When the final seconds ran off the clock, the final score read; Denver 24 Pittsburgh 17. Yet, the Steelers were clearly the better team in Denver. Clearly, the team that can represent the AFC in the Super Bowl and one that can win Lombardi number seven; if they play the way they’re capable of.
The problem, as it turned out, was the Steelers made far too many mistakes in the game. They left 17 points on the board via a blocked field goal, a fumble by Xavier Grimble out of the end zone and a game-ending interception thrown by Ben Roethlisberger in the end zone.
But play calling, specifically at the end can be chalked up as questionable at best. Running an RPO on what turned out to be the final offensive play for the Steelers made little to no sense. The team hadn’t run the RPO much at all in 2018 yet Randy Fichtner elected to call that play as James Conner sat as a perfectly legitimate option in the backfield.
These mistakes cost the Steelers the game and they may cost them more than that down the line, if they don’t get things in check, beginning this week against the Chargers.
The Steelers have a high-octane offense, capable of scoring with anyone in the league. They proved that during their six-game winning streak. That offense isn’t going anywhere, it’s just the play calls that need to be implemented, consistently, in order to ensure the offense doesn’t hinder itself.
They also have a defense that’s capable of stuffing the run and getting to the quarterback with guys like T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Cameron Heyward, and even Javon Hargrave. That pass rush is capable of masking a weak secondary.
Yet that weak secondary can be a problem in more ways than one. First, they are very capable of getting burned over the top. Come Sunday, when Phillip Rivers comes to town, the Steelers better get a heavy and effective rush on or else Rivers will make the secondary pay, dearly. The second issue with the secondary and the defense overall is the inability to create turnovers. Nobody on the team has more than one interception and it’s hard to get off the field against quality opponents, like the upcoming Chargers, if you can’t take the ball away at times.
Couple that fact with the mistakes the Steelers have been making offensively, in terms of turning the ball over and the black and gold find themselves 26th in the league in the giveaway/take away rankings, averaging -.6 per game. The teams that are worse than them? The Eagles, Jets, Cardinals, Jaguars, 49ers, and Buccaneers. Not a group of teams you’d like to be bunched with.
For comparison sake, the Bears, the NFC North leaders, average +1.3 per game, to lead the league.
However, it’s not just the mistakes of play calling and turnovers that cost the game vs. Denver and that could hurt this team down the stretch. It’s the penalties too.
The Steelers are averaging 69.5 yards per game in penalties, good for 31st in the league. The Patriots are number one in the league, averaging only 42.5 yards per game. We’ll leave the referee favoritism of New England out of this argument and just point out that a 27 yards per game difference between the Patriots and Steelers in terms of penalties is a huge difference. That’s more than a quarter of the field and is worth at LEAST 3 points per game.
When the Chargers come to town and down the stretch as the Steelers face the Patriots and Saints, these mistakes could cost them important ball games. Yet I look for them bounce back this Sunday at home. I don’t think it will be an easy one but I think the Steelers will narrowly escape 34-30.
I have no doubts this team is good enough to make a deep run in the playoffs. With the talent they have, there is no reason they shouldn’t.
Well, there’s one reason... mistakes.