By David Todd
In one of the most disappointing games in the history of Heinz Field, and the disappointing games are coming a lot more frequently the past few years, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost 27-24 to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Continuing an early season trend, the Steelers committed 13 penalties for 125 yards, including six personal foul or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties totaling 90 yards. After an early turnover on the game’s first possession led to a quick Tampa touchdown and the Bucs converted a long punt return into a field goal on their second, the Steelers dominated the rest of the half. They put up the next 17 points and went into halftime having outgained the Bucs 253-64 yards. They did however, squander an opportunity to add to their lead right at the end of the half with what has become all-to-familiar questionable clock management and an ill-advised sack.
Both teams would score on their opening possession of the second half, but that was effectively it for the Steelers offense and the defense morphed back into the one that got carved up in the second half of the opener at Heinz Field by Brian Hoyer and the Cleveland Browns. The Bucs gained 286 yards in the final thirty, but it still looked like the Steelers would escape with a win when Mike Glennon missed Vincent Jackson in the end zone on fourth down with 1:44 left. But the Steelers couldn’t convert on a 3rd-and-5 deep in their own territory and Tampa got the ball back on the Steelers 46 with 40 seconds and no timeouts after a 29-yard shank by Brad Wing. Steeler-killer Louis Murphy caught a slant in front of Troy Polamalu, Cortez Allen took a terrible angle and it 41-yards later the Bucs were set up at the five. A Mike Glennon-to-Vincent Jackson slant-stick sealed the deal with seven seconds left. It’s another embarrassing result for an undisciplined Steelers team that has yet to establish an identity on either side of the ball.
Ben Roethlisberger injured his right hand/wrist when he banged it on Marcus Gilbert’s helmet following through on a pass attempt, but was able to stay in the game.
Ramon Foster, Ryan Shazier and Ike Taylor were all inactive. Jarvis Jones was put on Injured Reserve/Designate-for-Return earlier in the week.
*Ben Roethlisberger continues to prove that he is one of the very best in the league. You won’t read about this anywhere else, but Roethlisberger made a great decision during the Steelers second scoring drive. On 2nd-and-7 from the Steelers 49, Ben looked to hit AB on a quick slant. The Tampa corner jumped the route. Ben started to throw, but held on and was eventually sacked. On the next play Ben hit Lance Moore for a 12-yard gain and then ran a QB sneak on fourth down for a first down. (It was the rare instance were Ben got the team lined up on fourth down, milked most of the play clock and actually went for it rather than calling time out or taking a delay of game penalty. A welcome change.) He connected six plays later with AB for his second TD. It was a great read by Ben to hold the ball and not force it on a play that very possibly could have resulted in a turnover. And instead, the drive eventually resulted in seven points. Roethlisberger finished the day 29-40 (which included at least four drops), for 314 yards, three TDs and a passer rating of 120.2, all in the face of a very strong Tampa pass rush that registered five sacks.
*Antonio Brown had another huge day, but will probably get more attention for the dropped flea-flicker. Good secondaries have trouble covering Brown. With all their injuries Tampa’s isn’t good. He ran free through the defensive backfield all game long finishing with 131 yards on seven catches, two for touchdowns. He broke the record of at least 5 catches for 50+ yards doing it for the 20th consecutive game. He also completed a pass for 17 yards to Le’Veon Bell.
*Le’Veon Bell had a great individual effort in the fourth quarter when he took a check down from Ben, cut inside of a Bucs defender converting a 3rd-and-13 into a first down. The Steelers would get another first down on the very next play, but that would be it for the final 8:23 of the game. Mike Tomlin apparently enjoyed Bell’s work on the play (NSFW).
*Heath Miller, who had only 11 catches through the first three games, had ten in this one for 85 yards and his first TD of the season.
*The Steelers offense continues to be enigmatic. After a great first half against Cleveland in the opener, the Steelers didn’t score a touchdown in their next three halves. They turned that around with a big second half against the Panthers and continued it with an impressive first 30 against Tampa. But, they weren’t able to sustain it and they couldn’t close this one out when given the opportunity. They have yet to put together a full 60 minutes.
*The pass protection was terrible. Ben was sacked five times and hurried and hit on numerous other occasions from start to finish. On the game’s second play Gerald McCoy used an inside move to blow by Cody Wallace virtually untouched for a sack and on the very next play Michael Johnson came in untouched as Kelvin Beachum blocked down and Le’Veon Bell didn’t get across in time leading to a strip sack that setup the Bucs first score. It’s always hard to judge line play without seeing the film, but Wallace and Beachum did not look good.
*Antonio Brown had a big day, but he also had a big drop. On 1st-and-10 from the Steelers 32 and 10:22 left in the game, the Steelers called a flea flicker with Le’Veon Bell taking a handoff and then tossing the ball back to Ben. Ben did an excellent job of looking off the defense and then threw a perfect long ball to a crossing Brown. The ball went through Brown’s hands at the Bucs 10 yard line. A catch there most likely wins the game. Brown wasn’t the only one. There were at least three other drops including one by Justin Brown in the end zone costing the Steelers 4 points.
*Shortly after the failed flea flicker, on 3rd-and-11 from the Tampa 45 and 7:22 to go, Ben missed AB deep down the left sideline forcing the Steelers to punt. This time it was Ben’s fault as he overthrew an open Brown. Two missed opportunities on the Steelers last foray into Tampa territory.
