I don’t know if a victory has ever felt so hollow for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not in recent memory, anyhow. You could bring up Week 17 of last year in which the Steelers lost All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell to a questionable hit, ultimately missing him greatly in the postseason. That really does not even come close to this.
In a game that is seemingly now meaningless, the Steelers lost starting quarterback and leader of the team Ben Roethlisberger to another questionable hit. The hit itself has been excused by many, but the rule book reads it as a dirty hit, and that is indeed what it was. Though cleared of any structural damage and also of a possible ACL injury, Roethlisberger is expected to miss at least four to six weeks of the regular season.
Everyone take a drink.
RED ZONE WOES CONTINUE
Once again, the Steelers’ offense was unable to generate points consistently in the red zone, despite the first half game plan being extremely effective against a dominant front of the St. Louis Rams. On the first drive, Roethlisberger drove the offense down the field at will, fielding an empty set offense and picking apart a secondary that lacks the talent to cover the amount of weapons the Steelers boast (though, to be fair, it’s questionable if any secondary has the talent to do so). Roethlisberger’s quick strike offense, led by multiple completions to both Antonio Brown and Bell, was simply too much for the Rams to handle and the Steelers ate up more than half of the first quarter. Unfortunately, the drive stalled in the red zone as the play-calling seemed to shift to a more conservative approach, rather than continue to spread the defense out and find holes in the zone coverage. Continuing to settle for three points, when the offense is capable of embarrassing any secondary it comes across, is unacceptable. The expectation isn’t and shouldn’t be for the offense to score on every possession, but when in scoring position, the Steelers must capitalize. This almost cost them late in the game.
CODY WALLACE IS NOT AN NFL CENTER
While it may be harsh to put it so bluntly, it is indeed true. Since taking over for Maurkice Pouncey after he suffered an unfortunate preseason injury, Cody Wallace has played extremely poorly in relief. His noticeable lack of technique and ability in pass protection has been the clear weakness on an otherwise stout offensive line. In the second half of Sunday’s game, the correct adjustments were made by Rams’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and Aaron Donald saw a lot more one-on-one against Wallace than in the first half. The questionable shift in play-calling by coordinator Todd Haley did not seem to help matters, as the Steelers seemingly regained their conservative approach in putting too much emphasis on running the ball. The quick strike offense that had been so effective in the first half against the Rams seemingly vanished and allowed the defensive front to continually apply pressure up the middle against Roethlisberger.
DEFENSE STANDS UP TO TALL TASK
After the Nick Foles-led Rams’ offense managed to put a thirty-burger on the Seattle Seahawks at home, they simply could not move the ball with any consistency against the Steelers’ defense. It seemed as if the cover-2, bend-don’t-break mentality that the Steelers have employed worked exceptionally well against a lackluster offensive opponent.
Defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt have been exceptional through the first three weeks of the season. While the outside pass rush has been inconsistent thus far, Heyward and Tuitt have been consistently excellent in crashing the pocket from the interior and have forced multiple hurried and poor throws. While more consistency is needed from the edge rush, defensive coordinator Keith Butler has put both defensive ends into a position to generate an interior pass rush, allowing them to change from the more traditional two-gap defensive end scheme that was prevalent under Dick LeBeau.
As well as the defense played on Sunday, the absence of second year linebacker Ryan Shazier was noticeable, particularly in the run game. The return of Sean Spence is a heartwarming story that makes him an easy player to cheer for, but his inability to diagnose and attack the ball carrier like that of Shazier is noticeable on every down.
Side note: how good was the Steelers 2014 draft? Shazier, Tuitt, and Martavis Bryant. Two key members of the rebuilt defense drafted one after another, followed by one of the most exciting young receivers in football.
BEN’S KNEE AND MICHAEL VICK
There will be two articles up in the immediate future regarding both the extent of Roethlisberger’s knee injury and if it is time to push the panic button under Michael Vick. Fret not, we have you covered.
- This post-game wrap-up is noticeably shorter than those in the past. After a hollow win against a non-conference opponent in which the starting quarterback goes down, there isn’t much more that needs to be said.
- The defense has played surprisingly well to this point. That said, the secondary remains vulnerable to the deep ball and surrendering explosive plays. The edge rush needs to be more consistent, and more is needed from Jarvis Jones, James Harrison and Arthur Moats. Bud Dupree has exceptional upside and has flashed it thus far, but more is needed from the veteran players. Dupree simply cannot lead the outside linebackers in sacks if the Steelers hope to have an edge presence.
- David DeCastro struggled in the second half of the game against Donald, but there isn’t much to read into here. Donald is probably the best defensive tackle in the league, and I don’t believe there is an offensive linemen in football that can win successfully one-on-one against him. DeCastro did manage to hold his own against Donald for a significant number of snaps in which he was up against him. His “struggles” (should you want to call them that) do not even enter the same hemisphere as Wallace’s.
- Bell was not the same explosive force as he usually is on the ground against the Rams, but this was more due to a significant shift in play-calling in the second half and the fact that he was running against what is likely the best front seven in football. There isn’t any cause for concern here, and I do believe he racks up the yardage on the ground over the next two games against a suddenly-feeble Ravens defensive unit and a Chargers team that cannot stop the run.
- Antonio Brown remains uncoverable by any defensive back in football. It’s ridiculous.
- Kelvin Beachum uncharacteristically struggled against Robert Quinn. The whole line did not have a good game.
- The Steelers play this Thursday night at home against the Baltimore Ravens.