Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is wondering if what once seemed to be his star pupil is actually underachieving or is simply mired in mediocrity, here is the Steelers report card for the loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Jerry’s World. As a caveat, no other report cards were consulted prior to this posting.
Quarterback Had the Steelers won, it would have been forgotten that Ben Roethlisberger started shaky, was uncharacteristically low on several key throws, and was below 50% passing for much of the early going. The amnesia is justified, as Roethlisberger put on a sterling performance to close the second half, and brought the Steelers back from deficits in the fourth quarter in strong fashion. But… He threw an interception, inside his own twenty, in over time. Maybe one costly error doesn’t negate everything Roethlisberger did, but it negates a lot. Grade: C-
Running Back Jonathan Dwyer started off with a strong 6 yard run, and then end up averaging 2.4 yards per carry, although nine carries isn’t much to judge by. Isaac Redman had a spectacular 22 yard run and looked good, on his other 2 carries. Ditto Chris Rainey, who made the most of his carries. It may have been through no fault of their own, but the running backs were largely a non-factor. Grade: B-
Wide Receivers This unit started out with some ball security issues, drops and inability to get in bounds, and of course finished with an inability to stay in bounds. But in between, the receivers turned in a pretty good game. Heath Miller was phenomenal in the first half. Mike Wallace burned his men so badly he had to wait for the ball, and Jerricho Cotchery made a couple of key catches. Grade: B
Offensive Line Ben Roethlisberger didn’t go down often early, but that was largely from his “Roger the Dodger” imitation. The run blocking was average at best. Both Max Starks and Kelvin Beachum struggled to contain pressure off the edge. But unit put up a winning performance until the Steelers final two possessions – when Roethlisberger needed time the most. That breakdown was unacceptable. Grade: D
Defensive Line Unlike Pittsburgh, Dallas’ running game was a factor, giving Tony Romo lots of 2nd and 3rd and shorts which he converted with relish. That starts with the defensive line. Likewise, the Steelers got little significant pressure on Romo. In fact, Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward were the only players to register any stats, although Brett Keisel recovered a fumble. With a depleted secondary, the Steelers needed something extra up front. They didn’t get it much from the line. Grade: C-
Linebackers Lawrence Timmons continued to make his case for defensive MVP registering a sack and stopping a key Dallas third down conversion. James Harrison saved a touchdown with a masterful strip at the goal line, and nixed some sort of trickery by slam dunking Romo on another 3rd and short. LaMarr Woodley played, but was invisible throughout the game. Larry Foote did little to distinguish himself. Grade: B-
Secondary You had to feel for Joshua Victorian. Has a Steelers corner ever been picked on so badly? Clearly he was over matched early on, but he did perk up, a little during the game. Still, poor tackling and yards after the catch were as much issues as completions, which were plentifully. Keenan Lewis turned in a strong game including some great touchdown saves. Ryan Clark led the team in tackles, and Troy Polamalu was second, although he’s clearly failed to be a force since his return. The Standard is the Standard, and the secondary was below the line. Grade: D
Special Teams Shaun Suisham was 1-1 on field goals. Chris Rainey had one nice kick return. No returns got called back on penalties. Dallas did have a long punt return. Antonio Brown had two long punt returns. Unfortunately on his second one, where he looked primed to set Pittsburgh up to ice the game, he put the ball on the ground. For an encore he passed on fielding a punt and the ensuring bounce put the Steelers another 15 yards in the hole. This unit cannot seem to stop tripping over its own too feet. The fumble was a decisive momentum shift. Inexcusable. Grade: F
Coaching After a heart breaking letdown the Steelers started off jittery. To their credit, Mike Tomlin kept the team on an even keel. On a day when Tony Romo was moving with alarming ease, the Steelers maintained their composure and did not hesitate to go blow for blow. And for all of the defense’s flaws, they did force Dallas off the field at a couple of key points (only to watch their special teams self destruct.)
Dick Lebeau had a difficult task. His adjustments didn’t manage to get much pressure on Romo, but overall the defense’s performance might have been good enough. Ditto Todd Haley. Much is made of the inability to get Heath Miller the ball in the second half, but the Steelers offense did tie the game in the 3rd and took the lead in the first. Ultimately the Steelers did make some adjustments, but they weren’t enough. Grade: C
Unsung Hero He’s a guy who doesn’t see the stat sheet a lot and will in all likelihood have to fight for a roster spot every summer at St. Vincents. But Ben Roethlisberger called his number twice, and twice he delivered with double digit receptions, including one that helped set up the Steelers first score. On the Steelers second score, he helped open the daylight that lead to Dwyer’s first half ending touchdown, and for that Will Johnson is the Unsung Hero of the Dallas game.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys are the NFL’s two most popular and by most measures, most successful franchises. They’ve now faced off 31 times, with Dallas holding a one game advantage in the series. Its hard to generalize about the series, given that:
When the Steelers took to the field for the game’s first possession, the question on everyone’s mind was, “Which Pittsburgh Steelers squad will show up today?”
The answer as previewed on the Steelers first drive left everyone in Steelers Nation queasy. After a nice six yard run by Jonathan Dwyer, Ben Roethlisberger threw:
A deep pass to Mike Wallace that Wallace probably should have caught and Dallas probably should have intercepted
A short pass to Antonio Brown that he might have been able to catch and that Dallas should have intercepted
A deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders that he caught and fumbled, only to have mercifully ruled as an incompletion upon review
Another pass that got batted around by Dallas defenders like a volley ball
Sadly, the sight of Drew Butler on fourth down was sign of relief. Things didn’t get much better on the Steelers next possession which ended with Mike Wallace making what looked to be a beautiful catch, only for him to fail to get both feet in bounds.
Even more sadly, these first two series most certainly foreshadowed things to come for the Steelers, although that might not have been immediately apparent.
Keep’n ‘em Honest in Texas
Tony Romo entered the game on a real hot streak, and figured to feast mightily on a Steelers secondary missing Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen and featuring someone named Josh Victorian starting at corner.
The record will, and should, reflect that Romo and his receivers did pick the Steelers secondary apart for much of the afternoon. At one point Romo was 20-25.
