Dysfunctional Steelers officially a team in turmoil under Tomlin

The score: Jacksonville 30, Pittsburgh 9

The bottom line: Jacksonville is a much better football team than anyone gave them credit for, but the Steelers are officially a hurting bunch, with a start quarterback who’s been bad for way too long, a core of defenders who seem way too intent on celebrating rather than stopping and a head coach who makes way too many tactical errors. A season that started with visions of Lombardi Trophies dancing in fans’ heads now is perilously on the brink.

It was over when…: The Steelers were trailing by 11 as the fourth quarter dawned, but a Jordan Berry punt had pinned Jacksonville inside its own 5 and with turnover-prone Blake Bortles at quarterback, there appeared to be an opportunity to swing momentum. That was quickly quashed by a serious of long runs by first Leonard Fournette and then Chris Ivory as Pittsburgh watched the clock drain. By the time Fournette reeled off an 11-yard gain for a first down to cross midfield and Mike Mitchell celebrated tackling Fournette 11 yards down the field, there was less than 8:00 left in the game and zero chance of a comeback.

Play of the day: Trailing 7-6, the Steelers took the opening kickoff in the second half and marched down the field in the no huddle, looking like a team that was taking charge of a game. Facing a 3rd-and-goal at the 2-yard-line, Roethlisberger took a shotgun snap and looked to his left only at Antonio Brown, who was bracketed toward the sideline by a defender. Never taking his eyes off Brown, Roethlisberger threw the ball nonetheless and it had less than a zero percent chance of being completed, perfectly summing up the quarterbacks “WTF” afternoon.

Player of the game: For all the wrong reasons, Ben Roethlisberger again was the main culprit for Pittsburgh’s poor play. He got plenty of help, no doubt, and, yes, the two Pick 6’s were tipped, but the problems go much deeper than that. Roethlisberger seems as physical as ever, his arm strength looks fine. He just can’t figure out who’s open. It was clear early the Steelers should work away from Jalen Ramsey and that Ramsey was staying put on the left side of the defensive formation, yet pass after pass went that way, many of them batted away.

Hot topics:

+ The Jags had a couple of blowout wins, but no one (including us) took them seriously. That was a mistake. They’re brutish on both lines, feature active linebackers and athletic corners and a nice 1-2 punch at running back. Their weakness is at QB and WR, something the Steelers game plan (mostly zone coverage) and execution (gashed on the ground by Leonard Fournette) didn’t come close to exploiting.

+ Speaking of being gashed on the ground, what was up with all the defensive celebrating? It culminated in the ridiculous Mike Mitchell display noted above, but it started well before that with multiple defenders not named Mitchell celebrating first- and second-down tackles, only to surrender conversions on this down. We understand football is an emotional and physical game. Celebrating fine. Just make sure you have something to celebrate.

Zebra hunting:

+ This was the best officiated game of the year, by John Parry’s crew, only nine assessed penalties and quick, decisive replay rulings.

+ There did not seem to be enough cameras in the middle of the field to have any chance of getting a correct review ruling on two first-half plays, the interception by Jalen Ramsey, where it sure looked to us like he was down by contact, and the third-down spot Mike Tomlin challenged in the second quarter, where we think what was marked on the field was off by a foot and a half (and the official was out of position to mark it accurately) but the “right” spot probably still would have resulted in a first down.

Game mismanagement:

+ We’re not sure what else there is to say here anymore. For all his strong points, Mike Tomlin is a guy that does not have a good feel for game day strategy and who has no intention of getting help with it. Never was that more exemplified that when he risked a precious second-half time out throwing the challenge flag on a pass to Antonio Brown before anyone, including the coaches in the booth, could see a replay that clearly showed the ball hit the ground before Brown scooped it up. Tomlin is not just clueless any more, he’s getting reckless.

+ Of course, Pittsburgh also lost a first-half timeout on a challenge where a spot DID appear to be missed, but it was clear on replay that it could not be overturned. This is where a game management assistant could be so valuable, taking the emotion out of decisions.

In the booth:

+ Wow. That was one terrible broadcast. Kevin Harlan had a miserable day. We counted at least five miscalls on simple things like who was in coverage, who threw a challenge flag or which kicker missed an extra point. Rich Gannon is just too slow on the draw with his analysis and he’s one of the big culprits in terms of sticking to a script that was obviously discussed before the game. Finally, he’s just not very observant. On Ben Roethlisberger’s first Pick Six, Harlan said live the pass might have been tipped, yet Gannon went all in on analyzing a bad throw, complete with telestrator, and was hammering home his point just about the time the replay showed the ball flight was altered by about five yards by the tip. As Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say: Nevermind. Yikes.

+ Gannon made a strong case that the Steelers should have been playing more man coverage against the notoriously and traditionally inaccurate Blake Bortles (15 of 35 just last week). Minus, it took him nearly 30 minutes of game time to do it. You know who would have been all over that after the first drive or two.

And now, a word from our sponsor: “Hey, let’s give our new product a dumb, unimaginative name and then base the marketing on us doing that.” Dominoes, probably, in the strategy meeting for Bread Twists.

Sweet tweets:

+ @15MinutesBlog: Probably stop throwing to the guy Ramsey is covering. (Blogger’s note: In the first half, we counted passes the Jags star corner broke up thrown to Vance McDonald, Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster. We’re pretty sure that meanshe wasn’t covering the best receiver in football on any of those plays.)

+ @SportsingJim: Other than Ben, my favorite part of this game is the defense consistently celebrating Jacksonville getting enough yards for a first down.

Next week: The Steelers go to Kansas City for what has become a game they need to win. That won’t be easy. The Chiefs are very good and the Steelers have won the last two meetings, first a blowout at Heinz Field last year and then a playoff squeaker in an ice storm. Beating a good team three times in a row is a pretty tall task. It also should mark the debut of analyst phenom Tony Romo on a Steelers game. We can’t wait. Will he predict how predictable the Pittsburgh offense can be? Will he realize is not the smart guy the national media makes him out to be when it comes to clock management? Stay tuned.


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