New Orleans a good place to break the mold

The Steelers need to trust their offense in clutch situations, says SCI.net's Mike Prisuta.

For a guy who came in trumpeting himself as "thoughtfully non-rhythmic," Mike Tomlin has suddenly become a little too predictable.

And that's a development Tomlin might want to seriously reconsider, at least for the next three weeks.

The Steelers played it strictly by the book against Baltimore, running the ball and making the Ravens use their timeouts when a first down would have ended things right then and there late in the fourth quarter. The decision to put the fate of the game in the hands of the defense backfired when the Steelers were unable to advance the ball 10 yards and Joe Flacco ultimately stuck it in the end zone.

They played the percentages again last Sunday in Miami. Finding themselves 4 yards away from a touchdown that wouldn't have sealed the deal but would have made things a whole lot easier on the defense, the Steelers again decided to run the ball three straight times and make the Dolphins stop the clock. Although they came up inches shy of a touchdown, they got their field goal and this time the defense held.

It was difficult to criticize the thought process in either instance. Against the Ravens, Charlie Batch was at quarterback and the current staff obviously isn't sold on Batch as anything but a last-gasp option. And against the Dolphins, it was Chad Henne who was going to have to beat them even though the Steelers' play-it-by-the-book conservatism ensured that a mere field-goal drive would be enough to spoil their Sunday.

But now, the Steelers commence a stretch against three top-flight quarterbacks, against three offenses that at times this season have absolutely hummed.

Still want to leave everything up to the defense?

I wouldn't against Drew Brees.

I wouldn't against Carson Palmer.

I wouldn't against Tom Brady.

Those guys are all capable of pulling a game out late, particularly against a defense that has begun to take on water again now that it has lost Aaron Smith.

The response needs to be to make things absolutely, positively as difficult as possible on all three.

Ben Roethlisberger's back and has two starts under his belt heading into Sunday night's showdown in New Orleans. Trai Essex is back. Hines Ward has established that he isn't about to slow down just yet from a production standpoint and Mike Wallace has made it obvious that he will not succumb to any type of sophomore slump. Heath Miller is Heath Miller. And Rashard Mendenhall is evolving, according to Roethlisberger, into "a top-five back."

Given all of that, isn't it time to start trusting the offense when a game is waiting to be taken?

If a late first down can salt the game away, go for it.

If a touchdown can make things a whole lot more comfortable than a field goal, operate with the idea of crossing the goal line in mind first and foremost.

Rather than playing the clock, play the scoreboard.

There would be some risk associated with such an approach. But in what could turn out to be a game's deciding moments I'd rather see Roethlisberger throwing the football than Brees, Palmer or Brady.

No disrespect to the defense, which saved the day early and late in the Miami game and has given indications it's an improved unit over last season from a coming-through-in-the-clutch standpoint.

But it should nonetheless be noted that the defense surrendered another fourth-quarter lead against the Dolphins, the third time in six games that's happened.

Depending too heavily on such a track record wouldn't constitute playing the percentages against Brees, Palmer and Brady. It would be playing with fire.


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