But that’s only part of the story. As has happened all season, in both victory and defeat, members from across the roster have made plays to keep the Steelers in the game.
Keenan Lewis broke up a pass to Dez Bryant to hold Dallas to a field goal
Lawrence Timmons smothered Murray on third and one to end Dallas first 3rd quarter possession
James Harrison sacked Tony Romo on an attempt to sneak something big on another 3rd and 1
Big plays weren’t solely limited to the defense. Near the end of the first half, Ben Roethlisberger flawlessly executed the 2 minute drill, and completing 3 passes to Heath Miller including a 30 yard touchdown. He also threw a 60 yarder to Mike Wallace to set up Dwyer’s second touchdown.
Jerricho Cotchery, Mike Wallace and Isaac Redman also made excellent plays on the drive the culminated with Antonio Brown’s go ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Failing on the Fundamentals
Although that touchdown gave Pittsburgh its first lead in the game, it also held the seeds for its downfall. Brown made an excellent catch on a very low pass, but the pass was low, as had been several others of Roethlisberger. Even as Pittsburgh was pulling ahead, its fundamentals were flawed.
Brown himself would make that painfully clear in just a few minutes.
A series of Dallas penalties and incomplete passes brought up 4th and 19 for the Cowboys. Not surprisingly, Jason Garrett opted to punt.
Antonio Brown fielded the ball and tore through the defense en route to giving Pittsburgh excellent field position, if not something bigger…
…Then he put the ball on the ground.
The repossession gave Dallas new life and they quickly tied the game. As he did on other drives, Tony Romo exploited the youth and inexperience of the Steelers corners, but he was even more successful because the Steelers failed to tackle cleanly, regularly yielding Dallas extra yards after the catch.
Things cascaded after that point.
The Steelers make shift offensive line, complete with David DeCastro making his first start, had done a workman like job, only allowing 1 sack in the game’s first 54 minutes.
The Steelers next possession was ended by a sack on third down
On the following possession, Roethlisberger was sacked on consecutive downs, for 8 yards each time
On the next play Antonio Brown inexplicably gave Dallas an extra time out by running out of bounds
Sure, the game went into over time anyway, but perhaps that extra time out is what allow Dallas to pin Pittsburgh deep and with no time to end regulation.
Finally, overtime ended with Ben Roethlisberger threw a risky pass and paid the price.
Against the Dallas Cowboys the Pittsburgh Steelers played hard and at times played well. But too often they ignored core fundamentals and ultimately lacked focus at key times.
They now need to find both fast, to have any hope of saving their season.
“Best” in the National Football League is defined by Super Bowl Championships. But how do you decide who is “the best of the best” when comparing championship teams from different eras? It’s an irresistible, unending, and most often unanswerable question because it’s rare when two truly great teams clash in a single era.
The glory earned by Bill Walsh’s 49ers was real, but in none of those Super Bowls did San Francisco defeat another team that also laid claim to the term “Dynasty.”
Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys of the ‘70´s established dynasties, and they did play each other in the Super Bowl. Twice. And that’s what makes their rivalry so special.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys have played 30 times and the series stands at a 15-15 stalemate. The links below take you back games that I have memories of starting with the Super Bowls.
First a little poetic license. I’m too young to remember Super Bowl X, but omitting this NFL classic would be a sin. Chad Millman and Sean Coyne chronicle this series in their 2010 book The Ones Who Hit the Hardest, arguing that the tensions between the two teams mirrored the 1970’s Sun Belt-Frost Belt social shift. While that’s interesting, this Super Bowl magnum’s true richness is in the Hall of Fame Talent found on both sides of the ball.
Although the Steel Curtain defense was at its prime, it couldn’t stop Roger Staubach from striking quickly to Drew Pearson for a 29 yard touchdown pass. Pittsburgh rallied quickly, thanks in part of the first of several acrobatic “Lynn Swann” catches. Dallas struck back by with three more, and the two teams stood at a stalemate until Cliff Harris’ ill-advised taunting of Roy Gerela after a missed kick. Jack Lambert would not stand for it, and tossed Harris to the turf.
Although Lambert pleaded with the official not to get ejected, his boldness inspired the Steelers. In short order, Reggie Harrison blocked a punt for a safety, and Roy Gerela kicked two field goals to put Pittsburgh ahead by 3, which they clung to until late in the 4th.
On third and 6 with 3:06 to play Dallas KOed Terry Bradshaw with a helmet-to-helmet hit on all out safety blitz, but not before he lofted a 64 yard pass to Lynn Swann, who put the Steelers up 21-10.
Pittsburgh had the lead, but Bradshaw was out and 3 minutes was a lot of time to give Roger Staubach…
What separates a great player in his era from an all time great?
For one, the all time greats elevate those around them. Roger Staubach only need 1:14 to put Dallas back in the game, and he did it with a 34 yard bullet to Percy Howard for a touchdown, making that the first and only pass reception of Howard’s NFL career.
Without Bradshaw, the Steelers failed to kill the clock.
Chuck Noll refused to punt, giving Roger Staubach ample time to go 61 yards.
But Noll had the best defense in NFL history at his disposal. He trusted them. And they delivered and they delivered as Mike Wagner tipped Staubach’s final pass into the arms of Glen Edwards.
This was the first Super Bowl rematch and arguably the best Super Bowl ever, with 7 touchdowns, a 22 yard touchdown run, and a fumble returned for a touchdown.
While still strong, the Steel Curtain had begun its decline. But Chuck Noll and Tom Moore compensated by unleashing Lynn Swann and John Stallworth with the help of Terry Bradshaw´s cannon.
The day’s defensive accolades belonged to the Dallas “Doomsday Defense” led by Randy White, Harvey Martin, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and the coke sniffing Hollywood Henderson. This was the year that Tom Landry unveiled the famous “flex defense” that befuddled the league.
Who would triumph? The Irresistible force or the Immovable object?
Super Bowl XIII was Terry Bradshaw’s finest game.
