2007 Steelers Dolphins Rain Game: Pittsburgh 3, Miami 0

Founded in 2008, Steel Curtain Rising existed before then, but on email. Enjoy these “Steel Curtain Outtakes.”

Mike Tomlin has talked the talk. The Steelers rain game win over Miami in flooded Heinz Field shows that now it is time for him to walk the walk.

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Hines Ward with on of his ten catches in the Steelers 3-0 “Rain Game” win over Miami. Photo Credit: Peter Diana

Since he’s been hired, Mike Tomlin has been the toast of Pittsburgh, winning praise from fans, the local press and national media alike.

Tomlin has said all of the right things. “I am a fundamentalist. I believe in winning by stopping the run and establishing the run.” “If you’re mentally weak you can use injuries and bye weeks as excuses for poor play. We don’t do that here.” And finally, “I am responsible for everything that happens on this team. That is a given.”

  • Excellent attitude. Events will now test how well Mike Tomlin exercises that responsibility.

Starting 8 and 3 is an accomplishment. But fast starts require strong finishes, last night’s game reveals a team at a cross roads.

The weather was the story last night. So be it. It was horrible, and you can’t draw too many specifics from a team’s performance under those conditions. But as Mike Tomlin himself will say, both teams had to play in the muck.

The Steelers defense pitched a shut out. You can’t ask for more than that. Yes, the Dolphins did move the ball a little more than you’d like, especially to start the first half. Pressure was good, and when it wasn’t there were many times when John Beck had no where to throw. Tackling was generally good, and we shut down the run. Most importantly, the defense came up big when it needed to.

  • The offense moved the ball. One might even say better than you’d expect. I however demur.

This is the kind of game where the Steelers should dominate. 9 trips into opposing territory needs yield more than three points. Remember Duce Staley after the hurricane in Miami in 2004 during Ben Roethlisberger‘s first start as a rookie? Remember Jerome Bettis in the snow on the day after Christmas in 1999?

  • The Steelers won those games by playing superior smash mouth football.

Mike Tomlin was right, the Steelers did need every one of Hines Ward‘s ten catches. But should it come down to that? Pittsburgh shouldn’t have to rely on crafty passes to convert third and short in the Red Zone. Najeh Davenport should convert third and 2, let alone 4th and 2. The Steelers didn’t do that last night.

  • Likewise, the Steelers must move the chains. How many third down conversions and/or otherwise large gains were negated by penalties? There’s simply no excuse for this.

Which brings up the critical point:

With 11 games played and five more to go, it’s quite apparent that some things may be beyond Mike Tomlin’s ability to control. The Jets and Dolphins have pathetic sack totals, yet seemed to get to Ben Roethlisberger at will. I honestly don’t know who the weak links on the o-line is (or are), but the truth is real improvement might have to wait for the off season.

And while the Steelers woes can generally be tied to the performance of the offensive line (remember 1998, 1999, and 2003 anyone?) there are things that are concrete signs that will reveal how well Mike Tomlin responds to this test:

Special teams. This has been a sore spot despite extensive practice. Call it execution, call it personnel configurations, call it attitude, call it whatever you will. As coach, Tomlin needs to make the adjustments needed to stop the breakdowns.
Penalties. Football is about momentum. You make a gain, you make a bigger gain, you impose your will. Penalties negate this. Some post-snap penalties are inevitable, but well-coached teams are less penalized. This will be important down the stretch.
Focus. Tomlin has said it again and again: “The men need to bring their ‘A’ game.” “They should be excited simply because we are playing a football game. Good words. Now we need action. The Steelers come out flat on the road, and also appear to play to the level of competition. That needs to change.
Decision making. No second guessing here. But certain decisions can help set the tempo for the team. Dan Kreider has been called a “sixth lineman.” The Steelers need his toughness upfront. He needs to dress and he needs to play, either clearing holes for Willie, or throwing extra block for Ben.

It’s not abnormal for good teams, even great teams to hit rough patches in the regular season. During both 1995 and 2005 seasons the team looked pretty bad during certain stretches, but both teams made the Super Bowl. We can also point to other years where we started off fast, only to sputter.

