Lolley's 10 Thoughts: Miami

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- There are always learning curves when you're playing a rookie quarterback.

The Steelers somehow avoided the pitfalls that go along with that in Ben Roethlisberger's magical 2004 campaign. And in doing so, Roethlisberger and the Steelers might have spoiled their fans.

Most rookie quarterbacks don't go 13-0 in their starts. They don't lead their team to a 15-1 record. They make mistakes. They throw interceptions.

And so it was here Sunday night for Pickett, who overall played well, completing 32 of 44 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown, while also scrambling three times for 20 yards.

But three throws. That's all it takes to ruin a night -- especially when the other team takes advantage of them. And that's what happened to Pickett. Miami had four pass defenses in this game, meaning there were four times where a Dolphins defender either got his hands on a pass or knocked the ball from the hands of a Steelers receiver.

Unfortunately for Pickett and the Steelers, now 2-5, three of those were turned into interceptions in a 16-10 loss.

"There's some things to build on, but obviously turnovers, they can't happen," said Pickett. "That cost us the game."

Quarterbacks often get too much credit for a team's success and too much blame for a team's failures, but in this case, whether they be miscommunications, errant throws or just bad plays, the result is the same. It's yet another loss, the Steelers' fifth in seven games this season.

Three of those have come by a touchdown or less. One of the others, against Cleveland, was a one-score game until the Browns scored on the game's final play off a turnover with the Steelers trying to manufacture a miracle.

This team is close. But close isn't good enough. And in close games, turnovers are magnified, especially when two come in the final four minutes deep in opposing territory.

"We'll assess this, learn from it, and put together a plan for the next one," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

That will certainly be the case for Pickett and what is still a very young team offensively.

The Steelers are getting better offensively. It might not always seem that way -- particularly after a game in which they score 10 points, but twice in the closing minutes of this game, they got the ball deep in their own territory and moved deep into Miami territory, only to be turned away by the turnovers.

"I feel like we are," Tomlin said when asked if his team is developing an offensive identity. "But we didn't make the necessary splash plays today to secure victory. But I certainly feel like we are."

That identity has to be a game that doesn't beat itself. In this case, the Steelers felt like they did that.

"We've just got to figure it out, be critical and learn from that," said tight end Pat Freiermuth.

None will be more critical of what happened than Pickett.

"I thought he was highly competitive," said Tomlin. "I thought he played to win. I thought he made some plays. Unfortunately, he and we didn't make enough."

There's that word -- we. Football is the ultimate team game. And while the stat line will say Pickett threw three interceptions in this game, oftentimes those are rarely all on the quarterback. There are more things at play.

But Pickett will be tough on himself after this one. He and the coaching staff will be critical looking at it. And he'll learn.

The biggest difference between the rookie seasons of Pickett and Roethlisberger were that the latter was playing with a very veteran group. Pickett doesn't have that to fall back on. He and the rest of this offense are largely learning on the job.

• After three Miami possessions, the Dolphins had outgained the Steelers, 165-13. They led 13-0.

And then the Steelers settled in and just played football -- what should have been winning football, allowing just three points over the final three quarters.

Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle had six combined catches for 85 yards, with Waddle having three of those for 63 yards. The duo finished with 11 combined catches for 160 yards. Considering they came into this game averaging a combined 206 yards per game, it was a solid effort.

But more so than that, the defensive backs were upset at having four chances for interceptions, two by Levi Wallace and one each by Cam Sutton and Terrell Edmunds, that they failed to come down with.

"They've played good against every team," said Wallace, who injured his shoulder late in the game on his second dropped interception. "We knew we would have to take their punch. We took it and then went out and played a great second half. We didn't get enough turnovers. That's on me. I didn't catch the balls that came to me."

It's a shame, because the defense played great holding the Dolphins to just three points after the first quarter.

Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 7 game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium

"The defense stood on its head and made critical stops when we needed it," Freiermuth said. "As an offense, we can't keep putting the defense in that situation. We have to put drives together and finish them."

