game without Joe Haden out since 2017.
I know there are a lot of people screaming that I’m making excuses right now, but the truth is you can’t make a good pizza with crappy ingredients, and you can’t win a football game without talent.
The difference in the Steelers offense this week wasn’t Matt Canada coaching a brilliant game, it was Ben Roethlisberger. To a lesser degree Chase Claypool, Trai Turner and Eric Ebron getting healthier all made impact.
Unless you really want to give Matt Canada a ton of credit for the offense scoring 37 points this week, you have to admit that the talent on the field matters. Keith Butler has his weaknesses, but the defense in this game wasn’t about Butler, it was just more evidence that talent matters in football more than even coaching.