5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers, Wild Card Edition

via Steelers.com

by Hombre de Acero

It looked bleak, very bleak there for a while, but the Pittsburgh Steelers prevailed over the Cincinnati Bengals 18-16 in one of the most improbable comebacks in franchise history since the Immaculate Reception.

Mike Tomlin refuses to talk about the Cincinnati game, instead favoring a focus on the AFC Divisional showdown with Denver. That’s a smart move on the part of the Steelers standard bearer, but before this corner of Steelers Nation can firmly fix its eyes forward, it must first struggle with these 5 Smoldering Questions on the Steelers.

1. Our own Ivan Cole was one of the first to draw a comparison between this playoff comeback and the Immaculate Reception. Playoff comebacks provide the ultimate buzz, but not all are created equal. The Immaculate Reception and the 2005 AFC Divisional Playoff win were transformational, whereas the 1989 Steelers upset of the Oilers at the Astrodome and the 2002 Tommy Maddox were sensational but not paradigm shifting for the franchise.

Time will give us our answer as to the nature of the comeback in Cincinnati, but how do you see this one playing out in the long term, from where you sit today?

 2. If we had opened the 5 Smolderings back in September saying “In the Steelers’ first playoff game this season their running backs will combine for 183 all purpose yards…” you’d have believed it and assumed it was the work of Le’Veon Bell, with a little help from his friends.

If I’d told you “Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman” would author this feat, you’d have asked “Who?” and then told Rebecca “The Hombre’s had too much Mendoza Red with his Tango lessons, get him out of here!”

But accomplish that feat they did. And that gives us our question.

Does Toussaint and Todman’s accomplishment vindicate Kevin Colbert’s ability to scouring the waiver wire and scout quality street free agents, or does it vindicate Mike Tomlin’s “Next man up” philosophy?

Students who try to have it both ways will be marked down. You must make a choice and defend it.

3. Writers from BTSC’s Tony Defeo, the Tribune-Review’s Joe Starkey, and MMQB’s Peter King have suggested in some form or fashion that Joey Porter took to the field to goad the Bengals into committing a penalty. Now, Dale Lolley has offered evidence to the contrary.

Who do you believe?

4. Ben Roethlisberger’s status for Sunday remains in doubt, and Mike Tomlin has confirmed that Landry Jones will get the majority of reps in practice. Given how uninspiring Landry Jones’ play was against the Bengals, do you think it would be wise to consider playing Mike Vick if Ben can’t make a go of it?

5. Your phone rings. The inbound number has a 412 area code. You answer. Mike Tomlin is on the other end. He asks you for advice on game planning for the best way to beat Denver. What do you tell him?

This is going to be fun. I’ve been coming up with game plans for the past three days…

Please submit your answers to the proctor, and don’t forget to show your work. Make us proud, Steeler Nation!


  • 1. I see the history of this game being something that might galvanize Bengals fans while Steelers fans just roll our eyes at them (in a few years). The media will make a big deal of it each time we play, and it will be such a worn out topic the next time we meet in the playoffs. What will be lost is the fact that, although we came back to win the game, we led for roughly 58 out of 60 minutes. They want to scream that we stole it from them, no….we just took it back. They had no business being in a position to win to begin with.

    2. I will say that it is more Colbert than Tomlin on this one. It is Colbert’s job to find the people that Tomlin needs. It is Tomlin’s job to make sure that those players are as ready as possible to play when needed. Colbert has hit and missed in that department, but so has the coaching.

