Rarely if ever, has Steelers Nation looked upon game number 4 with such urgency. The once vaunted Steelers defense allowed two winnable games slip away via in fourth quarter meltdowns, giving the Steelers a 1-2 record.
But there was hope. James Harrison and Troy Polamalu were set to return. And while injuries are no excuse in Tomlinland, the return of the Steelers defense to full strength was provide an opportunity for defining just what “The Standard” was.
Alas, the reunion of the once dominate defense lasted less than a quarter, leaving the Steelers to turn to another pillar of the franchise’s identity for their margin of victory.
Defense Stumbles, but Delivers
After the 2003 season Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola argued that quality defense is synonymous with the overall health of the franchise. He put it something like this, “If the Steelers finish 7-9 but the defense is strong, the perception is that the team isn’t far off. But the same record with a poor defense leads to the feeling that serious problems exist.”
- Its statistical high ranking notwithstanding, the Steelers 2012 defense has been below par, far below par.
The Eagles game left Steelers Nation to ponder a half-full, half empty dilemma.
- Lesean McCoy didn’t dominate, but he moved the chains with the game on the line, especially on two fourth down conversions
- The defense again gave up another lead in the fourth quarter
Watching fourth quarter leads evaporate in 3 of 4 games should cause everyone some discomfort, but the game of football is played for sixty minutes.
But none of those negatives should obscure the fact that the Steelers defense shut down the Eagles in the first half, by virtue of two turnovers. More encouraging is the fact that players like Steve McLendon, Lawrence Timmons, Ziggy Hood and Jason Worilds stepped up.
As the injuries suffered against the Eagles underline, if the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is to improve, its going to need production for men not named Woodley, Harrison or Polamalu.
The Steelers got that today, and that’s the first hopeful sign along those lines in a season now one quarter complete.
Identity of Haley’s Offense, Steelers, Remain a Work in Progress
With three games to its name, the template appeared to be more than set for Todd Haley’s offense:
- Efficient, precision passing aimed at protecting Ben Roethlisberger and building an edge in time of possession
- Improved pass protection
- Dependence of the team’s deep receiving corps to deliver
Although not for lack of trying, the running game figured at best as an afterthought. As Todd Haley indicated, the Steelers had been able to run the ball in “situational football” but in no sense could the running game be considered a decisive factor.
That changed in game four against the Eagles, and changed in a big way.
It would be unfair to say that either Ben or his receivers had a “bad” day vs. the Eagles, but their performance mimicked more of the shakiness they displayed late vs. Oakland rather than the lethal efficiency on display in Denver and vs. the Jets.
- Antonio Brown dropped a sure touchdown, and suffered another key drop
- Mike Wallace too dropped a number of catchable balls at in opportune times
- Ben Roethlisberger had a chance to hook up with Health Miller near the goal line, but over threw the ball
Its way, way too early to hit the panic button on the state of the Steelers passing game. But the Eagles represented perhaps the best defense the Steelers have faced so far.
And, if nothing else, the Eagles experience should dispel any fanciful notions that the Steelers could simply ride the passing game to victory.
No, the Steelers offense must be more than one dimensional on offense, and vs. the Eagles the running game came to life.
Art Rooney II: “It’s About Being Able to Run the Ball When We Need To.”
Steelers President Art Rooney II turned a lot of heads after the 2009 season when he criticized the state of the Steelers running game. But Rooney quickly clarified that he wasn’t interested in seeing the ball run in certain situations or about seeing a more even distribution of play calling.
No, the Steelers President simply insisted that the Steelers be able to run the ball when they needed to.
- Against the Eagles, the Steelers needed to run the ball.
Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman played well during the entire game, but they turned it up a notch when they were needed the most, gaining exactly half of their total yards on the Steelers final two scoring drives.
- With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the Pittsburgh Steelers imposed their will.
It might not have been pretty, but it was sufficient for victory.