The Pittsburgh Steelers were riding a nine game winning streak heading into last nights AFC Championship game. That streak had lulled most into thinking this team was positioned to beat New England and go on to win the Super Bowl. As it turned out, we learned the Steelers have a long way to go before they can challenge a team like the Patriots for AFC supremacy.
One of the major concerns going forward is the performance of Pittsburgh’s coaching staff. They were once again badly outcoached by Bill Belichick. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler ran the same zone scemes and blitzes that have gotten his defense embarrassed in the past, and last night was no different. Once again the secondary appeared confused, as they blew assignments throughout the game. It was if they had never seen New England’s offense before. Chris Hogan went uncovered on several plays including being wide open in the end zone. To make matters worse, Bulter and Tomlin didn’t seem to make any adjustments at halftime. Tom Brady continued the onslaught in the second half, in fact it may have even been worse. The Steelers have proven without a doubt that they cannot beat New England playing the defense they currently play. Can Keith Butler adapt to a difffernt system that gives the Pittsburgh a better chance to win, or do they just move on from him and find somebody with fresh ideas? That will have to be addressed this off-season.
The offense should not get a pass from this game either. Todd Haley’s gameplan did not seem to take into account the man coverage they faced all night. The Patriot’s secondary smothered Antonio Brown, making him largely ineffective. Once again there seemed to be no halftime adjustments. It’s as if the coaches expected things just to magically get better. Despite that, Pittsburgh managed to move the ball at times on New England. The real problem arose in the red zone, as has been the case so often for this team. Pittsburgh was atrocious in the red zone during the playoffs, and throughout most of the second half of the season. Haley never managed to come up with a way to fix that major issue with the offense. In what turned out to be the biggest drive of the game, the Steelers couldn’t score a touchdown from the one foot line just before halftime. Pittsburgh was never again able to get within one score the rest of the game.
The coaches can’t take all the blame for this loss. On offense, drop passes killed the Steelers. The game seemed to be to big for some of the Steelers’ young wide receivers. Cobi Hamilton dropped an easy touchdown, while Sammie Coates missed on some throws he should have had. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t without blame either. His throws continued to be off at times, something that’s plagued him most of the year. Whether it’s underthowing deep balls, or not hitting open recievers in stride, Big Ben wasn’t sharp enough on this night. It would not be shocking to find out that Ben had some kind of injury that effected his throwing this season. On defense, the lack of any pass rush led to many of the secondary breakdowns in the game. James Harrison and Bud Dupree were invisible in a game they could not afford to be. As great as Harrison has been this season, it’s no surprise a linebacker at his age may have just run out of gas. An edge rusher has to be the top off season priority for the Steelers.
There is a lot to be optimistic about going forward for this team. Adding Martavis Bryant back to this offense may actually get them to the lofty 30 points per game prediction talked about for this season. Defensively, having a full year behind the three rookie starters and the apparent step forward by Bud Dupree should bode well for them going into 2017. If they expect to compete for a Super Bowl though, changes will need to be made. No matter what players they add for next season, if they continue to role out the same old tired schemes teams like the Patriots will keep exposing them.