Reverse Grand Slam: Offensive, Defensive, Special Teams and Coaching Failures Fuel Steelers 24-21 Loss to Raiders

Gripe all you want about Oakland’s Black Hole. Yes, the venue has been cursed the Steelers for a generation, but don’t blame the Black Hole curse for this loss. The Steelers arrived in California reeling from 2 game losing streak.

  • A match up against a 2-10 Raiders team appeared to be just what the Dr. ordered.

As individuals, some of the members of the Steelers made some spectacular plays on both sides of the ball. But isolated outbursts of outstanding individual efforts don’t equal success in a football game, instead every member of the team must execute whenever called upon.

And the Steelers 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders happened because the Steelers offense, defense special teams and coaches each failed to execute at critical junctures.

Chris Boswell, Nick Nelson, Steelers vs Raiders

Chris Boswell slips while attempting a game winner. Photo Credit: Ross Cameron, AP via Tribune, Review

Above the Line First Half

To descend into Mike Tomlin speak, the Steelers were “Above the line” in the first half. Yes, the Raiders scored a touchdown on their first drive, and they did so making it look easy. But the Steelers forced a field goal the next time the Raiders threatened to score.

Better yet, the Steelers defense forced two other Raiders punts thanks to stout run defense by Cam Heyward, Javon Hargrave and T.J. Watt, sacks by Mike Hilton and Stephon Tuitt along with a generous helping of penalties committed by Oakland.

As promised the Steelers split carries between Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley but neither man proved to be a threat on the ground. And, with James Conner out, that forced the Steelers offense to become one-dimensional.

When a team is missing a key player the remaining members carry the burden of stepping up.
The Steelers offense did that in the first half. For whatever he lacked rushing the ball, Jaylen Samuels proved to be an effective threat coming out of the backfield, showing extra hustle time and time again. Vance McDonald and Jesse James made several tough catches over the middle. Roosevelt Nix and the offensive line did an outstanding job of paving the way for Stevan Ridley’s touchdown.

  • And JuJu Smith-Schuster made an incredible touchdown catch at the end of the first half and had to be seen on replay to be believed.

Sure, the Steelers had left 3 points on the board in the form of a missed Chris Boswell field goal, but the arrow appeared to be pointing up for Pittsburgh at half time. The Steelers offense seemed to find its rhythm, held a 14-10 lead and were set to get the ball back to start the second half.

The Dobbs Decision

The second half would start with a surprise for Steelers Nation as Joshua Dobbs an not Ben Roethlisberger came out under center. Not only was Ben Roethlisberger not playing, he was not on the sidelines.

Beginning with the 2-6 start in 2013 there’s been a contingent of Steelers Nation who has advocated going into “Suck for Luck” mode, and embracing the idea that the Steelers should jettison Ben Roethlisberger and start over.

  • The first 25 minutes of the second half serves as living proof as to why Art Rooney II is NOT inclined to do that.

Joshua Dobbs might grow into a fine backup quarterback. He might even make a serviceable starter. Perhaps he’ll even mature into a quality NFL signal caller. But he is far cry from a franchise quarterback. Dobbs made some decent throws – one could even argue that Antonio Brown should have caught the ball on Dobbs lone interception.

  • But Dobbs best plays of the afternoon came when he was running, which is not what you want to say of a quarterback.

Ben Roethlisberger returned to the sideline late in the 3rd quarter, yet Joshua Dobbs remained in the game. It was only after the Raiders took the lead with around 5 minutes left to go, that Ben Roethlisberger returned.

After the game, Mike Tomlin confirmed that Ben Roethlisberger had been medically cleared to play as soon as he reached the sidelines. Why didn’t Mike Tomlin play him immediately? It only took Ben Roethlisberger 5 plays to lead the Steelers to the go ahead touchdown?

Since becoming head coach, Mike Tomlin has long preached that doctors know best, and if a player is medically cleared to play, he’s going to play him. Yet Tomlin held him out. This was one Mike Tomlin decision whose repercussions will reverberate for some time to come.

Steelers Defense Fails to Deliver

Let the record reflect that the Steelers defense did make a few plays in the 2nd half. Bud Dupree stoned Doug Martin at the line of scrimmage on a number of occasions, and he sacked Derrick Carr to help force a punt. Mike Hilton recovered a fumble, while Morgan Burnett deflected a pass in the end zone.

  • Those were all nice individual efforts, but when the game was on the line, the Steelers defense failed to deliver.

