The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they played the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 12 of regular season action. The Steelers were losers in the contest, but that doesn’t mean every player had a bad performance.
Players who play well can be considered ‘Winners’, while those who left a lot to be desired can be called ‘Losers’. It may sound harsh, but it is the crux of this exercise.
Let’s check in to see who fell on which side of the ledger after the first game of the preseason...
Stat Line: 9 catches, 95 yards, 14 targets
The pass catchers were a position I found the winners in this game. The reason is they can’t throw themselves the football, but I’ll say this, Diontae Johnson has improved by leaps and bounds this season. Johnson’s route running has been much better this year, he has essentially eliminated the drops from his game and is becoming a lethal weapon whenever the ball is in his hands. Johnson was one of the few players on Sunday who stepped up in a big way, when given the opportunity.
Stat Line: 4 catches, 40 yards, 4 targets, 1 TD
The Steelers all but ignored Freiermuth the majority of the game, but when the ball was thrown his was Freiermuth did was he always does. He made tough, contested catches. The touchdown reception was his sixth of the season, and the former Penn State product continues to show he is not just worth the 2nd round selection, but also a worthy member of the weekly offensive game plan.
Stat Line: Continues to be a story line
What else needs to be said about the Steelers’ tackling issues? I don’t think it was as bad as it was vs. the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 11, but it wasn’t good either. The Bengals’ ball carriers were continually falling forward, and rarely going down on first contact. The tackling is bad, and with the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) rules it is debatable whether it can be fixed in-season.
Stat Line: 3 sacks surrendered, 3.4 yards per carry, 263 yards passing
You might look at Roethlisberger’s 263 yards passing and think, “That’s not too bad.” But let’s not forget when the majority of those yards were gained, in garbage time. The Steelers offense was bad, and it starts up front. There were no holes for Najee Harris to run, Kendrick Green’s snaps continue to be an issue at times and Roethlisberger was feeling the pressure on more than one occasion. Not a good day for the offensive line.
Stat Line: 38 rushes, 198 yards, 5.2 yards per carry, 2 TDs, 32 yard long
This defense has gone from a Top 10 rush defense at the quarter pole of the season, but they are now nearing the Bottom 10 of the NFL entering the waning weeks of the regular season. In Mike Tomlin’s words, this rush defense is trending down.
Stat Line: 24/41, 263 yards, 6.4 average, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 3 Sacks/13 yards, 65.4 Rating, 1 Fumble
I have avoided putting Roethlisberger on the loser list the past few weeks because I never truly felt his play was the reason the team won, or lost, the game. However, that wasn’t the case on Sunday in Cincinnati. The game plan was clearly to come out and move the ball through the air, and when your quarterback accounts for three turnovers it just isn’t good enough. The reason the Steelers had some success following the 1-3 start was Roethlisberger protecting the football, that has to continue for them to win.
Stat Line: 3 catches, 82 yards, 8 targets
Maybe this is on us, the fans. No, not for the poor performance, but for the lofty expectations we set on Claypool in his second season. It isn’t as if Claypool didn’t have some nice plays on Sunday, he did. He has shown an improvement in high-pointing the ball, but at the same time he struggles to stay on his feet and it often looks like he is an overly emotional player. The facemask penalty Sunday was evidence of these issues with Claypool. If he wants to be considered a No. 1 receiver, he needs to clean up all aspects of his game, and that includes his overall attitude and demeanor on the field.
Stat Line: 4 tackles, 3 solo
Pierre is a good story, and he might eventually turn into a solid backup cornerback for the Steelers, but right now he is far from the answer if/when Joe Haden jettisons the Steel City. Can he improve? Absolutely, but the growing pains we are all witnessing is flat out painful to watch.
Stat Line: At some point the decision making has to come into question
This could be an entire article by itself, but what this ultimately boils down to is the fact there are moments when the team looks unprepared for the job at hand. When a team isn’t just out-manned, but out-coached, it is noticeable. It was noticeable on Sunday in Week 12.
Stat Line: 3 total (2 INTs, 1 Fumble)
If you are a fragile team, like the Steelers are, you can’t sustain turnovers. Exhibit A was at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday. Those three turnovers, regardless who is to blame, were absolute back-breakers.
3rd Down Defense/Red-Zone Defense
Stat Line: 5-for-11 on 3rd down / 3-for-4 in the RZ
The 3rd down numbers don’t look bad, but they were padded by the fact Joe Burrow was essentially removed from the game for the vast majority of the 4th quarter. The Steelers’ defense only really stopped Burrow and his starting offense once, maybe twice. The first was after a Roethlisberger interception where they had a goal line stand, and the other when they finally forced a punt in the third quarter.
Stat Line: 4 penalties for 30 yards
It isn’t about the quantity of the penalties necessarily, it is about when the penalties occur. Pre-snap penalties on offense and defense, defensive pass interference calls and bone-headed personal fouls just can’t happen. Not to a team which is this fragile.
If you want a more detailed look at the above list, check out my “Let’s Ride” podcast where I outline each Winner and Loser, and MORE!