Taken from the gradebook of a very tardy teacher who fears that his once sharp star student has quite frankly lost his edge, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the 2017 home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Ben Roethlisberger tried to ward off the Jaguars Calais Campbell. Photo Credit: Matt Freed, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Maybe I’ve lost it…” Ben Roethlisberger responded to a question about his poor play. While that was a stream of conscious utterance (as opposed to Mike Ditka’s tearful admission that he’d lost it as New Orleans Saints coach), Ben Roethlisberger certainly spoke what has been on everyone’s mind. The Steelers are 5 games into the 2017 season, and Ben Roethlisberger has been subpar, at best, in at least four of them. A couple of three of his 5 interceptions might not have been completely his fault, those compensate throws in earlier games defenders should have picked off. Statistics say this was Ben Roethlisberger’s worst day as a pro. Sometimes statistics reveal brutal truths. Grade: F
Running Backs Le’Veon Bell’s taken it upon himself to pronounce that the Steelers offense must rush, and if Ben Roethlisberger’s begun his definitive decline, then that argument makes sense on paper. But after a strong game against the Ravens, Le’Veon Bell did little to distinguish himself. True, the Steelers went from being in a position to rush for protect a lead to playing from two scores behind in a blink of an eye. But unlike the Dolphins game a year ago, there was nothing about Bell’s play that suggested he could have taken it over. James Conners had 3 carries for 9 yards in garbage time, he also missed a block on a Roethlisberger’s first interception. Grade: C-
Tight Ends Jesse James had 3 catches on 5 targets for 24 yards showing himself to be a fairly reliable ball catcher, but one who struggles to gain yards after contact. Jones also missed a key block in the Red Zone that could have paved the way for a Le’Veon Bell touchdown. Vance McDonald was targeted on the first interception and did not see a pass come his way. The tight end did not distinguish themselves in this game. Grade: D
Wide Receivers Antonio Brown had 10 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown negated by a penalty. Brown continues to be Ben Roethlisberger’s only reliable receiver and the question of whether is forcing the ball to Brown or remains open. Martavis Bryant gained 13 yards on a reverse, and had 5 catches for 21yards. Thus far, Bryant has shown none of the game-changing explosiveness he flashed before his suspension. JuJu Smith-Schuster had 4 catches for 58 yards. Justin Hunter had 1 catch for 6 yards on 3 targets. Grade: C
While the Jaguars only sacked Ben Roethlisberger 2, they hit him five times and he was under duress much of the afternoon. Jaguars defenders also made at least 7 tackles behind the line of scrimmage during the game. The Steelers have invested big bucks in their offensive line, and are got precious little return on investment in terms of both pass protection and road grading run blocking. Grade: F
Pro Football Focus may have graded the Steelers defensive line out highly, but the fact is that the Jacksonville Jaguars rushed for 231 yards. Even if you take out the 90 yard run in garbage time, the Jaguars still averaged 3.9 yards per carry. The defensive line might not entirely be at fault for that, but they certainly share some of the responsibly. Grade: D
Linebackers Vince Williams led the linebackers in tackles and had a sack. T.J. Watt registered another sack, giving him 3 in four games. Ryan Shazier had what should have been a game-changing interception. Those are all positives, but the linebackers job is to keep running backs from reaching the second level, and the Steelers linebackers weren’t up to the task. Grade: C-
Secondary Blake Bortles completed 8 passes for 95 yards. Normally that would mark an outstanding day for any secondary, but the brutal truth is that the Jaguars didn’t need to throw the ball. Nonethless, the Jaguars still completed 3 passes for double digit yardage. And even if it was garbage time, the Steelers defensive backs must shoulder responsibility for allowing the 90 yard run. Grade: C-
Special Teams Jordan Berry had a strong day punting, and the Steelers coverage units didn’t well, although their return game was negligible and included at least one penalty that negated a return. Could a special teams spark have changed the outcome of the game for the Steelers? Possibly. But we’ll never know, because they didn’t produce one. Grade: C
Todd Haley has been roundly roasted for his Red Zone play calling and the Steelers lopsided pass-run ratio.
Some of this criticism is legitimate, however, some of the breakdowns boil down to execution.
Regardless, the Steelers offense isn’t getting it done, and it is Haley’s job to ensure that this happens.
Going into game five, pundits, both inside and outside of Pittsburgh were posed to proclaim Keith Butler’s defense as an elite unit. After the game, several commentators were content to give Butler a pass, given that the Jaguars defense scored nearly half of the team’s points, and turnovers set up other scores.
Fair enough. But Keith Butler’s defense let the Jaguars open the with a 13 yard drive that consumed 8:07 off the clock when the score was still 20 to 9. That’s simply inexcusable and indicative of a defense that is anything but elite.
Finally we come to Mike Tomlin. Credit Tomlin for attempting to establish the tone immediately after the Raven’s road win by reminding his team that Jacksonville had beaten the Baltimore more badly than the Steelers had.
Once again, Tomlin’s motivation and preparation in the face of a supposedly inferior team failed him.
To be fair to Tomlin, if Ben Roethlisberger really is losing it, Le’Veon Bell has had a little too much tread worn of his tires and if Martavis Bryant lost something during his year-long suspension, that’s not something you can blame the head coach for.
