The Pittsburgh Steelers are 6-0 for the first time since 1978. But as they retreated from the field in Tennessee, the mood was less jubilant than you would expect from an undefeated AFC frontrunner. The well circulated quote from star pass rusher T.J. Watt summed it up well:
“No-one’s really satisfied after today”
Week seven in review: Pittsburgh Steelers 27 – 24 Tennessee Titans
Pittsburgh came out of the blocks flying this weekend, finding paydirt on their first four drives and flying out to a 24-7 lead. The offense heavily featured darts to a healthy Diontae Johnson, who finished the day with nine catches for 80 yards and two TD’s. The dynamic threat was targeted 15 times before inevitably leaving the game with an injury (ankle), leaving a somewhat bittersweet taste in the mouth.
A tale of two halves
Everything was clicking for the first two quarters of the game, but as has been more normal than anyone would like, the Steelers imploded in the second half. The high flying offense was held to the tune of three points from the foot of Chris Boswell, and the defense began their 2020 tradition of allowing chunk plays in the closing stages of games. Ben Roethlisberger threw two horrible interceptions, in particular the toss to JuJu in tight coverage to give the Titans the ball back with less than three minutes left. The decision from Big Ben to ignore the other four open options when under zero pressure was troubling. An easier throw to Eric Ebron or James Washington on the play would have resulted in TD’s/conversions. It’s almost like Ben wants us to stay on the edge of our seats.
But let’s talk about the defense. The Titans weren’t efficient on third down, but when it mattered most, they converted. Chunk plays to A.J. Brown and Corey Davies allowed the Titans to continue their march up the field in the final minutes of the game. There were missteps from a few players, including Minkah Fitzpatrick, who allowed Brown to grab a 73 yard catch and run TD.
But in the overal scheme of things, the Steelers defense allowed less than 300 total yards from an explosive and powerful offense, stopped the Titans on nearly two thirds of third downs and limited King Henry to 75 yards; including this MASSIVE goaline stuffing from Pittsburgh’s new hero Robert Spillane.
Yes, the heart rate was spiking in the final quarter, but this time it was due to the faulty offense.
The AFC rising
Even with the sharp demise of the Patriots, the top of the AFC pile is a scary place to be. The Steelers currently lead a chasing pack that consists of the Superbowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, in division rival Baltimore Ravens, the still dangerous Titans and a tough Buffalo team. If the offense can keep producing as it has over the first seven weeks and maintain some consistency in the second half of games, then it’s arguable the Steelers currently possess the most complete roster of the bunch.
The one weak spot that may need addressing is inside linebacker. Robert Spillane filled in admirably, but left the game with an injury. That leaves former safety Marcus Allen and Pittsburgh’s favourite buzzword Ulysses Gilbert III as the presumed starters.
The Steelers could look to bolster the position on the trade market before the approaching deadline. There are some options out there, but inside linebackers that fit the 3-4 mold are rare and coveted. The team currently has $9.9 million in cap space available, according to OverTheCap. Here’s a couple of moves that could work out:
Image credit: the Madison Record
Ragland dominated at the 3-4 “Will” position in the Alabama defense, and quickly found himself shuffled around the league when forced to play in the Bills 4-3. He started 15 games in 2018 for the Chiefs, registering 86 tackles. More importantly, despite only signing with the Lions this offseason, he could be acquired with minimal cap issues (less than $1,000,000 against the cap). At 27, this would be a great depth signing even if Bush hadn’t been injured.
Avery Williamson/Denzel Perryman
Image credit: thespun/@JFowlerESPN
Both of these options would be far more expensive for the Steelers, but would provide a more dynamic player. Williamson racked up 120 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles in 2018 before a torn ACL ruined his 2019. The Jets are bottoming out and may be looking to secure some assets for next year. Perryman was a celebrated defender for the Chargers in years past, but seems to have fallen out of rotation.
There are some options on the FA market, detailed here by Jeff Hartman on the BehindtheSteelCurtain. How does it all shake out? Who knows, but let’s hope that a solution emerges before the Steelers roll into Baltimore.
Next week: the true battle for the North begins.
Jack is an NFL nerd with a passion for player stories and watching too much draft coverage. He's a DB coach with the Exeter Demons University team in the UK and a Steelers fan.