Flopping in Miami: Steelers at Dolphins

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(AP Photo)

This is another of those game recaps nobody wants to write. It’s easy and fun to write about a win, but I find with a loss, especially one as disheartening as this one, it’s difficult to force oneself to focus on the task at hand, being as one would prefer to forget the whole thing. So this will be one of those “highlights and lowlights” sort of posts, and we will leave the heavy hitting for Tuesday.

What Was Awesome

1. Darrius Heyward-Bey end-around

That was pretty sweet. And exciting. And impressive. I hope they keep that one in the playbook.

2. Cobi Hamilton in the end zone

That one too.

3. Le’Veon Bell’s running, while they were still running the ball

No explanation required.

4. Daniel McCuller’s blocked field goal

As far as I can tell, the last time the Steelers blocked a field goal was against the Bengals in 2011. (Cameron Heyward made the block.)

Well, that was fun. Now to the not-so-fun part of the write-up.

What Sucked

How can I count the ways? There are so many things to choose from, I’ll just plunge in until I can’t bear it anymore.

1. Ben Roethlisberger

I read an item in Saturday’s Tribune-Review which noted the following:

Over the past three seasons — more than enough time for it to be a mere aberration or small sample size — Roethlisberger’s home/road splits are striking: His touchdown-to-interception ratio at Heinz Field is 51 to 13, while in other stadiums it is 17 to 16. He’s averaging 341.5 passing yards at home; 286.3 on the road. His passer rating splits (111.5 to 88.3) and, most notably, win-loss record (14-3 to 9-7) also differ greatly when he plays the majority of a home game as opposed to one away from home.

And while Roethlisberger is riding the third-longest streak of home games with a touchdown pass (41), he has an away-game streak, too. He has thrown at least one interception in every road game he has played the past two seasons.

Needless to say, yesterday’s game did nothing to improve his road stats. Ben never had a chance to get comfortable, and then he got injured.

Although I noted in my second-quarter preview that the Steelers should beat the Dolphins handily, I found myself getting more and more uncomfortable about this prediction as I read a bit more about the team.

First, Adam Gase cut two offensive linemen last week. According to local news reports, the message was received loud and clear by the remaining players. Second, the defensive coordination reportedly reamed out his defense for not performing better. Given the pedigree of the defensive line especially, their poor performance was puzzling.

These two things could have had the effect of creating yet more chaos. But I feared they might in fact prove fruitful, and indeed they did. The Dolphins were playing as if they had something to play for—like their jobs. The Steelers played like guys missing important pieces to their team—which they were.

And the biggest victim was Ben himself, as he was hurried and harassed the second the Steelers stopped running the ball. He did not play better with a knee injury, either, which should surprise no one.

I did wonder why Mike Tomlin didn’t take him out of the game with less than a minute to play and little chance of winning. I don’t imagine getting slammed to the ground four more times probably helped his knee, and it certainly didn’t do anything for the score, either. But Tomlin would undoubtedly say he doesn’t live in his fears. So now the rest of us will have to live in ours until we find out just how bad the knee is.

And this, I suppose, is as good moment as any to let the whining begin. Because on the play Ben hurt his knee, it seemed odd that it would be that bad from the little twist he got from the guy holding his foot. But as they replayed the interception a few times I noticed that as the Miami DB who caught the ball was running it back one of the other Miami defenders ran over to Ben and slammed him to the ground.

I don’t know whether that did the damage, or more damage, or is immaterial, but I was surprised that, given the vast display of yellow laundry the refs were tossing around, they didn’t seem to care how late Ben was being hit. But I suppose we should be used to that…

2. The Rest of the Offense

Antonio Brown didn’t manage to get out of bounds at a point in which it was critical to save every second. Eli Rogers dropped what might well have been a touchdown pass. Sammie Coates was present but little use, although whether he should have even been in the game, what with seven stitches and a broken index finger, is a good question. The offensive line apparently badly needs Marcus Gilbert back. In other words, on a day when Ben needed all the help he could get, he wasn’t getting enough.

3. The Defense

How is it that the team with the 31st-ranked running attack could run practically at will against the Steelers? Did the Steelers’ D just run out of healthy bodies? As far as I could tell, they weren’t any worse off, personnel-wise, than they were the past couple of weeks.

Whatever the case, the “Gumband Defense” which bends but doesn’t break suddenly became the “Gumband that you find in the back of the drawer that’s been there for 20 years and cracks when you pick it up” defense. Like the offense, there were a few good individual plays, but generally speaking the Miami offense was moving down the field way too easily and scoring way too often.

4. Special Teams

Chris Boswell didn’t get the opportunity to miss a field goal, but probably would have, given the way the day was going. Jordan Berry wasn’t as impressive as he has been, and the Dolphins began a couple of drives after a punt with excellent field position.

5. The Refs

Of course as a Steelers fan I will complain about calls that weren’t made, such as the uncalled horse collar tackle on Le’Veon Bell that should have kept a drive alive, or the uncalled block in the back on Jarvis Jones. But what’s really annoying is when the refs make themselves the focus of the game. I was pleased about some of the penalties, such as the illegal formation call which nullified a Miami touchdown, but overall I would have been happier with a lot less of the Ref Show.

The absolute nadir of the refereeing was the non-penalty which nonetheless nullified the Miami onside kick which the Steelers recovered. At the least, the Dolphins should have been penalized for running a play before the refs signaled they were ready. That one really hurt.

What Comes Next

A seriously thorough film session, I hope, along with a LOT of soul-searching as to why the Steelers are playing so badly away from Heinz Field. After all, like it or not, they have to play eight games on the road.

In some ways the Steelers escaped a bullet, as both the Ravens and the Bengals obligingly lost their games. (Well, Cleveland lost as well, but as this makes them 0-6 it isn’t really germane.) But Mike Tomlin and his staff need to go back to the drawing board and figure out why this team can blow out decent teams one week and lose badly to poor ones the next.

It could just be the luck of the draw, Any Given Sunday, the Next Man Up not being up for the job, however else you want to parse it. But they need to find some answers, and quickly. In the meantime, let us sincerely hope that those answers won’t have to also take into account an injury layoff for Ben. Because the Super Bowl Train is going to derail pretty fast without him.

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