It seems to be getting lost in this game that despite the score, the Jacksonville Jaguars swung first, connected, and proceeded to break the Pittsburgh Steelers down in dominant fashion from there. This was not a team that got caught looking ahead. This is not a team that took the Jacksonville Jaguars lightly. This was a good Jacksonville Jaguars team that set the tone at the first snap and grinded out a 45-42 victory.
Pittsburgh Steelers loss brings offseason of questions
The first Jaguars offensive snap was a five yard run for Leonard Fournette as he rode defenders for extra yards, proving he was here for January football. The first defensive snaps featured a rushed pass due to pressure and a screen gone wrong as Telvin Smith and Paul Posluzny blew it up with a punishing finish. That was about all you needed to see to know how this game was going to go.
The start to this game was reminiscent of the Denver Broncos Super Bowl loss to the Seattle Seahawks. That game started with a safety, a Seahawks field goal and a quick Broncos three and out that featured a two big plays by Kam Chancellor to set the tone. Telvin Smith played the role of Chancellor in this game and made two big plays on the first drive, adding to his 16 tackle performance. The Seahawks put up 43, but held the Broncos to eight. Fortunately, the Steelers hung with the punches a little better than that team, and fought for some comeback points. That does not completely absolve the offense, though. They helped dig that hole, the hole just made their stats look better.
Still, it is understandable for any team to know that they had chances to win that game. Especially with the top to bottom roster talent of the Pittsburgh Steelers. This did not feel like any other loss. This felt like an all-in season. Most seasons 13-3 and a 3-point loss as the two-seed can be looked at as a fun ride. The Steelers have greater expectations than that. The question is, what do you do?
First, I’ll say it since some will want it addressed. Mike Tomlin is not going anywhere. He is still 45 years old and has won the AFC twice, AFC North six times and has never had a losing season in 11 years. Only Don Shula has won more to start his career. For some reason, he probably deserves another shot to build on his 13-3 season.
First, Ben Roethlisberger immediately said after the game that he is coming back. That is not what he said last season, which is what raised headlines to begin with.
Under the assumption that Roethlisberger is coming back, expect this to be the end for Todd Haley. Haley is a free agent this offseason. You do not need me to tell you about the soap opera between Roethlisberger and Haley over their years. This year, his contract year, it felt much more like a year of falling apart than coming together.
Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown have been critical of play calling and Roethlisberger requested that Randy Ficthner, the quarterbacks coach come down to the sidelines so that he could vent to him about halfway through the season.
Then, the Patriots game. Mike Tomlin told Todd Haley that if there was a catch in bounds, Haley needed a play and to tell Roethlisberger not to spike it. Haley told Roethlisberger not to spike it, but did not give Roethlisberger a play. The only play Roethlisberger came up with was the fake spike. We saw the results. The blame goes hugely on both of the two, but the lack of communication altogether between the two is inexcusable, and it showed.
Finally, today. The day reckoning. The Jaguars have an elite defense. At every level there is depth, speed and talent. Still, the Steelers had success on the ground against Jacksonville at times. You can run up the middle on them. Instead, the Steelers wasted too many plays getting Bell involved in the screen game, and throwng tosses to him on the outside. This was a game for smash mouth football, and the Steelers wanted to get creative in running the ball.
It appears as though Ben Roethlisberger checked into both of the fourth down calls. This not all on Haley. However, these two do not have a good relationship, and the offense flowed as though the quarterback and coordinator were off. No matter who is right, the Steelers are going to choose the quarterback over the coordinator.
Le’Veon Bell comes into the offseason as a free agent as well. The Steelers could franchise tag him, but would likely love to get a three-year deal done with him. He asked for top running back and number two wide receiver money and at some point the team might have realized he just might be worth that over the next couple of seasons.
On defense, the team has an option with Joe Haden. He is expected to make $11 million on the salary cap next season, so an extension to push some of that money back may be in the works. Lastly, the team has a major question in the middle with Ryan Shazier. It is tough think the defense loses that toughness on the inside the way they did with Shazier out there. Sean Spence is no real replacement, so what ever seems to happen with him, the position must be addressed immediately.
The offense failed to live up to expectations. The defense, at times, had visions of being an elite unit. The Ryan Shazier injury throws a huge wrench into things, but the Steelers were right there and have the infrastructure to remain in the mix. How they handle this offseason will help in shaping the direction for the future, and decided whether or not this group can stay in the mix for the foreseeable future.