The Pittsburgh Steelers scored all of three points on Sunday versus the Buffalo Bills, a team that is 4-1 on the season and is averaging 30.4 points per game (they upped that average against the Steelers by putting up 38).
But Pittsburgh’s offensive showing was not uniformly indicative of such a low score. Indeed, of their 11 possessions throughout the game, they moved the ball at least 45 yards on six of their possessions, reaching at least the Bills’ 30-yard line on each of those drives, and reaching the red zone four times.
How, then, did they only end up with three points? Well, two missed field goals didn’t help that cause. The other three possessions that reached field goal range ended in turnovers on downs, including the final possession. Of the Steelers’ five drives in the second half, four pushed the ball down the field, controlling the ball for chunks of time—around four minutes—and moving the chains. But there were no points.
“Yeah, we moved the ball pretty good in my opinion at times”, veteran wide receiver Diontae Johnson said from the locker room yesterday via the team’s website. “Although sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot with the little mistakes here and there. But like I said, we’re gonna get this thing going in the right direction. It takes time. We’ve got a young team, so we’re still building that chemistry”.
So what went wrong on these drives, and who was holding the gun? The opening drive faced a 2nd and 7 from the Bills’ 10, but couldn’t punch it in. A one-yard loss on second down followed a narrow miss touchdown to Johnson, which was overturned upon review by the Replay Assistant.
The Steelers’ second drive was done in by a holding penalty on Zach Gentry on 2nd and 7 working on Von Miller. Kenny Pickett found Johnson for 11 yards on second down, but the receiver allowed a pass to go through his hands on what would have been a conversion on 3rd and 6.
We don’t need to go through every drive and dissect what ultimately went wrong, but these are the sorts of examples of what spoiled what otherwise may be seen to have the ingredients of something resembling a coherent offense. Another play to Johnson on 2nd and 9 from the Bills’ 19 was yet another play that walked the line between excellent catch and fancy incompletion, ultimately falling on the side of the latter.
I don’t single these out specifically to highlight Johnson’s role in what transpired on offense for the Steelers, although this did not prove to be one of his better games. There are a lot of ways in which things have gone awry on offense, and this is a unit that needs almost everything to go right in order for it to succeed.
But when you really look at it, they were coming pretty close at times. And this was on the road against one of the top defenses in the league. There’s no way to justify three points. It was a bad game, with bad play-calling, sloppy fundamentals, and some questionable decisions, including by the rookie quarterback making his first start. But unlike Ryan Clark, I’m not giving up on this unit’s near-term future and Pickett’s ability to lead it.