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‘We’ve Got Issues:’ Negative Plays, Penalties Stymie Steelers Offense

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PITTSBURGH — The Steelers rightfully got the credit for the team’s 19-13 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, with cornerback Joe Haden returning from injury to make two huge plays, Minkah Fitzpatrick leading the team in tackles and grabbing another takeaway and the rest of the team’s defensive stars generally living up to their billing.

The offense, on other hand, had one touchdown drive and a bunch of misfires, as three second-half turnovers turned into just nine points — two on three-and-out field goals — and the defense still needed to make a last-second stand to secure the win.

“Extremely frustrating,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “We felt like there were opportunities and points obviously that we couldn’t get that were left out there. We know we can always count on [Chris Boswell] but obviously we want to put more points, especially the last one, a chance to make a two-score game. It’s extremely, extremely frustrating. 

“Give them credit. They’re a good defense. Whether we would have a penalty, whether we had a negative rush, whatever it was. We couldn’t put the points on the board and threw a touchdown, that’s very frustrating.”

The biggest problem for the Steelers all day was the negative plays Roethlisberger mentioned.

After Haden recovered a fumble in the third quarter at the Tennessee 41, the Steelers were the beneficiaries of a roughing the passer penalty against the Titans that put the ball 1st and 10 at the Tennessee 13. After a three-yard run, Diontae Johnson was called for a false start that made it 2nd and 12. The Steelers were unable to convert on two tries and kicked.

When Joe Schobert intercepted the Ryan Tannehill and set the Steelers up at the Tennessee 31, the Steelers got eight yards on a first-down pass to Johnson. Then Najee Harris lost three yards and Roethlisberger was sacked.

After T.J. Watt recovered a fumbled Titans snap at the visitors’ 35, Harris got six yards on first down but then lost five on second, setting up a third and long that Pittsburgh couldn’t convert.

On the day, the Steelers converted just 2 of 11 third-down conversions (18.2%), many of them the third and long variety. They never even got close enough for Mike Tomlin to consider going for it on a fourth down.

The two conversions came on 3rd-and-1 situations. Of the nine times the Steelers faced a third down with more than one yard to go, they were 0 for 9. The average distance to gain on those nine downs was 8.56 yards.

“I though our struggles in the first half were particularly on possession downs,” Tomlin said. “But that struggle was teed up by penalties, pre-snap penalties, false starts and so forth. We weren’t able to gain any type of cohesion because we were losing possession.”

As a team, the Steelers were penalized five times for 30 yards, which is not an especially bothersome figure. But the way they came was upsetting.

There was a 10-yard illegal block on James Pierre in punt coverage, part of a miserable day for that unit, one forgivable encroachment call against Cam Heyward, and false starts on Johnson, Trai Turner and Chukwuma Okorafor.

“We had a false start or two, we had one ball snapped a little early on a double cadence, it’s just things we’ve got to just focus on,” Roethlisberger said. “Our fans get extra excited. It’s loud in there even though we’re doing the cadence. But we’ve got to make sure, pre-snaps, we’ve got to be smarter at that.”

Tomlin was asked why, in Week 15, the team is still having issues that seem like they ought to be preventable.

“We’ve got issues,” Tomlin said. “We come to work on them [Monday.]”

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