PITTSBURGH (AP)Kenny Pickett can talk about the noise – no matter where it comes from – and the need to drown it out.
The reality for the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and offensive coordinator Matt Canada is that every week is going to be a referendum on their performance.
Check that. Make it every quarter. Or maybe every drive. Or possibly every snap. At least until the Steelers (3-2) are able to find something even remotely close to consistency.
It took all of two plays for the boos to start on Sunday against Baltimore after a pair of running plays managed all of 4 yards. It took maybe three possessions – all of which ended with punts – before the “Fire Canada” chants popped up.
And while they eventually morphed into some form of almost bewildered “how did that happen” euphoria after the Steelers pulled out a 17-10 victory in which the Ravens played a willing accomplice, five games into a season of sizable expectations, Pickett remains a somewhat erratic enigma and Canada remains on the hottest of seats.
Pittsburgh somehow won despite gaining all of 88 yards in the first half. Despite Pickett sending passes high, low, behind and over intended receivers. Despite another game in which running back Najee Harris’ legs furiously churned nowhere (37 yards on 14 carries).
Still, as Pickett pointed out, they found a way. The offense had 201 yards over the final 30 minutes, 80 of them coming on a game-winning drive in which Pickett opted to throw the ball up and let 6-foot-4 wide receiver George Pickens go and get it.
It was a glimmer of … something. The issue for the Steelers is that those glimmers have too often looked like anomalies during Canada’s two-plus seasons of calling the plays and Pickett’s 17 NFL starts.
Pickett still has more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (13). His career quarterback rating is 77.3. Pickett says repeatedly all he cares about is winning, and his 10-7 record is respectable for someone thrown into the fire a month into his rookie season.
At some point, however, the Steelers are going to need to win games because of the offense, not in spite of it.
It’s an ability the teams they claim to be chasing, the Kansas Cities and Buffaloes and Miamis of the world, can do seemingly at will, not just occasionally.
Not every team will come into Acrisure Stadium and basically say “here you go” to the hosts the way Cleveland and Baltimore did. Not every team will let T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith do whatever they want, seemingly whenever they want.
At some point, Watt and Highsmith would also like the luxury of playing from ahead. Until that happens with any sense of regularity, the boos, the noise and the questions will persist.
Keeping Lamar Jackson in check.
While Jackson showed flashes of the electric play that’s become his trademark while playing any team outside of the Steelers, ultimately Pittsburgh improved to 4-2 against Jackson by pressuring him relentlessly.
The Steelers had four sacks against Jackson, including two by Watt that boosted his total to a league-leading eight. Highsmith added a strip-sack late and was credited with 11 quarterback pressures, a career high and tied for the most in the NFL this season.
The game plan remains a mess. The Steelers have fallen behind early in each of their five games thanks in part to an offense that is averaging all of one first down in the first quarter.
The defense and the special teams have somehow helped Pittsburgh survive with smoke, mirrors and more than a little luck. It’s not a sustainable formula for a team that – despite Canada’s protests – is not mature enough or talented enough (not yet anyway) to come back from sizable deficits on a weekly basis.
Inside linebacker Kwon Alexander plays with an edge. It was on full display against the Ravens.
Alexander’s No. 54 was noticeable while occasionally serving as a “spy” on Jackson. The veteran, signed to a one-year contract in late July, had a sack, had another wiped out by a penalty well away from the play and added three tackles for a loss – including one in which he snuffed out a screen pass and dragged Justice Hill for a big loss that helped set the stage for Miles Killebrew’s blocked punt that turned into a safety and sparked Pittsburgh’s unlikely surge.
Gunner Olszewski might not want to buy any green bananas. He essentially lost his job as a returner to Calvin Austin III after essentially a brain cramp against Cleveland in Week 2 and only got it back briefly on Sunday because Austin was being evaluated for a concussion.
Any second chance Olszewski had likely ended when he was stripped of the ball during a punt return in the fourth quarter, almost costing the Steelers the game.
Guard James Daniels (groin) and punter Pressley Harvin III (hamstring) missed their second straight game. … Watt tweaked a finger late in the game. … DT Larry Ogunjobi spent time on the sideline with an undisclosed injury.
12-2: Pittsburgh’s record under Tomlin the week following a loss of at least 20 points. While Tomlin’s reasoning behind the no-show in Houston is debatable, his ability to make sure one loss doesn’t bleed into another is not.
Get a little rest during the bye week and try to find some semblance of cohesion on offense before a trip to Los Angeles to face the Rams on Oct. 22.
While the Steelers hardly look ready to compete with the AFC’s elite, finding a way to score 20 points a game would put them in the mix with the best of the rest.
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