Pittsburgh Steelers: The Good, Bad and Ugly of Week 7 with Video Highlights
The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Miami Dolphins Sunday, 23-22, making the Dolphins the first team to ever start the season 0-3 at home and 3-0 on the road.
It’s not often someone can sit back the day after winning against a quality opponent and find more bad to say about the win than good. While the Steelers found a way to put another “W” in the win column Sunday afternoon, yesterday’s game was one of those games and today is one of those days.
The Steelers are one of a handful of teams left in the NFL with a 5-1 record, but the one in their record should likely have come yesterday against the Dolphins rather than the one they let slip away against Baltimore.
There were certainly some things to cheer about, but there was a lot of “uglies” out there as well. This brings us to the week 7 version of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”
The Good – Wide Receiver Play
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It would have been easy to give Hines Ward and Mike Wallace their own sections on this week’s installment, but the entire receiving corps stepped up on a week when the running game decided to stay home, and Roethlisberger’s accuracy was suspect at times.
Hines Ward led the way for the second week in a row with big catch after big catch as he racked up seven receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown.
Mike Wallace continues to lead the league in yards per catch after pulling in a 53-yard touchdown strike from Roethlisberger. While Wallace didn’t have another catch that enabled him to net any further yardage, he was missed on two other pass attempts in which he had his man beat dead to rights.
Wallace’s big play ability continues to open up the Steelers offense for players like Ward and tight end Heath Miller, who had three catches for 33 yards in the game.
Mewelde Moore had been relatively nonexistent the last several weeks for the Steelers, but also proved his wears out of the backfield when the run game is struggling.
His 48 yards receiving included a 29-yard reception on 3rd-and-5 that kept Pittsburgh’s controversial scoring drive in fourth quarter alive.
The Good – Takeaways and Red Zone Defense
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The Steelers came into the game with a league-leading 16 defensive takeaways, and had only given up five touchdowns in as many games.
While the defense only managed one takeaway, gift-wrapped courtesy of Brian Hartline, they stood tall for the most part in the red zone.
After Emmanuel Sanders fumbled the opening kickoff, the Steelers’ defense held the Dolphins to just a field goal after they were handed the ball at the Steelers’ 20-yard line.
On the next series, Ben Roethlisberger fumbles the ball at the Pittsburgh 13-yard line, and again the defense found a way to hold Miami to an inevitable field goal.
The Dolphins' lone touchdown of the day came from a 26-yard pass from Chad Henne to Davone Bess.
The Bad – Lack of Defensive Penetration
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Aside from James Harrison’s “toned down” version of play, in which he attempted to leap over Miami fullback Lousaka Polite, and later carried offensive tackle Jake Long with him to Chad Henne, no one wearing black and gold saw much of the Miami backfield.
While Harrison harassed Henne on occasion, he had the better part of all day to throw the ball against a Steeler pass defense that has been anything but stellar in recent weeks.
With Kiesel out nursing a hamstring injury, and Aaron Smith leaving the game in the third quarter, the Steelers saw absolutely no push from their defensive line.
The Steelers had exactly two tackles for a loss in Sunday’s game against the Dolphins, one of which came from linebacker Larry Foote on a slow developing run play, and the other from the departed Aaron Smith in the first half.
If the Steelers feel the need to drop an extra linebacker into coverage to compensate for their struggling pass defense, they are going to have to get a better push upfront from their defensive line.
The Ugly – Lack of Consistent Run Game
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For the first time all season, the Steelers were unable to run the football with any kind of consistency.
Much of the issue came from a complete lack of blocking up front, as the Steelers’ offensive line had no answer for Karlos Dansby and the Miami line backing corp.
Doug Legursky, who had been a bright spot on the Steelers’ offensive line in the absence of the injured Trai Essex, had his hands full all afternoon being called for two holding penalties in the same drive at one point.
Rashard Mendenhall, who came into the game among the league leaders in rushing, finished the day with just 37 yards on 15 carries.
The Steelers as a team finished the day averaging only 2.1 yards on each of their 27 attempts for 58 yards of total production.
Such meager stats serve more as a resounding reminder of 2009 than the offensive balance and clock control they have established in 2010.
The Ugly – Offensive Red Zone Production
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The common denominator to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their success this season has been their ability to punch it in when given the opportunity in the red zone.
Last season the Steelers’ prolific numbers on offense were marred by their inability to score touchdowns from inside their opponent’s 20-yard line. The stat only worsened the closer they got to pay dirt.
Both of Pittsburgh’s touchdowns came from pass plays of 21 (Ward) and 53 (Wallace) yards yesterday. Inside the red zone the Steelers failed to score a touchdown twice.
Play calling seemed to be the biggest problem outside of the blatant lack of execution by the offensive line.
While Miami’s tendency to over pursue on defense made them vulnerable to screen passes to a certain extent, they just weren’t falling for it yesterday from the first drive on.
Bruce Arians’ inability to adapt his gameplan to take advantage of a Miami secondary that showed considerable vulnerability deep was matched only by the inexplicable and repeated calling of screen passes in the red zone given less space with which to work.
The wide receiver screens specifically, which are designed to put the ball in the hands of Wallace or Ward in space with the intent of a longer play, rarely resulted in a gain when they had space. The idea of running these plays inside the 10-yard line when they have been ineffective in space is puzzling to say the least.
The Ugly – Fumbles
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The Steelers put the ball on the ground four times Sunday afternoon.
While they only lost two of them, the decisions that led to three of the four were certainly troublesome.
The first fumble came on the opening play of the game when rookie Emmanuel Sanders fumbled the kickoff leading to Miami’s first field goal of the game.
