The Pittsburgh Steelers are 7-6-1 heading into a Week 16 clash with the Kansas City Chiefs, and they are far from a perfect team. In fact, most would consider them an extremely flawed team, this even after their 19-13 win over the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field Sunday.
In the victory, many of the issues which have plagued the Steelers throughout the season continued to pop up and cause the team to have issues. The team’s inability to run the football, the defense’s inability to stop the run, pre-snap penalties and especially turning takeaways into touchdowns.
At this point of the season, you have to wonder if these issues, which are not new to this team by any stretch of the imagination, are even able to be fixed? Or is this just the 2021 Steelers?
After the game defensive captain Cam Heyward was asked about the team allowing over 200 yards rushing for the second straight week.
“I‘m still ticked about it.” Heyward said. “I never want to surrender that many yards. There’s a lot we’ve got to clean up. But it’s better to clean it up in a win than a loss. I’ll be banging my head tonight trying to figure out what we need to do. Too many times we set the edge, he cuts back or stays front side, and it gets out. Teams are going to do the same things from here on out. If we don’t do it, we’re going to be in a world of trouble.”
It wasn’t too long ago, prior to the team’s Week 6 meeting vs. the Seattle Seahawks, when the Steelers’ defense was a Top 10 rush defense. That was without Tyson Alualu and, of course, Stephon Tuitt. My how the floor has dropped out on this group.
So, what was the difference between the Week 14 and Week 15 performances? Mike Tomlin gave his estimation in his post-game comments.
“I still think we had some lapses in gap control, but the lapses in gap control were six and seven-yard runs as opposed to some of those in Minnesota.” Tomlin said. “So I don’t know that we were any better, to be honest with you, from a gap-control standpoint. We just minimized some of the explosion plays when they did break. And you’ve got to tip your cap to Minkah [Fitzpatrick]. I don’t know how many tackles he had but as a middle-of-the-field player there were several times where I thought his tackling was big and covered up some lack of gap integrity.”
As much as fans would love to see the Steelers revert back to their dominant run defense, it doesn’t look like such a change is feasible this year. Then again, you think back to the rush defense vs. the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13, where they surrendered just 107 yards on the ground, and you wonder what happened that game which couldn’t be duplicated down the stretch?
As for the offense, the Steelers’ were unable to turn any of the four defensive takeaways into touchdowns Sunday. Instead, it was all Chris Boswell adding 12 points to the scoreboard in the wake of those big defensive plays.
Ben Roethlisberger knows the offense left plenty of points on the board, and the frustrations are evident.
“We felt like there were opportunities and points obviously that we couldn’t get that were left out there.” said Roethlisberger. “We know we can always count on Boz [Chris Boswell] but obviously we want to put more points, especially the last one, a chance to make a two-score game. It’s extremely, extremely frustrating. Give them credit. They’re a good defense. Whether we would have a penalty, whether we had a negative rush, whatever it was. We couldn’t put the points on the board and threw a touchdown, that’s very frustrating.”
The offense stalling is nothing new, the unit mustered just three first half points before the defense started taking the football away at a ridiculous clip. But there was more to the Steelers’ offensive issues than just an inability to put the ball into the end-zone. Pre-snap penalties continue to be an issue.
“I know we had a false start or two. We had one ball snapped a little early on a double cadence. It’s just things we’ve got to just focus on.” Roethlisberger added. “And our fans get extra excited. It’s loud in there even though we’re doing the cadence. But we’ve got to make sure, pre-snaps, we’ve got to be smarter at that.”
The ‘focus’ Roethlisberger talks about might have to be manufactured somewhere outside of the 412 area code if it hasn’t happened yet. As the team enters Week 16, Mike Tomlin was asked about those pre-snap penalties, and why they continue to be a boon to this offense?
“Because we’ve got issues.” Tomlin replied.
The natural follow-up question was wow do the Steelers fix it?
“We come to work tomorrow, we will.” Tomlin said.
Sorry if a vast majority of fans have their doubts, coach. Nonetheless, the Steelers found a way to win despite these lingering issues on both sides of the football. Can they be fixed down the stretch, or is what we all see just what we’ll get moving forward? Fans can speculate, but it’s up to the players and coaches to prove something like pre-snap penalties and run defense are capable of changing, for the better.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Chiefs this Sunday in Week 16 at Arrowhead Stadium.