Lynn Swann and John Stallworth caught touchdown passes of 18 yards, 28 yards, and 75 yards, respectively
Although he threw just 30 times, he had 318 yards passing
Rocky Bleier closed the first half with another touchdown catch, making a play that a former Vietnam vet who was never supposed to walk again had no right to.
The game featured Hall of Fame caliber plays from both teams. Tony Dorsett gouged Pittsburgh’s defense for 96 yards on just 15 carries – an astonishing 6.4 yard average. Roger Staubach himself had a 3 touchdown game, including two in the game’s final 2 and a half minutes.
Looking back at Dorsett’s rushing dominance one might ask, why were Staubach’s heroics even necessary? Why didn’t Dallas run more?
The answer lies in Dallas’ inability to take advantage of opportunities, and in that age old flaw – cockiness.
With Dallas trailing 21 to 14 in the third quarter, Staubach hit Jackie Smith perfectly alone in the end zone – Smith dropped the ball
Midway through the 4th, Randy White recovered a muffed kickoff, only to fumble and then watch Dennis Wilson emerge with the ball from the ensuring scrum
One play later, Bradshaw hit Swann for an 18 yard touchdown strike
But it was the touchdown that set up the botched kickoff that provides the instructive tale.
Prior to Super Bowl XII, Hollywood Henderson had talked a lot of trash:
Insulting Randy Grossman
Calling Jack Lambert a “toothless chimpanzee”
charging that Bradshaw could not spell “cat” if you spotted him the “c” and the “t”
Midway through the fourth quarter Henderson slammed Bradshaw to the turf on a play whistled dead before the snap. Not content with an illegal it, Henderson took his time climbing off of Bradshaw, taunting him all the while.
Franco Harris, normally reserved to a fault, took exception to the taunts and got into Henderson’s face. According to Millman and Coyne, Henderson rebuffed him, “_uck you in your ass, and your mama, too.”
Harris’ response was simple. It was 3rd and 9 and Harris returned to the huddle and said “give me the ball.” Bradshaw complied, calling a special trap the Noll andMoore had designed to exploit a weakness in the Flex defense.
Harris ran straight through the hole, and went 22 yards later he found the end zone.
Staubach’s of course would lead two 4th quarter touchdown drives, leaving Dallas 22 seconds for an on-sides kick and a final shot at glory. But Rocky Bleier recovered the kick, sealing the Steelers 3rd Super Bowl victory.
Afterwards, a Cowboy’s radio commentator proclaimed “It was a triumph of blue collar over white collar.” Maybe that’s true. The grandson of a Mt. Oliver butcher who lived by the sweat of his brow certainly likes that ending to the story.
But truth is something perhaps grander yet.
It was a historical rarity that pitted two dynasties clashing in the game’s greatest show, with Pittsburgh coming out on top.
Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney, Sr. passed away on August 28th, 1988. The Chief’s death marked a transition for the team. Gone was Mark Malone, drafted in 1980 to replace Terry Bradshaw. Gone too were John Stallworth and Mike Webster, leaving Dwayne Woodruff as the final link to the Super Steelers.
As fate would have it, Rooney’s team would confront their historic rivals 7 days after his death, making it the final time that Chuck Noll and Tom Landry’s final contest. The game marked Bubby Brister’s first non-injury start and Michael Irvin’s NFL debut. It also began a sort of last hurrah for 1980´s Steelers stables such as Ernest Jackson who would soon find himself benched in favor of an unheralded second year player named Merril Hoge.
The Steelers won 24 to 21, allowing Noll to open with a victory over Landry in a season that would see him close it with a victory over Shula – and get precious little in between.
The 1989 Steelersrekindled the passions and imaginations of an aspiring Steelers Nation. They also left the 1990 Steelers with the 17th pick, and Emmitt Smith was still on the board when their time came.
…Dallas of pounced on Emmitt Smith, and Number 22 would make Pittsburgh pay for that error several times, beginning on Thanksgiving Day 1991.
Dallas scored the first 10 points on the heels of an Emmitt Smith touchdown and Ken Willis field goal. Floundering under Joe Walton´s offense, Pittsburgh got its first score in the third quarter thanks to Gary Anderson.
The Cowboys matched with 3 of their own, but with a late 4th quarter Warren Williams touchdown the Steelers threatened to make a game of it. Dallas responded, when Steve Beuerlein hit Michal Irvin across the middle. Gary Jones missed the tackle and even Rod Woodsoncould not chase him down as Irvin iced the game with a 66 yard touchdown.
Emmitt Smith had 109 yards on the day, more than the entire Steelers rushing offense….
Jimmy Johnson brought the Lombardi back to Dallas in 1992, the year an rookie head coach ignighted the passions of Steelers Nation with the phenomenon known as “Cowher Power.” Dallas repeated as champions in 1993 and, although the 1993 Steelers just snuck into the playoffs, they entered 1994 as the class of the AFC.
The stage was set Pittsburgh vs. Dallas at Three Rivers Stadium for FOX´s first NFL broadcast – the Steelers were to have their official coming out party as a legit contender….
…And the Steelers fell flat on their faces.
The Steelers did nothing right. Barry Fosterwas held to 44 yards rushing, and one of the game’s enduring images was Bill Cowher imploring Neil O’Donnell on the side lines “Throw the Ball Neil! You’re a quarterback, throw the ball!”
The Cowboys sacked Neil O’Donnell 9 times, including 4 by Charles Haley alone
Emmitt Smith decimated the Steelers for 171 yards
Michael Irvin had 8 catches for 139 yards
Overconfidence was the Achilles heal of Bill Cowher’s early teams. Every time they had a showcase game they failed miserably. And so it was on opening day 1994 vs. Dallas and so it remained later in January when the San Diego Chargers upset the Steelers in the AFC Championship game.
As mentioned above, Chuck Noll opened and closed 1988 with wins over Landry´s Cowboys and Shula’s Dolphins with only 3 victories in between. That 5-11 was a low point for Noll, but it disqualified Pittsburgh from the Aikman Derby, an “honor” which fell to Dallas.
