The Pittsburgh Steelers are 4-4, which is an average-looking record that doesn’t properly reflect that ups and downs of the 2016 season.
In four wins, Pittsburgh has outscored its opponents 136-59. In the losses, that margin is 112-48; and even that putrid mark is deceiving, as the Steelers scored late touchdowns against Miami, New England and Baltimore with the outcome of each game already in hand.
Many sportswriters included the Steelers on their lists of the top Super Bowl contenders entering the 2016 season. Las Vegas loved Pittsburgh even more, as Pittsburgh’s opening 10-1 Super Bowl odds were the third-best in the league. The Steelers have certainly looked the part of a Super Bowl champion in their winning efforts, but have looked just as lost in four dreadful losses.
“It angers you,” Tomlin told reporters on Tuesday when asked about Pittsburgh’s 21-14 loss to the Ravens. The Steelers, who have not defeated Baltimore since 2014, committed a season-high 20 penalties in Sunday’s loss.
“There is anger about how we played because we know we are capable of more than that,” Tomlin said.
Pittsburgh’s lack of success against Baltimore is primarily attributable to QB Ben Roethlisberger’s play, as the veteran quarterback completed just 8 of his 18 passing attempts for 51 yards and an interception through three quarters of play. In the fourth quarter, which saw Pittsburgh cut Baltimore’s three-possession lead to just seven points after 14-0 run, Roethlisberger passed for over 200 yards.
Roethlisberger’s late-game success against Baltimore is enough to wonder why Tomlin kept Pittsburgh’s game plan so conservative in the first three quarters.
“As long as they (Baltimore) weren’t moving and scoring, we weren’t extremely uncomfortable with how the game was unfolding,” Tomlin said.
Aside from broken coverage and a missed Mike Mitchell tackle that led to a 95-yard Mike Wallace touchdown, the Steelers were reasonably stout against Baltimore’s offense, as they held Joe Flacco to just 240 passing yards on 30 attempts and the Baltimore backfield to 42 rushing yards on 29 attempts. A small victory, certainly, but notable nonetheless given Pittsburgh’s recent inability to defend opposing rushers.
In a somewhat surprising move, Tomlin offered some harsher-than-usual words to Pittsburgh’s offensive line, which is widely considered to be among the NFL’s best units.
“We (read, the offensive line) didn’t win enough one-on-one battles,” Tomlin said.
The Steelers surrendered just two sacks to Baltimore, but only managed to generate 35 net rushing yards on 18 attempts. Unable to generate first-down offense by way of the run game, the Steelers faced 16 third downs against Baltimore, only four of which they successfully converted.
When Pittsburgh wasn’t failing to establish any semblance of a running game, they were sending the ball back to Baltimore by way of Jordan Berry, who finished Sunday’s game with 431 punt yards. Berry also had one of his season-high 10 punts blocked, which led to the touchdown that put Sunday’s game out of reach for Pittsburgh.
During his press conference, Tomlin also spoke at length about Bud Dupree and Ladarius Green (both will practice this week and could be available for Sunday’s game against Dallas), Artie Burns (his coverage ability is solid, and his tackling abilities has come a long way) and Chris Boswell’s now-infamous onside kick attempt (“He didn’t execute under pressure,” but it seems like the door is open to try that kick again, if necessary).
Although Tomlin would qualify his players’ current states of mind as “angry,” he appears, as per usual, to be reasonably even-tempered. At 4-4, the Steelers are still in good position to surmount Baltimore’s half-game lead and retake the AFC North division lead. The journey to that milestone will begin this Sunday in Pittsburgh, as the Steelers will host the 7-1 Dallas Cowboys, whose early success has been buoyed by a stout defense and the emergence of the best backfield combo since Alex Moran and Craig Shilo.
If precedent has taught us anything, though, the Steelers will defeat those Cowboys by four touchdowns before generating just 250 total yards in a 17-10 loss in Cleveland on Nov. 20.