Following the Steelers’ 27-16 loss to the Patriots on Sunday, there was a lot of anger in the locker room. Nobody in there wanted to hear anything about “moral victories.” I understand that, and I wouldn’t want any of them feeling good about themselves after a loss, but from a fan’s perspective I feel pretty good about a lot of things I saw in this game.
- Landry Jones finally looked like the player the coaches and players keep telling us he can be; that is a suitable backup to Ben Roethlisberger. Jones’ accuracy, especially on deep balls looked back early with the worst being and end zone interception on a ball that Antonio Brown had no chance of even trying to break up. He seemed to get in a groove after though, dropping several beautiful passes right into receivers’ outstretched arms, with perhaps his best one coming on a play that should have been defensive pass interference at a critical point in the game, throwing to Cobi Hamilton down the sideline.
- Speaking of that play, I’m not one to blame officials completely but it was not a good outing by the refs for the Steelers’ side. That pass to Hamilton being the worst, but also calling Darius Heyward Bey for offensive pass interference earlier in the game on a play that should have been a no-call at least, and possibly defensive pass interference. A pretty weak holding call on Chris Hubbard took a touchdown off the board just before Chris Boswell would miss his first field goal of the day. The rusher Hubbard was blocking appeared to lose his footing which took both men to the turf. On the other side, the refs missed a pretty blatant hold on James Harrison on the play in which Rob Gronkowski easily beat Robert Golden down the seam for a Touchdown.
- I plan to write more on this in it’s own article later this week, but Todd Haley put together a masterpiece of a game plan this week. Le’Veon Bell nearly doubled his touches from last week in Miami and Bell alone made the entire rest of the roster improve. After seeing the Dolphins out possess the Steelers by 13 minutes last week, the Steelers held a 5 minute advantage in time of possession this week and it showed as the defense appeared to be much more fresh. In my opinion, this NEEDS to be the Steelers’ identity going forward whether it’s #7 or #3 under center.
- Hopefully Ladarius Green gets up to speed over the bye week, because the tight ends on this team stink. Jesse James is a serviceable backup but routinely disappears in the pass game and completely blows blocks on run plays too often. I’m done with Xavier Grimble. In a game in which so many players seemed to be doing all they could, Grimble just drops too many open passes and looked soft to me. I’m tired of hearing he has the look of an elite tight end.
- Green would also be a great addition because this team is lacking a second receiving option (outside of Bell). Sammie Coates looked like he may be emerging before a hand injury set him back.
- That being said, Cobi Hamilton really stepped it up late in the game when Antonio Brown had to miss a series. I largely ignored Hamilton in pre-season because he was playing against 3rd string defenses but the spotlight doesn’t get much brighter in the regular season than it was on Sunday.
- Many took issue with Mike Tomlin’s decision to kick a field goal down 11 late in the game. Personally I didn’t have a problem with the decision, but it looks bad in hindsight with Boswell missing. I had a bigger problem with possibly the worst challenge in Tomlin’s tenure on an early Gronkowski catch that was an obvious catch. The timeout lost could have been what the Steelers needed when they ran out of time late in the first half and settled for a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown.
- On the other side of the ball, it wasn’t always pretty, but honestly it was better than I expected. Coach Tomlin admitted afterwards they were willing to give up some yards to LaGarette Blount if it meant limiting big plays. The Patriots offense can beat you so many different ways that I don’t think that’s a bad strategy to employ. That being said, this team has to figure out how to stop the run after getting bullied in consecutive games.
- While the pass rush left Brady with a mostly clean jersey, they did at least make him uncomfortable enough to have to move around the pocket a bit, and the coverage was good enough on 3rd down to make him tuck it and run 3 times (unfortunately for 1st downs). I’m probably giving them too much credit, but in the past Brady stands back there like a statue and picks them apart.
- Like I said, the Pats have a lot of ways to beat you and the team did a nice job taking away Brady’s best target, Gronkowski for much of the game, so there are going to be cracks somewhere. But man, they really need to figure out a way to not have Lawrence Timmons trying to cover one of the best slot receivers in the league in Julian Edelman. Sean Davis replaced Timmons a few times on passing downs, and I definitely think that’s a better option.
- I was one that vocally criticized the front office for years for putting such a premium on tackling from the cornerbacks. “Cornerbacks should be able to cover!” I’d often yell. Well, I’m here to say I was wrong. Many of Blount’s big runs throughout the day came when he’d bounce the run outside where Artie Burns just looks helpless. If the rest of the defense featured great tacklers you might be able to hide him, but that’s not the case here.
So there it is. I won’t disagree that the team left a lot of points out there with mistakes throughout, but I saw a team out there fighting and giving a better team everything they had. I can live with that. I also came away from that game thinking if the team is at full strength they can beat that Patriots team in the playoffs, even if Foxborough.