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Bleeding Black and Gold: BADDER THAN YOU

October 7, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

The score: Pittsburgh 16, Philadelpia 14

The headline:SLOPPY YET SATISFYING: Steelers get critical win in mistake-filled, penalty-marred cross-state battle.

The bottom line: The Steelers found a pass rush and running game Sunday but couldn’t translate that into any kind of consistent execution. Luckily, the Eagles were worse and Pittsburgh escaped with a 16-14 win that Andy Reid gift wrapped for them by using two of his precious timeouts early in the fourth quarter.

It was over when: ...Shaun Suisham split the uprights on a 34-yard FG on the game’s last play. While it’s awesome to see Suisham reinvent himself as Mr. Dependable with his fifth NFL team, it’s still scary to see the game on his foot on the final play. And how narrow do those uprights look from that behind-the-kicker camera angle?

Play of the day: The Eagles were going in for an early score when Ryan Clark separated Mike Vick from the football at the 2-yard-line and the Steelers recovered for a touchback. That’s a totally different game if Philly scores there. Say what you want about Clark’s skirting of the rules in terms of using his helmet, he’s become the physical heart of the Pittsburgh defense and physicality wins in the NFL.

Hot topics:

+ We said in our pregame blog, we’d be surprised if all three of the Steelers returning starters made it out of October and, of course, Troy Polamalu didn’t even make it out of the first half. And now, as a board certified amateur physician, we’ll speculate that we won’t see Polamalu again until December, if then. James Harrison did not look like his old self, but he looked good enough to be encouraged, except for the fact that he played nearly every down (because of another injury to LaMarr Woodley) and now has to come back on three days’ rest (and we wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t play Thursday at all). As we told you he would, Rashard Mendenhall looked fast and fit (as all RBs do during the first week of their seasons). The Steelers need to ride that horse while it’s kicking because by about Week 10 Mendenhall will be beat up and plodding like everyone else.

+ Despite all the injury issues, the Steelers defense played its best game this year, led by Lawrence Timmons, who showed the athleticism that got him drafted at #15, something we’ve rarely seen in the past 18 months. Larry Foote continues to quietly have a fantastic season. On the other end, Brett Kiesel was continually manhandled on Sunday, leading to all those yards Shady McCoy picked up on those sweeps to the left. Of equal concern, Ryan Mundy returns to replace Polamalu and there’s no way to describe his play so far this year other than turrible. As he was against the Raiders, Mundy was victimized for the Eagles’ go-ahead touchdown.

+ We know you all love Mike Wallace, but it’s becoming more apparent every week that he’s playing with – ahem – less than full effort. In this game, he dropped two critical passes, one that likely would have gone for a touchdown, and didn’t even make an effort for another jump-ball pass in the end zone. To recount, the Steelers can retain Wallace for one more year by placing the franchise tag on him after this season. They are unlikely to do that, which means he’s likely to be a free agent. A serious injury this year would seriously reduce his value in the free market. You do the math.

+ What to do about Willie Colon? On one hand (and almost on the full hand!), there were the four (count ‘em) holding penalties Sunday. On the other hand, many of the newfound holes that Steelers RBs encountered were opened by Colon. Ugh. Ironically, Colon’s penalties were really the only blemish for the Pittsburgh offensive line, which didn’t allow a sack for the first time since Jan. 2, 2011, the final game of the 2010 regular season, a 41-9 win over the Browns. That’s a 24-game span, including postseason games.

