The Pittsburgh Steelers put up a pathetic performance in prime time against the Buffalo Bills, losing by a score of 26-15. This loss is their second in a row and puts them with a potential one game lead in the AFC North. There really is no other way to say it, this team is heading in the wrong direction at the most important time of the season. The offense looked lost and hopeless yet again and injuries piled up on the defensive side of the ball.
As previously stated, this offense looks dreadful and shows little signs of getting any better by the game. Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has been a clear problem all year long but it’s no longer just him that’s holding this team back. Both play calling and execution get an F for this game.
While Ben Roethlisberger truly did play some great football for the first 10 games, but he has no doubt hit a rough patch these last three games. He’s thrown 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in that span which is a stark difference to the mistake free ball he was playing earlier. Today was the worst game for him of them all as his accuracy and release looked off and inconsistent all game long.
The worst of it came when the Steelers had a lead late in the second quarter when Ben was read like a book and the pick was returned to the house. It was a bad decision to throw the ball and just a bad throw on its own. Worst of all though, it gave the Bills all the momentum going into the half and they never looked back for the rest of the game.
What has made this offense so bad recently has been the chain reaction of issues that has spiraled into this performance. The Steelers can’t run the ball and there’s simply no fixing that issue this season. Sure, the offensive line has had some guys in and out of the lineup but it’s been like this even when they were winning games.
They rushed for a total of 47 yards on less than 3.0 yards per carry. This inability to run the ball causes the Steelers to be extremely one dimensional. Ben has been throwing the ball much more and it’s starting to look like he’s not built for that over the course of a 16 game season and at 38 years of age.
Of course it doesn’t help when two of your targets flat out can’t catch the ball. Diontae Johnson and Eric Ebron continued their drop fest with three more, all in the early stages of the ball which hurt the offense from gaining any rhythm. Once again the only positive in the receiver room is James Washington as he ran a smooth post route and caught a touchdown pass.
Six catches for 44 yards for Washington and Claypool combined isn’t going to get the job done. They’ve had good hands all season and can make game changing plays when they get the ball. Washington and Claypool must be featured more than Johnson and Ebron or else the passing game will struggle to get out of the gutter. Passing the ball short and quick was good enough but opposing teams are catching on and proving that it isn’t sustainable. Washington and Buffalo sat on all the underneath routes the Steelers ran and made clean tackles in both games.
With the amount of drops and no run game, the dink and dunk pass game has hit a wall. There were no adjustments made at halftime by Fichtner despite it being clear what wasn’t working. The Steelers actually scored a touchdown when they attacked the middle of the field and yet those concepts were nowhere to be found in the second half. Ben and Fichtner must find a way to adjust the offense or else the Steelers will find themselves in a similar place moving forward.
Coming into this game, the Steelers defense was riddled with injuries to key starters. Bush and Dupree obviously didn’t play because of season ending ACL injuries but Haden, Williams, and Spillane also were not healthy enough to play in this game. This made it tough to match up against a very balanced Bills offense with a budding QB in Josh Allen. The linebacker core was absolutely depleted and it showed in every area of the game.
The pass rush created interior pressure but was never able to get home on Allen even on blitzes. Tyson Alualu had the lone sack and the team totaled just five QB hits. In the run game, the defensive line got worn out and tired as the game went on. Since the Steelers run a 3-4 defense with four linebackers, it’s paramount that they have good linebacker play especially in the run game.
The loss of three key pieces hurt the run game as Moss and Singletary tore through the second line of the defense. They gave up 104 yards on the ground on just under 4 yards a carry. There weren’t too many big runs given up but the front seven could only do so much.
It’s fair to blame injuries as the biggest reason the Steelers defense wasn’t as great today as they have been all season. Missing four starters and a back who’s played well matters and it clearly had an effect on the team. Joe Haden not being on the field played a big factor in this game as Bills superstar receiver Stefon Diggs caught 10 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown.
There was one drive in particular where he caught three straight passes for over 40 yards and a score that put the game out of reach. Having Haden would have helped without a doubt because he’s their best cover corner and could have limited the damage Diggs inflicted on Pittsburgh’s secondary. Sutton and Nelson are good but they’re just not good enough to hold the playmaker that is Diggs.
Coaching was an issue on defense as well in this game. When Diggs is hurting you that bad why not double him and make anyone else beat you? Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler was stubborn on his blitz calls and failed to adjust to what Allen and Diggs were doing to his defense.
Butler has been hailed as a good defensive coordinator but I think this game proves more than anything that his players carry him to such a reputation. All things considered the defense didn’t play bad by any stretch. They forced two turnovers via Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton and gave the offense the opportunity to get a touchdown as well as held the Bills to just a field goal in the first half.
Cam Heyward was the best player on defense as he constantly generated pressure and forced Allen into some mistakes early. With that many injuries against a well run offense, it’s only a matter of time before it breaks down considering the offense was giving them no favors.
The Steelers will face the Cincinnati Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium next week. It will hopefully be the right opportunity for the Steelers to turn it around as the Bengals seem to be clearly tanking for a top three pick after Burrow’s season ending injury. The offense must adjust the formula and catch the ball while the defense needs to get healthy.