Le’Veon Bell Leads in Dolphins Win Game Ball Voting with Silverback in Pursuit

To no one’s great surprise, Le’Veon Bell topped the rest of the Steelers Killer Bees in the game ball voting for the Steelers Wild Card victory over the Dolphins.

steelers vs. dolphins, steelers dolphins wild card game, steelers dolphins game ballsThat’s the kind of thing that happens when you make your playoff debut by setting Steelers records in one game that neither Franco Harris, nor Jerome Bettis, nor Willie Parker nor Rocky Bleier could top in their collective 58 playoff games.

James Harrison came in second in the voting earning 29 votes, which also is not surprising given his role in completely neutralizing the Miami Dolphins rushing attack. Next came Antonio Brown, who himself had a record setting day with his two touchdown performance that was good enough to earn him 17 votes.

  • Bud Dupree was the next highest individual vote getter, grabbing 14 votes, or one more than the Steelers offensive line, which was a write in vote.

Ben Roethlisberer was the only other player to reach double digits, reaching 10 votes. Ryan Shazier got close with 9 votes, followed by Lawrence Timmons with 7, and Stephon Tuitt who got 6. Jesse James got 2 votes, as did a write in favoring Danny Smith’s dismissal, followed by 1 vote for Mike Mitchell.

  • The write in success of the Steelers offensive line deserves to be commended.

The synergy between Le’Veon Bell and his offensive line is something truly incredible, and truly special. With that said however, the lukewarm support enjoyed by Stephon Tuitt and Mike Mitchell is perhaps a surprise, but this poll is about what you readers think, not about what yours truly thinks.

As always, Steel Curtain Rising thanks everyone who took out time to vote. Now its on to Kansas City!

 

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Better Luck to Randy Bullock: Past Steelers Emergency Kickers have Struggled

Better Luck to Randy Bullock: Past Steelers Emergency Kickers have Struggled

News that a Chris Boswell abdomen injury forced the Steelers to sign Randy Bullock sent shockwaves through Steelers Nation just 24 hours before the Steelers critical matchup with the New York Giants at Heinz Field.

  • And so it should, Chris Boswell has proven to be a very accurate kicker and beyond that, a pretty good clutch kicker.

But Steeles Nation’s collective trepidation is also felt so deeply because past history of Steelers emergency kickers has been pretty dismal. Or it should say, history of “Steelers emergency kicker” because in the modern era, the Steelers have only had to go to their “Spare Parts” list to sign a kicker once.

Steelers Emergency Kickers of Yesteryear

It happened in mid-November 1998, when a Norm Johnson strained calf muscle forced the Steelers to sign Matt George, and it is not an experience Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Danny Smith or anyone else in Steelers Nation would wish to repeat.

  • There were red flags around this move even before Matt George’s foot touched the pigskin.

The Steelers had brought Matt George to training camp with them that summer, but cut him in late August. In other words, they’d seen enough of him to know that he wasn’t their first choice of a “in case of emergency break glass” kicker.

The Steelers brought Brett Conway to Three Rivers Stadium, gave him a tryout, and negotiated with him for two days, thinking they had a deal in place. Then suddenly, Brett Conway left the building.

Brett Conway left on the advice of his agent, after the Washington Redskins offered him spot on their practice squad, infuriating Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher.

The Steelers signed Matt George, who, after missing several kicks during pre-game warmups, kicked low on a 36 yard field goal kick which the Tennessee Oilers blocked.

The Steelers instead went for it on 4th down, only to have Kordell Stewart stopped. The Titans took the lead on the next drive on an Al Del Greco field goal. In desperation, the Steelers tried to lateral their way to retake the lead with time expiring, but the Oilers ran in a loose ball to score an insurance touchdown.

For the record, the Tennessee Oilers won the game 23 to 10 thereby completing their first (and only, at least as the “Tennessee Oilers”) season sweep of the Steelers. Norm Johnson returned the following week and kicked through the end of the 1999 season. Although Matt George wasn’t the only reason the Steelers lost the game, he never played another down in the NFL.

  • As Bill Cowher candidly confided after the game, “I now realize how important it is to have a kicker.”

It is safe to say that, if he didn’t already know that, Mike Tomlin learned that lesson last season as he stood with an injured Ben Roethlisberger watching Michael Vick and Josh Scobee struggled in the Steelers Heinz Field loss to the Ravens.

