The Steelers victory over the Dallas Cowboys is perplexing to much of Steelers Nation, and for good reason. Against New England, the Steelers prevailed in what was supposedly a “statement game” and they did it by going back Steelers Football. Once you get beyond the “win is a win” credo, and set aside the phenomenal performance of the defense, it is hard not to view the Dallas game as somewhat of a step back.
- But was it a step back?
At this point in the season Steelers Nation has little choice to accept the good with the bad. This team has a dominating defense of the likes that has been seldom seen. Its special teams are no longer a liability, and in fact have provided sparks at key moments in big games. But the offense can be generously described as “inconsistent.”
So be it.
Steelers fans who want to make sense of the Dallas game need look back no further than the lessons we learned in week 2 against the Cleveland Browns.
Season Previewed in Week 2
Week two might seem like a long time ago, but the game against the Browns gave Steelers Nation a good snapshot of what was to be for the rest of the season.
The Steelers defense dominated. It stifled drive after drive, and each time the Browns got some semblance of momentum going, the defense stepped up to stop them with a big play.
The offense of course struggled. At the time we thought, “Oh, it’s the rain and gail force winds….¨ Or, its only week two. Willie got his hundred, and Ben was able to rocket passes downfield…. But the offense never could establish a rhythm. In a game where they could have doubled or tripled the score on Cleveland, the Steelers had to settle for winning 10 to 6.
The Commitment that Mike Tomlin Established Against Cleveland
If there is one thing that shown in the Cleveland game, its that Mike Tomlin is a coach committed to letting games be determined by the players on the field of play. At the time Steel Curtain Rising observed:
When 2008 chapter on the Pittsburgh Steelers is written, game two will likely be cast simply as the night the Steelers went 2-0 by the ho-hum score of 10-6.
Fair enough, none of the key plays were outstandingly spectacular, nor will they be long remembered. But they nonetheless reveal something important. Mike Tomlin is a coach who is ready to put the game in the hands of his players, and when he does that the players will respond with poise.
Against the Browns, Tomlin had chance after chance to play it safe. He declined each time, instead opting to play to win.
He did much the same against the Cowboys
Playing to Win
The Steelers offense played losing football for the vast majority of the game against the Cowboys. Anytime you defense secures four turnovers in a game of this level and your offense only converts them into 3 points, you know something is not going well.
Tomlin continued to put his trust in his players. His players persevered, and ultimately preformed. The Steelers of late have had trouble converting goal line situations. They found themselves in another to open the 4th quarter. They were down 13 to 3 and needed two scores.
- Mike Tomlin went for the touchdown anyway.
Gary Russell of course failed to convert (or more aptly stated, the line failed to block for Gary Russell).
- Dallas’ defense celebrated as if the game was over.
Tomlin’s defense simply delivered.
Six plays later Dallas was punting, and three more plays after that Jeff Reed was making it a seven point game.
The Steelers defense came back and forced another three and out, and this time Ben Roethlisberger and Nate Washington delivered, leading the team on an eight play 67 yard drive that ended with Health Miller’s touchdown pass. That score tied the game, but Tomlin wasn’t done.
Perhaps We Should Call it the Black and Bold
Dallas got the ball back with 1:58 yet. The conventional wisdom when you're playing defense in this case is you prevent the big play and hope to be on the right side of the coin toss in over time.
Dallas ran Choice for two yards…
- And then Tomlin called a time out.
Not content to play for the stalemate for the sake of reaching overtime, Tomlin played to win.
- Press reports reveal that Romo was incredulous...
- ...And flustered.
On the next play Dick LeBeau called what looked like Cover-2. Except it wasn’t. Thinking he was going to hook up with All Pro Jamie Witten, Romo fired pass that Desha Townsend came out of no where to intercept, and return 25 yards for a touchdown.
Where to Go From Here?
At this point the adulation at the dramatic come from behind victory against the Cowboys has faded to the reality that the Steelers must travel to Baltimore to play the Ravens. Baltimore where they have not won in five years. Baltimore where only the Titans have been victorious this year. Baltimore, the team with a defense every bit as physical as the Steelers.
Its impossible to know the outcome, although the smart money would have to favor the Ravens. But the smart money wouldn’t have favored the Steelers comebacks against the Jaguars, Chargers, or Cowboys.
A big part of the Steelers success in those endeavors lines in the fact that Mike Tomlin plays to win. Whatever the outcome of the Ravens game, you can rest assured that Tomlin and the Steelers will not attempt to play it safe.
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