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Joe’s Ten Takes: Steelers Vs. Bills

What an ugly game. Tom is out today, so I’m filling in with my Ten Takes from the Steelers’ 38-3 loss to the Bills.

1. New QB, Same Offense: This isn’t really a knock on Kenny Pickett, who threw for 327 yards in his first career start. He took some shots downfield when he had the opportunity and generally played alright. But he didn’t really have the opportunity, at least not when the game was somewhat in hand. Second and long runs, calling the exact same plays over and over and over. This offense is boring and not good. Not scoring a touchdown in a half has become commonplace. That’s not acceptable. After the game, Mike Tomlin basically said that all options are on the table to right the ship. Matt Canada better be paying attention. 

2. DeMarvin’s Deflections: These can’t all be negative. It was good to see DeMarvin Leal tip some balls at the line of scrimmage and force a few Josh Allen incompletions. The third-round rookie has contributed a lot more than I thought he would at this point in the year. While a lot of that is a matter of necessity, he’s impressed me so far. 

3. Diontae’s Drops: After a ball tipped off his hands last week and got picked off, he let one go through his hands that should’ve been picked off today. He also had a drop on fourth down that would’ve given Pittsburgh the first. He hasn’t lived up to his new contract this year, and the drop issues that plagued him two years ago have seemed to rear their ugly head again. He hasn’t really looked the part of a No. 1 receiver this year.

4. Pickett to Pickens: After George Pickens crossed the 100-yard threshold for the first time last week with him and Pickett building chemistry in the second half, the rookie wide receiver led the team with six catches for 83 yards. He had a really nice game and him and Pickett clearly trusts him. It’s good to see the two rookies connecting early. Hopefully, it’s a sign of things to come and it can be a potent combo down the line. 

5. Living In Their Fears: Trailing 24-3 late in the first half, Pittsburgh chose to kick a field goal on 4th and 5 from the Buffalo 25. Why? 24-6 makes no difference in the game, whereas 24-10 gives you just a sliver of hope down two scores going into the half. The decision didn’t make any sense, and then Chris Boswell missed the field goal. On a clear, picturesque, day, the decision wouldn’t have made sense, but when you factor in the winds in Buffalo, it REALLY didn’t make sense. Ok, fine, one bad call, they’re gonna lose anyway. But then to do it again? Down 31-3, Pittsburgh sent Boswell out after a false start against Dan Moore made a 4th and 8 a 4th and 13. The odds of converting on 4th and 13 are low, but the odds of winning down 31-3 are even lower. Just go for it and try to get in the end zone at least once. Instead, Boswell missed another kick. Two really poor decisions from Mike Tomlin today that really didn’t give the Steelers much of a chance.

6. Fight Club: Two skirmishes broke out in the game today, one after a late hit on Kenny Pickett by Damar Hamlin and one after Shaw Lawson went low on Kenny Pickett on a fourth down throw with just over a minute left. After the Hamlin hit, James Daniels came over and shoved Hamlin, and Pickett defended himself after the hit from Lawson. Good. You love to see that kind of fire from your quarterback, and I’m glad this offensive line is letting Pickett know early they have his back. I’ll take the unnecessary roughness penalty every time when it comes at the expense of defending your quarterback. Good stuff from Daniels. 

7. New Addition?: Did the Steelers sign David Copperfield? Because this pass rush has disappeared. Josh Allen was hit zero times today. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that zero quarterback hits is not a good thing for a defense. The defense just got thrashed in every aspect today, and a large part of that is being unable to put pressure on the quarterback. Allen could’ve taken the snap, made himself a sandwich, and then tossed a 15-yard strike to Khalil Shakir today if he wanted to. Just an ugly game from a pass rush that badly needs T.J. Watt back.  

8. Special Teams…: What a weird, weird day from this unit. The opening kickoff was more a byproduct of Taiwan Jones failing to catch the kickoff than anything the defense did, but it was nice to see them rush to the ball and tackle Jones before he could do anything. James Pierre shouldn’t have been catching kickoffs, but his fumble was a near-disaster that was somehow averted by a field goal block. So, they got themselves out of their mess, but it’s a mess that never should’ve happened. Aside from that weirdness, special teams wasn’t good. Boswell missed two field goals (the wind didn’t help, but he at least should’ve made the first one) and Pressley Harvin had another very up-and-down day. His inconsistency isn’t helping his chances to stick as this team’s punter. 

9. JV Football: Mike Tomlin loves to describe the starting units and the backups as JV and Varsity. The Steelers had a lot of JV football players out there today. Josh Jackson and Elijah Riley played significant snaps. You might be able to get away with that against the Chicago Bears, but not the Buffalo Bills. It just wasn’t good enough. And that’s not even to blame those guys. Nobody really played all that well on defense. The Bills might as well have been going up against an actual high school junior varsity team today. They were just too good and the Steelers were way, way overmatched.

10. Where’s Shia LaBeouf?: Because we need some holes. Once again, the run game was bad. Najee Harris really just doesn’t have any space to run, and his 11 carries for 20 yards simply won’t cut it. Jaylen Warren led the team with 24 yards on 5 carries. Warren’s power and ferocity at which he does hit the hole allows him to pick up a few extra yards. Harris is a power back, but he’s constantly being met by bigger defenders at or around the line of scrimmage and just has nowhere to go. I think Harris is a really good football player, but to this point, he hasn’t justified the cost of the Steelers spending a first-round pick on him. Some blame can be thrown on the offensive line for not getting much push in the run game, but Harris still has to be a bit better. Really a tough sophomore campaign to this point, but I do think he’ll pick it up.

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