Hopefully Randy Bullock’s tenure as Steelers emergency kicker won’t force him to relive those memories.

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Not the Turkey this Thanksgiving: Steelers Report Card for Win Over Colts

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who has seen his pupils accomplish a lot in a short amount of time, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the Thanksgiving Day win over the Colts.

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger went 14 of 20 for 221 with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The truth is that when Ben Roethlisberger can connect with Antonio Brown, there is little that can stop the Steelers offense. Roethlisberger’s 6 misses did contain a few ugly passes, which nudges is grade down, if however slightly. Landry Jones threw one incompletion during mop up time. Grade: A-

Running Backs
Le’Veon Bell and another 100 yard plus game and added 22 more from the air with four catches. The truth is that the way things were going, Bell probably could have rushed for 100 more if it would have been necessary. Fitzgerald Toussaint saw his first action in a while, gaining a respectable 28 yards on 6 carries. Todd Haley also had Roosevelt Nix in there blocking, and he made a difference. Grade: Asteelers, report card, steelers grades, steelers vs. colts, coaching, special teams, unsung heros, steelers colts thanksgiving

Tight Ends
This is the Ladarius Green that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin thought they were getting when they signed him last march. Ladarius Green still may not have recovered his break away speed, but he did show his ability to stretch the defense, making two “field flipping” plays both of which set up Steelers scores. Jesse James had one pass thrown his way which may or may not have been catchable, but no other tight ends were targeted in the running game, but they did contribute to the blocking. Grade: A

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown scored 3 touchdowns and made it look easy on both. He also helped break up a would-be interception in the end zone, and likely did the same on another play down field that cost him a pass interference penalty. Eli Rogers was quiet for much of the game, but did set up Le’Veon Bell’s first touchdown with his 30 yard grab. Cobi Hamilton had 1 catch on 1 target. The Steelers tried to get the ball to Sammie Coates deep 3 times, each time in vain. Grade: A-

Offensive Line
The Colts not only couldn’t sack Ben Roethlisberger, they only managed to hit him once and the Steelers averaged 5.1 yards per carry rushing on a night where the longest individual run from scrimmage was 16 yards. You can’t ask for much more than that from your offensive line. Grade: A

Defensive Line
Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell rarely gushes about rookies, but he did so when the Steelers drafted Javon Hargrave. For a while it seemed hard to fathom why, but Javon Hargave took up permanent residency in the Colts backfield, taking down 3 people behind the line of scrimmage and registering a sack. Stephon Tuitt had 3 quarterback hits and Ricardo Mathews had one tackle. The fact is that Steelers totally shut down the Colt’s running game and that starts with the defensive line. Grade: A

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons again led the Steelers in tackles, and was generally flying around the field. Ryan Shazier was next for the linebackers, helping Stephon Tuitt drop someone behind the line of scrimmage and getting some pressure on the quarterback. Mike Tomlin rhetorically asked, “What are we saving James for?” Plays like James Harrison’s sack of Scott Tolzien show why he is starting ahead of Jarvis Jones. Bud Dupree saw his first expensive action, and while he lacked any “Splash plays” he looked good. Anthony Chickillo quietly logged 4 tackles. Grade: A

Secondary
Splash plays from William Gay bookended the evening for the Steelers secondary, as Gay strip sacked Tolzien early in the game, and then intercepted his pass late in the 4th quarter. Gay was good, but he also got beaten on a long play that could have done more damage. Ross Cockrell also got beaten on a deep pattern. The biggest plays came from the safeties. Both Sean Davis and Mike Mitchell stoned Scott Tolzien on separate occasions when he tried to run the ball into the end zone. Mitchell also broke up a would-be touchdown pass, and picked off a pass in the 4th quarter that effectively ended the game. Grade: A-

Special Teams
Let’s acknowledge that often times assistant coaches get unfairly scapegoated by, well everyone, the fans, the press, head coaches and the front offices when in truth they just don’t have the players to work with. As Dick Hoak famously concluded on the day he retired, “You’re hired to be fired.”

  • Danny Smith has taken a lot of heat from the fans, and it is hard to defend him.

