Following a surprise victory over the New Orleans Saints in Week 10, the Pittsburgh Steelers sought to keep their good fortunes rolling against their AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. The Steelers opened the year with a stunning overtime victory against this Bengals team and hoped to do the same in Week 11. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, the Steelers lost a close affair with a final score of 37-30.
With the loss in Week 11, the Steelers are now 3-7 in the 2022 NFL season. The offense disappeared in the second half, and the Steelers defense did not do much to stop Bengals running back Samaje Perine from logging three receiving touchdowns. This loss ultimately comes down to a collapse of execution on both sides of the ball.
On the other hand, the Bengals raised their record to 6-4 and kept their playoff hopes alive in anticipation of the return of superstar wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase. Now with the Steelers' loss in the books, let's look at three Pittsburgh players who were most responsible for the final outcome of this disappointing game.
The talented rookie out of Georgia logged another solid performance, tallying four receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals. Despite the box score being kind to Pickens, he does shoulder a fair amount of responsibility for the Steelers' loss. A pair of crucial drops in critical moments of the game, one late in the second quarter and another in the fourth quarter, very well could have turned the L into a W.
Every George Pickens target vs the Bengals ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/Jm2vcsqfY8
— Dynasty Nerds 🤓 (@DynastyNerds) November 21, 2022
The first drop is quickly erased by a scoring play a mere handful of minutes later. Unfortunately, the second slipped right through Pickens' hands in what would have likely been a walk-in touchdown. To make matters worse, Pickens committed an Unnecessary Roughness penalty against Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd that got him ejected late in the game.
— Mouthguard (@MouthguardPod) November 21, 2022
It is difficult to say that the penalty significantly impacted the game's final outcome, but unneeded penalties in the midst of a last-ditch effort are never a good thing. So while Pickens is not the worst offender from Week 11, his spot on this list feels warranted.
2. The Steelers' defense
According to Over The Cap, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is the highest-paid unit in the entire NFL in 2022, with salaries that amount to nearly $110 million. However, with marquee talents like reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year TJ Watt, former All-Pros defensive end Cameron Heyward and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, this team should, on paper, be far more productive than it is.
Thus far in 2022, the Steelers defense has allowed the seventh-highest points per game against (24.4) and sixth-most total yards to opposing offenses (3,755), according to Pro Football Reference. Sunday's meager effort only further highlighted the deficiencies of this unit, as the Bengals totaled the third-highest team yardage total (408) the Steelers have allowed all season.
After running back Joe Mixon left the game with a concussion, backup Samaje Perine came into the game and tallied three receiving touchdowns on four receptions and 52 yards, in addition to the 30 he added on the ground rushing. Not to suggest that Perine is not a talented athlete in his own right, but the 27-year-old abusing the Steelers' defense the way he did is inexcusable.
1. Matt Canada
The offense completely fell apart after a solid first-half effort that saw the Steelers leading 20-17 at halftime. The offense, led by offensive coordinator Matt Canada, posted a pathetic 52 total yards on their first six drives of the second half. Not to dismiss or excuse the poor defensive play that saw the Bengals put up 20 points in the second half, but the offense did nothing to keep this game competitive.
At some point, general manager Omar Khan and the Steelers front office will have to look at the team and make some tough decisions. However, head coach Mike Tomlin, the second-longest tenured head coach in the NFL, is almost assuredly safe, barring some insane twist of events no observers of the sport would expect. Canada, however, is not as secure.
The Steelers' offense ranks fifth-worst in the league in total offensive yards (3,122) and points per game (17.0) in 2022, according to Pro Football Reference. Making a quarterback change at the beginning of the season and handing the reigns over to an inexperienced rookie in Kenny Pickett probably has to do with this poor performance. That much is fair. However, criticisms of Canada date back to last year, too. This is not the first time his prowess as a play-caller has been questioned. At this point, Canada not only shoulders a lot of blame, but the Steelers need to move on from him.