After their third-consecutive fourth-quarter collapse, the Pittsburgh Steelers must look in the mirror. Head coach Mike Tomlin and a flawed defense continue to cost the Steelers when they need to win.
Things change quickly in the NFL, and the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers are the latest example of that. Less than one-month ago they had completed a shocking but important comeback win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, increasing their win streak to six games.
But after dropping three in-a-row and opening the door for the Baltimore Ravens to overtake the AFC North, it’s time the Steelers look in the mirror. This three-game stretch has featured the same recipe as featured in each other, and many of these problems have been repeated throughout several years.
Their 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders featured all of the familiar issues that have plagued the franchise in the Mike Tomlin era, and especially over the last month.
We’re going to look at the fourth-quarter collapse, a defensive back seven unable to provide any impact whatsoever, and Tomlin’s incompetence at making in-game adjustments.
Running back depth
Usually when a running game tanks, there’s a corresponding set of injuries along the offensive line. That hasn’t been the case for the Steelers, who were only without tackle Marcus Gilbert against Oakland. One of the biggest issues on offense for the Steelers is they’re suffering from a lack of playmaking from the running back position over the last five weeks.
James Conner has had admirable season and should be the Steelers’ starter through the rest of his rookie contract, but his limitations compared to a transcendent back like Le’Veon Bell have been on display as the season has progressed. He’s averaged only 51 yards per game and 4.06 yards per-carry over his last four games.
Some of this may be linked to the ankle injury he’s dealing with, but there are similar issues with creative ability beyond Conner on the Steelers’ depth chart. This can be seen as the Steelers accumulated just 32 yards from their backs against the second-worst rushing defense in the league in Oakland.
Jaylen Samuels is so slow that it wouldn’t be surprising if tight end Vance McDonald could outrun him. Stevan Ridley is also just a guy, and his five carries against Oakland were five too many. Neither is a viable runner for this offense.
Even when Conner gets back, there’s so much pressure on Ben Roethlisberger that any mistake he commits will be crucial. Conner’s a quality runner who can take what’s given and occasionally break a tackle, but he’s not the type of talent that’s reliable regardless of matchup.