Mike Tomlin teams were 1-6 coming off a bye week. The Steelers had gutted out a Monday Night win vs. the Titans. The visiting New Orleans Saints arrived at Heinz Field carrying a 0-3 losing streak and the look of a team on the ropes. Pittsburgh had a 7-4 record in the hyper competitive AFC North. Ben Roethlisberger termed the game as “Must win.” The stars seemed aligned.
- So of course the Steelers fell flat on their faces, dropping a 35-32 decision to the Saints.
Don’t be fooled by the 3 point difference folks, that’s the mark of garbage time glory, nothing more. But if nothing else, the loss to the Saints did clarify some important things about Pittsburgh’s identify and its love-hate relationship with the passing game.
Roethlisberger, the Random
Against the Colts, Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards. A week later against Baltimore, he threw for 6 touchdowns. There was talk that Roethlsiberger was finally going to get the recognition he deserved and be discussed along side Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rogers and yes, Drew Brees.
And now this. Roethlisberger was terrible vs. the Saints. There’s no way to sugar coat it. Yes, it is true that receivers not named Heath Miller or Antonio Brown didn’t help him much. Yes, in time he’ll to sync up better with the likes of Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. Fair points.
- Roethlisberger still stunk vs. the Saints.
Yes he hit has throwing hand early in a game – but he was 2-7 before that. Early on Roethlisberger’s passes were too long, too high, or just too far out of reach. The stat sheet will tell you that Big Ben threw two picks. One of those was off of a tipped pass. Both of them were ugly.
- What the stat sheet hides is that Saints defenders dropped at least one, if not two sure pick sixes.
Unlike the games vs. the Jets and the Titans, you can’t blame this one on the pressure from the Ryan 46 defense or Ray Horton unleashing havoc on his former team. The Saints only sacked Roethlisberger once, and only knocked him down 3 times per ESPN’s stats.
- The offensive line kept him clean, for the most part.
- Likewise, holes were there for Le’Veon Bell who ran for 95 yards.
The Steelers offense is loaded with weapons. Perhaps not all of them are “full operational” but this is a unit that can do some damage. But all of those weapons are rendered inherit when Roethlisberger misfires as badly has he did vs. the Saints.
It is wrong to say that Ben Roethlisberger must carry the offense, but the blunt truth is there is no way the offense can succeed when Ben is playing badly.
Defensive Reunion a Dud, and Then Some…
For the first time since Charlie Batch led the road upset of the Ravens in 2012, “The band was back together” for the Steelers defense, as Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu returned and rejoined James Harrison and Brett Keisel in the lineup.
Unfortunately, if not unpredictably, the reunion went about as well as the “Very Brady Christmas” or just about any other TV sitcom reunions. Except this one wasn’t supposed to be funny, but Drew Brees certainly had the last laugh.
- Yes, the Steelers did shut down Saints All Pro tight end Jimmy Graham.
- Brees found 5 other targets for his touchdown passes.
- Yet another unknown receiver, this one named Kenny Stills, lit up the Steelers for 162 yards.
Jason Worilds had another strong, under the radar game, as did Cameron Heyward. Troy Polamalu even made some noise behind the line of scrimmage. But the fact is that for most of the afternoon, Drew Brees had all day to pass. And he took full advantage. He only passed for 257 yards, but he made his throws count.
- For all the talk of improvement, this Steelers defense is average when it is at its best.
And now the concept of “best “ drops a notch for the entire unit, as Brett Keisel, who has been their most consistent player, has been lost for the season.
Steelers Testament to Joe Walsh
Ultimately, what does this game tell us about the 2014 Steelers? For that, we’ll look back to the late 1980’s single from former Eagles singer Joe Walsh titled “Ordinary Average Guy.” Don’t remember much about the tune or the lyrics, but perhaps that’s the point.
- The 2014 Steelers are just about an ordinary average NFL team.
When they execute well across they can hang with legit conference contenders. Outside of that they’re hit and miss. Certainly, it is possible that the team will pull itself together and rally for a serious run at the AFC North crown – neither Baltimore, nor Cincinnati, nor Cleveland are much more consistent themselves.
But Roethlisberger’s performance has been too random and the Steelers defense too “average” to separate this team from the middle of the pack.