The Pittsburgh Steelers unleashed Hell in December of 2009, and it wasn’t pretty. It was in the midst of a five-game losing streak that saw a 6-2 team fall to 6-7 before winning their final three games and narrowly missing the postseason.
The Steelers lost their first two of five games in December that year. That is exactly what this Steelers team has done, with three games remaining, though instead of 6-7, they were 7-5-1. They still hold position as the top team in the AFC North and are on pace to reach the postseason, but they have to take care of their own business and cannot be complacent.
On the challenge ahead that they have created for themselves following a three-game losing streak, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger called it “a big one. A big one. We all need to look in the mirror and figure out what’s going on. It starts with each individual; [everyone] needs to look inside first”.
I’m sure many of the comments will be in this vein, so I might as well say it first. Perhaps Roethlisberger should look in the mirror and determine why he seemingly did not make any effort to push himself back into the game for about a full quarter after he was cleared to return to action, coming back in only after the Steelers had lost their lead.
Roethlisberger’s replacement, Joshua Dobbs, did not play well, completing just four of nine passes for 24 yards and throwing an interception. He was lucky to have had one of those incompletions ruled as such, because truthfully I believe it was a sack fumble that the Oakland Raiders recovered.
But it wasn’t just Roethlisberger. Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley couldn’t get anything going on the ground. The Raiders’ defense, credit to them, actually played pretty well most of the evening, and stepped up in big situations. The Steelers’ defense failed to do that. Their only turnover was a gift fumble from Derek Carr.
Asked what the problem is with the team, which won six games in a row before dropping three, all Roethlisberger could offer was, “I have no idea. If I knew we would have it fixed”. Unfortunately the truth is that there are a number of problems and some of them can’t be solved in the middle of the season, namely personnel deficiencies.
JuJu Smith-Schuster has been the closest thing to a consistent presence, again coming out of the game with eight receptions for 130 yards and two touchdowns, the first two-touchdown game of his career (on offense; in the 2017 season finale, he had a receiving and return touchdown).
Defensively, nothing has been consistent, and most concerning is the fact that they have struggled to take away whatever matchups their opponents have been exploiting in-game. It was Keenan Allen last week, Jared Cook this week. With a pair of division-leaders next on the schedule, they had better mask these problems as best they can.