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8 overreactions from the Steelers’ 30-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts

The Steelers drop three straight and are all but out of the playoff race.

Indianapolis Colts Offensive Tackle Blake Freeland (73) blocks as Pittsburgh Steelers Linebacker T.J. Watt (90) defends during the NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts on December 16, 2023, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers collapsed for their third straight game in a row, falling 30-13 to the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. It’s undeniably the lowest point of the team’s season, and as a result, there are plenty of takeaways to be had.

1. So long, playoffs... and that’s probably a good thing

With their loss to the Colts, the Steelers found themselves as the AFC’s 11th seed (10th now with the Broncos’ loss), a long way away from the seventh seed they’ll need at minimum to make the playoffs. Pittsburgh isn’t mathematically eliminated yet, but they’ll need a lot of help to crawl back into the playoff picture. And with other teams starting to pick up steam at this point in the season while the Steelers drop lower and lower... let’s just say it’s about time to start putting together those Steelers draft boards for 2024.

It’s disappointing, sure. I’m a Steeler fan and will always root for them to make the playoffs, even when many would argue that the team would be better off missing them altogether. But now, with Pittsburgh all but eliminated, I’ll head to the dark side myself. It’s been impossible not to notice over the Steelers’ three-game losing streak that change is desperately needed for the franchise, even if the team seems reluctant to admit it. At this point, it’s best for the Steelers to keep imploding, miss the playoffs, and come to the inescapable truth that the once legendary “Steeler way” is in desperate need of an upgrade.

2. Wasted years

Watching T.J. Watt have another fantastic day with two sacks, just for it to be squandered with a loss, made me realize just how badly the Steelers have wasted his prime. And somehow, it’s worse than you think. Although the Steelers have had some great regular seasons during Watt’s stint with the team, they still have yet to win a playoff game with him on their roster.

That lack of recent success is compounded by how the Steelers don’t really feel like a team that’s going anywhere. Sure, they have some existing talent on the roster and might be a good offseason and some coaching upgrades away from emerging as a legitimate contender, but let’s be honest, does anyone have the confidence that will actually happen? The Steelers just got dominated in a must-win game against a team with the same record as them. The required motivation to improve just doesn’t seem to be there. It’s a shame, too. The Steelers have some great players like Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick who might leave Pittsburgh without having ever won something significant — and through no fault of their own.

3. Cut the defense some slack

I’m not a big fan of forgiving teams’ failures due to injury. Injuries definitely make a difference, but every team has a bunch each year and it’s never a valid reason to excuse one team’s failure or their opponent’s success. All of that to say: the Steelers’ myriad of injuries at the linebacker and safety positions are not the sole reason why they are losing right now, but they can’t be swept under the rug, either.

Pittsburgh is simply running out of names to play at linebacker and safety. You can’t exactly blame the roster construction, either. The Steelers are down to their backups’ backups at those positions, and there’s not exactly a lot of talent available on the street at this point in the season. Their linebacker struggles have been well-documented, but it’s getting equally bad at safety. With Keanu Neal already on injured reserve, the Steelers lost both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Damontae Kazee against the Colts while even Trenton Thompson got banged up. Blame coaching and effort all you want, but there’s not much the Steelers can do to fix the middle of their defense at this point. There’s just not a lot of NFL-level talent left at those positions, and the communication issues are the result of the revolving door of names the Steelers have had to put on the field. There are plenty of fixable issues on the Steelers this season worth getting mad about. This is not one of them. Sometimes it’s just bad luck.

4. Self-inflicted wounds

Mitch Trubisky threw two interceptions. The Steelers amassed over 100 yards of penalties. While the Colts played well on Saturday, the Steelers keep finding ways to beat themselves just as much. It’s getting frustrating watching this team get the basics wrong every single week.

There’s an argument to be made that the Steelers are the worst-coached team in football right now. A good portion of the NFL has had to turn to their backup quarterbacks this season and yet they’ve still found ways to be productive on offense. The Steelers have not. They fired their terrible offensive coordinator and somehow are looking even worse afterwards. They make the same mistakes every week and seemingly never made the changes to fix them. The Steelers just can’t get out of their own way this season, and on a team that has to play with such a small margin for error to win, those many mistakes have proved fatal.

