Steelers beat Vikes - Sit Atop AFC
The Steelers beat a hapless, unmotivated Viking team Sunday to move to 9-2 and into sole possession of the top spot in the AFC. The win inches them closer to the division title and a first round bye in the playoffs. However, the Steelers did not look anything like a 9-2 team for a 6-7 minute span late in the game and don't seem to have a grasp on what it is going to take to win in the playoffs. Here's why:
Prevent Defense/Nickel Package - The Steelers habitually go to this scheme when the other team needs to throw late in the game. What this does besides letting opponents march down the field and get huge chunks of yardage, is it usually takes Kendrick Bell out of the game. Bell was no where to be found in the second half Sunday because the Steelers controlled the ball for most of the half until about the 7 minute mark of the 4th quarter.
Not having Belll on the field is a travesty, but this is even more apparent when the Steelers go into prevent and play soft. Gildon and Porter are not putting pressure on the QB when they only come with 4 or 5 guys. Even though the Vikes have given up a huge number of sacks this year, the Steelers were unable to get to the QB late in the game. Allowing a very green, back-up QB the luxury of sitting back in the pocket and to take shots at Randy Moss is unforgivable. The Steelers should have stuck to their base 3-4 'D' and came after Bouman with a vengeance. They didn't and Bell watched from the sidelines as the Steelers nearly blew the game.
Coaching - The Steelers may have the two most arrogant coaches in football in Tim Lewis and Bill Cowher. Cowher's tirades are legendary by now in post-game and morning press conferences, but Lewis' arrogance was just as apparent on Myron Cope's Locker Room show after the game. Cope simply asked Lewis about going to soft too early in the game. Lewis basically called the suggestion foolish and arrogantly pointed out that they won game. Lewis was in fact resentful of the question and Cope had to move on to other less critical topics.
On the offensive side of the ball, Mularkey has done an excellent job in calling the plays for most games this year. Indeed, his play calling helped the Steelers to their 21-3 lead late in the game and allowed them to get a huge advantage in TOP. Yet, after getting the ball back with about 8 minutes to play, the Steelers meekly plunged the ball into the line time after time after time. In fact, The Steelers threw the ball only twice on four possessions late in the game and did not run Stewart at opportune times.
This was ultra-conservative play calling and showed that the Steeler coaching staff does not have as much confidence in the passing game as they claim. A first down on any of these possessions late in the game would have been huge for the Steelers. Finally, on their fourth possession in the last 8 minutes of the game, Fu broke one open and sealed the victory. If Fu does not break one, the Steelers once again would have been forced to punt, giving Minnesota another shot at winning the game.
Given the fact that the Vike defense was on the field for most of the second half, the Steelers should have taken advantage and put pressure on the Viking defense by at least trying to get first downs. Instead, the Steelers eased up and let the Vikes back in the game.
As far as the head coach goes, Cowher made one of the worst decisions in recent memory regarding instant replay. The Steelers, only having one timeout left in the first half, ran the ball with Stewart for an apparent TD, but Stewart was called short of the goal-line. The play resulted in a first and goal for the Steelers at the one. Remember, a coach can only use two challenges through out the game and the Steelers have the ball on the one yard line - first and goal. Inexplicably, Cowher calls for a review just as the Steelers are about to snap the ball. What clown told Cowher the play was a sure TD isn't relevant. There's no way you challenge this call given the facts that the Steelers only have one-time out left in the first half, have only two challenges per game and that they have the ball at the one. This was not a critical call - the Steelers have 4 shots from the one to get this ball in the end-zone. This smells of Cowher stroking Stewart again trying to be his buddy rather doing what's right for the team. The end result was that the Steelers were left with no timeouts and only one challenge left. The Steelers scored easily the next play when Bettis bulled through one of the worst defensive lines in football. Very poor decision even if Stewart is awarded the TD.
Chris Brown - Brown missed another field goal wide right Sunday and barely shanked an extra point off the left up-right on the first TD PAT. Brown needs to improve if Billy-Ball can survive down the stretch and deep into the playoffs. If anyone thinks Cowher is happy with field goals now, wait until the playoffs roll around.
Prevent Defense, Coaching Decisions and Chris Brown hampered this team today, but it didn't bury them in the end because the Steelers pulled this one out. However, poor decisions against better teams and kicks sailing wide right could be disastrous for this team down the road. The coaching staff still needs to be more focused on winning games outright and not just holding on at the end.
Too many times Cowher coached teams have suffered under this mentality only to lose in the waning minutes of a playoff game. Everyone remembers the Charger game and how the Steelers lost and no one can forget the Indy game that sent the Steelers to the Super Bowl against Dallas. Both these games are glaring examples of how a Cowher coached team timidly performs in the playoffs. Dominate statistically, but not dominating on the scoreboard. Letting your opponent off the mat is not something the Steelers can afford to do in the future, but it looks like they are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
They might just find themselves in a situation where... after dominating the Oakland Raiders all day in late January at Heinze field - the Steelers give up a late TD to go down 14-13. The Steelers then march down the field to the 20 and in steps Chris Brown. The kick is up, it's...
The Steelers should be relying on there strengths like an aggressive defense rather than the foot of Chris Brown. Unfortunately, it looks like Cowher arrogance will not allow for any introspection anytime soon and it also looks like this same arrogance has infected at least Tim Lewis. There is no one clear reason for the Steelers success this year, but the devices for their demise are firmly in place.