But what about the poor play of the offensive line, and the consistently inconsistent execution of the defense?
The bottom line is that Steelers are performing poorly on an alarmingly consistent basis 5 games in to the 2017 season. And that comes back to the coach. Grade: F
In perhaps the worst performance of his 14-year career, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions–including two that were returned for touchdowns–as the Steelers fell to visiting Jacksonville, 30-9, before a stunned and displeased Heinz Field crowd on Sunday.
Pittsburgh jumped out of gate strong, when Roethlisberger found receiver Antonio Brown for a 49-yard pass on the team’s first offensive play of the day.
Barry Church takes it to the house as Ben Roethlisberger can only look on. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, Penn Live
However, as has been a theme for the Steelers supposed high-powered unit so far this season, the offense reached the 13-yard line and had a first and 10, but ultimately could only muster a Chris Boswell 29-yard field goal and a 3-0 advantage.
On Pittsburgh’s next offensive series, Roethlisberger tried to find tight end Vance McDonald on a pass down the seam, but he was intercepted by cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who returned it to the Pittsburgh 46.
Speaking of themes, the Jaguars started what would become a theme on the day, by marching 47 yards and converting Roethlisberger’s miscue into a score, when running back Leonard Fournette skied over the Steelers defensive line and into the end zone for a two-yard touchdown to make it 7-3, visitors.
The teams traded punts over the next three series, but with less than a minute left in the second quarter, inside linebacker Ryan Shazier made a heads-up play, when he ripped a pass from the grasps of tight end James O’Shaughnessy and intercepted it at the 39-yard line with 41 seconds left in the half.
The Steelers converted this into points, by driving 45 yards on six plays, setting up Boswell’s second field goal of the day–this time from 34 yards away–and headed into the locker room trailing 7-6.
Pittsburgh received the second half kick off and produced its best offensive series of the afternoon, by methodically moving the football down to the Jacksonville five-yard line. Unfortunately, after facing a first and goal, the Steelers elected not to hand the football to All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell and instead passed three-straight times and failed to hit pay-dirt. Boswell trotted out for a 20-yard field goal, and the Steelers now led 9-7.
It was all downhill from there.
After T.J. Watt ended the Jaguars first offensive series of the second half with a sack of quarterback Blake Bortles, Pittsburgh faced a second and 11 from its own 22. But a short pass intended for Brown was deflected at the line-of-scrimmage and fell into the waiting arms for of linebacker Telvin Smith, who galloped 28 yards for a touchdown and a 13-9 Jaguars lead.
Just six plays later, another Ben Roethlisberger pass intended for Brown was tipped by Ramsey and intercepted by safety Barry Church, who raced 51 yards for another score and a 20-9 lead for the team from Florida.
Early in the fourth quarter, following yet another disappointing drive by the offense, the Steelers defense had a chance to get the momentum back in the home team’s favor, when Jordan Berry pinned Jacksonville down at its own four-yard line with a 51-yard punt.
However, the Jaguars marched 67 yards on 13 plays–eating up 8:07 of game-clock in the process–and effectively put the game away, when kicker Jason Myers connected on a 47-yard field goal to make it 23-9 with 6:43 left in the fourth quarter
Photo credit: Jacksonville.com
What followed would be two more interceptions by Roethlisberger, the second pick setting up a 90-yard touchdown scamper by Fournette to put the icing on the cake for the Jaguars.
For the day, Roethlisberger completed 33 of 55 passes for 312 yards, zero touchdowns and those five interceptions.
Brown pulled in 10 passes for 157 yards, while Bell carried just 15 times for 47 yards against a Jaguars rushing defense that came into the game last in the NFL.
As for Pittsburgh’s defense, it kept the game close through two-plus quarters, but in the end, Jacksonville became the second team in three weeks to rush for over 200 yards against it (231), with Fournette accounting for 181 yards of his own.
Next up for the Steelers is a 4:25 match-up against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium.
As the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Mark Kaboly recounts, when OTA’s began, the Steelers offense huddled at the 20 yard line – Mike Tomlin however ordered the team into a 2 point conversion drill. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knew what was coming, but it was a surprise to the rest of the offense.
Tomlin explained his motive to the rest of the offense in simple terms: “We are not going to talk about it, we are just going to do it.”
By moving the extra point kick back to what will now be a 32 or 33 yard field goal, the extra point will still be almost automatic instead of being virtually automatic. In 2014 NFL kickers converted extra point kicks more than 99% of time, whereas 33 yard field goals were approximately 94% proposition.
Since Mike Tomlin joined the Steelers in 2007, the Steelers have converted 10 of 13 2 point conversion attempts or nearly 77% and they hold the best two point conversion record in the NFL since 2001, having converted 72.7%
The irony is that the most Steelers fans can probably name at least two of these failures without going to Google.
Both missed opportunities cost the Steelers dearly. The first severely set hurt the Steelers comeback efforts, and the second time it robbed them of a chance to tie the game, and allowed the Ravens to run out the clock.