  • Which direction will the 2007 Steelers take?

A big part of that answer lies on Mike Tomlin’s shoulders.

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Outtakes: Steelers Lose to Broncos on in Mike Tomlin’s Monday Night Football Debut

Founded in 2008, Steel Curtain Rising existed before then, but on email. Now you can enjoy these Outtakes.”

Well, the Mike Tomlin era finally made its debut in Buenos Aires Sunday last night.  When you get a new coach, one of the man things you think about is “Is this person going to respect the personality of this team?”

While Bill Cowher certainly had a very different style than Noll, and the Steelers personality reflected that, the core remained – Smash Mouth Football on offense and dominating defense with enough of a downfield passing game to sting you when it counted

Five games into the season, worries about the Steelers identity have largely been allayed.  The stage was set for further confirmation…. The Steelers were to take their place along side the other elite teams in the NFL…..

  • That didn’t happen.

While I will not succumb in the knee-jerkism that one can easily find in Steelers Nation, the loss to the Broncos does offer some cause for concern.

Namely the now oft discussed offensive game plan. Truth be told, the performance we saw on offense the was not one Steelers Nation has seen for a long, long time.  Forget about the Kevin Gilbride era, I am thinking back to a late-season make or break game in 1990 against the Bengals.

Cincinnati came in with a division lead, but the leagues worst (or almost worst) run defense. The Steelers offensive was buffedled with Joe Walton’s playbook when it came time to pass, but as always we could still run the ball. In fact, with Tim Worley, Barry Foster, Merrill Hoge, and Warren Williams fans were writing the Steelers Digest suggesting we run the WishBone. Clearly the situation called for us impose our will on Bengals at TRS.

  • So what did the Steelers do?

Old man Joe called 40 or 42 pass plays, including four passes in a goal line situation (At least I am pretty sure.)

1990 was case of a guy trying to make a name for himself so he could return to the head coaching ranks.  Let’s hope that Adrian’s decision to call something like 21 passes in the first half vs. a team with a weak run defense was not born of similar inspiration.

Let me be clear.  I have always been for a balanced attack and our personnel calls for that more than it did when we had the Bus in his prime (veterans from Baltimore’s legendary Purple Goose Saloon might remember I actually defended Chan Gailey’s decision to pass at the goal line against…. Denver in the AFC Championship game.)

Likewise, there a lot of merit to the strategy that says to hit your opponent with the unexpected.  If you want to see what I am talking about, look no further than the January 2006 playoff game against Indy.

  • But strategies like that need to be used with care.

It was clearly warranted against Indy.  Against Denver?  I don’t think so. The foremost principle of power football is winning the battle upfront. Not only does that set the tempo, but it tires the defense out, and I will wager make them less eager to go after your QB if for no other reason then they’re thinking their going to get clobbered at the snap.

We clearly showed we could run on Denver in the second half, and so there’s no reason to think that we couldn’t have done it less effectively early on.  That would have established a rhythm and it would have made it easier to pass (which we obviously can do.)

I thought Ben Roethlisberger showed a lot of poise under pressure.  Indeed, I was shocked when I saw that he only had three sacks.  The game was lost in the second quarter – the final score makes it look closer than it was.

I don’t think I have ever seen the Steelers offensive line manhandled the way they were against Denver in the second quarter.  (OK, perhaps the 1999 Jacksonville game were we gave up TWO safeties is an exception – then again that was Wayne Gandy giving those safeties up.)Seriously, have you ever seen a Steeler QB gang tackled that way?

A word needs to be said of the defense.  Honestly this looked nothing like the dominating unit I’d been reading about.  James Harrison made some plays, as did James Farrior and Larry Foote, Anthony Smith looked good in the secondary. But as a unit they did not play well, and in terms of pressure it was largely a mirror image of the what Denver did to us – I thought Jay Cutler could have written pages in his diary on some of his drops.  Likewise, our inability to contain his scrambling was a sever weakness.

Its impossible to say why the Steelers fell flat, although it did catch my attention that this happened on the road again.  Regardless of the reason, the pundits are quite right when they say that this game confirms that Indy and New England are indeed the only legit elite teams in the league right now, and that the Steelers, while good, are still below looking up.

