Tim Benz: An airing of grievances after Steelers’ sloppy road loss to Broncos |
Breakfast With Benz

Tim Benz: An airing of grievances after Steelers’ sloppy road loss to Broncos

Tim Benz
Steelers running back James Conner (30) fumbles against the Denver Broncos during the second half Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Denver.

After the Steelers lost to the Broncos on Sunday, head coach Mike Tomlin said, “I’m not displeased with anything in terms of how the game unfolded other than the turnover ratio.”

Really? How about the pass-run ratio? The red-zone execution? The failure to stop the run?

Or, you know, the final score?

For the record, it was 24-17 Denver. Now let’s get to some of that other stuff — or as Tomlin called it, “minutia” — in our weekly “Airing of Grievances.”

Turnover ratio

Yes. Tomlin is right. The turnover ratio killed the Steelers. They committed four. The worst was Ben Roethlisberger’s interception at the end of the game.

Xavier Grimble’s fumble through the end zone was a gut-punch, too.

Those are two turnovers right at the goal line.

As we mentioned in our postgame column, how about taking the ball away yourselves? The Steelers have forced one turnover — a fumble ­— in their past four road games. If this defense can’t intercept Joe Flacco, Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton or Case Keenum away from home, how are they supposed to intercept Drew Brees on Dec. 23 in New Orleans?

Pass-run ratio

If Tomlin wants to talk about ratios, I’ll give him one.

The pass-run ratio was 62 drop backs, which includes sacks and scrambles, to 14 handoffs. That’s not balanced enough.

This is especially true when you consider that the Broncos run defense ranks 27th in the league, whereas their pass defense is a more respectable 18th.

Play calling

Sure. The fake field goal touchdown pass from Chris Boswell to Alejandro Villanueva was a great call.

However, the red-zone designs that necessitated that trick play in the first place are worthy of scrutiny.

Or, we can talk about the awful sequence of plays in the ill-fated final series before Roethlisberger’s interception with 1:03 left.

For a team that has great numbers in the red zone, boy can they overcomplicate things.

The Steelers entered this week as the second-best red-zone offense in the NFL. It got there largely on the back of James Conner. He has seven rushing touchdowns inside opponents’ 5-yard line.

The last two weeks, though, the Steelers have gotten way too elaborate. Roethlisberger admitted to being the fourth option on his aborted shovel pass scramble to beat the Jaguars in the closing seconds last week. And he said it felt like the Jags knew the play was coming.

They tried it again this week before the fake field goal, and it was a bust. The previous two plays were passes as well, with one timeout remaining.

In the fourth quarter’s closing moments — down 24-17 — Roethlisberger tried a fade to JuJu Smith-Schuster, a run behind the left tackle, and the overly complicated run-pass option that Shelby Harris intercepted.

Why not just slam Conner behind Roosevelt Nix at least once, if not twice, to see what happens before tempting fate with a pass?

Run defense

It’s slipping. After being great for seven weeks, the Steelers have now allowed 303 yards on the ground the past two weeks.

The Jaguars and Broncos collectively averaged 4.59 yards per rush in these two games.

Phillip Lindsay had 110 rushing yards for the Broncos. Leonard Fournette had 95 for Jacksonville. Those are the two highest totals for running backs against the Steelers thus far this year.

Get healthy Stephon Tuitt.

Depth receivers

Grimble had the fumble. Vance McDonald had an end-zone drop. Jesse James was fine, just not very impactful with four catches for 35 yards.

Meanwhile, Roethlisberger was 0 for 3 targeting James Washington. That includes a drop when Washington decided to dive for a pass that looked plenty catchable if he had kept his feet.

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