• A turnover or two would have helped, though.

The Steelers' average drive started at their own 22. Five of their 11 meaningful possessions began at their own 18 or worse.

When an offense is struggling at times to move the ball -- or sustain drives -- every little bit matters.

• This offense is close. But it also needs to start putting the ball in the end zone.

In two of the past three games, all Pickett starts, the Steelers have now posted 341 yards against the Dolphins and 364 against the Bills. They've scored one touchdown and 13 points in those two games, their best yardage outputs of the season.

"We've got to find a way to finish off drives," said left tackle Dan Moore. "The defense played great. They kept getting us the ball back. We've just got to capitalize."

You get the feeling with this offense that when it finally does start to get it, it will be like a dam bursting. The question is, will it be too late to save this season?

Here's the thing, all offseason, the Steelers talked about getting chunk plays. Right now, they're just not getting those consistently. They had one play of 30 or more yards in this game and just two over 20.

Miami had five plays of 20 or more yards.

• Najee Harris continues to look better in the past couple of weeks. He had 65 yards on 17 carries in this game, and the Steelers rushed for 95 yards on 23 attempts.

Pickett was a part of that with 20 rushing yards himself. But it's hard to kill him for not taking what would have been an easy 10 yards before his final interception. There were 25 seconds remaining. The Steelers had no remaining timeouts.

Yes, Pickett likely could have easily stepped out of bounds. But he was playing to win. He just happened to throw a back shoulder pass when he should have led Diontae Johnson to the inside, where he had leverage.

• While the defense played well after the first quarter, where was the pressure?

The Steelers had no sacks and one quarterback hit in this game -- against a Miami offensive line that had been allowing pressures and sacks pretty consistently.

Sure, left tackle Terron Armstead was back, and that makes a difference. But the right tackle, Brandon Shell, was called up from Miami's practice squad before the game.

Alex Highsmith was getting doubled and tripled, at times. But that means somebody else has to get home.

T.J. Watt can't return soon enough.

• Winning close games like this is a learned behavior. It's one Tomlin tries to foster by having the team work a two-minute drill to close out every Friday practice during the season.

"That's something we work on all the time," Freiermuth said.

It seemed like Pickett might pull this one out. His 21-yard pass to Freiermuth on fourth-and-6 took guts. Freiermuth wasn't open when Pickett let that one rip.

That's what makes this one so tough. The Steelers had two cracks at it. And both drives started deep in their own territory -- at the 18 and 13. Yet Pickett put them in position before disaster struck.

"To be honest, we're all new to this, we're both rookies so you can't expect nothing too crazy, but you also can't expect nothing too low," rookie wide receiver George Pickens said. "I feel like he fought very well."

• In the past two weeks after being torched in Buffalo, the Steelers have allowed 18 and 16 points.

The defense is starting to gel as a unit, but those two efforts have only added up to one win.

"It is frustrating, but we are doing good things," safety Minkah Fitzpatrick said. "This is the point in the season where you could either come together, come closer and let it bind us together and move forward and just start stacking wins, or we can let it hurt us and start pointing fingers. Good teams are going to come together in times like this."

• This team is close. Yes, it has fallen behind by 10 or more points in five games this season, but it also hasn't quit.

And it won't quit moving forward. There are 10 games remaining. The Steelers will continue to improve and build.

There's too much pride in that locker room to do anything else.

"All you can do is just practice hard, stay focused, don't complain and just try to find a way to get better each day," Harris said. "That's all you can do. You can't do too much other than just getting back to work."

• That will be the key as the Steelers continue to move forward. This team has run a gauntlet to start this season. After Sunday's games, of the Steelers' seven opponents this season, five are at .500 or better.

Of the remaining 10 opponents, only four currently have a .500 or better record. And three of those games are against the Bengals, whom the Steelers have already beaten, and the Ravens, whom they have won their past four meetings against.