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 13
Opponent – Washington Football Team
1. I Wanted to be Wrong – I didn’t expect the team to go undefeated especially the way they’ve been playing recently. I put it out on Twitter that I felt they would lose to Washington but I didn’t want to be right. It was such a weird week in the NFL with the Jets throwing one away, Houston fumbling in the red zone late, Cleveland putting up 38 in the first half and 3 in the second, Detroit’s come back, Jacksonville going to OT on the road, the Giants winning in Seattle and New England winning by 45. It just felt like something was off and there was weirdness wafting across the league.
2. Clifford Franklin Can’t Understand It Either – For the second week in a row the drops reared their ugly head. Diontae Johnson had 3 more drops giving him 6 in the last two weeks and now has 10 on the year. Eric Ebron who has become a security blanket for Ben Roethlisberger with fourteen receptions the last two week also had 3 drops. Twelve team drops the last two weeks is completely unacceptable. And if you didn’t know, Clifford Franklin was the wide receiver in The Replacements who could catch the ball.
3. Some Special Love – Sean Davis’ name hasn’t been mentioned a lot this year but he deserves a little praise after he had a hustling fumble recovery on a muffed punt and added a tackle on special teams. Jayrone Elliott is a guy who has bounced on and off the Steelers roster 8 times and he was also productive with 2 tackles on special teams. And congratulations to Matthew Wright for making his NFL debut and being perfect on 3 kicks. Contributions must come from everyone on the roster.
4. What a Difference a Couple Months Make – After week three in this column I asked whether this offense was a truly balanced offense and at that point it seemed like it was. Yeah, not so much anymore. The last two weeks the Steelers have run the ball 34 times and thrown it 104. The offense seems to consist of mostly passes that are 5 yards or less or 30 yards down field. Defenses are now sitting defenders and letting the Steelers throw little dump passes. They’ve abandoned the run and the blocking hasn’t been great but there have been holes that have been missed by the backs. I hope this becomes a wakeup call for the offense.
5. Feculent Play Calling – Question for Coach Tomlin. With 1:49 left in the first half you decided to play it safe and not try to move the ball down the field to add to the score. My question is why? I don’t understand it especially with Washington getting the ball to start the second half. I would rather have them try and fail and give up the field goal than not try at all and give up the field goal. The play calling had me flummoxed the entire game but running the ball with Jaylen Samuels does not inspire hope to anyone. That IS living in your fears. And the red zone play calling is at a bad high school level. Maybe have a contest to let someone else call plays in the red zone.
6. Hilton Helps to Hinder – In a game of mountainous men it is sometime surprising that someone that is diminutive in comparison can be such just a big thorn in the side of an offense. Mike Hilton has a couple of these games a year where he is flat out impressive. Whether it’s blitzing, breaking up passes or making tackles for a loss he gets it done. He was shedding block by guys that had him easily outweighed. Just so fun to watch.
7. The Bug is Becoming a Swarm – The defensive side of the ball had been hit sparingly by the injury bug this year but that bug has invited others. The team had already lost Devin Bush, Ulysees Gilbert and Bud Dupree. They were without Steven Nelson at the start of this game and lost Robert Spillane and Joe Haden by the end. I give a lot of credit to the staff and players for stepping up to keep this defense strong but there is a lot of stress on it now as the herd thins. Hopefully none of the current injuries are serious.
8. Who Did JuJu Anger? – During weeks 7 – 10 JuJu Smith-Schuster had 42 targets, 31 receptions for 322 yards. That is a 10.4 yard per reception average. Over the last 3 games he has 24 targets, 19 receptions for 84 yards. That is a 4.4 yards per reception average! Why has he become almost exclusively the check down guy? Not to mention the fact that he gets pummeled after every reception. Has the love for Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson made the staff forget how good JuJu can be? Somebody needs to buy JuJu a hot tub.
9. Delay of Game? – On the Washington field goal attempt before half time there was confusion as the clock hit zeroes without a kick. There was a referee’s explanation that included administrative issues? No, the issue was Alex Smith ran off the field with the ball. He’s a veteran he knows how things work. Why wouldn’t this at least be a delay of game penalty? May not have made a difference on the kick but their reasoning or excuse was baffling.
10. Q4 – We have reached the final quarter of the regular season and I would have never guessed at the beginning of the year they would be 11-1. That is fantastic. This final stretch has Buffalo, Indianapolis and Cleveland which are all going to be tough games. We are now into December and Tuesday’s team meetings have to be a Festivus airing of grievances type of gathering. Get everything out on the table, feelings be damned because this year may be their last year for a while with a chance to win the Super Bowl with all the free agents they’ll have and the salary cap next year. Need to put on your big boy or girl pants and get things right in a hurry.