Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Flawed Offensive Strategy & More Not-So-Special Special Teams Play

To paraphrase Ricky Ricardo in the vintage TV comedy series, I Love Lucy, "Todd Haley, you got some 'splaining to do."

Maybe Haley, the Steelers' offensive coordinator, can explain why the Steelers didn't run the ball right up the gut of Dallas's depleted defense on Sunday. The same Dallas Cowboys who had surrendered 7.3 yards per run last week vs. the Cincinnati Bengals and were missing their top two inside linebackers (Sean Lee and Bruce Carter), plus their top backup, and their top two nose tackles (Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent). In fact, the Cowboys were probably as surprised as anybody that the Steelers didn't run the ball consistently between the tackles or even, for that matter, even try to establish a running game on Sunday in Dallas.

Why, Todd Haley, why?  Was it because Jonathan Dwyer got tired (again) and tapped out (again), although he had only nine carries? Was it because Isaac Redman got hurt near the end of the third quarter, after just three carries? Did Chris Rainey get only three carries because he still thinks he's in the SEC?

One pass too many: Brandon Carr's interception in overtime.
Steeler running backs carried the ball only 15 times for 67 yards and tallied just two first downs. It bears repeating: Fifteen rushing attempts. For the entire game.

By contrast, Ben Roethlisberger tried 25 pass attempts in the first half. By the end of the game, he had dropped back to pass 46 times.

Of those 46 drop-backs, Roethlisberger completed 24 of 40 pass attempts, was sacked four times (for 20 yards), scrambled twice (for two yards), and threw the fatal interception in overtime.

Considering the Steelers unbalanced offensive game plan, it shouldn't be much of a shock that Dallas dominated time of possession, 34:24 to 27:00 in the Cowboy's 27-24 overtime victory over the Steelers.

Steelers' fans showed up in force.
On to other matters: Once again, special teams hurt the Steelers.

Although Antonio Brown is generally good on punt returns, his pivotal fumble at the end of an excellent return in the fourth quarter led to seven points for Dallas, and that was the turning point.

More puzzling was Brown's off-kilter positioning for fielding the next punt, which Dallas's Brian Moorman kicked from about his own five yard line. Brown set up about 70 yards away -- 15-20 yards up field from where he should have been.

Sure 'nuff, Moorman's punt landed well in front of Brown and proceeded to bounce all the way to the Steelers' 20. The consequent field position cost them dearly -- denying the Steelers any opportunity at a game-winning field goal. Why was Brown set up so far downfield?  Where was the special teams coach?  Even a fair catch would have saved 15 yards or so, and that may have been enough for a field goal attempt.

Also notable was the poor punting of Drew Butler, who had six kicks for a net average of 30.0 (not good). His low kick in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter was returned for a long gain and nearly cost the Steelers the game right there.

On defense, the theme again was too little pass rush (one sack) and too few takeaways (one forced fumble, by James Harrison). For the season, the Steelers are a minus-14 in turnover ratio.

To their credit, the Steelers committed no penalties in Dallas. That is small consolation.

This Steelers team looks like what it is: a very ordinary, mediocre team with a 7-7 record. Pheh.