Steelers Self-Destruction vs. Seattle Raises Questions about Pittsburgh’s Playoff Hopes

The Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to Seattle to play the Seahawks with hopes of proving their status as a legitimate AFC contender while disproving their West of the Mississippi Jinx.

  • Instead, they came out the wrong end of a 39-30 decision.

The loss stings. Puts the Steelers on the outside looking in in terms of the AFC Wild Card picture and any possibility, however remote, of catching the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North race is now gone. What’s worse, is the way the Steelers self destruction vs. Seattle raises fresh questions about 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers playoff potential.

¿Una Falla Grabe en La Propuesta de los 2015 Steelers?

Apologies to non-bilingual readers, which I know is the vast majority of you, but sometimes the English language just isn’t clear enough. The subheading asks, “Is there a serious flaw in the proposal for the 2015 Steelers? “Propuesta” is the Spanish word for “proposal” but the later implies a much more encompassing scope.

  • In 2015, defense was not supposed to be a team strength for the Steelers.

The defense was only supposed to play well enough to keep the Steelers in the game, while Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant lit up the scoreboard. For much of the season, it hasn’t worked out that way.

Ben, Brown and Bell have played less than 1 quarter together, while the Steelers defense has performed above expectations, and arguable guided the team to victories over St. Louis and Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals.

  • But the game against the Seattle Seahawks figured to be one that came closer to following the script.

Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense might not be lighting up the league the way it did in 2013, but the Seahawks still field a pretty potent unit. Seattle’s Legion of Boom, while certainly no pushover, isn’t intimidating teams the way it did two years ago.

No, this game had the makings of a shoot out, and the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers are supposed to be able to win those….

The Irony of Game of Inches

Prior to the game Steel Curtain Rising fingered Markus Wheaton as one of six Steelers that needed to step up during the final six games of the season. Almost as if on cue, Markus Wheaton delivered, turning in a career game with 9 catches for 201 yards.

  • Wheaton hardly put on a one man show.

Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones combined for just under 500 yards. Nine different receivers, including DeAngelo Williams, Jesse James, Matt Spaeth, Will Johnson and even Roosevelt Nix, caught balls. But for all of the aerial fireworks, the Steelers self-destruction vs. the Seahawks shows that football remains a game of inches:

  • Late in the 3rd quarter the ball slips out of Ben’s hands just a second too soon and is intercepted – Seattle scores its 1st TD of the half
  • On the next drive, Roethlisberger slightly underthrew Bryant, who dropped the pass at the one Steeles are forced to punt
  • On their next drive, Antonio Brown stumbles out of the gate too early to correct and too late for Ben not to throw the ball Richard Sherman intercepts and Seattle takes its first lead

The Seattle Seahawks scored three touchdowns off of three Steelers turnovers. We can debate the wisdom of Mike Tomlin asking Landry Jones to complete a pass to Alejandro Villanueva on a faux fake field goal. Successful risk-reward calls win coaches praise (see the San Diego finale) just as failures win damnation.

  • But the other three plays highlighted above were simple slip ups.

If Ben throws the ball to Bryant just an inch or two deeper Bryant probably catches it and the Steelers either have a touchdown or the ball at the one. If one of Ben’s fingers is positioned perhaps just a 1/16 or 1/32 of an inch differently on the lace, the ball doesn’t come out early, and perhaps he connects with Antonio Brown. Likewise, if Brown stumbles just a second later and a few inches farther down the field, perhaps Roethlisberger realizes in time and throws the ball away.

Football games come down to who can execute in these situation, and the fact is that on offense the Steelers failed to execute far too frequently.

Steelers Sieve-like Secondary

If the Steelers offense stumbled against Seattle, the defense flat out struggled. Or at least the Steelers secondary did. The ability of 2015 Steelers defense to consistently exceed expectations has been built on 3 pillars:

  • An outstanding front seven
  • A “bend but don’t break” secondary that gets tough in the Red Zone
  • An uncanny ability to come up with turnovers in critical situations

In the Steelers self-destruction against the Seahawks, Pittsburgh’s front seven made Russell Wilson earn his completions, but the Steelers secondary was a sieve in the second half. Russell Wilson picked apart the Steelers secondary the Steelers secondary was unable to shut him down in the air, and unable to stop the Seattle receivers after the catch. You can’t give up 80 yard touchdown passes against a team that’s simply trying to kill the clock and expect to win.

Prior to the game, Steel Curtain Rising questioned if Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes rested in the hands of the “accidental Steelers secondary.” If they do that is a bad sign, because against the Seahawks the Steelers secondary was an accident waiting to happen.

Steelers Have Five Games to Find Answers

While the slipups on offense and the sieve like play in the secondary were critical factors in the Steelers self destruction vs. Seattle they were not the only ones. Russell Wilson enjoyed most of his success vs. the Steelers in the second half. Clearly he and Pete Carroll found something to exploit and took full advantage. Likewise, the Seahawks defense managed to get pressure on Ben Roethlisberger in the second half.

These kind of things happen in big games.

But the fact that Steelers were unable to adjust on the fly raises questions about their playoff viability down the stretch. Mike Tomlin now has 5 games to find answers.

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