The Steelers lost to the Cowboys in overtime, 27-24. Congrats to the Cowboys. They’re now tied with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins for first place in the NFC East.
The Steelers, on the other hand, now find themselves in a much more precarious situation. Their loss, combined with Cincinnati’s win, leaves them in third place in the AFC North with a 7-7 record. More importantly, a .500 record, and 6 losses within their conference, is not the stuff of which playoff teams are made.
Fortunately for the Steelers, they face the Bengals next week, and may be able to climb out of the hole that they’ve dug for themselves. If they beat the Bengals next week, they’ll be tied again, and fighting for the final AFC playoff spot.
So how did the Steelers find themselves in this predicament?
Sure, there was the loss to the Cowboys. And there’s plenty of blame to go around for that. Mike Wallace dropped a few passes. Josh Victorian proved that he doesn’t know how to tackle. Antonio Brown made a critical fumble. Troy Polamalu hobbled around looking like a shadow of him former self. Jonathan Dwyer only ran for 22 yards on 9 rushing attempts. LaMarr Woodley did his best impersonation of the Invisible Man. And Big Ben threw the interception in overtime that ultimately cost the Steelers the game. Like I said, plenty of blame to go around.
As in most of the team’s recent losses, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Fans have even started calling for Mike Tomlin to be fired. But I don’t think that’s the problem at all. Tomlin has done as much as he could with the hand that he’s been dealt.
In my opinion, the Steelers’ decline has been attributable to two key factors; injuries and execution.
The Steelers played today without their starting left guard. Their starting right guard was playing in his first NFL start. They’ve lost their starting right tackle, and his backup.
They’ve also battled injuries at the running back and quarterback positions.
On defense, the Steelers are playing without their best cornerback. And his backup is also injured. So they were forced to start a cornerback who has very little experience. And their star safety is clearly not himself. Their starting nose tackle isn’t outplaying his backup. And their left outside linebacker is missing in action.
To make matters worse, the team has suffered a rash of turnovers lately. They’ve fumbled the ball, bobbled passes that should have been caught, and thrown interceptions.
That combination of injuries and poor execution is too much for any team to overcome.
If not for the injuries, I think the Steelers have the talent to not only be a playoff team, but to also make a deep run in the playoffs. It may be too late for that to happen this year. But I hope that fans won’t call for wholesale changes next year. I think that would be an overreaction.
The Steelers are a good team. And Mike Tomlin is a good coach. But even good teams can’t win if they have to rely too heavily on second and third string players. And once they have a healthy roster, the execution problems will hopefully disappear as well.
The Steelers still have a chance to make the playoffs this year. But if they don’t, I’m still highly optimistic about their chances next year……when they’re healthy. Hopefully, you are too.