Outtakes: Steelers Lose to Broncos on in Mike Tomlin’s Monday Night Football Debut

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Well, the Mike Tomlin era finally made its debut in Buenos Aires Sunday last night.  When you get a new coach, one of the man things you think about is “Is this person going to respect the personality of this team?”

While Bill Cowher certainly had a very different style than Noll, and the Steelers personality reflected that, the core remained – Smash Mouth Football on offense and dominating defense with enough of a downfield passing game to sting you when it counted

Five games into the season, worries about the Steelers identity have largely been allayed.  The stage was set for further confirmation…. The Steelers were to take their place along side the other elite teams in the NFL…..

  • That didn’t happen.

While I will not succumb in the knee-jerkism that one can easily find in Steelers Nation, the loss to the Broncos does offer some cause for concern.

Namely the now oft discussed offensive game plan. Truth be told, the performance we saw on offense the was not one Steelers Nation has seen for a long, long time.  Forget about the Kevin Gilbride era, I am thinking back to a late-season make or break game in 1990 against the Bengals.

Cincinnati came in with a division lead, but the leagues worst (or almost worst) run defense. The Steelers offensive was buffedled with Joe Walton’s playbook when it came time to pass, but as always we could still run the ball. In fact, with Tim Worley, Barry Foster, Merrill Hoge, and Warren Williams fans were writing the Steelers Digest suggesting we run the WishBone. Clearly the situation called for us impose our will on Bengals at TRS.

  • So what did the Steelers do?

Old man Joe called 40 or 42 pass plays, including four passes in a goal line situation (At least I am pretty sure.)

1990 was case of a guy trying to make a name for himself so he could return to the head coaching ranks.  Let’s hope that Adrian’s decision to call something like 21 passes in the first half vs. a team with a weak run defense was not born of similar inspiration.

Let me be clear.  I have always been for a balanced attack and our personnel calls for that more than it did when we had the Bus in his prime (veterans from Baltimore’s legendary Purple Goose Saloon might remember I actually defended Chan Gailey’s decision to pass at the goal line against…. Denver in the AFC Championship game.)

Likewise, there a lot of merit to the strategy that says to hit your opponent with the unexpected.  If you want to see what I am talking about, look no further than the January 2006 playoff game against Indy.

  • But strategies like that need to be used with care.

It was clearly warranted against Indy.  Against Denver?  I don’t think so. The foremost principle of power football is winning the battle upfront. Not only does that set the tempo, but it tires the defense out, and I will wager make them less eager to go after your QB if for no other reason then they’re thinking their going to get clobbered at the snap.

We clearly showed we could run on Denver in the second half, and so there’s no reason to think that we couldn’t have done it less effectively early on.  That would have established a rhythm and it would have made it easier to pass (which we obviously can do.)

I thought Ben Roethlisberger showed a lot of poise under pressure.  Indeed, I was shocked when I saw that he only had three sacks.  The game was lost in the second quarter – the final score makes it look closer than it was.

I don’t think I have ever seen the Steelers offensive line manhandled the way they were against Denver in the second quarter.  (OK, perhaps the 1999 Jacksonville game were we gave up TWO safeties is an exception – then again that was Wayne Gandy giving those safeties up.)Seriously, have you ever seen a Steeler QB gang tackled that way?

A word needs to be said of the defense.  Honestly this looked nothing like the dominating unit I’d been reading about.  James Harrison made some plays, as did James Farrior and Larry Foote, Anthony Smith looked good in the secondary. But as a unit they did not play well, and in terms of pressure it was largely a mirror image of the what Denver did to us – I thought Jay Cutler could have written pages in his diary on some of his drops.  Likewise, our inability to contain his scrambling was a sever weakness.

Its impossible to say why the Steelers fell flat, although it did catch my attention that this happened on the road again.  Regardless of the reason, the pundits are quite right when they say that this game confirms that Indy and New England are indeed the only legit elite teams in the league right now, and that the Steelers, while good, are still below looking up.

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