20 Minutes of Playing, 40 Minutes of Panic

There's really no bad way to win in the NFL, but the most agonizing is probably the way we watched the Steelers win yesterday, or how they did in the AFC Championship Game last year - by mounting a huge lead, only to watch it slowly erode as the seconds tick off the clock in the second half.

Of course, that suggests that the Steelers simply went conservative and were content to try to run out the clock. Quite the contrary, the team was still trying to run up points, but being grossly ineffective at it. After looking sharp in the early going, Ben Roethlisberger lost all touch on his deep passes. He missed Emmanuel Sanders twice on would-be touchdowns. He had Mike Wallace targeted on another deep pass along to right side, but threw the ball too far to the sideline, forcing Wallace to have to attempt an awkward over the opposite shoulder grab.

Opportunities are bound to be squandered on both sides - for example, Ziggy Hood should have had a pick-six in the second half - but this seemed like another case this season where the Steelers were fortunate to be playing against a lower level of competition. I would like to say it's just complacency, but we've obviously seen flat performances against more impressive teams like the Texans and Ravens. So to see the Steelers come out blazing for a quarter, then proceed to do very little except post abortive drives and watch Shaun Suisham shank field goals just seems like an inability to make proper adjustments as the game goes on.

Obviously, we can be thrilled with Rashard Mendenhall's output, which was more than double his previous season-high rushing total of 66 yards in Week 2 against Seattle. Unfortunately, a dominant rushing attack is only going to go so far when Bruce Arians would rather the team be throwing bombs all over the field. When Ben is on target, that's great. But as they saw big throws being repeatedly missed, perhaps they were better off simplifying things a tad. Oh, and there are few positive things for the Steelers that disturb me like seeing one of Arians bubble screens to Hines go for more than 10 yards. I never see the point of those plays, of which there are at least one per game. Do the coaches want to ensure that Hines gets a catch? That would make sense if his streak were still going on. Otherwise, that play might be better suited for a faster, younger receiver.

Going into this game, the easiest trend to spot was that the Steelers were simply a dominant home team so far this season. Not sure you can still say that after the way they sputtered through the final 30 minutes of that game. But it does illustrate a more discomfiting habit of this team: that they're a first half team. That's an easy generalization to make after yesterday's game, but the more I've thought about it, the more it's held. If the offense has clicked at all this season, it's usually right out of the gate. That happened yesterday and it happened in the close with in Indianapolis. I would love to see a breakout of Mike Wallace's stats by half. Save for last week's win against the Titans, it seems like all of his big plays happen early in games. Not sure if that just means the opposition begins double teaming him and works especially hard to take him out of the game, but then you would think that would open other facets of the offense. And it isn't, for whatever reason. Uneven performances don't necessarily preclude winning. Most recall that the 2008 Steelers were largely a second-half team on offense and they won the Super Bowl. Of course, they also had a far superior defense to this season's squad. So accepting that the team is only going to put up so many points early in games then put fans through massive anxiety as they hope to squeak out wins isn't the greatest formula for winning games, unless you happen to be playing subpar or rookie quarterbacks.

Troy Polamalu's concussion, given that stupid misnomer of a "very mild concussion", is clearly a big concern, both for his availability in a road game the team needs to win next week, but more so for Troy's overall health. We all know Troy has suffered more than a few concussions in his career and I worry with each one that comes that his playing career may soon be curtailed and that his post-football livelihood may not be the greatest.

And while Ryan Clark couldn't have known that Troy was feeling woozy after that tackle, I have a feeling that headbutt is going to be shown in a few ominous clips about football and concussions in the offing.


Spatula said...

I think you hit on the biggest worry and that is can our coaches make appropriate adjustments during the half (or respond to the opponent's adjustments). I realize nobody makes major changes, but a few subtle ones seem to have a serious impact on the Steelers' second-half play.

Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls said...

You're right: Ryan Clark couldn't have known Troy was dazed-concussed after that tackle. But Clark, who is best friends with Troy, should've known Troy's history of concussions and that head-butting him is a bad idea under any circumstance.

The Steelers were lucky to escape with a win. If Rashean Mathis holds onto the pick-six he dropped, and if Trai Essex hadn't fallen on Big Ben's fumble ... the Steelers probably lose.

Too bad Josh Scobie isn't on our team. The wind didn't seem to bother him.

And what's up with Ben? He's off.