5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers: Week 5

photo via Steelers.com

Once again Hombre de Acero is pottering around the globe, with no consideration whatsoever for the needs of this little corner of Steeler Nation. I may have to cut his salary in half. (Although it wouldn’t make much difference, however much I cut it down.) But seriously, Hombre, be safe and come back with a brain bursting with awesome questions! In the meantime you all will have to make do with 5 Spluttering Questions on last week’s triumph in the Charm City and next week’s tilt with the Jaguars. I am at least going to avoid the low-hanging fruit, so thus there will be nothing about Ben, Bell, or AB:

1. Cold Old Steelers Fan made the following comment on Ivan’s First Quarter Report yesterday:

Kansas City does seem to be a team with it arrow pointing up but I would worry about the inconsistent Jaguars first. They are better than they have been and, though their QB is not usually very good, he seems to have his moments.

Apparently Mike Tomlin has the same thoughts, because after the game, according to Jim Wexell:

Mike Tomlin rolled into the locker room with the players while shouting the following: “We got a hot J’ville team coming to town. They whacked these guys worse than we did. Let’s get ready to work.”

How worried are you about Sunday’s game?

2. In Mark Kaboly’s Live at 5 questions this week, he took a question from a guy who commented that Terrell Watson makes Fitz Toussaint look like Usain Bolt as a kick returner. Kaboly’s response:

He’s the upback. They use him for blocking on KR. I just dont think Tomlin is very interested in kick returners. He’d much rather take it at the 25 and avoid any kind of disaster.

Assuming he’s correct about Tomlin’s attitude, do you agree or disagree ? And who would you like to see returning kicks if you don’t? (After all, if a kick lands in front of the end zone, I suppose you have to run it, regardless of whether you’d prefer a touchback.)

3. After Ryan Shazier’s interception he did something really bizarre over near the sidelines, which I have subsequently discovered was an homage, you might say, to Ray Lewis’ sack dance. (I never really watched Lewis in his prime, hence my ignorance.) Tacky or hilarious? And would it matter to you if the Steelers were winning or losing at that point?

4. I can’t find the article in which I read this, but apparently Bud Dupree’s sack on Sunday was an improvised play between him and Stephon Tuitt. Tuitt commented that because they’ve worked together a lot (I believe Tuitt even used the word “chemistry”) they can make these kind of plays. It made me think of vintage Polamalu and the man who allowed him to be the special player he was, Ryan Clark. Is this sort of situation perhaps more common than we think, and does this indicate that injuries possibly have an additional harmful component not evident on the surface?

5. And to continue from No. 4, how does one explain a “plug and play” philosophy such as that so successfully employed by Bill Belichick if “chemistry” matters so much? Does it represent a profound philosophical difference in how to best utilize the players available to you between Tomlin and Belichick?

Bonus question: This is a late addition, because I found this so interesting. Bob Labriola’s column on Steelers.com, Asked and Answered,featured a question yesterday about what I chose to call the “bogus interception” by Eric Weddle. The questioner sought clarification. Here was Labriola’s answer:

I don’t know that I have a lot to provide in terms of clarifying when a catch is a catch, because I have to admit to being someone who has been surprised regularly at rulings one way or the other. I will offer my theory on it since you asked: I believe the call made in that situation fell into the keep-the-game-close category. The Steelers had a 19-0 lead at halftime, the play in question occurred on the opening possession of the second half, and the game was threatening to get away from the Ravens. And finally, the play went to review, and when that happens everything is open to interpretation, and who really knows what’s being said via that headset the referee is wearing as he communicates with New York…It’s not that the officials were specifically looking to help the Ravens, but the flow of the game provided an opportunity to tighten things up and that’s the way the ruling ended up going. Because the notion of what is a catch is so convoluted and the rules can be interpreted to fit various scenarios, it was a rather simple matter to craft the outcome in keeping with the keep-the-game-close mentality. I am so convinced this kind of mind-set prevails in the NFL that I believe if the situation was reversed – if the Ravens led, 19-0, and had been the team on offense, and if the Steelers challenged the same play the ruling would have gone in their favor because doing so would keep-the-game-close.