+ Rather than dwell on the minutiae of the two helmet-hit calls on the Steelers (Clark hit NOT on a defenseless receiver, NOT after whistle, MAYBE launched; Mundy hit led with shoulder and then helmets hit), we’ll just note again that the larger issue is this: In the long run, the game can’t be played or officiated effectively under the current rules. And we’re not even saying the rules are wrong. The biggest issue (the 800-pound elephant, literally) is the players have become too big and too fast to play the game “safely” and a big part of why they’ve become so big and fast is the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Game (mis)management:

+ We’ll repeat what we said last game: Steelers fans should be very, very concerned that Mike Tomlin shows no signs of learning from previous mistakes in the game management department. Against the Raiders, it was the unnecessary first-quarter challenge. On Sunday, it was the stupid, unnecessary spike by Ben Roethlisberger just before the half. (Yes, it was likely Roethlisberger’s decision BUT it’s happened before (against Denver this year!) and should have been corrected then.) To repeat, you have just advanced inside the 10 and only have four offensive plays left in all likelihood. Plays take :08 max and usually :06, so as long as you have at least one timeout left, four plays is minimum :19, maximum :25. So, coming to the line with :24 left, there was no reason to spike the ball, the Steelers instead should have run a play. In this case, they wasted first down and kicked a field gold with :08 left, plenty of time to have run that wasted play. Unlike his cross-the-field counterpart, Tomlin has flown under the radar as a game mismanager because Roethlisberger usually bails him out.

+ But Tomlin was one-upped Sunday by the master, Andy Reid, who wasted two of his precious (precious!) timeouts early in the fourth quarter treating it like it was the final 3:00 of the game then watching helplessly as the Steelers were able to bleed the clock and win on the final play, something they NEVER could have done if he’d have kept his timeouts in his pocket. In the first situation, if Reid knows he’s going for it on fourth down, he should not risk the challenge on third down unless he’s 1000 percent sure he’s right. The timeout is too valuable. Instead, he got the double whammy of losing the challenge and the timeout. The second situation with the offensive confusion is a little more grey, but, in general, unless it’s third or fourth down, the timeout is too precious to waste. Just take the 5-yard penalty. The two 4th-and-1 decisions on that drive are fine. History has shown although it’s scary, it’s the right thing to do. Although, if Keenan Lewis could tackle, Reid would be getting skewered for that decision, too.

In the booth:

+ Honestly, it wasn’t too bad. We thought Aikman did a good job pointing out the officiating inconsistencies in the game (see below) and noted right away that the Eagles offensive line seemed confused in its protection schemes, something that continued all day. Buck is a solid announcer, but he’s picking up Jim Nantz’s annoying habit of raising his voice at the end of every Steelers defensive play in anticipation of a personal foul or pass interference call. You’ll note he said “a lot of contact” on at least three plays involving Steelers defenders where a flag was not thrown but did not use that call on the three uncalled defensive holds or PIs on the Eagles that Aikman later noted. We don’t think it’s intentional, we just think it is.

Zebra hunting:

+ Were there more penalties in that game than the average game? Or did the officials decide to call more penalties? That’s the age-old chicken-or-egg question here, but the fact remains that the last two games Tony Corrente’s crew worked in Pittsburgh (Raiders 2010 being the other) have been the two ugliest games in recent memory. The biggest issue Sunday, though, is also the NFL’s biggest issue: Inconsistency in administration of the pass interference and defensive holding rules. We saw Ike Taylor called for a huge PI penalty when there was nothing more than routine hand fighting then watched Steelers receivers get grabbed or otherwise knocked off their routes downfield, in critical situations mind you, without a single flag. That’s the kind of thing that drive the players and coaches (and yinzers!) absolutely nutso.

A word from our sponsors: Hey Geico, instead of stale, 5-year old Caveman commercials, State Farm is giving us fresh (fresh, I say!) discount double take spots every two weeks. Yes, they all have the same boring plot, the same bad acting and the same “surprise” ending, but they’re fresh.

Sweet tweet: “@15MinutesBlog: Who is #94 and what has done to Lawrence Timmons?” (Blogger’s note: Every once in awhile…)

Next week (um, later this week): The Steelers travel to Tennessee Thursday to face a struggling Titans team that can’t run, can’t throw and has given up 34, 38, 41 and 38 points in its first four games. That said, any NFL team can win on its own field against any opponent on any week so Pittsburgh will have to play a lot cleaner to get to their “mini-bye” (they come back with a Sunday night game vs. the Bengals) in a positive state of mind.

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