Steelers

Lolley’s 10 Thoughts: How deep is this hole? ☕

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Mason Rudolph (2) lines up to take a snap against the Seahawks -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Ben Roethlisberger is injured. How badly, we don't know yet. But it sure doesn't look good.

When a quarterback -- or anyone who throws a ball for a living -- has an arm injury without any obvious contact, it's never a good thing.

And when we later learn Roethlisberger was dealing with some elbow soreness earlier in the week, things start to make a little more sense.

Roethlisberger struggled with some throws in the Steelers' season-opening loss against the Patriots. And while he didn't exactly light it up in this latest loss -- a 28-26 defeat to the Seahawks that dropped the Steelers to 0-2 -- he didn't look particularly sharp, either.

Could an elbow injury be to blame? Perhaps.

The Week 1 issues were blamed on "rust." After all, even though Roethlisberger practiced a lot in the offseason — more than he had the past couple of seasons — he played sparingly; just one game in the preseason.

But to be honest, it was tough to point to any of that Sunday. Yes, he was 8 of 15 for just 75 yards in the first half, but two passes were batted down at the line of scrimmage that could have gone for nice gains.

We'll find out more on Monday about Roethlisberger's status, but things don't look good for a guy who has thrown 7,215 passes in his NFL career -- and probably a couple of hundred thousand more in practice.

The early hope for the team is the quarterback was just dealing with some tendonitis. The biggest fear? Something far, far worse.

• So where would it leave the Steelers if Roethlisberger were to miss significant time?

Well, they'd be in trouble, obviously. An 0-2 hole is tough enough to climb out of with your starting quarterback healthy.

Mason Rudolph can play this game. He showed that again on Sunday, going 12 for 19 for 112 yards, two touchdowns and an interception that wasn't his fault -- more on that to come.

But given the way things have looked thus far, a veteran quarterback with a strong arm might be the only thing that could help this team.

Opposing teams are daring the Steelers to go deep. They're not showing a ton of respect for the team's receiving options. And that's why the running game is going nowhere.

When there are 10 guys within eight yards of the line of scrimmage on every snap, it's going to be tough sledding in the run game unless you get everyone blocked up perfectly.

Rudolph has shown some ability to throw the ball deep. But his arm strength is not in Roethlisberger's class -- as we saw on this flea flicker to JuJu Smith-Schuster:

If that pass is out in front of Smith-Schuster, that's a touchdown. Now, the pass did travel 50 yards in the air, but that's about it for Rudolph.

Doesn't mean he can't be successful. The Steelers can tailor some things to his talents if need be, which is what they did in this game. Halftime was spent with Rudolph and offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner going over Rudolph's favorite plays from the work week.

"It was 'What do you like on third downs?' 'What do you like on first-and-10?' 'What are your favorite passes? Runs?' Rudolph told me after the game. "So we had a chance to kind of talk through that. It does help."

There's a good chance we'll see an entire game plan next week in San Francisco that will be entirely tailored for Rudolph.

Of course, the 49ers also will have a full week to prepare for Rudolph.

• So are the Steelers done?

No. There are still 14 games remaining. Yes, the Ravens are 2-0, but those two wins came against the Dolphins and Cardinals. Their schedule gets markedly more difficult from here on out, while the Steelers still have games left against those two teams.

In fact, it starts this week for the Ravens, who travel to Kansas City next weekend.

And the Browns already dropped a game at home last week to the Titans.

But there are reasons for concern. First and foremost are those receivers.

Donte Moncrief had another pass clang off his hands Sunday. And this one turned into an interception.

He didn't play again after that, nor should he have.

And rookie Devin Bush is still learning his way against the pass. Bush is a missile when playing the run. He's got the speed and ability to change direction, to be a very good pass defender.

But he's also got a long way to go in that regard. He didn't see NFL-level quarterbacks on a weekly basis playing in the Big 10. And he didn't see passing schemes with the intricate designs he's seeing now.

He'll get better, just as Ryan Shazier improved the more he played.

But Moncrief already has five drops in the first two games. Yes, he had a finger injury in the preseason that might still be bothering him. If that's the case, he should sit until it's healed. Because right now, his inability to secure the ball is hurting the team.

