Just My Opinion ...

Jim Wexell with his commentary after (gulp) watching the Steelers' loss to the Jets a record second time.

Ron Jaworski said on one of his shows last week, after watching reams of Pittsburgh Steelers tape, that Ben Roethlisberger had thrown only eight poor passes out of his last 80.

Or maybe it was 800.

But it was something like that.

The exact numbers aren't important because we all saw how red hot he was anyway.

But my point this morning is that the red-hot Roethlisberger masked the Steelers' deficiencies during their recent three-game winning streak over some good to very good teams.

Roethlisberger wasn't so hot in New York, and the Steelers fell to the heretofore woebegone Jets, 20-13.

Not that it was his fault. Nor did he play as bad upon second viewing as I thought he had played upon the first. And that's probably due to my having gotten used to that red-hot type of quarterback. But the second viewing didn't erase some the deficiencies that we saw coming out of preseason and through the first six games of the season.

Let's tackle those problems in chronological order as they arose in New York:

* NICKEL RUN DEFENSE -- The Steelers opened in the nickel and were promptly gashed for 13 yards on the first play. The next run against the nickel gained 12. But from that point on, the Jets rushed for six yards on three carries against the nickel.

Of course, the Jets didn't run out of a 3-WR set in the second half, and I'm of the belief that Dick LeBeau's adjustment of a couple of weeks ago, that of using burly run-stuffing inside backer Vince Williams behind the lightened defensive line, paid off and will continue to do so.

Also, one defensive end who was turned badly on one of the big gains, Stephon Tuitt, will only get better.

* YOUNG WIDE RECEIVERS -- Roethlisberger wasn't getting much help on an off day. His receivers dropped three passes, and his two young aces -- Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant -- hurt him mentally as well.

On future Defensive Player of the Week Jaiquawn Jarrett's early sack off a free safety blitz, Roethlisberger waited for his slot receiver, Wheaton, to make the hot read with the middle of the field wide open. But Wheaton instead turned out into coverage and Roethlisberger took the sack. Wheaton also ran a couple of wrong routes, at least they appeared to be his fault judging by Roethlisberger's body language and hand motions.

Bryant cost Roethlisberger an interception at the goal line by rounding off a sloppy post instead of heading to the wide-open corner for a fade. Also, Bryant didn't fight for an underthrown deep ball, but on the next series he did and gained 45 yards. Hey, he's learning.

* TURNOVERS -- Mike Tomlin warned about the Jets being last in turnovers and how if that changed they would be a dangerous team. Well, they were +4. Two of those were turned over by the normally reliable Antonio Brown, another was the aforementioned sloppy route, and the fourth was a poor throw by Roethlisberger.

The Steelers had chances to cut into that deficit, but William Gay dropped an easy interception at the goal line and the referee made a poor review judgment on one fumble that was recovered by Cameron Heyward.

And on a good day, the Steelers aren't called for offsides on an onside kick that gave them the ball. Darrius Heyward-Bey's foot didn't cross the kicking line, only his helmet did because of his body lean. But, the call was made and the recovery nullified. It was that kind of a day.

* RED ZONE -- After settling into 31st place in the league in TD percentage after six games, the Steelers went on a 10-for-12 rampage to win their next three games. Against the Jets, the Steelers were 0-for-3 thanks to the Jarrett interception off the pass to Bryant, a loss by Le'Veon Bell on third-and-1 before the missed 23-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham, and the third was a complete debacle in which the Steelers kicked after failing on four attempts after a first down at the 1-yard line.

The Steelers brought James Harrison and three tight ends in for the latter, and on an incomplete throw to Harrison the Jets were hit with a roughing-the-passer penalty. But on the re-do from the half-yard line, LeGarrette Blount didn't follow an exceptional block by Harrison and was stopped. On the next play, the Steelers ran outside zone left and Muhammad Wilkerson blew up the line and Blount began running backward and took a loss of eight yards.

On the bright side, Suisham made the kick.

* COACHING -- Not sure I agree with much of the nitpicking about attempting the 23-yard field goal, or using Harrison at fullback, or calling a timeout on third-and-1 with 6:23 remaining. I wouldn't have called that timeout, but anymore I see trailing teams plan to use the two-minute warning as a third timeout, and the Steelers were able to do that.

The other criticism seems to be the heavy use of screens in the first half, but against the riverboat-gambling Rex Ryan, using screens was logical until it became obvious Ryan had trumped Tomlin by making that a big part of the Jets' defensive game plan. The Steelers attempted only one screen in the second half and Bryant gained nine yards.

The biggest flaw in the coaching has to be the continued struggles against inferior competition. Not that I believed for a second that the Jets were going to be an easy win in Michael Vick's third game on the job; not with that highly-ranked defense and running game. But this continuing issue must be addressed in some sort of self-evaluation.

There's definitely a lack of electricity, and of course that comes with making plays. But at 1-8 in their last nine against opponents with a .200 or less winning percentage, something's wrong. Three of those losses came in the last three seasons after beating the Baltimore Ravens, so that's a start on the self-evaluation.

Other than that, I liked what I saw out of the pass rush, and the pass protection wasn't nearly as bad as I had thought upon first viewing. As for penalties, the Steelers committed only three for 20 yards. After rotting near the bottom of the league by averaging 80 yards per game through six games, they've averaged only 47 yards per game in the last four.

I had to hold my nose to get through this last tape, and I have an overwhelming feeling of despair this morning. But I'll get through the week because I still believe the arrow's pointing up. The quarterback can't be Superman every week, and when he's not, the younger guys are making mistakes but improving.

And there's also this bit of hope from someone on our message boards: In the playoffs, the Steelers wouldn't have to play anyone with a sub-.500 record.



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