Wallace absorbed the full fury of the illness. Whereas Sweed has punctuated his drops of TD passes by either feigning injury, costing his team a timeout, or sitting on his behind signaling touchdown, Wallace followed his dropped TD by kicking the ball and drawing a penalty. Two plays later, the Lions took an interception back for a touchdown, morphing a potential 21-6 Steelers lead into a narrow 14-13 margin. The rook recovered though and held on to a 47-yard scoring strike from Ben Roethlisberger to run the Steelers' 3rd- quarter margin to 28-13.
Of course, we can expect ample teeth-gnashing from the Free Limas Brigade (the angst-ridden version of Franco's Italian Army), protesting the subsequent "benching" of Limas for his inability to hang on to a ball that was a bit behind him, clearly not one of Ben's best tosses. This crew has never understood, though, that the Steelers' No. 4 receiver rarely sees the field under the best of circumstances. The Steelers, with little exception, deploy personnel already present: Heath Miller as the 4th wide, the running back as the 5th wide, whenever these sets are utilized. Frankly, I'm more puzzled as to why Sweed made his lone appearance from scrimmage while Miller left the field. When the Steelers ran Sweed-free 4 or 5 wide-receiver sets Sunday, they completed all 7 pass attempts for 76 yards.
Obviously, the more obnoxious virus of late has been 4th Quarter Meltdown Syndrome. The Steelers have now been outscored 55-13 in the final quarter this season. The Steelers' defense – having allowed only 3 touchdowns, cumulatively, through the first three quarters of the season's first five games – has surrendered twice that number in the dreaded 4th.
At Ford Field on Sunday, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's charges surrendered a touchdown drive of 82 yards, followed by a 50-yard Lions drive to the Steelers' 21. At that point, the Steelers' defense, Rip Van Winkles of the final frame, awoke from its season-long late-game slumber and laid three consecutive sacks upon Duante Culpepper, effectively settling the matter.
The Steelers were also plagued throughout the contest by 3rd & Long Disorder, surrendering first downs four times when the Lions faced 3rd & 11 or more. This acute attack had its onset on the initial Lions possession of the game, when it struck twice, beginning with a 32-yard run by Culpepper, and persisted through the final possession when the Detroiters converted a 3rd & 19.
The Bruce Arians offense twice possessed the ball with a 15-point lead in the 4th Quarter. Coach A simply got a bit too cute on the possession at midfield with less than 10 minutes remaining. Eschewing an opportunity to run some clock with a ground game that was producing in excess of 4 yards a carry, the Steelers came out with multiple wides, suffered a pair of sacks in 3 plays, and kicked the ball back to the Lions. The Steelers ran only 16 offensive plays in the 2nd half, 13 from multiple wide formations, and called only six running plays. The Lions ran 43 second-half plays.
To simplify matters, here's how the Steelers won this game: They scored touchdowns upon reaching the red zone, and on this day their red zone stretched to the 50. Every time the Steelers reached Lions territory, they put it in the end zone. The Lions crossed the 50 seven times and only scored a touchdown and two field goals.
Let's go inside the numbers:
STEELERS BY OFFENSIVE SET '09: GAME 5
|3- or more WRs||34||8-16||19/23 226||3||1|
Does not include 3 plays negated by penalty
Does not include 3 kneeldowns from Victory Formation
The Steelers continue to run three or more wide receivers as their base offense, going with this set for fully 2/3 of all offensive snaps.
The Steelers ran most effectively with only one wide on the field, gaining 49 yards on 5 carries with two tight ends and a fullback. That fullback was David Johnson, and we've got to believe Carey Davis isn't long for this squad once Willie Parker's toe comes around. The Steelers ran three times from this set in the second half, for gains of 10 and 8 yards, prior to losing 2 while attempting to exhaust the clock. Mendenhall had rumbled 27 yards behind the fullback on the Steelers' first running play of the game.
And what of the dreaded "bunch" formation? Three of the Steelers' four touchdowns, all but the middle screen to Miller, came out of the bunch.
I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that the Steelers benefitted this week from the Brady Rule, the 2nd-quarter hit on Ben negating an interception, with the Steelers scoring a few minutes later. Steelers fans would have been outraged had their team been victimized by this reversal of fortunes.
Speaking of No. 7, can the conversation please cease that assumes Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are the game's top two quarterbacks? Roethlisberger on Sunday hit over 76% of his passes, and he maintains a completion percentage in excess of 70% for the season. Seeing Brady play against Denver and throughout the season, continuing to regularly miss open receivers, it's clear he's not the same QB he once was. Ben was off a bit on some throws, most notably the 3rd down toss to Wallace late in the 4th quarter that would've gone a long way toward icing the game. The pick-six thrown by Ben was dreadful; I saw that coming clear as day from my New Hampshire living room.
On the defensive side of the ball, kudos to James Harrison. He constantly brought the pressure, ringing up a trio of sacks, and forcing an intentional grounding for a 16-yard loss.
As we look ahead, the Steelers continue their Oktoberfest against the Cleveland Browns, looking to extend their win streak to 12 games against this moribund bunch. With the loss of the Ravens to the Bengals, the Steelers no longer are on the outs with tiebreakers to the Ravens, no longer need to sweep them for the AFC North Crown. The Steelers do need to beat the Bengals at Heinz on November 15th, though. Should the Steelers do that, and split with the Ravens, I'm calling the AFC North for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
For more by Dave Villiotti, check out We're From the Town with the Great Football Team: A Pittsburgh Steelers Manifesto, as well as We Cheer the Pittsburgh Steelers: The '70s, available at both www.amazon.com and www.lulu.com.