When I was watching the miserable Steelers game in Oakland, I tweeted - which is more depressing, watching the game or following the game vibe on Twitter. I clearly was not alone in this sentiment, as there were very few highlights in the course of the four quarters of play, and the most common statement and headline afterwards was that the Steelers got dominated in all three phases of the game.
I was certainly onboard with this conclusion, and looking at the final score, I couldn't help but say that the game was not actually that close.
The entire game was just a load of bad breaks - offensively, defensively and officiatingly. We would have bad bounces in to the opponents' hands, we would have touchdowns and first downs reviewed and taken away, we would have penalties called (and announced!) but taken back...
And it took ma until Tuesday to figure out - at least for myself - that it was not the three phases the Steelers hurt themselves in. It was just one - offence. Before I elaborate, I know that Suisham and Mesko made a pretty compelling case that the game was really lost on special teams.
A few words on the defense - to me, the game boiled down to "three ones": one big play, one long drive and one short field. This defence certainly has its lapses, but it is not a bad defence. The first play, of course, was a disaster, but a disaster that only one QB in this league is capable of pulling off. The long drive happens - every NFL team can pull of one long scoring drive in this league. And when you give your opponents the ball at your own 25 with all the momentum in the world, no wonder you will get scored on.
But consider this: besides the there ones, the Steelers gave Oakland nothing. I mean - NOTHING. Just look at the 2nd half: Oakland had 7 drives, resulting in 1, 29, -4, 3, -3, 6 and 2 yards (total: 34 yards), with 6 punts (5 three-and-outs) and a fumble. This is domination. This is what gave the Steelers a chance to get back into the game.
So ultimately, it came down to the Steelers offence versus the Oakland D, and throughout the game, the defense dominated, doing its best bend-but-not-break thing that we love so much in the Steelers Nation. They wouldn't let the Steelers score, and when they would, they would make sure it took a long time.
The Pittsburgh offence was badly out of sync in the first. Remember the 2 half yardage for the Raiders? Steelers gained just 39 in the 1st half if you don't count the final drive of the half that yielded 41 yards and a missed FG. Bell had nowhere to run, receivers couldn't get their routes rights, and if they did, they either dropped passes or Ben missed. The Steelers were winning the turnover battle, but losing the war - altogether.
The second half was a bit better offensively, and the Steelers were able move the ball. And the 2nd half started with the drive that, I thought, killed the game. 09:11 of time - a third of the time allowed to get back from 18 points down! - 16 plays... and a missed FG.
I have two major problems with that drive. First, the Steelers weren't in a hurry. Sure, they had two quarters of time, but they were down by 18! They regularly used long play clock - on average, they took 35 seconds per snap (down by 18!), they called short plays (the longest plays were a pass for 18 yards on 3rd & 17) and a 15-yard personal foul penalty (the Steelers didn't take any shots downfield that went incomplete, either).
We all know that the best way to get back in the game is a quick score. If you are down by 19, you gotta take some chances. Not that they can't do it - their second TD drive took them 02:58 to cover 83 yards... But, sure, if they score a TD on that long drive after 9 minutes, they are only down by two scores with over 20 minutes to play...
Yet, when the Steelers get into the red zone, what follows is a very weird sequence of plays. On 1st and 10 from Oakland 15, Bell goes up the middle and gets stood up - for a loss of 5. Shit happens. And then - on 2nd and 15 from the 20, needing a touchdown (down by 18!), with a running game that yielded 8 yards in the first half, the Steelers call another run up the middle by Bell. He gets good 6 yards, but all it leads to is a long 3rd and 9, incompletion (on a short pass) and a missed FG. Game killed.
What I can't wrap my head around, is why the Haley called a run up the middle on 2nd and 15, on the Steelers' only second trip into the red zone, with a non-existent running game? That's a play it safe tactic that works when you are in a field goal range and only trying to get the 3, or if you are trying to improve a field position for a punt, or if you are trying to run the clock out - none of that was the Steelers goal. With a quarterback like Roethlisberger, with Brown, Sanders, Miller, Cotchery and Moye to receive a pass, is that how you don't trust the passing game? This is still beyond me.
So this is where the keys to the game were hidden - in the end zone of that drive. As I was yelling around during the first half, we were playing Oakland, and we would get our chances. And we got them. And the Steelers blew them.