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Winners and Losers from the Steelers' 23-17 loss to Washington

Updated: Dec 24, 2020


Mike Hilton – Trailing 7-0 with 9:06 remaining in the second quarter Washington decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 34-yard line. Washington was in the shotgun and tight end Logan Thomas went under center and handed the ball off to J.D. McKissic on a jet sweep, which was sniffed out by Mike Hilton for a loss of three yards and Washington turned the ball over on downs. Hilton finished the game with six total tackles (five solos), two tackles for a loss and a pass defensed.

James Washington – All Washington does when he’s on the field is make big plays. Washington had a 30-yard reception in the first quarter to give the Steelers their first down of the game, and then he had a 50-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the second quarter to give the Steelers a 14-0 lead with 3:54 remaining in the first half. On the play, Washington caught a 7-yard pass on a curl route and turned it into a 50-yard touchdown after breaking a tackle from cornerback Kendall Fuller and out-running free safety Deshazor Everett for the score.

T.J. Watt – It was another day at the office for Watt, as he continues to dominate this season and make a case for Defensive Player of the Year. Watt had a sack in the game and now leads the league in sacks with 12, one ahead of his main competition defensive tackle Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams for DPOY. Watt finished the game with six total tackles (five solos), a sack, two tackles for a loss, four quarterback hits and a forced fumble. The Steelers have now recorded a sack in 69 straight games, dating back to 2016 in Week 9 against the Baltimore Ravens. That ties the 1999-2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the longest such streak in the Super Bowl era.


Slow start on offense – The offense went three-and-out on their first two possessions of the game. JuJu Smith-Schuster had a bad drop on third-and-15 on their second drive of the game which would have been a first down. It was the first time that the Steelers went three-and-out on their first two drives of a game since they played the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2 of the 2019 season. The Steelers have had just one touchdown drive on their opening possession this season and that was against the Tennessee Titans in Week 7. Before that, they didn't have an opening drive touchdown since Week 15 of 2018 against the New England Patriots.

Goal-line offense – The Steelers were leading 7-0 with the ball on Washington’s 1-yard line with 6:58 remaining in the second quarter. It appeared that the Steelers would go up 14-0, but Washington stopped the Steelers on five consecutive plays. On second-and-goal, Ben’s pass fell incomplete to Benny Snell Jr. and Washington’s defensive tackle Tim Settle was called for unnecessary roughness, giving the Steelers a new set of downs. On first-and-goal, Snell was tackled for no gain, the same thing happened on second-and-goal. On third-and-goal, Ben’s pass to tackle eligible Jerald Hawkins fell incomplete. On fourth-and-goal, Snell was tackled for no gain for the third time, as defensive end Chase Young beat Eric Ebron across the face and crashed down the line of scrimmage from the left side to tackle Snell and gave the ball back to his offense. Snell had three carries for no gain all from Washington’s 1-yard line. Unbelievable. That’s a massive failure on all parties involved.

Randy Fichtner/Running game – Ben threw 51 passes against the Ravens and had 53 pass attempts today. The Steelers ran the ball just 14 times against Washington, one of those being a Roethlisberger run. On those 14 attempts, they rushed for a season-low 21 yards and had one first down, an average of 1.5 yards per carry. It’s becoming evident that this offensive line can just not run block (while they are excellent at pass blocking, not giving up a sack again today for the fifth straight game). When you have five plays ran from Washington’s 1-yard line (two passes, three runs) and you can’t punch the ball into the end zone that falls on the offensive line and offensive coordinator. The offense needs to be more balanced, but the offensive line just isn't getting the job done right now when it comes to run blocking. If the Steelers don't develop a solid run game they won't go very far in the playoffs. You just can't be that one-dimensional with Roethlisberger throwing over 50 passes. Fichtner's worst play-call of the game came on fourth-and-1 from Washington's 28-yard line with the score tied at 17-17 and 4:53 remaining in the game. Roethlisberger dropped back and threw a pass down the right sidelines to out of all the skill players rookie third-string running back Anthony McFarland Jr. that fell incomplete, resulting in a turnover on downs. The pass was a little behind McFarland and it would have been a tough grab to make. Washington linebacker Jon Bostic prior to the snap was late to getting out to cover McFarland, so that's why Roethlisberger might have targeted McFarland, but Mike Tomlin said after the game that McFarland was "absolutely" the No. 1 option on the play. In a situation like this, there's definitely a better No. 1 option than a running back that's caught just five passes this year. On the previous play, it was third-and-1 and Roethlisberger threw a quick pass intended for Smith-Schuster that fell incomplete. On two plays needing just a yard, Fichtner didn't trust the offensive line to get a yard on a run play. After the debacle on the goal line in the second quarter, I can understand why Fichtner didn't want to run the ball. However, McFarland as the No. 1 option on a pass play on fourth-and-1 and the score tied at 17-17 late in the fourth quarter? There could have been a better play drawn up designed to one of the premier receivers.

The drops (again) – The receivers had nine drops against Baltimore and they had stone hands again today. The Steelers had seven drops in the game. Why all of sudden the receivers can’t catch the ball is mind-boggling and I’m sure it’s extremely frustrating for Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin and wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard. According to Pro Football Focus, the Steelers now lead the league in drops with 34. Johnson is a really good receiver but has been very inconsistent this year, especially when it comes to catching the ball. When Ebron was with the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts, he was known to drop a lot of passes. He had three drops today and it's starting to become a concern in Pittsburgh as well. Just a few weeks ago there were talks of this receivers group being the best in Roethlisberger's career, or at least having the most depth. They certainly haven't looked like it in the last two games. If they didn't already after the Ravens game, the Steelers' receivers need to spend a lot of time catching passes from the JUGS machine this week.

Big pass plays – Smith completed four passes that went for 29 yards or more, two of those completions came on third down as well and both went to wide receiver Cam Sims. On Washington’s first possession of the second half, they faced a third-and-14 from their own 14-yard line and Smith completed a short screen pass to Sims that turned into a 31-yard catch-and-run. Sims’ big third-down reception gave the offense a spark and Peyton Barber capped off the 14-play, 82-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown to cut the Steelers lead to 14-10. Smith also completed a 30-yard pass to Thomas that got Washington to the 1-yard line on the drive. Sims’ other key reception came on third-and-4 with the score tied at 17-17 with 3:10 remaining in the game and the ball was at Washington’s 44-yard line. Sims beat Cam Sutton on the play and hauled in a one-handed grab for 29 yards. Four plays later, Dustin Hopkins made a 45-yard field goal to give Washington a 20-17 lead with 2:04 left in the game. Sims also had a 30-yard catch-and-run late in the second quarter that set up a 49-yard field goal by Hopkins to go into the half down 14-3. Sims finished the game with five receptions for 92 yards (18.4 average) and Thomas had nine receptions for 98 yards (10.9 average) and a touchdown.

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