The Pittsburgh Steelers are 4-5 and everyone is pretty mad at head coach Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin, who boasts the NFL’s fourth-best win percentage among active coaches, is captaining a sinking ship that is in the midst of a four-game losing streak. Before we call for a coaching change (which won’t happen), let’s take a look at some other things that stood out in Pittsburgh’s 35-30 loss to Dallas.
“Why would we let them score?”
As Cowboys super rookie Ezekiel Elliott jogged into the end zone to give Dallas a 29-24 lead with 1:55 remaining in Sunday’s game, many (rightfully) wondered if the Steelers defense simply allowed Dallas to score.
It was (and still is) a great question. By getting the ball to Pittsburgh’s two-yard line, Dallas would have picked up what would have almost certainly been a game-ending first down, as they simply could have run the clock to :01 and allowed Dan Bailey and his machine-like leg to kick the game-winning field goal. With almost two minutes on the clock, two timeouts and Ben Roethlisberger under center, nobody would have blamed the Steelers for letting Dallas score. Bet on Ben, never the Steelers defense.
If Steelers LB Jarvis Jones is to be believed, however, allowing Elliott to score the go-ahead touchdown was never part of the game plan.
"Why would we let them score? We were playing defense. Came up short," Jones said, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.
If Jones speaking honestly, “came up short” is putting it very mildly.
The defense is probably worse than anybody envisioned
Despite the mastery of Roethlisberger’s fake-spike-to-touchdown pass that gave Pittsburgh a 30-29 lead late in the fourth quarter in Sunday’s game, the score itself almost wasn’t worth celebrating.
With three timeouts, 44 seconds, the league’s most meticulous offense and a cyborg kicker, even CNN would have rightfully predicted a Cowboys victory.
Instead of challenging Bailey to kick a game-winning 50-yard field goal, Dallas simply orchestrated a five-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with Elliott’s third touchdown of the game.
Pittsburgh’s defense used to have the ability to close out games, and then it just stopped.
With a potent combination of bad defensive coaching and atrocious execution, Pittsburgh’s defense is actually worse than it was one year ago. Aside from Cameron Heyward and Ryan Shazier, who have had good, albeit injury-plagued seasons, its hard to find a single player on Pittsburgh defense who is playing at a high level.
Mike Mitchell and Lawrence Timmons are both in serious danger of seeing their Steelers careers come to an end this offseason. Other veteran players, including William Gay and Arthur Moats, are having incredibly poor seasons, while rookies Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave both appear to have regressed considerably since the beginning of the season (it was Davis who committed a back-breaking facemask during Dallas’ final drive and took a horrendous attack angle on Elliott’s game-winning run). Stephon Tuitt and Jones have both been inconsistent this season, and promising linebacker Bud Dupree has yet to play a snap due to an injury that he suffered in the preseason.
Keith Butler doesn’t exactly have the 2013 Seahawks to work with, but the second-year defensive coordinator looks lost and overmatched so far this season. I don’t expect any major coaching changes this offseason, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Steelers look for a new defensive coordinator.
The Steelers broke math
The average success rate of two-point conversions in the NFL, historically, is right around 50 percent. Last season, the Steelers converted a league-high eight two-point conversions in just 11 attempts.
Based on these figures, running four unsuccessful two-point conversions in a single game is almost mathematically impossible.
In a game in which almost everything went right for Pittsburgh’s offense, they managed to leave eight points on the field by failing to convert post-touchdown plays.
Fortunately, the Steelers will have the opportunity to break math again this season, as their playoff odds are currently less than 40 percent.