The Colts averaged 35.5 yards on kickoff returns. Those kinds of averages will lose you games against quality offenses. Danny Smith’s special teams also got caught with their pants down on a fake punt. Fake punts are hard to predict precisely because they are so rare. But Smith’s special teams were completely flat-footed after it was clear the play was a fake.

Chris Boswell’s 4 for 4 on PAT’s and Jordan Berry’s solid punting pull the grade for the unit up, but special teams must improve. Grade: D

Coaching
Todd Haley designed a solid game plan that saw the Steelers score 3 touchdowns on their opening 3 possessions. And if the offense did leave some plays on the field in the second half, part of that is probably due to attempts to get Sammie Coates worked back into the offense. Honestly, the Steelers were wise to attempt this with a 21 point lead.

  • Finally, the Steelers offense also converted turnovers into touchdowns.

Feel free to add whatever qualifications regarding the quality of opposition when evaluating Keith Butler’s defense, but Butler’s boys have now turned in two dominating performances in a row.

  • Some of the overall statistics might be inflated, but the Steelers defense defended their goal line twice against an offense committed playing on all four downs.

That’s impressive regardless of the opposition.

Playing well on the road and playing well on Thursdays has been an issue for the Steelers recently, regardless of opposition. None of those troubles were apparent vs. the Colts. The Steelers are playing more focused football, and executing the fundamentals on both offense and defense better, and the score board reflects that and Mike Tomlin deserves credit. Special teams is more worrisome which brings the overall grade down. Grade: B

Unsung Hero
His stat line might only read 5 tackles, but that hardly communicates the value of Sean Davis contributions to the Steelers win. Sean Davis had a hand on the Steelers goal line stops of Frank Gore, and the rookie made a veteran play in correctly reading Scott Tolzien attempt to rush it in at the goal line, and for that Sean Davis wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers win vs. the Colts.

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Did Pittsburgh Turn 2 Important Corners with the Steelers Thanksgiving Win Over the Colts?

The Pittsburgh Steelers 28-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts not only snapped the franchise’s 66 year-long losing streak on Thanksgiving Day, but the way in which the Steelers beat the Colts offers hope that both the offense and defense have made important strides that, if consolidated, can pay dividends during December football.

Javon Hargrave, Robert Turbin, Steelers vs. Colts, Steelers beat Colts, Steelers Colts thanksgiving

Javon Hargrave stuffs Robert Turbin on Thanksgiving as Steelers beat Colts 28-7. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Signs of an Assist for The Steelers Triplets?

Football is the ultimate team game – Even stars depends on their supporting cast for success. The Steelers loss to the Cowboys brought that painful reality clearly into focus.

The Steelers Triplets were again in fine form against the Colts. Le’Veon Bell was rushing downhill and catching the ball with authority. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown teamed for 3 touchdowns with each one looking easier than the last.

But if the Steelers Triplets’ authored “the story” of the Colts victory, members of their supporting casts made small, but potentially significant strides towards building a back story that could provide the foundation for future success.

  • Eli Rogers set up the Steelers first touchdown with a 30-yard reception
  • Ladarius Green set up the Steelers third and fourth touchdowns with 32 and 35 yard “field flipping” receptions
  • The Steelers offensive line opened holes and kept Ben Roethlisberger clean for a second straight week.

It says here that the Steelers still need a legitimate number 2 threat opposite Antonio Brown that Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and/or Darrius Heyward-Bey was supposed to provide. But for the first time in weeks, it looks like the Steelers have made strides towards identifying that person.

Because Compulsive Complainers Gotta Complain…

At the end of the Browns game, Jim Wexell offered the following gem of insight via Twitter:

There is a segment of Steelers Nation that suffers from a compulsion to find something to complain about regardless of the circumstances. A 21 point Steelers win on a short week on the road after playing on the road offers no exception.

The Steelers Thanksgiving victory in Indianapolis certainly came with its share of flaws:

  • Donte Moncrief came dangerously close to catching a field flipping deep ball on the Colt’s 2nd drive
  • William Gay got burned badly by T.Y. Hinton on the next play
  • Ross Cockrell got burned on a long pass that put the Colt’s into the Red Zone
  • The Steelers made a number of drive stalling/extending penalties
  • Big Ben tried and failed to connect with Sammie Coates deep 3 times
  • Danny Smith’s special teams got caught with their pants down on a fake punt

Indeed, going into the fourth quarter, it was easy to look at the scoreboard and say, “If the Colt’s hadn’t missed a field goal and opted to kick at the goal line, it would be a one-score game….” Yes, that is true. But it wasn’t a one-score game and there’s a reason for that….