I should note that Labriola is not a fan of the quality of the officiating in the NFL. But do you think his theory has any merit? And if there is such a “keep-the-game-close” mindset among the officials, do you think it is conscious or unconscious?

Usual rules—fill in the little circles completely, feel free to look over your neighbor’s shoulder, and the test is naturally open book, or even open internet…


  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    1) Before the Chicago game, I didn’t think the Steelers would lose because the Steelers were the better team (imho). The Jags are a better team than Chicago, especially on defence. If the Steelers fall behind because of a turnover or lack luster offence then this could be a loss.

    Why do the Steelers lose to lesser teams? To a certain extent it is the youth of the team. Some of them are still learning their roles and how they integrate with their teammates (see question 4). There are a lot of other factors but there is only so much time and space (others here have covered all these things at length and much better than I can).

    2) Like the 2 point conversion, I suspect the team has done it’s own analysis on the issue and have decided, given the mix of personnel available to them, their best overall mix didn’t include a kickass returner (other than AB but he is needed at WR #1). When they realized their choice was between solid hands or an incrementally better runner, they went with the hands. With this offence (or with how it should be) why lean on the KR team to stay viable?

    3) Heath Miller celebrations. All else is redundant.

    4) I do not doubt that the higher level players form bonds of mutual understanding. I attribute that to good players who are also smart players, good coaching and good chemistry. Wait till Watt and Heyward develop a similar chemistry. We may end up with the best front 7 in football.

    5) I cannot explain Belichick.

    Bonus Answer: Is pro wrestling fixed? Yes. Is the NFL fixed? Hmmm… there may be personal biases on the part of individuals in certain situations. There may also be an internal directive to, when in doubt, give the benefit of the doubt to the trailing team though my best bet is it would be an unwritten directive. I don’t think games are scripted in advance but some shading does occur.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I couldn’t agree more on your bonus question. How often does it seem there are more offensive holding penalties against a team that has a big lead, or the DBs are suddenly being flagged for incidental contact. I don’t think games are scripted, but I do think there are plenty of unwritten codes throughout the league when it comes to keeping games interesting, and to protect the various faces of the league.


      • If you look at the two big runs that tanked the Steelers in Chicago in overtime, there was big-time holding by the offense on both of them. I’ve come to the rather cynical conclusion that if there’s a big run through a large hole, there was probably holding not called. There is a known bias by the refs for the home team, although it isn’t huge statistically. That’s part of the home field advantage. But I think there are a couple of other factors here, which are just human nature. 1. When a game goes into overtime, the refs just want to go home, and 2. In a close, tense game, the refs feel safer going home when the home team wins…


  • 1. I am not that worried actually, as long as we don’t go into OT. It seems like every time we play Jax in overtime, they get a pick 6 to win. This could be just bad memories winning out over good though.

    2. I think the philosophy is exactly what the NFL wants for kick returns, hence the rule changes a few years back. I would want to put Hilton back there. The guys seems squirrely and fast.

    3. It was definitely a homage or a tease of Ray Lewis’ celebrations. Also, with the score being 19-9, I don’t think the celebration was tacky, but more cheeky. If the score was more lopsided, I think it would get into the tacky range, but since it was still pretty close and most of the 4th quarter was still to be played, it wasn’t uncalled for.

    4. Good question. The defense seems to rely more on brotherhood aspect in the sense they need to know everyone has everyone else’s back and a player will be in the right place at the right time than offense does. This requires a good defense to chemistry and comradery. If that is lost, it hurts the defense i think much more than the offense.

    5. I’m with Cold_Old with this one. Can’t explain Belichick.

    Bonus. This happens in hockey as well, though it is more along the lines that a ref will make a bad call, but then “make up for it” later in the game. I don’t think this is necessarily a conscious decision on the part of the officials, but it does happen. If this happened on this play though, that is a serious offense. Keeping the game close not only puts the game in the hands of the refs, but could have much greater consequences when you think about sports betting. That is a huge amount of money the refs are toying with if they are making calls with this in mind. What if this call sparked a Ravens comeback and they beat the spread.


