Silver Lining in Mudville

SCI.net publisher Jim Wexell takes a look at three critical areas from the Steelers' overtime loss Sunday to the Dallas Cowboys.

There might not be much joy in Mudville this week but in the spirit of once again sorting through the rubble to find a little silver, I present to you David DeCastro, right guard, Pittsburgh Steelers.

I didn't have high hopes for DeCastro before tape review; particularly after watching him and right tackle Kelvin Beachum miscommunicate their quarterback into back-to-back sacks on the final possession of regulation.

I had assumed the second viewing would show DeCastro effectively getting to the second level a couple times, pulling and sealing the weak-side edge a couple of other times, and basically holding up in his pass-blocking responsibilities in a boring NFL debut.

Boring is good, of course, for a lineman, but I saw more than boring from DeCastro, who actually uprooted Cowboys defensive tackle Marcus Spears a couple of times, which surprised me.

DeCastro gets low and plays with leverage, but he hadn't struck me as a move-em-out uprooter of large defensive linemen. I figured that would come as he honed his professional techniques. But his power was evident Sunday. DeCastro even stood Spears up at the goal line and sealed a little alley through which Jonathan Dwyer ran for his 1-yard touchdown.

Before that last series – when a lack of communication, or chemistry, with another rookie was apparent – DeCastro did allow Spears's first sack of the season. But that was more on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who looked directly at an open Heath Miller in the flat on the first-down play before leaving the pocket and making himself an easy target for Spears.

+ + + + + +

I can only imagine what they're saying on the talk shows about the playcalling after the interception Roethlisberger threw behind Mike Wallace was returned by Brandon Carr to the 1 for the Cowboys.

Carr told reporters after the game that he knew what Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, his former coach, was going to call. And Roethlisberger went off on the playcalling in the locker room.

But the thing about that last play, it was the second play of a no-huddle set, and we all know that Roethlisberger calls his own plays in the no-huddle.

I did pay attention to the final three series to look into Roethlisberger's criticisms, and I couldn't find much. I actually thought the playcalling was unpredictable and well-designed at the same time.

Roethlisberger had the offense in great rhythm as the third quarter turned into the fourth and he drove the Steelers for a touchdown. Isaac Redman was a part of the seven-play mix, and so were two WR screen/pick plays and a rollout.

The Cowboys tied the game after Antonio Brown's fumbled punt return, and on the Steelers' next drive, someone – Haley or Roethlisberger – made a great call on a 21-yard pass to the fullback.

A WR screen and a draw later, the Steelers had third-and-4 at the Dallas 37 with 3:45 left.

In the shotgun, Roethlisberger watched his line, his back and his tight end pick up the Cowboys' blitz, but then he froze. Maybe he thought he could run for the first down; maybe no one in the three-man route was open and he didn't want to throw it away.

Whatever his thought process, Roethlisberger's indecisiveness late in games while on the periphery of field-goal range is becoming a recurring problem. Again, Roethlisberger was sacked, costing the Steelers at least a 3-point lead.

On the final series of regulation, after a completion, Roethlisberger was hit in the head by DeMarcus Ware, and Roethlisberger was hurt. Fifteen yards was added to the completion, but the hit may have affected him because he didn't make another play the rest of the way.

Roethlisberger was sacked twice after taking the blow from Ware and then threw a 5-yard pass on third-and-26.

In overtime, Roethlisberger threw a 6-yard pass to Heath Miller and then the game-ending pick.

Was Roethlisberger still woozy in the locker room when he criticized the playcalling?

No one will ever know, but the playcalling down the stretch seemed fine to me as I watched with more detachment a second time.

+ + + + + +

Maybe I'm missing something, but it appears I'm one of the few who believes Troy Polamalu is still flashing his quickness and remains a tackling force on the field.

And the defense overall didn't look finished to me, either. The Steelers did allow the third Dallas touchdown after Brown's fumbled punt return, but it stopped the Cowboys twice late in the fourth quarter when a field goal would've won the game.

The Steelers' defense is aging, no doubt, and needs a playmaker. And it's that side of the ball's turn in the next draft. No one would criticize a first-round safety, pass-rusher, or cornerback – except maybe Roethlisberger.

If Wallace leaves, as expected, the Steelers will be down at wide receiver to the mistake-prone Brown, the injury-prone Emmanuel Sanders, and the fading Jerricho Cotchery.

The Steelers are also paper-thin at tight end, and my guess is they are so unimpressed with their running game that they're going to recycle Rashard Mendenhall back through as the starter next week.

That's not much with which to score points next season. And not having more than one explosive receiver and a Pro Bowl tight end would be a waste for a top-line quarterback with an offensive line that's on the verge of blossoming.

Now Playing
Greetham: RGIII better option than Kaepernick
1:27
Report: Von Miller Wants Quarterback Money
0:51
Hankerson signs one-year deal with Bills
1:55
How Good Can QB Mark Sanchez Be?
1:40
2016 Cincinnati Bengals Team Outlook

Bengals Insider Top Stories