"How about a little adversity, huh? That game right there is kind of a snap shot of how it’s been for us." – Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin
Scout’s honor, I’d already thought of something similar before reading Tomlin’s post-game quotes.
In their victory over Miami the men in Black and Gold gave Steelers Nation the perfect snap shot of what was their 2009 season.
They started with a bang, but followed by going toe to toe for a while. Then they got hot, and looked on the verge of putting it away, only to see a seemingly inferior offense embarrass and humble a once proud defense.
Then, amidst the din generated by a chorus of opposition, the Steelers fought back, with a rebound that was at once imperfect and impressive.
The only difference was that while the Steelers second effort sufficed against the Dolphins, it was not strong enough to secure an opportunity to defend the Super Bowl title.
The Steelers 30-24 victory over the Dolphins not withstanding, the Baltimore Ravens did what the Steelers failed to do in the regular season, eliminating the Steelers from the playoffs by defeating the Oakland Raiders.
Steel Curtain Rising will offer a full diagnosis of what when wrong for the Steelers in 2009, but the Miami game, and truth be told the Steelers 3 game winning streak, have taught us something important, which we detail below….
This Is Why You Need to Be Able to Run It...
Miami had pulled within three. Ben Roethlisberger had just taken a sack/fumble and done something nasty to his arm on the way down. Recovering deep in Steelers territory, a best-case scenario had the Dolphins tying the score.
The Steelers defense uncharacteristically reversed that outcome by netting a turnover. – Good.
The Steelers had the ball back at their three, with just over five minutes left, and their franchise quarterback was in obvious distress. – Bad
Enter the Steelers running game, which accounted for 74 yards of the 83 that the Steelers gained on the final drive which end up consuming all but 40 seconds off of the clock.
Rasshard’s For Real
Rasshard Mendenhall looked as good as he has all year – which is to say it is a lot easier to understand why the Steelers ignored needs on both lines to pick him first in the 2008 draft.
Mendenhall ran for just shy of one hundred yards, including a 36 yard burst and he added a 26 yard pass reception to bring his yards from scrimmage to 120.
Yet, Mendenhall was not in the game during the Steelers final, critical drive.
Way to Go Willie
Against the Dolphins, for the last time perhaps, Willie Parker was the Steelers feature back. Willie Parker in fact gained 74 of the Steelers 83 yards on that final drive, including a 34 yard scamper that all but assured Jeff Reed’s final field goal.
Why was Willie in? Theories abound. Some say it was because he could grind out the tough yards (Mendenhall’s rushing average drops to 3 per carry when you take out his long one), or perhaps its because Wille’s got more secure hands.
Another explanation perhaps its was the quell any rumors, such as those reported by Ed Bouchette in PG Plus, that the Steelers were intentionally under using Parker to lower his free agent value.
Regardless, Willie got it done.
Secondary Redeems Itself, Sort of…
When Tyler Thigpen stepped in the game and led the Dolphins to two quick touchdowns, it appeared that fourth quarter meltdowns would be the be-all, end-all legacy of the Steelers 2009 season.
Then something funny happened.
The Steelers defensive backs started coming down with – interceptions, as Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor both came down with Thigpen passes.
The counter argument is that Thigpen threw the DB’s “gimmies.” There’s no doubt about that, but against Kansas City and Oakland Clark and rookie Joe Burnett both failed to catch similar “gimmies” either of which would have secured the outcome of those games.
This time the Steelers secondary made plays when it had to. This doesn’t change the fact that this is a major need area for the Steelers, but give the men credit for finishing the Dolphins game.
Steelers Tough Guys Step Up in the Clutch
Hines Ward was playing on not one, but two injured hamstrings, but don’t tell him that. Ben Roethisberger was in visible agony on the last drive, but completed all of his passes, including a key 13 yard pass to Ward on third down from the Steelers 15.
James Harrison likewise was out there playing with one arm, and so on.
The 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers opened themselves to a lot of questions with their five game losing streak, but their toughness remains beyond reproach.
Apologies for the tardiness in posting -- last night I went with my wife to get her passport -- you do not know the meaning of "bureaucracy" until you experience an Argentine "tramite." Thanks for visiting Steel Curtain Rising.