In an Ugly Rerun, Steelers Lose to Jaguars 20-10
Anyone watching the Pittsburgh Steelers in recent weeks — even in victory — understood it was only a matter of time before their luck ran out. That’s precisely what happened before a disappointed home crowd at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Once again, the Steelers offense consistently failed to capitalize on opportunities while the Jags patiently built what ultimately became an insurmountable lead.
In a game of near-misses marred by abysmal officiating, it was the inept offense which dropped the Steelers to 4-3 for the season. Despite another stout defensive performance which got the ball back for them on three turnovers — holding Jacksonville without a TD until 5:00 remained in the third quarter — the offense was AWOL until the end of the third quarter when Mitch Trubisky found George Pickens on a crossing pattern when No. 14 somehow hurled himself between two defenders to score the Steelers only TD.
How bad was this offense? Pickett and company failed to get a first down until 9:33 of the second quarter — going 3-and-out on their first four possessions. The Steelers totaled only 70 yards rushing in the game, with Najee Harris gaining only 13 yards on 7 carries while Jaylen Warren gained 19 yards on 5 carries. Mitch Trubisky finished the game as the team’s second leading rusher with 18 yards.
While George Pickens had the 22-yard catch-and-run for a TD, that play was No. 14’s sole reception of the game. Diontae Johnson was the leading Steelers receiver with 8 catches for 85 yards, but he also missed a deep pass from Pickett on the game’s first offensive play which might have enabled the Steelers to get an early score. Later, Johnson lost his footing in the end zone on another Pickett pass which looked like it would have been a TD.
The combined quarterback rating for Pickett and Trubisky was 59.4 compared to Trevor Lawrence’s rating of 100. After replacing the injured Pickett, Trubisky led an 8-play, 75-yard TD drive during the latter part of the third quarter which gave the impression that another late rally might be in the offing. But Trubisky soon nullified that feat by his inclination during the final quarter to throw directly into coverage. Particularly costly was the interception he threw on a 2nd-and-3 play from the Steelers 27 yard line at 9:13 of the fourth quarter.
That ill-conceived pass gave the Jaguars excellent field position at their own 41-yard line and led to Jacksonville’s final 2-score margin, when Brandon McManus booted a 37-yard FG with only 4:45 remaining. At that point, it was obvious to everyone at the fast-emptying Acrisure Stadium that we wouldn’t be seeing another fourth-quarter comeback. Just as they had done in previous weeks, the Steelers offense squandered multiple opportunities to take control of a tight game. Regardless of how well their defense played, the utter lack of support from the offense was simply too great an obstacle to overcome.
While Jacksonville looks like a contender this season, plenty of other NFL teams would also be capable of beating this Steelers group which seems capable of playing well strictly on the defensive side of the ball. As difficult as it might be to face, the fact remains that the Steelers offense has made little if any progress after seven regular-season games.
Despite his claims of progress being just around the corner, Kenny Pickett largely has been incapable of moving the offense and putting points on the scoreboard. Now it’s possible that Pickett will be sitting out next Thursday against Tennessee (and possibly longer) while the Steelers already-suffering offense is led by Trubisky or Mason Rudolph. This is about as close as a team can get at mid-season to completely reverting to the drawing board.
A Steelers OL which needs to form the foundation for anything notable this offense hopes to accomplish has largely been incapable of run-blocking or protecting the quarterback consistently. In a particularly troubling development, Center Mason Cole has developed a dangerous tendency to snap the ball low with the QB in the Shotgun. Other members of the Steelers’ reconfigured 2023 OL also haven’t performed up to expectations.
In view of the injury to Minkah Fitzpatrick, one of the Steelers’ leading tacklers, it’s going to be more difficult for the defense to hold opponents at bay as they await Cam Heyward’s return. And after only three days in which to recover from a very physical battle with the Jaguars, the Steelers will host the Tennessee Titans and their human battering ram Derrick Henry on Thursday night.
Perhaps most sobering of all, during the latter half of the season, the Steelers will play the Bengals (who just whipped the 49ers by the score of 31-17 in San Francisco) while also playing the Browns and Ravens again. But given the extent of their current offensive woes, even lesser teams on Pittsburgh’s schedule, including the Packers, Colts, Seahawks, Patriots and Cardinals, could pose significant challenges.
If not for its recurring theme of nearly total offensive futility, perhaps Steelers Nation could simply write off this game as nothing more than a tough loss. But unfortunately this performance offered the faithful absolutely nothing to warrant any hopes that the picture might change moving forward.
We saw essentially the same offense we’ve been watching since Opening Day — an offense largely incapable of moving the ball consistently or converting in crucial situations (e.g. only 3 of 12 on third downs and zero on two fourth down attempts). Far from an offense which can dictate to a defense, the 2023 Steelers offense continually allows itself to be manhandled by nearly every opponent.
Because these issues won’t be resolved quickly or easily, this probably is a good time for the Steelers organization to do some soul-searching. At this juncture, it seems evident that substantive changes need to be implemented. During the current season, we’ve seen some significant failures in the realms of coaching, coordination and personnel. While the Steelers’ 4-3 record might indicate no pressing reason for concern, the picture isn’t so rosy when you actually watch this team on the field.
For better or worse, November football will determine conclusively whether the Steelers are a team on the upswing or perhaps not even on a par with last year’s edition. Either way, the month ahead looks very much like a turning point in the Black-and-gold’s season.
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