I’m running out of ways to describe the train wreck the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense is at the moment.
A lack of creativity and execution reared its ugly head again Sunday night on the road in Buffalo, looking stagnant, struggling to catch the football again, and turning the ball over multiple times, leading to a deflating 26-15 win on a day in which they clinched a playoff birth for the first time since 2017.
Again, the offense looks pretty bad. Guys are struggling to catch the football, defensive backs are sitting on the quick throws, and the run game is completely non-existent. Hard to feel good about 11-2 right now.
Defensively, aside from a poor third quarter, that side of the ball did everything asked of them, keeping the Steelers in the game. Missed tackles came back to hurt late, as did a few insanely stupid zero blitz calls by Keith Butler, putting the defense in a no-win situation.
Let’s get to some grades and move on to Cincinnati.
QB — C+
The drops definitely aren’t Ben Roethlisberger’s fault, but there’s very little creativity or adjustment from this offense and it starts with 7.
Once again, he’s not throwing to the middle of the field in the 15-19 yard area, which allows defensive backs to sit on everything short. You saw that late in the second half on Taron Johnson’s pick-six, which completely flipped the game.
Roethlisberger threw a nice dart to James Washington for a touchdown to get the Steelers’ offense going (sort of), but after that it was mostly stagnant. It’s either 5 yards and in near the line of scrimmage, or a deep shot playing Flacco ball hoping for a PI.
It’s a mess. Hopefully 7 can throw teams a curveball and start attacking the middle of the field and get things going in the right direction again.
RB — D-
A lot of the running game struggle has to be pinned on the offensive line, but there’s just not much explosion in the backfield at the moment.
I thought James Conner did a nice job creating something out of nothing in the backfield early on, but then he left the game and really didn’t return with the Steelers playing catch-up.
Benny Snell again looked slow and lumbering with the football, allowing Buffalo’s defense to swarm when holes were there.
After a good showing last week, the Steelers used Jaylen Samuels way too much Sunday night, manufacturing a handful of touches for him, including four targets out of the backfield. Asking him to serve as a pass protector for Roethlisberger was insane to see too.
This group is a mess and it wont’ get better anytime soon.
WR — B-
I was very pleased with JuJu Smith-Schuster on Sunday night. He dished out punishment with the football in his hands and was a consistent possession guy when the team desperately needed someone to step up.
James Washington played well too, hauling in a touchdown for the second straight game. He’s starting to see more snaps, which has pushed Chase Claypool to the sideline. Claypool was fine in limited action, finishing with three catches for 15 yards.
Diontae Johnson, I’m just not sure what to say at this point. He has the yips and was rightfully benched Sunday night for the rest of the first half following two ugly drops. Johnson bounced back in a decent way in the second half, finishing with four catches for 40 yards. Hopefully he’s back on track, but the drops killed the Steelers in the first half.
TE — C-
Aside from Eric Ebron’s stupid antics after the game, he was fine as a pass catcher, stretching the seam to finish with two catches for 30 yards. He was once again a poor blocker, as was Vance McDonald.
The fact that the Steelers drew up a screen pass to McDonald down a score was horrendous to see.
This group just isn’t much of a threat. Add in Ebron struggling with drops, and well, you get what you get.
OL – C-
Injuries decimated the offensive line, resulting in all eight dressed linemen seeing snaps, but aside from the injury issues this group was an absolute mess.
This group couldn’t get any type of push in the run game, leading to just 47 yards rushing as a team. With a lack of a run game, the Bills were able to tee off in the pass rush, leading to the first sack of Roethlisberger in over a month.
Buffalo also recorded five quarterback hits on Roethlisberger and a bunch more pressure overall.
DL — B+
I know that the Bills were able to run out the clock on Sunday night, but the Steelers’ defensive line played well overall on Sunday, putting quite a bit of pressure on Josh Allen, while also tying up a number of blockers throughout the game.
Tyson Alualu played really well against Mitch Morse, recording a sack in the loss.
Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt didn’t quite put up the stats, but I thought they played well overall, pushing the pocket. Heyward’s bull rush in the first half allowed him to get a hand on Allen’s arm, leading to Mike Hilton’s interception.
LB — C+
It felt like TJ Watt was pretty quiet Sunday night. Daryl Williams did a nice job on him, allowing the Bills to shift protection towards Cam Heyward. Watt did finish with a pass breakup and two quarterback hits. But he wasn’t his usual dominant self.
Opposite Watt, I thought Alex Highsmith played a strong game against the Bills. Highsmith played the run well, set the edge nicely and showed some great hustle rushing the passer against Allen.
Inside, it was a rough night overall for Avery Williamson and Marcus Allen. The Steelers were severely shorthanded, but it was really tough to see the Steelers try and handle coverage with Williamson and Allen, as well as trying to come downhill against the run.
Yes, Williamson and Allen led the Steelers in tackles with 11 and 8, total, but it wasn’t a great day overall for the inside ‘backers.
DB — C+
I thought Steven Nelson was solid overall for the Steelers on Sunday, but he had a rough third quarter against Stefon Diggs, leading to a great day for the Bills’ star receiver. Nelson slipped on Diggs’ touchdown, but overall was fine.
Cam Sutton recorded a fumble recovery and played mostly well. But when matched up with Diggs he wasn’t up to snuff against an All-Pro talent. Inside Mike Hilton had a decent game, recording a pick and playing well around the line of scrimmage. His pass interference call on Dawson Knox at the 1-yard-line led to a Buffalo score.
At safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick had a big missed tackle on Diggs in the loss, which helped kick-start the Bills’ offense. I thought Terrell Edmunds was rather strong in the loss, playing well in the box.
Special Teams – C
Jordan Berry was below average on Sunday, struggling to kick the football in the cold weather. He was called upon a ton, but the 39.8-yard average was below the standard set.
Chris Boswell drilled his lone extra point, but his kickoffs lacked punch, which led to some serious struggles from the kick coverage unit, which let Andre Roberts carve up the Steelers’ coverage unit Sunday night, giving the Bills good starting field position.