Lolley's 10 thoughts: Eagles

Guys are called playmakers in the NFL because they … wait for it … make plays.

Right now, however, the Steelers are lacking in that category.

They've got plenty of talented guys on their roster. But their playmakers, the guys expected to make big plays, haven't been doing that often enough – certainly not to the level of some of their opponents.

That was clearly obvious in Sunday's 35-13 loss by the Steelers are Philadelphia.

Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown made big plays seemingly every time he touched the ball, finishing with six receptions for 156 yards and three touchdowns.

The Eagles had seven plays of 20 or more yards in this game. The Steelers? They had two.

It's been a recurring theme in the first half of this season.

But it wasn't like the Steelers didn't try to make those plays offensively.

Rookie receiver George Pickens was targeted three times down the field. Diontae Johnson got a deep shot, as well. But the Steelers had a rough go of it down the sideline against Philadelphia's physical cornerbacks, Darius Slay and James Bradberry.

Pickens landed out of bounds on one deep ball when Slay pushed him out while he was in the air. On another, Pickens made the catch, but officials ruled he had pushed off on the play. On his final chance, he caught the ball on Bradberry, only to have it jar loose when he landed on the ground.

"He was out of bounds on the one, on the double move," said Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett. "We had the (pass interference) on the one. I thought he caught the one on the sideline he didn't come down with. So it's just things like that."

Johnson, meanwhile, drew a pass interference penalty on Bradberry on his deep ball attempt, which is nice, but if he can somehow run under the ball after getting behind the cornerback, he might still be running.

Pickens entered this weekend leading the NFL in "go" routes. Johnson was fourth.

"We're pushing it downfield," said Pickett. "We just have to do more of it. We have to get guys in space more to get some more run after (the catch), guys catching the ball on the move. That's me putting it on them and hitting them in stride."

It's a recurring theme for the Steelers this season. Their skill position players continue to underwhelm.

Only in this game, it wasn't just the Steelers' lack of playmaking offensively that stood out. It was painfully obvious when compared to the plays Brown and the rest of the Eagles made.

"Position is just a component of playmaking. The finish is probably equally as important as the positioning," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "We were in position, but their guy made a play. And we didn't. We were in one-on-one circumstances on the other side of the ball and it was a different outcome. One time it was out of bounds. One time it was OPI. One time the ground dislodged the ball. That's the minutiae. That's the playmaking. That's the difference. They were making those plays, and we were not. We've got to own that and see it with clear eyes."

• At 2-6 heading into the bye week, the Steelers get a much-needed chance to take a step back and look at what's been going on.

Mostly, each player and coach needs to take a look in the mirror and assess how they've gotten themselves to this point

It won't be pretty.

"We've got to keep our head up. It's rough right now. It's obvious," said running back Najee Harris. "We lack a lot of stuff. We lack a lot of experience. We lack a lot of discipline, accountability. We lack a lot. We can't go forward without correcting the little things that are affecting us. That's the stuff we talk about every week. We've just got to keep our head up. I know that in time it will click. You've just got to keep grinding it out."

The Steelers were penalized nine times for 60 yards in this game. Three of those were pre-snap penalties on offense.

"Pre-snap penalties. You see what's happening? I said the same thing last week and the week before that," said Harris. "We can't do anything other than go to practice and put your head down and grind. We've got to stop beating ourselves before we do anything. We beat ourselves up. We helped the other team by doing the stuff that we do. We have pre-snap penalties. I don't know if we lead the league in pre-snap penalties, but I think we do."

Whether they do or not is beside the point. Fact of the matter is, those are the kind of things that can't happen – at least not of you want to beat good teams.

• Those things aside, this offense continues to show that it can potentially be formidable once things start clicking – whenever that might be.

The Steelers had drives of 15, 13 and 12 plays Sunday. Those are tough to accomplish in the NFL.

The difference in this game is that the Eagles only had one drive that went 11 plays. All of their other drives were shorter than that because they were making big plays.

"When you're running 14 plays, 16 plays, something is going to happen sooner or later," said Pickett. "Guys get tired up front. It causes problems. It's a dual-edged sword. It's good to stay on the field and control the football and chew some clock up. We have to finish with points. If we're not getting points, it's really not doing any good."

In this game, all 13 of the Steelers' points came on those long drives. But as it has been all season, punching the ball into the end zone from in close has been an issue.

Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 8 game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field

Pickens and Claypool have one touchdown each, as does tight end Pat Freiermuth. Johnson has yet to score despite having a team-high 43 receptions.

The Steelers were 1 of 3 scoring touchdowns on red zone trips in this game. That drops them under 50 percent for the season in scoring touchdowns in the red zone.

And when you also consider they're the only team in the league that doesn't have a touchdown from outside the red zone – it's making life too difficult.

• It's no secret Brown is a weapon for the Eagles. In fact, he's not just a weapon, he's THE weapon for the Eagles.

Brown entered this game averaging 15.2 yards per catch. It was no secret they wanted to get him the ball.

And yet he had three touchdowns in this game of 39, 27 and 24 yards.

The Eagles had obviously watched the Steelers defensive backs struggle with the ball in the air against the Bills a few weeks ago. And they attacked.