Had the 1988 Steelers finished 2-14 Noll almost certainly would have drafted Aikman and probably also would have picked Emmitt Smith in 1990. Could that alternate scenario have led to a Super Bowl XXX pitting a Steelers team led by Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith vs. a Dallas Cowboys squad led by Steve Walsh and Barry Sanders?
We’ll never know. Dallas got Troy Aikman, leaving Pittsburgh to draft Neil O’Donnell in 1990. And those two picks would make all the difference in the big dance.
Dallas started fast, scoring the game’s first 13 points, as stage fright slowed the Steelers. But the Black and Gold got back into things when Yancy Thigpen caught a touchdown pass despite Slime Time Dieon Sanders’ blatant pass interference.
The Dallas Cowboys deserve full credit for winning this game, but Pittsburgh wounds were self inflicted. Early in the third quarter Neil O’Donnell threw a pass directly to Larry Brown who returned it deep into the Red Zone, where Emmitt Smith easily converted.
Undaunted, the Steelers got back on the board with a 46 yard Norm Johnson field goal, and then Bill Cowher made one of the gustiest calls in Super Bowl history with a surprise on-sides that Deon Figures recovered. The Steelers marched down the field and Bam Morris brought them to within 3, as the score stood 20-17 Dallas.
The Steelers defense held, but that did not stop Neil O’Donnell from striking again, as he once age threw directly to Larry Brown, who again returned it to the Red Zone. O’Donnell apologists argue that Andre Hastings ran the wrong route, but it’s the quarterback’s job to deliver a ball, and there was nary a black jersey in sight on Brown´s second interception.
Emmitt Smith put the Dallas Cowboys ahead for good a few plays later, sealing Super Bowl XXX for Dallas.
For the record, Troy Aikman was flawless in the game, going 15-23 with one touchdown and no picks.
The game evened Dallas’s Super Bowl record with the Steelers to 1-2, and pulled the Cowboys ahead in the Lombardi count by 1.
Troy Aikman torched the Steelers secondary for 4 touchdown passes
Yes, the Steelers effectively shut down Emmitt Smith, but that didn´t matter, as Dallas jumped to a 37-0 lead and held it until Mark Bruner hauled in a face-saving 4th quarter touchdown.
This game was neither the first nor the last of Bill Cowher’s infamous opening day blow outs. And true to form the Steelers rebounded landing in the AFC Championship later that year, while Dallas imploded losing their last 5 en route to a 6-10 finish as Barry Switzer lost control of the team.
But that future seemed very distant for both teams during that 37-7 drubbing one hot Sunday in August at Three Rivers Stadium.
The Dave Campo in Dallas ended with the faithful at Texas Stadium demanding that Jerry Jones bring Bill Parcells to Irving. Bring him he did. Tuna brought Vinny Testaverde with him….
…Vinny Testaverde got and still gets better press than any other overrated under achieving quarterback in the history of the NFL. But Parcells coaxed the best out of Vinny. Yet not even Big Tuna could will success out of Testaverde against his old AFC Central Nemesis….
…and for a while it looked like Vinny might just deny him it.
The Cowboys quickly jumped ahead on a Richie Anderson touchdown, but Ben Roethlisberger struck back with touchdown to Plaxico Burress, followed by a 51 yard field goal from Jeff Reed.
But Dallas tied it at the half, added another three to start the third quarter, and as the third quarter was ending the Cowboys appeared to pull away when Testaverde connected with Meshawn “Will You Just GIVE ME the DAMM BALL” Johnson for a 22 yard touchdown.
The Steelers tied it late in the fourth quarter with a touchdown, but Testaderde began masterfully killing the clock.
At third and 13 with 2:36 remaining Dallas only needed a first down to ice the game, but James Farriorknocked the ball lose and Kemo Von Oelhoffen recovered. Five plays later Jerome Bettis was in for the go ahead touchdown, dropping Testaverde´s record vs. the Steelers to 2-10.
Yet the Steelers entered the 4th quarter down 13 to 3. As Dallas held Willie Parker to 25 yards, Ben Roethlisberger and Heath Miller lost fumbles, and the Steelers converted a woeful 3 of 16 third downs.
Early in the 4th quarter the Steelers finally put together a long drive reaching the one, but despite trying on both third and fourth downs, Gary Russellcould not punch it in. The Dallas defense celebrated as if it had won the game.
Dallas offense lasted 6 plays and ‘Tone responded with a 35 yard punt return, giving the Steelers excellent field position, but the Steelers were forced to settle for 3. Again the Steelers defense responded with a three and out. Ben Roethlisberger hooked up 3 times with Nate Washington on the ensuring drive before throwing a 5 yard pass to Jeff Reed, trying the game with just over two minutes to play.
On its first play Dallas ran two yards up the middle.
Mike Tomlin called a time out. Tony Romo was audibly incredulous and visibly fluster by Tomlin’s take no prisoners move. You can watch the results for yourself, with a little music interlude, courtesy of “Renegade” (available as of 12-13-12):
The 2012 Steelers traveled to Jerry’s World reeling looking to regain footing after a shocking loss to the Chargers the week before. The Steelers might failed to play disciplined football, but the certainly lacked on flair for the dramatic in this one.
The Steelers opening drive featured 2 “should have been” interceptions on Ben Roethlisberger attempts to connect with Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, followed by an Emmanuel Sanders fumble that mercifully got ruled as an incompletion. Dallas jumped to a 10 point lead, but the Steelers fought back tying the game at the half.
The lead changed hands 3 times in the third quarter, but the Steelers opened a 24-17 advantage on a 7 yard Ben Roethlisberger-Antonio Brown hook up. Pittsburgh appeared to have Dallas on the ropes when its defense forced the Cowboys to punt next possession, and Antonio Brown appeared to be hammering the nail into their coffin as he returned the punt 22 yards, only to be stripped of the ball.
The Cowboys tied the score. The Steelers had two chances to mount a comeback, but three times in the next two possessions and once on consecutive downs. The Steelers won the toss in overtime, but a Roethlisberger interception was returned to the one, allowing Dallas to score.
