12/19/21-The Black and Gold Are Still Alive

By: Mike Pelaia

Steelers 19. Titans 13.  That was the much-needed final score after a hard-fought contest between the men in black and gold and the AFC South leading Tennessee Titans. Tennessee could have moved into the number one seed in the AFC with a win but the Steelers defense held them in check and came up with the big plays when needed.

Without this win, the Steelers season would have been cooked.  They needed the win and they played like it, specifically on the defensive side of the ball where big plays were made and big stops happened in crucial moments.

As great as TJ Watt was, on a day when he had 1.5 sacks and set a new single season franchise sack record, it was the return of Joe Haden that made the biggest impact. Haden, who had missed the last 4 games, came up with a big fumble recovery and the game winning stop on 4th down, preventing the Titans from getting a first and goal, by mere inches. 

Haden’s return can’t be understated.  This defense looked alive and matched the energy of the crowd in a playoff atmosphere. In a lot of ways, it was a playoff game for Pittsburgh who would have fallen below .500 and with only 3 games to go, facing a difficult climb out of the cellar of a crowded AFC North. 

Instead, they now find themselves in the playoff mix and a possible division crown.  They’ll need to win their last two games vs. Cleveland and at Baltimore to make that a reality but before that, they must fly to Kansas City to face the mighty Chiefs who are now on a roll and are the AFC’s top seed. 

For the Steelers to win a second game in a row against a playoff bound team, they’ll have to step up the offensive output, more than they did against the Titans on this cold and dreary Pittsburgh afternoon.

Santa Claus is going to need to bring the Steelers a running attack. Moreso, he’s going to need to bring them an offensive line who can create holes for Najee Harris to run through.  Harris posted a measly 18 yards on 12 carries against the Titans and that low output sits squarely on the offensive line.  They get bullied off their blocks and don’t give Harris a moment to find a hole to attack.

Yet, the putrid offense is not just on the offensive line, Matt Canada, the Steelers Offensive Coordinator must stop being so predictable. He needs to allow his Hall of Fame quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger to play the style of football that he’s comfortable with and the offense will score far more than the 19 points they put up against Tennessee, if Canada can check his ego at the door.

Against Kansas City, they’re going to have to score over 25 points to really have a chance.  They can do it if Canada doesn’t get in the way.  The weapons are there. Diontae Johnson, Harris, Roethlisberger, hopefully Pat Friermuth comes back healthy, James Washington and Chase Claypool are all guys capable of making a splash play, if Canada either calls a play that allows for it or he allows Roethlisberger to draw it up himself.

Despite this big win against the Titans, it’s hard to believe Canada will change his ways. For the sake of the team, let’s all hope he does.  

 If Mike Tomlin and his offensive staff start to apply some of the learnings from the first 14 games, the Titans game included, they can take a little of the pressure off of Chris Boswell by putting up multiple touchdowns.

If they put up multiple touchdowns, the defense will play a little more relaxed and the blitz game becomes a significantly safer to execute and far more impactful. 

The team has 99 problems, or more, but their biggest flaws that must be fixed by the time they land in Kansas City are game planning, stopping the run, making adjustments, running a putrid offense that’s predictable and stale and getting off the field on third downs.

How they’ll flip the script in Kansas City is yet to be seen but I don’t think they are good enough to do it.

They can win against Cleveland and Baltimore but I see a 33-20 loss coming the day after Christmas.

That all said, this team is alive, and with a little help from some friends, and winning their final two, they can make it into the dance in January.

And that’s all that matters at this point in the year.



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