5. Playing to lose

Something I didn’t mention in the above paragraph was Mike Tomlin’s decision to punt in field goal range, down 11. There’s so much to unpack there I decided to give it its own heading.

For one, yes, the field goal was a low-percentage attempt. But so were the Steelers’ chances at victory either way. Take the risky option that helps you win. For another, kicker Chris Boswell made a 56-yarder at Acrisure Stadium last week. A kick of similar distance in a dome should be even easier. And finally, playing the field position battle just doesn’t make sense. The Steelers’ defense was getting gashed while punter Pressley Harvin is famously unreliable. It wasn’t a good scenario by any means but the right call could not have been more obvious. It was an inexcusable coaching gaffe by Mike Tomlin which killed any chance at a comeback Pittsburgh had. After that moment I checked out from really caring about the game. The Steelers were playing to lose.

6. Don’t get your hopes up

As fans have been asking for weeks now, the Steelers finally benched Mitch Trubisky for Mason Rudolph near the end of Saturday’s game. Rudolph didn’t throw an interception in his lone drive, but he didn’t look much better than Trubisky, displaying the same old bad pocket awareness he’s always had while leading the Steelers to a game-ending four-and-out. It was a very small sample size and his offensive line wasn’t doing him in any favors, but the point still stands. Rudolph may very well be better than Trubisky, but if he starts next week, the margin of improvement still won’t be enough to change anything about this Steelers’ season. It doesn’t really matter who is behind center at this point. The Steelers offense is a lost cause, and Rudolph won’t be saving Christmas this time around.

7. Damontae Kazee’s hit wasn’t dirty

Damontae Kazee’s hit on Michael Pittman was ugly and probably worthy of a flag, but upon replay it was clear the hit was neither dirty nor deserving of the ejection it resulted in. Kazee led with his shoulder and made the best out of what was going to be a big collision either way. I’d be curious to see the NFL try to explain what he should’ve done there. It would never work, but I’d love for quarterbacks to be the ones penalized for throwing hospital balls, not the defenders.

On that same note, the personal fouls and fines are starting to add up for Kazee. I wouldn’t go as far as saying he’s a dirty player, but his reckless style of defense keeps getting him in trouble. It might result in a Kareem Jackson-esque suspension at some point, which would be brutal for a Steelers team that can’t afford to lose any more safeties.

8. Odds and ends

  • Diontae Johnson has quietly scored in three straight games and he performed solidly on Saturday. It’s been a nice bounce back for him after failing to find the end zone all of last year.
  • I’m a card-carrying member of the “Feed George Pickens” club, but him getting mossed by a defensive back on a catchable jump ball was not a good moment. If Pickens is going to complain about his usage he can’t allow that to happen. And it makes his poor effort throughout the game look even worse as a result.
  • Godwin Igwebuike is starting to look like a very solid kick returner. This year might spell the end of Anthony McFarland’s time in a Steeler uniform.
  • It could just be me, but the NFL Network broadcast had a ridiculous number of commercials, and the broadcast as a whole was very underwhelming. The funny part is that NFL Network only shows a few games live each year. It was a perfect “You had one job!” moment.
  • The Steelers now have back-to-back weeks with blocked punts.
  • I’ve been a big Joey Porter Jr. fan, but he seems to be good for one costly pass interference a game. That was expected from the moment he was drafted, so it’s hardly something to panic about, but it’s clear that the rookie still has some learning to do.
  • Najee Harris had a rough game and even an uncharacteristic fumble, but the Steelers’ offensive line was clearly the bigger issue on Saturday. They were manhandled by the Indianapolis front all game long.
  • It’s hilarious looking back at the stretch of games the Steelers had starting with their matchup against the Browns and realizing just how winnable each one was. Everything lined up perfectly for Pittsburgh and yet they couldn’t get it done.

The Steelers take on the surging Bengals on December 23 in another Saturday game. Keep in mind that Cincy defeated the Colts by 20 points just a week ago. The season just gets tougher for the Steelers.