Fans throughout Steelers Nation questioned the team’s commitment to winning in the wake of the shocking defeat to the Chargers. Mike Tomlin has asked similar questions, but unlike the rest of the fan base, he’s acted upon it.
Late on Tuesday word spread that the Steelers have suspended 2008 first round draft pick Rashard Mendenhallfor “Conduct detrimental to the team.” Specifically, Mendenhall did not show up at Heinz Field after he’d been told earlier in the week that he would not dress for the Chargers game.
But now Mendenhall’s actions have spoken far louder than any words he might have uttered. Rashard Mendenhall had an obligation to be with his teammates for the Chargers game. First, he needed to show he is a “hand in the pile” type player, second he needed to offer support and advice to his fellow rushers.
But it goes beyond that. Even though Mendenhall had been told he would not dress for the game, there is a chance the Steelers might have needed him. Guys can and do get hurt in warm ups. That’s how Bubby Brister earned his first start back in 1986. Jerome Bettis showed up for the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff game vs. Baltimore expecting to play, but the pain killing shot made his entire leg numb.
These things happen. Who knows? Had something like that happened, Mendenhall could dressed, gotten into the game, and won his starting job back. But he wasn’t there for his team.
The chances of Mendenhall is a free agent resigning with the Steelers were slim to begin with. Now its fairly safe to say that he will not be a Pittsburgh Steeler in 2013.
Suspending Mendenhall now is even more right. This type of nonchalance contributed mightily to the loss vs. San Diego, and sending someone home without pay sends a strong signal that it will not be tolerated.
One first round pick begins exiting stage left, another steps into the spotlight. As Ivan Cole of Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write at BTSC) pointed out at the time, Willie Colon’s pancaking of Vontaze Burfick during the Bengals game marked a turning point for the Steelers offensive line and its running game. From that moment the Steelers offensive line began to consistently win battles up front.
Unfortunately, Colon got injured in the loss to the Ravens, and the line has not been the same since, particularly the run blocking.
Colon started the San Diego game, but could not finish. Mike Tomlin confirmed that he’ll have surgery this week. How he responds will determine whether or not he heads to IR for the third straight year.
Both Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen suffered hip flexors vs. the Cowboys. Lewis is expected to play but Allen is doubtful. That means that Curtis Brown, who did not play well last week, might start and that Josh Victoria and David Van Dyke will also likely see time in the secondary.
Taken from the grade book of a teacher who, as a second semester junior, decided to blow off studying for his open book, open note final in Crime the Individual and Society and bombed it accordingly. The feeling here is that the Steelers took the same approach to the Chargers game and their report card reflects it. As a caveat, no other grades were consulted prior to this posting.
Quarterback Of all the units quarterback is one that offered something redeeming. Which is not to say Ben Roethlisberger played well. He was rusty early on and finished 5-13 on third down conversions – and that includes garbage time. So Ben must bear some responsibility. However, he didn’t have help from his running game, his receivers, or his offensive line. In spite of that, he did his part moving around to buy time and leaving the pocket and rushing. It wasn’t enough. Grade: C-
Running Backs Jonathan Dwyer outran Roethlisberger by one yard, and most of his carries came on a 14 yard scamper. Outside of that he got nothing. Isaac Redman had 2 carries for zero yards. Chris Rainey had some one garbage time carry. Arguably the running backs should have gotten more carries, but they indisputably were ineffective in the carries that they had. Grade: F
Wide Receivers Mike Wallace looked great. The problem was he didn’t start playing until garbage time, save for the final drive of the first half. Before that he dropped an almost certain touchdown. Antonio Brown had a drop, as did Jerricho Cotchery and even Heath Miller dropped a touchdown pass. Plaxico Burress made a difficult catch in triple coverage. The Steelers needed plays like that. They didn’t get them. Grade: F
Offensive Line The Steelers offensive line started to click in Cincinnati when Willie Colon settled in at guard. Colon’s been hurt or out recently and line play has suffered. But the Standard is the Standard, and all of the Steelers offensive lineman were “below the line” in both their run blocking and their pass blocking. If they could get it done, at least against the Raven’s pass rush, then why was Ben running for his live vs. the Chargers? This unit failed to get it done. Grade: F
Defensive Line Vs. the Steelers San Diego was playing offensive lineman who’d spent the previous Sunday watching games while drinking beer with their buddies. And while San Diego only rushed for 2.6 yards, the Steelers defensive line did not dominate this group by any definition. Ziggy Hood did fairly well early on, and Brett Keisel chased Philip Rivers around but the Steelers needed more, and didn’t get it. Grade: D
Linebackers Lawrence Timmons played well, especially early on. However Jason Worilds was invisible, James Harrison failed to be a factor as did Larry Foote. This group more than the lineman must shoulder blame for the lack of pressure on Rivers and San Diego’s almost automatic ability to convert third and shorts. Where have the forced fumbles been? Grade: F
Secondary Against the Ravens, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown looked ready for prime time. Against the Chargers, ready for the practice squad Brown looked. Allen also took a step back. Troy Polamalu made some good tackles at the line of scrimmage, but a potential interception was botch by a collision with Allen. Keenan Lewis made some plays, but the truth is that Philip Rivers owned the Steelers on third down having converted more than the last several opponents combined. Unacceptable. Grade: F
Special Teams Shaun Suisham made a 49 yarder. Drew Bulter punted well after a poor first punt. But the Steelers started inside their own 15 seven times. That’s not all on the special teams, but they could have provided a spark, but they didn’t and when it seemed like they were about to, you guessed it, it got called back on a penalty. Likewise the special teams got caught asleep at the switch on a fake punt at a point when the offense must might have been able to get the Steelers into the game. Inexcusable. Grade: F
Coaching Norv Turner is terrible head coach but an excellent offensive and it would be interesting to see his life time record vs. Dick LeBeau. During the first half LeBeau held his own, but Turner out foxed him, calling just the right play on third down time and time again. On a day when his player executed so poorly, its difficult to assess Todd Haley’s performance, other than to say it wasn’t good enough.
