By Zach Metkler of GZ Sports Report, special to the Point of Pittsburgh
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Four. Four straight losses. The last time the Steelers lost four games in a row? Weeks 1 to 4 of the 2013 season. After the admittedly exciting 35-30 game against the 8-1 Cowboys, the Steelers now sit at 4-5 with the season quickly getting away from them. There is a lot of football left to play and the loss to the Cowboys is not a “bad loss” (like losing to another sub-.500 team would be considered), but something needs to change for the Black and Gold if they expect to make a late-season playoff push.
Ben Roethlisberger: 37/46. 408 yards. 3 touchdowns. No interceptions. 125.4 passer rating. This is the Ben Roethlisberger we are used to seeing. After struggling against the Ravens, Big Ben was the biggest reason the Steelers were in this game from start to finish. The fake spike was a genius play, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. In recent weeks, Roethlisberger’s throws have been widely criticized for their inaccuracy and lack of zip, but that was not the case against Dallas. This was as efficient of a game as a quarterback could have.
Eli Rogers: The Steelers have been in desperate need of someone other than Antonio Brown to carry the weight in the receiving corps. Over the past two weeks, Rogers has been that guy. While the stat line might not indicate it (4 receptions, 42 yards, 1 touchdown), Rogers ran great routes all game and made some tough grabs, primarily his touchdown reception, which was not a good throw from Roethlisberger.
Le’Veon Bell: Fun Fact: Bell tied Franco Harris for the most 9+ reception games by a running back in Steelers history. While Bell struggled to make a huge impact on the ground with 17 carries for 57 yards (largely because of the offensive line struggling to get any true push), Bell still made his presence known by continuing to prove why he is the best receiving back in the NFL. Bell also added his first touchdown(s) of the season against Dallas. The Juice was Loose in Pittsburgh.
Anthony Chickillo: While many fans (myself included) feel that the Steelers need to address the pass rush early in the draft this upcoming offseason, one thing is for sure: Anthony Chickillo is miles from where he was last season. His strip sack of Dak Prescott on the opening drive of the game was absolutely textbook. While Chickillo is not a true every-down starter, he is far from the problem in the Steelers outside linebacker rotation. He has a nose for the football and plays with an extremely high motor, which many draft experts lauded him for coming out of Miami.
Ladarius Green: Ladarius Green really did not make a big impact for the Steelers, finishing with 3 receptions for 30 yards on 4 targets. But considering Green’s low volume of snaps, his ability to make anything out of them is impressive. His one missed pass came in the endzone on a well defended pass by a Cowboys’s DB. Expect Green to continue to be integrated into the offense alongside Jesse James, who continues to blossom into a nice well-rounded tight end.
Artie Burns: Welcome to the NFL, Artie. Covering one of the best receivers in the NFL in Dez Bryant is no small task for any cornerback in the league. But Burns struggled quite a bit against the Cowboys, especially on the 50-yard touchdown reception. Although Burns should have had more help over the top on the play and it’s a head-scratching decision to have had Burns 1-on-1 with Bryant in the first place instead of Ross Cockrell, Burns showed a lot of growing pains in this one. He had a few moments where he demonstrated his natural coverage ability, but Burns is not ready to be covering elite receivers on an island. Those duties should go to Cockrell, who is quietly putting together one of the best seasons of any corner in the league.
Sammie Coates: Two snaps. Two. Snaps. What is happening with Sammie Coates? Coates had the chance to make his mark against the Cowboys with a deep pass in the endzone at the end of the 2nd quarter, but the ball sailed through his hands (there was some questionable touching during the play but still). The most concerning thing, though, was the fact that he was out-snapped by Cobi Hamilton. The same Cobi Hamilton who was on the practice squad earlier this season. I am a fan of Hamilton and he is showing that he has value for the Steelers moving forward, especially with the ugly play of Markus Wheaton, but the Steelers did not draft Coates to have him get two snaps in a game in which he was healthy. Coates had an opportunity to make an impact with Darrius Heyward-Bey and Markus Wheaton on the shelf, but it was not meant to be. Something is going on with Coates but it has yet to be determined what it is.
Run Defense: Yes, Ezekiel Elliott has quickly become one of the best running backs in the NFL (he has not only placed himself as the leading candidate for NFL ROY, but has put himself in the NFL MVP conversation as well). Yes, the Cowboys offensive line is the best in the NFL. But that does not excuse the Steelers defense from allowing Zeke to have his way all afternoon. The run defense has had its moments this season, but when they are off, they are off. And the game against the Cowboys was a perfect example of that. There was no containing the rookie back as he ran for big play after big play.
Safeties: Sean Davis, Robert Golden, and Mike Mitchell all belong on this list. While Davis’ tackling has improved in recent weeks and he did not have a terrible game, the facemask on the final drive of the game was about as untimely of a penalty as the Bengals penalties against the Steelers in the Wild Card game last season. Golden and Mitchell have caused more headaches than big plays this season and you can’t have that from your starting safety tandem. After it appeared that Mitchell was in line for a big season this year, he has missed far too many tackles and it seems that at the tail end of every big play the Steelers give up, #23 is not too far behind playing catch-up after being a prime factor in why the big play even happened in the first place. Golden and Mitchell have no interceptions and no forced fumbles this season, which goes a long way in helping identify the Steelers woes not only in the secondary, but on the defense as a whole.
Fitzgerald Toussaint: Toussaint makes this list for his attempt at being a hero on the 2-PT attempt toward the end of the game. I understand what Toussaint was doing, as he probably thought that Roethlisberger was in trouble and just threw the ball up and did not know Jesse James was directly behind him. What stings the most is that James would have likely caught the toss, as it was heading straight for him while he was practically uncovered. I am not saying that this game is a result of Toussaint because that is not at all true. Just a painful play to watch as a player was in the process of giving 120% to help his team.
Danny Smith: Another game where the special teams unit struggles. Chris Boswell missed a field goal (albeit a 55-yard attempt, which would have been the longest field goal in Heinz Field history, far from a tall task), but he also kicked a kickoff out of bounds. Multiple punts went for long yardage, with one almost returned for a touchdown. The coverage units leave a lot to be desired and this all starts with Danny Smith. He has come under fire over the past year or so due to his unit’s inability to make any true splash plays on special teams and that continues. At some point this needs to change. He obviously can’t control Boswell kicking the ball out of bounds or Jordan Berry getting destroyed on a return, but consider this: Toussaint’s 33-yard kick return was the longest of the season for the Steelers. They haven’t had a return of 40+ yards in almost two years, with the last one coming on a Markus Wheaton 41-yard return on November 30th, 2014. Yikes.
Mike Tomlin: Yes, the penalties were less prevelant against the Cowboys than they were last week. But boy, did these ones hurt and come at the worst time. Regardless of your stance on the Steelers 2-point conversion attempts (which the argument can go either way), the Steelers are now on a four-game losing streak and are still an undisciplined football team. This all starts at the top with Tomlin. Will Tomlin get fired? Probably not. And while many fans are calling for his job right now, he will likely remain the head coach in the future. But something has to change in order for the Steelers to have a chance. Tomlin is losing this team and he is losing the support of Steeler Nation. The question now is if there is enough time to salvage the season? While I believe that the players have to play and the coaches still have to coach, I also believe that the success of this team for the remainder of the season not only relies on the health of the Steelers, but on Tomlin’s ability to rally his troops and start playing Steelers football.