As Ben Roethlisberger confided to Mark Kaboly, all 33 yard field goals are not created equally – kicking one in a dome or in a place like Tampa Bay isn’t quite the same as kicking a 33 yard field goal on a windy November evening at Heinz Field.
It will be interesting to see what strategy Tomlin employs regarding the two point conversion. At the very least Tomlin’s intent on establishing a “Be prepared to go for 2”mindset starting with the first set of Steelers OTA’s that includes both veterans and members of the Steelers 2015 draft class.
The Super Bowl has arrived and the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee will soon be selecting the 2015 Hall of Fame Class. This year 3 candidates with strong ties to the Pittsburgh Steelers are finalists and they are Kevin Greene, Tony Dungy and of course Jerome Bettis.
While most of Steelers Nation would be perfectly happy to see Dungy and Greene elected, Bettis is the one we care about.
Perhaps Jerome Bettis is falling victim to the “Too Many Steelers in the Hall of Fame” mentality, perhaps it is his 3.9 yards per carry average. Neither should be a sticking point. Jerome Bettis belongs in the Hall of Fame.
To help make that happen, here are 15 Worthy Jerome Bettis Hall of Fame Games. Click on a link below for specific games or scroll down to relive them all!
Jerome Bettis shows Brian Urlacher who is boss
I. Bettis Best Game Ever
12/12/93, Los Angeles Rams 23, New Orleans Saints 20
Sometimes we easily forget Jerome Bettis wasn’t always a Pittsburgh Steeler after so long as “The face of the franchise.” But it is true. The Los Angeles Rams selected Jerome Bettis with the 10th overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft.
Bettis took the league by storm, rushing for 1429 yards as a rookie, and his best game of the season came vs. New Orleans, when he banged out 212 yards on 28 carries, for one touchdown. That was his highest single game rushing total ever, and it included his longest run at 71.
Although Bettis would never have a better day statistically, he did have bigger games — all for the Black and Gold.
II. Bettis First 100 Yard Game for Steelers
9/8/96, Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Baltimore Ravens 17
Jerome Bettis’ first game for the Steelers didn’t go so well, as Pittsburgh suffered a disastrous defeat in Jacksonville at the hands of the Jaguars with injuries decimating the linebacking crops, with Bettis 57 yard effort an under story.
He made good in week 2 the first Steelers-Ravens match up ever. Bettis rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries – and he didn’t even start. Erric Pegram had that honor, who turned in a respectable 60 yard on 11 carry performance
III. Rams Rue Decision to Run Bettis Out of Town
11/3/96, Pittsburgh Steelers 42, St. Louis Rams 6
Jerome Bettis was the only positive for the 4-12 1993 Rams. Chuck Knox aka “ground Chuck” got the ax the team hired Rich Brooks and moved to St. Louis. For whatever reason Bettis and Brooks didn’t work well together. Bettis production dropped by 400 yards in 1994 and to 637 yards in 1995.
Dick Vermeil’s first decision was to pick Lawrence Philips in the 1996 draft.
By the time the Steelers played the Rams at mid-season, it was already clear that the trade might have been one of Tom Donahoe’s best ever personnel decisions. Bettis already had six 100 yard games and laid claim to the moniker, “The Bus.”
Bettis exploded vs. the Rams, scoring the first two touchdowns and racking up 100 yards before the half, as The Bus steamrolled the Rams to the tune of 129 yards rushing on 19 carries for a 6.8 yard average. For the record Lawrence Philips had six yards on 5 carries….
Carnell Lake returned a fumble 83 yards for a touchdown, but the Colts would threaten the entire game, as the Steelers lost Kordell Stewart and Charles Johnson to injury. Things got so bad that reserve receiver Mike Adams had to play the entire second half on a torn ACL.
The Steelers did what they worked for them best in that day and age – they rode The Bus. Bettis racked up 164 yards, his highest total as a Steeler, on 30 carries including one touchdown.
But credit Jerome Bettis as the game’s unsung hero. The fireworks took place in the first half, which ended in a 21-21 tie. The second half started with the Broncos getting a field goal and the lead.
Then Bettis took over.
He pounded Denver into submission, including 24 yard run where he literally dragged defenders for a good 7 or 8 yards after contact. When all was said and done, The Bus had run for 24 yards on 125 carries.
When the season finale vs. Jacksonville arrived, the Jaguars started their back up and the only thing at stake was Bill Cowher’s chance to avoid his first losing season. He didn’t.
The harsh reality is that many of Cowher’s players quit on him.
But one player shown out. He not only gave it his all, he played with power and he delivered results. That player was number 36, Jerome Bettis who ran for 139 yards and caught 4 balls for 24 yards – and he did it on a bum knee, having announced to ABC’s sideline reporter that he’d scheduled surgery for the following morning.
Stepping up in games like these were one reason why Bettis owned the Steelers locker room.
George Seifert’s Carolina Panthers came to Three Rivers Stadium with a 7-7 record while the Pittsburgh Steelers were reeling on a six game losing streak.
The Steelers looked like easy pickings.
