Tomlin’s Mistake on Leftwich Injury Costs Steelers Ravens Game

Steel Curtain Rising’s Steelers-Ravens pregame insight was that this contest would test both:

  • the Steelers time-honored commitment to a deep bull pen 
  • and Mike Tomlin’s credo that “The Standard is the Standard”

On the surface, it may seem like the franchise failed on both measures. But Sunday night’s distasteful result disproves neither proposition. Instead, the Steelers 13-10 loss to their division rivals to something much more mundane – human error.

Vindicating Their Head Coach…. On Paper 

The Steelers entered the Ravens game without their:

Further complications included losing the redoubtable Isaac Redman early in the game, and then Jerricho Cotechery late in the game.

  • But this is Pittsburgh. Injures are never an excuse.

And, to this end the men in the Bumble Bee uniforms vindicated one of their head coaches’ most cherished philosophies.

How, you might ask?

The essence of Tomlin’s motto of “The Standard is the Standard” is this:

  • Being in the NFL means already puts you in the top half of the top one percent of the world’s football players. Therefore you’re capable of a winning performance. Period.

The brutal reality facing Steelers Nation this morning is that Pittsburgh entered the 4th quarter at home behind 13-10 and saw their defense force four punts in that period alone. The same defense held the Ravens to 3-14 on third downs and kept Baltimore’s offense out of the end zone the entire night….

Necessary, But Not Sufficient

…That, ladies and gentleman, normally amounts to a winning performance.

Why then are the now Steelers down two games to the Ravens?

Explanations abound:

  • Mike Wallace could have held on to the ball instead of gift-wrapping the Raven’s chance to get right back into the game
  • The special teams could have brought its A-Game against one of the league’s most dangerous punt returners
  • The offensive line could have started consistently winning at the line of scrimmage before the third quarter
  • Coaches could have settled on Jonathan Dwyer, who ran better than Rashard Mendenhall

If the Steelers execute on any of the situations above, they likely win the game.

While no one in Steelers Nation should find the defense at fault, a turnover also could have been game changing.

Be careful to note however, that the Steelers injury situation did nothing to prevent a winning performance in any of the situations above.

Yes, these mishaps were all necessary for the Steelers to lose the game, but none of them were sufficient.

Players Win Games, Coaches Lose Games

Like most of its brethren, that cliché gets thrown around too much as a catch all to highlight that coaches hold ultimate responsible for performance.

  • When it comes to the Steelers lose to the Ravens, however, the cliché takes on literal truth

Just three plays into the night, Byron Leftwich scampered 31 yards for the night’s first touchdown.

No one, outside or inside of Pittsburgh, let alone Leftwich himself, thought him capable of such a play.

Yet Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reports that Leftwich injured his shoulder when he landed in the end zone. Worse, Leftwich injured two ribs when sacked two possessions later.

Leftwich struggled all night and the offense struggled with him. While ESPN Deporte’s  commentators mentioned nothing about Leftwich having an injury, NBC’s camera’s kept focusing in on Leftwich nursing various parts of his body.

At one point, Charlie Batch even warmed.

Yet Leftwich remained in the game. At half time Mike Tomlin proclaimed Leftwich “fine”

  • He wasn’t.

In theory, Leftwich should have taken himself from the game. But Leftwich has finished 5 of his 9 previous seasons either on IR or inactive due to injury. Its difficult, (but not impossible) to blame him for trying to gut this one out.

But Byron Leftwich wasn’t up to the task.

  • And it’s not up to players’ responsibility to make those decisions anyway.

That responsibility falls on the coaches. And in that aspect, Mike Tomlin failed in his responsibility. (If he didn’t know of Leftwich’s injury, he should have.)

On Behind the Steel Curtain Ivan Cole offered:

It is also clear that Tomlin is loath to intervene in these cases and I think there is an argument to be made for that position even if you risk losing in the short term, which is what occurred in each instance.

Cole is referring to Tomlin’s decision to stick with a wounded Ben Roethlsiberger at San Francisco last year. While I deeply respect my friend and colleague, I view it differently.

Allowing a quarterback to embrace his modern day gladiator role when he’s delivering is one thing. Allow one to stubbornly cling to hero impulses when injuries impact performance is another.

There’s a reason why the Steelers have the NFL’s deepest depth chart at quarterback:

  • That’s to give Mike Tomlin options when injury strikes this vitally important position.

Mike Tomlin didn’t switch Charlie Batch for Roethlisberger at the half time in San Francisco. He should have and it cost the Steelers dearly.

The same thing was true of Byron Leftwich vs. the Ravens.

Time will tell if it costs the Steelers another division title.

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2 thoughts on “Tomlin’s Mistake on Leftwich Injury Costs Steelers Ravens Game

  1. I watched only the 4th quarter, but for what I saw, the game was up for the taking. I’m a Saints fan, so when watching other teams I root for whichever team is losing (and also whoever plays the Falcons) in order to make the game more exciting, but I don’t get heartbroken when that team loses.

    This game however left me with a sensation of emptyness, it had all the typical ingredients of a great game, including the necessary final drive to turn around the scoreboard; but instead it turned out to be a really ugly game topped with the spoiling of a near perfect setting for a great finish.

    I totally agree that Tomlin’s to blame, the Steelers defense played a pretty good game, but Leftwich just put on a really subpar performance, which I’d credit to his injuries.

    Keep up the good work Keith, I really enjoy your analysis.

  2. Javier,

    Te felicito por tu ingles!

    I agree with you, this one did have all of the elements a of a great game, including James Harrison’s stop on the Raven’s last possession.

    But Leftwich should have been pulled. With Batch, the Steelers would have had a shot at winning.

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