Riding a six-game winning streak the Pittsburgh Steelers went into Denver and did many things well. Taking care of the football was not one of them however as they repeatedly shot themselves in the foot in losing to the Broncos 24-17. The most egregious of all came at the end when Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted by a defensive lineman at the goal line. It was the perfect culmination to a comedy of errors that cost this team a victory.
After having a field goal blocked, the Steelers fell behind 3-0 but a brilliantly called and executed throwback to Xavier Grimble resulted in a fumble out of the end zone. Quite frankly Grimble should be released immediately. He had all the momentum and just needed to lower a shoulder or make one move but instead he allowed himself to get decked by the Denver defensive back causing the fumble. It was embarrassing and un-Steeler-like.
In the third quarter, James Conner inexplicably lost the ball on a big gain deep in Denver territory. The Broncos turned that into seven points. It was the second straight blunder for the promising second year running back. Last week he dropped a sure game-winning touchdown but was able to overcome it when Roethlisberger scored shortly after. Today there was no redemption for him. He has to do a better job of holding onto the ball period.
This was not entirely on the offense however. The secondary looked much like they did in the earlier part of the season. At one point there was a very testy exchange on the sideline between Coty Sensabaugh and T.J. Watt. In other words, get ready for more discussion about “communication issues.” I think rookie Terrell Edmunds has some guilt in this too. His play at this point in the season is not what it should be as he’s missing assignments and taking poor angles.
I predicted earlier in the week that this Steelers would lose because it just felt like they were due for some bounces to go against them. I certainly didn’t see this many however.
There should be serious questions about Randy Fichtner’s gameplan. Ben Roethlisberger threw 58 passes. The Steelers ran the ball just 16 times against a defense that ranked 27th against the run. While one can argue that Big Ben threw the ball well, and he did, there was absolutely no reason for this disparity between the run and the pass. There should also be questions about Fichtner’s red zone calls which had been pretty good until today. Make no mistake, the Roethlisberger interception was all on him. Even if the Broncos’ D-Lineman hadn’t picked it off the cornerback on Antonio Brown would have. It was that bad of a pass.
The shining moments of today were JuJu Smith-Schuster who became the first player in NFL history to have two touchdown receptions of 97 yards and Alejandro Villanueva. The Pro Bowl tackle caught a touchdown pass from Chris Boswell on a beautifully run fake field goal at the end of the first half. One could also say the performance of rookie Chuks Okorafor was a bright spot as well. He did an excellent job with all-pro pass rusher Von Miller in his first career start. Yes, he had a lot of help at times but showed himself quite well.
Pittsburgh now finds itself in the fourth spot in the AFC playoff race pending the outcome of Houston’s game against Tennessee tomorrow night. Should the Steelers end up third of fourth they will likely look back at what might have been in this game. Being shot in Denver isn’t new to the Steelers, but shooting yourself was a bit more troubling with so much on the line.
Photo courtesy: OregonLive.com