Early on the Steelers looked lackluster, but then it started to snow. Snow blanked the Astroturf at Three Rivers Stadium, and it left the Panthers flat footed. The Bus took off, rushing for 137 yards and inspiring the team to victory. The Panthers made a run late in the game as they fought to within 3 late in the third quarter. But Bettis did what he always did – iced the game away with a dominating 4th quarter that saw him barrel into the end zone with 3:47 remaining to put the game away.
Bill Cowher had other ideas. He didn’t care that he’d started 0-3. He didn’t care that the Jacksonville Jaguars were Super Bowl contenders. He didn’t care that Jacksonville had won 3 straight vs. Pittsburgh. He didn’t care that Kent Graham, his starting quarterback, had been injured late in practice on Friday.
He didn’t care because Bill Cowher preached that players should expect to win on Sunday.
In this game, names like Joey Porter, Aaron Smith and Desha Townsend announced their presence to Steelers Nation and as the Steelers defense dominated. But on a day where Kordell Stewart only managed 132 yards passing, Jerome Bettis carried the Steelers offense. He didn’t break 100 yards, but he did run for 97 and scored two touchdowns. The victory in Jacksonville set the tone for the Steelers for a decade and, once again, the Steelers rode the Bus.
IX. Bus Shines in Old Fashioned Steelers Raiders Showdown
12/3/00, Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Oakland Raiders 20
This probably gets left off of many other worthy Jerome Bettis Hall of Fame games lists, but it makes it here because this game simply doesn’t get its due. The twin Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowls defined pro football excellence in the 70’s, but had they not then the dozen epic matchups the Steelers and Raiders fought between 1970 to 1980 would have.
Due to scheduling irregularities, the Raiders would not play in Pittsburgh for 20 years. That changed in December 2000, and the matchup was worthy of the best of Steelers-Raiders lore. The Steelers had clawed their way out of an 0-3 start back to 6-6 while the Raiders boasted a 10-2 record.
The Steelers comeback left Pittsburgh with some priceless memories:
Kordell Stewart’s miraculous recovery, including his 17 yard touchdown run
Mark Bruener marshaling pure will power to win a goal line dog fight to spark the Steelers rally
Jon Gruden pleading for a 5th down after the Steelers defense stopped him cold on 4th down with 7 seconds left.
But what many forget, is that amidst all the chaos Jerome Bettis “quietly” kept the offense moving for by rushing for 128 yards. That’s just what Hall of Famers do.
X. Bus Rolls Over Redskins in Three Rivers Stadium Finale
12/16/00, Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Redskins 3
In 2000 Daniel Snyder bought his first off season Lombardi. For many fans and press alike, Snyder’s signing of Deon Sanders in June made the delivery of the Redskins 4th Super Bowl trophy a mere formality. The schedule had been published by then, and few Redskins fans even gave a second thought to the fact that they’d have to play the Steelers in the final game a Three Rivers Stadium.
A far different off season narrative had been penned for Jerome Bettis.
Declining production in 1998 and 1999 led many, inside and outside Pittsburgh, to assume Bettis best days were behind him.
Yet, when the Three Rivers Stadium finale arrived, it was Jerome Bettis, and not any of Daniel Snyder’s high-priced free agents, who dominated the game. Bettis charged up and down the middle of the Redskins defense for 104 yards on 25 carries, and added another grab for 25. Perhaps the biggest highlight came when Deon Sanders backed away rather than try to tackle Bettis.
Daniel Snyder grew so incensed that he tried to order Myron Cope to alter his color commentary, to which Cope retorted,
“If that boy billionaire thinks he can shut me up, then he can take his head and stick it in a bucket of paint!”
Suffice to say, all of Snyder’s money could neither silence the voice of Steelers Nation, nor change the fact that The Bus had plenty of tread left on his tires.
XI. Bettis Leads the Way as Steelers Inaugurate Heinz Field with a Win
Instead, the Steelers would open at home nearly a month later, and this time vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. Bettis again led the way for the Steelers offense, piling up 153 yards on 25 carries, and giving the Steelers their first win in their new home.
XII. Bus Comes Off Bench to Help Steelers Spoil Philly’s Perfect Record
Staley had run well in the season’s first seven games, but got injured in the Steelers upset of the Patriots. Prior to the season, Jerome Bettis had accepted a pay cut and was seen by many as an insurance policy at best or a scholarship year at worst.
Bettis proved his critics wrong as he ran for 133 yards and helped the Steelers spoil the Eagles 7-0 record.
XIII. Bus, Staley Tag Team to Bludgeon Jets in Playoffs
Jerome Bettis started this game, but had to take himself out due to injury. Staley came in and continued to pound the Jets. Then he got hurt and Bettis had to return.
It was a sight to behold – two Steelers big backs alternating to pummel an opponent into submission.
The Steelers needed every bit of it, as Ben Roethlisberger began playing like a rookie, and the Jets mounted a stiff challenge. At the end of the day, Bettis the 32 year old war horse, ran for 101 yards and a touchdown.
The Steelers were at 7-5 and coming off a 3 game losing streak. Bill Cowher took the unusual step of order a full pads practice. He told the team they were Christopher Columbus uncharted journey. And with the 9-3 Bears coming to town, he turned to his gamers.
