We all get frustrated when the Steelers lose games. We react emotionally and try to come up with that one simple fix so that the loss can make sense to us. We do our best to reduce it down to a math equation that can be solved by the simple application of our own logic.
That motivation is also the basis for many internet football metrics aficionados who maybe have less athletic ability than a high end athlete and utilize those “advanced” stats in order to make a team’s or player’s victories or losses understandable on their own level. That’s not intended as an insult but it is another, much longer, conversation.
Bottom line, we all try to make sense of things on our own terms. It’s human nature.
In truth, football doesn’t work like that. There are a thousand different factors that come into every decision and reaction that a player makes, and be assured that many times it is just a reaction to the situation and not a decision. Those things range from the pressure of the situation, to the actions of other players on his team to the actions of the opposition. Some have more than enough physical ability but lack the mental acuity or maturity to react in the best possible manner; think Johnny Manziel. Some others have the ability above the neck, but lack the physical ability to do what their brain is telling them they need to do; think Tommy Maddox circa 2005. The point is, it isn’t simple. It’s not a math equation.
My friend Copa made a point regarding the negativity being put out by many people this week, fans and media alike. He thought it especially surprising given that many fans made statements to the effect that they expected a deep playoff run, even a Super Bowl win, after the Browns game. I wish I were more surprised by the bi-polar nature of Steelers Nation, but I’m not. Let’s get one thing clear though, 4 turnovers, 21 Seahawks points off of them, several dropped passes, defensive backs blowing coverage and not communicating effectively, and countless missed tackles were not caused by the way Mike Tomlin and staff coached that game last week.
Sunday in Seattle was a very frustrating game. I was there and could not believe how easily the Seahawks were passing the ball, but more impressive was the noise level. I’ve been to a Monday Night game in Kansas City, a few games at Three Rivers and a dome game at the old King Dome in Seattle. That was, far and away, the loudest game I have ever attended. The people in front of me were breaking out the sound reducing headsets that I use at the gun range and putting them on their kids. I thought they were being ridiculous. It’s a football game, not a rock concert. But my ears were ringing for 24 hours afterward.
I think the Steelers handled the noise as well as could be expected. But it was obvious Ben was having some difficulty getting the formations and route combinations he wanted at the line of scrimmage. He runs his no huddle and audible based O so well that taking that ability to clearly communicate away from him netted the Seahawks 2 picks they might not have otherwise had. Again, I was there. Contrary to what you may have heard, read or been told, the Steelers never quieted the crowd. They never had the momentum at any point. That crowd never let up from prior to kickoff all the way up until the game was decided when Landry’s last pass was caught by Kam Chancellor.
The offense did not have their best day. Ben threw 2 picks, 1 that appeared to be his fault, and fumbled on a 3rd quarter 3rd down, recovered it and then had a delay of game penalty on 4th and 1 from the 2. That sequence likely cost the Steelers 4 points.
Martavis Bryant, for all of the good plays he had in this game also had some pretty blatant gaffes. On the day he had 13 targets. He dropped 3 and caught 5. If he catches even one of those drops, the game changes entirely.
Antonio Brown also had a drop and just didn’t seem to play his best game. I will allow that the circumstances may have been a little skewed. More on that point later.
On the positive side, the offensive line had a pretty good day and DeAngelo Williams continues to make the Steelers and their fans happy that he came to Pittsburgh in 2015. Solid outing that included catching 7 passes, none of which were thrown more than 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, most well short of that, to pick up 88 yards. Those passes, incidentally, are the equivalent of a long handoff. That last point is for those of you screaming about a team running an unbalanced offensive game plan despite putting up 30 points and holding the ball for 32 minutes.
About those four turnovers that not only killed Steelers drives, but also netted the Seahawks 21 points.
The O put up 30 points despite shooting themselves in the foot 4 times with turnovers and 4 more times with dropped passes that would have been long gains, and did so against a very good D. I’d have to say that despite not setting the D up very well, they did sort of okay-ish. Alright, maybe that’s a tad generous but…
The point that I don’t think most fans truly appreciate is that this offense is really special. The offense killed four of it’s own drives with turnovers that should have very well produced points. Instead they netted the Seahawks 21 points. Think about that for a minute. To my way of thinking, the point swing on those combined exchanges is at least 30 points. And despite sabotaging 4 drives through turnovers, they still scored 30 points. How does that happen? In a really hostile environment…… against a quality defense.