But the spotlight is and should remain on Mike Tomlin. The day he was hired, he declared that a true measure of a team isn’t how it handles failure but how it handles success. In the locker room after the game, the Steelers player all but said they’d overlooked San Diego. Yes, professionals shouldn’t “need to be motivated, but it’s the head coaches job to get his team mentally prepared to play, and the Steelers were anything but prepared. Grade: F
Unsung Hero Naming any kind of award winner here is a challenge. The Chargers opening possession of the second half really complicated things for the Steelers, but Steelers return unit Rainey stood ready to answer that with a 29 yard kick return, that while it wouldn’t have been a game breaker, could have set the tone for the Steelers in the second half. Instead it got called back, but that doesn’t negate Chris Rainey’s effort or attitude, and for that he is the Unsung Hero of the week.
The Pittsburgh Steelers entered NFL week 14 riding high. The Steelers weren’t “supposed” to beat Ravens, and that victory was to propel them into the playoffs – and dare Steelers Nation dream, beyond.
The San Diego Chargers, in contrast, began the day at 4-8 after a week where word leaked head coach Norv Turner was to get the ax.
The Steelers were playing at home, and Ben Roethlisberger was back. As Mr. Baker, my old 8th grade World Studies teacher would say, it was a gimmie.
And the Steelers blew it.
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Act, Coming to a City Near You
My, what a difference one week makes.
Against Baltimore, the Pittsburgh Steelers played hungry, focused, inspired football. They didn’t dominate, but they hung in against the odds, overcame adversity, and made the plays necessary to win in the fourth quarter.
They had the look of a team, in the words of Dale Lolley, that could be “dangerous in the playoffs.”
Coming into a hostile environment, one in which the franchise had never prevailed in 14 regular season attempts, the San Diego Chargers:
Dominated the line of scrimmage while on defense
Converted third downs
Protected Philip Rivers with a make-shift offensive line assembled at the last minute with street free agents
Got in Ben Roethlisberger’s face
Won the time of possession battle
Went 2-2 in the Red Zone
Executed a fake punt flawlessly just when Pittsburgh threatened to make a game of it
Forced turnovers and converted them into touchdowns
Neutralized the Steelers return game
Prevented the Steelers from converting third downs
And to the annoyance of Steelers Nation, all of this happened to a never ending serenade of praise from Charger’s Cheerleader-in-Chief Phil Simms.
Besides that, it was all Steelers…
Breaking Down the Chargers Victory Over the Steelers
…Seriously, there’s not a lot of deep X’s and O’s analysis to be made here. The Chargers dominated the Pittsburgh Steelers in all three phases of the game.
Don’t let the final score fool you. Antonio Brown’s touchdown pass was pure garbage time glory. Ditto Mike Wallace’s 11 yard touchdown. Forget the arguments about going for 2. Does anyone really think that mattered?
To the extent that a technical analysis does matter, here goes.
During the first half Roethlisberger and the rest of the Steelers offense was rusty. And while the Chargers were controlling the clock, the Steelers defense did a good job of containing them.
Being down at home 13 to 0 to a team that has lost 5 games in the second half is nothing to fear. And Mike Tomlin deserves credit coaching aggressively with the ball at the ten, 50 seconds to play and one time out remaining.
Ben Roethlisberger, Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace, and Shuan Suisham vindicated The Steelers vindicated Tomlin.
Such a bold move surly indicated the Steelers were going to make second half adjustments and reclaim the victory that was theirs. Right?
But that was not to be.
The Chargers opened the second half cemented control of the game with a 17 play, 75 yard drive where they converted 5 third downs and consumed 9 minutes of clock.
The Steelers now needed to score 17 points in just over a quarter.
The Chargers then put the cherry on top when Roethlisberger bounced a fumble off of David Paulson with San Diego recovering in the end zone.
Please, save the arguments about the call. It WAS a forward pass. So what?
If San Diego isn’t getting good penetration and/or Roethlsiberger is more on target, they have no good fortune to capitalize on.
All other analysis of the second half beyond that is academic. Yes, Pittsburgh did stab a couple of times at competing, but they either self destructed and/or San Diego diffused them all.
Still Searching for Identity or Are the Steelers Simply Inconsistent?
The 2012 Steelers were a team still finding itself, even though its early December… …Their seventh win [vs. the Ravens] gets them closer to a spot in the post-season, and how they handled the week leading up to this game then how they performed in it, revealed their identity. – Bob Labriola, editor, Steelers Digest, following the victory over the Ravens
How the San Diego beat Pittsburgh is far less important than what it means. The Pittsburgh Steelers are a better team than the Chargers.
And that’s the problem.
Only two of the Steelers losses have come to playoff bound teams. In contrast, 5 of their 7 wins have come at the expense teams still vying for the post season.
Bill Cowher used to say that a team’s identity forms during the season’s first 4-6 weeks.
But let’s humor Labriola, who explained in between the ellipsis points that the Steelers identity forging process was delayed by the uncanny string of injuries they suffered. Fair enough.
Victory over Baltimore appeared to clarify the 2012 Steelers identity. Now San Diego muddled that identity. Again.
Three weeks remain in this NFL season. And if deep into December time remains for an NFL team to define itself, then the Pittsburgh Steelers had better settle on an identity fast.
Because right now they look like a team with a lot of talent that simply cannot find a way to execute consistently.
Behind the Steel Curtain is reporting, citing the Twitter feed of Asher Wildman, that Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler will leave the Pittsburgh Steelers to accept the head coaching job of the University of Texas El Paso Miners (full disclosure, I also write occasionally for BTSC.)
Kugler played for the UTEP minors and began his coaching career at Boise State.
Asher Wildman is the sports anchor of KVIA 7 a local station in El Paso and broke the news late in the evening of December 7th. As of 11:00 am Eastern time December 8th, neither the Post-Gazette nor ESPN are confirming the news.
Steelers Pay Price of Success?
The Steelers hired Sean Kugler after the Buffalo Bills fired him following the 2009 season. While the Bills had indeed given up a tremendous number of sacks that season, Kugler had managed an offensive line that was ravaged by injuries.