Butler’s Boys Blossoming into Men….?

Sometimes statistics provide the best way to measure a defense’s performance; other times you measure it best with plays. The Steelers Thanksgiving win over the Colts falls into the latter category.

Keith Butler set the tone on the first series by blitzing William Gay who hit Scott Tolzien with a strip-sack. On the next series, James Harrison did the honors by dropping Tolzien to set up a third and long which led to Adam Vinatieri’s field goal.

  • After that, Keith Butler’s boys put on a “Bend but don’t break” clinic.

Credit Chuck Pagano for playing to win. Going all in twice at critical junctures like that requires real guts. Two times Pagano tested the Steelers defense, and two times the Steelers defense answered his challenge.

On the first goal line stand, Pagano twice tried to impose his will by forcing Frank Gore up the middle, but Sean Davis and Ricardo Mathews stopped him cold both times. Then Tolzien tried to boot-leg it, but the rookie safety Davis read the play and committed to stopping Tolzien.

  • The rookie safety won the battle of wills with the quarterback, just as he should
  • On 4th down the veteran safety Mike Mitchell followed by knocking away a would-be touchdown pass

Undaunted, Chuck Pagano refused to blink the next time the Colts reached the Red Zone, as his offense converted a 4th and 4 and advanced to Pittsburgh’s six. From there, Pagano followed the same script, attempting to ram the ball down the middle of the Steelers defense, only to have Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt stonewall his rushers.

  • On third down Tolzien again tried to run it in himself, only to be cut off by Mike Mitchell, and his next pass fell incomplete.

Over the course of two possessions, the Indianapolis Colts had controlled the clock for 16 minutes and 19 seconds. During those possessions, the Colts converted four 3rd downs, one 4th down, enjoyed 7 first and 10’s, and amassed 151 yards.

When an offense controls the clock for that long, moves the chains that frequently, and builds those types of yardage totals, they generally break a defense’s will, if not its back.

  • But Keith Butler’s boys refused to bat an eye

And because of that, the Steelers defense authored 8 critical plays at the goal line that defined the entire game and potentially signal one of the season’s corner-turning moments.

Steelers Must Consolidate Progress

The Pittsburgh Steelers have accomplished a lot in a short time. In the space of 5 days they’ve:

  • Snapped a 4 game losing streak,
  • Won back-to-back road games
  • Increased their sack total from 13 to 24
  • Boosted their interception total from 4 to 7
  • Notched victories against teams they were “supposed” to beat, something which Mike Tomlin teams have struggled to do of late

But emergence of potential receiving threats on offense and the development of rookies on defense are the most important achievements during this stretch. The next challenge will be to consolidate this against the New York Giants, who promise to provide Pittsburgh with a stiffer test.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the Loss to the Dallas Cowboys

Taken from the gradebook of teacher who wonders just how far his once star student will slip, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Ezekiel Elliot 85 yard touchdown reception Steelers, Mike Mitchell, Steelers 2016 defense implodes

Mike Mitchell is helpless to stop Ezekiel Elliot on his 85 yard touchdown catch as Cowboys beat the Steelers. Photo Credit: Pete Madia, Tribune-Review

Quarterback
Substandard quarterback play from Ben Roethlisberger was clearly at issue in 3 of the 4 losses the Steelers had coming into this game. That’s not so this week. Ben Roethlisberger hit 8 receivers, threw 3 touchdown passes and managed a patented 4th quarter comeback. Roethlisberger’s play wasn’t flawless, however, he was 0-4 on two point conversions, and went 0-3 from the 7 to start the third quarter. Pittsburgh needed a flawless performance from Roethlisberger. Instead it got “Very good.” Grade: B

Running Backs
Le’Veon Bell got the ball 17 times on the ground, but only managed 54 yards, although he did punch it in in the end zone. While that stat might look like a liability, the truth is on many of those runs Bell transformed an almost certain loss into some positive yardage. He also caught nine passes, including a touchdown. Bell was the only back to get a carry, although David Johnson and Roosevelt Nix did some time at fullback. Grade: Bsteelers, report card, steelers grades, steelers vs. cowboys, coaching, special teams, unsung heros

