I don’t know what that was. I’m at a loss of words in trying to explain the monstrosity that was the game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
I’ve never felt so … frustrated after a loss. This includes games in which this team has lost Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell, in addition to Maurkice Pouncey’s season being ended in the pre-season.
This was just brutal.
Let’s just jump right in.
THE LAKE EFFECT NEEDS TO BE SHUT DOWN
Mike Tomlin needs to take control over his secondary immediately. This is long overdue and now an absolute necessity.
Defensive back’s coach Carnell Lake was recently quoted in saying the secondary had been “playing ok”. Yes, this is the same secondary that has allowed, in consecutive weeks, two quarterbacks to torch this team for over 300 yards and 6 touchdowns, one of which came after a bye.
There’s a lot to talk about here, so let’s just start from the top.
The secondary is not playing adequately. In no shape or form is this secondary playing at a professional football level. For Lake to describe this secondary as playing up to form is alarming, considering how porous they’ve played throughout the season. Reading between the lines here, it should be pointed out that the secondary has not allowed many points to be scored on it, particularly in the red zone. It’s equally important to point out, however, that this is no longer the case. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense has played, for the most part, mediocre-to-average quarterbacks. In the games they’ve lost, they have allowed quarterbacks to pick apart a secondary composed of below-average talent with ease, moving the ball downfield or simply dinking and dunking the ball using simplistic reads on whichever receiver has the fortunate opportunity to be lined up against cornerback Antwon Blake that week. More on this later, however.
This secondary allowed Johnny Manziel, now the third-string quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, to throw for over 370 yards. Take this in for a moment. A quarterback that has flashed little ability to play at the professional level torched the secondary for almost 400 passing yards. The flip side would reveal that Johnny ‘College’ Football was only able to score 9 points.
For many of the same reasons that Manziel was able to march up and down the field at will, taking advantage of tight ends down the seam and the little talent that the Browns possess on the boundary against Blake, quarterback Russell Wilson torched this defense to the tune of 5 passing touchdowns.
Absurd. Unacceptable. Inexcusable. Ridiculous.
Pick your adjective. They’re all on point.
This is not a secondary that is playing adequately. This is not a secondary that has the ability to stop opposing offenses consistently. This is not a secondary that should be playing in the National Football League.
Worse yet is that this is the reasoning Lake used for not playing cornerback Brandon Boykin. Y’know, the corner the front office traded for in August to bolster the biggest weakness on this team. Stick with me, if you can. The rationale here is, because the secondary is “playing ok”, Boykin is not seeing the field. Lake was also quoted in saying “Somebody else would have to be playing badly right now [for Boykin to see the field].” Just so we’re all clear, this means Lake believes Blake is not playing badly.
If Lake truly believes this and it isn’t a front for another reason to keep Boykin from playing, he needs to be fired. Immediately. No hyperbole, no exaggeration. If Lake believes this secondary is playing up to snuff, he needs to be removed from his post. It’s as simple as that. That’s not a reactionary statement, it’s just a truthful one.
Read between the lines here. Lake believes that this secondary would somehow be worse off with Boykin and rookie cornerback Doran Grant in the game.
Is there anybody else who truly believes this? Anyone? Bueller?
I’m just at a loss for words here to express how much this decision is hurting this football team. Boykin, a cornerback that once registered six interceptions in a single season, is not playing on this team because Lake believes Blake is the answer on the boundary.
There’s a theory, one I believe has merit, that Blake is currently playing injured. If we put any stock into this theory, it could potentially explain the horrendously poor play from him. This also begs the question, however, if he’s injured, why is he playing?
There is no excuse to continue to play Blake on anything but special teams. His aggressive style and physicality may be well liked by the coaching staff, but it is not helping them win any football games. If he truly is injured, which may be the only answer as he is likely the worst cornerback in football as of this moment, then he needs to rehabilitate that injury and play for another team next season.
The secondary does not have to be this bad. With the players currently on the roster, it could be much better than it is right now. Cornerback Cortez Allen is currently on IR, but I don’t buy he’s injured. Not for one second. To me, it appears as if Allen was put on IR due to his play and being in Tomlin’s doghouse. If this is the case, which all signs are pointing toward, the fact Blake has not yet met the same fate is baffling. Think, for one moment, what this secondary could potentially look like.
Ross Cockrell and Boykin could play on the boundary. Allen could be relegated to the slot, and Grant could potentially play strong safety or play in Dime packages. I’d be very interested in seeing Grant’s play at safety given his physicality and strength in playing in zone coverage. That leaves out veteran cornerback Gay, who has not played poorly this season, but has not played well enough to get considerable playing time over any of those previously mentioned. Would you take that secondary over the one currently on the field? I would.
I’m tired of hearing about how few points this team has allowed. The defensive front is covering up for a secondary that already gets torched on a regular basis. Blake and Will Allen need to sit for the remainder of the season. Boykin needs to begin playing on the boundary, and Grant should be seeing defensive reps.
