I got home from the Steelers game Sunday and watched the Eagles and Giants. The G-Men beat the team from Pennsylvania on the road by a touchdown, when the home team could not score on its final drive. Sound familiar?
Not really. It was night and day. The final drive was a subset of the game and the game was a subset of the season. When Donovan McNabb dropped back to pass, for a good three seconds he had no one around him. He clearly and calmly surveyed the field and his options. After three seconds a Giant would break protection and McNabb would have to throw or escape that player. Once he scrambled for a first down. He was clear-headed and uncscathed. The Eagles came up short when two running plays failed to gain three yards. So be it. Their fans have every reason to believe the next game will be different.
Two weeks earlier the Steelers were in the same position against the same team. Ben Roethlisberger was the anti-McNabb. His right leg was moving back at the snap. He couldn't look at the field and read progessions. He needed to throw. He couldn't throw long, there was not enough time. Our fans not only didn't have any confidence, many actually left Heinz Field. Aside from the fact that those pathetic people don't deserve tickets, they were right. There was actually enough time for two possessions. Eight plays, zero yards.
Last year Ben would get us 15 or 20 yards a game rushing, crucial yards. This year he doesn't run, since getting hit for the 126th time might be his last. Our quarterback is a fish out of water. He must have protection to make plays. He is not a west coast guy who lives on instant scrimmage passes. He is a big mobile guy who makes his living fending off a defender (but not three), looking at options and making big plays.
The Steelers have played five teams with winning records. They average 26 rushing attempts for 70 yards, a 2.7 average in those five games. Ben has been sacked 24 times, an average of five per game. This was supposed to be a Cadillac year for our offense, with guys like Holmes ready to bust. Against the better teams, we are a Cadillac with four flat tires, only able to amble 10 miles per hour.
We've had our moments, of course. Bruce Arians has scripted opening drives that have scored seven of nine times (in Jax after the pick-six), four of them touchdowns. But how many times this year has the offensive line been swallowed alive? How many times has the live been overmatched, out-coached and out-schemed? When you watch the games, do you notice the immediate penetration into our backfield? I turned on that Eagles-Giants game and saw McNabb unscathed and wondered, how hard is that?
The $64 million question is, can those flat tires be repaired? Can somehow the line get better? The mantra in the NFL is survive through December and peak in January. Can our line do that? Is it possible Larry Zierlein knows what he is doing? Is it possible for linemen to actually melt together as the season goes on? There is no point worrying about Ben, talking about more running, or blaming Bruce Arians. Ben can't make plays, running backs can't make yards and Arians can't call plays with four flat tires. Is it possible? Or will we flitter into mediorcity with our shiny Cadillac waiting for next year when we can fix a couple tires and replace a couple more. I guess we'll know more this Sunday. I am begging for improvement. Can it happen?