As the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers took to the field against the Tennessee Titans they did so as a squad looking to answer many questions, questions whose response typically began with “ifs.”
- If the investment in the offensive line pays off…
- If the injury gods would grant them a hiatus from their wrath
- If they can incorporate 22 new players alongside a group of playoff tested veterans
So what was the answer to those “ifs?” Look no further than Mike Tomlin himself, who said “…we didn’t play well enough. We didn’t coach well enough.”
Steel Curtain Rising whole heartedly agrees with the Steelers reigning field general, but would add one additional “well enough” as in “We didn’t plan well enough.”
Steelers Roll Snake Eyes, End Up Snake Bitten
Steelers Digest editor Bob Labrolia previewed the season observing “The Steelers will be doing a Nik Wallenda imitation this season – working on the high wire without a net….” In fact, the Nik Wallenda metaphor is one he used multiple times in preseason.
- If the high wire metaphor is apt, then Steelers Nation got to see the football equivalent of an offense falling off that wire.
As the game started it looked as if the Fates might have chosen to smile on the Steelers, as Darius Reynaud stepped back into the end zone to give the Steelers a safety.
And on the Steelers first drive the offense gave Steelers Nation a glimpse of the best of what they could have reasonably hopped to see from a unit starting its third tight end, second string running back with a young offensive line learning a new blocking scheme.
- It wasn’t spectacular, the running game struggled, but the Steelers moved the ball in into scoring position in workman like fashion.
Of course they fumbled it away due to a bad handoff – which isn’t excusable, but perhaps understandable given the circumstances.
Its dangerous to extrapolate too many “could haves” based on the first 8 plays of a football season, but Ben Roethlisberger was sharp and Jerricho Cotchery and Antonio Brown showed that they could make a few plays.
Of course nestled into that 8 play series was a disaster of, shall we say, titanic proportions – Maurkice Pouncey went down, tearing his MCL and ACL.
The Steelers worst nightmare had come true, the rock upon which Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert had constructed their offensive line rebuilding project had crumbled.
- After that nothing else went right for the Steelers offense. Literally nothing.
The Steelers offense had 11 drives. Seven end in punts, one got fumbled away, another ended in an interception, the clock ran out on another and yes, on one the Steelers did get a garbage time touchdown.
- …OK, technically that wasn’t garbage time, but did anyone really think the Steelers were going to recover the on-sides kick and score?
Isaac Redman couldn’t run or hold onto the ball. Felix Jones didn’t get much of a chance. LaRod Stephens-Howling did and didn’t look horrible, but of course got injured and it appears may have torn his ACL. Ben Roethlisberger got sacked 5 times and hit 6 times.
If you subtract the 75 yards the Steelers consumed on their garage time touchdown drive, the team had 120 total yards of offense.
There really are no hidden gems, moral victories, or silver linings. The offense was atrocious.
Steelers Defense Above the Line, But….
Normally when you hold a team to 16 points in the NFL, you have a good shot at winning. When you hold them to 13 (as the Steelers defense very well might have had it not been for a 27 yard punt return after a bad punt) you stand a very good shot at winning.
- So judged purely by numbers, the Steelers defense played well vs. the Titans, especially when you consider Tennessee was working with short fields.
That doesn’t mean everything went well. Jake Locker had time to throw and was only sacked once, by LaMarr Woodley. The Steelers run defense held Chris Johnson in check, but the Titans did successfully nickel and dime the Steelers on their only touchdown drive of the day.
- And for the unteethen time since 2010, the Steelers defense failed to secure a turnover.
There’s no way to lay blame at the Steelers defense for this defeat but, given the quality of opposition, the level of dominance needed to carry an offense that looks to limp for a while was missing.
The Problem with Calculated Risks? Sometimes They Go Wrong
So disaster struck on the offensive line, and the Steelers did not have the personnel to compensate. The Steelers shoved Willie Colon out the door and let veterans such as Max Starks and Doug Legursky leave without so much as a token effort to keep them.
- Is it fair to say the Steelers didn’t “prepare well enough?”
Perhaps, and perhaps not. The Steelers salary cap situation is precarious, and management made a number of calculated risks in what amounted to a sort of Loaves and Fishes variety of salary cap maneuvering.
- They gave it there best shot and hoped for the best.
During the first round of what looks to be a marathon 16 round fight, Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert, and Mike Tomlin’s best clearly wasn’t good enough.