What a dud. Hard to describe Sunday’s 24-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals by the Pittsburgh Steelers any other way than that.
The Steelers were outplayed in all three phases by one of the worst teams in the league. They were also outcoached and decimated by injuries, losing a handful of key pieces on Sunday, leaving a roster that has had its depth tested this season even more short-handed.
But there are no excuses. The Steelers lost to a team that shouldn’t have even been in the game with them, based on records, team stats, overall performances and more. Awful showing.
And to make matters worse, injuries piled up in a bad way for the Steelers, which could have them significantly short-handed on a short week against the New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football.
Let’s get to some grades and try to flush this loss.
QB — C
Prior to Kenny Pickett’s injury in the second quarter on a scramble near the goal line, the second-year quarterback was playing well. He was 7-of-10 for 70 yards and had a big 38-yard completion to wide receiver George Pickens off play-action on the third play from scrimmage, two plays after hitting Pickens for 13 yards over the middle on the first play of the game.
There were some strong moments from Pickett early on, but there were also some issues, too. He was a mess under pressure again, though his offensive line didn’t help him much. He was very panicky every time there was pressure on him. Still, he was solid on the day and made some good throws.
Mitch Trubisky came on in relief after the injury, and though he was charged with a fumble on a bad snap from Mason Cole that changed the game entirely, the seventh-year veteran was solid. He completed 11-of-17 passes for 117 yards and had a late 2-yard touchdown to Diontae Johnson. He made some key throws, like his 25-yard completion to George Pickens and a 26-yard dart to Johnson over the middle of the field, laying the ball between dropping linebackers and deep safeties for the explosive play.
Quarterbacks weren’t the issue on the day.
RB — C+
Coming int0 the matchup, it was clear that the Steelers should — and would — be able to hammer the football against the Cardinals in the run game. To Pittsburgh’s credit, it did that throughout the first half, rushing for 91 yards. The Steelers were picking up chunk yardage on the ground as Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren had a lot of success.
But then the Cardinals went up two scores and the run game disappeared as the Steelers were in catch-up mode.
Harris led the way for the Steelers with 63 yards rushing on 16 carries. He had some great runs on the day, but the overall numbers don’t look all that impressive (3.9 yards per carry). He was stuffed on a 4th and 1 at the goal line, though it wasn’t entirely his fault. Have to be able to get a yard, though.
Warren had a strong day again, racking up 59 yards on nine carries, including an 18-yard run. Things should have been much, much better in the run game had the Steelers kept the game close. Disappointing that they had to abandon the run down two scores.
WR — B-
George Pickens had a great day, though much of the work came in the first half. He finished with four receptions for 86 yards, including explosive receptions for 38 and 25 yards. He consistently found himself open on over routes, working across the formation, and overall created some good separation.
Diontae Johnson had a decent game, finishing with four receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown. He had a great leaping grab for 26 yards in the fourth quarter helping set up his touchdown, which saw him win quickly on a comeback route in the end zone for the score. But he also had a failed receiver screen that was blown up immediately. It was dumb to run it out of condensed bunch formation with no room to operate.
Allen Robinson II had three receptions for 19 yards. He blocked well and made tough catches as a possession receiver, but he’s not utilized enough down the field. Calvin Austin III had one catch for 10 yards and largely felt like a decoy throughout the game.
TE — C-
One week after a career day, Pat Freiermuth was seemingly nonexistent. It took until just under eight minutes into the second quarter for Freiermuth to get a target. He finished with just three catches for 19 yards, though he had some key receptions to move the chains, dragging defenders with him to get to the sticks on two occasions.
Darnell Washington really struggled as a blocker, whiffing a few times on the edge, leading to tackles for loss by Arizona defenders. He just wasn’t very good after a month-long run of sound blocking. Curious to see what the All-22 looks like with him.
Connor Heyward had a drop in the second half and later wasn’t able to get to a nice throw up the seam in the end zone from Trubisky. The Steelers later missed a field goal. Not a great day from the tight ends.
OL — D+
In the run game this group really got a good push and moved defenders in the first half. It was quite remarkable to watch.
Pass protection — and snapping the football — was a completely different story.