The record will note that Willie Parker got 21 carries as opposed to Bettis 17, but the Bus carried the day for the Steelers rushing for 101 yards, including dominating Brian Urlacher in one incredible 1-1 open field confrontation.
The Chicago game marked Bettis final 100 yard effort. But The Bus made it count.
Bettis leadership and inspiration is what drove the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers on their improbable 8 game season-closing winning streak and ultimately to One for the Thumb.
15 MORE Reasons for Jerome Bettis to be in the Hall of Fame
The tough thing about writing an article like this, aside from finding the time, is limiting this list to 15 worthy Jerome Bettis Hall of Fame Games. Many other candidates scream for inclusion.
Forget about the numbers and statistics.
Hall of Fame worthiness comes from defining what it means to be excellent at your position. When you look at a sampling of his work, who can argue that Jerome Bettis failed to accomplish that? In 13 years as an NFL running back, from his rookie season to his final season, Bettis dominated games.
You can’t say that about Terrell Davis, whom will likely get the nod over Bettis.
Jerome Bettis belongs in the Hall of Fame. Period.
Going into week 6 the Pittsburgh Steelers stand at 3-2, but by all accounts it’s a shaky 3-2. But regardless, the Watch Tower has plenty of material to shine its light onto including the Steelers lifting the lid on practice activities and the Steelers running game.
Steelers Combat Negativity by Loosening Practice Reporting Restrictions?
Credited members of the Steelers press corps are allowed to observe Steelers practices. Bill Cowher did manage to cut back on that during the 1997 season when he moved Carnell Lake from safety to corner, but Dan Rooney has stood firm on open practices otherwise.
Permission to enter practices comes with some restrictions, however.
Media members cannot shoot video, nor can they report on specifics. Access is intended to help them develop their stories during the week, but the information they can actually share is limited for the obvious reason.
The Steelers reprimanded Bouchette, who responded by publishing the guidelines which he must follow as a practice observer on PG Plus. That in turn drew national coverage via Gregg Rosenthal on NBC’s Pro Football Talk, who did a Watch Towerish piece on the entire incident.
Bouchette didn’t appear overly worried by the reprimand, quipping on PG Plus that he couldn’t report how many snaps Antwaan Randle El was taking at quarterback, after Dixon’s injury.
Nonetheless, specific news out of Steelers practices has been sparse. Until this week.
Jim Wexell started things off on Steel City Insider, in discussing Brice McCain. McCain, as Tomlin acknowledged, had an excellent week of practice leading up to the Jaguars game. Wexell began by detailing McCain’s pick in practice the week before playing Jacksonville, and then supplied a little surprise:
So perhaps one of two interceptions during Wednesday’s practice will serve the same purpose this Sunday in Cleveland. “Hey, man, I hope it’s true,” said Robert Golden, who intercepted a pass Wednesday at the goal line and sped down the sideline in a play that would’ve gone 100 yards had it not been whistled dead for practice purposes.
That’s two reports of two separate players making interceptions during practice – you don’t see that often. At all. Wexell didn’t stop there, however. He also reported an interception that Stephon Tuitt that made of a Bruce Gradkowski pass.
That wasn’t the only article where Wexell shared practice insights. Following the Jaguar’s game, Wexell insisted that what was holding the Steelers offense back was lack of a tall receiver, and he commented that Martavis Bryant “appears lost most of the time.” While these types of general comments are more common, they far from every day fair.
One might be tempted to think that Wexell’s unique in this category.
After all, his Steel City Insider site is a paid site, and his far less known than the mainstream publications (which is a shame because it’s so damm good, and that’s only based on the free articles.) He’s also a writer for Steelers Digest, so one might think he’s got greater leeway.
However, he wasn’t the only reporter providing practice specifics.
Scott Brown of ESPN also reported Tuitt’s interception turned pick six, which begs the question of whether or not the Steelers press office has loosened the reigns on practice reporting. Its no secret that, 3-2 notwithstanding, the reaction in Steelers Nation has been raw with cries of “Fire Mike Tomlin” “Fire Dick LeBeau” “Fire Todd Haley” and/or “Fire Kevin Colbert” common place.
Could the Steelers PR team be attempting to turn that around by leaking positive news? The Watch Tower wants to know.
Fresh Approach to Plea for Steelers to Rush the Ball
Historically, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been a rushing team. Art Rooney II went as far as to say the ability to run the ball was one of the franchise’s foundations.
As the NFL has turned pass happy, debate of the place and meaning of “Steelers Football” in todays game has ensued.
There are the traditionalists, who argue that a true Steelers team is one that can rush the ball. Mike Prisuta countered the traditionalists when he was still with the Pittsburgh Tribune Review just days after Super Bowl XLIII arguing:
Now that it ended the way it ended, we can officially put to rest the archaic, romantic and mostly inaccurate notions that 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust smashmouth is, was and always will be “Steeler Football,” and that any other approach betrays the franchise’s “identity.”
Mike Prisuta pointed to the paltry rush attack the Steelers presented during the game, and while acknowledging that Franco Harris had been Super Bowl IX’s, reminded everyone that it was Lynn Swann, Terry Bradshaw and Hines Ward who were next MVP’s.
