View from the Sideline: Picking up the Pieces

Former Steelers offensive lineman Craig Wolfley watched the meltdown in Philadelphia from the sideline. He's been there before, and has some tips for putting the pieces back together.

Birds of a feather flock together. In this case it happened to be Eagles. And they were everywhere. Just ask Ben Roethlisberger. Every time he turned around, there was an Eagles defender buzz-sawing him. If I didn't know better, I would have thought that I had tuned into Alfred Hitchcock's classic nightmare movie "The Birds."

It was a perfect storm of elements that came together in Lincoln Financial Field. An inability to run the ball effectively, which allowed the mutant pass rushers to pin their ears back like crazed Dobermans on the hunt. Chaos in the O line that featured more fingerpointing at the line of scrimmage than a police raid on convention of thieves. And the coup de gras came in the loss of poise that had the entire offensive unit more rattled, frazzled and indecisive than a cowboy trying to herd cats across the prairie. A Chernobyl meltdown, if you will.

OK, having said all of that, the sun will rise, everybody has to get up and go to work, and we will have to pay taxes.

Things have to be righted in a hurry, as another bird is expected to flock together and fly into Heinz Field in a scant six days, the much hated Ravens.

I've personally been involved in a meltdown or two in my career, and have sat back after a game feeling a bit thunderstruck by what just transpired on the field. It's a horrible, lousy feeling, but it's a fact of NFL life. You will get your butt kicked. If you haven't, then you have not played in the league very long.

Watching from the sidelines, I knew very well the panic that started to set in. Everybody on the offensive end of the bench was skittish. Confusion between backs and the line seemed to be the predominant theme. Steelers RB Coach Kirby Wilson huddled with O-line Coach Larry Zierlein more times than anyone cares to remember. When that happens, things aren't good. But again, to quote the late, great Mike Webster, "You'll have that on big jobs like this." Meaning an occasional Alamo experience is to be expected. But it's downright wrong to lay this all at the feet of the hogs. Everybody on the offense contributed, from players to coaches.

Hot reads carry a fair share of the burden. Even when the correct read was made, the timely catch wasn't, or vice-versa. Pitching and catching are two sides of the same coin, and one can't exist without the other.

Playcalling contributed. The lack of counter measures to slow down that blitz helped the snowball effect.

Keeping it together when the dam breaks. Signs of frustration were everywhere. Pre-snap penalties, blown assignments, guys yelling at each other all point to the same thing, loss of poise. Even the King of Cool, and I mean this with all due respect because he very much personifies the ability to keep it together under heavy fire, Ben Roethlisberger got flustered.

OK, so what to do? First, don't panic. This is the same offensive unit that produced two 100-yard rushing games by Willie Parker and drove the ball down Cleveland's throat when it had to. This is the same brains behind the brawn that game-planned those two victories and 10 last year. Every man on that staff and team must have faith in each other.

Resolve the blitzing issues. Simplify by turning to gap calls when the defense gets up in your grill with defenders on the line of scrimmage. The line squeezes down to protect the inside gaps from the outside in (much like field goal protection). Having a back or TE sitting behind the line trying to pick up a declared blitzer gives too much room to create chaos. Make sure to have one man calling out the protection rather than a committee.

As a player, man up and shoulder the burden of doing all the necessary work during the week to make sure that you're ready to win those one-on-one battles that you're called upon to win. No amount of game planning and brilliant strategies can circumvent not getting it done. Realize that each man on that offensive unit has the resume already on film to support his being there. But being there is not enough. Always, always work to get better. Chuck Noll used to say, "You either get better, or you get worse. You never stay the same."

Quick three-step drops, screens and draws to take some of the steam out of the pass rush. Adding in my personal favorite, a good sound trap play to ear-hole one of those up-the-field penetrators and knock him into next week will help. When a defense knows you have to pass, it's like throwing gasoline on an already out-of-control fire. They're revved, riled, and raring to go. Cooling their jets by quick-hitting them will go a long ways to re-establishing offensive equilibrium.

Above all, stay tight and together. Nobody comes out of this without it being a growing experience -- if taken as a personal challenge to improve. I'm not trying to paint a rosy picture, but I'm drawing from a "been there, done that" experience, which says turning the corner is as close as Monday night. It's all in how you respond.

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