    3. I think that Porter was out there with Brown’s health and safety in mind first and foremost. I don’t think that he really needed to be out there, but there are often many sideline personnel on the field when an injury like that happens. This video is a pretty good recap of what happened: https://youtu.be/wysECduSPfk There is no evidence of Porter running his mouth like they said he did, and he certainly did nothing to instigate anything. Of course, he may well have done/said something off camera before he was in frame that was getting the Bengals riled up. When the trainer reacts to Burfict’s attempt to pat Brown on the shoulder and Joey steps in, the Bengals on the field all get a little hyped up. Gilberry comes way over to try to intimidate Porter (do any of them actually know who Joey is?), and the rest start to fall into the mob/follow mentality. The main question that is not being asked: why the hell were the Bengals players so close to Brown to begin with in that situation? I remember watching the game that it was odd that they were basically congregating around him while he was being attended to. They had no business being there. What it ultimately comes down to is this: they are professional football players. They should have known better than to do anything that would even remotely be considered out of line. I am sure that the coaches of both teams reminded them of the chippy game played a few weeks prior, and the league went as far to address this situation and let everyone know to stay in line. They should have just turned their backs on Porter and left it at that. OR, and here’s a novel thought: maybe one of their coaches or sideline personnel should have been on the field moving them away from an injured player because they had even less business being in that area than Porter did. Regardless of what Porter may or may not have said or done, the fault lies squarely on the Bengals for their actions. Even if he did bait them into it, it is still their fault.

    4. Oh, hell no. Vick should get a hat just o have an emergency QB suited up. He has no business playing in this game unless Ben and Landry are both unable to play.

    5. Wow, this is a hard one. I think that the best game plan is to instill some 2008 confidence and swagger into our defense and 2005 confidence into our O-line. If Ben is going to be as limited as we think he is, then the D has got to keep us in this game again. I don’t see how we can have many 5 or 7 step drops to set up long passes and continue to expose Ben to the possibility of taking big hits from the Denver D. I think that the game plan is our D playing their best game of the season, and our O-Line opening some very big holes for TnT.


  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    1) This game had a feeling of something historic. I don’t expect we have enough healthy players to ride it the rest of the way to SB but it will be etched in the hearts and minds of the current players. Considering how young many of them are, that should lead to great things in the future. I will not be surprised to see this team in the SB next season.

    2) Grades never did motivate me, which lead to a spotty and inconsistent academic career (13 years of night school to get my double major), and this time will be no exception. Colbert provides the best raw material he can, Tomlin makes the best of it. In the case of the running backs, I think they both know what they need for this type of offence.

    3) Lolley. Considering the high emotions and the lack of control being exhibited by the Bengals defence, having Porter out there was a good idea. The penalty that occurred was all on the Bengals. They probably should have received more than one for their antics.

    4) I would dress Tyler Murphy before I dressed Vick.

    5) I don’t answer long distance calls unless I recognize the number and I mean more than the area code. I average at least a couple of spam calls a day. Caller ID is invaluable. If I did talk to Tomlin, I would say the Steelers need to outscore Denver but I suspect he knows that already.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Toronto Steeler Fan

    1. I think it will have a galvanizing effect on this particular edition of the Steelers but not so much as those other games did on the ’70s team and the ’00s team. Those were also young teams but the difference is that the franchise QB in this case is not young. It very much has the potential to be the touchstone game that defines the character of the team for a decade but because Ben is well into the last half of his career, it will only be so for as long as he’s playing.

    2. I think it shows that Tomlin in particular has finally taken the issue of having viable backups and depth seriously, which has been a complaint of mine for a number of years. First they signed DeAngelo Williams and then they managed to give TNT enough reps during the season to perform adequately as D-Will’s backup. I’ll also note that the rotations that they deploy at all levels of the defense is another way in which they’ve developed depth and a viable response to injury to front-line players.

    3. Porter is a really smart guy who knows exactly how to get under the skin of the opponent (just like Hines Ward). My own guess is that he was out there to see to Brown. However, when the Bungles asked him for a match which they could use to light the mountain of dynamite that they had piled up on top of their hopes for victory, he took the opportunity to hand it to them (with a smile).

    4. I dress Ben, Landry Jones and Tyler Murphy. Vick is done. Murphy at least gives you the opportunity to be creative and show the Broncos something that isn’t on film.

    5. I would ask him what he tells his players and then repeat it back to him.


    • Honestly, I would guess that Mike Tomlin knows the importance of depth. The Steelers have always had 3 QB’s during his time, to cite one example.

      The Steelers depth HAS been thin of late, (think of 2013 when Pouency AND Larry Foote went down) but I think that had a lot more to do with the Steelers still being in Salary Cap Purgatory than any lack of appreciation of depth on the part of either Tomlin or Colbert.


