For some strange reason the Steelers seem to have an affinity for doing things the hard way when it comes to earning a postseason birth. Instead of choosing the path of least resistance, winning the games they should, they have developed a nasty habit of putting their backs against the proverbial wall before making their run. In that regard, the Steelers have everyone right where they want them. Following their 35-30 loss to the Cowboys, they have now fullfilled their own criteria needed to begin said journey to the playoffs, losing another game they should have won, leaving themselves no room for any more self-inflicted wounds the rest of the way. It was in the final 47 seconds, with the Steelers holding a 30-29 lead, where the Steelers committed two wounds of the self-inflicted variety to seal their fate. One was a facemask penalty by rookie safety Sean Davis, on a play where tight end Jason Witten was stopped well short of a first down and field goal range, and the second was everyone whiffing on Ezekiel Elliot, who was on the way to his 32 yard game winning touchdown run.
The Steelers and the Cowboys combined for seven lead changes and plenty of big plays, in the type of game that these two teams have become synonymous for playing. For the Cowboys, their big scoring plays came complements of Ezekiel Elliot and Dez Bryant, while LeVeon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Eli Rogers found the endzone for the Steelers. With under a minute remaining in the game, and the Steelers trailing 29-24, Ben Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown with the go ahead 15 yard touchdown pass after faking spiking the ball to stop the clock. After failing on the following two point conversion, for the fourth time in the game, the Steelers had 42 seconds left to make their 30-29 lead stand. Instead of walking of the field winners, a couple of Steelers defensive miscues allowed the Cowboys to go 75 yards in 33 seconds to win, in a rather heartbreaking fashion, 35-30. Offensively, the Steelers moved the ball rather well against the Cowboys defense, with Ben Roethlisberger, 37/44 for 408 yards and 3 touchdowns, speading the ball around to eight different receivers. Antonio Brown led all receivers with 14 receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown. LeVeon Bell had 134 total yards and scored two touchdowns, including 9 receptions for 77 yards.
After a somewhat strong showing in the first half, the Steelers defense seemed to wear down in the second, facing a strong dose of Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot, who ran for 114 yards on 21 carries. On his two touchdown runs, it looked like the Steelers defense wanted no part of him, as he went untouched on both of them. Still, it wasn’t as if the defense played horribly, they just seemed to choose to the most inopportune times for making their most critical mistakes, which ultimately led to Dallas points. The defense was on the field for 30:24, and allowed the Cowboys to convert 7 out of 13 third down attempts, but they also recorded a couple of sacks and forced a turnover. The biggest problems they had though, once again, were missed tackles and mental mistakes that unnecessarily extended Dallas drives in the second half. Those are problems that are to be expected with a young defense, but at least they are problems that can be fixed.
Reasons For optimism About A Postseason Birth:
Despite all of the flaws that the Steelers have on put on display to this point in the season, there really are reasons to be optimistic about them reaching the postseason, even with a 4-5 record. The first reason to be optimistic is that all of the Steelers obvious shortcomings are fixable. Part of the problem of having a young team is the growing pains that go along with it. Coaching and more game experience should take care of the poor tackling technique and the mental mistakes. Take away half of those mistakes, and the Steelers could very well be 6-3.
The second reason for optimism is that the Steelers are loaded with two things that can’t be taught, talent and speed. Position for position, they have more talent on their roster than any team in the AFC North, if not in the AFC. These two traits carried the Steelers to the brink of an AFC title game appearance last season and there is no reason to think that a Steeler team that is more talented this year, couldn’t achieve similar success this season, especially having LeVeon Bell in the backfield, along with more talent in the secondary.
A third reason to feel optimistic about the Steelers chances of reaching the postseason is because they play in the AFC North. Chances are that both of the wildcard teams will be coming out of the AFC West, meaning that the Steelers best hope to make the postseason resides with winning the North, which is their goal anyway. Despite trailing the Ravens by a game, the AFC North is still wide open, with the Ravens having yet to play Dallas and New England. When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, they are a second half team, and when their backs are against the wall, and that’s exactly where they find themselves, nobody comes out swinging like they do. Nobody can say with a straight face that the Steelers are not the best team in the AFC North, and by the end of the regular season, odds are, they going to prove they are.