On a cold and snowy Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Steelers saw their playoff hopes take a huge hit as they lost in a close game against the Miami Dolphins, 34-28. The loss drops the Steelers to 5-8 on the year and assures the Steelers of a non-winning record for the second straight season. The Steelers haven’t had back-to-back non-winning seasons since 1998-1999.
This was a game that never should have come down to the final play. The Steelers defense was out of sorts and allowed far too many big plays from the Dolphins offense. Here are some quick takeaways from the big loss.
Unless specified, all stats provided by ESPN.com.
There can never be enough ways to get wide receiver Antonio Brown involved in the offense. In a must-win game, your best offensive weapon has to touch the football more than five times on offense.
Including the final razzle-dazzle play, Brown had 137 yards of offense on those five touches. Brown was victimized by a couple of poor throws in the first half, but regardless, Brown needs to be the focus of this offense.
An area I am a little shocked the Steelers didn’t try to exploit was Brown in the run game. On a bad field, Brown on a jet sweep or end-around every once in a while could have really been a way to exploit the field conditions and the Dolphins' focus on the run game.
At the start of Sunday’s game, it appeared as though the Dolphins were impacted by the snow much more than the Steelers. The offenses have the advantage in bad weather situations like these, because they aren’t forced to react on bad footing.
It would have been ideal if the Steelers would have capitalized on this early, however, by the time their offense got humming, the Dolphins staff had made adjustments and its impact was much less significant.
In fact, both teams’ offenses seemed to have a significant advantage in the second half, and that put tremendous pressure on both defenses. A cold weather team like the Steelers should always have the advantage over a hot weather franchise like Miami, but today was not the case.
Tackling in bad weather is hard. That is a given. However, the Steelers defense was once again bitten with some poor tackling at key times. In particular, late in the game, the Steelers allowed the Dolphins to go 80 yards in 1:38, the bulk of which came on a 55-yard run by Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas.
It was only two plays later when Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill connected with tight end Charles Clay for what looked like a short gain. Safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Cortez Allen had Clay in their grasp.
It was just a matter of bringing him to the ground. Both failed miserably, and Clay got his second score of the game, and essentially sealed the fate of the season.
If you ask most NFL fans to make a list of the 10 best defensive linemen in the league for the second half of the year, I doubt many would include defensive end Cameron Heyward. This would make their lists wrong.
Heyward had another very strong outing with nine more tackles, a sack, one pass defended and an additional tackle for loss.
Heyward probably won’t ever get the respect he deserves because he plays in a 3-4 defense, but as he proved again on Sunday, his skills are on par with any lineman in the league.
By now, anyone who has watched any highlights from Sunday’s games has seen this play. Typically, a play like this simply dies on the vine very early, and nothing comes of it. Not so much for the Steelers.
After what looked like a perfectly executed play that included five laterals, wide receiver Antonio Brown is sprinting into the end zone for the tying touchdown. However, upon further review, Brown looks to have stepped out by an inch or two around the 11-yard line. Two weeks in a row the sidelines have been unkind to the Steelers.
As tragic as that final play was, it should have never come to this. This team had multiple opportunities on Sunday to put the Dolphins away and they continued to allow them back into the game, forcing this final play.
Even the most eternal of optimists have to look at a 5-8 Steelers team with the Baltimore Ravens and these Dolphins ahead of them and think it’s time to let the dream of the playoffs go.
There are so many bloated contracts on this roster, after Sunday’s performance, it really is time to take a look at the young players on the roster in these final three games to help the front office decide who to keep and who to cut for 2014.
This obviously doesn’t mean to give up on winning the next three football games. Quite the contrary. These last three games need to be the best the Steelers have played and coached all season. Sunday’s loss was crushing because of the implications, but going forward, it is time to see who really wants to be on this team next year.
Count me among those who never thought running back Le’Veon Bell would have played on Sunday. The hit he took at the end of the Ravens game was brutal. For a lot of players, the idea of getting out there after that kind of blow would be unthinkable.
Nevertheless, out there he was. On a slick field, Bell continued to play well. It was clear the Steelers weren’t going to force the run, and Bell only finished with 13 carries for the game. However, as he has shown all season he is a multi-dimensional threat and finished the game with 82 total yards of offense on only 16 total touches.
It would have been easy for the Steelers to sit Bell. However, they understood the importance of the game, as well as just how talented Bell is. This game is out of reach if he's not in the game.
There is no player on this roster more frustrating to watch than safety Troy Polamalu. On Sunday, Polamalu’s performance was a healthy dose of big plays and big fails. It is infuriating to watch him drop a sure pick-six, get one later in the game and then give up an easy touchdown on a missed tackle.
This sort of up-and-down play is common for an elite talent on the back end of his career, but that does not minimize the aggravation it causes.
With the diminishing play of safety Ryan Clark, there are going to be some serious decisions to be made about this group at the end of the year. It really is time to get guys like Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden on the field together in key situations to see if they can be the future or not.