Let Josh Harris Be Somebody

Matt Steel looks back at Sunday's game and ahead to Saturday's playoff game, and comes up with the same mantra.

Let me first start by calling myself out. Since training camp, I wondered why the Pittsburgh Steelers coaching staff had so much love for Will Allen.

In Troy Polamalu's absence, I've wondered that if Shamarko Thomas is the future at strong safety, then how would it be possible that he couldn't be ahead of Allen on the depth chart at by now.

Well, on Sunday night I got my questions answered. Allen belongs out there. He might even belong out there ahead of Polamalu at this point. With this likely being Troy's last season, another Allen re-signing would be more than welcomed by me. Allen provides great value to the team. Shame on me for taking so long to recognize it.

On the Bengals opening series, Allen secured a fourth down with a textbook tackle after a short completion on third-and-7. I saw virtually the same down and distance on the same area of the field with a similar underneath pass by Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson in the Packers game against the Lions on Sunday. James Ihedigbo missed the tackle that Allen was able to make. It cost Detroit seven points on that drive.

So, Will Allen is most definitely somebody. And so is Brice McCain. The story told by Jim Wexell during training camp regarding McCain plays in my mind like a record every time I see him making plays. He overheard a partial conversation that wasn't about him and remarked, "I'm going to be somebody. You'll see." And all season he has consistently made plays.

In my previous piece, I mentioned that I don't recall many passes being thrown McCain's way over the previous two or three games. Sunday night he had four passes thrown his way. McCain gave up one reception for 11 yards to go along with two interceptions. I'd say the Steelers might have found their No. 2 cornerback.

One problem I see with McCain's game lies in his tackling. His missed tackle on Jeremy Hill's 22-yard run was a tackle he needed to make. His only negatives I've noticed are a handful of missed tackles over the season.

Someone who's not shy when it comes to tackling is another somebody, Antwon Blake. I love the feisty mentality with which he plays. Though he's still the opponent's primary target, he improved in coverage on Sunday.

The team's current third cornerback, Blake is giving some out routes away. But if that's all he's giving away, the defense is going to be OK. His strip fumble on A.J Green likely saved a game a couple members of the coaching staff seemed intent on giving away.

OK, I'll admit it, there have been a few occasions in my life where I've had a Steelers game nightmare. Only to wake up and be thankful it wasn't a reality. By the time Le'Veon Bell went down with his knee injury and Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception (that I could sense coming) on his 33rd pass attempt (with only nine rushing attempts at the time), the thought I had of not being able to wake up and that it was actually reality was incredibly frustrating.

I didn't understand the game plan in the slightest. There were several decisions that made no sense. The 33-9 pass-run ratio by the time the second turnover occurred was one.

The Bengals have four first-round cornerbacks. They intercepted Peyton Manning four times the previous week. Yet, the Steelers went with the similar game plan that was largely responsible for losing games against the Bucs, Jets, and Saints.

Only three times during the first three possessions did the Steelers run the ball from under center. Bell gained four, four and six yards on those carries. The Steelers showed no patience in sticking with it.

There were opportunities missed by players. Heath Miller got a pass stripped on the first drive. Antonio Brown dropped a back-shoulder fade on third down of the second drive. But like contested shots in basketball, those are difficult catches to make. The running game provides the three or four big uncontested chunks in the passing game that can lead to blowout wins. It provides large windows of opportunity. Constantly spreading the field asks your quarterback to consistently fit the ball into tight windows.

Not sticking with the run opened little in the play-action game. I didn't understand why most of the play-action passes called were only two-man verticals. Why not attack with a three-man design in which one receiver attacks vertical, one intermediate, and one underneath? Too many all or nothing shots.

When the Steelers finally went with a power formation in the second quarter, that's all they used on the possession. Every play was three tight ends. Where was the mix of personnel? Why one personnel grouping over and over? I felt myself begging for a 2-TE and 2-WR formation. The Bengal were ready for the 3-TE sets. They were run-blitzing the safety and getting negative plays off it. Yet, the Steelers stuck with it rather than put an extra receiver on the field.

Near the end of the half, when the Steelers reached the Cincinnati 10, with 54 seconds left, rather than run it once and leave the Bengals no time, the Steelers went with three empty backfield pass plays. Any wonder it was too crowded to do anything but settle for a field goal?

I tried to remember the last time I felt so frustrated with a 10-point halftime lead. Then I thought about the 1994 AFC title game against the Chargers.

Mike Tomlin's decision to go for a fake punt with the defense playing well and Andy Dalton on the other sideline was just icing on the cake for a game that I felt was filled with a steady string of poor decisions. There was no reason that the Bengals should have been in the game driving for a late go-ahead score with two turnovers and giving up a punt return touchdown.

Tomlin said they're not going to dwell in fears. I understand that. It's a great message to send to your team. But there's a fine line between fearlessness and ignorance. A child probably doesn't put his hand on a burning stove if he's done it once. It's the job of the coach to balance aggression with game management. Don't leave the other team an opportunity to get the points back at the end of the half if you end up settling for a field goal. Don't run fake punts when Ross Ventrone's motion is giving the play away prior to the snap, and when Andy Dalton is standing on the other sideline.

The reasons the Steelers didn't lose against the Bengals like they did against the Bucs, Jets, and Saints were these: 1.) Getting a special teams touchdown; 2.) An offensive line that has developed tremendously under Mike Munchak and allowed no sacks; and, 3.) The significant improvement on the defensive side of the ball over the last quarter of the season.

This offense has the pieces. There are four All-Pro caliber players and another three or four with Pro Bowl potential in this offense. The Steelers finished seventh in the NFL in scoring this season. But were they really a top 10 scoring offense? They had five combined defensive and special teams touchdowns, 16 late and fraudulent points against the Saints' prevent defense, and seven late and meaningless points against the Jets.

What's it going to take for this staff to learn that when they get pass happy, they bottom out with this this roller coaster offense? They were pass-happy against the Bucs, Jets, Saints, Jags, and for a long stretch during the middle of the Titans game, and now this past game.

They can't throw the ball 50 times and run it 10 and expect to win this week. I don't care if the Ravens' banged-up secondary has forced them to call Chris McAlister, Duane Starks, and Rod Woodson out of retirement. Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs are going to create a couple of back-breaking turnovers if that's the case.

If Tomlin truly doesn't dwell in fear, he'll give the ball to Josh Harris 20 times this week (assuming Bell can't play). Harris showed not only a burst on the 59-yard run that was called back on a holding penalty, he did a nice job picking his way for a first down on a second-and-2 run late in the game. A of couple negative runs on the overused 3-TE sets corroded Harris' average a bit. But Harris can get it done if Tomlin and Todd Haley are fearless in their trust of him. The Denver Broncos are enjoying a bye this week largely due to their faith in the undrafted running back C.J. Anderson. The Steelers need to show the same belief in Harris. He can be somebody. But if they dwell in their fears, and attack the Ravens one dimensionally, the Steelers will lose.


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