Tight Ends
Ladarius Green made his long awaited debut and caught 3 passes although his stretch the field speed was nowhere apparent. Xavier Grimble had on catch and another drop. David Johnson had one catch for two yards. Overall, a solid performance by the tight ends. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger had to work at it, but they managed to get the ball to Antonio Brown to the tune of 14 catches for 154 yards. Part of the reason why they were successful is that Eli Rogers and Cobi Hamilton stepped up, both of whom made big catches, including Rogers with a difficult touchdown catch. No one, however stepped up on the 2 point conversions attempts. In past losses, the lack of a number two WR. That wasn’t the case vs. the Cowboys. Grade: B

Offensive Line
Ben Roethlisberger was only sacked once and only hit twice, so it must have been a pretty good day for the Steelers offensive line, right? No, this unit doesn’t get let off the hook so easily. First, the only Dallas sack came on 3rd and 3. A conversion there would have allow the Steelers a chance to establish a rhythm and get back in the tempo of the game.

  • But that was only one play.

The truth is that the run blocking of the offensive line was below the line. On too many occasions, Le’Veon Bell got hit as soon as he touched the ball. In fact, ESPN is crediting the Cowboys with 6.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Given that, it’s a miracle that Bell managed 3.4 yards a carry. Part of the Steelers game plan was to control the clock, which is hard to do when you running back is getting hit in the backfield. The Steelers need their offensive line to run block and pass block effectively – in the same game. This hasn’t happened in far too long. Grade: F

Defensive Line
On the positive side the Stephon Tuitt got to Dak Prescott in impressive fashion and he also logged a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and, with the two glaring exceptions, the Steelers defensive line did its part to contain Ezekiel Elliot. But any time a running back waltzs into the end zone not once, but twice untouched, the defensive line isn’t doing its job. Much less with the game on the line. Grade: F

Linebackers
Again, Anthony Chickillo started things off with a strip-sack and Ryan Shazier finished them. James Harrison should have been credited with a half sack, and looked good in run support. By all accounts Jarvis Jones whiffed his assignment on the Elliot’s final run. And aside from the two examples above, the Steelers pass rush was sparse. Grade: F

Secondary
Artie Burns continues to look like a rookie, failing to cover Dez Bryant on a critical Dallas touchdown pass. Once again, the secondary more or less watched as Ezekiel Elliot ran through them on his way to the end zone. 3 times. Sean Davis played a strong game overall, but his face mask penalty provided yet another example of the Steelers uncanny ability to self-destruct. Grade: F

Special Teams
Chris Boswell missed another 55 yarder. On the positive side, the Steelers saw signs of life from both their punt and kick return teams, as Antonio Brown and Fitzgerald Toussiant had some respectable returns. But on a critical series in the third quarter, after a Steelers drive had been stalled with a sack, Jordan Berry boomed one off, only to have it Lucky Whitehead return the it 39 yards.

  • Within 3 plays Dallas taking the lead.

These types of self destructive sequences are killing the Steelers. Grade: F

Coaching
Again, starting with the positive, Todd Haley came out with a petty strong game plan that the Steeler executed. It wasn’t quite enough to win and one cannot gloss over the fact that Mike Munchack’s offensive line cannot seem to play a complete game – a little road grading along side strong protection of the passer could have gone a long way in this game.

  • Keith Butler’s defense is a disaster.

Sure, the unit can string together a strong series or two, but it can’t be counted on to pressure the passer, and at this point it is failing to execute basic fundamentals, having gotten smoked by a running back who ran untouched for 3 touchdowns.

Clearly, some of the talent assessments that Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Butler made going into the season were wrong, but thus far Butler has failed to scheme or game plan enough to compensate for those deficiencies.

  • And then there comes Mike Tomlin.

Mike Tomlin found himself as the favorite whipping boy in Steelers Nation this morning, and not without reason. There are reports that Ben Roethlisberger met with Tomlin and expressed concern about how the team was practicing. Other players have chimed in. Then after the game, Ben Roethlisberger repeatedly insisted the Steelers needed more “Discipline and accountability.”