As I alluded above, the Steelers defense gave up 21 points on 3 touchdowns scored when Seattle was given a short field. You can’t beat quality teams at their house when you do that. For that reason alone I put this game just as much on Ben and the offense as it was on the poor coverage and bad tackling of the D. There is no way to absolve the offense of giving up those 3 touchdowns when they set up their defense so poorly that Seahawks only had to go a combined 100 yards to score three touchdowns.
The defense while certainly not good, actually wasn’t as bad as everyone, myself included, thought they were. The Seahawks 2nd half drives went like this:
1st. 3 and out.
2nd. 3 and out.
3rd. 2 plays 37 yards Touchdown (wonder whose fault that was).
4th. 3 and out.
5th. 4 plays 39 yards Touchdown (again short field).
6th. 6 plays 73 yards Touchdown (defense’s psyche affected at this point?)
7th. 3 plays 80 yards Touchdown. This drive included the play that defined and encapsulated the game as far as I was concerned. A 3rd and 9 play that went for 79 yards and a touchdown and also featured the poor coverage and shoddy tackling that Steelers fans have been complaining about for the past two seasons.
The two coaching decisions that every Steelers fan and their mothers seem to be questioning were the fake field goal early in the 2nd quarter and the field goal the Steelers opted to kick with 3:00 left in the game.
Now, while I’m not defending the decision to fake the field goal, it did not put the Steelers on an inexorable path toward defeat. A turnover early in the 2nd quarter of a game that you are winning 3-0 does not define a game, nor does it decide it. While I would have preferred that Tomlin hand the ball to Ben and DeAngelo or just have kicked it, rather than running the fake, the execution of that fake was flat awful.
It was really loud. Really, really loud. So I’ll try to give Landry the benefit of the doubt regarding the Seahawks recognition of a QB being inserted for the holder. But after the shift, Landry waited 3.5 seconds before calling for the ball, giving the Seahawks plenty of time to adjust back to a regular defense. Then after realizing that Heath Miller was double covered, it looked as though Landry was looking for the other eligible receiver on the right side. That man was Stephon Tuitt! He then threw it back to his left, off his back foot and across his body, no less. You all saw how bad the pass was.
As for the decision to kick the field goal late and depend on your defense to get a stop; the Steelers D did get three 3 & outs in the 2nd half.
The situation is this: Time left 3:00 – 4th Quarter, 4th and Goal at Seattle 3 yard line & 2 timeouts remaining.
Let’s take Ben having a concussion out of it and ignore the fact that Ben could not process the field quickly enough to find an open receiver on the previous three plays (positively un-Ben-like behavior).
Let’s be optimistic and say you go for it and score a TD. Now it’s 33-32.
Now let’s be really optimistic and say you go for two and score again.
Now it’s 35-32, you have a lead and two timeouts.
However, there are still almost 3 minutes on the clock and the other team has ALL of their timeouts. Your defense still has to make a stop. They can’t even allow a field goal and if they do, the Steelers O would need to get it back and march the field in probably less than 60 seconds and score again.
The good news is this: given that the Steelers margin of error before Sunday’s game was likely 2 losses; as a non-conference opponent, Seattle was the best possible place to lose. I have to point that out. I assure you that as much as you hated that loss, I hated it even more because I had to spend the next 18 hours in Seattle listening to trash talking, know nothing, Jonny Come Lately fans of a team that has enjoys a healthy home field advantage due to stadium design and rarely performs as well on the road. The Steelers, incidentally, haven’t won in Seattle since 1983. Sunday was not different unfortunately, but the players did it to themselves.
While Tomlin and his staff could have done a better job coaching and game planning for Sunday, they weren’t the primary culprits in the loss. The players were, and the sooner those players take on the approach of the 2005 Steelers: take a long look at their own individual games and decide what they have to do to get better as individual players, the better. They have 5 games remaining and they have a margin of error of 20%, or 1 loss. The coaches can’t go out on the field and do it for them. They’re going to have to do so themselves. Hopefully this loss was the kick in the pants the team needed to push themselves to the next level.
Photo Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports