Monday, November 30, 2015

Steelers' defense fades in big moments in Seattle loss

Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Senior NFL Writer
November 29, 2015
Thomas Rawls gets just enough yards to earn a first down, allowing Seattle to run out of the block against Pittsburgh. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)
Thomas Rawls gets just enough yards to earn a first down, allowing Seattle to run out of the block against Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Steelers played the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in Seattle Sunday,... (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)
SEATTLE -- The image of Doug Baldwin streaking untouched down the sideline shouldn’t have been a shocker.
The Seattle Seahawks' offense had been dealing all game.
Asking the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense to get a stop in the final minutes was simply too much Sunday, as Russell Wilson’s five touchdowns powered the Seahawks past the Steelers 39-30.
"It shouldn't sit well with any of us," Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward said. "Five touchdowns and 100 yards rushing is unacceptable."
By taking a short field goal with three minutes left and down 32-30, the Steelers basically said, we think our defense is good enough to get the ball back despite Wilson's big day. They could have gone for the fourth-down attempt to try to go ahead. The Steelers had all three timeouts. Coach Mike Tomlin called the decision a "calculated risk."
But Wilson got the ball and converted another long third down, with the Steelers’ secondary taking a bad angle on Baldwin’s over-the-middle catch and bolt toward the sideline with 2 minutes, 1 second left.
The reality is this: Wilson is the third quarterback in 11 games to throw for at least four touchdowns on the Steelers. That’s a chin check for the final five games.
"They ran a good concept to beat the coverage we were in," said cornerback Antwon Blake, who was in coverage on the play. "The bottom line is we have to make an incomplete pass or make a tackle on that."
Three turnovers overshadowed an otherwise brilliant performance from the offense and Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for 456 yards before jogging to the locker room in the final minutes for an NFL concussion test.
The Seahawks converted 19 points off Steelers turnovers. That’s the game.
What it means: The picture is becoming clear for the Steelers -- when they don’t turn the ball over, they are pretty good. In losses to Cincinnati and Seattle, the Steelers at times looked like the better team, but threw six interceptions. It's nearly impossible to win that way. Roethlisberger had a weird day because he was threw for nearly 500 yards, but at times he was begging the Seahawks to intercept him. Clean up the turnovers and the Steelers can get rolling in the final five games.
What were they thinking? The fake field goal attempt that resulted in a 54-yard interception and a Seahawks score in the first half was brutal. Take the 44-yard field goal. Instead, the Seahawks created a 10-point swing. That play loomed large in a tight game. It took forever to develop as Landry Jones shifted to the punt-receive area. The Seahawks were not fooled in the slightest. "I take responsibility for that play's failure," Tomlin said of the decision. He declined specifics of what prompted the move.
One reason to get excited: Markus Wheaton was a nonfactor for the first 10 games, but exploded for nine catches and 201 yards. Wheaton had been waiting to emerge as the Steelers’ primary slot receiver. With the Seahawks paying extra attention to Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, Roethlisberger smartly worked the middle of the field and Wheaton capitalized. "Better chemistry," Wheaton said of what prompted the breakout, referring to finding a rhythm with Roethlisberger.
One reason for concern: Tight ends are still an issue for the Steelers, who made a point to minimize Jimmy Graham and still gave up 75 yards through three quarters, including two third-and-long conversions on a first-half scoring drive. Graham, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury, didn’t score but helped open passing lanes for Wilson.
Fantasy watch: Don’t bet against Bryant scoring weekly. He has a knack for the end zone. With an 11-yard rushing score Sunday, that’s 14 touchdowns in 16 career games. Roetlhlisberger targeted Bryant nine times through the first three quarters. Only Antonio Brown (10) had more.
Ouch: Tight end Heath Miller left the game in the first half with a rib injury. He caught five passes for 45 yards. Linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a concussion and left the game in the second quarter.
Raining 2s: The Steelers are 6-for-9 on two-point conversions after a successful attempt in the first half, tying the 1994 Miami Dolphins for the most conversions in an NFL season.

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