Expectations of a Steelers win

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Questionable Play Calling, questionable fundamentals, questionable decisions

There were many uncertainties before the Steelers played the Dolphins this week, primarily centered on the Steelers’ ragtag Offensive Line. Despite this, many fans entered the game with a "Will Win" mentality. Who cared about the issues with the O-line when the Dolphins were going to be playing in the snow, at Heinz Field, where they had not won in over 20 years? The Steelers were going to win this. This game was just a stepping stone on the way to victory against the Bengals next week.

Optimistic fans believed the offensive line of the Dolphins would crumble under the might of Cameron Heyward and Jason Worilds. Instead, it was an ugly game for the Steelers. They were not just run on by the Dolphins, they were trampled (by a backup, no less). Jarvis Jones bit too early on a read-option play by Ryan Tannehill. Troy Polamalu and Cortez Allen could not bring Charles Clay to the ground, allowing him to score a touchdown. These are two examples of fundamental failures by the Steelers Defense that made the playcalling look poor, and led to the Dolphins scoring four times out of six trips to the red zone. The bright spots on defense (a pick-six, the moral victory of keeping Mike Wallace to only 19 yards, among others) were not enough to direct attention away from the failures.

On the other side of the ball, there were actually some reasons to be excited. Antonio Brown is a terror in the open field, and continues to prove this. Mike Adams played well, and if this becomes a trend, will change the draft landscape for the Steelers. Jerricho Cotchery is proving to be quite reliable. Le’Veon Bell can still run the ball reasonably well with the nth permutation of the offensive line. Ben Roethlisberger threw for three touchdowns against a Miami Defense that held opposing WRs to only one touchdown the entire season. The Offensive Line, while not fantastic, gave up only one sack until the last drive of the game. In spite of this, the Steelers lost.

There is a lack of proper execution on the Steelers Defense (highlighted earlier), and there is a lack of cohesive playcalling on the Steelers Offense. The running game was working against the Dolphins, and yet Le’Veon Bell was not present for much of the game, being limited to only 15 carries (If there were concerns about his concussion, why play him? If there weren’t, why limit him?). Deep throws on short yardage situations. Three passes in a row on the second to last possession of the game, capped by a rumbling attempt at a first down by Big Ben. That rumbling attempt came after a timeout by the Steelers, where they tried to decide what play to run. That extra deliberation seemed to not help.

Despite all this, somehow, the Steelers still had a shot, however miniscule. Now down by six, the ball goes back to the Steelers, and after three no-plays, something miraculous happens. Almost. But not really. The end of the Steelers-Dolphins game mirrored the tone of the entire season: A longshot, but ultimately a disappointing flash of hope.

Expecting a win as fan of a team in the NFL is a dangerous proposition. This was one of those situations where hoping for a win was not enough. There was the chance for an improbable ascension to the playoffs, a reforged team controlled its fate. The Steelers had to win, it was a storybook ascension. How could they lose? That question was answered quite clearly. They could lose lots of different ways.

A lot of factors go into failure, and the majority of those factors are not luck. Rage against the referees by fans and players alike is a common theme this week, and that emotion was felt by Steelers fans on a no-call on pass interference against Emmanuel Sanders, a call of hitting a defenseless receiver by Ryan Clark, etcetera, etcetera. Could those calls have changed the game? Yes. Would those calls have mattered if the Steelers made all their tackles, capitalized on their advantages, and played the game without needing Marcus Gilbert to handle the ball on offense? No. If the Steelers play perfectly, maybe then can they be expected to win. Clearly, this is not the season for winning expectations, and the Steelers have a lot of soul searching to do.

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