The Steelers of the current era, the "Big Ben" era, have always seemed to play better–with more intensity–when their backs are against the wall. (Like this Sunday against the Eagles; 2-2 or 1-3?) Whether it be trailing in a game or trailing in the won-lost column for the division title, the Steelers seem to come together and "up their game" to oftentimes pull off a stunning come-from-behind victory, or an improbable run to the playoffs, and sometimes the Super Bowl. And true, at times, it almost seems as if they “allow” themselves to fall behind, in a game or in a season, just so those "adrenalin juices" will rush through their veins and the heightened focus and intensity will kick in. Come-from-behind addicts perhaps! I think, some–maybe more than some–Steelers fans have sensed this, and certainly all have enjoyed witnessing it–Terrible Towels blazing.
But that come-from-behind “strategy” or mentality is no longer tenable–it is for the younger days, when Ben was a "younger" quarterback, a more mobile quarterback, and a less roughed-up one. (Big Ben still can move, albeit at a perceptibly slower pace. But if he has to scramble on one too many occasions, he could wind up on injured reserve. Most fans sense and worry that he’s one sack, one stumble, or one rolled on ankle away from an anguishing season. He needs to play more conservatively as he seems to be playing-with less reckless abandon, not more.) And, on the other side of the ball, the Steelers can no longer absolutely, positively depend on their defense scoring six or more points per game, plus adding a few opportune turnovers for their offense to capitalize on. The defense carrying the offense is anachronistic, until they again prove otherwise.
The opponents are smart enough to know that when the Steelers are forced into a "must pass" come-from-behind situation, that it's also time to blitz at-risk Big Ben; more often than not now, with justifiable success. So, from my view, this is where the game–and the attitude–and the approach of the Steelers needs some fine tuning. This current Steelers team–with a lot of the same players–needs to play a little different. The offense needs to get ON the scoreboard first, and get OFF the come-from-behind adrenalin rush game “plan”–especially since the defense isn't the "wild card" or the Joker that we can pull out of our sleeve to win the card game, to win the football game. If the Steelers win the coin toss, they should elect to receive. The offense should start the game–in the two minute drill if need be–and try to score first (a touchdown), then stay ahead.
Of course, one can chide, "Dah, fanonthemoon, all teams want to do that! Score first." Yes they do, i respond. But for top teams (that is, LONG teams, teams that you can tip your hat to) perhaps none less than the Steelers. The Steelers have made a living out of, and built a reputation for, coming from behind, especially in big games–this miraculous come-from-behind “syndrome” ushered in by the Franco Harris "Immaculate Reception." Because of that immaculate moment, and a few other episodes including Ben’s last-gasp Super Bowl touchdown pass, we (the Steeler Nation) always believe–almost know or assume–that we will pull a victory out of the jaws of defeat. Some of us have learned to thrive on this cat-and-mouse game.
Thus my argument goes, that the team might not focus as much, or with as much intensity, until they begin to realize the game is slipping from their grasp–that's when a higher level of intensity kicks in, playing like the real first stringers and Pro Bowlers they are. For a multitude of reasons, they don't always win those exciting games, but they always seem to play with more intensity and focus when their backs are against the proverbial wall.
Simply put, however, i just don’t think–and don’t see–the Steelers playing as well from behind as they used to. (How can they when the QB has tender ankles and rotator cuffs? And the defense is banged up.) Thus, they need to adapt and change. (And as always with any critique regarding the Steelers, their players, or their coaches, i hope they prove me very, very wrong.) They need to stop coming from behind, and start getting, staying, and playing ahead. (Easier said then done, of course.)
To cut to the chase–I think, in the upcoming Philadelphia game, the coaches should have the team playing fourth quarter ball-maybe two minute drill ball–from the opening kickoff! And if they are blessed enough to get a good lead, then back off to first quarter play. Maybe even to say (in as-far-away-as-the-moon-speak): “Play the game in reverse: playing like it’s the fourth quarter first–then third, second, and opening quarter.” No more pulling out the decision in the last rounds of the fight, the last two minutes of the game.
Let’s not go on the field with the somber intent of establishing a game plan–let’s go out and score! In my opinion, the Steelers need to go out and play the first possession like it’s the last possession, win or lose.
So, what might this week's PREgame locker room pep talk be like–or should be like? "You're down by two scores with a quarter of ball to play. Charge out of that tunnel guns blazing! Score first. Ask questions later." In short, the Steelers should play like they’re behind from the get-go. If they don’t, they might really find themselves playing from behind again, and in this injury-plagued era of Steelers football, a victorious outcome in that scenario is certainly not a certainty.
And as always, no team in any season is successful without more than a few good, and timely, breaks. So with all of the above said, let us fans do our part. Let's all go out to our local taverns, order a boilermaker, chug it as a depth charge, and petition those capricious football gods for some favorable calls and occurrences in this Sunday’s match-up against interstate rival, the Philadelphia Eagles–and further favorable happenings throughout the remainder of the season!