Steelers Fail on Fundamentals 1 Too Many Times, Dolphins Win 34-28

Snow. The Miami Dolphins. Three Ben Roethlisberger touchdown passes. A defensive touchdown. Mike Wallace held to 2 catches for 19 yards…

All indicators revealing that, in their critical week 14 match up vs. the visiting Dolphins, the Pittsburgh Steelers did a lot of things right, but in the end, as it has been so many times this season, it was not enough.

steelers vs. dolphins, troy polamalu, troy polamalu's last interception, troy polamalu pick six,

In what would be his final career interception, Troy Polamalu takes it to the house in the Steelers 2013 loss to the Dolphins. Photo Credit: Don Wright, AP; via the Pittsburgh Post Gazette

As a result the Steelers record drops to 5-8, and only run of the table aided by a mathematical miracle would see them make the playoffs. But those questions will be hashed out in the coming three weeks, before that can happen it is appropriate to look at how the Steelers got here.

Accentuate the Positive

Victors write history.

And to that end this game will likely be remembered as the day the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers all but eliminated themselves from playoff contention. Even if they some how survive – aided by total melt downs by both the Dolphins and Raiders, the Steelers have assured themselves of a non-winning season.

Neither of these facts should be glossed over, but the Steelers did do a number of things right vs. the Dolphins.

  • Start with Ben Roethlisberger, who was nearly flawless, throwing three touchdowns and leading his team from behind twice
  • Antonio Brown erased any shadow of a doubt as to why the Steelers opted for him over Mike Wallace
  • Troy Polamalu picked off a pass an took it to the house, making what should have been a game-changing play
  • Le’Veon Bell seemed poised to carry the team with a tremendous 1st half effort
  • Jerricho Cotchery reprised his role as Mr. Red Zone, making his 9th touchdown catch of the season
  • Jason Worilds led the team in tackles, and he won’t make Steelers Nation forget Sean Lee but he will remind them of Keenan Lewis
  • Cameron Heyward played another phenominal game, registering a sack and throwing people around like rag dolls

The Steelers left their fans with a lot to like. They refused to blink, attempted to capitalize on every advantage open to them, whether that was in returning a missed field to Ben Roethlisberger’s attempt to rush it on 4th and 10.

In the end, however, it wasn’t enough, and the reasons why tell a familiar story.

Fundamentals Fail Steelers vs. Dolphins

Mike Tomlin is famous for saying that schemes are overrated, that execution carries the day. Vs. the Dolphins that was true, most of the time. For the most part, the Steelers loss to the Dolphins can be traced to failures of execution on 3-4 critical plays.

However, any analysis of the game will show that schemes were relevant in at least one aspect of how the game evolved. And you can sum that up in one sentence:  Mike Wallace.

The Steelers, well aware of the damage that Wallace can do, schemed heavily against Mike Wallace. To a point, they almost seemed obsessed with stopping him. Credit Cortez Allen for covering him well on two downfield bombs that could have ended things early for the Steelers. (And notice on the second one how Wallace again did not do much to contest the second throw.)

  • But that focus on Wallace may have come at a cost.

Tight end Charles Clay burned the Steelers at a number of times, and while it is hard to directly attribute that to game planning to stop Wallace, it certainly did not hurt.

Aside from questions about schemes, there were simply times when things just broke down for the Steelers.

  • Ryan Tannehill galloped for 48 yards, catching the Steelers with their pants down and set up Miami’s field goal
  • Ben Roethlisberger’s first sack in three games was costly, he fumbled and Miami converted it into 7 points
  • The Steelers line gave Ben time, but gave up two sacks on the Steelers final drive
  • Daniel Thomas tore through the Steelers defense for a 55 yard run in the fourth quarter, numerous tackles were missed
  • A few plays later Charles Clay scored on a play where both Troy Polamalu and another DB missed tackles

You can micro analyze this game anyway you want. Sure, you can say that the Steelers gave Tannehill too much time. Fair enough, add that to the list.

The Steelers out gained the Dolphins, equaled their production in turnovers and points off of turnovers, played better on third down, were perfect in the Red Zone, and even neutralized what could have been a costly blocked punt by the special teams.

All of those numbers paint a positive picture.

  • But the efforts that went into painting that picture went for naught because the Steelers couldn’t finish tackles on a handful of plays.

These kind of things happen in the NFL, even to quality teams. And had the Steelers not dug themselves into an 0-4 hole, this game might be an asterix on the road to something bigger.

But alas that is simply not to be.

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2 thoughts on “Steelers Fail on Fundamentals 1 Too Many Times, Dolphins Win 34-28

  1. Great stuff, KT. I always reference a quote I heard that was attributed to Sam Wyche, where he said, after watching film of every team before the season, you can pick out the handful of teams that are probably going to win 12 or 13 games and the few teams that will lose that many. As for the other two dozen or so teams? They’re all a few plays away from finishing anywhere from 10-6 to 6-10.

    While the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers are way more than a few plays away from being true Super Bowl contenders, it’s probably safe to say they were a few away from still being realistically relevant in the playoff picture.

  2. That is so true. This is not to make excuses. But think back to the ’11 season. The Steelers had an easy 3-4 wins (Indy, KC at least one more) that felt like “escapes” rather than victories.

    What I don’t know is this. Is it that our veterans have just lost a step too many and that the younger guys need just a little more maturation?

    Or are the veterans carrying the younger players?

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