The experience served him well in Pittsburgh, because in Pittsburgh Kugler had regularly had to shuffle offensive lineman in and out of position due to a constant cycle of injuries. Kugler has managed the situations well, and has played a role in the development of high draft picks Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, and Mike Adams.
Moreover, it is under Kulger that the Steelers offensive line, once a road grading unit the NFL defenses feared, has regained at least some its ability to dominate at the line of scrimmage.
Assuming the news is in fact confirmed, that will signal that Kugler’s success with the Steelers has not gone unnoticed. Losing Kugler would be a blow to Pittsburgh, but Mike Tomlin has repeatedly said he will not stand in the way of any assistant coach who wants to climb the career ladder.
Taken from the grade book of a teach who has just seen yet again live out the all important lesson of believing in themselves, here is the Steelers report card for their upset win over the Baltimore Ravens. As a caveat, no other Steeler report cards were consulted prior to this posting.
Quarterback Yes, Charlie Batch overthrew Mike Wallace in the end zone. Yes, he threw to Ed Reed in the end zone. Yes, his missed other throws that could have helped the team. But the stat sheet doesn’t detail Batch’s block on Dwyer’s touchdown. It camouflages the 8-8 performance after the interception. It fails to reveal the poise and focus that let him lead the Steelers to 10 4th quarter points. Steel Curtain Rising’s report card grades on performance and results. While Batch’s numbers might not have been excellent, the results were. Grade: A-
Running Backs Measured purely by the stats, the Steelers running backs had a weak day. But if numbers don’t lie, they sometimes disguise the truth. Against the Ravens the Pittsburgh Steelers running backs ran the ball when they needed to. Jonathan Dwyer’s 16 yard TD confirmed that Pittsburgh was playing to win. Isaac Redman’s 24 yard run was equally impressive and helped set the tone for the 4th quarter. Grade: B+
Wide Receivers Yes, Mike Wallace dropped one he should have caught. Yes, Emmanuel Sanders fumble was costly and could have been lethal. But Sander’s atoned by making a key catch to set up the tying touchdown. And Wallace was Mr. dependable on the final drive. Under appreciated in all of this is Heath Miller who made clutch catch after clutch catch, and whose touchdown was a testament to will and focus. Antonio Brown also played well. Grade: B+
Offensive Line Another game, another starting front five for the Steelers, continuing a now three year theme. In run blocking the Steelers did not dominate the Ravens as they might have, but no one can fault their protection of Charlie Batch, who had time to throw all day. Maurkice Pouncey also played well as an out of position center. And how many coaches wouldn’t like to have a player with Doug Legursky’s versatility? Grade: B
Defensive Line Ziggy Hood led the team in tackles, registered a sack, several tackles for a loss, and was spot on in the fumble recovery. He was the only member of the unit that stood out, and the Ravens did have success running the ball at times, although Flacco also found himself facing many third and long. Brett Keisel had 3 tackles. This unit had a solid night, but must bear some blame for Ray Rice’s TD. Grade: B
Linebackers Larry Foote was all over the field making tackles on both sides of the line of scrimmage, sacking Flacco and pressuring him into bad throws. Jason Worilds had a quiet game, but did his part as did Lawrence Timmons. But the real star of the unit was number 92. As Mike Tomlin said after a hard-fought, close victory over the Bengals in 2010, “James makes plays, and he makes them in a timely fashion.” The Ed Reed interception should have doomed the Steelers, but Harrison’s strip sack shifted momentum right back to the Steelers. Grade: A-
Secondary Joe Flacco tried to go deep to Tory Smith early in the game, and Ike Taylor broke it up. Then he left for the game. So Cam Cameron thought he might feast on sophomore cornerback Cortez Allen. Guess again, Cam. Allen was excellent in his first “start” breaking up 3 passes and given the Ravens no quarter. Keenan Lewis had another strong game. Ryan Clark pulled down an easy interception. And Troy Polamalu was back, blitzing early and then covering deep. Flacco did have one 31 yard pass, but overall failed multiple times going deep on a day when the Ravens were 3-11 on third downs. Grade: A
Special Teams Jacoby Jones did have one long one, but overall was a non-factor. Antonio Brown tried to return some punts he probably should not have, but did not hurt the team. But Chris Rainey had an under appreciated role in victory, as his 42 yard kickoff return set up the Steelers second field goal, allowing them to go into the half just 7 down. Drew Butler had a so-so day punting. 46, 41, and 42 – those were the distances of Shaun Suisham’s field goals, all of which were necessary all of which came outdoors in December, on a wet field, including the one to win the game with 3 seconds remaining. Grade: B+
Coaching The Ravens and Joe Flacco and the offense have been red hot at home. Yet Dick LeBeau kept him under 50% passing by playing to his weaknesses. Todd Haley devised a solid game plan to exploit Batch’s talents. While his attempt to go deep did not bear fruit, there’s no criticism here for taking shots down the field. But the real kudos here go to Mike Tomlin. The Steelers sorely lacked focus in their 8 turnover game to the Browns, and Tomlin shook up his roster. He and Haley also deserve credit for moving their Pro Bowl Center out of position. Pittsburgh won because they wanted it more, but all of that “want it” only mattered because the Steelers were focused, confident, and ready to persevere thanks to Tomlin. Grade: A
Unsung Hero Paul Kruger is playing extremely well this year, and if the Ravens defense is having an off year, it’s still better than many. Being asked to start your first NFL game going on the road to a team that has beaten you three times and shows now quarter is not easy. But this rookie 7th round draft pick embraced this challenge and lived up to Mike Tomlin’s “Standard” by delivering a winning performance for 60 minutes, and for Kelvin Beachum is the Unsung Hero of the Steelers-Ravens game.
Since 2000 the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have tested each other, often times with the AFC North crown in the balance, at times the stakes have even been higher.
Each contest brings out the best in both teams, and almost without fail each contest comes down to one decisive element:
Who can impose their will,
Which team’s prime time players step up at critical moments
How one coach out foxes out the others
And of course, these games have also been turned by freak turnovers and controversial calls. However, the December 2nd Steelers-Ravens game at M&T Stadium in Baltimore came down to something far more fundamental….
