Losing 20-3 on Monday Night Football on a week where if you win you basically clinch the top seed for the entirety of the AFC playoffs is not fun. The Steelers were manhandled at Candlestick Park last night and while Candlestick had its own problems the Steelers were worse. Now, I might sound a little down but this wasn’t a case of the Steelers just not showing up, this was an outstanding performance by the 49ers and they are no scrubs, they are now 11-3 and holding one of the top spots in the NFC. This recap will be brief. Short week and there really isn’t much to say.
-A lot of people are going to be playing doctor today as Ben Roethlisberger had noticeable pain in his left ankle and that pain probably did not help in the three interceptions that he threw. ESPN Next Level also brought out a stat after the game that showed that Ben was only 4-of-14 throwing the ball down the field 15 yards or more and he threw all three of his interceptions in that zone. What was pretty key in that is the transfer of weight in his throw and not following the whole way through. He was 21-of-30 in throws under 15 yards so he was affective but it just wasn’t enough. I thought that if Ben was able to go he should play last night. Obviously in hindsight that was a bad decision but I am still sticking with my gut that he should have been in there. Maybe he shouldn’t have been in there down 17 late in the game when it was over, but that is another story. Right now, and before the game last night, I thought they should sit down Ben the next two weeks and get that ankle as healthy as possible before the playoffs. He wasn’t great overall last night but he did make some really tough throws and battled the entire game. You can blame him, but I’m not going to.
-The Steelers offense as a whole really wasn’t terrible last night. They converted 8-of-14 third downs and gained almost 400 yards of total offense and rushed for 4.4 yards per carry. All of that is pretty solid against one of the best defenses in the league. The problem was twofold for the Steelers: 1) turnovers and 2) field position. The Steelers moved the ball pretty well in the early going but the two interceptions by Roethlisberger were just brutal for the Steelers flow of the game and they led to six points for the 49ers. The field position game was terribly lost by the Steelers and this was because of 49ers punter Andy Lee. He is one of the best in the game and averaged almost 48 yards per punt and pinned the Steelers inside the 20 four times last night. It is hard to go 90 yards and score in the NFL and the Steelers had to do it all night.
-The offensive line was pretty decent at the beginning of the night but really fell apart late. San Francisco’s stud outside linebacker Aldon Smith brutalized Max Starks and put Ben in the turf. He also had seven, SEVEN, quarterback hits. Unreal.
-Stopping the run is what the 49ers are good at but the Steelers actually did a pretty nice job running the football. As a team they ran for 84 yards but that was only on 19 carries. It seems a little curious that they only ran the ball 19 times despite the success but they are the coaches and they know way better than I. Rashard Mendenhall continues to play really good football as he ran 15 times for 64 yards. I don’t know what happened five weeks ago but those last five games he has really ran with passion and ran hard. A lot of people think he dances too much and doesn’t like contact but last night he was putting his shoulder down and trying to get that extra yard. I like what I saw from him and the running game as a whole.
-One thing that I am kind of used to is when the game is over Steelers fans always talking about what the Steelers did and not what the other team did well. Sometimes it is the Steelers fault that they lose games more than it is the other team but that was not the case last night. The 49ers defense is tops in the league in sacks, turnover margin and scoring defense and they were on top of their game even without stud linebacker Patrick Willis. While Roethlisberger threw the three picks and fumbled once it was more of a product of the 49ers defense forcing the turnovers. San Francisco has an outstanding special teams unit and they pinned the Steelers deep and made them drive on that great defense to score. They are going to win that battle more often than not. The Steelers played some sloppy football which included, but was not limited to, nine penalties for 72 yards, but last night was more the 49ers winning than the Steelers losing.
-On the flip side the Steelers defense was good, but not great, last night. They held the 49ers to only 287 yards and 4-of-13 on third downs but they didn’t register a single sack and only one quarterback hit. Alex Smith didn’t make a ton happen but he dinked and dunked the hell out of the Steelers defense. The Steelers will let you do that and wait for you to make a mistake but Smith didn’t make that mistake which led to the final result. You got to have pass rush and not having James Harrison and having LaMarr Woodley still not playing full games because of the hamstring was an uphill battle.
-This loss is not the end of the season. The Steelers are now 10-4, the same with the Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers play the Rams and Browns while the Ravens play the Browns and Bengals. Baltimore is a pretty bad road team and has to travel to Cincinnati the final game of the season. The division title is not out of question. I know some people last night told me that the Ravens wouldn’t lose to the Bengals but I assume those are the same people that said the Ravens wouldn’t lose to Tennessee, Seattle or Jacksonville. A lot of time left in the season. The Steelers are playing two pretty bad teams to finish it out and will probably finish 12-4. At the beginning of the year I told you 12-4 would be how the Steelers went would you give a shit if they lost to the 49ers on the road? No. They are in the playoffs and at worst will have to travel to Denver to play the Broncos. It could be a lot worse.
-I will say right now that I don’t think Ben or LaMarr should play the rest of the regular season. The Steelers will probably play in the wildcard weekend so get them two good weeks of rest and try to be as healthy as possible for when the games really matter. They should be able to beat both of those teams.
-It wasn’t pretty last night but losses happen. Is it frustrating that they lost the way they did? Hell yea. Is the season over or is this team not one of the best ones in the AFC? No. The Texans are playing with its third string quarterback, the Patriots have one of the worst defenses I have ever seen and you saw who the Ravens lost to this year. Why wouldn’t the Steelers be right there? They lost to the Ravens twice (supposedly one of the best teams in the AFC), the 49ers (currently the number two seed in the NFC) and the Texans at full strength (again, top team, right). Pardon me if I still think the Steelers are right there in the AFC.
Short week. Go take a nap and get ready for the Rams.