"We talked about it during the week," nickel cornerback Arthur Maulet said. "It leaves a sour taste in your mouth from a few weeks ago when we played the Bills. It's one of those things we preached on. We've got to have better ball drills and make plays. We've got a bye this week. We're going to work on it. We'll be on it. Work hard and hopefully get better at it."

Ahkello Witherspoon was beaten on the final two of those touchdown passes, while safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was in position to intercept the first, only to have Brown go up in front of him and make the play.

It wound up getting Witherspoon, who was returning to play after being out for a month with a hamstring injury, benched at halftime in favor of James Pierre.

"That's on me to make the plays when I'm in that position. Coaches trust me to do my job and I didn't do that," Witherspoon said. "That's the NFL. Shots and chunk plays are the easiest way to win in the NFL. We didn't win when we needed to.

"You've just got to try to make the play. I don't think I did a good enough job to try to make the play. It's as simple as that."

• Much was made in the offseason about the loss of leadership on this team, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, after Ben Roethlisberger's retirement.

There are some young leaders being severely tested in this instance.

And as the quarterback of an especially young group, Pickett is being thrust into that much earlier than Roethlisberger had to be when he broke into the lineup with a veteran group around him as a rookie.

There is no Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward or Alan Faneca to handle that on the offensive side of things for this team. A lot of it is falling on Pickett's shoulders.

But he does seem to be handling it – albeit in losing efforts.

"Something has to change," Pickett said. "It's insane to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect something different. We've been having these problems all year. That has to get changed. That has to get fixed. We need to look each other in the eye and get it turned around. We're only going to be able to do it. Coaches can say whatever they want. Everyone in the media and fans can say whatever they want. At the end of the day, it's down to us, so we have to figure it out."

That's owning the struggles. Obviously, it's not all on Pickett. But as the leader of this young offense, he's holding himself – and those around him – responsible.

• The Steelers did cobble together a rushing attack in this game, finishing with 144 yards on 24 carries.

Now, some of that came later in the game when things were a little out of hand, but they were having success with some non-traditional runs. Steven Sims had 21 yards on a pair of end arounds. Pickett chipped in 37 yards on scrambles.

But in terms of a traditional rushing attack? That was tough sledding early. Harris had four carries for no yards at the half, even though the Steelers had 51 yards on the ground on 12 rushing attempts.

Jaylen Warren finished this game with 50 yards on six attempts.

"I'm not a big east-to-west guy. I've been taught to just get downhill," Warren said. "I'm not a big dance guy. That's what I've been taught."

Now, some of that is Warren running in third-down or long-yardage situations, but he certainly hits the hole and goes.

Harris doesn't feel like the holes have always been there for him.

"I've never had a stat line like that," Harris said of his first-half line. "I can't make. I can't do everything. I try to control what I can control. I don't know what more I can do other than vocalize it."

Harris did finish with eight carries for 32 yards, so his final four rushing attempts were much more fruitful.

• So, will getting T.J. Watt back following the bye week change things?

It will at least make the Steelers defense more dangerous. The deep passes the team has been susceptible to early in this season take time to develop.

If Watt is playing, perhaps they don't get dialed up nearly as often.

• The Eagles had the success they did in this game with five players catching passes. Five.

It just goes to show that it's not necessarily how many guys are incorporated into an offense that leads to success. Find what you do well – or who gives you the best chance to win – and get those guys the ball.

• Pickens, by the way, had no catches on three targets in this game.

Those three targets tied him with Warren and Steven Sims for fifth-most on the team Sunday.

• Tomlin has to feel a little like the little Dutch boy in the Hans Brinker story. Every time he sticks his finger in the dike to plug one hole, another opens.

But he's been in this situation before. In 2013, the Steelers also started 2-6. Things looked bleak at midseason after a 55-31 throttling at the hands of the Patriots in New England.

They then rattled off six wins in their final eight games to finish 8-8 and just miss the playoffs.

It was nothing mystical then. It just required players to stop making the mistakes that had put them in an early hole.

In that season, that meant stop turning the ball over. The Steelers had 17 turnovers in their first eight games that season. They turned it over seven times in their final eight games.

Tomlin will keep coaching this team up and get them better. And this team won't quit.

"We have the team, we're just not executing right now," said linebacker Alex Highsmith. "We're shooting ourselves in the foot. We've just got to play fundamental ball. We weren't good on the fundamentals today. You can't beat yourself in this league.

"We know what type of team we can be. We have too much talent in here for the record to be what it is and we know that. We're going to be better. It sucks where we are right now. It sucks. But you can't fold."

• Pickett took care of the football in this game – until he didn't, losing a fumble and then throwing a late interception.

Those simply looking at the stats will view this as another turnover-laden game for the rookie. But that wasn't the case.

Circumstances dictated Pickett take more chances late. And that's when the turnovers happened.

"I thought we did a good job until we got one-dimensional," Pickett said. "When you get one-dimensional and those guys know you're passing it, the second is going to have a bead on it. The guys up front are going to pin their ears back. It just makes your life a lot harder, so we can't get in those situations."

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