  • Is this the equivalent of Tom Donahoe saying “The Steelers are better than Cincinnati” and Bill Cowher saying “I can only win with the player they give me?” late in the 1999 season?

Time will tell. But the Steelers are in a slide not seen since the 5 game losing streak of 2009 and there’s no real sign that it will stop. Mike Tomlin needs to find a way to do that, quickly.

Unsung Hero
One of the biggest non-stories this season has been Ladarius Green’s absence. Ladarius Green made his debut on Sunday and looked OK, but he wasn’t the biggest most impactful tight end on the field. Ben Roethlisberger looked Jesse James way 4 times, and each time James came up with the ball, including once on an impressive 24 yard catch on what should have been the game winning drive, and for that Jesse James wins the Unsung Hero Award for the loss to the Cowboys.

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Steelers Nation Speaks: The Failed Chris Boswell Rabona On Sides Kick was a Worthy Risk

The beauty of doing polls is that sometimes that results shock you. If you’re reading this, you know very well that the 2016 Steelers loss to the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium ended with failed Chris Boswell’s rabona on sides kick attempt.

  • Steelers Nation understandably erupted in fury after the game on Twitter and other social media.

Calls for Art Rooney II to summarily fire Mike Tomlin and/or Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith were not hard to find. Yet, that seemed to simple and a far too easy scape goat given that Chris Boswell had executed a rabona on-sides kick while at Rice University.

Hence the poll.

When Steel Curtain Rising posted the poll and the accompanying article exploring both sides of the failed Chris Boswell on sides kick The results are surprising, because after all, what good is the internet if you can’t demand your pound of flesh and demand it now. But cooler heads prevailed, at least in this corner of Steelers Nation:

chris boswell on sides kick ravens, chris boswell rabona on sides kick

68% of our voters felt that the decision to have Chris Boswell try a rabona style on sides kick was a worth coaching risk. The other 32% took issue with Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith’s choice. That’s a pretty clear margin of victory.

 

I for one now agree with the poll results. Last Sunday’s loss was hard to swallow, and given that special teams snafus had hurt the Steelers badly (12 men on the field on one play, the blocked punt) that didn’t seem to be the time for Danny Smith to be trying something cute.

But Jim Wexell offered some valuable insight via Twitter:

That changes things considerable. This wasn’t some hair brained, “Hey Chris, you nailed did rabona on-sides kick once in college… think ya can go out there and do it again…?” scheme hatched on the sideline during at TV time out.

The Steelers special teams had practiced the rabona on-sides kick and, while risky, it was a worthy gamble on the part of Mike Tomlin that had it gone a little better, could have resulted in the game ending with Ben Roethlisberger’s getting the ball at midfield with 2-3 chances to hook up with Antonio Brown, Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton, Sammie Coates or even Le’Veon Bell.

That’s a long shot, but a shot worth taking.

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Was the Botched Chris Boswell On Sides Kick a Poor Play Call or Failed Execution?

Was the botched Chris Boswell On Sides Kick Poor Play Calling or Poor Execution? Read through and vote at the bottom….

398 days ago it all seemed not only so easy but also so tempting.

On October 6th 2015 the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Chris Boswell as their 4th place kicker in as many months. Pittsburgh was in the middle of a kicking crisis not seen since the Kris BrownTodd Peterson transition. Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith desperately needed was a kicker they could count on.

But Boswell teased at offering something more….

chris boswell, chris boswell on sides kick, steelers vs. ravens

Before he botched it in Baltimore, Chris Boswell had nailed the “Side Step” on sides kick at Rice University. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

….First, his athletic resume was impressive, having not only place kicked but punted for the New York Giants during the previous summer’s training camp. And then there was this tantalizing tidbit of tape the Chris Boswell had left from his days of kicking for Rice University….

Boswell brought a solid resume of splitting the uprights to Pittsburgh and his knack for making side-step on-sides kicks looked to be an added benefit. For all of his reliability as a place kicker, Shaun Suisham for failed to master the art of an on sides kick.

  • Would Boswell’s unusual ability someday become the Steelers Ace in the Hole late in a game when they needed one?

We now know that, against the Ravens, the answer to that question was no. But Bill Cowher once said “I’d rather walk off the field saying ‘I wish I hadn’t done that’ as opposed to asking myself, ‘What would have happened if I’d done that?’”

