The Steelers suffered yet another heart-breaking and head-scratching defeat on Sunday afternoon to their bitter rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, at the suddenly not so friendly confines of their apparently cursed home sanctuary recently renamed as Acrisure Stadium.
I half jokingly say apparently cursed because the Steelers seemingly have lost any semblance of home-field advantage this season, which coincidentally happens immediately after the controversial change in sponsors and corresponding stadium name change.
The Steelers dropped to 2-4 on the season at home, with all four losses being of the incredibly frustrating variety. The Steelers could have easily won all four games with a fortuitous bounce here or a bit of good fortune there. It’s the type of frustrating defeats that leaves an entire fan base fantasizing about what might have been during a lost season.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Precious little actually
My optimistic nature insists that I find some semblance of a silver lining out of Sunday's utterly disappointing results. For whatever reason, that has proven to be harder this week than any other.
The only Steelers Stock that I honestly feel is trending upwards after Sunday's debacle would be the pass catchers. I say pass catchers because TE Pat Freiermuth is undoubtedly an integral part of the Steelers plans for improvement as a passing attack in the near future.
We are finally starting to see the occasional glimpse of what Diontae Johnson can be as a WR2 in the Steelers offensive attack. As George Pickens and Freiermuth continue to warrant more coverage attention from the opposition, Johnson should feast on more favorable matchups.
Pickens is a contested catch nightmare for defenders, but is limited by the inconsistencies of youth. Still a work in progress, he needs time to hone his craft. He needs to clean up his footwork, and the speed and effort throughout each route. Although still extremely raw, it would be hard to resist the urge to give the young man a chance on any one-on-one matchups deep.
Freiermuth is the Steelers most consistent receiving weapon. He runs excellent routes, and catches basically anything he gets his mitts on. It's almost shocking when he fails to haul in even the most unlikely opportunities. Two of Trubisky's three interceptions on Sunday came on throws intended for Freiermuth. The Ravens were paying special attention to the Steelers talented young tight end throughout the game, and for good reason.
Steelers Stock Trending Down: Missed Opportunities for Growth
As previously stated, I can handle the inevitable struggles during an obvious rebuilding season, even frustrating losses like Sunday’s. What I struggle to accept is when the Steelers continue to miss precious opportunities for consistent improvements and roster growth. There will be more on that later.
Kenny Pickett’s injury was even more costly than many realize. This was his first opportunity to experience the type of growth that only comes from participating in the most intense and physical rivalry in the NFL. It’s the type of game that forces you to learn how to survive before you can thrive.
Think about that statement for a second. How many Steelers quarterbacks have been forced out of these games since the rivalry began? Basically all of them. Tommy Maddox’s injury opened the door for living Steelers legend Big Ben Roethlisberger.
Arguably the toughest quarterback in NFL history, Roethlisberger took more than his share of beatings at the hands of the Ravens defense. He suffered numerous injuries, including a broken nose, but remained in the game. He even endured the hardest hit on a quarterback I have ever seen, courtesy of Ravens linebacker Bart Scott. Scott would be arrested for that hit in today’s don’t-put-your-entire-weight-on-the-quarterback NFL.
You can ask Mason Rudolph about his first experience with the rivalry, but I doubt he will remember it. He resembled Al Bundy as he was carried off the field missing his face mask.
Pickett was just starting to settle into the intensity and insanity when he was slung violently to the ground by his face mask. That resulted in Pickett missing the rest of his first opportunity for real growth with his young teammates under uniquely high pressure circumstances.
The missed opportunities for growth by the Steelers plethora of young offensive talent under the unique circumstances of the rivalry was by far my biggest disappointment on Sunday, as the experience alone is invaluable.
Steelers Stock Trending Down: Defensive Front Seven
I struggled with the title for this section of the article. It pains me to say this, but this is the weakest front seven since... last season.
Outside of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, there isn't a position that couldn't benefit from an upgrade. That's incredibly concerning when you are talking about the highest paid defense in the NFL.
Cameron Heyward has to be dealing with some substantial injuries, because he is a shadow of his former self. He no longer warrants double teams, because he is being handled rather easily one-on-one. It was shocking to see Heyward overrun a cutback run when he was basically unblocked. I have never witnessed him struggle both mentally and physically, but that is the reality of the situation. He says he is trying to do too much. Maybe he needs to focus on fulfilling his own responsibilities first and foremost.
Larry Ogunjobi is a disruptive penetrator, currently being hampered by nagging injuries. Tyson Alualu lost his ability to anchor after his season ending leg injury last season. He lost his starting job, and spends most of his time in the game on skates these days. Montravius Adams is a journeyman too light in the pants to anchor, resulting in an obscene amount of defensive holding penalties. He doesn't warrant a double team, so he tries to create one.
The Steelers need a couple of powerful wide bodies in the interior of their defensive line, preferably on the younger side— one with experience through free agency, and an early-round young buck would be optimal for this old Steelers fan.
Throw in the fact that the Steelers inside linebackers all have glaring weaknesses yet again this season, and you have the least physical group of Steelers defenders since... last season. Talk about a troublesome trend.
One more annoying observation— the Steelers defenders seemingly always go high on any tackle attempt. This tactic results in ball carriers regularly bouncing off tackle attempts, or driving forward for extra yardage after they are in the grasp because they were allowed to remain on their feet.
I am left to wonder if this inability or unwillingness to tackle low is either the byproduct of the technique being taught by the Steelers coaches, or a lack of enthusiasm by the Steelers defenders. Either way, the Steelers give up those precious extra yards far more than any defense that I have watched this season. The Steelers desperately need a defensive focused offseason to rebuild their foundations and their physicality.