  • 1 – I think it will fade from memory relatively quickly. The Bengals may never forget it, but the Steelers just move on. Think about it…how often do we think about Kimo hitting Palmer? Almost never? Because that wasn’t the biggest thing… beating the Colts..winning the SB..those were bigger. This comeback will fade because it will inevitably be replaced by something far better.

    For the Bengals? It’ll remain at the top…because their top remains the annual 1st round flame out.

    2 – I think it vindicates the ‘Next Man Up’ philosophy, which didn’t really need vindication. It has worked out far more often than it hasn’t. If a player is in the NFL, they have ability — even many who are on the fringe…waiting for that phone call or standing outside a stadium with a sign.. they have ability to play the game. However it comes down to opportunity and belief. Tomlin provides both – he builds up all of his players to believe that when they get their shot, it will be legitimate in all aspects, including expectations.

    3 – I think Porter went out to help…but wouldn’t have minded if his presence created issues. However, the video shows that he didn’t barge into the Cincy players, etc. He was next to the official and/or AB the entire time. Bengals players reacted negatively, but that is on them.

    4 – No. Landry has been in the offense, he has shown chemistry with Bryant and Wheaton. If AB can’t go, that’ll be fine. Vick showed he had no chemistry with any player, little grasp of the offense, and the same ol’ inability to see over linemen. Stick with Landry, for better or worse.

    5 – “You should have drafted Rollins. Now go call Homer J for advice on offense.”


  • 1) They went to war together. This was the ultimate bonding experience. The team’s leader, Ben, played through his pain and injuries. They kept their composure when their opponents did not. This team now has locker room leadership and self-discipline similar to what it had when Pottsie was in charge. There are a ton of younger guys on this team. They grew up. This was absolutely a transformative experience, no matter what happens this weekend. These guys will never be the same.

    2) Good question, but the key is that neither guy fears for his job, and they work together so closely. I give Colbert credit for finding the right people, because you can only “coach ’em up” so much. But I also give Tomlin credit for giving free agents are fair shot. Free agents often have a choice of where to play….and they will narrow their choices to those places where they think they’ll have the best chance of making the team.

    3) I really don’t know, but it seems to me like Porter’s initial intent was to help. But when the chippin’ kept up, Peezy became Peezy.

    4) Vick seems to be like a half gallon of milk in the back of the fridge that’s two months past the sell date. You don’t want to open it up, yet alone use it. Tyler Murphy is your third guy, because he has shown a far better arm, and Denver has no film on him. Also, since he is a wide receiver, he has a clear knowledge of the patterns and the guys he’s gonna throw to.

    5) Say the following: “Mikey, my boy, you’ve been sprinkled with magic dust. After losing Ben 163 times this year, losing Bell, losing Pouncey, losing Beachum, losing D-Will, losing twice to the Ratbirds, how can you be here? If you didn’t see it two weeks ago when the Jets lost, you saw it Saturday night. You’re the magic team. So run the ball down their throats, blitz the hell out of their QB’s, and, if Ben can’t go, don’t be shy about unleashing Tyler Murphy. You’re sprinkled with magic dust, so, with the luck of the Irish, what can you lose? And make sure you order up an extra large portion of magic dust this week. Obviously.”

    Magic dust. That’s the ticket.

    Liked by 1 person

  • 1) There is no comparison to the Immaculate Reception or any other comeback that was due to a good football play. This was just another Bengals meltdown and as such will probably not be thought of by Steelers fans much at all. It did have the makings of being one of the best comebacks, with Ben coming back into the game and leading them down the field for a Boswell game winner, which could have happened.

    2) Yes… on both counts

    3) Without a doubt, Lolley. It all took place in front of several officials and I am sure that if Porter was stirring things up would have thrown the flag. They WERE trying to keep the game in check. Actually they could have flagged Gilberry for the chest bump, Burfict for grabbing him or for impeding Norwig helping Brown off of the field, and the Bengals team for milling around an injured player from the other team. Bengals fans are screaming about Porter being there, what about why were their players all milling around there.