What’s troubling is that Sanders was even back there in the first place.
While I can understand coach Tomlin’s idea of healthy competition in practice between Sanders and fellow rookie Antonio Brown, what I cannot understand is sacrificing primary role for function.
The reason given for Sanders’ return to the dress list and Brown’s street attire Sunday was that Sanders understands the complexities of reading defenses better at this point.
…(Insert cricket sounds here)
While the fact that the X’s and O’s are a big part of the game does not go overlooked here, the primary function of either player at this juncture of the season is to return kickoffs, and in that department the competition isn’t even close.
With capable players who understand the X’s and O’s like Antwaan Randle El and Arnaz Battle on the game day roster, the need for either Sanders or Brown to see the field offensively is truly nonexistent in most cases.
The Ugly – Fumbles Continued
All three of the Steelers’ fumbles after the opening kickoff came at the hands of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Two of them were poor decisions by Roethlisberger more so than mistakes or good defensive plays.
The first of the quarterback’s three fumbles came on the Steelers’ first offensive drive of the game. After the opening fumble by Sanders, the Steelers needed to answer, but not so badly that they could not recover from having to punt if a 3rd-and-9 play did not succeed.
Roethlisberger, who was firmly wrapped around both arms by two defenders, still attempted to get the ball to Mewelde Moore rather than taking the sack and punting the ball away. His poor decision gave the Dolphins the ball inside the Steelers’ 20 after already giving them a sure field goal on the opening kickoff.
While the fumbles only cost the Steelers six points, the consequences could have been far worse.
Roethlisberger’s final fumble of the game will be the one that lives on in infamy.
The Steelers were trailing 22-20 on 3rd-and-goal from the two when Roethlisberger headed for the end zone on a quarterback draw. As Roethlisberger lunged for the goal line, Chris Clemons knocked the ball loose just before it crossed the plane.
The ball rolled into the end zone, but after a lengthy review the officiating crew was unable to determine who truly recovered the ball in the end zone. The end result awarded the ball to the Steelers on the half-yard line, where Jeff Reed kicked the eventual game-winner with 2:26 left in the game.
While the Dolphins had the opportunity to make the debatable call an afterthought with over two minutes left in the game, they were unable to move the ball on their next possession.
The Ugly – Pass Defense
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The most important number for the Steelers in Sunday’s game was 23.
The fact that they had the bigger number in the 23-22 score against the Dolphins will allow them to, as head coach Mike Tomlin said, “take it and exit stage left," but the rest of the numbers tell a much bleaker story concerning the Steelers pass defense.
Out of Miami’s 15 first downs in the football game, 13 of them came by way of the pass.
While the 26-yard score by Devone Bess was a big play, most of Chad Henne’s 257 yards passing came from a methodical passing game that exploited the Steelers’ glaring weakness against the intermediate passing game.
Had it not been for Henne struggling with his accuracy at times during the game, the score would have likely been far different.
Standout wide receiver Brandon Marshall could not seem to get an accurate pass thrown in his direction, on several occasions finding himself open and having the pass thrown wide of the mark in the red zone.
If the Steelers are going to overcome some of the injuries they are now facing upfront defensively, they are going to need to pick up where they left off in weeks past concerning takeaways if they hope to be successful the rest of the way.
Safety Troy Polamalu has been all but nonexistent since starting the season with his hair on fire in Weeks 1 through 3. While he did have five tackles in Sunday’s game, most of them came downfield as a result of a reception allowed in pass coverage by one of his teammates.
With the rest of the secondary struggling, the Steelers need their impact player to make his presence felt in the coming weeks.
The Ugly – Injuries
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After being decimated by injuries last season, the Steelers have managed to stay the course as they have incurred injuries to key players in 2010, but now the rubber meets the road.
The Steelers have lost All-Pro defensive end Aaron Smith to a season-ending tricep tear. It is the third time in the last four seasons that Smith has finished the season on the IR.
Smith’s value to the Steelers’ run defense, and pass rush for that matter, is far too difficult to put into words.
While the stats are never flashy, his play shines in every selfless and difficult way possible. His continuous ability to shrink the pocket is second only to his run-stopping ability in the 3-4 scheme.
The loss of Smith is ugly on a number of fronts, not only from what this does to an already thin defensive line depth-wise, but also from a career standpoint for Smith.
With a ruptured biceps in 2007, a torn rotator cuff in 2009 and now a torn triceps in 2010, the ever increasing frailty of Smith’s upper extremities raises the question of how long Smith’s NFL career can continue at this point.
At 34 years old, Smith’s physical prime is passed. The decision of whether or not he continues his career may be out of his hands if these injuries continue.
The Wrap Up
Complete Game Highlights from Week 7
If the Steelers are going to be successful in coming weeks, they are going to have to regain the sense of offensive urgency that they played with in Roethlisberger’s absence.
While the passing game is back and effective, they will not be able to win games with their aging defense if they do not find a way to run the ball and control the game clock offensively.
The Steelers were tied for second in linebacker sacks with 12.5 at halftime of Sunday’s game, but in order for that dominance to continue they are going to have to get stellar play out of their 2009 first round draft pick Ziggy Hood in the absence of Aaron Smith.
The Steelers continue to sit in the catbird seat in the AFC North at 5-1, but the struggling defending Super Bowl Champs are going to provide a formidable foe as they welcome the Steelers to New Orleans to play against their potent passing attack in prime time.
If the Steelers hope to stay undefeated on the road this season, they are going to have to get pressure on Drew Brees, who is far more capable of picking apart their secondary if given the opportunity.