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Week 12 Recap: Sum Of All Fears

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At halftime, Mike Tomlin was asked about his decision to try a risky fake punt/pass which resulting in an interception that set up the Seahawks’ first touchdown. “We aren’t going to live in our fears. We’re going to live in our hopes” was his classic response. Unfortunately over the next three quarters, Steeler Nation saw all their worst fears come to life. And in the end we watched the Seattle Seahawks defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in a wild 39-30 shootout.

Since it was a national game I assume 99.9% of you watched it so there’s no need for a play-by-play recap. Instead, I’ll just give some random thoughts about yesterday’s costly loss. Let’s start with our defense. Although what we saw from them yesterday might barely qualify as such.

Going into the season we knew the secondary was bad. Some worried it might be historically bad. Through the first half of the season they’ve given up some crazy yardage totals but have always managed to keep things in check. The primary reason for that was their uncanny ability to come up with a turnover just in time to put the kibosh on their opponent’s momentum.

Well, as I always say, turnovers are one part talent, one part scheme and two parts sheer luck. Yesterday the Steeler forced a couple near turnovers but couldn’t get the bounce to go their way. Because of that, Russell Wilson was able to make play after play all over the field, culminating with him setting a new career best with 5 touchdown passes.

The infuriating part is most of those weren’t even particularly good throws. Seattle repeatedly scored on passes where the receiver was left totally wide open. We saw this crap all the way back in the season opener against the Patriots when Collinsworth tried to blame it on “a new coordinator having communications issues.” Now we’re over halfway through the season and there are still blown coverages which leave guys completely uncovered.

Keith Butler has done a very good job in his first season succeeding the great Dick LeBeau. One philosophy he evidently shares with his mentor is that if you pressure the QB you can cover for a bad secondary by forcing bad throws. Which definitely worked at times although the problem was when it didn’t guys they didn’t just give up a pass, they gave up a huge gain.

A week after he dropped 200 yards on San Francisco, the Steelers mostly bottled up RB Thomas Rawls. They’d inevitably get the Seahawks in third and longs only for Seattle to connect on a long pass play to move the chains. When they got in Wilson’s face, he’d start to flounder. When they didn’t, he’d make a big play. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The sad part is nobody is asking them to be the 1975 Steel Curtain. We knew the defense was going to be an issue and all we ever expected was for them to be adequate. Yesterday, they weren’t even that. Seattle has some decent talent but there is absolutely no excuse for allowing them a tick under 40 points. That’s the kind of defensive effort that’s not going to beat anyone.

Which is all the more frustrating when you realize the Steelers are perhaps the most lethal offensive juggernaut in the league. Seattle’s defense isn’t what it used to be but it’s still a legit top 5 defensive unit. The Steelers straight clowned them, rolling up 480 yards of total offense. 456 of that came from the arm of Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for more yards than anybody Seattle has ever faced in their history.

Markus Wheaton had the game of his life, finishing with 9 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown. Frightening thought is he could’ve had a bunch more if not for a couple missed throws and bad drops. Antonio Brown didn’t have a big stats day but that’s because he kept getting loose for big plays that just barely missed connecting. Martavis Bryant was perhaps the worst offender in that regard, failing to haul in several big plays. Although he made up for his mistakes with a couple bombs and by scoring a great touchdown where he got the ball on a reverse then switched on the afterburners when he got around the corner and was in the end zone in the blink of an eye.

Missed opportunities were the name of the game for the Steelers. Two trips inside the 10 netted two field goals while two other trips into Seattle territory ended in turnovers. Ben threw two picks and Jones chipped in two more. That’s 4 turnovers compared to none for Seattle. It’s one thing to have a shaky defense, it’s another to keep putting them behind the eight ball.

I don’t mind the fake kick/throw by Landry Jones which set up Seattle’s first touchdown. It was a gamble but aggressive playcalling wins far more games than it loses. Alejandro Villaneuva was a tight end at Army so he has hands and if Jones had just led him out to the flat a tad more we’d be talking about Riverboat Mike’s greatest gambles. Although I do find it curious they went for a couple 4th downs early in the game but when it got down to crunch time, Tomlin shrunk like a frightened turtle in deciding to kick a FG with less than three minutes left and Seattle up by two.

Live in your hopes, Coach T, not your fears.

It wouldn’t be a Steeler Sunday if I didn’t have injuries to talk about. Ryan Shazier left the game early with a concussion. Shocking. Early on, Heath Miller left with a rib injury which was a pretty big blow since it looked like Ben planned to target him quite a bit. Then of course Ben himself left the game after taking a vicious looking helmet-to-helmet hit. Although he stayed in the game because the NFL’s head trauma policies are laughable, Ben self-reported his symptoms to the team doctors and is now subject to Concussion Protocols he’ll have to pass in order to play next Sunday night against the Colts.

Make no mistake, the Steelers will need Ben back if they hope to salvage a Wild Card berth. When the afternoon began, the 6-4 Steelers were comfortably slotted as the first WC. With a loss, they drop into a four way tie which, as I’ve been harping on for weeks now, lands them outside the playoff picture thanks to losing all the tiebreaks. At this point, the Steelers really can’t afford any more AFC losses which is sort of tricky since the rest of their schedule are all AFC opponents. I’m not saying they have to run the table since the AFC is so mediocre I’m sure 8-8 will get somebody in, what I am saying is they pretty much can’t afford more than one loss down the stretch or the tiebreakers are going to be their undoing.

None of which is going to matter if they don’t start tightening things up on defense, though.