That was awful. I don’t want to talk about the game, so let’s just get right into looking at who was on the field for the worst loss by the Steelers since the 2016 nightmare in Philadelphia.
I’ve been talking about players who are hurt and the Steelers’ record when they are healthy and when they aren’t. Today we are adding Kevin Dotson to the list. This year, when Dotson has played at least 50% of snaps, the Steelers are 5-3, they are 0-2-1 when he doesn’t.
The leaders in snaps played on offense for the Steelers this season are Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr. The Steelers would be better off if both had been able to red-shirt this season or at least work their way into the lineup. Instead, they have played the most snaps of anybody.
Najee Harris recorded the fewest snaps of his young career, and the fewest touches. That will upset people, but really, I think it is a good thing, the young man was on pace to touch the ball more than Le’Veon Bell did in 2017 when he led the league in touches, and never was the same again. We don’t want to see Najee Harris’ rookie year do to him what those big seasons from Willie Parker and Le’Veon Bell did to them.
The early deficit led to a pass-heavy offense, and the first game in 2021 when we didn’t see at least 1 TE per snap. When you combine Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry and Derek Watt’s snaps, you get 61, one less snap than the Steelers played. Running backs accounted for 63 total snaps, Zach Banner played 2 snaps and the rest were wide receivers.
Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson set career highs for percentage of snaps played, only missing one snap each. Anthony Miller finally saw the field for Pittsburgh, and the Steelers never ran a 5-WR set.
The game dictated the personnel balance in this one. The game was awful and balance went down the tube because of it.
Let’s start with Cameron Heyward. He’s the one person on this list I haven’t been able to blame so far this season for anything. He gives 100% every game, the other team knows he’s one of only a few players they have to worry about and yet he still had 8 tackles and a sack and he even played nose tackle. After the game he was just as mad as I was.
He’s the best defensive lineman the Steelers have had since Joe Greene retired, and he had to wait till his 11th season to experience even a taste of what Greene lived in his first season.
The rest of the defensive line shall be referred to as the JV squad now, because they certainly aren’t at a level close to what Mike Tomlin would call “Varsity”.
At least Heyward only played 54 snaps. The Steelers didn’t overwork him pretending they had any chance of coming back late in this one.
T.J. Watt was not himself. He looked like he did against Green Bay, he just didn’t get a couple of sacks handed to him like he did in that game. Watt has twice come back a game early this season, and he needs to stop it. I understood Green Bay, that’s his home and it was a big game, this was a big game too, but T.J. Watt playing when he’s visibly not healthy is dumb.
With an early big lead the Bengals could run the ball all day against Cam Heyward and the JV squad, that led to a lot of snaps for Joe Schobert who showed again that he can tackle. You wouldn’t think being able to tackle people at the end of a good gain would cause you to rank highly on a Steeler defense, but here we are.
I can’t even say much about the defensive backs, the Bengals came out running all over the Steelers, the front seven got very little pressure and the only time the Steelers got beat downfield was the Tee Higgins touchdown over James Pierre.
This secondary was originally built to be one that could take advantage of the pressure from blitzes up front. With the losses in the offseason they turned into a group that was really good if the Steelers could get pressure with 4 rushers. Now they are a group whose most important attribute is run support.
Give Minkah Fitzpatrick credit, against the Chargers without him the Steelers gave up 374 yards. Against Cincinnati, they gave up 190 and Fitzpatrick had an interception. He makes a big difference, it’s just hard to see anything positive in a game this bad.