Heath Miller wills himself into the end zone in the Steelers 2012 upset of the Ravens, led by Charlie Batch. Photo Credit: Chris Knight, The Patriot-News
Steelers Validate Next Man Up Mantra
Let the record reflect that “The Standard is the Standard” in Pittsburgh, meaning that when one man goes down its expected that the next man stepping up delivers a winning performance.
With that said, the Steelers traveled to Baltimore down to their
Third string right tackle
Second string left outside linebacker
Third string quarterback
To keep things interesting, after the game’s first play the Steelers lost their Pro Bowl cornerback, and during the course of the game the Steelers would have to move their Pro Bowl center to guard, a position he’s not played since college.
If the Baltimore Ravens ever wanted to get the Pittsburgh Steelers on their knees, this would have been the game.
Yet the Steelers traveled to Baltimore with no intention of begging for mercy. They came to play and they played to win.
Steelers Ravens Go Toe-to-Toe
Like all good Steelers-Ravens match ups this one was fought in the trenches where men’s resolve was put to the test. Any fantasy’s about an easy victory for Baltimore were quickly quashed as the Steelers scored first, and held Baltimore to a field goal for the much of the first quarter.
Then the Steelers secondary struck, with something it rarely does when Ryan Clark intercepted an errant Joe Flacco pass.
Not only did the Steelers fail to capitalize, but…
Two plays later Antonio Brown threw an interception on an option reserve
Shortly there after the Ravens found money, as Joe Flacco lofted a a 28 yard touchdown pass
Chris Raineyresponded with a 42 yard kickoff return, giving the Steelers excellent field position, but the Steelers struggled to take advantage. Mike Wallace dropped one deep pass and Charlie Batch badly misfired with Wallace open in the end zone.
The Steelers had to settle for aShaun Suisham field goal to close the half, down 13-6…
…They were holding their own, but still lacked the necessary execution to put them over the top.
Steelers Refuse Say “Uncle”
Tied the game to open the second half, as Charlie Batch connected with Health Miller for a 43 yard pass that brought the Steelers into the Red Zone. From there Jonathan Dwyerdid his best Rainey imitation, cutting back when nothing was open in the middle and scampering sixteen yards into the end zone with Batch throwing the key block.
The Steelers defense held the Ravens, and with the ball in their hands the Steelers appeared to be hitting their stride. Emmanuel Sanders caught the ball at mid field and had an easy 30 plus yard gain if not a touchdown sight when he inexplicably fumbled.
Baltimore wasted no time, asRay Ricesmoked the Steelers defense for a 34 yard touchdown run that put the Ravens up 20-13.
Baltimore broken open not only the game, but the Steelers will
Or so it seemed.
Prime Time Players Step up with the Game on the Line
Late in the 3rd quarter the Steelers looked poised to score having driven 49 yards on the strength of a 24 yard scamper by Isaac Redman and a 23 yard reception by Heath Miller. But when Batch tried to connect with Miller again in the End Zone, Ed Reed was there, picking him off and returning the ball 27 yards to the Pittsburgh 34. Again, the Ravens had another chance to put the game away and the Steelers had another chance to fold.
Two plays later Harrsion came in behind Flacco for one of his patented strip sacks, Ziggy Hood recovered, and the Steelers were back in business.
Emmanuel Sanders atoned for his earlier mistake with a 17 yard reception that brought the Steelers to the 7, and on the next play Heath Miller stretch and struggled, and by the force of his will he touched the pylon on his way out of bounds.
The Steelers had just tied the game.
The Steelers defense held the Ravens to 4 plays on the next drive.
Starting from his own 85 yards and just over 6 minutes stood between Charlie Batch and a chance to finish what is likely his final Steelers start with a victory.
Mixing runs with short and medium passes, Batch methodically moved the team consuming precious clock time. The Steelers had just sniffed field goal range when Paul Kruger got flagged for roughing the passer.
Automatic first down and 15 yards.
Mike Tomlin played it cool, running the clock down to 3 seconds before sending his kick out.
Shaun Suisham delivered, knocking it in for 42 yards.
The Pittsburgh and Baltimore had fought another one for the ages.
The Steelers got some good, even great but not quite spectacular plays for their playmakers.
They held their own physically, but did not dominate the line of scrimmage.
The Steelers coaches out foxed the Ravens’ but that was not the deciding factor.
The Steelers lost some controversial calls, but also got a few
No, this one came down to who wanted it more. And on this afternoon that team was the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After the 2009 season, Steelers President Art Rooney II cited Tomlin’s ability to snap that losing streak – the Steelers won their final three, as part of the reason why he was so comfortable with having Tomlin as his coach.
The 2009 streak was instructive, because Tomlin’s ability to break the losing streak got little discussion in the press. This stands in sharp contrast to Bill Cowher’s ability to snap his Steelers teams out of similar funks.
In 1995, after the Steelers laid an egg vs. Cincinnation Thursday night, Cowher made wholesale roster changes, including shifting Carnell Lake from safety to corner.
After a tough overtime loss to the Ravens, Tomlin promised to “Raise Hell in December” only to see the team fall even flatter on its face vs. the Browns in Cleveland. In between he talked big about benching starters, but the only move that materialized was Joe Burnettgoing in for William Gay on a few series.
Mendenhall Demoted, Mike Wallace Now a “Co-starter”
That was then, however. This is now. Tomlin has made two moves in response to the Steelers latest loss.
Jonathan Dwyer will start for the Steelers vs. the Ravens over Rashard Mendenhall, after Mendenhall fumbled twice, and seemed to shy away from embracing responsibility.
Whether that’s a symbolic move or whether it has more substance behind it remains to be seen, but Mike Wallace has not produced consistently, Emmanuel Sanders has.
Musical Chairs on the Offensive Line, Again
Those won’t be the Steeles only roster moves this Sunday. The Steelers placed Marcus Gilbert on IR, ending his season, and activated first round pick David DeCastro, who has recovered from the knee injury he suffered in preseason.
But Mike Adamsis still nursing an ankle injury as is Willie Colon.
So its quite possible that the Steelers offensive line vs. the Ravens will look like this: