Steelers need to improve quickly, but it won’t be enough against Buffalo (Mike Pelaia’s column Dec. 9)

by Mike Pelaia
For New Pittsburgh Courier

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 11-1, but that one loss just happened against an admittedly improving, yet still bad, Washington Football Team at home on “Monday Evening Football,” Dec. 7.

Over the last two weeks the Steelers haven’t played well and certainly haven’t looked like a Super Bowl contender.

That’s the understatement of the year in the NFL. They struggled against a beat-up Ravens team and then lost to a Washington team that had no business being in the same stadium.

Many folks will make excuses such as the Steelers having players on the COVID list or out due to injury and were playing on four days rest while Washington had 11. Those are facts. They are not excuses. In fact, the loss to Washington is inexcusable for a team that was undefeated and is playing for the number one seed in the month of December. It just can’t happen.

The Steelers have now become plagued by the dropped pass, having 12 drops over the past two games, most notably by Diontae Johnson. And while the team averages 28.8 points per game on the season, good for 6th in the league, they are averaging only 18 per game over their latest 1-1 stretch.
They have been unable to run the ball and are 27th in the league in that category and have opted for the short dink-and-dunk passes and seeing Ben Roethlisberger throw the ball over 50 times a game to make up for the lack of a ground attack. It doesn’t work when that’s all you do and opposing defenses know that’s all you do.

As the Steelers prepare for their upcoming game against the Buffalo Bills this coming Sunday night, Dec. 13, they need to rethink their offensive attack. The Bills are 24th in the NFL against the run, allowing 129 yards per game. The Steelers need to scrap the short passes that are being dropped half of the time anyway in lieu of trying to establish a running game. Whether it’s James Conner, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland or Jaylen Samuels, someone needs to run the football effectively to control the clock as well as keep the defense honest and open up the passing attack for Roethlisberger and the plethora of wide receivers this team thankfully has.

If the Steelers can do that, they will have success down the field against the Bills’ 17th-ranked pass defense. In order for the Steelers to make things flow, they need to get Chase Claypool back in the game via the deep ball. They need to have Roethlisberger hold the ball for a little bit longer and eliminate some of those quick throws to nowhere, and most of all, they need to run the football. The Bills don’t play defense well but they will do enough to stifle the Steelers if they know what’s coming every down!

Defensively, the Steelers are going to need to blitz Bills quarterback Josh Allen but will need to get to him quickly. Allen is fast and nimble and in addition to his over 3,000 passing yards, he has over 300 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He’s dangerous and he needs to be the Steelers’ primary focus on defense. Without Bud Dupree, rookie linebacker Alex Highsmith is going to have to step up and do a lot more than he did against Washington, where he only had two solo tackles. The next-man-up philosophy of Mike Tomlin must carry through.

If Pittsburgh is unable to pressure Allen, he’ll be looking to his favorite target, Stefon Diggs, who leads the Bills with over 80 catches and 1,000 yards receiving. He’s dangerous and with a banged-up secondary, could cause nightmares for the seemingly-struggling Steeler team who will be licking their wounds.

In addition to the offense needing to revamp to a more controlled style led by a rushing attack that opens up the pass and the defense bull-rushing Allen, Tomlin is going to need to put points on the board when they become available to him, unlike his choices against the Washington Football Team. In my opinion, he left six points on the field and while we have no way of knowing if the field goals he didn’t elect to kick would have been good, it would have changed the complexion of the game had Tomlin attempted them.

Unfortunately, Steeler Nation, while I still think the Steelers will be contenders of some kind down the stretch, they have fallen back to the pack and I don’t believe they will beat the Buffalo Bills this Sunday night.

Final score: Buffalo 24, Pittsburgh 17.

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