While the traditionalists haven’t gone away, Ben Roethlisberger has certainly established himself as the focal point of the Steelers offense. Most challenges to that have been based more in sentiments of “The way things should be” (in terms of the modern game) as opposed to the way things are.
However, “Matt C. Steel” has challenged this notion on Wexell’s Steel City Insider page by taking a fresh approach. Steel Curtain Rising’s editorial policy is not to steal another writer’s thunder, and we won’t do it here.
But the synthesis of Steel’s argument is that unlike in year’s past, Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount give the Steelers a potent rushing attack. And Steel uses quantitative data to show that the Steelers are incredibly effective when using play action, and rushing from traditional, non-shot gun formations.
The Watch Tower has observed and questioned the practice of the Pittsburgh’s two major dailies of not linking to past stories. The move makes no sense on a number of levels, both in terms of keeping readers on your page and in terms of SEO.
In contrast, ESPN aggressively links to past posts.
Scott Brown went a step further after the Jacksonville game, by linking to other, non-ESPN sites, which is a rarity. That’s a refreshing development, although he does like to the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Business Journal instead of linking to fan sites.
@MarkKaboly_Trib I think this has been blown out of proportion. I love the pass to AB, wished we did it in TB to win. We won let’s move on — Terry Fletcher (@TerryinSoCalif) October 8, 2014
Let’s begin with some clarifications. Steel Curtain Rising isn’t crazy about Mike Tomlin’s agreeing with Ben Roethlisberger’s request to keep Antonio Brown’s record. But the play worked. The Steelers beat the Jaguars. And there’s whole hearted agreement with Terry Fletcher that it’s time to move on.
But Mark Kaboly’s argument is flawed, and that must be discussed.
Writing on the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’sSteel Mill Blog, Kabloy commends Ben for sticking up for his teammate and criticizes Tomlin for agreeing. Kaboly makes all of the relvant arguments – that winning should be enough, the team doesn’t need distractions, and suggests Tomlin undermines his trademark “style points don’t matter.”
That’s all fine and fair game. Even if one feels this has become “much to do about nothing” Kabloy’s on solid ground so far. But then he makes this argument:
The year was 2008 and running back Willie Parker told the media on a Wednesday that he thought the team was getting away from Steelers football by throwing the ball too much. The next day, Tomlin called a press conference. Now, Tomlin never called an impromptu press conference before that day and he never called one since. Full disclosure – the quote which appears next actually came before the two paragraphs above] I especially remember “every day I walk by five Lombardi Trophies, not five rushing titles. Willie (Parker’s) comments could be construed as selfish …”
But Kabloy’s also taking the quote out of context (he might actually be misquoting Tomlin, but we’ll leave that for the Watch Tower) on a number of counts. First, Willie Parker’s comments came in mid-December a week after the Steelers had beaten Dallas and right before an all important show down with Baltimore.
Willie Parker’s comments were ill-timed, to say the least.
Parker was making some pretty pointed comments about Bruce Arians’ offense, and doing so in a season when his health and production had greatly declined. (Thank God for Mewelde Moore – the unsung hero of the ’08 Super Bowl team.) What he said then was clearly premeditated, whereas Tomlin’s decision was made spontaneously during a game.
Kabloy’s making a valid point by indicating that Tomlin has potentially jeopardized the “team first mentality.” But he’s mixing apples and oranges in trying to compare it to Willie Parker’s comments of Decmeber 2008.
Let’s start things off with some Random Thoughts about the Steelers….
…The Pittsburgh Steelers 3-2 and heading to Cleveland where they’ll face the upstart 2-2 Cleveland Browns. The NFL odds makers are favoring the Browns, and within Steelers Nation there’s a palpable sensation that the “other foot is about to drop.” The only time yours truly can remember a similar sensation is in 1998, when the team started 2-0 but was a decidedly lackluster 2-0.
For a team that’s been shaky “Getting cute” can cost you – remember no further back than to that 1998 season. On Monday Night Football in early November, the Steelers led the Packers 27-3 early in the 4th quarter when Ray Sherman thought he’d get smart on the goal line. For the first time all season, in came Mike Tomczak under center, split wide went Kordell Stewart. Ball is snapped, fumbled, Green Bay recovers – and Bret Favre almost rallies for a victory.
But that didn’t happen here.
Honestly, since it worked so what? With one caveat. Let’s hope that Mike Tomlin veto’s any other Ben Roethlisberger requests to keep records alive, because opposing coaches have duly noted this, and will scheme accordingly.
…Much has been made of the fact that Todd Haley called 6 passing plays in 6 Red Zone situations, despite having the services of Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount at his disposal. Haley has taken a lot of heat, and justifiably so.
However, Aristotle observed that shifting from one form of government to another is as hard as breaking a habit. While traditional “Steelers football” would have the Steelers punch it in from short range, the fact is that since 2008 the Steelers haven’t had the offensive line to execute like that on the goal line.
Now the Steelers might have the horses up front to do that.
But perhaps the Steelers coaching staff is in a place where they must unlearn the habits picked up and practice for so long.
