The score: Oakland 21, Pittsburgh 18
The bottom line: In this week’s contest at Oakland, the Steelers were poorly prepared and poorly coached, badly mismanaging the clock at the end of each half. They don’t have enough good players to begin with and the ones that they do have performed poorly. Also, some of those poor-performing players were injured leading to even poorer-performing backups being pressed into action, when they, as expected, performed very poorly.
It was over when: It felt like it was over when Terrell Pryor dashed 93 yards on the game’s first play from scrimmage, but it really ended when Ben Roethlisberger was forced to call a timeout WITH THE CLOCK ALREADY STOPPED to avoid a delay penalty with 1:43 remaining because of confusion about personnel and a possible penalty that never materialized. That critical piece of game mismanagement, the fourth elementary strategic flub by our count by Pittsburgh, meant Pittsburgh couldn’t stop the clock on third down of the Raiders ensuing possession, which meant Pittsburgh began its final possession with just seconds remaining, instead of with about 1:05 left.
Play of the day: Aside from being the longest touchdown run by a quarterback EVER in an NFL game, Pryor’s sprint set the tone immediately that this would be yet another lost trip to the Black Hole for Pittsburgh. But beyond that, it set the tone for the almost imcomprehensible lack of preparation the Steelers displayed Sunday as NOT ONE SINGLE DEFENDER took responsibility ON THE FIRST PLAY OF THE GAME for THE ONLY PLAYER THAT COULD BEAT THEM. Think about that. To an amateur football sleuth, it looked like LaMarr Woodley and/or Lawrence Timmons were likely guilty of not doing their job on the play, but it should be noted that Troy Polamalu was completely neutralized at the line of scrimmage BY A WIDE RECEIVER. As with everything else on this forgettable afternoon, there was plenty of blame to go around on this crucial play.
+ Speaking of crucial plays, the runner up for “play of the day” came a little later in the first quarter when David Paulson was MANHANDLED on a punt, allowing Rashard Jennings to get a piece of the kick by the EXTREMELY DELIBERATE Zoltan Mesko (again, plenty of blame). So, after starting the game doing the ONE THING they absolutely couldn’t do, the Steelers then did the ONLY THING they couldn’t do after that, which is to hand the offensively challenged Raiders ANOTHER easy score.
+ Mesko had another forgettable afternoon of short, low kicks when it counted (he got off a couple longer kicks after Pittsburgh was down 21-3) and might find himself on the unemployment line later this week, although we’ll remind anyone calling for the return of Drew Butler that he is also a terrible, underachieving kicker.
+ The Steelers managed two sacks on Pryor, but both of those were near the line of scrimmage. More often than not, they did what they’ve done all season, they CAME CLOSE to sacking Pryor, but couldn’t seal the deal. In a truly concerning development, first-round pick Jarvis Jones gets less visible every game. Meanwhile, the Raiders sacked Roethlisberger five times, including two by rookie third-rounder Sio Moore.
+ Oh yeah, almost forgot, Shaun Suisham missed two chip shots. On the list of things that cost the Steelers that game, those misses rank about eighth. On the first, the hold by Mesko was not optimal (too tilted), but the second was just a Noonan. It happens. That guy has earned about 10 Noonans before we even question him. People are welcome to their opinions, but it seems to us that people calling for Suisham’s head are the same people hanging onto the notion that there’s some magic formula for fixing the Steelers that doesn’t involve an infusion of a lot of new talent.
+ The Raiders apparent fumbled first-half punt was one of the big plays in the game and it’s hard to argue with John Parry’s ruling that there was not enough video evidence to overturn the call on the field, which was that a Steelers gunner had illegally touched the ball before the Oakland returner fumbled it. CBS’ Spero Dedes claimed the broadcasters had “looked at it from every angle” but viewers only saw one angle, and from that angle it was impossible to tell.
+ Unfortunately, that play become the template for the remainder of the game with at least five other close plays going to review, almost always without a replay angle that showed the play clearly (Heath Miller’s overturned TD being an exception). Fewer cameras is another of the pitfalls of being a terrible team in the NFL.
