Steelers vs. Raiders: Pittsburgh's Biggest Winners & Losers from NFL Week 3
With their 34-31 loss to the previously-winless Oakland Raiders, the Pittsburgh Steelers will head into their bye week with a 1-2 record and a lot of problems that absolutely must be sorted out before the team returns to Heinz Field to face the 2-1 Philadelphia Eagles in Week 5.
Here's a look at Pittsburgh's winners and losers from Sunday's ugly loss.
Winner: TE Heath Miller
The offense couldn't have played much better in this game. Heath Miller led that charge with a two-touchdown day. His final statistical line also included eight receptions for 60 total yards. That's excellent work.
Miller has experienced something close to a rebirth in Todd Haley's offense. He's a focal point once again for Ben Roethlisberger and he always seems to be open as teams have to focus most of their coverage on the best set of receivers in the NFL.
Miller's best attribute beyond his excellent receiving skill has to be his ability to run over people after the catch. Several times against the Raiders, particularly when converting a third down in the first half, Miller was able to take on multiple defenders and still move forward at something close to full speed.
That's something you can't teach. It's something a player either has or doesn't have at all. Miller has it in spades. Because of that, Ben Roethlisberger can almost always find a target when he drops back to pass.
Loser: Ryan Mundy, SS
Before anyone says I'm reacting to Mundy's hit on Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, let me explain something. When I watch the games, I make a list of the good and bad players in each contest. Mundy was on that list long before he launched himself at Heyward-Bey.
There aren't enough bad things to say about the defense as a whole. I could probably write a book about today's lack of defensive effort and how it turned a victory into a defeat. A big part of that, however, was Mundy.
Mundy has inexplicably stuck around for years with this team even though he almost never does anything to justify his roster spot. Today, he didn't turn around on Heyward-Bey's touchdown catch. He only had to turn to realize he could knock away the fade pass. Instead, it was an easy touchdown for the Raiders.
Now let's talk about the hit. I like football because it's a physical game. I love when players are tough. I do not like stupid or dirty plays. Mundy has done this before. This time, he finally hurt someone. Put aside the receiver for a minute, he actually hit his own player (Keenan Lewis) really hard too.
But that pales in comparison to the ugly injury he caused the receiver. That's inexcusable. It's a shame the referees didn't penalize him. The league will fine him. The Steelers should suspend or release him and make the statement that this sort of sloppy, hazardous play will not be tolerated.
Mundy made me ashamed to be a Steelers fan with that hit. I hope he won't be around much longer.
Winner: QB Ben Roethlisberger
Someone will probably bring up some ridiculous comment about how Roethlisberger didn't win the game on the final drive, but you can't fault him for his performance today.
He did everything possible to win this game. The defense and one of his receivers completely let him down and embarrassed the franchise with their performances.
Big Ben was huge in this game. He threw four touchdown passes and for 384 yards. His 36-of-49 day also marks an excellent completion percentage on a day where some of his receivers seemed to have trouble keeping the ball in their hands.
Roethlisberger, who was close with former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, has really thrived under Todd Haley's system. He has been dominant in every game and has still only thrown one interception this year. That's against eight touchdown passes.
On this day, it's a shame he wasn't rewarded with a victory. He deserved a lot better from the rest of the team.
Loser: Antonio Brown, WR
I'm a huge fan of Brown and I actually had him on the winner's side of my list until he did his level best to be the team's worst offensive performer by fumbling twice. He was lucky when he recovered the first one in the end zone.
His luck gave out when he fumbled deep in Pittsburgh territory and couldn't get the ball back.
Brown fumbled mostly because he was trying, on both plays, to make a huge play. That's a good attitude to have, but you can't do it at the expense of ball security. Both times, the ball was just basically dangling out there. The Raiders were trying to force fumbles all day.
Brown's going to be in hot water with Mike Tomlin for that. On a day when the defense completely failed to do anything useful after the first play of the game, the offense couldn't afford to make any mistakes. Brown's second fumble tilted the balance permanently against Pittsburgh.
Winner: Mike Wallace, WR
Wallace was easily the most impressive of Pittsburgh's receivers on this day. He caught eight passes, tied with Heath Miller for the most for Pittsburgh, for 123 yards and a touchdown.
The touchdown was a thing of beauty. Wallace has better speed than almost anyone in the NFL and it showed in this game against a banged up Oakland secondary. On his touchdown, Wallace simply ran away from everyone. There wasn't a single defender anywhere near him.
He did the only thing he could do in that situation. He jumped up and down and waived his arms until Ben Roethlisberger threw him the ball. Once the ball was in the air, there was no way Wallace could have been stopped.
Wallace has done a nice job this year of proving himself on short and intermediate routes. That was the only real hole in his game coming into the year and he's doing everything he can to set himself up for that big pay day after this season is over. Proving he's a complete receiver will do that.
