Tim Benz: An airing of grievances after ugly Steelers loss in Oakland
This is the third straight week where our “Airing of Grievances” will not be balanced out by “Feats of Strength.”
We’ve now seen three straight losses for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even though “Festivus” is just about upon us, no one in Pittsburgh is feeling very festive after the Steelers lost 24-21 to a bad Raiders team in Oakland.
The Black and Gold probably won’t make the playoffs, folks. They’ll likely lose to the Patriots and Saints. They’ll probab … — OK, maybe — beat the Bengals. That’s 8-7-1.
If the Ravens finish at least 9-7, by beating the Browns and Bucs while losing to the Chargers, that’ll give Baltimore the AFC North. And the Steelers will most assuredly miss out on a wild-card spot with that record, too.
That would be the sixth time in the 18 years since Heinz Field opened that the Steelers would miss the playoffs. Of those six years, all but one would include a loss to a sub-.500 Raiders team.
And, if that scenario holds, it would be the third such season where beating that bad Raiders team would’ve been the immediate difference in making the playoffs instead missing them (2009, 2013, and 2018).
So, when it comes to the Steelers, needless to say, “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people!”
The handling of quarterbacks
Ben Roethlisberger didn’t come out of the locker room with the rest of the team because he was being treated for a “rib injury.”
The quarterback returned to the sideline but not the game. At least, not until the Steelers blew a 14-10 lead in the fourth quarter. He then immediately came in and engineered a 75-yard touchdown drive with 2:55 remaining.
Mike Tomlin said Roethlisberger “could’ve returned a series or two earlier than he did.”
OK, then. Why didn’t he?
Tomlin said, “We were in a rhythm and flow of the game.”
Rhythm? Their second-half possessions without Big Ben were two punts, an interception and a turnover on downs.
Get a new rhythm section, Mike. Yours appears to have lost the beat.
If they were holding back Roethlisberger until a “break glass in case of emergency” situation, I have some news for Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers: If you are up only 14-10 in Oakland during the second half at 7-4-1, it was already an emergency.
Roethlisberger should’ve come back sooner.
The handling of the timeouts
The Steelers defense has returned to its dismal early season form.
Inherent in the suggestion that Roethlisberger was being held back is the assumption that Tomlin felt his rotten defense could maintain a 14-10 lead throughout the second half.
Unless the Raiders traded for Blake Bortles at halftime, that was never going to happen.
Similarly, why was Tomlin so sure that his defense could hold Oakland out of the end zone at the end of the game?
Tomlin shockingly let the clock run from the 1:59 mark — when Derek Carr completed a 39-yard pass to the Steelers 7-yard line — to 30 seconds, when the clock stopped because of an incompletion.
He then burned one timeout after the next play, while the clock was already stopped, before the eventual Raiders touchdown.
Tomlin should’ve used his timeouts assuming a score, which would have given his offense more time to drive into field goal range.
Which brings us to …
Despite Tomlin’s clock mangling, the Steelers still got within field-goal range because of a perfectly executed hook-and-ladder play between Roethlisberger, James Washington and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
It gained 35 yards and then Boswell missed a 40-yard field goal on the next play … because he slipped.
Chris Boswell for the tie! pic.twitter.com/58VMD8lMBO
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) December 10, 2018
— Bill Crawford (@dveBillCrawford) December 10, 2018
Boswell missed another field goal earlier in the game, and he doinked a PAT off an upright that ricocheted through for a score.
For those complaining about Oakland’s bad field, keep in mind that Raiders placekicker Daniel Carlson made all four of his attempts.
Boswell has missed 11 kicks this year. Cut him.
The run game
I’ve been critical of the run-pass ratio in recent weeks. But I can’t complain this week. It’s hard to say the Steelers should’ve run more often when they couldn’t run.
The team totaled just 40 yards rushing on 19 carries — against the NFL’s worst rush defense.
Although, I will say using Roosevelt Nix more often could’ve helped.
It allowed two fourth-quarter touchdowns, a total of 322 yards passing and a passer rating of 122 to Derek Carr.
It had a chance at three interceptions and didn’t catch any of them.
Four Raiders receivers had catches of over 20 yards.
But I’m sure things will get much better against Tom Brady and Drew Brees.