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Loss in Miami exposed Steelers - again

Matt Steel penned what just might be THE definitive column about these Pittsburgh Steelers.

The title sounds like I'm upset. But I'm not. I haven't had the juices flowing for a Steelers game the last three or four seasons. Yes, the defense was obviously putrid Sunday. Big plays, poor tackles, holes off stretch plays in the C gap you could drive trucks through -- I get it. But this team's strength is supposed to be the offense. That unit is supposed to carry this team. And yet year in and year out we see the SAME thing over and over again.

I wrote this a few years back when the Steelers were losing to the 1-8 New York Jets and 7-9 New Orleans Saints, and the worst team in the league at the time, the Tampa Bay Bucs, at home: This offense will be a roller coaster. It will look great some weeks and then out of nowhere, when a poor team has a good game plan against the Steelers passing attack, the Steelers will lose to an inferior opponent. And for several years, my primary point has been that when you look to physically control an inferior opponent, you can easily break them mentally. And how how do you break them physically and mentally? You run the damn ball.

I turned on the TV this morning getting ready for work and I heard Merril Hoge talking about the Dallas Cowboys on ESPN. Hoge explained how the Cowboys dictated tempo and control of the game by running the football. They did the same thing in 2014 with DeMarco Murray, despite most "media experts" predicting the Cowboys' last-place 2013 defense would be even worse with the loss of DeMarcus Ware. In 2015 we saw the Cowboys struggle on both sides of the ball with the loss of Murray in free agency and the return to a pass-heavy offense. With the suspension of Randy Gregory and injury to top 2015 pick Demarcus Lawrence, the experts were predicting the demise of that defense this year. Yet in spite of all that, the Cowboys are 4-1 with a defense that has just 10 total sacks, topped, with 2, by two guys I didn't even know were with the organization.

The game is never going to change in this way. Your running game will always provide consistency. It provides a team with a strong foundational structure. When you decide to get away from that, philosophically, you create leaks in your team foundation. And occasionally those leaks will be exploited and the dam will blow up in your face, even against the most gawd-awful teams.

Lets go back in time a bit. In 2014: five sacks and two turnovers against Tampa Bay; 10 points, including a late meaningless score, against the Browns; 13 points against the Jets; and four combined garbage-time touchdowns against the Jets, Browns and Saints in those games. In 2015, 17 points, including a late and somewhat garbage-time score against the Ravens in Baltimore.

In the last three seasons, all three Super Bowl champions enjoyed a bye week in the playoffs. The worst loss any of those championship teams had was to a 7-9 team. Without Ben Roethlisberger, along with other injuries, the Steelers are looking like they are headed to a 4-3 record and might very likely be on the outside looking in when it comes to getting a bye week, once again due to another loss to a poor football team.

All week, I wondered whether this game would turn out similar to the 2014 game against the Jets. In that game, Roethlisberger threw two interceptions and Le'Veon Bell had 11 carries. Against the Dolphins, Ben threw two interceptions and Bell had 10 carries. The Steelers have a luxury with Bell that no other team who's had a Hall of Fame-caliber back may never have had: They have a guy who doesn't fumble. One fumble in what is now his fourth season, and yet they still won't consistently hand it to him.

Yes, William Gay could have turned the game with a pick-six that would have put the Steelers up 15-3. But the critical sequence was the sack out of field-goal range in which the Steelers abandoned their rhythmic mix of run and pass that got them to that point of the field. On third down, they called a play in which Jesse James had to block Cameron Wake one on one, and, knowing this, Ben still held the ball too long and cost his team three points. And rather than re-establish the run on the very next play, Ben got injured scrambling and was intercepted, Finally, when the appearance of Landry Jones forced the Steelers to give Bell three carries to net 26 yards, they decided to get cute and out-think the Dolphins with a throw on third-and-1. Incomplete, punt, touchdown.

The defense was on the field for much of the first half, but at least they were making the Dolphins settle for field goals. Had the Steelers looked to control tempo with a steady mix, it's likely they would've owned possession of the ball and kept their defense off the field. The Steelers failing passing game allowed the putrid Dolphins to control tempo, which was too much for that defense to handle.

Are you telling me if you give the ball to Bell, say, 24 times, he's not going to churn out at least 100-104 yards against that defense?  And in doing so protect the ball and keep your beat-up defense off the field? Come on, that's all they needed to do to control and eventually win the game. But this coaching staff has been showing a complete disregard for the defensive side of the ball for some time now, when it comes to in-game decisions. They never support their defense with playcalls under two minutes that would leave the opponent with no time left once they get the ball. No need to look back further than the previous week when the Steelers wanted to achieve their offensive goal of scoring 30 points instead of running the ball, running out the clock, and exposing their defense to less plays in the last two minutes of the contest.

It all seems like decisions are made to keep the $100 million QB happy. And this loss starts with Roethlisberger. We see far too many people who live in world of comforting beliefs rather than facts. Never is that more apparent in society than during election season. Roethlisberger is no different. He "believes" he can do exactly what Tom Brady does. But he can't. Because for whatever reason the facts are that there are 2-4 games a year when Ben looks like a completely different human being out there. He never has and shown that he ever will be that consistent when it's all on him. Most games he hums along beautifully, but then out of nowhere come games of erratic passing and decision-making. Ben doesn't want to "believe" he never has nor ever will be as consistent as Brady. So he's pushed and pushed to change the foundation with which this franchise built six championships. Meanwhile if seems like Todd Haley and Mike Tomlin don't want to rock the boat of a guy who makes nearly a hundred million more than they do.

In 2008, Mike Tomlin had no problem letting the media know that the Steelers' objective was winning when it came to Willie Parker's gripe about running the football. In the trophy case were "Lombardi Trophies not rushing titles." And yet when Roethlisberger decided with impeccable timing to voice his displeasure about the physicality of training camp and injuries, Tomlin backed down and seemingly obliged his quarterback. I guess it wouldn't be appropriate to bash another franchise, but an ideal response might've been that "Ben should be careful to compare the Steelers to a franchise that has won one playoff game in 60 years." I could understand not saying that, but maybe a more appropriate response would've been: "I'll coach the football team. Ben should concentrate on doing his job and that's playing quarterback for this football team." Regardless if it was a message Ben voiced from other players on the team, Tomlin has to let everyone know that as the leader he will not be second-guessed. But he didn't. And Ben should have addressed it with Tomlin, not the media.

But those tea leaves should tell you who's really steering the ship, and that just can't happen with championship teams. Tom Brady might be the best quarterback in NFL history, but Bill Belichick still steers that ship. And that's the primary reason why the Steelers are nothing but overrated pretenders.


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