On Second Thought: Steelers at Dolphins

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Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Ivan Cole

Here is a hardcore assessment of some of the flaws in the Steelers approach that stand between them and greatness.

It’s Le’Veon stupid! People who know me will hear an ongoing joke concerning the egos of offensive coordinators. Remember two Super Bowls ago when the geniuses that run the Seattle Seahawk offense had the ball inside New England’s two-yard line and an unstoppable force in Marshawn Lynch. But, of course, giving the ball to Lynch is what they would be expecting us to do, so let’s trick ‘em!

I talk often with Jimmie Jones, a defensive end who played for Washington under George Allen. As former defensive linemen (he at a much higher level) we agree on one thing. The most devastating, demoralizing thing you can do to a defense is not the quick strike bombs or reverses, as spectacular as they can be. It’s those simple things that you may know are coming but you simply cannot stop.

Vince Lombardi’s Packers didn’t trick anyone. They ran one play that no one could stop. And it broke opponents backs psychologically. Just review, if you can, their championship matchups against the Dallas Cowboys, a team that was all about being clever, and see what happened.

Pittsburgh understood that as well as anyone. At least they used to. I remember Dwight White remarking on the slick Dallas approach and how it came up short when confronted with a team of similar talent who simply resorted to punching folks in the mouth.

The similar talent point is important. When you don’t have the talent then trickery might well be the best tool you have in the box. But this not the case with Pittsburgh, particularly now. Occam’s razor, folks. The simplest solution is the best.

You have the best offensive weapon in the league. The only time he has been stopped in three weeks is when Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger have refused to put the ball in his hands. But that would be too boring.

This is not an issue peculiar to this game. And to be consistent with the criticism, it was true under Arians as well. Game after game, season after season, I have watched the Steelers offense march partially down the field against a defense that is utterly helpless to stop them, and then at the moment where slipping the dagger between the ribs would finish the job, they decide to ‘take a shot’.

And if that fails, as low percentage plays are wont to do, they take another shot. The drive stalls and they punt or kick a field goal. The opponent breathes a sigh of relief, still in the game, their self-esteem intact.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not that conservative. You want to pass on third and short, I am fine with that. But why line up in an empty backfield set where the defense doesn’t even deal with the conundrum of having to guess whether it might be a run or a pass? What is wrong with you?

So, instead of taking his chances with Le’Veon, Ben throws to the second year receiver with the broken finger in triple coverage. Interception.

Not to be outdone, Landry Jones ignores Bell in favor of the reserve tight end, the blocking one, but can’t throw a good enough ball to have it be intercepted. I repeat, what is wrong with you? Most days the Steelers prove to be sufficiently talented to overcome this nonsense. But then there are the days like yesterday. So here is some unsolicited advice from me to Mike Tomlin.

Style points don’t matter. Tomlin usually directs these sort of comments to the defense. Time to make the point to the OC and the quarterback. Secure your dominance on the scoreboard first, no matter how boring that process might be, and then you can take all the shots you want.

In fact, as the opposing defense has to commit more resources to stopping your bell cow, the likelihood of those shots working increase exponentially. This is common sense.

Living in your fears from time to time can be a good thing. I suspect that the trap game phenomenon is a direct result of not being afraid and allowing egos to run wild. The adage about any given Sunday is forgotten. When confronted with the real possibility of failure there is more disciplined play.

Here is the template against an ‘inferior’ team. Crush their spirit early. Get a big lead. Destroy all hope. And then you can get as slick as you want. But not before. Because the longer they remain in the game, the worse it is for you. If it is tied or just a one score advantage after a quarter of play, you might as well say you’re losing.

There are limits to the Standard is the Standard. Bell, Antonio Brown, Ben and Ryan Shazier make more money for a reason. If those players are available, those are who you use until they are taken away, and then you have the others step up.

Okay, rant over. I feel better now.

P.S. See how demoralizing boring can be when you can’t stop the run?

10 comments

  • Can’t put blame on the defense this game. The last rushing TD was demoralizing, but they were a battered and tired group. The offense did their best to keep the defense ON the field today. We hung in there the best we could but our offense just refused to be helpful to the cause.

    I agree completely Ivan. Some of the decisions Haley (and Arians) have made in the face of a lesser foe is to get cute. It almost seemed like they went into the game with no game plan at all.

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  • I agree with your take on this. Especially the part about early domination. Not only do you show the inferior team who’s boss, you refuse to feed any notion that they are going to be in the game. Too many times, we let them hang around and then start to question ourselves.

    Side note – Why the hell are we running the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs? Have the return men not heard we get the ball on the 25 if we take a knee. I don’t remember any returns beyond the 25. Usually we are woefully short of the 25. Particularly egregious is the return late in the game last week when we still had a ghost of a chance and returned it to the 12 yard line. Seriously? Just piss away 12 yards for nothing. Sheer idiocy. Geeeeez, take a damn knee.

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    • I was watching the game at the house of a hard-bitten former Pittsburgh woman living in the heart of Broncos country. About the time the Dolphins got the first touchdown she threw up her hands and said “Now they think they can play.” Prophetic words.

      To be fair, both the balls that were returned were short, or almost short, of the end zone. Can’t take the chance that the ball is spotted at the 1. It’s surely possible to get more than one yard… IIRC. I’ll go back and watch, but I remember thinking at the time that the ball had to be run back, unfortunately.

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  • Next man up is getting old to me. If he was as good or better than the man in front of him, he wouldn’t be next man up. He would be first man up.

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    • So true. If only we could use the First Man Up in the first place…

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    • Something to remember though is that the “next man up” could be very close in skill level to the “first man up” or is somewhat of an unknown that may or may not prove themselves. Really, this is the entire reason we have backups, right? I do agree though, it would be nice just to be able to stay with the “first man up”.

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  • I know the final decision always rests with the head coach but I have always wondered how many actual plays Ben calls during a game on average. Looks like he audibles a good bit. He likes to take big play shots on 3rd and 1. Those are the low percentage long bombs Ivan talks about that often end a long drive and let the other team rest their D. I am left saying to the TV, damn it was 3rd and 1 man:/
    So I wonder, does the coach let future HOF QB Big Ben sling it all day when he really shouldn’t? How much control does a head coach have over a Roethlisberger, a Brady, or a Arron Rodgers? Is it just ego getting in the way of team? I see lots of people complaining about the defense but I agree with mtsnot.
    I don’t know a lot about the X’s and O’s but I really miss a well managed and balanced game. I think our special teams are doing pretty well and our defense certainly has plenty to improve upon but they are not going to hold teams to 9 points in this modern game. Is it just ego we are seeing when the QB is having an off day but the game plan does not change and he just keeps slinging it everywhere?
    I really liked this article. Best back in the league VS one of the worst run defenses in the league. Geeeze even I can figure that one out.

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  • I didn’t mention this in the article, but when I interviewed the late Bill Nunn he spoke to just this issue. He said in essence that the coordinators are being paid so much money that they have to feel they are doing something, making things far more complicated than they have to be. Getting the ball into Bell’s hands? Too simple.

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  • Yea that makes sense.

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