Lolley: Where was the run?

Denver enters game ranked last in the league in rush defense. And the Steelers come out throwing. Smart, very smart.

Let's see, Denver enters the game worst in the league against the run. And so the Pittsburgh Steelers, of course, come out passing.

A game plan that included just three running plays in the first quarter – compared to 10 passes – just makes no sense to me against a team that had been giving up five yards per carry and 187.6 yards per game.

"We knew they would come out in preparation to stop the run and they were," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin following the team's 31-28 loss at Denver Sunday night.

"It's the same cat and mouse chess game. … That's just football."

Sorry, but in my mind, it's just not very smart.

Unless the Broncos came up with all 11 men in the box, the game plan for the Steelers should have been to run the ball again and again until Denver proved it could stop it. Three carries in the first quarter doesn't tell me whether they could stop the run or not.

That's neither cat and mouse nor chess. The Steelers outsmarted themselves.

© Despite all of that, the lack of running the ball early in the game wasn't the reason the Steelers lost. The defense, which had been stout all season long, showed some holes.

Just about every time the Steelers put points on the board, Denver responded with a score of its own.

Against a defense that entered the game No. 1 in the league in both points against and yardage allowed, that was unacceptable. There was very little pressure on quarterback Jay Cutler in the first half and the Steelers only got their hands on two passes the entire game – both of which were interceptions.

Considering the Steelers have Cincinnati up next, the pass defense better tighten up or it's going to be a long day.

Or, as Brett Keisel put it, "It's nut-chopping time."

Think steers here, not acorns.

© What in the world were Najeh Davenport and Allen Rossum doing on that kick return on the first play of the fourth quarter?

Rossum came up like he expected Davenport to field it and Davenport let the ball go over his head. By the time Rossum came back and picked the ball up, Denver's coverage teams were there and he was stopped at the 6.

I guess it was miscommunication.

The Steelers went down and scored on the ensuing drive, but that 1:03 the Steelers ate up getting the ball out to the 34 sure would have come in handy at the end of the game.

© Now that we've seen it happen a couple of times, we can surmise that center Sean Mahan has some trouble with the shotgun snap.

He snapped the ball low in the second quarter to Ben Roethlisberger, forcing Roethlisberger to come up and pick the ball up off the ground. By the time he was able to set up in the pocket, it had collapsed, he was sacked and the ball was returned 50 yards for a touchdown.

That's a game-changing play that, in my mind, doesn't happen if the ball is snapped where it's supposed to be at.

© Roethlisberger isn't without blame in this one. He didn't have a very good first half, though he kept several plays alive by breaking tackles in the pocket. But he still hasn't realized that sometimes it's OK to just throw the ball away.

Roethlisberger keeps a lot of plays alive by shucking would-be tacklers. But Sunday night, a lot of those scrambling throws were sailing high on him. He threw two interceptions and could have had several more.

"You live by the sword, you die by the sword," Roethlisberger said. "You make plays with it, other times you don't. You're not going to look back and second guess."

© Even with Sunday's loss, the next three games are the important ones for the Steelers as they face Cincinnati before hosting Baltimore and Cleveland.

Win all three – or even two of three – and they'll be sitting pretty for the stretch run.

Anything less than two wins in those games, however, is going to have this team fighting for a playoff spot all the way down the stretch.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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