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Outakes: Steelers Broncos AFC Championship Win Sends Pittsburgh to Super Bowl XL – One for Thumb In Sight

Founded in 2008, Steel Curtain Rising existed before then, but on email. Now you can enjoy these Outtakes.”

One for the Thumb.”

In the 26 years after Joe Greene threw down the “One for the Thumb” gauntlet for the rest of the franchise, five times before the Steelers have stood on the door step, only to fall short. 4 of those times the Steelers were unable to open the door, and the one time Pittsburgh opened it, Neil O’Donnell allowed Larry Brown to shut during Super Bowl XXX.

  • The Steelers Broncos AFC Championship win again opened the door and opened it compelling fashion.

While today’s game might have lacked the suspense of the AFC divisional victory over the Colts, the Steelers compensated for it with ingenuity. One really must credit to Bill Cowher for keeping the boys mean and hungry, and Ken Whisenhunt  deserves even more credit for devising and deploying a brilliant game plan. I don’t know how many coaching vacancies are left, but Steelers fans had better enjoy Ken Whisenhunt while they can.

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Ben Roethlisberger in the 2005 AFC Championship Game. Photo Credit: Denver Post

Has a Bill Cowher-coached Steelers team ever come out and called a better game on offense? I don’t know.

Not only did Ken Whisenhunt call the right play at the right time, but his players executed. To be sure, the Steelers got a few breaks (Hines Ward turning a would be Champ Bailey int/TD into a receptions. Neither of Willie Parker’s fumbles costing the team,) but that’s all part of the game. The fact the so many people had a piece of the ball says it all. Hines Ward, Cedric Wilson, Jerome Bettis, and Ben Roethlisberger got TD’s. Heath Miller didn’t get a TD, but came up with clutch catches when the Steelers needed him.

Aside from executing a well-devised game plan, the Steelers took advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves. 10 of those 24 first half points came directly off of turnovers. Which is to say that the Steelers started 24-3 instead of 14 to three. And make no mistake about it. Getting up a lead prevented Denver from running the ball, and the Broncos had shown some ability to do that early in the game.

The Steelers defense also earned its share of the credit.

  • For once, Phil Simms is right about the Steelers, Pittsburgh’s defensive backs can cover.

Although the Steelers defense did get into Jake Plummer’s face when it was important, there were also a number of times when he had loads of time to throw, but couldn’t find anyone open. One of the telling stats is that Plummer had so little success throwing long down the field. (And to think, a lot of people cited the Steelers weakness vs. the deep ball. Well, in the Steelers-Broncos AFC Championship game, defending against the long ball wasn’t a Pittsburgh weakness.)

All in all, the Steelers played a hell of a game. They had a great game plan, they executed, and they stayed focused, with the one exception of the Bronco’s only TD drive where we gave them 31 yards on penalties. Pittsburgh also prevented Denver from establishing momentum.

  • When the Broncos answered Jeff Reed’s 2nd field goal with a 47 yard Charlie Adams kick return, Larry Foote answered with an interception on the very next play.

Credit the Broncos. They didn’t fold up and quit, when they could have. They stuffed the Steelers running game (yes, I did think Pittsburgh’s play calling got a little conservative, but Ken Whisenhunt’s boys did move the chains and eat up the clock.)

The Steelers fought long and hard to get here.

  • Few people thought the Steelers would be here after the Steelers late season loss to the Bengals.

But I credit coach Cowher for bringing the boys back to basics (putting on full pads for practice clearly did the trick). Bill Cowher kept this team focused, he re-grounded the Steelers in their our physical identity, and that opened the door to the playoffs.

  • Then Bill Cowher unleashed what was, but shouldn’t have been his secret weapon. Big Ben Roethlisberger.

The decisive edge for the Steelers through the 2005 playoffs thus far has been having a legitimate franchise quarterback under center. And what a difference Ben Roethlisberger has made.

  • It’s been a hell of a ride thus far, and folks, it ain’t over yet!

Enjoy it. (Click here for our summary of Super Bowl XL)

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