The Pittsburgh Steelers returned home in week five to face their first division leading opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Who boasted the number one passing defense entering the week the game. The Jaguars defense lived up to their ranking, intercepting Ben Roethlisberger a career high five times. Which lead the Jaguars to route the Steelers 30-9 in Pittsburgh. Luckily, with the Steelers win over Baltimore last week, they are still the leader of the AFC North via tie-breaker over the Ravens.
Pittsburgh Steelers Gut Reactions Week Five
It’s next to impossible to win a NFL football game when the quarterback throws five interceptions. That was the predicament the Steelers facde in week five. To add fuel to the fire, the Jaguars returned two of those interceptions for touchdowns. That forced a demoralized, underachieving, struggling Steelers offense to stay on the field. Through week five they still haven’t found their identity. There are so many troubling signs, starting is rather hard. The five interceptions aside, which is impossible, examine what’s keeping Roethlisberger from returning to form.
Let’s Fix Roethlisberger First
Don’t get me wrong, Antonio Brown should be loved. He had another productive day. 10 receptions for 157 yards, but he once again failed to get in the end zone on 19 targets! That’s almost double his usual workload. Which leads to one of Roethlisberger’s first problem: force feeding Brown in double coverage. Another issue Roethlisberger must address is his accuracy. Of course, getting hit constantly doesn’t help, but when he finds an open receiver, the passes are rarely hitting the receiver in stride. The throw is generally high or low.
Further, when the Steelers passing game is dominant, the deep ball is a big part of the game plan. Partially, because the team is inept in the red zone under offensive coordinator Todd Haley, but also because both Brown and Martavis Bryant are deep threats. It doesn’t matter if these deep passes are always completed. The importance of taking shots down field lies in forcing defenses to play honestly. Bryant is the undisputed deep threat on this roster. Yet, he had five receptions for a mere 21 yards. That’s 4.2 yards per reception; not exactly deep threat type numbers.
Another Way to Help
Another big help would be to implement Jesse James more in the passing game. He’s a huge target with soft hands. James has proven he’s an inept blocker, especially in the running game. So why not get him some more touches in the middle of the field, where he’s by far the biggest player?
His blocking is subpar, and his inability to break tackles after the catch is baffling for someone his size. But when averaging eight yards a reception makes any player a receiving threat. Roethlisberger should use him as one.
The Real Problem
The offense in general has a feeling of malaise. The team maybe starting to lose faith in Haley’s offensive scheme. His play calling is horrible in the red zone and it seems like the offense is losing faith in him. This team is loaded with record setting talent yet looks uninspired. The coaching staff looks satisfied with settling for field goals.
The Steelers defense plays similar zone schemes that were absolutely eviscerated by the New England Patriots in last year’s AFC Championship game. It’s time somebody asks why the Steelers offense, which is equally or more talented, can’t execute a similar game plan.
Spread the Blame Around
Don’t think that Roethlisberger’s five interceptions are solely his fault. Here are some other players that need to step up their gameplay if the Steelers offense is going to get on track.
David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey need to open up holes on their double teams so Le’Veon Bell can get north and south and into a hole. They’re both first round draft picks and pro bowl caliber talent. To see DeCastro falling when he pulls, and not winning at the point of attack just solidifies the drop off between last season and this season. No wonder Bell is averaging only 3.1 yards per carry. Jesse James needs to run block. The coaching staff is probably wishing that the Vance McDonald trade paid off.
Then there’s Haley, the offensive coordinator that is lost. The Steelers offense made three trips into the red zone and ended up with no touchdowns. An unacceptable stat given the amount of talent he has to work with. Head coach Mike Tomlin stays out of offensive play-calling because of his defensive background. But if there isn’t an overhaul in Haley’s scheme, then the Steelers need to consider hiring another offensive quality control coach. Someone needs to make sure the level execution on this offense improves.
A Bell, Not A Steamroller
Bell needs to step up too. He can’t control being limited to 15 carries but he also had 10 receptions. Both his 3.1 yards per rush and 4.6 yards per reception are underwhelming. He’s a receiving talent, he can run more than just check down routes. He should be flanked out as a receiver more, and run routes deeper into the secondary.
But Bell’s big problem is his inability to break tackles. He is still dealing with his holdout hangover. All of his receptions were close to the line of scrimmage, and he wasn’t able to break a tackle in the secondary. Bell’s longest reception went for nine yards in week five. Give credit where credit is due, the Jaguars defense played well. But they’re far from the 1986 Chicago Bears.
The Flip side of the Coin is Still Ugly
The defense who, has been the unit that has carried the Steelers through week five couldn’t get on the field in the second half. Two pick sixes’ in four Roethlisberger passing attempts kept the Steelers offense on the field. They were ineffective for most of the game. The defense faced another below average quarterback in Blake Bortles and were tasked with shutting down Leonard Fournette, which they did for most of the game. That is, until the offense really needed the ball back. Then Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt struggled to set the edges, and let Fournette chew up clock in the fourth quarter.
Even with their lack luster fourth quarter performance, the Steelers defense was set to break their four-week long streak of backs averaging over six yards per carry. That is until Fournette ripped off a 90-yard touchdown run. That carry ended the game and pushed his average yards per carry up to 6.5.
Is the defense the best unit on the team right now? Yes. Are they inconsistent? Yes.
The Steelers go on the road to face the only undefeated team left in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs. These two teams are polar opposites at the moment, with the Steelers underachieving and the Chiefs stunning the league with their running game, defense and ability to make big plays in the passing game. This will be the second straight week the Steelers face a division leader. For the sake of tie breakers, and home field advantage in the playoffs, they better come prepared to play. Or the Chiefs, who scored 42 points against a talented Houston Texans defense, in Houston, will do something similar to the Steelers next week.