Five Lessons from the Steelers Loss to the Titans
I'll be honest. I don't know what I just saw.
I mean, they did have some untimely penalties and a horrible pass by Ben Roethlisberger for only his second interception on the year, but a couple Steelers also achieved some landmark stats in this game.
The running game wasn't on tonight, but there were signs of life from Baron Batch and Chris Rainey.
The defense wasn't the Steel Curtain, but it hasn't been all year.
Truth to tell, with it all so fresh in my mind, I'm sure I'll leave something out, but here are the five things we learned tonight as the Steelers fell to the Titans, 26-23.
Lesson 1: The Injuries Are Piling Up, and It Is Hurting the Steelers
Injuries are part of football, to be sure, but one would be hard-pressed to think of single team that has had to endure so many physical setbacks, especially along the offensive front.
The Steelers' offensive line is already missing their number-one pick in David DeCastro. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey was hurt on the Steelers' first offensive series. Tackle Marcus Gilbert left the game later and did not return. Guard Ramon Foster also left but came back.
One has to wonder if the Steelers would have had defensive linemen playing both ways if they had any more injuries along the offensive front.
Moreover, running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman both spent time on the sideline, leaving the work of running the ball to Baron Batch and rookie Chris Rainey.
For a unit that is struggling to run the ball, it can ill afford injuries to linemen and running backs, but that is what is happening.
On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker LaMarr Woodley and oft-injured safety Troy Polamalu both missed the game. Safety Ryan Clark landed on his head late in the game, but was able to finish after missing a couple plays. Polamalu's replacement, Will Allen, even had to leave the game.
It is a testament to the depth of the Steelers roster that, after losing starters in three offensive positions as well as starting the game without two defensive starters, they still had a chance to win.
However, having a chance to win is not winning. Let's hope having 10 days off will give all the Steelers a chance to recover.
If they can't, the number in the loss column could get large.
Lesson 2: Penalties Are Become a Huge Area of Concern for This Team
Ike Taylor is a pretty good cornerback. He is always matched up with the opposition's best receiver and usually plays well.
In this game against the Titans, however, he did not.
On the first Titans possession of the game, he committed a pass interference that put the ball at the Steelers' 2-yard line. Only some excellent defense, including a sack of Matt Hasselbeck on 1st-and-goal, kept the Titans from going up 7-0, instead of 3-0.
Later, on the drive on which the Titans would tie the score at 23, Taylor had a holding penalty on a 3rd-and-10 play, setting up 1st-and-goal from the 10. Three plays later, the score was tied.
That's two penalties that led directly to points for the Titans.
To be fair, the Steelers committed far fewer penalties than they had in the previous two games, but they had nowhere to go but up. It couldn't have gotten much worse.
Like injuries, penalties are part of the game. They are going to happen. Head coach Mike Tomlin has got to find a way to limit how often and, more importantly, when they happen.
Lessen 3: Ben Roethlisberger Is Making a Serious Case for the Hall of Fame
Even with an extremely poor throw that was intercepted in this game, Ben is still having his best statistical year in a very long time.
He threw for 363 yards and a touchdown against that lone pick, which is only his second of the year.
He was only sacked once in this game despite being under severe pressure on several dropbacks.
During this game, he passed Terry Bradshaw as the Steelers' all-time leader in passing yards. Now, we have to consider the different eras the two men played in, but any time you pass a Hall of Famer in the stat book, you've done something.
Ben has a lot of years left to play. You have to think he will eventually own every passing record in franchise history, and he already has two Super Bowl rings.
If that's not good enough for the Hall of Fame, what is?
As an aside, Heath Miller also made some history as he moved into third place on the Steelers' all-time receptions list behind Hines Ward and John Stallworth.
Not bad, gentlemen. Not bad at all.
Lesson 4: Special Teams Are Every Bit as Important as Offense and Defense
At the end of this game, Shaun Suisham was called upon to attempt what would have been a career-long 54-yard field goal.
He missed it. The Titans drove down with the time remaining and kicked their own 40-yard field goal to win. Earlier in the game, Suisham had tied his career-long of 52 yards to put the Steelers up by a touchdown.
Long before that, Drew Butler had a punt blocked. The Titans recovered on the Steelers' 1-yard line and scored two plays later.
Even before that, Titans' kicker Rob Bironas bounced a kick off the upright that went in to give Tennessee an early lead.
Special teams are tricky. They can make or break a game, but they are sometimes dismissed by the offensive and defensive players. How many times have you heard a former player-turned-analyst say, "He's just a kicker. He should make kicks. It's his job?"
In this game, the Steelers could have used some better blocking on the punt and an extra yard or two of power on Suisham's 54-yard attempt.
If any of those kicks goes differently, we might be looking at a completely different outcome.
We haven't had a lot to complain about where special teams are concerned...until tonight. Let's hope this doesn't become a trend.
Lesson 5: The Play-Calling Needs to Improve
You won't often hear me complain about play-calling. It's so hard to know if a play would have or wouldn't have worked, so it's just not a can of worms I like to open a lot.
That being said, we saw a lot of wide receiver screens that were well defensed by the Titans and, for the most part, ineffective.
It's not a play a lot of teams run. I get the idea of being different. At the same time, though, if all you are going to get is two or three yards, why not just run the ball?
Also, given that our heavier backs were out of the game, why not try more runs around the edges with the two speed backs, Rainey and Batch? Or, maybe little dump passes to them in the flat. Or even screens to them instead of the wideouts.
Beyond that, though, is the curious choice to attempt a 54-yard field goal with a kicker whose career best was 52 yards.
On 4th-and-seven—and knowing the Titans would get the ball at their own 45 if Suisham missed—wouldn't it have been better to punt than to attempt the field goal? There were 43 seconds left in the game. Wouldn't you want to give the Titans as long a field as you can?
I know that raises the horrifying specter of overtime. (No Steelers fan likes overtime.) But that would have been preferable to losing on a short drive by the Titans, right?
I even wondered why you wouldn't just go for it. The only things that would have been worse than the missed kick were a turnover or a sack for more than seven yards.
Sometimes I get the impression that Coach Tomlin and his staff are over-thinking things. It's football.
Sometimes you just have to line up and smack the other guys in the mouth.