Tape Review

SCI.net's Jim Wexell took a look back at the Steelers' loss to the Chargers. He didn't see the alleged lack of emotion by the Steelers, just a lack of plays.

Coming up with excuses for the Steelers' performance against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday is not my intention here.

It will only seem that way when I say that I disagree with the notion that the Steelers lacked emotion and came out "flat" in the loss. Even though Casey Hampton also dismissed the notion of "flatness" (and wasn't quoted anywhere), I know Brett Keisel did agree with it (and was quoted everywhere). TV analyst Phil Simms also called the Steelers "flat" near the end of the first quarter, but after watching the excruciating tape on Monday I'm just not buying it.

I rarely do. I didn't in 2009 when the Steelers lost in Cleveland, and just about every reader fought me on it.

I'm not up for a fight this time, but I will stick to this main point: Big plays are the root cause of emotion.

Look at the win in Baltimore the previous week, the win offensive coordinator Todd Haley said was "genius" on Mike Tomlin's part.

The Steelers were losing that game 13-3, but they made a few plays in the second half and caused emotion, great emotion, that was nowhere to be found in the first half.

No one made those plays against San Diego, and here are some of the reasons, according to the tape:

1.) Philip Rivers was on fire.

Geez, who woulda thunk the Chargers knew what Steelers fans knew? That their offensive tackles were cleaning bathrooms at this time two weeks ago.

But the Chargers did know, and Rivers never gave James Harrison or Jason Worilds a chance. Rivers stood in the shotgun, dropped three, four, or five steps and bang, the ball was gone. Only twice in 45 dropbacks did Rivers hold the ball and scan the field, and both of those passes were incomplete.

Rivers got rid of the ball so quickly that Harrison or Worilds could've rushed against air and had the same lack of success as they did against the street-cleaners playing tackle on Sunday.

And Rivers' trust in his big, veteran wide receivers paid off, as did the pick routes vs. man coverage by the slot receiver against the doomed Curtis Brown and then the completely overmatched Josh Victorian.

On the other side, only once did Ben Roethlisberger get rid of the ball before one of his tall, athletic, veteran wide receivers made his break. That play resulted in an 18-yard gain on third-and-12, but we rarely saw Plaxico Burress again, for whatever reason.

2.) Mike Tomlin was outcoached.

Not in the sense that his team was improperly prepared or unmotivated, which is all rubbish to me.

No, he was outcoached in the sense that his injured quarterback, making his return from a prolonged absence, regressed in that he wasn't getting rid of the ball the way he had been prior to the injury.

Of course it's understandable, and of course it was just a relief to see Roethlisberger perform so well physically. But, except for the throw to Burress, Roethlisberger stood in the pocket and scanned the field as if Haley had never come along and coached him into something he can and had been doing.

So perhaps Tomlin should've used Burress more.

Tomlin also misfired on his one gamble, while his counterpart, Norv Turner, struck gold on a fake punt in his own end while up 17 late in the third quarter with no one in the stadium watching his superb upback, Eric Weddle, except for Robert Golden. And Weddle still outran Golden to the stick.

Again, plays cause emotion, like the other gold strike by Turner on a third-and-13 trap call against the Steelers' nickel defense in which the defensive tackles stunted. Ronnie Brown hit the perfect call at the luckiest of times full speed, and what should've been a long field goal drive turned into a touchdown to open the second half.

3.) Steelers couldn't run the ball.

The Chargers entered the game ranked sixth against the run. They are legitimate run-stuffers. And the Steelers were playing with Willie Colon on one leg until he just couldn't take it anymore and had to leave before halftime.

So, Colon and Mike Adams, clearly the team's two best run blockers, were missing against an elite run defense. That is why Tomlin's one big gamble was poorly conceived. He went for it on fourth-and-1, and both Doug Legursky and Kelvin Beachum were blown off the ball and Isaac Redman was stopped. Tomlin should've known better.

But speaking of Beachum, I certainly won't let that one play lower my estimation of his sparkling play as the third man up this season at RT. His pass-blocking was exceptional for a seventh-round rookie. He allowed only 3½ pressures, and none of those pressures resulted in a loss or turnover.

Now, Legursky had some pass-blocking problems that could cause Tomlin to find a place for David DeCastro. If not, Tomlin will have to explain that at today's press conference.

So those were the issues as I saw them in close review. Rivers played out of his mind, as he's done from time to time, against a group of corners playing their first game without their leader, Ike Taylor. And Turner, who's been fired according to reports, made some courageous calls that went his way, while Tomlin's one gamble failed. And finally, the Steelers couldn't run the ball after, oh, their fourth starting lineman was forced to the sideline this season.

That all makes sense to me. The lack of so-called emotion does not. Someone will have to point out that evidence, otherwise it's just media kaka. And if you don't think someone as experienced in the game as Phil Simms is capable of media kaka, listen to the advice he had for Tomlin when the Steelers gained possession down 13-0 at their own 10 with 45 seconds left in the first half:

"If I was the Steelers, I'd take a knee and brace myselves for the tongue-lashing that's going to come at halftime from Mike Tomlin."

A tongue-lashing? That's the media's answer?

Tomlin's answer was to play the game, and they did drive for a field goal.

I know I sometimes make unfounded accusations from time to time during first viewings, but, really, the tape doesn't lie, and a second more unemotional viewing always fleshes out the truth.

And the truth is the Steelers' effort was there. It's just that the plays were not.

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