Close, But No Cigar: Cowboys at Steelers

via Steelers.com

via Steelers.com

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.

7 comments

  • After checking the BTSC site, there are a lot of folks over there wanting to fire everyone and burn down Hines field( as usual). This was a more reasoned post to read – which is why I have migrated to this site primarily. I agree that the Cowboys have become a better team. Looks like Romo is destined to become a back up if he stays with the Dallas. I just read a post on yahoo about Green Bay needing a coaching change – http://sports.yahoo.com/news/nfl-winners-and-losers-it-looks-like-mike-mccarthys-time-in-green-bay-has-run-out-042123995.html. It made me think about how the Steelers situation is similar to Green Bay’s

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    • I was thinking about Green Bay as well. In fact, the teams that were supposed to be the Super Bowl contenders at the beginning of the season are all struggling. Odd how that works.

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  • Interesting post. I agree, there were positives in this game. About halfway though I was ready to complement you on your optimism. Then you circled back.

    The truth is, the 2016 Steelers were going to go as far as their defense was going to take them and I even the most widely optimistic homer would have to admit that the Steelers defense has in fact, regressed.

    Elliot essentially had two touchdown runs and one catch where he was untouched by the defense.

    Sorry, that’s indicative of a defense that’s bad.

    And I agree with you, Ben’s prime is getting wasted. He looked good yesterday to be sure, but even if this team gets better, it clearly isn’t the Super Bowl contender we thought it was.

    Beyond that, the Steelers are now locked in a loop very much like the one they were in in 2009 when they went on a 5 game losing streak. A bad loss on the road led to a better than expected performance against a conference rival by a backup quarterback, followed by a poor outing against another division rival….

    Really, things are snowballing, and snowballing the wrong way….

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  • Toronto Steeler Fan

    Not much more I can add to this….except….

    The Dallas Cowboys are one of the best teams in the NFL, if not arguably the best right now. That the Steelers went toe-to-toe with them for 60 minutes and were seconds away from victory gives us some comfort that they are capable of playing at the highest level in this league right now, even though their record looks poor. They did not play like a sub-.500 team yesterday.

    The only thing we can hope for now is that they play at that level for the rest of the season. If they do, there’s no reason that they can’t beat every single one of the teams left on their card for this season. If they can’t win at least 6 of the remaining 7 games, then they really don’t deserve to be in the playoffs this year, let alone contending for a Super Bowl.

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  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    I am not surprised the team is struggling if only because of the number of key injuries and suspensions. There are a number of key players who are playing that are walking wounded who and not playing anywhere near their potential. Coaching can only take you so far.

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  • The offense scored 30 points. That’s enough to win with a Steeler defense. Only we’ve traded ours in for a new model: the E-Z Pass Defense. Easy to pass against, and, now, you can run right through it without stopping ! Oh, you do have to slow down a bit, but if you need 42 seconds to go 75 yards to score a touchdown against the E-Z Pass defense, it can certainly be done.

    What’s wrong with the defense? Well, only the DL, the LB’s, and the DB’s. Other than that, they’re fine.

    The DL has been hampered by Heyward’s injury. When healthy, he’s such a force that he makes everyone else that much better. Tuitt hasn’t been as effective as last season, and I’m not sure why, but last year, he was in there with a healthy Heyward and Steve McLendon. Harvrave may be hitting the first season wall right now. Rookies, unaccustomed to the NFL season, do that. Dupree sure did last year. Halfway through, they’re gassed. The other guys haven’t knocked anyone’s socks off either.

    The linebackers haven’t been able to get to the quarterback and most of them seem to lack the brute force that is needed to break through blocking and meet at the QB. Only Harrison and Chickillo seem to have the speed, strength, and brute force to get that job done. I’m sick of seeing Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier breaking through the line and then getting stood up by a blocking back. I’m tired of seeing schemes that used to work not working any more because the players can’t get through that last line of defense. Shazier is often gold, but too often fool’s gold, either because he can’t get to the QB or he can’t get on the field because of injuries. They would have done better by picking Mosely, and need to back off the altar of speed and balance quickness with brute force.

    The defensive backs are a work in progress, but they’ve been an undisciplined mess. Sean Devis, whom i like a lot, cost them the Baltimore game on special teams by failing to block the guy who blocked the punt. And he had a big hand in losing the Dalles game with the face mask penalty just before the final Dallas TD. They simply put too much on the kid’s plate. Hell, Troy Polamalu sat almost his entire rookie season, and yet they have had Davis playing CB, Safety, Slot, and Special Teams. That’s just too much, even for a kid who speaks Chinese, French, and English fluently. The guess here is that he’ll be more than okay down the road, so long as this doesn’t destroy his confidence. And so will Artie Burns, who has also been burned a few times.The veteran safeties haven’t been that much better than the rookie corners. The secondary, at least, has been more aggressive than last year. They just haven’t been better on a consistent basis.

    The E-Z Pass defense just can’t stop a good offense. They can’t even slow it down for 42 seconds.

    That, and injuries, have been the stories of this season so far. But the season is far from over. Dupree will hopefully be returning. The division is still very much up for grabs. The offense is rolling. Burns and Davis ARE progressing. But, for the first time in his career, Tomlin seems on the verge of losing his team, if he hasn’t lost it already. They are sloppy and undisciplined. Cleveland is not a pushover for this team, especially given Tomlin’s record against underdogs.

    The next five days will tell the story of the 2016 Steelers. Tomlin must asset control and discipline and must rally a tired and disappointed team on the road against a team that hasn’t played in ten days. Sunday’s game will be – as the Rev Billy Graham would say – the Hour of Decision.

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