The Steelers rushed for 130 yards on 31 carries and had quite a few 10-plus-yard runs on the afternoon. But once the game got out of hand the Steelers abandoned the run and became one-dimensional.
Even before that though, the offensive line was a mess in protection. Broderick Jones had real issues with speed off the edge, and James Daniels and Mason Cole miscommunicated on a blitz, leading to two free rushers on Pickett. It didn’t help that left guard Isaac Seumalo went down with a shoulder injury.
The Steelers couldn’t even get lined up right at times, too. Just an all-around disastrous day.
And that leads to the snapping issues from Cole. It’s been a problem all season, but in the last month or so Cole has been a mess snapping the football. Sunday, it came back to kill the Steelers as Trubisky couldn’t corral a low snap and fumbled the ball away. Four plays later the Cardinals took a 17-3 lead.
Cole had low snaps to Pickett in the first quarter, too. Clean it up.
DL — D
Rookie Keeanu Benton was the best defensive lineman on the field throughout the game for the Steelers. That’s great for him, but that’s rather telling for the Steelers, who are healthy up front.
Benton had two tackles, was in the backfield a ton against the Cardinals, and had a key batted pass at the line of scrimmage.
Armon Watts flashed at times, holding up well against the run, but it was too far and few between. Cameron Heyward was a bit of a disappointment, too. He had just one tackle and was largely quiet throughout the day.
Isaiahh Loudermilk led the Steelers’ defensive line with three tackles.
This group was manhandled late in the game, too, as the Cardinals salted the game away with a heavy, healthy dose of James Conner. They had no answers.
LB — C-
Outside, T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith were excellent. No qualms with them.
They dominated throughout the game, giving Arizona’s tackles major fits. Highsmith had eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, two tackles for loss and was a force. Same for Watt, who had half a sack, six tackles, batted a pass and had two quarterback hits. They were dominant.
The rest of the linebacking group was putrid, and it didn’t help that Elandon Roberts went down with a groin injury early, returned for one play and left again for good.
Roberts had a bad penalty on an unnecessary roughness call, hitting Arizona running back Emari Demercado after an incompletion. But it was a bang-bang play and there was nothing Roberts could really do at full speed.
Once Roberts left, Mykal Walker was the every-down linebacker. It was a burn-the-tape game for him. He had a team-high 10 tackles, but he was a mess in coverage. He missed some key tackles against the run and was largely picked on by Arizona’s offense.
Mark Robinson was fine in relief of Roberts, recording eight tackles, but he’s pretty limited overall and wasn’t overly impactful as a run defender.
DB — C-
The Steelers held Kyler Murray to just 145 passing yards, which is good on the surface, but Pittsburgh didn’t have many answers for Trey McBride in the secondary and got lucky due to an Arizona holding call that wiped out a late 33-yard touchdown from Murray to Rondale Moore over Patrick Peterson.
Peterson also got thrown out of the club by James Conner on a run in the first half and will likely be on Angry Runs Tuesday on Good Morning Football. Fun.
Joey Porter Jr. had a bad pass interference in the end zone that set up an Arizona touchdown, and he also allowed a big completion to Greg Dortch, though he was in great coverage. It was just a special throw and catch from Murray to Dortch.
Minkah Fitzpatrick returned and played relatively well, finishing with five tackles while playing with a broken hand, but he wasn’t all that impactful and did have a missed tackle.
Trenton Thompson had three tackles, Damontae Kazee had four and the two combined in coverage against Moore early in the game and were bailed out by a drop. Communication and working together remains a real issue.
Special Teams — F
Chris Boswell missed just his second kick all season, pushing an attempt wide right from 45. You don’t see him miss often, but it was a big miss.
I thought Pressley Harvin III was solid punting the football, averaging nearly 45 yards per punt. Coverage was another issue though. Miles Killebrew had three bad special teams penalties, one of which was declined that bailed him out. You cannot have that from your special teams captain, period.
Calvin Austin III also let a punt bounce. The Cardinals then downed it at the 6-yard line. Can’t have that. Field the punt. Godwin Igwebuike also bobbled the opening kickoff and then returned the ball to the 23-yard line, putting the Steelers two yards behind where they would have started if they just would have kneeled the kickoff.
Really ugly day from Danny Smith’s unit.