The Pittsburgh Steelers started 2012, in a word, slowly to the tune of letting three fourth quarter leads slip away as Steelers Nation watched in anguish.
- Have NFL offenses found the antidote to Dick LeBeau’sdefense?
- Did father time finally catch up with that self-same defense?
- Has Todd Haley robbed the Steelers of their ability to play physical football in the trenches?
Yes, Pittsburgh responded with strong victories vs. the Bengals and Redskins. But neither team has a winning record.
- A victory over a contender still eluded the Steelers.
The Giants appeared to offer the perfect measuring stick, and the game in New York gave the team a chance to measure themselves against the defending Super Bowl Champions, as well as providing a different sort of test for the Steelers – one where they proved to be more than worthy to the task.
Ike Taylor intercepts Eli Manning in the Steelers 2012 upset over the New York Giants. Photo Credit: Steelers.com
“We focus on the things that we can control” – Mike Tomlin, on many occasions
NFL coaches prepare for any and every contingency.
- Mike Tomlin studies film for hours, probing for weakness
- Dick LeBeau and Todd Haley painstakingly lay ground work to defend or exploit a formation which they might see just once in a game
- Position coaches like Scotty Montgomery or Carnell Lake drill players ad nauseam to capitalize on minuscule tendencies that will win them a crucial 1-1 match ups
All of this is necessary for victory, but it is not sufficient because factors outside the control of players and coaches influence outcomes in football. The question is never “if” those factors will come into play in a big game but “when” and more importantly, how will you react?
Starting Out Old School
The Steelers and the Giants are two of the NFL’s oldest and most tradition-steeped franchises, so its fitting that the game started out as a slug fest, with both teams probing for weakness, but failing to land blows.
After that Isaac Redman powered the Steelers down into the Red Zone where Ben Roethlisberger connected with Emmanuel Sanders in the End Zone to put the Steelers ahead.
The Steelers defense had forced a turnover, and the offense converted it into money. Everything seemed to be going the Steelers way….
Beware Zebras Waving Yellow Flags…
But then the uncontrollables appeared:
- Keenan Lewis got flagged for a tickky-tacky pass interference call
- Ryan Clark leveled Victor Cruz and got flagged for helmet-to-helmet contact despite the fact that no part of Clark’s body touched Cruz’ head
- Andre Brown scored a touchdown although even on replay it looked like he was down before crossing the goal line
That was just the warm up act. Three plays after New York’s touchdown, the officials struck again.
- Had Ben Roethlisberger’s name been “Peyton Manning” or “Tom Brady,” then the stat sheet simply now simply read “incomplete pass.”
Credit Michael Boley for hustling. Several players on both sides also appeared to think the ball was incomplete rather than a fumble. But Boley played to the whistle, charging 70 yards for what was ultimately, and incorrectly ruled, a touchdown.
The Steelers had started the game against the World Champs by taking control, and they were suddenly down by 7, due to little fault of their own.
It happens. Welcome to the NFL. Now, what do you do about it?
“Games like this don’t build character, they display it.” – Bill Cowher 11/5/95
Anyone who understands Steelers knows they were not about to wallow in self-pity. Mike Tomlin teams do not do that.
- But feeling sorry for oneself is one thing, staying focused is something else.
Focus at times has not been a team strength (see Oakland, see Tennessee).
- The Steelers made it immediately clear that history would not repeat itself in New York.
The Giants threatened to close out the half with another score, this time on their own merits, but the Steelers defense held, aided by a missed field goal.
With 30 seconds and one time out, Ben Roethlisberger put the Steelers in field goal position to narrow the Giants half time lead to four. It would be poetic to say that the Steelers from this point on represented a model of composure and controlled the game from there on. But they didn’t.
Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Sanders made potentially game-changing returns, but the Steelers squandered them with a Roethlisberger interception and a failed faked field goal attempt.
While this was happening, however, the defense quietly delivered. Case in point, New Yorkreturned Roethlisberger’s interception to the 5, but the defense forced the Giants to settle for a measly three.
- And so it was, the Steelers opened the fourth quarter, not defending a lead, but down by ten.
The offense awoke. The fact that they came back to defeat the defending Super Bowl Champions is good, but the way they did it offers even more hope. Since Ken Whisenhunt’s departure the debate over the proper Run-Pass balance that should define the Steelers offense has consumed Steelers Nation.
- Such debate misses the point.
Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain observed last season, the Steelers need a dynamic offence, that can either run or pass when the situation warrants.
The Steelers fourth quarter performance reveals a dynamic offense par excellence.
- Ben Roethlisberger first connected with Mike Wallace for a catch-and-run quick strike.
- Pittsburgh then mixed passes and runs to four different ball carriers, with IsaacRedman punching it in from the one
- Finally, the Steelers iced the game on a clock killing drive that featured a 16 yard completion on third down and 28 yard scamper by Redman
And what of the defense?
- The unit was simply spectacular, forcing New Yorkto go 3 and out on all three of their final possessions.
Versus the Giants the Steelers had multiple opportunities to flinch. But they chose to focus instead, and in the process the played their best regular season game in over a year.
Not a bad place to be at the season’s half way mark.
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