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Random Steelers Observations: Week 4 Edition

Have the Pittsburgh Steelers finally hit rock bottom? To be truthful, I have asked myself that very question numerous times over the past few seasons.

When the Cincinnati Bengals waltzed into Pittsburgh a couple seasons ago and dominated an overmatched Steelers squad, and then proceeded to call the Steelers players out for quitting during the game, I thought this must be rock bottom, but I was wrong.

Numerous blowout losses to Super Bowl contending teams, both at home and away, all had that rock bottom feel to them, but there was always still some fading glimmer of hope flickering on the horizon.

Sunday’s self destruction against the Houston Texans has a different feel to it. I no longer feel a glimmer of hope, fading or otherwise, about this Steelers squad. I am not sure what changed exactly. Maybe it’s the fact that the Steelers never even bothered to show up on Sunday. Or maybe because a defiant Mike Tomlin promised necessary changes after the debacle that we all knew would never happen.

Tomlin’s promised changes were a few adjustments to the depth chart and practice squad. Lest I forget, his other brilliant idea is to make his already battered and bruised roster partake in more padded practices. Trust me, folks. I couldn’t make up that level of stupidity if I tried.

Tomlin gives the appearance he is assuming the blame, saying that the coaching was nowhere near good enough, as if we the fans weren’t already aware. However, he then talks about more physical practices and better practice habits. Sure sounds like he is laying more responsibility for the team’s failures at the feet of the players. Especially when he acknowledges that no changes will be made to the coaching staff at this time.

Without substantial changes in the near future, Tomlin has a serious problem on his hands. He is in danger of losing the locker room, which would definitely be rock bottom for the Steelers. Similar to how Bill Cowher lost his locker room at one point because of his stubborn refusal to recognize or acknowledge Kordell Stewart’s fatal flaws as a QB. For whatever reason, Matt Canada appears to be Tomlin’s Kordell Stewart. A stubborn blind spot capable of derailing an entire season.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of my random thoughts and observations.

It appears that Tomlin and the Steelers are finally ready to admit to some of the personnel usage issues I have been pointing out all season. Montravius Adams is no longer the starting nose tackle. Keannu Benton and DeMarvin Leal are the co-starters, whatever that means. As I have said before, Adams has value as an interior pass rusher because of his quick twitch ability. As far as promised changes go, at least this one is a step in the right direction.

Desmond King is going to share slot duties with Chandon Sullivan, and it’s about time. I am shocked it took the Steelers coaches that long to get an established veteran like King up to speed, or to figure out that Sullivan isn’t a good slot corner. From what I have seen thus far, Sullivan is the Devin Bush of slot players. Just another body in a uniform collecting a paycheck.

Levi Wallace and Patrick Peterson were thoroughly toasted throughout the game Sunday, but Joey Porter Jr only received 10 snaps on defense. Porter has already proven to be the Steelers best corner, by a large margin. The fact that Teryl Austin still believes that Wallace and Peterson are the Steelers best options speaks volumes about his incompetence, and should lead to his termination. Porter will inevitably struggle at times with increased exposure, as all rookie corners eventually do. He will pick up penalties for his physical style of play, but it’s the only way for the talented young man to learn and improve. We must learn to live with the growing pains, if all these rock bottoms are ever going to have a silver lining.

The harder the Steelers pass rush tried to impact the game, the easier Houston’s offense exploited their over-aggressiveness. Quick screens all across the field, easy outlets, and numerous slant passes were perfectly timed against the Steelers predictably aggressive front seven and incredibly passive defensive backfield. Sadly, the Steelers offensive game plan isn’t the only game plan that is easily predictable.

Quick message to all Steelers kick returners: Take the touchback. Please! If the kickoff doesn’t reach the end zone, call for the fair catch. This guarantees that the offense gets the ball at the 25 yard line. Most returners fail to reach the 25, at least Steelers returners. Most possible outcomes are bad. The returner fails to reach the 25, there is a penalty that hurts starting field position, or Heaven forbid, a turnover. Overwhelming odds suggest you are better off to take the touchback.

I was encouraged by a couple of quick hitting dive plays run by Najee Harris. First off, Harris lined up closer to the line of scrimmage. Secondly, he hit the designed hole with a full head of steam. This is when Harris is his most efficient and effective. He is not nimble or elusive, and he doesn’t possess adequate start/stop abilities. Harris is nothing like Le’Veon Bell, but he is similar to the late great Franco Harris. Franco used to feast on quick hitting trap plays up the middle. Najee needs to line up closer to the LOS, and be willing to power forward for what yardage is available. This offense has to stay out of long yardage situations.

This Sunday’s showdown against the Baltimore Ravens at the friendly confines of Acrisure Stadium has suddenly turned into a season defining contest, even prior to the Steelers bye week. Even with all the Steelers injuries, inconsistencies, and internal conflicts, this game is a Steelers home game for the division lead.

Early reports suggest there is still optimism that Kenny Pickett may be able to play. The Steelers already know what to expect from the Ravens. The Ravens are the most aggressive defense in the NFL. They will attempt to overwhelm the Steelers struggling offensive line early and often, at least until the Steelers prove capable of making them pay for that mindset. It’s anybody’s guess if Matt Canada is even capable of designing a game plan to do just that, but if I had to make an educated guess, I would have to say no.

Here’s hoping that he proves me wrong this Sunday, but I would advise against holding your breath.

Finally, some quick hitters of my own.

I recently noticed that Devin Bush is wearing #0 for the Seattle Seahawks. I can’t think of a more perfect union between player and number.

The success this season of Kendrick Green and Kevin Dotson elsewhere suggests their struggles in Pittsburgh were more scheme oriented than talent related. Possibly more disturbing evidence against Canada’s competency. As OC, his impact is felt at every level of the offense.

One week after finding substantial success utilizing play action and the middle of the field against the Raiders, the Steelers had a grand total of two passes over the middle, according to their passing chart. One was the deep interception, and the other was incomplete. Maddening.

One more. The Steelers really miss the steady contributions of Terrell Edmunds this season. His absence has resulted in Minkah Fitzpatrick being forced to play out of position far too often, severely limiting his ball-hawking big play abilities. The Steelers had an impressive offseason, but not every decision is panning out as well as they had hoped.

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