+ The game finally produced the most asinine review in NFL history, when Parry went under the hood to determine whether Darren McFadden fumbled on a play where McFadden also recovered the potential fumble at the exact spot he potentially fumbled it.
+ Mike Tomlin and his coaches and players turned in what was possibly the most severely mismanaged game in NFL history and that is not an exaggeration. Let’s just go through it chronologically…
+ It’s hard to believe the Steelers could have mismanaged the final :30 of the first half much worse. It started, ironically enough, with the proper use of a spike at to preserve their final timeout. Trailing by 18, Pittsburgh needed bold strategy aimed as scoring a touchdown. Instead, Ben Roethlisberger checked down on the next play to get into field goal range and then the Pittsburgh offense ran around clumsily with a full :06 ticking off (ONE FULL PLAY) before someone decided to use the final timeout with :17 remaining. On 3rd-and-1 with no timeouts (AND DID WE MENTION TRAILING BY 18?), Pittsburgh had one and only one option, take a shot at the end zone. Instead, Roethlisberger tried to connect with Felix Jones, who was lined up at wide receiver, on a crossing pattern that would have resulted in a first down but would have required a full-court panic to get a spike to stop the clock for a FG attempt. That is a play that is literally all risk and no, none, zero, zip, zilch reward. After such daft strategy and atrocious execution, the “drive” could end only way, with a “too tilted” hold from Mesko and the first field goal miss by Shaun Suisham on the year.
+ Fast forward now to the Steelers final scoring drive when they faced a 3rd-and-1 at the Raiders 31 with 2:44 remaining. We have no problem with Todd Haley calling a running play here BUT you have to be ready to call a timeout as soon as you get the first down. First and foremost, this stops the clock, probably at around 2:34 in this instance, but it also allows you to regroup and plan for as MANY AS FIVE MORE FULL PLAYS IN before the two-minute warning. Instead, Pittsburgh ran the running play then tried to sugar huddle at the line, resulting in a confused-looking play that resulted in a sack at 2:10 (loss of :24) and rolled into the two-minute stoppage.
+ Pittsburgh came out of the break, though, with two excellent pass plays, a 17-yarder to Jericho Cotchery and a 7-yarder to Le’Veon Bell, both of which took :08 and both of which ended with a clock stoppage. That left them facing a 2nd-and-3 from the Raiders 12 when the unthinkable happened. As noted above, Roethlisberger called a critical timeout late in a close game with the clock already stopped.
+ What does this all mean? We’ve said it before and we think the evidence is irrefutable. Mike Tomlin needs a game management assistant. The mistakes that happened Sunday are all repeat mistakes and some of them have been repeated for six years.
In the booth: Spero Dedes and Rich Gannon apparently prepared for this game by watching tape of the 2006 Steelers, talking about Pittsburgh’s “vaunted” defense and its “physical style” of play. When the worse-than-mediocre Steelers of 2013 showed up, the paid were “shocked” with a performance that “no one expected.” Still, they performed solidly in one key department: Not being Jim Nantz and Phil Simms.
And now a word… AT&T might provide crappy cellular telephone service, but they sure know how to keep a marketing idea fresh, continuing to pump out regularly amusing new versions of their “It’s Not Complicated” spots (the deadpan host talking to the cute kids). New versions of the spots every six weeks or so has allowed that campaign to remain fresh. Compare that to State Farm’s “Discount Double Check” campaign, where the same spot can run for three months or more.
Sweet tweet: “@CdrEck: What’s Mitch Berger doing these days?” Blogger’s note: Punter humor never gets old.
Next week: Pittsburgh travels to New England to face the 6-2 Patriots, who are winning despite a struggling offense. The Steelers won handily when they last visited New England (33-10 in 2008) but they are 3-6 against the Pats in the Tom Brady era. With the injuries Sunday to Ramon Foster and David DeCastro, it will be very interesting to see what kind of offensive line (aside from a terrible one) Pittsburgh is able to field.