One third of the Steelers team refuses to be defined by their record. It’s no surprise that it’s the defense. What is surprising however is how poorly the other two units, offense and special teams, are defining themselves.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau received quite a bit of criticism early on in the season as his defense squandered late leads against the likes of the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders. Even part-way through the game against the Cincinnati Bengals it appeared the defense could not find itself.
However, since the second half of that game through the travesty that was this latest game against the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers defense has played consistently and with aggression. They held the Browns to just 238 total yards, and a third down efficiency of just 19 percent.
Despite being accused of being too old, and too set in his ways, LeBeau looked at the players he had available, and made adjustments in his coverage schemes to fit the skill sets on the field. The results should not be surprising (except for those LeBeau critics who think the game has passed him by): Ranked No. 1 in yards allowed; fourth in points allowed (19), tied for fifth in third down completion percentage, etc.
The look is different, especially with the injuries to stalwarts like Polamalu, Harrison, Woodley and Hampton, but the results are the same. Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen, to name just two, are melding with Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark in exciting fashion and games are now kept within reach by the Steelers defense. And yet, they fail to make the crucial take-away plays that might help kick-start the anemic offense by giving it short field starting points.
Games are lost by the Steelers’ inept offense, and it goes way beyond Ben Roethlisberger being injured. The very accusations made against LeBeau can be levied against Todd Haley and Mike Tomlin: too slow to react; poor player personnel decisions; failure to prepare the players; failure to adjust scheme within a game, poor management.
By far the most egregious charge of failure to adequately prepare their charges can be laid directly at the combined feet of Haley and Tomlin.
Questions were raised after the Kansas City Chiefs game about Haley’s play calling; the questions turned to wails of anguish after the Ravens game when it appeared Haley refused to acknowledge the facts in front of him and make adjustments for his injured quarterback. Instead, he stuck to a prepared script and all but gave the Ravens the game and a two game lead for the AFCN crown.
Now however, the Browns game peels back another layer of the onion and raises an even more disturbing specter: are Haley and Tomlin capable of preparing the offense to execute even the game plan installed? And if execution becomes a problem, are either capable of making the necessary adjustments, or do they react out of unpreparedness?
The Steelers’ offense against the Browns, possibly mirroring the uncertainty of identity from its offensive coordinator Todd Haley or head coach Mike Tomlin, continues to demonstrate a level of ineptitude that simply boggles the mind. Before the Browns game, the Steelers offense ranks fifth in fumbles (17), chances are good they will move up in that ranking having given the Browns five more; they rank fifth in penalty yards, and only 21st in total points, and 20th in points per game. These facts speak to a lack of discipline, a lack of coaching that should not be overlooked when the postmortem for this season is performed.
The Steelers’ running game, once hailed as having returned and performing in a style once thought lost in Pittsburgh, was an outright embarrassment. Fumbles by four different backs, Mendenhall, Dwyer, Redman and Rainey highlight the core issue: are the Steelers offensive coaches coaching, or just scheming? How can they possibly explain the travesty that was on exhibit today (by the Steelers, if you weren’t paying attention) in Cleveland?
Jonathan Dwyer was in Tomlin’s doghouse for two games for fumbling in the game against the Raiders. He fumbled again in the game against the Browns, but then so did all the other running backs. What clever motivational ploy will Tomlin come up with now, or is his bag of rhetorical management tricks finally empty?