To say the game between the Steelers and the Seahawks was entertaining would be an understatement. The game within the game featured the best wide receiver in the NFL, Antonio Brown, against the best cornerback in the game, Richard Sherman. Fortunately for Sherman, he had help with Brown for most of the game, although, I gotta admit, that coming into this game I thought Sherman was a bit overrated. While Sherman was only truly one on one with Brown for only a dozen or so plays, he is what he has been advertised to be, the best cornerback in the game. Ben Roethlisberger also proved that he is one of the elite quarterbacks in the game as well. Looking at it objectively, this was one of the best games in the NFL this year.
Despite the final score, there were plenty of good things that Steelers fans can take away from this game, elements that bode well for the rest of this season and the Steelers playoff hopes. While Antonio Brown was dealing with Richard Sherman and whoever was helping to double team him, Markus Wheaton was having the game of his life, hauling in 9 passes for 209 yards, with one reception being the 69 yard touchdown.
The biggest concern for Ben Roethlisberger, going into the Seattle game, was their fast and relentless pass rush. Ben handled it very well, going 36/55 for 456 yards and a touchdown. With the exception of the helmet to helmet hit from Michael Bennett, he avoided the rush to keep the chains moving. To the offensive line’s credit, with all the noise from the famous 12th man, not one illegal procedure or offsides call was made against them.
With all the injuries he’s had to work around, This may be the best season that Todd Haley has put together as offensive coordinator. The Seattle game just might be his best game calling plays this year, as his game plan helped to neutralize the Seahawks pass rush and kept the defense off balance all game long.
Deangelo Williams proved again why he is the NFL’s best free agent signing this past offseason. While he only got 8 carries for 29 yards and a touchdown, he also caught 7 passes for 88 yards. He continued to do his part in pass protection, and in one case, he chipped Bobby Wagner on a blitz before slipping out to catch a 34 yard screen pass.
The front seven of the Steelers defense is still pretty darn good. They forced Russell Wilson out of the pocket and kept him from getting too comfortable. This loss is not on them.
The Steelers secondary started the game off playing pretty decent football, but from their third series of the second half, through the rest of the game, their play deteriorated quickly. Whether it was blown coverages or missed tackles, they helped make Russell Wilson look like Joe Montana while getting victimized for five touchdown passes. This was never more evident than on the 80 yard catch/run touchdown to Doug Baldwin, who ran through attempted tackles by Mike Mitchell and Antwon Blake. This is the continuation of a trend that began in ernest, three weeks ago, at home against the Oakland Raiders, where the weaknesses in the secondary have been exposed.
Antwon Blake’s performance has continued to decline since his thumb injury, an seems to have bottomed out in Seattle. If his decline in performance is directly related to his injury, it may be time to give Brandon Boykin a look. Blake is a very physical corner who has always been a reliable tackler. If he can’t grab and lock on his tackles, he is a one handed liability the Steelers can’t afford in a post-season run.
There were a few things about the Seattle games that are worth forgetting altogether, besides Ben’s two interceptions, blaming the coaching and the referees for the loss. I have no problems with the call to run the fake field goal, the call itself was aggressive and well timed actually, it was the execution that resulted in its failure. It had no bearing on the outcome of the game, as the Steelers had an 18-14 lead at the half.
Blaming the refs is pointless. The Steelers had plenty of opportunities to stop Wilson and Seattle in the second half. That’s why it’s also pointless to blame the coaching staff for deciding to kick a field goal instead of going for a touchdown in the games final minutes. After the Steelers kicked a field goal to make the score 32-30, what happened? The Steelers gave up a touchdown that made it 39-30. If they had scored a touchdown instead of kicking a field goal, chances are they still give up that touchdown, losing instead 39-34.
Ben’s interceptions were of the interesting variety to say and worth forgetting as anything other than. His first one occurred when he tried to hold up on a throw, as he spotted Antonio Brown getting behind Richard Sherman, with a whole lot of green in front of him. As he tried to hold up on his throw, the ball squirted out of his hands, right to Seattle defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin. His second interception came on what should have been called pass interference on Richard Sherman. Again, Antonio Brown got behind Sherman on a deep route, as Sherman had his hands on him. As Brown fell to the ground, Sherman tracked the ball and picked it off.
After watching this game, I still believe that the Steelers are a playoff team, just not Super Bowl caliber at the moment. It’s not a coaching issue, it’s a talent issue. Keith Butler has been scheming the defense, so far, to the talent of the players he has available to him, but that will only get you so far. Maybe Doran Grant and Brandon Boykin get a shot, and maybe they make a difference in some combination, and maybe they don’t. Either way, the coaches have done the best with what they have and other teams are now exploiting those weaknesses, because, that’s what they get paid to do. Will see how the Steelers adjust in their last five games.