When you make bad decisions, bad things happen.
I went over that the other day as it pertained to my father, and I've seen it play out countless times ever since. So it shouldn't have come as a surprise when Todd Haley's gadget call on the Pittsburgh Steelers' opening drive Thursday night was followed by a holding call and a missed field goal.
You could just see it coming.
Offensively, the opening drive of this game reminded me so much of the home loss against the New Orleans Saints last year. In that game, the Steelers were driving on their opening possession with great rhythm. But then backed out of that rhythm by getting cute with a flea-flicker pass. It didn't lose yardage, but I hated it the same because when the conventional isn't being stopped, there's no need for gadget. Not surprisingly, the Steelers punted around the New Orleans 35 on that drive.
This is exactly why the Steelers were dead last in the league at scoring touchdowns on their opening three possessions last season. Haley will far too often back out of rhythm to try something out of the blue. In trying to outsmart everybody, he outsmarts himself. Let's hope he can learn from it this time. Stick to the gadget calls when things aren't going right on offense. If they are going right, then stay with it until they prove they can stop you.
Also in my last piece, I mentioned that one of the keys to the offensive goal of averaging over 30 points per game is the number zero. The closer they could get to zero in negative runs, sacks, penalties, dropped passes and missed throws to open receivers, the scoreboard would take care of itself.
* First possession: yardage lost on gadget call and the holding penalty.
* Second Possession: illegal procedure and a sack
* Fourth possession: dropped pass by Wheaton and lack of field awareness by Darrius Heyward-Bey in the end zone.
Shame on me, though, as a coach. I should have also included onfield miscommunications on the "zero" list. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown not being on the same page likely killed the third possession that ended in another Josh Scobee missed field goal.
The other half of the 30 PPG scoring equation was a commitment to balance. I was excited to see it Thursday night. Count me among those who thought the Steelers would abandon ship down 21-3, but they didn't. The Steelers remained patient and committed to their game plan. For that, both Haley and Mike Tomlin should be commended.
The Patriots scored touchdowns on three of their first four possessions. Yet, the Steelers, despite all of the miscues on both sides of the ball, along with the missed field goal, were within one yard of making it a three-point game late in the third quarter. That's what balance can do. It can limit your own turnovers and create bigger chunks in the passing game, and it can also limit the other team's possessions if they are moving the ball on you.
In spite of the defense being picked apart, they gave up nearly half the points they gave up the last time they visited Foxboro. Hold the Patriots to a field goal or two and stop shooting themselves in the foot, and it could have been the Steelers holding the double-digit lead.
Many fans expressed annoyance with the Steelers' clock management at the end of the first half. I believe it's been an issue during the majority of Tomlin's tenure. But I thought he was doing a masterful job of managing both sides of the clock on the Steelers' last possession of the first half. Letting the clock run on fourth-and-three from the NE 35 was smart so as not to leave Tom Brady any time against that secondary. My problem was the draw on first down. There wasn't time for that. It should have been pass from there on out.
Why DeAngelo Williams is coming out of the game at the goal line only to be replaced by the H-Back is beyond me. There's a fine line between creating roles for players and overthinking. I understand they likely had a package they had practiced. I understand they likely wanted to limit the wear and tear on Williams. But you have to play to your strengths. I watched Williams take a goal-line carry in the preseason and bounce it outside for an easy touchdown against the Buffalo Bills. For a back who consistently found backside holes for big gains all night, that would've been a nice option to have down there. It's likely only then would the Patriots have taken the goal-line play-action call seriously. Make bad decisions, bad things happen.
The Steelers had six opportunities from inside the 10 to make the score 21-18. Questionable shotgun and pistol calls, shovel pass to the tight end, play action and handoffs to the H-Back. This team will continue to struggle in the red zone until they get under center, force eight in the box, and start attacking the end zone with passes into the middle and the seams.
There were some positives on defense. The biggest of all being Ryan Shazier. He had me saying "wow" a few times Thursday night. His ability to close on outside runs that appeared to be going for longer gains was impressive. On the tackle in the backfield, it looked like he was shot out of a cannon. He has a chance to be special.
I thought the outside linebackers were getting good push but it's hard to get home against Brady. I love the powerful movement skills I see out of Bud Dupree. Jarvis Jones had a few encouraging pressure plays. Hopefully Daniel McCullers can walk back other centers into the quarterback's lap that aren't rookie back-ups. Positive signs.
Obviously, the most troublesome area of the defense is the secondary. I always think of the line John McKay used with his winless Tampa Bay Bucs: "Well, we didn't block very well but we made up for it by not tackling." The Steelers' secondary had me thinking, "They don't cover very well but they make up for it by not tackling."
Not being able to at least contain Julian Edelman doomed the Steelers. They had plenty of opportunities to get off the field on third down. Too often the ball was out to Edelman before the rush even got started, which left me wondering why one of the highest-rated nickel corners in the NFL over the last couple seasons couldn't get a sniff of the field.
Brandon Boykin looked like a player to me in the preseason. A couple media members I respect thought he looked very good in training camp as well and was quite possibly their best corner. I'm convinced the Steelers don't want to be stuck with one fifth-round pick and two sevenths on Day 3 of the draft this offseason, and that's the reason. Boykin's track record is far better than anyone the Steelers are trotting out there with the exception of 30-year-old Will Gay.
* Williams looks special. I'm wondering what he would've accomplished in his career had he played at 215 pounds instead of 230. He might've been a Hall of Fame contender. I believe Le'Veon Bell is the better overall back. Of that much I am convinced. Now, I didn't want to say it until I watched the entire game but I think Williams is currently better with the ball. He seems to find the cutback to the outside more consistently than Bell.
Bell is just as patient, but his vision seems limited more to the inside gaps. I have to believe playing with Williams will help Bell's development. They have to get both of these guys carries when Bell returns. Assuming they are not playing catch-up like Thursday night, I would target 17-18 carries a game for Bell and 12-13 for Williams. What a great free-agent pick-up.
* Beyond the secondary, as a unit, my biggest disappointment on defense is Stephon Tuitt. He looked like a monster the last quarter of last season. So far this season, he's not beating anyone to the quarterback. He's not collapsing the pocket. He looks slow off of the ball. I noticed the same before his ankle injury.
* Cortez Allen still has the lack of confidence written on his face. You don't belong if you think you don't belong.
* DHB lacks football instincts. Beyond losing awareness of his feet in the end zone as he fights his questionable hands, he did a poor job of not picking up a first down on one catch, then did a horrible job not preventing the interception. Receivers not hitting the breaks and fighting back to the ball on deep passes kill me.
* Markus Wheaton has to make that play on the diving fade route. It's a tough catch, but because it's doesn't have a lot of velocity it's not that tough of a catch and one a professional should make.
* I thought David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert did some beastly work Thursday night. Gilbert looks great at his new playing weight. Both appear to have Pro Bowl potential with DeCastro being a lock, assuming he stays healthy.
* Robert Golden, nothing says I haven't played much quite like talking trash to a player who's scored three touchdowns when you're down 14 points with 7:52 remaining. Try to act like you've been there, Robert.
* I won't accept "inexperience" as an excuse for the secondary and its chronic miscommunication. Everyone in the game, with the exception of Shamarko Thomas, is in his fourth year or more. The entire starting secondary of the 2013 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks consisted entirely of third and fourth-year players. Just sayin'.