It was a great ride wasn’t it? 11-0 wasn’t on too many radars and if you claim it was on yours then you’re full of crap! The third quarter of the season finally saw the Steelers drop a game but there’s much more to be concerned about as the final four games approach.
First Quarter Record: 4-0
Second Quarter Record: 4-0
Third Quarter Record: 3-1
Wins: Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Baltimore
Offense: (First Quarter) B, Second Quarter B, Third Quarter C-
Offensive Coordinator Randy Fichtner: 1st Q: B-, 2nd Q: C, 3rd Q: D
The Steelers’ offense has never truly gotten itself rolling this season. There isn’t one game you can point to where you can honestly say the offense was firing on all cylinders. After the last two games, there doesn’t appear to be much hope on the horizon. The run game is non-existent. Actually, it might be worse than that. This unit struggles to gain so much as a yard in short yardage situations and the creativity has gone out the window.
The offense is literally riding on the arm of Ben Roethlisberger and I don’t know that this is a great idea. That arm also happens to be surgically repaired and there’s no way it should be relied on to this extent. The receiving corps has had several great moments but the last two weeks have also shown a tremendous lack of concentration with seemingly one drop after another.
Bottom Line: Randy Fichtner is in over his head. No, he can’t block for these guys and he can’t catch the ball for them either. But what he can do is put them in better situations and he isn’t doing that. Case in point was against Washington. His unit faced a third and three deep inside their own territory. He called for a WR screen to JuJu Smith-Schuster who caught the ball at the line of scrimmage. He was stopped just short of the line and the ensuing WFT drive led to points. Why not have a route that actually is run at or over the line to gain? Is that too difficult in that situation?
Fichtner also seems to have abandoned Matt Canada’s role in the offense. The jet motion we saw is for the most part gone and in its’ place is zero creativity and large doses of predictability. The offensive line has to protect better so that Big Ben can actually sit in the pocket and not rely on quick throws as often as he does. Teams are defending this by batting down balls rather than trying to get to the QB. This is a big final four games for Fichtner. If he can’t turn things around his job does in fact become a question.
Points per Game: 1st Q: 29.5 (good for 10th), 2nd Q: 29.4 (good for 5th), 3rd Q: 27.8 (good for 7th)
Offense MVP: Ben Roethlisberger
Defense: (First Quarter) B, Second Quarter B, Third Quarter B
Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler: 1st Q: B, 2nd Q: B-, 3rd Q: B
The Steelers’ defense has really been quite good. Third and long situations are still a bit of an Achilles’ heel but by and large the unit has performed well. Having to replace Devin Bush has not been easy. Robert Spillane has played much better than any of us could have anticipated but now he’s out for a few weeks with a knee injury. We got a glimpse of Vince Williams and Avery Williamson playing next to each other against the WFT and it wasn’t pretty.
Bud Dupree will not be replaceable. Alex Highsmith will do a solid job but I don’t think any of us should expect the type of splash plays Dupree could produce. Mike Hilton has been terrific and both Joe Haden and Steven Nelson have been good too. There’s no shortage of positive things to say about Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt is basically in a category of his own.
Bottom Line: This unit has been relied on so heavily at times and they almost always come through. Now they play three pretty good and well-balanced offenses in the next four weeks. If they can’t get healthier than they are currently then I just don’t see how Keith Butler can keep up the current pace. Speaking of Butler, he’s done a good job for the most part but now he faces his toughest challenge by trying to find the right combinations of defensive backs and linebackers.
It took Alex Smith less than a few plays to get Butler’s linebackers isolated and in bad matchups. What will the final four opponents due with time to prepare? If the offense can’t find a groove then the defense will continue to carry a heavy burden and it may be asking more than they can handle.
Points Allowed per Game: 1st Q: 21.8 (good for 6th), 2nd Q: 20.1 (good for 4th), 3rd Q: 17.6 (good for 1st)
Defense MVP: T.J. Watt
Special Teams: (First Quarter) A-, Second Quarter B, Third Quarter C
Special Teams Coordinator Danny Smith: 1st Q: A, 2nd Q: B, 3rd Q: C
This unit has seen better days. Since starting the season off quite well, it has gradually regressed. From fumbles on punt returns to missed tackles, missed blocks and penalties, it has been ugly. Ray Ray McCloud, who seemed so sure-handed to start the season now all of the sudden gives Steelers’ fans the willies every time he fields a kick.
The kicking game is obviously in flux right now as Chris Boswell deals with a hip injury. Matthew Wright was solid in his lone appearance against Washington making two PATs and a field goal but he doesn’t possess much of a leg and because of that, the kick coverage teams struggled. Boswell’s health moving forward will be huge.
Jordan Berry has been much better since re-joining the team. He’s been getting much better distance on his punts and has been able to flip the field for the Steelers several times which is not something we were used to seeing. Danny Smith has never been a guy I thought highly of because he just doesn’t seem to get what he can out of his units. It looked like things were better early on but we seem to be right back to square one with the mistakes.
Special Teams MVP: Chris Boswell
Head Coach Mike Tomlin: (First Quarter) B+, Second Quarter B+, Third Quarter B
As well as Tomlin did in getting the Steelers to 8-8 last season, he may be facing his toughest challenge yet over these final four weeks. At 11-1, his team has not yet qualified for the playoffs. They most certainly will, but with no running game, a predictable offense and mounting injuries on defense, going 2-2 over this final stretch may actually be difficult.
As I’ve stated for several weeks, being unbeaten at season’s end was never the goal. To win games and stay as healthy as possible was and Tomlin’s charges are struggling to complete that mission. I think 2-2 is very doable the next four weeks but don’t be surprised if it ends up worse than that.
Next 4 Opponents: @Buffalo 9-3, @Cincinnati 2-9-1, Indianapolis 8-4, @Cleveland 9-3
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