    4) Jones all the way. He may not be the ideal option, but he is still a better one than Vick.

    5) If Tomlin called me, I would tell him that if he needs to come to me for advice they are already in trouble because he is supposed to know more about it than me. I do think that it comes down to our offensive line. Can they keep our QB upright?

    Liked by 1 person

  • 4. Usually don’t disagree with what seems to be a community consensus, but I will this time. Yes, I do dress Michael Vick if there are doubts about Ben’s ability to finish this game. How he might be used will be highlighted in #5.

    Let’s review Vick’s history to this point with the Steelers.
    – Joined the team in August. Had virtually no time to get familiarity and reps in the system.
    – Replaced injured Roethisberger in St. Louis. Performed competent game management. Got us out of the stadium.
    – Started against Baltimore and the general consensus was he played well enough for us to win. We lost because:
    a. Antonio Brown dropped a well thrown pass from Vick for a touchdown. We ran Emmanuel Sanders out of town for dropping a more difficult throw against the Ravens that cost us a game. But the mass psyche of Steelers Nation is that Vick can do no right and AB can do no wrong. That miscue was on Brown and it was a difference maker.
    b. Haley’s decision to not use Le’Veon Bell in the end.
    c. Josh Scobee.
    -Struggled through much of the game against San Diego, but was also the reason Pittsburgh won the game based upon the final two drives.
    -Stunk against Arizona. And that, apparently is how we have chosen to evaluate his entire body of work.

    This why I consider Vick as part of equation.
    1. While he is clearly not the player he was in his prime, he is not nearly as utterly useless as many of you imagine (wish) him to be.
    2. These are the playoffs and Vick has an impressive playoff pedigree. Landry Jones is a fourth string quarterback who has played on complete regular season game in his career. Tyler Murphy hasn’t played a complete game as a receiver much less a quarterback. Are you kidding me? If Jones and Murphy were your only options that would be one thing.
    3. I think that he is the worst short to medium range passer of the three quarterbacks, but given the nature of Ben’s injury he may very well have the best deep ball (preseason game vs. Buffalo, Chargers). That would have to be respected if he is in uniform or in the game.

    5. Activate all three quarterbacks, and if Ben is limited go with a three headed monster. Vick comes in running a mobile, read option type package ( I can’t imagine they don’t have something like this given his skill set) with the threat of him connecting with Bryant or Heyward-Bey deep. Ben focuses upon short medium with AB, Heath and Wheaton. Jones plays if Ben is ineffective or unable to continue at some point. Having Ben and Vick available makes Jones more effective in that he can focus more on game management as opposed to having to win the game. It similarly helps Toussaint and Todman. With all three quarterbacks the entire offense is potentially available.


    • I suppose that if either Jones or Vick trots out there against that denver defense… it’ll be time to start researching corners for the draft.


    • Toronto Steeler Fan

      There were two things that really struck me (negatively) about Vick in the three games he appeared in this season:

      1. He seemed really poor at reading the defense. Steelers Depot did some analysis on this after each game (as they usually do) and it’s pretty clear that he’s not good at this, and he never has been. In the past he has hidden this by rolling out of the pocket and reading only half the field. The problem with this now is….

      2. He seemed terrified of being hit out there. In his prime, he would take off running and play aggressively. Now he looked physically afraid, which eliminates the one thing he is really good at – running out of the pocket.

      I just don’t think he has the goods anymore – he did not look like the Vick we’ve seen 3-5 years ago.

      The reason I would dress Tyler Murphy is not because I think he’ll be a great QB. It’s because he’s a guy Denver has never seen before and has no film on, and so the “first time replacement QB effect” that worked so well for Landry Jones is on his side, if only for a couple of drives. Also, he is a threat to run out of the pocket, which is something that Denver won’t plan for – it means they’ll have to change their defense on the fly, which will give us some time to move the ball and score if he comes in before they adjust. Finally, even if Ben does play, he will be limited, and this gives us the opportunity to run some trick plays – like a WR reverse/option to a deep pass, the wildcat, etc. He’s an interesting variable to have out there.