Sean Davis had his hands on an interception and couldn’t come up with the ball. The run defense, which had stifled the Raiders on the ground almost all day, let Jalen Richard get 5 yards on 4th and one. That drive ended in the Raiders first go ahead touchdown.

Burnett and Terrell Edmunds got burned on a 39 yard pass that brought the Raiders to the 7 with 1:16 to play. Mike Hilton, after making so many plays earlier in the game, blew the coverage on Derrick Carr’s walk-off game winning touchdown to Derek Carrier.

  • Mike Tomlin is taking a lot of heat for not using his time outs after the Raiders reached the Red Zone.

Fair enough. When you lose this type of second guessing happens. However, it was hard not to get the sense that he wanted to let his defense prove it could save the game.

Instead, the Steelers defense proved they are not good enough.

The Boswell Factor

Chris Boswell started the season in a slump, worked his way out of it for the most part, but he’s back to missing kicks again. Boswell missed a kick in the first half, then slipped and missed what could have been the game winner.

  • Mike Tomlin now has a kicker quandary on his hands.

The Steelers invested big money in Boswell during the off season and for both financial, and perhaps football purposes cutting him outright would be imprudent.

  • But the Steelers can’t trust Chris Boswell now nor will they be able to trust him for the balance of 2018.

Can the Steelers find a competent replacement kicker and allow Boswell to mysteriously have pulled a muscle because of his slip so he can go on IR? That’s not a decision you want to make, but the fact is, if Chris Boswell makes either kick, neither the Steelers coaching mistakes nor their offensive and defensive failures matter.

Steelers Don’t Deserve Playoffs

Eight days ago the Steelers still had a shot at an AFC playoff bye. Now the Steelers playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. Yet, as a friend reminded me, the Baltimore Ravens also lost, which helps the Steelers cause.

But does that really matter?

No it doesn’t. When you lose to a 2-10 team in mid-December you quite simply don’t deserve to make the playoffs. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

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6 thoughts on “Reverse Grand Slam: Offensive, Defensive, Special Teams and Coaching Failures Fuel Steelers 24-21 Loss to Raiders

  1. Boswell has to go. He has just been too inconsistent for the last 2 years. But, where do you find a kicker?
    Also, people are calling for Tomlin’s head, nothing new there. Now that Mike Mccarthy is out there…. a hometown favorite……

    • Jeanne,

      Boswell was quite consistent last year. The Steelers won what, a half dozen games thanks to his last second field goals? With that said, I think it would be wise to put him on IR as he cannot be trusted at this point.

  2. Dear KT. (I’ll try this in English, so I hope you all get at least the spirit of what a want to say)
    First of all, I agree entirely with you, but there is something that I would like to point out.

    The Steelers don’t deserve playoffs. It looks like a true statement. But this is not, from my standpoint, based on yesterday’s game. Losing a game against a bad team in December could happen, even if it not something you expect, it can happen to the best of them. (See the Pats – Dolphins example)

    When you lose your starting RB and your franchise QB for 25 minutes in the second half with the game unresolved, bad thing are bound to occur. Even so, it took that Boswell blooper late in the game to seal the Steelers fate.

    If you ask me, I thought this had the potential to be a losable game, because the “flow of the game” was troublesome.
    The Steelers don’t deserve playoffs because they display the consistency necessary of Super Bowl team. We saw that in the Panthers game, and haven’t seen it since.

    The Steelers cannnot win games riding the rollercoaster that they are on.

    But in the end, maybe, who knows, they play the postseason. Because this team can win games, the hard ones.
    If this happen it will be a Christmas miracle. And those kind of miracles happen in December.

  3. Leadership needs to take responsibility for what happens or fails to happen each week. Evidence is becoming overwhelming that a leadership change is needed. How many former players are in agreement? Game decisions are without rational explanation and the play on the field follow suit. Undisciplined play, penalties, high school level special teams, time management, challenges overturned, etc,etc, make it very hard to compete with other coaching staffs. What more is needed to make this more clear? Losing the last three games? Ending up behind Cleveland when the seasons over?

    • Butkus,

      It seems like you and I have different overall views of the “Leadership” in question – but I welcome other opinions so I thank you for your comment.

      And… I’m not really in mood to defend the Steelers braintrust this week.

      As far as ex-players are concerned, let me just remind you, that I’m old enough to remember sitting there in my grandmother’s house after the 5-11 1988 season and watching Rocky Bleier not only defend Chuck Noll, but also to say that when Noll did hang it up, that the best thing Dan Rooney could do would be to pay Mike Dikta 1 million dollars a year (a huge sum for a coach then) to come back to Western PA and coach the Steelers…..

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