3 Takeaways from Steelers' Week 14 Loss

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIDecember 10, 2021

3 Takeaways from Steelers' Week 14 Loss

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    For the entirety of the fourth quarter on Thursday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers kept things interesting. Even though they had trailed by 29 points well into the second half, the Steelers weren't going to go down to the Minnesota Vikings without a fight.

    However, Pittsburgh's comeback attempt was unsuccessful. It scored 21 points in the final 14 minutes and 49 seconds, but that wasn't enough to avoid a 36-28 loss at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Steelers fell to 6-6-1, and they have only one win over their past five games.

    With 4:14 to go, Pittsburgh cut Minnesota's lead to eight points when Ben Roethlisberger threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth, then added a two-point conversion on a pass to Diontae Johnson. On the final play of the game, Roethlisberger nearly connected with Freiermuth for another score, but Vikings safety Harrison Smith knocked the ball out of Freiermuth's hands as time expired.

    Here are three takeaways from the Steelers' Week 14 loss.

The Run Defense Continues to Be a Major Issue

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Minnesota built a 23-point lead by halftime and scored the first 29 points of the game, and it did so by relying on its running game. Even though star running back Dalvin Cook was dealing with a left shoulder injury and was wearing a harness, that didn't stop him from consistently gashing through Pittsburgh's defense.

    Cook had 205 rushing yards and two touchdowns, leading a Vikings ground attack that totaled 242 yards. He had 153 of those yards in the first half, as the Steelers could find no way to slow him.

    It wasn't a new development for Pittsburgh's defense. Through 13 games, the Steelers are allowing 139.5 rushing yards per game, the third most in the NFL.

    "We're not whipping enough tail," Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin said, per Brian Hall of the Associated Press. "We're not striking enough. We're not making the pile fall in the right direction enough. So, I'd be remiss, I'd be doing that group a disservice, if I didn't look at all options."

    Tomlin already started making changes, as linebackers Buddy Johnson and Marcus Allen got onto the field on defense. At this point, the Steelers have nothing to lose in mixing things up to try to get better results.

Harris Continues to Provide Optimism for Future

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    The Steelers may not have gotten back into the game if it wasn't for the performance of rookie running back Najee Harris, who continues to flash his potential and provide optimism for the future. Harris rushed for 94 yards and scored Pittsburgh's first two touchdowns of the game.

    Harris had a three-yard receiving score with 2:11 to go in the third quarter, then he got into the end zone with a one-yard rush 11 seconds into the fourth. It was his first career multi-touchdown game, and it came after he had been kept out of the end zone the previous two weeks.

    "They went to Cover 2, they changed their defense," Harris said of the Vikings, per The Athletic's Mark Kaboly. "We had better fits. We had even numbers in the run game."

    The Steelers used a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft to select Harris, and he's lived up to expectations during his debut season. So while Pittsburgh's offense is likely to undergo some changes in the short-term future (considering Roethlisberger is 39), Harris is proving he can be the franchise running back.

A Playoff Push Is Much Less Likely to Take Place

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    Even though the Steelers nearly came back to win Thursday night, Roethlisberger wasn't pleased with his team's performance. The veteran quarterback knows what it takes to make a playoff push, and he realizes where Pittsburgh is at in its season.

    "We're running out of time," Roethlisberger said, per The Athletic's Ed Bouchette. "I don't look at moral victories."

    Roethlisberger is right. The Steelers are 6-6-1, and they could be in last place in the AFC North by the end of Week 14. They're also falling out of the wild-card race, as the Los Angeles Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills are all 7-5 and could widen their leads over the other teams in the hunt on Sunday.

    Pittsburgh doesn't have a favorable schedule down the stretch, either. Its final four games are against the Tennessee Titans (8-4), Kansas City Chiefs (8-4), Baltimore Ravens (8-4) and Cleveland Browns (6-6). That's three AFC division leaders, followed by a Browns team also looking to stay in the postseason hunt.

    Tomlin has never had a losing season since he became the Steelers head coach in 2007. But there's a good chance that could be where the team is heading this year.