Week Five Takeaways: Steelers hit the wall as Bills cruise

Entering the Pittsburgh Steelers’ road game against the Buffalo Bills, there was a mix of  anticipation and concern expressed by analysts, media outlets, and fans in Steelers Nation about Week 5 of the 2022 NFL regular season. The Steelers were going to give their rookie quarterback his first career NFL start against a Bills defense that ranked high in several categories but had several key players on the injury report. Things looked hopeful… until the game got underway and the Steelers hit the wall as the Bills cruised to a 38-3 rout.

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Pickett had quite a first start

If you’re seeing people on social media saying you owe Mitchell Trubisky an apology, ignore them… or don’t. At least consider the body of evidence that was Kenny Pickett‘s first start for the Steelers before making that decision.

The rookie missed some reads but needed a little more assistance from his teammates while facing a Bills defense that is ranked second in the league despite missing pieces. The run game was kept in check by the Bills, forcing Pickett to attempt to convert critical downs through the air. Unfortunately, several balls were just not handled well – or fought for – by teammates Pickett targeted.

George Pickens definitely had a connection with Pickett. Pickens gained 83 yards on just six catches.

Although Pickett did throw one interception and was unable to put a ball into the arms of a teammate for a touchdown, he did make history with his performance.

His 34 completions we’re the most by a rookie quarterback in their first career start since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, he grabbed the eighth-most passing yards (327) by a rookie quarterback in that same time span, he threw for the most yards in the second half of the game (206) of any rookie quarterback in franchise history, and was the fifth quarterback in Steelers record books to throw for at least 200 yards in a single half per Michael Bertsch.

“I think the way I work and how much effort and time I put in with these guys, I think the respect is there. So when I’m talking to guys there’s no disrespect, no calling anybody out. We all wanna win. That’s something we have to continue to work towards. The road doesn’t get easier so it’s gotta get fixed quickly.” – Kenny Pickett

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A myriad of issues on defense

The Steelers knew their defense had injuries that would require depth and recently-activated players to execute the game plan and adjust accordingly. It’s difficult to point out a single issue that led to the loss, though. Overall, the defense was out-manned, out-positioned, and effectively run to ground as Josh Allen and the Bills offense had their way with them like a runaway freight train.

“Execution. Not tackling. Not using basic things that we practiced from training camp, whether it’s staying inside or having the gap or using your hands. It’s all of these things included. And that butt kicking we just took proves that.” – Cameron Heyward on the team’s performance

At no point would it ever be ideal to have Robert Spillane defending deep down the field in coverage that required him to prevent a pass in the end zone. It was frustrating to see a lack of pressure up front result in a deep pass only for the pressure to improve and the Bills slip a nice run through the line past Myles Jack, who’d settled into pass protection.

Those two players were not, by far, the only Steelers defenders to end up in tough situations. They certainly had teammates on defense that let themselves, and the team, down.

As fans continued to call for the firing of offensive coordinator Matt Canada, very few were asking why Brian Flores hadn’t adjusted the defensive schemes, especially after the first half of the game was ugly.

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More changes on the horizon? Yes, please.

The Steelers’ performance was one of the most embarrassing in nearly two decades. Fans that endured many of the 1980s-90s teams that struggled know how disappointing things were, and could be again, if more changes aren’t made with a 2022 team that’s loaded with talent that hasn’t seemed to put it all together through five weeks of play.

Head coach Mike Tomlin, who called the game’s outcome something that requires being open to change in order to require better outcomes, also did not limit his comments to players. He didn’t specifically name anyone on the staff, but said the following:

“I think everyone understands where we are and what transpired today and that it is not cool… you can draw whatever conclusions you want to draw from it. That’s just the realities of our business at this level.”

As for injuries, several players – including tight end Pat Freiermuth – had to leave the field. The injuries just added to the insult as the Bills drive the score up, took a couple of unnecessary shots on Pickett, and cruised to the blowout.

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