The Case For the “Side-step” Chris Boswell On Sides Kick

The Steelers (latest) loss to the Ravens Baltimore will long be remembered by Chris Boswell’s failed on-sides kick at the tail end.

After all, it was an uncanny play call resulting in an epic fail that graphically symbolizes the downward spiral that Mike Tomlin’s 2016 Steelers are falling into before our very eyes.

  • Yet, as first video shows, it wasn’t as crazy as it looked on Sunday afternoon.

Chris Boswell has “Been There and Done” that before. Doing it in the NCAA and pulling it off in the NFL might be different animals, but Boswell does have a track record here. Plus, Boswell had tried a convention on sides kick vs. the Patriots to no avail, so a “business case” so to speak, existed to justify Tomlin and Smith’s gamble.

Or so the thinking goes.

Look at in that light, the failed Chris Boswell onsides kick seems to fall into the category of the defines all unconventional plays:

  • A risky play that works is a good call, a risky play that fails is a bad call.

Yes, that sounds hollow here 48 hours after the Steelers 3 straight loss of the season, 4th consecutive loss to the Ravens, and Ben Roethlisberger’s 5 loss in a row in Baltimore. But think about it.

And Boswell nailed it and gotten it right into Artie Burns arms, and had Ben Roethlisberger fired off a sideline pass to Antonio Brown, followed by an end zone hook up with Le’Veon Bell as time expired, Steelers Nation would be erecting statues of Danny Smith.

  • So the blame for the failure falls on Boswell, not the play call. Right?

That sounds good, but it isn’t so simple, and I honestly am of two minds on the subject.

The Case Against the “Side Step” Chris Boswell On Sides Kick

There’s a contrary school of thought that places Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith firmly on the hook for this failure. And the logic flows like this:

  • You should never try to get cute when you’re either struggling or failing to execute the fundamentals.

While this story dates me, the 1998 Steelers Monday Night Football game vs. the Green Bay Packers provides a perfect example.

The 1998 Steelers offense has struggled to find consistency all season long, but seemed to have FINALLY found a rhythm that night against the Packers. Riding a 27-9 lead with 9:55 left in the 4th quarter, the Steelers reached the goal line and were about to make it 34-9 when Mike Tomczak appeared under center and Kordell Stewart split wide.

  • Tomzcak fumbled the ball, Keith McKenzie recovered and returned it 88 yards.

A game that should have ended with a steady diet of handoffs to Jerome Bettis and Richard Huntley running behind Dermontti Dawson and Alan Fancea became a nail-biter as the Brett Favre forced the Steelers to hold on for life, winning 27-20.

The lesson of that incident was clear:  If you’re struggling to execute fundamentally sound football, you shouldn’t be tempting fate with trick plays. And on Sunday, the Steelers special teams most certainly were not playing sound fundamental football.

Ergo, the Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith NEVER should have made the call.

Vote Was the Botched Chris Boswell Onsides Kick a Bad Call or Poor Execution

With that, we leave it to you to decide. Was Chris Boswell’s botched onsides kick a bad call in the first place, or was it a worthy risk that ran awry to poor execution? Vote now:

[yop_poll id=”40″]

Make your voice heard Steelers Nation, and don’t hesitate to defend your vote in the comments section.

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Baltimore Beats Pittsburgh 21-14, Ravens Have Now Won 4 Straight vs Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to M&T Bank Stadium coming off their bye week with relatively strong health against a Baltimore Ravens team that had lost four straight. At the end of the day, none of those off the field aesthetics mattered at all, as the headline Baltimore beats Pittsburgh 21-14 communicates a basic reality.

  • The Baltimore Ravens improved their winning streak over the Pittsburgh Steelers for one simple reason:

Across the board, the Ravens beat the Steelers by because they had better execution of fundamentals that define winning football. That’s the stark truth of the matter.

baltimore beats pittsburgh 21-14, ben roethlisberger, steelers at M&T Bank Stadium

Ben Roethlisberger remains winless in Baltimore following the 2016 Steelers 21-14 loss. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune-Review

Ravens Dominate the Line of Scrimmage

Todd Haley’s game plan became crystal clear very early on in the game: Use Le’Veon Bell to dictate the pace of the game. Given how effective Le’Veon Bell has been with the ball in his hands this fall, few should fault the logic behind Haley’s thinking, even if Baltimore did enter the game with the NFL’s number 3 rush defense.