…Jim Wexell suggests that what’s really keeping the Steelers from being a dynamic offense is the lack of a tall receiver. That creates a bit of a problem as Matavis Bryant has yet to dress, Derek Moye is on the practice squad and Markus Wheaton and Justin Brown’s growth spurts have ended.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger once again had a strong game, and adeptly spread the wealth hitting 11 different receivers — essentially everyone on the roster eligible to catch a pass save for Matt Spaeth. Roethlisberger’s numbers were solid and even better from a fantasy perspective. But there were negatives. For the second straight week he put the ball on the ground. And as the signal and sometimes no huddle play caller, Roethlisberger must accept responsibility for the Steelers offense’s partly 10 point production. Grade: B-
Running Backs Another week and another 100 yards from scrimmage for Le’Veon Bell. Bell ran the ball well all afternoon long, and again was effective catching. LeGarrette Blount also ran strong and contributed in the passing game for the first time. Will Johnson caught a pass and appeared to get short changed on his lone rushing attempt. Dri Archer had 1 carry and 2 catches. Grade: A-
Tight Ends Heath Miller didn’t catch any touchdowns this week, but he again was Mr. Reliable with three catches for 46 yards. Michael Palmer scored the only touchdown reception, redeeming drop from earlier in the year. Grade: B
Wide Receivers Ever wideout who is eligible to catch a pass caught one on Sunday, with Antonio Brown leading the way with yet another strong performance. Markus Wheaton caught 1 pass on two targets, while Justin Brown caught 3 passes, Lance Moore caught another, and Darrius Heyward-Bey caught his first pass of the year. Overall numbers were strong if not spectacular. Grade: B
Offensive Line Run blocking was solid. Kelvin Beachum caused a penalty that nullified a 17 yard gain and led to a punt. Ben Roethlsiberger did give up 4 sacks and the protection broke down at couple of key moments, but there were other moments when Ben had ample time to pass. Grade: C+
Defensive Line Jacksonville’s running game was completely neutralized, and credit for that starts up front, with Steve McLendon drawing a big part of it. Cam Thomas has managed not to make himself a liability. Cameron Heyward had a very, very quiet game, and with a few notable exceptions, he has not been the hell raiser he was last year. Overall, the defensive line’s play was solid. Grade: B
Linebackers Jason Worilds easily had his strongest game of the season, getting a sack, 3 quarterback hits, and a tackle for a loss. Sean Spence and 3 tackles and an uncredited pass defense. James Harrison showed he still has something left as he recorded a tackle for a loss. Arthur Moats had 2 tackles and a quarterback hit. A solid outing by the linebackers. Grade: B+
Secondary Cortez Allen recorded his second interception in as many weeks. Moreover, Allen was targeted heavily, and did not flinch. He slammed receivers after the tackle and knocked away 3 other balls. William Gay didn’t get picked on as much but was credited with out defensed passes. Both Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell posted strong games. The real hero of the group, however, was nickel back Brice McCain, who delivered a pick six exactly when the Steelers needed it, reading the play excellently and executing to perfection. Grade: A
Special Teams There wasn’t much special about the Steelers special teams. Robert Golden got flagged twice on kick returns. The Steelers coverage teams did not allow much, but their return games gained them nothing. The performance of the special teams was average. Grade: C
Coaching Let’s start with the positives. This was the best outing of the season for Dick LeBeau’s defense. Even if one accounts for the weakness of the competition, the Steelers kept the Jaguars out of the end zone, and that’s not something their other opponents can say. Was it a perfect performance? No. More pressure on the quarterback would have been nicer. But the defense also produced two turnovers, and bailed the offense out after a costly red-zone turnover.
Mike Tomlin made a point of reducing penalties, and while 7 penalties for 50 yards represented an improvement, those penalties still cost the Steelers.
The real focal point for criticism here is Todd Haley. Putting up 10 points on offense vs. a team that has given up an average of 38 points is inexcusable, especially with the fire power at his disposal. The Steelers lineage at offensive coordinator is littered with men who sought to use the position to show the NFL how smart they were, often at the expense of playing smart football. Joe Walton and Kevin Gilbride come to mind, although Mike Mularkey might also qualify.
Whether that was Haley’s goal behind zero runs in the red zone, 3 empty sets in the red zone, or the horizontal passing game remains a mystery. But neither his game plan on its execution exploited Jacksonville’s weaknesses. And the grade represents that. Grade: C-
Unsung Hero Award Michael Palmer and Brice McCain certainly qualify as “Unlikely heroes” authoring Pittsburgh’s two touchdowns on the day. However, they’ve gotten their 15 minutes of fame. While a number of Steelers defenders have won accolades for their QB hits, interceptions, and sacks, one man was everywhere else doing everything else, and that man was Lawrence Timmons, who wins the Unsung Hero Award for the victory vs. Jacksonville.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of history in Jacksonville, dating from the Jaguar’s time in the old AFC Central. Yet for all that history, the Steelers went down to Florida with a far more mundane goal at hand: Don’t mess up.
Seriously. A week ago the Steelers hosted the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz Field, and embarrassed themselves as they systematically self-destructed.
Vs. Jacksonville the Steelers avoided a similar fate and they did so in a way that was notable for both what they did and didn’t do.
