Close, But No Cigar: Cowboys at Steelers
Well, one good thing about today’s game is that at least my brother is happy. It isn’t the only good thing about today’s game. But in the end close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
And it was ever so close until the last 15 seconds. Even then, had all the two point conversions been good instead of none of them and had Chris Boswell managed to make the 55 yard field goal the Steelers would most likely have won anyhow. (You can’t assume that everything in the game would have gone exactly as it did had the margin been different. And of course it would have been tied at the end had the Cowboys converted their own try.)
So what’s to like? They lost, right? Well, for one thing, the turnover which began the game was heartening and set what I’m sure we all hoped would be the tone for the day. And unlike numerous occasions in recent years, the Steelers managed to turn it into points, and not just three points but six. Six? Er, doh, first unsuccessful 2-point conversion try. Out of four unsuccessful two-point conversion tries.
Ben looked a lot more like himself than he did last week, or at least a lot more like he usually looks at home. He took a couple of lickings and kept on ticking, and that was heartening.
Ladarius Green was actually in uniform, and after a shaky start had three catches for 30 yards. Le’Veon Bell continues to show that if you stop him running for very many yards (he only had 57 yards on 17 attempts) then he can hurt you just as badly in the passing game, or more so (he had 77 yards on 9 catches.) A number of different guys made a contribution in the receiving game, which is necessary given that 2/5 of the starting receivers were out again for however many weeks this has been.
The defense held one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL to field goals and even forced a few punts. At least at first. And by golly, Ezekiel Elliott is all he’s advertised to be. I know now how fans of other teams must feel when they see Le’Veon Bell look like he’s going to get stuffed only to pull out three or four yards from a play that should have been a loss. The kid is amazing. Mike Tomlin didn’t oversell him when he said in his press conference early last week:
“There’s simply nothing he can’t do. He simply does all the things that encompass the running back position, and he does it like breathing. It’s probably second nature to him.”
And yet, he was held to about 80 yards on the ground until the final, gut-wrenching touchdown with 15 seconds left in the game.
Dak Prescott was also all he has been advertised, and yet the Steelers D did a fairly decent job, with the exception of a single Dez Bryant catch and run of 50 yards on a third and long when Artie Burns was hung out to dry.
And yet—the Cowboys spotted the Steelers a lot of penalty yards. I think there were four false start penalties on the O-line alone. The defense didn’t take sufficient advantage of that. The Steelers were a lot cleaner, at least until they got desperate. The Sean Davis facemask penalty on Jason Witten that put the Cowboys in field goal range with 15 seconds left in the game was also a backbreaker.
And honestly, after watching today’s game I’m afraid the Steelers were beaten by a better opponent. It’s been tempting this season to think that unfortunate circumstances have conspired to pull the Steelers down. But they are second in the AFC North, could well be third after tonight’s game, and it’s pretty clear that unless something remarkable happens to the AFC West, in a bad way, there are going to be no wild card spots for an AFC North team. Yes, a lot can happen in seven games, but probably not that much.
I hate to sound so pessimistic, but I’m afraid I see another of Ben Roethlisberger’s precious remaining years going down the tubes. And to a certain extent this is due to Ben himself. Yes, he was injured. Yes, he probably came back too soon. But what the heck was going on in Weeks 3 and 6? Yes, they were on the road. But the whole road/home splits thing is quite troubling. If you play really well in all your home games and lose all your road games you are going to be a .500 team. I’m not sure anyone is going to be happy with another 8-8 season. At the moment they aren’t even at .500, and they’ve played five of their eight home games, although one of them was with Landry Jones at quarterback.
I have a tremendous amount of admiration for Ben as a leader, for how far he has come and the strides he has made to turn his personal life around, and of course as an amazing talent. It pains me to say this, but I begin to fear we’ve seen the best of Ben Roethlisberger already. Believe me, nobody would be happier than I should he go on a tear the rest of the season and prove me wrong. And he didn’t play badly today at all—quite the opposite. No turnovers, very few of those “he’s really lucky that wasn’t picked off” throws that make all of our hearts stop. But if the defense is going to give up 36 points to an excellent offense like the Cowboys, Ben has to be better than just good, or even really good—he has to be Transcendent Ben. And we haven’t really seen that guy this season, except against Kansas City.
The Steelers have three home games left—the Giants, the Ravens, and the Browns. The four road games are the Browns, the Colts, the Bills, and the Bengals. The Browns are 0-10 at the moment, which doesn’t mean one can pencil an automatic W after those games. In fact, perhaps the opposite is true, given the Steelers’ penchant in recent years to lose games against sub-.500 teams. The Ravens seem to have gotten into the Steelers’ heads, the way the Steelers used to be in theirs. And Lord only knows about the others.
Hopefully this is just the post-loss depression talking. I’ll pull myself together soon and start trying to figure out why it isn’t yet time to stick a fork in the Steelers. But it sure would have been easier to make those calculations if they had pulled out the win today.