  • 1) Homer said it best. I won’t even try to add to it.

    2) It’s like chicken and egg – they both have to be working. I’m guessing there are cases where Colbert picked/picked up guys Tomlin wasn’t really good at working with, and cases where Colbert picked up guys that turned out to not have enough to be coached. Anything having to do with people is always going to be somewhat of a crap shoot.

    And please don’t assume that the former is a knock on Tomlin. I think I’m a pretty open person, and willing to work with anyone, but the truth is there are always going to be people you just don’t click with, and it’s harder to help them. It doesn’t matter if you are a Belichickian sort who treats people as cogs in a machine and rejects them quickly if they don’t fit in the particular slot you want them. It’s quite different if, like Tomlin, you work with them as people. You do your best but aren’t always capable of helping them, either because of deficiencies/misfits in them or you or both.

    3) Answered in last night’s post.

    4) I’m with Ivan – I activate all three, and hope I don’t have to use any of them but Ben. But I have some packages for each guy which minimizes their weaknesses. That said, you can only dress so many guys, and I don’t know how many other choices I have to make which might make the 3rd QB a luxury. If I only dress two I spend a considerable amount of time in prayer and dress Jones. The main advantage to Jones is his game is much closer in style to Roethliberger’s. I wish he were just that little bit closer to being as good as BB…

    5) I would probably faint. And then I would suggest all sorts of exotic packages, such as a sort of triple wildcat using AB (please, Lord, let him be able to play Sunday) and Heath as possible QBs. After I had finally stopped talking, MT would no doubt thank me for the advice, as he did the reporters in his press conference…


  • off topic but I note Hue Jackson has accepted the Cleveland offer of head coach. I guess after Saturday’s game Cleveland doesn’t look so bad after all…


  • HawaiianSteeler86

    1) Making the playoffs and winning in Cincy provides confidence to the team that the “Steeler Way” is the right path for success. Not only for the young leaders of this team (Cam Heyward, Mike Mitchell, Antonio Brown and David Decastro), but also for the new guys (Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, Jesse James and the TnT Boys). That confidence will be display in Denver win or lose. If we get positive play from the QB position, I like our chances.

    2) Kevin Colbert is responsible for getting the “right” players to fit in our system. He learned from the RB meltdown from last year and plugged D-Will and the TnT Boys into the fold.

    3) I loved Toronto Steeler Fan’s response. Hee! Hee!

    4) We have to activate Mike Vick. If Ben can’t go and Landry is stinking up the stadium, then let’s go with Vick. He’s been there on the big stage. Can he get the job done? I believe he still has something left in the tank. Is it enough, I hope we don’t have to find out.

    5) If MT calls me, I say “Mike, Why are you callin’ me? You got this!”

    Liked by 1 person

  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    BTW, Steelers.com suggest this year’s theme is Next Man Up.


  • 1. The young guys will see that organized indiscipline, arrogant ignorance and stupid vanity are the enemy of teamwork and brotherhood. I hope NFL films tells the real story of the events leading up to the field goal because it is a valuable life lesson and it needs to be told.
    2. I think neither. I am sure both running backs would give credit to the O line and to the fact they are somewhat comfortable and familiar with the blocking scheme to some extent. I don’t think talent level was the big factor in the success of the running game.
    3. Rebecca took care of that question.
    4. Dress all three. Ivan’s plan is very interesting. If you are Denver what QB tape are you looking at today? Of course this all depends on Big Ben’s ability to adequately function in the position. Dress all three, give them reps in practice and have a game plan for each that utilizes their strengths and minimizes their weaknesses then roll the dice.
    5. Sorry but I got nothin for this answer.


  • 1. I’d say this game was more of a learning experience for the younger players. AFC North playoff games are always pretty gritty.

    2. I’m with Rebecca on this one.

    3. Porter was probably just making sure AB was alright, then things escalated.

    4. It would be smart to dress them all, even if Ben isn’t able to start. I still don’t trust Landry Jones.

    5. I would advise him to utilize the TE’s and RB’s early and often, and to tell the team to stop committing silly penalties.


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