Pittsburgh’s loss to Jacksonville in week 5 should put a lot of things into perspective for Steelers’ fans.
You should think about how fortunate we have been to have a guy like Big Ben playing at such a high-level for so many years.
You should also think about where he is right now in his career.
When Ben made the obvious choice to come back, I was thrilled. It meant another year of a top-flight quarterback under center with the best offense he’s had in years, possibly ever.
What we saw on Sunday, however, was that no matter what, Ben cannot do it all anymore.
That’s not a formula for success in the NFL — especially against the best pass defense in the league.
After the tough loss, Pittsburgh’s schedule doesn’t get any easier. This week they head to Arrow Head Stadium to take on the undefeated Chiefs, who look like the NFL’s top team right now.
Here are my cheers, jeers, and fears for this week against Kansas City.
It’s hard to find a bright spot coming out of last week, but if there is one “cheer” I can always lean on, it’s Antonio Brown and the wide receivers.
Brown had a great game, and caught 10 passes for 157 yards against a very good set of defensive backs.
Plus, he would have had a score if it weren’t for a holding call.
This Steelers group of wide receivers is very good, too. Martavis Bryant still has room to grow, and JuJu Smith-Schuster has the makings of a fine NFL player. (Andy says he reminds him of Hines Ward; let’s all hope that pans out.)
With that said, Big Ben still cannot be throwing the ball 55 times a game. It’s too much to put on his shoulders at this point in his career.
Also, the game is on regular TV this week, so there’s another thing to cheer about.
While some might be looking for me to “bury” Big Ben in this section, I don’t think the offense’s shortcomings on Sunday rest solely on the future Hall of Famer.
I’m not sure if Todd Haley or Mike Tomlin got the memo, but Jacksonville has the league’s worst run defense and was giving up an average of 160 yards a game.
You’d think they’d run the hell out of Le’Veon Bell, right?
Bell only carried the ball 15 times for 47 yards. Compare that to last week against the Ravens where he carried it 30 times for 144 yards.
It seems counterintuitive to throw the ball so much against a dominant pass defense and run the ball so few times against a horrid rush defense.
That’s what Haley decided to do on Sunday, and he left Ben out to dry.
Even with an 11-point deficit late in the third quarter, there is no reason not to keep feeding Bell the ball. The beauty of Bell’s running style relies on wearing down a defense over time and breaking a big run late.
This loss could be a slippery slope that leads to mediocrity.
Despite the loss, Pittsburgh is still atop the AFC North. They have three challenging games ahead before they get to their bye week, and two of them are the road.
Kansas City is the toughest out of the three, but getting the Bengals at home and Detroit on the road will not be easy outs, either.
If Pittsburgh can get win two of those games going into the bye week, I’ll be content.
After the tough loss, it would be a huge win if Pittsburgh went into Arrow Head this weekend, and pulled off an upset.
Alex Smith is having the best five-game stretch of his career, the Chiefs have found something in rookie running back Kareem Hunt, and they have two dynamic players in Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill who can break a game wide open.
Oh, and their defense is pretty good as well.
For Pittsburgh to win, they will have to sure up their run defense and frustrate players like Kelce and Hill. No easy plays.
On offense, I expect the play calling to be more balanced. More Bell and less Ben. That’s going to be the formula that translates into wins.
While I do think Pittsburgh will look a lot better in the game, it’s tough to see a scenario where they pull off a win.
With so much stacked against them, I say Pittsburgh falls 23-20. (I hope I am dead wrong.)