Following each game in the 2020 Steelers season I will be giving you my 10 takes. These aren’t going to be hot takes and meant to shock the world. This will be instant reactions to the game written while still in that period just following the game when the emotions are high and the ideas are fresh. Included will be thoughts, observations, queries and reasons that caused me to yell at the television.
Week – Regular Season Week 10
Opponent – Cincinnati Bengals
1. How Good Do You Want To Be? – Diontae Johnson has an immense amount of talent and it showed on Sunday with six receptions, 116 yards and a touchdown. There are plenty of players with a ton of talent that come and go in the NFL but the ones that stick around do the little things correctly. He hasn’t fumbled since week one but he does have 6 in 24 career games. He had another drop today and per our charting makes it 6 on the year already matching his number from 2019. He made a nice move on the 46 yard catch but it looked like he ran out of bounds on purpose when there were more yards to be had. The touchdown catch was tough but it didn’t have to be. When he broke inside he looked to the middle of the field before getting his head around. The ability to be great is there. To quote the late Steelers WR Coach Darryl Drake, “Never choose good when great is available.”
2. Blocking Is Not a Part Time Job – This is not about the offensive line but maybe it should be. I’m talking about the wide receivers. There has been praise for their ability and execution, and rightly so, on the front side of plays. Juju Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool made nice blocks on and early WR screen. Too many times I’ve seen players give a little push and then turn around to look for the runner instead of sustaining the block. Or on the backside no effort to get inside and cut off a defender. It happened to Smith-Schuster on Sunday not blocking on the backside and his man made the first hit in the backfield. Not every block is going to be perfect but without effort it will never be good.
3. Deep Despair – There has been talk for weeks about the deep passing game needing to be better. This week while looking at our offensive charts we got a look at how bad they are. To the left it’s not bad with 8 of 19 for 283 yards and I think they were 1 of 2 on Sunday for 46 yards. To the right has been terrible with 5 completions in 29 attempts for 196 yards and I think they were 0 for 5 on Sunday. If the matchup is there, they have to take it but the last two weeks the first drive has ended on deep throws to the right on 3rd and 7 and 3rd and 5. If no one else is open then the play design is flawed. Fix it.
4. Question Answered? – The coverage by the Steelers defense gave Joe Burrow difficult throw all game. Earlier in the year in week 2 I questioned whether the defensive backs has become complacent. They seemed uninspired. That was not the case on Sunday. Other than a blown coverage in the first half they were on point for most of the game. Cam Sutton took a chance that didn’t work and came right back to force a fumble for the third consecutive game. I don’t remember Steven Nelson being targeted often but he did have a pass break up. Joe Haden was tested all game and performed very well with three pass break up, which I believe were all on third down, and four tackles. Now if only they weren’t asked to play Zone so much.
5. Nowhere to Run – Four one hundred yard rushers in the first five games. The last two weeks they have played teams whose run defense has been in the bottom third in the league both of which were giving up 5 yards per carry. The offensive line and running backs are healthy. So what is wrong? Is it from running the same plays over and over again? Is it too much lateral running? This has gotten to a point the last two week were it is embarrassingly bad. Thirty-eight carries for 90 yards over the last two games isn’t going to cut it. This offense needs to step outside of the box and not do what other teams expect.
6. We Talking About Practice? – Speaking of making adjustments that is basically the motto for the 2020 year. The Steelers had several players out this week prior to the game but luckily it didn’t affect the game. In fact, Ben Roethlisberger was really good today albeit against a depleted defense but his work to extend plays: moving up on the first touchdown to Claypool or out of the pocket for find Smith-Schuster and to the change trajectory of the ball to Ebron was vintage Ben being Ben. He was creative and effective making you forget about the run game at least for a bit.
7. No Not Him the Other Guy – This is more of a historical observation but the Steelers historically have done well shutting down number one receivers especially within the division. Rarely is it the top WR on the other team that puts up the big numbers. Tyler Boyd has been the Bengals most effective WR this year but Tee Higgins put up the big numbers. Against the Ravens it wasn’t Marquise Brown, it was Willie Snead. Against Cleveland it wasn’t Odell Beckham, Jr, it was Austin Hooper. The do a really good job week to week of making it difficult for the opponent’s best receiver to be the difference maker. Remember that when picking fantasy WR’s against the Steelers.
8. 22 = 4 – Twenty-two personnel has been a favorite of the staff near the goal line and they have used it successful running Claypool on the jet sweep to the right and James Conner up the middle. They’ve tried faking it and throwing to the right, a play I like and the used Ray-Ray McCloud on the jet sweep tonight. The problem with that is when you have NEVER used McCloud in that personnel group the defense takes notice. You need to use him as a decoy first to set up that play. Those seem like the only four plays they run out of that formation. C’mon, Randy Fichtner. Get on the whiteboard and start mixing it up. I’ll start byrecommending the fake jet, fake to Conner dump it to McDonald over the middle. You can use that next week free of charge.
9. One More Missing Piece – So nice to have Tyson Alualu back on the field. The Bengals ran the ball well but nowhere near as well as the past two weeks. So now we need that final piece back wreaking havoc from the edge, Mike Hilton. Remember all the tackles for a loss he had (5 in four games)? Remember all the tackles (29 tackles, 27 solo). Oh and don’t forget about the passing game with 3 sacks, 3 pass break ups, 5 QB hits and a forced fumble. We miss you, Mike. Come back to us soon, please.
10. Dime Backers – This was a good game to see what they could do. Marcus Allen was now in his third game getting snaps on the defense and today he was joined by Antoine Brooks, Jr who got his first special teams snaps last week. It makes me uncomfortable having those two in there and I go back to the square peg in a round hole idea. Is this where these two really fit or are the Steelers trying put them in because other teams do it and have had some success. For the benefit of everyone, I hope it works. Right now, I’m keeping a watchful eye on the situation.