Sometimes the ball bounces your way. During the first half of their Monday Night Football win over the Washington Redskins, the Steelers seemed to making that cliché come true. The Steelers went into the locker oom holding a 14-6 lead, a score which, to the naked eye, could have very different with a few different bounces of the ball.
By the time it was over, the Steelers had shown why contender who are serious about transforming themselves into champions banish clichés like those from their vocabulary. And in the process, the 2016 Steelers made an important statement about who they are and where they want to go this season.
When the Ball Bounces (or Doesn’t Bounce) Your Way
Let’s begin by agreeing to the obvious. The balls were bouncing all over the place on Monday night at FedEx Field.
- A Ben Roethlisberger pass bounced off of Eli Rogers hands and Bashaud Breeland intercepted it
- Kirk Cousins rifled off a pass which bounced off Ross Cockrell’s hands
- Antonio Brown caught the ball then dropped it, only to have it ruled incomplete (be honest, had that been a Redskin receiver Steeler Nation would have erupted)
- Ben Roethlisberger fumbled the ball, lost it only to have Maurkice Pouncey strip it, allowing him to recover
- Sammie Coates had the ricochet off his hands and into Eli Roger’s for the night’s second TD
- James Harrison brought down an interception which looked like it bounced on the turf.
On the surface, the Steelers look like they caught a lot of lucky breaks. Even on the first touchdown pass it looked like had any it been any other receiver, it would have been an interception. But fortune didn’t provide the Steelers with any favors except for opportunity and a five minute sequence at the end of the 1st and beginning of the 2nd quarters makes that clear.
Fortune Doesn’t Determine Fate, It Only Creates Opportunity
Ross Cockrell’s came just outside the Red Zone, and came after the Redskins had been moving swiftly downfield. Missed chances like that can both spook a shaky defense and embolden an up and coming offense.
- Instead, the exact opposite occurred.
Cousins took too shots at the end zone – the first was defended beautifully by Ryan Shazier, the second by fell short. Washington had to settle for 3. But less than 20 minutes and 5 plays later, Roethlisberger threw his first interception, and the Redskins were back in business at the Steelers 37 yard line. But Washington only made it to the Steelers 23, and again settled for three.
“Setttled” is the operative word, because Artie Burns committed an offside penalty. Jay Gruden could have accepted the penalty, and continued to try for the touchdown. Instead, he stuck to George Allen’s philosophy of “Never take points off the board.”
Yet, on the Steelers very next play, Ben Roethlisberger fumbled the ball and Washington recovered, monetarily. Maurkice Pouncey knocked the ball lose, and Ben Roethlisberger came out of the pile with it.
That play occurred on the Steelers 25. If Washington recovers that ball they at least walk away 9 points ahead, if not 13. Theoretically the Redskins could have been up by 21 only 5 minutes into the 4th quarter. Instead, the Steelers continued to drive, and when faced with a 4th and won, not only did Mike Tomlin decline to kick, he went for all the marbles as Roethlisberger hit Brown in the end zone.
- Roethlisberger and Brown delivered.
After the game, Tomlin explained: “We play to win.”
Imposing Their Will
In the 1980’s Joe Gibbs Washington Redskins won three Super Bowls (and defeated the Steelers 3 times) and did so without out same quantity of marquee talent that the San Francisco 49ers had in winning for (no offense to Art Monk, Darrell Green and John Riggins who are legit Hall of Famers.) There’s no secret to Gibbs ability to win Super Bowls good but not great skill players like Earnest Byner, Mark Rypien, Gerald Riggs, Timmy Smith and Ricky Sanders.
- He did it because he made his offensive line the foundation of his football team.
During the first half of the Mike Tomlin era, the Pittsburgh Steelers made it to two Super Bowls in spite of rather than because of their offensive line. Since then the Steelers have made an investment of both draft picks and second contracts in their offensive line.
- DeAngelo Williams performance provided the payoff for that investment.
Against the Redskins, DeAngelo Williams rushed for 143 yards on 26 carries which works out to 5.5 yards per carry. This is a guy who is 33 years old. That’s a full yard ahead of DeAngelo Williams 2016 outlook based on statistical projections. By the end of the evening, DeAngelo Williams was running through the Redskins defensive backfield at will.
Contrast that with Washington’s first rushing attempt of the second half:
What you see there my friends are two things:
- First, you have an effort that defines the very essence of who James Harrison is as a player
- Second, you have the metaphysical opposite of an offense that is imposing its will
To be sure, the Pittsburgh Steelers season opener was hardly flawless – Kirk Cousin’s jersey didn’t get a little muddy. But this is a Pittsburgh Steelers team that is both confident in its ability and ready and willing to execute based on the confidence.
Opening Day Reminiscent of, Dare We Say ’08?
The win against Washington at FedEx Field also broke an important streak of opening day road losses that have defined the backend (read post Super Bowl XLV) of the Mike Tomlin era, which is good because championship team must be able to win on the road – just ask the 2005 Steelers. But symbolic symmetry of the win.
- But the symbolic symmetry of with Steelers last opening day road win is also interesting?
The 2008 Steelers opened the season by manhandling the Houston Texans to the tune of 38-17, just a point off last night’s sore. And we know how the Steelers 2008 season ended….