A week ago an injury-depleted Steelers squad came up short in Baltimore after a very gutsy performance. Steelers Nation generally responded by crediting the men for their effort, and arguing that Pittsburgh was headed in the right direction.
Steel Curtain Rising took exception, arguing that the loss to the Ravens revealed that the 2009 Steelers are doomed to be consistently inconsistent.
How good it would have felt to write “Steel Curtain Rising was wrong, the Steelers are back on their feet.”
Sadly, Steel Curtain Rising was right. About the only revelation to come out of the loss to Oakland is that the Steelers excel in discovering ways to self destruct.
Falling from 6-2 to 6-6
In four weeks the Steelers have fallen from 6-2 to 6-6. It is getting to the point where adjectives fail to describe the four-loss fall, but here’s a shot:
What about the loss to the Raiders? Right now there’s even money on "devastating" and "demoralizing."
“Only the Raiders”
In two and three quarters seasons, Mike Tomlin has shown himself to be a top notch head coach. There’s no other way to describe a man who guides a team through the NFL’s toughest schedule in a generation and ends it by claiming a 6th Lombardi Trophy.
But during his third season, Mike Tomlin’s Achilles Heel has become horrendously apparent.
- Mike Tomlin teams play down to the competition.
Coming into the game, Oakland was 1-5 on the road. It had the 31st ranked offense. The Raiders had scored 10 touchdowns in 11 games – that’s less than one per game.
The Steelers defense gave Oakland three touchdowns, in a single quarter.
Fully half of the Steelers losses (thus far) have come at the hands of teams jockeying for draft position. Injuries and freak mishaps are fine, but when a team consistently drops games to inferior talent, place the blame squarely on the coach’s shoulders.
The Steelers Did Rectify Several Wrongs, Except...
Throughout the course of this 6-6 season, several deficiencies have ailed the Steelers.
- Costly special teams breakdowns
- Touchdowns dropped in the end zone
- An inability to pressure the passer at key moments
- A (perceived) lack of commitment to the run
Yet against the Raiders, none of those ills were apparent.
- Kick coverage was good, and Stefan Logan finally broke a long one, and he had another very good run back
- Ben’s receivers caught everything he threw at them
- Pittsburgh's defenders racked up 3 sacks, and pressure forced plenty of Oakland punts
- The Steelers in fact found excellent balance on offense, passing 24 times and running 27 times
Since the losing streak started, the Steelers seemingly have righted a lot of wrongs, but in the end, that effort has not been sufficient.
...As It Was in the Beginning It Shall Be in the End
The key to the sentence above is “right a lot of wrongs,” because the two big wrongs, namely coming up empty in the Red Zone and folding in the fourth quarter, returned to haunt Pittsburgh with a vengeance.
Red Zone Failures
In the first half, the Steelers got into the Red Zone three times.
- Starting from the Oakland 15, the Steelers managed just three points
- Advancing to the Oakland 5, they gave it up on downs
- Driving from mid-field to the Oakland 15, Ben threw an interception in the end zone.
If the Steelers score as little as three more points on any of those Red Zone possessions, the Raiders do not finish regulation with the lead.
A touchdown on any one of them gives the Steelers an advantage.
Fortunately, the Steelers offense adjusted, and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
An impressive turn around, almost tempting enough to let the offense off the hook, for it would have been enough, had there not been a total and complete defensive collapse in the fourth quarter.
Folding in the Fourth
The Raiders first touchdown was hard to take, but the Steelers had given them the ball at midfield and Oakland simply drove 47 yards in workman-like fashion. Nothing to be proud of, but no cause for panic either.
But the next two drives were inexcusable.
The first saw the defense give up a 75 yard touchdown pass.
Then came the final drive where Gradkowski had completions of 17, 12, 19, 23, and 11 yards. As if five double-digit plays were not enough, the Steelers defense was kind enough to give them another 11 yards on an unnecessary roughness call.
To find a more shameful fourth quarter performance by a Steeler defense, you need to go back to the dark days of 1998 or 1999.
And that observation is more damming than any number or statistic.
Throughout this losing streak the question has been, “a rally is still possible, can Tomlin rally the troops?”
Now the question is simply, “Can Tomlin keep his team from quitting?”
Mike Tomlin himself seemed to concede as much. When asked about playoff possibilities a dejected Tomlin simply responded:
“I am just trying to win a game.”