SteelersWeek 5 Assignment Sheet
The Pittsburgh Steelers needed to win this one. The math behind falling to 3-2 would have been rendered meaningless by consecutive losses to winless teams. No, this was one the Steelers had to have, and to do that it needed to start doing certain things and stop doing others.
the defense had to end its second half collapses
as a whole, the team needed stop the inane penalties
the offensive line needed to being playing complete game
above all, the team must begin finding a way to close
Any rational analysis of the Steelers performance vs. Jacksonville reveals that Pittsburgh delivered a Mixed bag vs. the Jaguars.
On the plus side, the Steelers defense did not allow a touchdown all day, and in it fact shutdown Jacksonville twice in the Red Zone, forcing field goals instead of touchdowns. The defense eliminated Jacksonville’s run threat, managed to get reasonable pressure on Blake Borteles and held the Jaguars were only 3-12 on third downs.
Perhaps most importantly, the defense showed an ability to get a turnover when it was necessary, which has not frequently happened of late.
While those positives remain real, the Pittsburgh Steelers in no sense controlled the tempo of the game. The Steelers started from behind and never put significant space between them and the Jaguars, in spite of Jacksonville’s wrenched defensive performance to date.
Much was made of Ben Roethlisberger’s ability to hit 11 different receivers, which is fine, but it was necessary because the Jaguars took away the long ball. The Steelers improved on the penalty front, yet saw at least one scoring opportunity whipped away by a penalty on Kelvin Beachum. Cortez Allen came up with an interception which the Steelers offense failed to convert.
Putting Win in Context
The Steelers have played a lot of games in Jacksonville whose significance has extended beyond the space they occupy in the “W” or “L” column.
Yet, for all of those strong individual performances, the offense only managed 10 points.
That’s certainly a sobering statistic. For all of its fire power, the Steelers offense cannot seem to fire on all cylinders. Nor can the offensive line seem to patch together a complete game, as run blocking was solid, but 4 sacks and another fumble show the pass blocking still wanting.
Nonetheless, when the game was on the line:
The Steelers defense held Jacksonville to a 3 and out, with Troy Polamalu leading the way
The offense killed the final 4 minutes of play, with strong running from Bell and excellent catching from Heath Miller
Yes, the Steelers margin of victory was only 8, but they only needed it to be 1. At the end of the day the Pittsburgh Steelers took care of business by beating at team it should beat and had had to beat, and that’s not something which Steelers Nation could say 7 days ago.
Next week the Steelers travel to Cleveland, and it is there where they will begin to determine if this game at Jacksonville carries larger significance moving forward.
High profile departures. High expectations. An uneven erratic start. Inopportune injuries. Disappointing and unexpected losses. A trip to Florida to play a winless Jacksonville Jaguars team. The later of which would seem to be just what the Dr. ordered….
It should. This describes the situation the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in now, just as they found themselves in in 1995.
The 2013 Steelers finished by eeking out an 8-8 record. Their free agent losses were far more marginal. The injuries to Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones, and Ike Taylor are serious. None of them even broaches the loss Pittsburgh suffered when Rod Woodson went down.
But just as they were 21 years ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars were winless.
And that’s the danger. Trap games weren’t a big issue for Bill Cowher’s Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1990’s – his teams were more likely to fall flat on their face against more worthy opponents. But that first meeting against the 1995 expansion Jacksonville Jaguars was very much a trap the Steelers fell into.
To give you an idea of how “off” the Steelers were Steve Avery scored Pittsburgh’s only touchdown of the afternoon, which would become the only touchdown of his career. Beyond that, there’s little in the stat sheet that tells the story of “what went wrong” as Mark Burnell and James Stewart’s stats are all quite pedestrian, whereas in contract Yancey Thigpen had six catches for 160 yards.
But of course stats only capture so much. Specific memories of the game have long since faded, but a few things stick out.
It was Kordell Stewart’s 1st time lining up at wide receiver, but he wasn’t a factor in the game
Jacksonville benefitted from a lot of missed tackles, as the Steelers defense focused too much on trying to get turnovers
Pittsburgh in contrast, fumbled three times, losing only once
Overall, those 1995 Steelers went to Jacksonville and lost because they’d looked past their soon to be new division rival and at a fundamental level, lacked focus. And the Jacksonville loss wasn’t even rock bottom, as on the next Thursday night, Jeff Blake lit the Steelers secondary up like a Christmas tree a move which caused Cowher to move Carnell Lake from safety to corner.
Its 2014 now. While the Jacksonville Jaguars have been in business since 1995, years of constant coaching changes have left the organization resembling something more like an expansion team. However, Blake Bortles is already drawing comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger.
Based on pure talent, the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers should defeat the Jaguars, handily.
But that as also true in 1995, and it didn’t happen. Those 1995 Steelers of course would bounce back and reach the Super Bowl, making them the only team since the NFL-AFL merger to lose to an expansion team and make the Super Bowl.
Few people are considering the 2014 Steelers as Super Bowl contenders. But one thing is certain. If they drop the game to Jacksonville, they won’t be playing in January, let alone late January.