Game action from the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 12 game at the Seattle Seahawks.
SEATTLE – What got them beat here yesterday was a compilation of some of the same woes that have plagued these Steelers at different times this season, and even going back a couple of years. Minus-4 in turnover ratio, only a 50 percent efficiency in the red zone by the offense coupled with the defense allowing the opponent a 100 percent touchdown efficiency in the red zone. Mix in a bad idea for a fake field goal that was complemented by bad execution of same, plus some other assorted errors of both omission and commission, and what you had was a 39-30 loss to the Seahawks.
That's looking back, and with five consecutive games against AFC opponents coming up, the Steelers have to turn their focus to the immediate future and do it quickly. And in the process of doing so, it would behoove them to come to grips with why they lost to the Seahawks and also develop an understanding of how they're going to have to play in the immediate future if they're to have much of a future in what's left of 2015.
The defense didn't play well here. No sugar-coating it. The Seahawks scored three touchdowns on passes into what sure looked like a soft middle in the Steelers defense, the first of which came on a third-and-goal from the 16-yard line. On the second of those three drives that ended with those touchdown passes over the middle, Seattle converted two separate third-and-10s and a third-and-16.
There were other things, too, that contributed to the loss that dropped them to 6-5 and right in a quagmire of six AFC teams within one-game of each other in the standings, all of whom are competing for one of those two Wild Card berths into the playoffs. Those things already have been mentioned and are certain to be talked to death throughout Steelers Nation in the coming days, as it should be at this stage of an NFL season for a team that has shown enough at various times through these 12 weekends to create an expectation of a postseason run in 2015.
But today, any measure of a postseason run seems so speculative, because against the caliber of team they can expect to encounter in a postseason, the Steelers weren't good enough in any phase of the game when the ball was in the air. And in today's NFL, the ball is in the air a lot.
The Steelers have not been, nor might they have the ability to be in this current configuration of personnel, a stingy pass defense. Coming into the game here at No. 28 in the NFL in passing yards allowed, the Steelers have relied on a bend-but-don't-break persona through a season of continuing to revamp the defensive personnel while also adjusting to a new coordinator. But the not-break facet depends upon guys making plays on the ball throughout the course of a game, sometimes creating takeaways and other times causing incompletions, but most importantly never allowing the opposing quarterback and receivers to operate with impunity.
That never happened against the Seahawks. Seattle repeatedly attacked the middle of the Steelers coverage, and Russell Wilson came away with three of his five touchdown passes on completions to that area of the field. The Steelers secondary had been creating problems for offenses in previous weeks with physical play, but that wasn't an issue for the Seahawks yesterday. In what amounted to 35 pass plays called by Seattle – Wilson threw 30 passes, was sacked twice attempting to pass, and ran three times after dropping back to pass – the Steelers finished with no interceptions and one pass defensed when nose tackle Steve McLendon got a hand on a ball around the line of scrimmage.
Take a look at pregame warmups and locker room prep before the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 12 game against the Seattle Seahawks.
That's below the line, and the situation was exacerbated by the offense not holding up its end when the ball was in the air. Such a contention seems flimsy coming from a game in which Ben Roethlisberger passed for 456 yards and Markus Wheaton set a CenturyLink Field record with 201 yards receiving on nine catches. But good isn't necessarily good enough, and the Steelers passing attack was as culpable for Sunday's outcome as their pass defense.
As it turned out, the Seahawks indeed decided to utilize Richard Sherman as a shadow on Antonio Brown pretty much all over the field on every single down, but that also created matchups that were decidedly in the Steelers' favor. Wheaton took advantage. Martavis Bryant did not.
On each of the Steelers' first two offensive possessions, Roethlisberger attacked down the field to Bryant, and neither time was the pass completed. The quarterback's fault, the receiver's fault, debate that all you'd like, but those are the kinds of plays this offense has to make for this team to advance into the postseason and then thrive within it. Over the course of the entire game, Bryant had one egregious drop at the sideline, and once it was Roethlisberger's under-throw to him that allowed the defensive back to make up ground and contest the catch. Assigning culpability might make you feel better, but the bottom line is Bryant was targeted 13 times and ended up with only five catches for a pedestrian 69 yards, with only a 40-yard catch down the right sideline in the second half being the kind of impact play he can deliver multiple times per game.
If Roethlisberger connects with Bryant on one or both of those early plays, the Steelers jump out to a lead and create the kind of pressure on the Seahawks that could have taken them out of their offensive comfort zone. When it doesn't happen, not only is the opponent better able to ease itself into the flow of the game, but it also creates situations where what might feel like aggressiveness is in truth just bad judgment. Like a fake field goal telegraphed by changing the holder from the punter to the backup quarterback.
Being that it's now 10 years since the Steelers won Super Bowl XL and they entered that postseason just as they hope to squeeze into this one – as a Wild Card team – there have been a lot of comparisons attempted between the 2005 edition and this one. OK, if that's what works for you, fine, but also remember this:
The 2005 Steelers advanced through the AFC Playoffs as the first-ever No. 6 seed to get to a Super Bowl largely because their offense was highly-efficient early, which staked them to early leads, which put the pressure on the opponent while allowing the Steelers to set a tone as to how the rest of the game would unfold, which yielded opportunities for the defense to make plays on the ball.
In other words, they were very good when the ball was in the air, and if there are to be any real similarities between 2005 and 2015, that again has to become the case.