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7 overreactions from the Steelers’ 20-10 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars

And just like that, the Steelers are not good again.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) runs after a catch as Jacksonville Jaguars safety Rayshawn Jenkins (2) and cornerback Montaric Brown (30) defend during the third quarter at Acrisure Stadium.  Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars took on the Steelers on a rainy Pittsburgh afternoon on October 29, and the only thing drearier than the weather was the Steelers’ offense. Pittsburgh fell to Jacksonville 20-10, and as always, there are plenty of takeaways to be had:

1. The loss is ultimately on the Steelers

Did the poor weather play a role in the Steelers’ loss to the Jaguars? Yes and no. The bad footing affected a couple of plays to wide receiver Diontae Johnson, including what should’ve been an easy touchdown in the second quarter. It definitely nullified a handful of T.J. Watt’s signature speed rushes throughout the game. It might’ve even been the culprit in a non-contact injury for star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. But at the end of the day, both teams had to play on the same field under the same downpour, negating any type of disadvantage for either side.

Did bad officiating play a role in the Steelers’ loss to the Jaguars? I’d say yes. There were a couple of questionable calls on Pittsburgh, including a ticky-tacky offsides penalty on special teams which took a field goal off the board. Johnson took that sentiment even further, bluntly stating that the referees “cost [the Steelers] the game” in the locker room shortly after the loss.

I wouldn’t take it that far, though. Despite some bad calls and bad luck on Pittsburgh’s side of things, the truth is that fair officiating and perfect conditions still wouldn’t have elevated the Steelers and their pitiful offensive performance to victory yesterday. Finding excuses might lessen the pain of defeat for some Steelers players and fans, but it’s clear that Pittsburgh’s play on Sunday more than deserved the loss. Simply put: the refs were bad on Sunday, but the Steelers were worse.

2. Should we be surprised?

Having been a Steeler fan through all the Randy Fichtner and Matt Canada-led offenses up to this point, sometimes I find it hilarious that it’s still possible to be surprised by how bad Pittsburgh can be. But should we? The Steelers team that lost to Jacksonville is still very much the same team we've watched all year: an offense good for one touchdown a game, a defense that gives up copious yards but also forces a lot of turnovers, and a winning formula dependent on bad opponents (or AFC North rivals) and some lucky bounces of the football.

The Steelers were exactly that team once again when facing Jacksonville. The Jaguars are not divisional rivals and far from a bad team, and the Steelers didn’t get many lucky breaks, resulting in an unfortunately predictable loss. We’ve known all season that the Steelers’ style of winning is far from sustainable, so we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t win sustainably.

3. Diontae Johnson is the Steelers’ WR1

Don’t get me wrong — George Pickens is very good, and much of the hype surrounding his play is justified — but it couldn’t be clearer that the Steelers’ passing game runs through Diontae Johnson. Johnson was targeted 14 times against Jacksonville, eight times more than the next Steeler and nine times more than Pickens.

Johnson hauled in eight passes for 85 yards in total, but he had several costly drops and miscommunications with quarterback Kenny Pickett early in the game that prevented him from a better stat line. Therein lies the issue with Johnson: he gets open far better than anyone on the Steelers’ roster, but the mental mistakes can be infuriating at times. The good news is that Johnson is only two games removed from an early-season stint on injured reserve. His comfort level on the field and communication with his quarterbacks should only improve from this point on.

4. A solid debut

With starting cornerback Levi Wallace out for the game with an injury, rookie phenom Joey Porter Jr. got his first NFL start. And while it wasn’t perfect by any means, it was a promising showing from the 32nd overall pick of the draft.

Porter Jr. locked up his side of the field for much of the game, and his tackling was much improved following a rough few outings in that category over the past few weeks. He did give up a long touchdown late in the game, but the blame seemed to be more on safety Damontae Kazee than Porter himself, even though the rookie took the blame for the defensive mishap. You can view the play yourself below:

If there’s one positive takeaway from the Jaguars’ touchdown, it’s Joey Porter Jr.’s closing speed and effort after getting beat for the score. Porter Jr. is going to have ups and downs this season — that’s life as a rookie cornerback — but overall he could not be looking more promising this season. It’s obvious: even after Wallace returns, the Steelers need to stick with Porter as the starter.

5. The Steelers’ linebackers are... good?

Were the Steelers’ inside linebackers perfect on Sunday? Not exactly. But at the NFL level, simply above-the-line linebacker play is hard enough to come by, and the Steelers certainly have seen that this season. Against the Jaguars, Cole Holcomb recorded 11 total tackles and a fumble recovery, while Elandon Roberts added five total tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a tackle for loss. Kwon Alexander also made a mark on the stat sheet, logging two total tackles and forced fumble.

Jaguars’ running back Travis Etienne wore the Steelers’ defense down as the game went on, but the Steelers’ physical linebacker play kept them in the game for much of it. There’s still some improvement to be had, but it couldn’t be clearer that Steelers’ general manager Omar Khan knocked it out of the park with the offseason signings of Holcomb, Roberts, and Alexander. It’s a massive upgrade over any inside linebacker group the Steelers have had since Ryan Shazier’s injury.

6. The big plays are there

Following the Steelers’ dismal offensive performance on Sunday, “big plays” seem to be about as foreign a concept as it gets to the team’s playbook. But early in the game, several chances at open deep passes were barely thwarted by slight over-throws, under-throws, or good-old-fashioned drops. The big plays are there for the Steelers’ offense, and if they had hit some of them early in the game it might’ve flipped the script from what was a miserable first half of offense. It goes to show just how narrow the margin is between success and failure in the NFL.

Mitch Trubisky did manage to hit George Pickens on a 22-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown late in the third quarter, but it wasn’t enough for the Steelers to overcome the deficit on the scoreboard. Despite what the box score might show, there’s enough NFL talent in the Steelers’ wide receiver room for the team to have a successful passing game. Instead, they’ve been held back by poor schematics and quarterback play.

7. Odds and ends

  • The Steelers’ black and gold home jerseys versus the Jaguars’ white and turquoise away look is an underrated uniform matchup.
  • Pressley Harvin is once again struggling in bad weather conditions after a great start to the season. He’ll have to clean that up if he wants to be a successful punter in the AFC North.
  • The Steelers played the game with one open spot on their 53-man roster. That has to mean that one of Cam Heyward or Anthony McFarland Jr. is close to a return.
  • He didn’t fare well with the referees today, but I thought cornerback James Pierre had a pretty solid day on defense for the Steelers.
  • Don’t let Chris Boswell’s missed 61-yard field goal fool anyone — he’s been one of the most consistent members of the Steelers this season.
  • Mitch Trubisky did lead a touchdown drive, but he had two interceptions and should’ve had even more. He’s shown absolutely nothing to prove that the Steelers should bench Kenny Pickett this season for any reason other than health.
  • Sure, the Steelers had essentially already lost by then, but their lackadaisical final drive on offense was an insult to winning football.

The Steelers have two winnable home games just around the corner following this week’s loss. The odds of Mike Tomlin’s Steelers barely achieving a non-losing season yet again continue to look probable.

What are your overreactions and takeaways from Steelers vs. Jaguars? Agree/disagree with the ones above? Join our Behind The Steel Curtain community and let us know in the comments!