*The offensive penalties were ridiculous. Among others, Le’Veon Bell got a taunting penalty after a 16-yard gain. Antonio Brown got a celebration penalty after his first touchdown when he went to the ground. (The number of dumb things Antonio Brown has done the last two years while at the same time establishing himself as one of the game’s very best receivers is extraordinary.) And maybe most significantly, Maurkice Pouncey was called for a false start/illegal snap penalty on 2nd-and-8 from the Steelers own 16 with 1:40 to play.
*Pouncey also had an uncharacteristically bad game snapping the ball. Almost all of his shotguns snaps were low forcing Ben to reach down to catch them.
*The defense effectively shut down Tampa in the first half. The Bucs registered 64 yards on 21 plays and were 0-for-4 on third downs.
*Lawrence Timmons had a very solid game leading the team with 10 tackles.
*On the Steelers lone sack Arthur Moats came clean off the right side. It appeared to me Moats was offside, but it wasn’t called and his pressure set up the opportunity for Cameron Heyward to get the sack.
*All things considered James Harrison had a solid game.
*This really felt like a repeat of the Cleveland game. The defense was solid, not spectacular in the first half and then got shredded in the second. Tampa gained 286 yards in the second half and went 7-for-9 on third downs. The Steelers couldn’t make a big play when they needed it most. Like the offense, the defense has played three good halves this season out of eight. Unlike the offense I’m not sure this unit is capable of playing better.
*It’s almost unbelievable to get beat on a 41-yard slant with 35 seconds left and the game on the line. Somebody clearly made a mistake in the middle of the field. Troy seemed late on recognizing the pattern and Cortez Allen took a ridiculously bad angle trying to come up and make the tackle. The biggest play of the game.
*Cortez Allen has played poorly all season. He did get an interception on this one when Tampa wideout Mike Evans pulled up lame on a deep sideline pattern, but the Bucs went after Allen early and often. He was targeted on the first TD. He had good position but failed to get his head around. The Steelers have no alternative but to play Allen, but he has to play better.
*Mike Mitchell continues to be invisible.
*With his first field goal Shaun Suisham set a franchise record for the most consecutive field goals made in team history with 24.
*Brad Wing had solidified the punting job over the first three weeks, but in the biggest moment of his young career he failed. With the Steelers punting from their own 17 with 50 seconds left Wing got of a 29-yard punt. Wing has rarely flipped the field this season and that one looked like one of the “JV punts” that we saw frequently last year.
*Shaun Suisham missed from 50 yards at the end of the first half. As good as Sushi has been he has not been good from 50 yards and beyond. He had the distance on this one, but missed to the right.
*With the Steelers up 24-20 and punting in the fourth quarter it appeared that Robert Golden made a great tackle to pin the Bucs deep in their own territory but he was called for a face mask setting the Bucs up on their own 25 rather than the 10.
*The Steelers called two trick plays and both were well-designed and almost perfectly executed. On the first AB hit Le’Veon Bell on an option pass back to the left side that gained 17 yards and eventually led to a TD. On the second Bell lateraled back to Ben who hit AB deep downfield but Brown dropped the would-be TD.
*Four weeks into the season penalties, particularly the pre-snap and post-snap variety, continue to be a dominant feature of this team’s performance. While the players are ultimately responsible for their on-the-field actions, this suggests a lack of attention to detail and worse, a complete lack of discipline. That falls on the coaches.
*Mike Tomlin just isn’t good at clock/in-game management. With 1:53 left in the first half the Steelers started a drive on their own 39 with all three timeouts. That is an eternity in the NFL, but the Steelers continue to not play fast enough in these situations. The biggest mistake came after their second timeout. With 55 seconds left the Steelers had a 1st-and-10 on the Tampa 30. Ben hit Bell with a short pass in the middle of the field for a 4-yard gain. He got the team up to the line and spiked the ball 32 seconds left. Ben should almost never give up the down in that situation. Coming out of the timeout he has to have two plays called in the huddle. The team also has to be able to get to the line of scrimmage faster. Continuing to take 23-25 seconds to run plays in a hurry-up situation is inexcusable. This is not new, I have pointed it out on multiple occasions the past few seasons. On their game-winning drive, Tampa had a 41-yard gain and was able to get to the new line of scrimmage and spike the ball in 20 seconds. On the Steelers drive at the end of the first half, plays with the clock running took 25, 24 and 23 seconds after gains of 7, 9 and 4 yards. Very poor.
*On the Steelers last drive they had a 3rd-and-5 from their own 19 with 1:35 left. A first down would win the game. An incompletion would leave Tampa with one timeout rather than zero and some extra time on the clock. They chose to run the ball, lost two yards and punted. After throwing and completing a pass on 2nd down, that’s a situation where I want the game in Roethlisberger’s hands.
*It continues to be surprising that Lance Moore is not getting more playing time.
Big Officiating Calls
*The officials were brutal in this one but they didn’t decide the game. Bad calls went both ways. On the Steelers second TD Alterraun Verner was called defense holding. Not only did it look like a bad call on Verner, it looked like Antonio Brown pushed off to make the catch.
*On the Bucs opening drive of the second half, Doug Martin scored on a 3-yard run around left end. Sean Spence was blatantly held on the play right in front of one of the officials but no call was made. Cameron Heyward was so upset he received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike call after the play.
The Steelers will take on the 0-4 Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, October 5 at EverBank Field. Kick-off is scheduled for 1:00 EST.
Reminder: You can hear me on the pregame show on WDVE & 970 ESPN before every Steelers game and on weekdays on 970 ESPN from 3-6 pm. You can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.