This may not be the prettiest win in the history of the NFL, but you know what? We as Steeler fans can’t be too picky right about now. You couldn’t have asked for more out of a game, though. It had a little bit of everything: a lot of scores, an outstanding individual performance (Ben’s 500+ yards of passing with no interceptions), and of course a winning score on the last play of the game. These are the games I love to watch when I have absolutely no rooting interest. As it was, this game probably took a year or two off my life.
So let’s break this down by offense and defense and start with the offense. Well, Bruce Arians is nothing if not persistent. We were going down a bad stretch while throwing the ball around the field, and we continued to do it again on Sunday. The Steelers had 65 plays (not including special teams) and 46 of them were passes. I don’t see how being that unbalanced can be desirable. I know that the way of the NFL is towards passing offenses, and I’m all for progress, but I think it’s going towards the opposite end of the spectrum and blowing past the ultimately most desirable outcome: having a serviceable running AND passing game, while being reliant on neither. I’m not a yinzer who thinks we should get another Franco or Jerome and run the ball 75% of the time. I’m looking for an even split. Make the defense respect both aspects. That’s all. Is that too hard to understand? I don’t know. I’ll get off my soap box now. I have to admit, when you implement that kind of game plan, and Ben is on, good things definitely happen. And they did on Sunday. We put up 37 points on a very very good defense. But, the problem is we haven’t been consistent with that kind of production. Just a couple of weeks ago, Ben was definitely NOT on, and we put up only 6 points in a loss to the Browns. That’s the risk you run. And if you’re not consistent, and the defense can’t be trusted to limit any opponent to less than 20 points on any given day (like they did last year), you won’t win a championship. With one bad game, one loss, eliminating you from the playoffs, you can’t be inconsistent.
So, that’s the offense. What about the defense? They gave up an awful lot to the Packers on Sunday. Now, I realize that Aaron Rogers can play, but allowing 376 yards of passing offense is ridiculous. It can’t happen. Plus, we are continuing to putter to a stop in the fourth quarter. If nothing else, Tomlin’s onside kick call will tell you everything you need to know. We were so confident that our defense would fail, we just wanted enough time to get the last score. That’s incredible. Remember last year when we had a ‘legendary’ defense that carried us to a Super Bowl? Remember when you would get a late lead, put on Renegade and turn the lights out because the game was over? Yeah, that’s not the case anymore to put things mildly. I think the biggest story from this season is the erosion of this defense from one of the best of all time to a big joke. In one year. What the heck happened? Are they just getting old? Did one year make that big of a difference? Well, I think that it has more to do with personnel than that. Troy has been injured, and McFadden left after last year. So that’s half of the secondary that’s been replaced. And the secondary is where we’re getting torn apart. It seems like the replacement parts aren’t up to par, and that’s something that needs to be addressed in the off-season.
So, I alluded to it before, but the other major story line here was the on-side kick. It seems that everyone in Western PA has an opinion on it. Well, mine is that I liked it when it happened, and I still like it. I even would have liked it if we wouldn’t have won. Why? Because you’re finally learning from history. You’ve got tons of data to tell you that when a team needs to make an end of game drive, they usually pass and usually have success against our secondary. Add to that the success that Green Bay was already having through the air up to that point, and the odds are with the Packers driving as far as they needed to go. So if you concede the overwhelming odds, then giving them a short field so that the offense has the time they didn’t have in the last few games, it’s a smart move. Plus, the odds of recovering the kick are greatly increased if you catch the other team off guard. So, basically, we had a better than average chance of recovering the kick, and if we failed, the odds say we’ve got a better chance of winning assuming the defense gives up a long drive again. It makes sense. But it brings to light how awful this defense is, which is very hard to accept for a lot of Steeler fans that have a specific team identity in mind. I know, conceding that your defense is unable to come up with a stop is a hard thing to do and doesn’t feel right. After all, you’re basically conceding that you’re not a good football team. But it’s the reality for where we are right now.
I don’t like the path that this team is headed down. The defense (and my suspicion is that it’s mainly the new personnel in the secondary) is unacceptable. The offense is becoming more and more one-dimensional every year. These are some trends that have to be stopped right now if we want to remain a good football team. The good news is that they’re easy fixes. Troy will return (and hopefully have better luck when he does). We can sign a better corner and try again. We can adjust our offensive philosophy and at least put a fullback on the field. There are easy fixes, but changes have to be made in the off-season. I’ll be watching at least. As for next week, we’ve got a huge game against the Ravens. They kind of stole one from us a month or so ago. It seems about time for some payback.