Ordinarily, if you were told that the Steelers would put up 30 points and 514 yards of total offense, you would expect the Steelers to have walked away with a win. Ordinarily, you’d be right. The offense showed up to play at Century Link field in Seattle, with Ben Roethlisberger going 36/55 for 465 yards and a touchdown, with Markus Wheaton being the the biggest benefactor, hauling in 9 passes for a career best 209 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough, as the Seattle Seahawks turned four interceptions into 19 points, as they beat the Steelers 39-30. With the loss, the Steelers record on the season fell to 6-5, dropping them from the fifth seed in the AFC playoff race down to the eighth spot.
The Steelers first interception of the day occurred on the first play of the second quarter, as they tried to catch the Seahawks off guard with a fake field goal attempt. Instead of sending out the regular holder, Jordan Berry, the Steelers sent out Landry Jones in his place. Jones then jumped up, as the Steelers shifted into the shotgun formation. When the ball was snapped, Jones rolled to his right and threw back across the field to Alejandro Villenueva. Jones’s throw was picked off by Jeremy Lane and returned 54 yards to the Steelers 24. A few plays later, Russell Wilson hit Doug Baldwin, who was wide open over the middle for a touchdown and a 7-3 lead.
Ben’s first interception wasn’t a typical one, but from having the ball slip out of his hand while trying to hold up on a throw. The ball fluttered straight into the hands of 325 lb defensive linemen, Ahtyba Rubin. Two plays later, Thomas Rawls found the endzone for Seattle. Ben’s second interception should have been nullified by a pass interference call against Richard Sherman as he had his hands all over Antonio Brown, causing Brown to fall to the ground, before tracking Ben’s pass down and returning it 26 yards to the Steelers 39 yard line. A few plays later, Wilson found Jermaine Kearse in the endzone. It’s hard to win any game when you turn the ball over four times, but it’s even harder when the defense forgets how to cover and tackle, not even midway through the third quarter.
No, it wasn’t the fake field goal attempt that lost the game for the Steelers, and it wasn’t the coaching. It was the lack of execution on the defensive side of the ball. It was Mike Mitchell and Antwon Blake missing tackles on Doug Baldwin’s 80 yard catch and run for a touchdown. It was Willie Gay not picking up the outside man on the Jermaine Kearse 22 yard touchdown reception. It was allowing the Seahawks to go 7-13 on third down conversions and 4-4 from the redzone. Granted, the four horrible calls/missed calls by the referees didn’t help matters, but playoff defenses never leave the outcome of games in the hands of the guys in stripes.
The silver lining in yesterday’s loss is that, if there was a game the Steelers could afford to lose, it was this game, against an NFC opponent. For the most part, the Steelers still control their own destiny, but the margin for error is ever so slim. The Steelers will need at least 10 wins to advance to their second straight post season appearance, so they need to finish up at least 4-1. Three out of their last five games are against teams that are currently holding playoff spots, the Broncos, Colts and the Bengals.
The positive news perhaps, is that the Steelers face the Colts and the Broncos at home, where the defense seems to play better against non-divisional opponents. These two teams can still throw the ball despite having to play their backups, so Keith Butler and Carnell Lake are going to have to find a way to get the secondary to step it up. Maybe the home cooking along with a healthy dose of Renegade will be the cure that has ailed them for the last few weeks. If not, the Steelers will have a long offseason to try and find a new solution to a season long problem that has made guys like Johnny Manziel look like Johnny Unitas.