  • But if you’re going to run the ball effectively, you must dominate at the line of scrimmage.

And the Steelers offensive line got dominated by the Raven’s front seven. The Pittsburgh’s offensive lineman may have provided decent pass protection, but they chronically failed to open lanes for Le’Veon Bell. On paper the Steelers offense is designed to take advantage of those situations.

  • If it were all just a simple fantasy football exercise, frustration upfront should give Ben Roethlisberger time to do damage downfield.

Except real football doesn’t mimic a fantasy game, and Ben Roethlisberger looked very rusty and consistently misfired in trying to hit receivers downfield. That stat sheet shows that Ben Roethlisberger only threw one interception, but the fact is he threw two or 3 passes that could easily been interceptions.

In this case the numbers don’t lie, and the picture they paint isn’t pretty for Pittsburgh:

What’s more, failed exchanges between B.J. Finney and Roethlisberger came together to make up a comedy of errors. And that’s without even considering the special teams….

Butler’s Adjustments to Steelers Defense Effective, but Insufficient

Before turning to the special teams, a review of the performance of the Steelers defense vs. the Ravens is in order, because of the context it provides.

Fans can be forgiven if they abandonded all hope when the saw Terrance West open the game with runs of 8, 6, and 5 yards. He also tacked on another 9 yard effort and then opened the second half with runs of 8 and 5 yards.

  • Yet, when it was all over, West walked away with a total of 21 rushing yards.

Kenneth Dixon didn’t do much better. Credit Keith Butler for making the in-game adjustment to effectively shut off the Raven’s rushing attack. Likewise, credit Butler’s crew for forcing the Ravens to punt as many times as the Steelers did.

  • The 2016 Steelers have forged identity of a team that struggles on the road.

During the Steelers road losses to the Eagles and the Dolphins, Keith Butler’s defense was a glaring liability on so many fronts. The same cannot be said of the Steelers loss to the Ravens (or to the Patriots for that matter.) Yes, the defense did give up a 95 yard touchdown pass which isn’t forgivable.

  • But Keith Butler’s defense went into Baltimore, and held the Raven’s defense to 13 points at home.

While no one will confuse the 2016 Ravens with the 1989 49ers, the 1993 Cowboys or the greatest show on turf, if you go into an opposing stadium and hold their offense to 13 points, you’re generally playing winning defense….

Steelers Special Teams Disaster in Baltimore

…Unless you have a total collapse elsewhere, as the Steelers did on Special teams. Since Danny Smith arrived in Pittsburgh the Steelers special teams haven’t been very special, but they’ve avoided being a liability.

  • The Steelers special teams were a liability against the Ravens.

A roughing the kicker penalty gave the Ravens a second lease on life, although the Steelers defense did damage control. The coverage units might not have given up a big run, in a game of field position every yard counts.

But Chris Moore came in untouched to block Jordan Berry’s punt, and his recovery effectively ended the game for the Steelers. That’s simply inexcusable.

It says here that the Steelers late 4th quarter surge was little more than garbage time glory against a Raven’s team with plenty of its own internal demons. Nonetheless, if you take it strictly by the numbers, without that blocked punt the Steelers score enough to win the game. The Steelers special teams broke down at a critical time in the game.

John Harbaugh has Mike Tomlin, Steelers Number

When the Baltimore Ravens beat Pittsburgh at Heinz Field in November 2011 to complete John Harbuagh’s first season-sweep of the Steelers, Dejan Kovacevic suggested the victory might have represented a changing of the guard in the AFC North.

  • At the time critics balked.

However, it is now November 2016. Ben Roethlisberger STILL has not won a game in Baltimore since 2010 and the Baltimore Ravens now own four game winning streak over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cincinnati Bengals might take exception to any “changing of the guard to Baltimore storyline” but the bottom line is that right now John Harbaugh has the number of Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers.

And until Mike Tomlin’s team changes that reality on the field, the Steelers will continue to be AFC also-rans. Today’s latest loss underlines just how far Mike Tomlin and the Steelers still have to travel.

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