    • Good point on the gambling aspect. Since I don’t gamble I never think of that aspect, but of course that is huge. I gather, BTW, that the NFL has always wanted their refs to have “day jobs” because this supposedly reduces the temptation to take bribes. Which I think is silly, because if somebody is going to take a bribe, how much money they already have tends to be irrelevant. I understand that there is a lot less work in an NFL season than in the other major sports, but surely they can find other things for them to do during their off time. Like practice, maybe. And, for that matter, go to team practices, the way Tomlin brings them in from time to time. And maybe train other refs. The NFL has got the money. Why wouldn’t they want the refereeing to be professional?


    • Oh, and love the idea of putting Hilton back there. Maybe they don’t want to risk him, though…


  • 1. Take no one for granted. It’s a road game. And keep an eye on Myles Jack.

    2. I agree with Tomlin. Take the knee, and if the kick is short of the goal line, bull forward and get as many yards as you can. Too many speedsters end up at the 12 yard line or there’s a block in the back and half the distance to the goal line. The 25 is a fine place to start, given the misadventures of past years.

    3. It was not hilarious. It was not tacky. It was simply a little jab in a great rivalry. And a bit of a nod to Ray Lewis.

    4. Good point, noting that this type of free-lancing reminds one of Troy and Ryan. I would also remind you that the back seven in the Steel Curtain offense would change defenses and assignments as many as seven times between huddle and snap. If you ever see game videos of the Steel Curtain guys in their prime, watch all the hand signals on defense prior to a snap.

    5. After I fully explain the devil, I will get to work on Belichek.

    Bonus: Hate to say it, but, upon extreme further review, the interception call was certainly acceptable, given the nebulous definition of what constitutes a catch. Let’s leave it at that.


    • I gather Tomlin and Ben both said it was a fair call. Part of the problem in my mind is calling it an INT. It lowered Ben’s QB rating around 20 points, IIRC, to have “thrown an interception,” which he most certainly didn’t…

      I can’t wait to read your full explanation of the devil. And Belichick…


      • I also have a problem with calling it an interception. It looked like a completed pass. AB had possession of the ball and took a step. The turnover (if that is what the correct call is) should be a fumble on AB.


  • 1. It’s a home game, right? So they should be O.K. Plus, as they say, at this point the needle is pointing up both in terms of improving play and lack of injuries.
    2. Trying to return the kickoff seems to have become the losing proposition the NFL wanted it to be. All a returner needs is a knee.
    3. Good stuff was what that celebration was. Not even Ravens fans should lionize Lewis.
    4. Yeah, a good D can be like jazz and it’s helpful if the players are sympatico.
    5.The whole plug and play isn’t working that hot for NE Defence at the moment, though they seem to go for “types” that fit their system more than other teams. And, sadly, that monster will return to haunt us soon enough…
    Bonus: The NFL can’t decide what a catch is and we were a victim of that. It’s like Schrodinger’s cat, a catch and not a catch by a guy who was down but not down. And yeah, the closer they get to the end of a game the more the “let ’em play” philosophy kicks in. The officials don’t want to determine the outcome of a game, except, of course, when the do by not officiating.


  • A personal story on the bonus question. My daughter played college basketball at the University of Delaware and came away with two school records: most games played by a woman’s basketball player, and most fouls (though not the most disqualifications). I was always suspicious of many of these fouls, but I didn’t want to be ‘that parent’ who was always complaining about the refs. Then Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post came out with a piece that spoke to officiating bias based upon race. Seems that they were compensating for what they felt was a perceived advantage that brown players might have over other players that Jenkins referred to as the ‘ponytails’.

    Over the years I based both upon conversation and observation I am certain that consciously or not some game officials interpret their jobs in part as managing what they perceive as being competitive imbalances which I believe is way out of line with their job description.


    • Fascinating… Not that there are many “ponytails” to correct for in the NFL. And I note DDC gets flagged a lot. (Which makes it all the more interesting that he is the leading guard in the league according to PFF—by over 6% more than his closest competitor, Zac Martin (DAL). Maybe these are makeup calls for college basketball : ) But in all seriousness, what would your thoughts be about the application of this to the NFL? I suppose if you narrowed it down to WRs, for instance, you might start to see some bias in who, for instance, gets PI calls and who doesn’t.


