12/30/18-Relying On Others Results In Long Off-Season

By: Mike Pelaia

The Cleveland Browns finished their season with a much improved 7-8-1 record. But as Baker Mayfield threw that season ending pick in Baltimore, the Steelers season died along with it. 

Though you could say the season died in Cleveland four months ago, long before Mayfield had ever taken the field for the Browns. It died the day the Steelers tied the Browns to open the season.  That tie very well may be the reason the Steelers had to rely on the Browns to beat the Ravens in the final week of the season just to slip into the playoffs.

But the Steelers, with as talented a roster as anyone in the league, should never have to rely on the Browns or any other team to make the playoffs. 

As Cameron Heyward stated after the game; “It’s frustrating because we put ourselves in this position like that. It hurts.” “To know you gave it your all in this game right here but you’re still looking around saying we gotta get somebody else to do their job.”

He’s exactly right about having to look around and hope for help to get into the playoffs.  This team should not have fallen short like that.  Heyward continued; “It’s not how we wanted this season to go”. 

And it never should have gotten to that point.

You can pick any number of games this season that were the ones that kept the black and gold from making the playoffs.

It started with the season opening tie to the Browns who had one win in their previous 32 attempts. But it doesn’t end there. You can easily look at the losses to the Broncos or Raiders on the road, two games the team was favored to win and should have won. Or you can look at the blown fourth quarter leads to the Saints and Chargers. 

If any one of those games came out the other way, the Steelers would be preparing for a home playoff game right now rather than booking their plane tickets for their early vacations. 

Instead, they had to rely on the Browns and when you have to do that, you end up at home in January.

But those losses and that one tie went bad for many reasons, and the season went bad along with them.

You can blame the kicking of Chris Boswell, who finished the year a dismal 13 for 20 on field goals and 43 of 48 on extra points.

You can blame the entire defense for its’ clear inability to create turnovers or get off the field on third downs. If you do that, point the finger directly at Keith Butler, who must be fired this offseason.  His inability to scheme for opposing offenses was horrifically bad.  

You can blame the offense for the amount of turnovers they had, to go along with the untimely turnovers. Ben Roethlisberger threw 16 interceptions this season, a few of which occurred in the red zone, one, in the end zone in Denver in what would have been a game winning drive. A game winning drive that would have put the Steelers in the playoffs, as it turns out.

The team MVP JuJu Smith-Schuster had an untimely fumble in New Orleans that may have cost the team that game, and the season (though I think out of all the players and reasons to blame this season on, JuJu falls, way, way down on that list)

You could certainly blame the lack of discipline by the entire team who ranked 28th in penalty yards given up per game. An excess amount of penalties will almost always cost a team a game or two a year and the Steelers were no exception.

But as David DeCastro said after the season ending win vs. Cincinnati; “It’s just a couple of plays here and there in the game, that’s football, that’s the NFL. That is what people want, close games. We didn’t’ find a way to separate the games by more points to overcome those errors. Those errors cost us, and we didn’t have those errors last year.”

You can even blame a guy that never played for the team this year, LeVeon Bell, if you want to. James Conner put up a great season as Bell’s replacement and between he and Jaylen Samuels the Steeles future at running back looks bright but neither of those guys are quite the talent Bell is.  Bell just brings an extra threat to the offense that opposing defenses need to scheme for. Without him in Pittsburgh, defenses focused more on Antonio Brown.  The lack of Bell forced the offense to throw more, Roethlisberger ended up with over 5,000 yards but along with those yards came those 16 interceptions, his most since 2015 and tied for second most of his career.

Bell is a man who not only protects the football but moves the chains, so his absence did come back to bite this team as it turned out. 

Any way you want to slice it and no matter who you want to blame or what game you want to choose to single out as the one that kept the Steelers out, it all came down to the black and gold relying on the Cleveland Browns and when that happens, it ends up just like Cam Heyward said “It’s going to be a long offseason.”

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