Four games into the 2011 season found Steelers Nation a wash in clichés. “Old and Slow.” “Sieve-Like Offensive Line.” “Lost Their Edge.” “Walking Wounded.”
The glory of a cliché is in the truth it conveys. Late in the 4th quarter Greg Gumble reported that Ben Roethlisberger confided in him the dread and panic projected onto the team by media and fans was absent in the Steelers locker room.
After watching the Steelers 37-17 thumping of the Tennessee Titans it is easy to understand. And you can trace the reason why back to another time-honored Tomlin cliché: The Standard Is the Standard.
The translation of “The Standard” is simple: Injuries are no excuse. Play above the line. Play winning football.
In a league whose season is routinely and, correctly, described as a “battle of attrition” those are bold words. How are injuries not the deciding factor let alone an excuse? Against the Titans, the Steelers showed just why “Injuries are no excuse.”
Turning an Important Corner
After the Trashing in Texas, the Tribune-Review’s Dejan Kovacevic was alarmed by the Steelers lack of urgency and challenged Mike Tomlin’s diagnosis that the Steelers could cure what ailed them with better blocking and tackling.
Mike Tomlin was on to something.
The Titans began the game by following the blueprint left by their successors in Houston. A 21 yard run by Chris Johnson sparked a 67 yard, 6:46 min drive with the Titans reaching Steelers 4.
At that point LaMarr Woodley took matters into his own hands, blowing by a blocker and sacking Matt Hassellbeck for a 5 yard loss. Troy Polamalu struck next limiting Chris Johnson to a 1 yard gain.
The Titans would have to settle for a field goal, and the Pittsburgh Steelers had turned an important corner – they’d maintained The Standard controlled the game from there on.
Improvising, Adapting, and Overcoming on Offense
Going into a game with an ailing quarterback, your 5th offensive line configuration in as many weeks (and that doesn’t even touch the intra-game reshuffling), and your lead running back out, you’d have to figure that things would be different on offense.
And that’s not such a bad thing.
Between injuries and ineffectiveness, the Steelers have failed to establish any kind of offensive rhythm in 2011 thus far. Against the Titans, the Steelers offense marched to the cadence of a new drummer.
- Isaac Redman led the way. 49 yards might fail to impress, but this kid can play.
Redman didn’t simply run the ball, he took the point of attack to the defenders. For traditionalists like yours truly Redman’s 2nd, 3rd, and 4th efforts were a sight for sore eyes.
Jonathan Dwyer also impressed. His 76 yard scamper was a thing of beauty, and while he did make some mistakes, he also showed that he can combined speed with power.
Hats off to Bruce Arians and the rest of the offensive staff for calling one of their best games ever.
Whether it was the return of Max Starks, improved play by Pouncey, or the simple fact that this line had enough, the pass protection was far, far better than it had been all season.
Nonetheless, Arains stuck to his game plan, which mixed short, quick developing pass plays, straight ahead, between the tackles rushing, aided by timely misdirection. The Steelers netted 18 yards on reverses and executed play-action to perfection.
This only works if the running game keeps the Titans honest and if the receivers come down with catches on third downs, which they did. The offense maintained The Standard to the tune of 38 points.
The Adults Are Alright
When you have the NFL’s oldest defense and play poorly, pundits point to the Age Issue. When that same unit plays well, the team benefits from its "maturity."
Against the Titans the Steelers defense didn’t looked aged, they looked experienced.
- James Farrior led the team in tackles.
- Chris Hoke recorded two tackles for losses.
How did Chris Johnson fair after the opening drive?
- The Steelers defense limited him to all of 30 yards.
The Steelers defense didn’t play a perfect game, but they responded whenever again whenever the Titans threatened to return to the game. The Titans post on-side kick recovery lasted all of one play, as the Steelers recorded their first interception of the season.
What Makes the Standard "The Standard"
Admit it. In 2007 when the Steelers were giving up games in the 4th quarter and Tyrone Carter and Anthony Smith were getting torched in Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark’s absence Mike Tomlin’s credo of “Injuries are no excuse” sounded pretty hollow.
“The Standard is the Standard” is no motivational aimed at getting the uninjured to step up. In Steelers Digest last year Tomlin explained merely playing in the NFL puts a player in the top 0.5% of the population of football players. The difference in talent from starter to back up is miniscule by comparison.
In other words, Tomlin means what he says.
But Tomlin relies on his players to put deed behind his word. They did it against Jacksonville in 2008; they did it down in Tennessee last year, and they did it again against the Titans.
In Week 5 the winning football is once again the standard of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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