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Steelers Stock Report: Whose stock is falling after the loss to the Texans

A tale of two cities, or should I say franchises. Two NFL franchises heading in totally different directions.

The Steelers traveled to the Lone Star state to take on the incredibly young but definitely improving Houston Texans. Many perceived the game to be a mismatch, and it was, just not in the way anybody rationally expected.

The Steelers were out coached, outclassed, and outplayed in every aspect of football on Sunday afternoon. I would say it was one of the most frustrating and humiliating losses ever for the once proud Steelers franchise, but these performances have become increasingly common and familiar in recent seasons.

The differences between the two franchises were immediately and painfully obvious. The Texans are young, exuberant, and excited to play the game. You could see the determination in their countenance. The players were properly prepared to execute the game plans entrusted them by their young and innovative coaching staff. The broadcast team mentioned during the game that the Texans coaches have instructed their plethora of talented rookies to bring their enthusiasm and energy to both the field and the locker room, in a calculated attempt to change the culture in Houston. Trusting in rookies to change the fortunes of a franchise. Isn’t that refreshing?

The Steelers showed up to the contest, and I use that term loosely, looking like an aging salesperson on the last leg of a long business trip. Their utter lack of enthusiasm, and anything even remotely resembling competitiveness, bordered on complete arrogance and incompetence. In all three aspects of football: Offense, defense, and coaching. Hopefully they were properly ashamed of that performance, because they should be. But it’s more likely that nothing will really change, and we will be subjected to more of the same tired coach speak and lame excuses.

Steelers Stock Trending Down: Offense

As I mentioned earlier in this article, there isn’t a more uninspired offense in the league. The players show zero confidence in each other, or in the scheme. It’s almost as if they are resigned to the fact that the play call is going to be unsuccessful before they even run it.

Kenny Pickett has regressed this season. The joy is missing from his game. He doesn’t trust the scheme, his offensive line, or his receivers. Who can blame him? The scheme is juvenile. The offensive line has been overwhelmed and inefficient, and his receivers struggle mightily to gain separation on their own. Without any semblance of a reliable running game, or NFL caliber play design, Pickett is destined for failure. Now it appears Pickett will miss a couple of weeks after injuring his knee against the Texans. There is absolutely no reason to rush him back to action at anything less than full strength, because there are other changes that desperately need to be made.

Najee Harris had his best performance of the young season against the Texans. I was really encouraged by the quick hitting dive plays up the middle. That’s exactly how the Steelers need to use Harris, because he needs momentum to be successful. Harris doesn’t have adequate start/stop abilities as a runner.

George Pickens has made strides towards becoming a complete receiver, but he still struggles to gain separation on his own. None of the Steelers receivers were achieving separation on Sunday. It was almost as if the defense knew their route combinations. More on that to come.

Pat Freiermuth has regressed as a blocker this season. He gets embarrassed at least once per game it seems. Freiermuth will never be an elite blocker, but he needs to be at least functional. Another player whose passion and enthusiasm is missing in action. Now he is dealing with a hamstring injury, and a possible stint on the IR. When it rains it pours.

Steelers Stock Trending Down: Defense

Sunday was a complete disaster for the defense, and has become my biggest concern and disappointment. The Steelers are the proud owners of the highest paid defense in the NFL. This is, and has been, a top heavy franchise; with an inordinate amount of the salary cap going towards the defense. You can almost justify the situation if the defense is elite and carrying the success of the team. That was definitely not the case on Sunday.

The defense has struggled this season with basic fundamentals. They struggle against the run and the pass. The defense has been over reliant on their superstars to create negative plays and force turnovers. Now we see what this defense looks like when they are unable to create either. It’s not pretty, folks.

I have blamed the Steelers defensive struggles thus far this year on two primary culprits: personnel usage and soft zone coverage concepts. Nothing has changed in that regard, but stubbornness from the coaching staff must be acknowledged.

The Steelers are still trotting Montravius Adams out as the starting nose tackle, even though he struggles mightily against the run. They refuse to activate Breiden Fehoko, a defensive specialist renowned for tying up blockers and slowing down rushing attacks. Levi Wallace remains a starting cornerback, and continues to get abused weekly, regardless of the receiver. Both players have value, but only if utilized correctly, and definitely not as starters, where they are easily exposed.

Like the aforementioned Texans, the Steelers definitely have an abundance of talented rookies. Unlike the Texans, the Steelers rookies lack a talented young coaching staff who believes in them enough to try and change the current circumstances. The very definition of living in your fears personified.

Steelers Stock Trending Down: Coaching

As much as I hate to admit it, this conversation starts and ends with Mike Tomlin. Mike Tomlin is the unquestioned leader of the franchise. The gigantic shadows of Kevin Colbert and Ben Roethlisberger no longer steal Tomlin’s spotlight. He is the master of his domain, and is well respected around the NFL. However, as Uncle Ben famously taught Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. One reoccurring criticism of Tomlin is the tendency of his teams to play down to the quality of their opponents. I am not suggesting that is what happened on Sunday, because the Texans actually look like the more talented team, but there is no doubt that the Steelers appeared uninterested and uninspired. For a head coach of Tomlin’s stature, that is unacceptable.

The Matt Canada debacle falls firmly at Tomlin’s feet. Canada has proven incompetent during his tenure as an NFL offensive coordinator. Honestly, his offense is simplistic and incredibly boring. The man has single handedly sucked the joy out of watching the Pittsburgh Steelers, the only team I have ever loved. Steelers Nation deserves better.

Teryl Austin’s promotion to defensive coordinator had Tomlin’s fingerprints all over it. Austin has experience as a defensive backs coach, but hardly seems qualified to be a defensive coordinator. It appears that the Steelers leaned heavily on Brian Flores pass rush expertise, because Austin has been over reliant on the pass rush prowess of his outstanding edge depth chart this season.

We can only assume he is part of the equation unwilling to give Keannu Benton and Joey Porter Jr more reps in relief of struggling Adams and Wallace. It’s up the these coaches to get the youngsters up to speed and ready to contribute meaningful minutes. Maybe Tomlin is micromanaging the defensive decisions, effectively taking these responsibilities out of Austin’s hands, but that’s the biggest problem with having yes men at the coordinators positions.

This is truly a low point for the Steelers franchise, because I believe that the trajectory of the Steelers franchise as a whole is trending down. All we can do now is pray that the Steelers hierarchy is willing and able to make the necessary changes.


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