INDIANAPOLIS — The Steelers fell to the Indianapolis Colts 30-13 after bungling down the spiral. But it was just another note in the team’s continued struggles over the season and one where their poor process continues to catch up to them. But what are the key takeaways from this game?
Mitch is Done
I think Mitch Trubisky in Pittsburgh is over. It is what it is, but you can’t bench the backup you are paying handsomely and expect to go back from that. The conversation for Trubisky being pulled was terse. Mason Rudolph is not some savior that anyone will want to paint him out to be. Kenny Pickett is injured, and the best quarterback on this team, and it’s not very close. And that’s not to heap some praise on Pickett.
But when you pay a guy like Trubisky the money you are paying him and extend him suddenly, but then bench him, this is where there is no coming back from a move like this one. The Steelers have and will likely move on the offseason. It makes sense, and their faith in Trubisky is all but fractured. There are too many reasons to list why he is struggling, but they keep adding up.
He doesn’t trust his mechanics; he fades into pressure, his processing is slow, and Trubisky can not even consistently throw the ball accurately when he finds the open receiver. He is not playing to the level that a usually solid backup quarterback should, and you can not get paid lavish money to play like he has. Pittsburgh has to start anew in the quarterback room. Pickett is the only guy who should be back.
When the head coach benches a guy like Trubisky at this moment, it’s all but a formality. The Steelers will be looking for another quarterback on the open market and will likely find that guy in free agency. They might even draft a guy and add two new quarterbacks. It’s not a bad idea when you need to find a stable floor and an upside in that room.
Trubisky’s stay in Pittsburgh is heading toward a sad end. The writing is on the wall after Saturday’s events, and with the team and front office having as minimal faith in him as they appear to have, they can not justify paying him like they are right now to be one of the better backups in the NFL.
The Defense’s Fatal Flaw
The defense is struggling largely due to injuries. There’s more to why they continue to fall flat (more on that later) in the schematic department, but this team is slow on defense when it comes down to it. They have explosive edge rushers and interior defensive linemen, but it is easy to keep extra bodies in and make the secondary hold up. The team does little to help that front, and when they do, it seems nonsensical that the dropout players like Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt.
But when you see guys streaking open and beating the Steelers to the corner, it’s not hard to see why, and even before the injuries, it was true that this team was not athletic enough from the linebackers’ back. The secondary, in particular, is too slow. This group badly needs youth injection to run more of those mixed-man coverage looks they love to run. Their disguises fall flat and can put them in tough spots to succeed because they get beaten. It’s simple as to why — the athleticism is not there.
Pittsburgh has that athleticism problem, and they can’t mask it. It’s hard, and a complete overhaul of the secondary is to fix that complication. Once they do that, there is a better chance this group will float rather than sink as much as they have with injuries. Not only do they not have depth, but they also do not have athletic depth, and their starters are on the side of slow across the board. It’s a huge issue when allowing explosive plays and letting teams tee off on their pass rushers.
Defensive Personnel Usage
This is something that I keep coming back to as a massive question mark. The personnel usage on the defense is baffling. Pittsburgh puts its undermanned linebacker corps in terrible spots in the red zone. For the last three weeks, they have kept running man coverage in those situations, and teams leak running backs out of the backfield and get tight ends lined up against linebackers to shred them. I will acknowledge that they did not communicate well on one zone coverage that allowed a touchdown, but that’s what you have to run to protect these linebackers.
Pittsburgh leaves those guys out to dry with schematic incompetence. That’s before getting to the front four. Larry Ogunjobi gets run into the dirt when he is a flashy, hot-and-cold guy. He is not meant to play 80 percent of the snaps. That’s not what it is at all. Meanwhile, Keeanu Benton can not play in sub-packages and keeps having his snap counts cut more and more. T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith can run into dust when Nick Herbig and Markus Golden are there for capable rotational snaps.
All this comes together to create a terrible environment for players to put into their strengths and weaknesses across the defense aside from the secondary. The Steelers leave way more meat on the bone than they should on the defensive side of the football with mindboggling decisions like these.
The Steelers have given Pressley Harvin III every chance to get this job. They have brought in competition, and he won, and yet, through his three years in Pittsburgh, he has not put together one complete season. To begin this season, Harvin may have put things together. His game against the Raiders in Las Vegas was his best. But after returning from his hamstring injury, he has not been the same. With two punts under 25 net yards on Saturday, he put the team behind the eight-ball on-field position far too often to justify keeping him around beyond this year.
If Pittsburgh will grime out wins and their offense will struggle, they need someone to flip fields. Harvin’s flat punts leave the team out to dry. He is consistently outdueled each week against opponents, putting an already struggling offense in even tougher spots when the field position battle gets so lopsided and opposing offenses start on short fields. It seems like it is time to move on. This isn’t working.
One More Offseason on the Offensive Line
The Steelers have done well to start to address their offensive line. Broderick Jones looks like a piece of the future. James Daniels and Isaac Seumalo are a nice one-two pairing at guard. But the center position and left tackle spots remain black holes. When the snaps are not errant and off the mark, Mason Cole was destroyed in this game by Grover Stewart and DeForest Buckner. Then, he committed an unnecessary hold that stopped Jaylen Warren’s toss play from succeeding. Pittsburgh has seen him hurt too many plays this year. He is tanking the group.
Then, Dan Moore Jr. is a below-average left tackle. Each week, Moore has disastrous reps time and time again. He is a solid NFL swing tackle, but this is not a guy who should be starting 17 games a year for any serious NFL franchise. They need to go and dip into the pool to address this offensive line next season. If they can add a solid center and another tackle to believe in, this could be a relatively solid offensive line. They are not far off, but the entire unit needs to play above the line to reap the true benefits of it all.