The Pittsburgh Steelers have to be the most bi-polar team in the NFL this season. When they are good, they are New England Patriots unstoppable good. When they are bad, they’re Cleveland Browns bad! The difference in how this team played in the first half versus the second half is a microcosm of this up and down season. Especially on the defensive end.
Everything started out so well when the defense kicked things off doing two things on its first drive they’ve struggle to do all season; sack the quarterback and force turnovers. The sack, and forced fumble by Anthony Chickillo, recovered by Ryan Shazier set the Steelers offense up at the Cowboys 38-yard line.
It was clear on that first drive, that Le’Veon Bell was on a mission to prove why many say he’s the best back in the League, even though Ezekiel Elliott may very well finish the season with the NFL rushing title and the rookie rushing record. I’ll get to Zeke in a moment.
The message was clear what offensive coordinator Todd Haley wanted to do. Bell gained 28 of the Steelers 38 yards on the scoring drive (3 carries for 14 yds and 2 catches for 14 yds and his first touchdown). In the first quarter he rushed for 37 yards on 7 carries. In the first half Bell earned 4 first downs (3 on the ground, 1 receiving), carrying the ball 12 times for 46 yards and caught 5 passes for 39 yards. For all of Ben Roethlisberger’s abilities and experience and Antonio Brown’s skills, Bell is the best player on this unit and needs to be its driving force.
Roethlisberger carried the momentum from his near 4th quarter comeback at Baltimore into the game going 9 of 11 for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns in the 1st quarter. For the half he was 21 of 26 for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns. During the week he called on the young guys to step up and deliver with all the defenses attention and efforts going towards stopping Brown, and they did.
Eli Rogers had 4 catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. Jesse James had 4 catches for 59 yards and a huge catch and run that set up the Steelers last score that appeared to be the game winner. There effectiveness helped as it forced Dallas to readjust, and when they did Brown got loose finishing the evening with 14 catches for 154 yards and what appeared to be the game winning touchdown with 42 seconds remaining in the game. What appeared to be the game winner.
That’s the good, that the offense we know and love that can put up 30 points is still in those uniforms. Then there’s the bad.
Face it, Blitzburgh defense is dead! This Steelers defense can’t, and won’t win them a game. Especially if they are playing an offense that ranks in the top half of the league. It’s embarrassing to watch them play.
Aside from the 83 yard screen pass and run touchdown scored by Elliott, they held the Cowboys offense in check in the first 30 minutes. Dallas was 1-5 on 3rd downs in the first half and 0-1 in the red zone, and Elliott ran for only 34 yards on 7 carries. This allowed the Steelers offense to control the ball for 17:45 minutes of the 30 minutes in the first half.
As much as the first half was controlled by the Steelers, the second half was equally controlled and dominated by Dallas. Dak Prescott led the Cowboys offense to 6-7 on 3rd downs in the half, he finished 22 of 32 for 319 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Cowboys flipped the time of possession battle in their favor holding the ball for 17:36 minutes in the second half, and for the game won 30:24 to 29:36. Elliott ran for 80 of 114 yards rushing and 2 rushing touchdowns in the second half. This is the problem with this team, not the offense, not special teams, but the defense or lack their of. I wouldn’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Keith Butler doesn’t finish the season, and honestly if this teams is going to turn it around, a shake up of that magnitude may be necessary.
And I don’t want to hear fans in Steelers Nation bash Mike Tomlin and call for his job for going for 2-point conversions after every touchdown. When it’s working, you all say that you “love the aggressiveness” of the team. So don’t be upset when it doesn’t work 100% of the time as it did the first two times they did it this season, or have the high percentage of success they had last season. Either way, if they kick field goals and make them all, that is 4 points and they still lose the by one point. So get off it.
Even with the loss the Steelers still have a chance to win the AFC North and get into the playoffs. They have another meeting with division leader Baltimore in Pittsburgh, two games against the winless Cleveland Browns, and another in Cincinnati against the Bengals. Now is the time for a greater sense of urgency.
Next up, at the Cleveland Browns. Kickoff is at 1:00 pm. If they lose to the winless Browns, then panic.
- Roethlisberger passed the 45,000 passing yard mark. He’s the fifth fastest in league history to do so (179 games).