Steelers waste vintage Big Ben performance amid silly strategy, penalties

The score: Dallas 35, Pittsburgh 30

The bottom line: The Steelers and their quarterback were good enough to beat the Dallas Cowboys in a critical showdown Sunday in Pittsburgh, but following the lead of their head coach and his coaching staff, they weren’t smart enough, cramming enough stupid strategy and stupid penalties for a season into four quarters of enjoyable, but ultimately futile, football and falling 35-30, leaving their playoff chances exactly where they’ve been for most of Mike Tomlin’s tenure, on life support, with only the weak AFC North competition as a potential shot of adrenaline.

It was over when… We have no idea why Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger continue to call timeouts too soon on drives at the ends of halves and games when it has burned them so many times, but they did it again Sunday, stopping the clock with 1:04 remaining after a Le’Veon Bell catch and run put the ball at Cowboys 39 and all but ensuring Dallas would have enough time to mount a final drive. Ezekiel Elliott’s scoring run was the exact dagger Pittsburgh deserved.

Play of the day: The Steelers looked crisp and confident early and Dallas was in a huge hole, facing 2nd-and-18 at their own 17 late in the first quarter, when the game changed for good on the EXACT PLAY that EVERYONE calls on 2nd-and-18. The Steelers rush bit hard on Dak Prescott’s predictable screen to Ezekiel Elliott and the soon-to-be Rookie of the Year and maybe MVP turned into an eye-popping 83-yard score that set up the shootout Pittsburgh would later lose.

Hot topics:

+ The Ravens difficult schedule (@DAL, CIN, MIA, @NE, PHI, @PIT, @CIN) and the Bengals tie means the Steelers are still in the thick of the AFC North race where a 9-7 champ is looking likely. That’ll make the division games absolutely critical.

+ Despite all the whining about Tomlin’s two-point debacle and his leaving too much time on the clock, the bottom line is that the Steelers offense did more than enough to win while the defense, not only couldn’t get a big stop late, but actually contributed to Dallas’ final two scores with critical 15-yard penalties from Ross Cockrell and Sean Davis (with William Gay avoiding one he deserved, for good measure). Jarvis Jones was invisible again. Cam Heyward is a shell of his best self while playing injured and Lawrence Timmons is just a shell of his best self.

+ After looking like he wanted to be anywhere but on a professional football field on his first play back, Ladarius Green recovered to make some nice catches and take some decent shots. Hopefully, he’s fine when he wakes up tomorrow and he can get on with his football life.

+ Probably not fair to save this for the fourth bullet point, but that might have been one of Ben Roethlisberger’s best games as a pro, certainly in terms of accuracy, and especially when you consider he did it without a real deep threat.

Zebra hunting:

+ From the “credit where due” department: One thing NFL officials are doing very right this year is ruling quickly and almost always correctly on “trap” balls by using the regular-speed replay as their primary tool. In the past, these play yielded interminable reviews as officials watched the play six or seven times in slower motion each time. Eli Rogers TD catch was a perfect example of a clear catch that might have been overturned under the “old” scrutiny.

+ It seemed like the Cowboys were successfully  employing (how many times did Troy Aikman say, “It looks like the Cowboys got away with one there”?) the Seahawks “we’re getting physical on every play and counting on the fact the officials won’t throw a flag on every play” pass defense for much of the first half before Orlando Scandrick’s injury in the second half left them without the personnel to press.

Game mismanagement:

+ Maybe some good will come of this if it puts an end to Mike Tomlin’s two-point silliness, an issue that’s been ailing him since his first playoff game in 2007. This is a reminder NOT to say Tomlin has a two-point strategy. He does not. He goes for it sometimes and not other times with no rhyme or reason as to why. That’s not strategy, that’s folly.

+ After that 2007 playoff loss to Jacksonville where Pittsburgh chased points the entire fourth quarter, a young blogger wrote an open letter to a young Mike Tomlin, imploring him to only go for two if BOTH the math and the clock dictated it. That is still the best strategy today, although with the extra point moving back to the 33, we’re willing to concede that going for two EVERY time might also make sense. Anything in between those two extremes is eventually going to end badly, it’s basic math.

+ Pittsburgh called its first timeout in the second half when someone on the sideline didn’t like the personnel on a Dallas third down play. That’s a mighty big price to pay (unless a guy is standing on the line uncovered). The Steelers used the extra time to come with a scheme that gave up the first down anyway on the next play.

In the booth:

+ Joe Buck’s beard is certainly a travesty, but from an announcing point of view, the two guys are miles better than Nantz and Simms.

And now a word from our sponsors: McDonald’s, one of the largest companies in the world, boasting a history of some of the most iconic advertising in history, actually paid someone to write and record that McGriddles commercial that uses a double negative and a punch line that doesn’t exist anymore (sports broadcasters drawing with a telestrator).

Next week: The Steelers hop on the buses next week for their annual trek to beautiful Cleveland, where the team is as dismal as the November weather…. again… and the quarterback situation is a debacle… again… and the owner is said to have had enough… again… not realizing he is the biggest part of the problem… again.


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