This week’s Report Card for the Steelers loss to the Titans come by way of my good friend Tony Defeo, who is pitch hitting for me as the game was not show in Buenos Aires. You can read Tony’s thoughts on the Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins at Pittsburgh’s Best Sports Blog. Tony is also a regular at Behind the Steel Curtain. Many thanks to Tony.
Ben Roethlisberger did surpass Terry Bradshaw to become the all-time passing leader in team history, and he did have a pretty good all-around game, going 24-40 for 363 yards, with a touchdown and interception. The touchdown was an 82 yard pass to Mike Wallace in the first quarter, and it was a familiar sight for the passing combo that hadn’t been seen since the first half of last season. However, the interception was a poorly underthrown pass to Antonio Brown near the end of the first half immediately after he hooked up with Isaac Redman for a 55 yard catch and run deep into Titans’ territory. This was a potential three or even 10 point swing, as the Titans responded with a field goal drive to close out the half and take a 16-10 lead. Ben also missed a wide open Emmanuel Sanders on the drive that resulted in the Suisham 52 yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter. Sure, the Steelers got three, but a completion to Sanders there would have kept the drive alive and possibly led to a game-sealing touchdown. Speaking of which, Roethlisberger also missed a wide open Baron Batch on third and six shortly before the missed 54 yard field goal in the game’s final minute. I realize that Ben was scrambling for his life on the play, but it’s the kind of play that he’s known for, and the team desperately needed their franchise quarterback to bail them out right there. Grade: B-
After a great return last week vs. the Eagles, Rashard Mendenhall was out of action after only six carries for six yards, this time with an Achilles injury, and Redman and Co. couldn’t pick up the slack, as the Steelers ground attack was downright awful, accumulating 56 yards on 22 carries (42 on 21 if you take away Ben’s 14 yard scramble). Redman did have a career day catching the ball out of the backfield–including a 33 yard gain on the Steelers’ first possession where he broke several tackles–and his 105 receiving yards marked the first time since 1970 that a Steelers back eclipsed the 100 yard mark in receiving. However, Redman only gained 14 yards on the ground before leaving the game with a knee injury. Baron Batch replaced him and ran hard and scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough to make up for another bad day running the football for the offense. Grade: D-
The 82 yard touchdown catch by Mike Wallace in the first quarter looked to be a foreshadowing of what was yet to come as the Titans secondary is one of the worst in the NFL. However, Wallace would only catch one more pass the rest of the game. As for Brown, he was pretty ineffective, only catching five passes for 20 yards and was far from the dynamic play-maker that he was a season ago. Tight end Heath Miller was his usual reliable self, and Sanders made a few key third down receptions, but all-in-all, a subpar day for the receiving corps. Grade: C-
What would a Steelers game be without some injuries up front? This time, Maurkice Pouncey and Maurcus Gilbert both left the game with injuries and did not return. Mike Adams replaced Gilbert at right tackle and Doug Legursky replaced Pouncey at center. I guess all things considered, the line hung in there, but as I said earlier, the running game was practically non-existent, and Ben wasn’t exactly under attack the whole game–only one sack–but that could be attributed to his talent for escaping danger and his new ability of getting rid of the ball faster. Grade: D+
Titans running back Chris Johnson had 91 yards as Tennessee looked to take advantage of Pittsburgh’s struggles with the stretch play. Johnson wasn’t that much of a factor, but he did leave an awful lot of yards on the field by hesitating and hitting the wrong holes. I thought the defensive line was ripe for the picking if Johnson would have been more aggressive. The holes appeared to be there way too much for my tastes. Grade: D
James Harrison short-circuited the Titans first drive of the game by sacking Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on first and goal from the two, forcing Tennessee to eventually settle for three. Also, Larry Foote sacked Hasselbeck in the third quarter and nearly caused a fumble. And Lawrence Timmons had the unit’s only takeaway when he intercepted a Hasselbeck pass at mid-field in the fourth quarter shortly after the Steelers had taken a 20-16 advantage. However, they were part of a unit that let up another crucial fourth quarter drive when the Titans drove 80 yards for the game-tying touchdown with four minutes left. And Harrison was badly victimized on the pivotal 25 yard completion to tight end Jared Cook that set the Titans up for the game winning field goal. Grade: C-
After having his best season in 2011, Ike Taylor has regressed to the point where he seems to just want to grab and wrestle with his receiver on each and every play. In week 2, Ike was the victim of some pretty questionable calls by the replacement officials, but now he’s making the regular officials jobs much easier with his obvious manhandling of wide receivers. Thursday night was no exception, as Taylor was flagged for pass interference on the Titans’ initial possession that resulted in three points. Later on in the first half, Taylor had a pass interference penalty that was declined because of a long completion, and he was called for holding on third and 10 during the game-tying touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. Keenan Lewis had a pretty decent game with three passes defensed, but he also had his hands on a fairly easy interception during the above mentioned game-tying touchdown drive and failed to close the deal. Grade: D-
There was the good: Chris Rainey’s 49 yard kickoff return to start Pittsburgh’s initial possession, and the 52 yard field goal by kicker Shaun Suisham that gave the Steelers a 23-16 lead in the fourth quarter. And then there was the bad: Punter Drew Butler on the receiving end of a blocked punt on the final play of the first quarter that gave the Titans the football at the one yard line and led to Tennessee’s first touchdown. Unfortunately, the bad far out-weighed the good, as the special teams breakdown may have been the ultimate difference. Grade: D
They say hindsight is 20/20, but I’m still baffled by Mike Tomlin’s decision to try the 54 yard field goal with 54 seconds remaining. I realize that Suisham had earlier made a 52 yarder with room to spare, but it was just way too risky that late in a tie game. If you punt there, worst case scenario is Tennessee has the football at the 20 with about 40 seconds left, needing at least 50 yards to reach ideal field goal range. However, once Suisham missed, and Tennessee gained possession at their own 45 yard line and only needed about 20 yards, it was just a matter of a completion or two before the Steelers were in trouble.
Maybe it’s the ultimate indictment of his defense that Tomlin couldn’t even trust it to keep a team from driving into field goal range after starting from its own 20 in the final minute of regulation. Speaking of which, Thursday night marked the fourth time in five games that Dick Lebeau’s unit failed to protect a fourth quarter advantage. I know that Polamalu and Woodley did not play. However, Lebeau has received his fair share of praise throughout his storied career, so I think it’s only fair that he receives a good deal of criticism for what looks to be a very average defense that simply cannot protect late leads. But he wasn’t the only coordinator that failed on Thursday.
Todd Haley needs to be called out for not attacking the Titans secondary more aggressively. Former Titans safety Blaine Bishop, who now does analysis and studio work for his old team, was on a local radio station this week, and when asked about the Titans secondary, he practically mocked their inability to cover anyone. Why the Steelers didn’t attack the Titans deep more often than they did is beyond me. Grade: F
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