  • 1. How worried am I? About the same as I was for the first three games of the year, which is not all that much (in particular with the Vikings when I knew Bradford wasn’t playing). I had a little bit of worry about the Ravens due largely to history in their stadium.

    2. I guess I agree with his assessment about Tomlin in that is among the least of his concerns, but he has attempted to get a good kick returner. I feel like there have been some players picked up that were known to be good kick returners. It’s just their play at their main positions weren’t enough. As to a player, I like mtsnot’s suggestion of Hilton.

    3. When it comes to player celebrations, I’m mostly indifferent, but sometimes a player will do one that cracks me up. Shazier cracked me up.

    4. Sure, chemistry between teammates, particularly in football is huge. But that doesn’t have to occur over seasons. Teams and players can establish that over the course of one season. By the time playoffs are rolling around, the best coached and healthiest teams, and with the best talent, are rising to the top.

    5. He is maybe the best coach in the history of the game, and hires good assistants. By the time the playoffs roll around, the players have been coached up and the chemistry has built. Plus he’s had Brady.

    Bonus – I believe the referees are genuinely trying to call the most fair game as they possible can. I also believe that some of the biases as discussed by multiple people earlier would certainly have an influence on some of their calls, despite the refs best efforts to keep that from happening. I also also believe that some of the referees are not as good as others at their jobs, and some of them are downright bad compared to some of their peers. And lastly, I also also also believe, with all the players they need to watch, and the speed at which the game is played, and as massive as the rule book is, it is a very difficult job at which to be good.


  • 1. I don’t know anything about the NFL this year. I don’t buy the “Steelers always lose to inferior opponents” thing, but the Jags aren’t a bad team, and if the New York Jets have taught me anything this season, it’s that (in 2017) any team can beat any other team.

    2. I suppose I agree with Tomlin. You’ve got a HOF quarterback, a HOF wide receiver, an all-pro halfback, and a potential pro-bowl WR2. Just get the ball downed with a little breathing room and let the offense do its thing.

    3. I liked it BECAUSE it was a little poke at Lewis (and the Ravens traditional attitude). I’m not a big TD/Sack-dance guy, but I do appreciate it when a blowhard who choreographs a dance routine gets punked. Hines Ward used to do that stuff sometimes too — if you were a dancing show-off, and he scored against your team, he’d do YOUR dance. I always appreciated that.
    Shazier’s thing was a little weird, since Lewis retired so long ago, so maybe the message was “now I’m the best ILB in the division.” Or maybe the Balt crowd was trash-talking him, and it was a jab at them. Who knows. I had no problem with it though.

    4. I suspect it happens a lot. Anyone who freelances either leaves an opening for the enemy, or has a buddy on the team who’s got his back. Polamalu & Clark were great for that. On offense, it’s Ben & AB (who will sometimes make eye contact and know the other’s move). I’m glad Tuitt and Dupree have that chemistry too.

    5. This doesn’t seem as mysterious to me as a lot of people are saying. I think Belichick doesn’t give his players a lot of leeway to freelance — they “do their jobs,” remember? — so there’s no reason anyone else on the team NEEDS to have chemistry with anyone else. So, as long as you can play disciplined and stick to your job, he can plug you in and everything will work.
    It’s a philosophy issue, it seems to me. I mean, the Patriots have never had an attacking defense. Even when they were a really strong unit (early 2000s) they still weren’t particularly aggressive. They stayed in their lanes, individually, and waited for you to screw up. Occasionally they’ve had single guys who would jump a pass route or something, but it seems to me like those are usually cornerbacks playing man-to-man and gambling. Everyone else stays in their lane and tackles. If I’m disciplined and focused and always in my zone, and I believe that you are too (again: “do your job” means “don’t worry about what the guy next to you is doing”), then I don’t need chemistry with you — I just need to worry about my thing.
    I think that’s also how he’s always been able to change the game plan so dramatically every week: no one has to know too much, so they get their assignments for the week and stay in their lanes. Belichick knows the whole story, but the left defensive end just needs to know the general plan, and key in on his own assignment.

    Bonus: The whole “keep the game close” thing is pretty troubling. I don’t know if I buy it, but it might be that I don’t want to buy it. I hope he’s mistaken.


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