If Lake cannot see this as the case, he needs to be shown the door. Perhaps it is time for this team to wash its hands of former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau in every sense. This means that all of his assistants — aside from current defensive coordinator Keith Butler — are shown the door. They are more than welcome to join him in Tennessee.
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS BEN ROETHLISBERGER?
Normally, on a day where your quarterback throws for 450+ yards and scores 30 points, it results in a win. I say normally as the defensive secondary should not allow 80-yard catch and run touchdowns on 3rd-and-9, but I digress.
Roethlisberger’s numbers, on the surface, appear very good. Against the Legion of Boom, over 500 yards of total offense is exceptional. A receiver with over 200 yards is remarkable.
Here’s why none of that is true.
Roethlisberger had a decent day if you play fantasy football. I do not. Roethlisberger was part of the problem on Sunday, and a major reason why they lost. He’s always had issues underthrowing receivers. For all that he brings to the table, this has always been the case. It’s become more prevalent this season than it ever has been. Receiver Martavis Bryant had a step on cornerback DeShawn Shead numerous times but failed to capitalize. Despite the turnovers, the Steelers had every opportunity to win this game and the offense failed to do so. The interceptions, as unlucky to be caused by poor officiating as they were, ended any hope of the Steelers’ comeback. Roethlisberger has now thrown an interception in five straight games. It’s important to note than he had nine interceptions in all of last season.
If he’s battling with more than the disclosed injuries then it’s understandable, but Roethlisberger operated out of a clean pocket for the majority of the game on Sunday and simply missed receivers. The lack of a running game should not hurt a team built to win games 52-49 if they must.
Roethlisberger didn’t play poorly on Sunday, but he was one of the reasons the offense could not get going. The gameplan was the other.
The gameplan did not include moving receiver Antonio Brown out of Richard Sherman’s control. I’m not entirely sure of the reasoning behind this.
Putting Brown in motion, lining him up in the slot, creating mismatches inside and underneath needed to be a part of the plan. Sherman was following Brown, yes, but putting Brown in the slot and forcing either safety Kam Chancellor or linebacker Bobby Wagner to play one-on-one should have been a major focal point. If nothing else, this greatly changes the Seahawks’ defensive plan.
Sherman held Brown to 3 catches for 27 yards when lined up against him. This speaks to the talent of Sherman, but speaks louder regarding the plan of the Steelers and how they lined Brown up. Allowing the Seahawks to take out the biggest threat on offense willingly was a mistake, and ultimately ended up being a costly one.
ALL IN ALL …
This was the Steelers’ opportunity to take control over its own destiny. Now, they no longer control it. This team is operating with one of the least talented secondaries in football coupled with an offensive unit that is down three starters, two of which are All-Pro players. This, however, can not be an excuse. This team has not played well as of late. This is a game that should have been a starting point for the Steelers to build off of. A chance to “stack wins”, as Tomlin says. Instead, the offense fell flat and the defense played poorly throughout the game.
I don’t know if this is a playoff team or not. I’m not leaning one way or another. I do know, however, that this is a team that has multiple flaws on its roster. This is a team without a true number one cornerback or an NFL-caliber strong safety on its roster. This is a frustrating team to watch, and one I believe is not capable of winning a Super Bowl this season. The offense, when firing on all cylinders, is an offense capable of winning the title. The secondary is not capable of stopping better offenses in the league. In its current state, I don’t know if there’s a less-talented secondary in football.
The Steelers do not have to win out, but winning out would secure their playoff berth. That being said, the Steelers can likely only lose one more game. If nothing else, the last five games of the season is going to show what this team is truly made of.
• I did not mention the officiating in the game for a reason. Yes, the officiating was horrendous and likely had a major impact on the game. No, I do not believe this is why the Steelers lost. It’s lazy to pin the blame on officiating, despite how porous it was. Yes, the call on Lawrence Timmons hitting Wilson “out of bounds” despite the quarterback firmly being inbounds was laughable. Yes, the lack of defensive pass interference calls on Sherman (there were three, by the way), one resulting in an interception were questionable. With all of the flaws on this team, blaming the officiating for the loss on Sunday is a cop out.
• I also did not mention the fake field-goal intentionally. Look, I don’t agree with the time and place for the call, but further review showed that left tackle Alejandro Villanueva was actually open on the play. Jones’ delivery and ability getting off of his first read were both late and resulted in the interception. If executed properly, it would have worked. Disagree with the timing of the call, but it would have worked.
• Then there was the fourth-down field goal call. This I can’t rationalize. Tomlin put the game into the hands of his defense despite showing multiple times they were incapable of stopping the Seahawks’ offense. They should have gone for it – period. If they failed, it would have backed the Seahawks up inside their own 5-yard line. The chances the Seahawks throw the ball from this part of the field are low, borderline zero. The Steelers would have gotten the ball back, perhaps not with Roethlisberger in the game.