Loser: Larry Foote, ILB
Fans of other teams constantly talk about how James Harrison is a thug and that he just is out to hurt people. That kind of thing gets repeated too much and really isn't true. Harrison is just a pure hitter who doesn't know any other way to play.
Larry Foote has been a quiet leader in the locker room for years, but he blew it today. It's pretty hard to single out anyone on defense today. They were all just that putrid. But something Foote did as he left the field puts him in my doghouse today. It will probably also get the attention of the NFL.
I'll let Jory Rand tweets immediately after the game tell the story:
Wonder if Larry Foote will be hearing from the NFL. Yelled at officials as they entered locker room: ''You should go kill yourselves.''— Jory Rand (@JoryRand) September 24, 2012
Several officials turned their heads to see who had said it. That's why I think league may get involved. We'll see.— Jory Rand (@JoryRand) September 24, 2012
As Rand said in another tweet, there is always a line that you cannot cross as a player. Foote should say something to his fellow defenders about their play or perhaps look in the mirror. The officials may have missed some calls, but they didn't lose the game for Pittsburgh. The defense and Foote did that.
Winner: Todd Haley, Offensive Coordinator
I usually try to alternate winners and losers, but this is the last winner from this game. It was a game that featured a good offense without any defense. That was true for both teams.
For the Steelers, that starts with Todd Haley. He's still getting some criticism from fans, but I'm not sure why. The Steelers' offense is blowing the doors off of anything they've done previously. Ben Roethlisberger is setting up for what might be a career year in several categories.
Beyond the quarterback, Haley has also improved the team's performance in two areas where they had consistently struggled under Bruce Arians: third down and in the red zone.
Third downs were always an adventure under Arians. The Steelers usually were pretty poor and were very unlikely to get anything done if the distance was very long. Under Haley, the Steelers can convert third downs of any distance. They've actually been particularly good on third and long.
In the red zone, Pittsburgh is starting to score more often. They've become dangerous mostly because Haley is willing to mix it up with his play calling. He throws out of running formations, runs out of passing formations and doesn't do anything by any book.
The Steelers are better for his coaching and attention to the little details. Roethlisberger may not want to admit it, but he's a much better quarterback with Haley coaching him than he was before.
Loser: The Pittsburgh Corners
I honestly couldn't single anyone out. They were all bad. We'll talk about the scheme problems in a moment, but let's deal first with the fact that the Steelers' corners are terrible at covering when it involves not committing a penalty.
Ike Taylor has regressed badly since he fell apart in Denver last January. Keenan Lewis' Pro Bowl prediction is laughable now when he is in danger of losing his starting position. The only reason he hasn't lost it yet is because Cortez Allen isn't any better.
The Steelers have spent years ignoring the fact that their front seven and safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark mask the ineptitude of the cornerbacks. There's a reason the last corners to make a Pro Bowl here were Carnell Lake and Rod Woodson.
You can mark this down. The Steelers will be in major trouble when they face a really good passing team again. The Raiders don't really qualify. The Broncos sort of did. A team like New England, Cincinnati or Baltimore will shred them.
They face two of those teams twice this year. That's a bad sign.
The bye week should be spent doing something, although I'm not sure what, with this secondary. Perhaps Carnell Lake could lead a crash course on coverage for Allen and Lewis.
Taylor needs to be sent to a shrink to get his head back on straight. His struggles, I think, are mental.
Loser: Dick LeBeau, Defensive Coordinator
You can crucify me in the comments for it, but I don't really care anymore that LeBeau practically invented the modern 3-4, the zone blitz or anything else he's been given credit for over the years.
He can't coach anymore. It's becoming more and more evident that this team needs a change on that side of the ball.
LeBeau's reputation as a defensive genius is the only thing stopping him from looking for a new job.
Let me break down the defensive issues for you as best I can.
The first problem is that the front seven generates little or no consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. I don't buy the James Harrison injury as the reason.
I don't even buy the age argument. This unit features Brett Keisel, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and Ziggy Hood. That's plenty and is more than some teams have for pass rushing.
The problem isn't the talent. The problem is that LeBeau seems ideologically opposed to doing more than sending his outside linebackers and corners for blitzes. Lawrence Timmons might as well be playing safety or corner. Trying to get more out of the defensive ends or the nose tackle is lost on Pittsburgh.
The secondary is a mess too. That's partly because there's no talent at corner behind Ike Taylor. A bigger problem is that LeBeau is way too dependent on Troy Polamalu to make everything work on defense.
That means that most of the time Pittsburgh is playing with three defensive backs. Ryan Clark can't do everything.
The Steelers really need to spend the offseason pondering a switch to the 4-3 defense and a huge change at coordinator. Getting LeBeau to quietly retire gracefully would be the best way to handle this.
A bonus would be if he retired during the bye week and handed things over to Keith Butler, who's been waiting forever to get that job. That way, we might get to see if he can do something before spending another season trying to find out.