• Plenty of fingers are being pointed at the defense. But it's being forced to play way too many snaps.

The Seahawks ran 49 plays in their opener against the Bengals. They ran 72 plays against the Steelers.

And it wasn't because they were having great third-down success. The Seahawks were 5 of 13 on third downs, a 38 percent conversion rate.

Seattle had 12 possessions in this game. Twelve. The Seahawks held the ball for 35:46.

And people wonder why, on a day on which the game-time temperature was 81 degrees, the defense would allow a fourth-and-1 conversion on the 68th play it was on the field?

"We’re just not keeping drives going. We want to run the ball the whole game. But we’ve got to get up and control the game. We haven’t been in control," Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro said. "The other teams have been in control and our defense has been out there too much."

That doesn't excuse the defense giving up some big plays. Anthony Chickillo completely blew his outside contain on a 37-yard touchdown run in the third quarter by Rashaad Penny, for example.

But the offense also had four three-and-outs on 11 possessions and went 3 of 11 on third downs. That's not winning football.

• At least Chris Boswell seems to be fixed.

Boswell has now made all three of his field goal attempts this season, including kicks of 41 and 33 yards Sunday.

The Steelers would have loved to have given him one more shot in this game to show he was all the way back.

• How impressive was Rudolph in this game? Consider what the Saints -- with what is considered superior firepower -- produced Sunday with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm instead of an injured Drew Brees.

Bridgewater, who's played a lot more snaps in his career than Rudolph, completed 17 of 30 passes for 165 yards. With Alvin Kamara to hand the ball to and Michael Thomas on hand to catch passes.

Rudolph finished this game off with James Conner watching from the sidelines after suffering a knee injury.

• The time has come to give up on Mike Hilton covering slot receivers.

I have a lot of respect for Hilton, who is a self-made man and fought his way into the NFL. But the Steelers gave up the second-most completions and fifth-most yardage to slot receivers last year and then allowed 15 catches for 270 yards three touchdowns on slot routes in Week 1.

Seattle slot receiver Tyler Lockett had 10 catches for 79 yards in this game. And while they didn't all come from the slot -- or against Hilton -- Cameron Sutton should be playing.

As much as anything, the Steelers continue to play Hilton because of his blitzing ability. If they want to do that, use him as one of the two slots in the dime.

Sutton should be playing in the nickel.

• Have we seen the end of Ryan Switzer as the punt returner? Perhaps. He muffed his only attempt in this game and was replaced by rookie Diontae Johnson.

Johnson had another concentration lapse in this game -- giving him two dropped passes in the first two games.

But he also did this:

That was a big-time third-down conversion on a ball that was thrown too far inside.

The rookie needs to keep playing. He can be a difference maker on this team.

• The Steelers have now played six games -- counting the preseason -- and have intercepted two passes, both of which came in the preseason finale at Carolina.

They had two passes defended against the Seahawks. They had one in Week 1 against the Patriots.

This after an offseason of preaching turnovers.

The Steelers did have two fumble recoveries against the Seahawks, but one came on a botched handoff. Those cannot be counted on from week to week.

Tom Brady and Russell Wilson are two of the best quarterbacks in the league. That is undeniable. But you have to at least get a hand on a pass more than every once in a while.

• What happened to the Steelers with the pass interference penalty called after replay on Terrell Edmunds is exactly the kind of penalty many people -- including myself -- feared when the league made that play reviewable.

And Al Riveron didn't clear up anything with his explanation of the call after the game. Especially not after watching some other reviews from Sunday that didn't wind up as penalties.

It's not the reason why the Steelers lost. But it sure didn't help. To this point, unless there was "clear and obvious" pass interference, the call on the field hadn't been overturned. Until this game.

That was a 38-yard penalty on a third-and-20 play on which the Seahawks offense had already snapped the ball and Wilson had handed off, waiving the white flag.

The Heinz Field crowd was fired up. The Steelers were fired up. And the Steelers would have gotten the ball back in decent field position.

Instead, the stadium had the life sucked right out of it. The same could be said of the Steelers.

These guys are professionals and are paid to handle those kind of momentum swings. But they're also human.

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