Week 17 Recap: Went Down Swinging

The Pittsburgh Steelers held on to defeat the Miami Dolphins by a score of 30-24. At approximately the same time, the New England Patriots were experiencing a fourth quarter implosion of their own.  Bernard Pollard, Tom Brady‘s personal kryptonite, picked off an errant pass, setting up the score which brought the Houston Texans from 14 points down to a touchdown ahead. Later in the afternoon, the Steelers postseason hopes were officially finished when Oakland QB Charlie Frye was knocked out of their game against the Ravens and replaced by uber-bust Jamarcus Russell. All told, it wasn’t even close as only one of the four teams the Steelers needed to lose actually lost. Which means yesterday’s game against the Dolphins was an exciting if ultimately meaningless victory.

For the sake of posterity, I’ll offer a recap anyway.

The game began well for the Steelers.  As painful as this is to admit, Bruce Arians has devised mostly excellent game plans the past two weeks.  I have no idea what he was thinking the previous 14 weeks but it took him all this time to realize our offense needed balance (33 rushes vs 28 passes yesterday) and that short quick patterns like screens and slants weren’t a bad thing.  The first drive of the game was a perfect example of this as a quick out pass to Heath Miller went for 37 yards after a great catch-and-run.  Rashard Mendenhall (20 carries 94 yards) ripped off a 12 yard gain setting up a quick slant to Santonio Holmes for the TD.

Miami answered right back with Rickey Williams blasting right up the middle when the Steelers D parted like the Red Sea.  I’d like to blame this on the lack of Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel but both our inside linebackers got totally taken out on the play.  James Farrior has lost about three steps while Lawrence Timmons gets pushed around the field on rushing plays.  I realize they’re paying Timmons first round money and he’s been pretty good as a third down/pass rushing LB but next year they really have to give Keyaron Fox more playing time in the base defense.  At least he can play the run.

Anyway, the Fins also completed several 10 yard passes on that drive as our CBs decided to give every reciever an 8 yard cushion yesterday.   Literally, they were in full back pedal mode the second the ball was snapped.  It was ridiculous.  Chad Henne took advantage by tossing an 11 yard TD pass to tie the score.

Stefan Logan, who had a terrific day returning kicks, brought the ball back 30 yards to start the next drive.  Our special teams have been horrific this year but I think Logan has earned himself a job next season.  It took him about half the season to get going but he’s the best return man the team has had since Rod Woodson.   The Steelers scored a TD on this drive when two Dolphins collided with each other and Mike Wallace ran right by the trainwreck for a 54 yard bomb.

In the second quarter, Henne continued to take the ten yard chunks the Steelers secondary seemed happy to give him.  The drive stalled and they settled for a FG.  Fast Willie Parker, who chipped in with 91 yards on 12 carries in what may be his last game with the Steelers, started with a 12 yard gain.  After Ben Roethlisberger had a fumble reversed on replay, he tossed a screen pass to Mendy which netted 26 more yards.  As happened too often this season, the drive stalled at the Miami 6 as a short FWP run was followed by two incompletions. Skippy Reed kicked a FG to make it 17-10.

This set up a wild series of events.   Henne’s very next pass was picked off by Deshea Townshend.   That’s the first INT by a Steelers CB this season.   I repeat, FIRST PICK BY A  DB ALL SEASON.  If that doesn’t tell you how bad they’ve been, I don’t know what does.   On the Steelers first play following the turnover, Arians went insane.  He inexplicably called for a lateral and pass by the WR.  Now, I don’t have a problem with trick plays but the WR he chose to throw the ball wasn’t college QB Hines Ward or experienced halfback passer Mewelde Moore.   It was Santonio Holmes, who I don’t believe has ever thrown a pass in his life.   So of course ‘Tone throws a duck into double coverage which is easily picked off.

Miami answered with another drive which pretty much summed up how utterly pathetic our secondary has been this year.  On a 2nd and 20, Deshea watched Henne complete a 24 yard pass in front of him.   Later on 3rd and 12, Will.i.am Gay was five yards off the WR when he caught a 21 yard pass.  A snap launched over Henne’s head took the Fins out of FG range.  Mister Woodley, who’s been an absolute beast the last half of the season, put an end to this nonsense by sacking him for the second time in the drive.

The third quarter started with WVU’s Pat White assuming QB duties for an injured Chad Henne.  White showed excellent poise in throwing every pass directly at his receiver’s feet.   Meanwhile, Mendy was busy ripping off another long run (36 yards) to set the Steelers up at the Miami 6.  Big Ben scrambled out of danger and connected with Heath at the back of the endzone for a TD.

Before the quarter expired, a scary moment occurred when White scrambled toward the sideline trying for a first down.  He collided helmet-to-helmet with Ike Taylor and took the worst of it.  While Ike seemed to suffer no ill effects, White lay motionless on the turf for several minutes.  He was given the backboard and cart treatment.  Thankfully, medical reports are he only suffered a concussion and has full movement in his extremities.

A good punt return by Logan and a 26 yard pass interference call on an attempt to Holmes set the Steelers up at the Miami 11 as the dreaded fourth quarter began.  Once again, the Black and Gold failed inside the red zone and settled for a Skippy FG.  Still, up 27-10 with less than a quarter remaining seemed to put this one in the bag.

But we know better, don’t we? Tyler Thigpen entered the game and the Steelers D promptly set about making him look like the second coming of Dan Marino.  Two long passes added to a pass interference penalty on the useless Gay moved the ball to the Pittsburgh 16.  A tricky reverse totally fooled the defense allowing WR Brian Hartline to reach the endzone almost untouched.

Following a three and out by the Steelers, Miami marched right down the field for another touchdown.  This drive, engineered by Tyler Thigpen by the way, lasted all of three plays and went for 67 yards.   Yes, Tyler Thigpen went 67 yards on THREE PLAYS.   Both our corners and safeties pretty much stood by helplessly as TT moved the Fins down the field with ease.   The 17 point lead was down to 3 in about three minutes of game time.

On the Steelers next possession, more disaster struck when Big Ben was sacked and fumbled the ball.   Joey Porter recovered the fumble which was bad enough.  To add injury to insult, Peezy landed on Ben’s arm when diving for the loose ball.  Ben managed to finish the game with his arm hanging limply at his side in between every play.  Nice of him to finally show some guts although we could’ve used this new found courage about six weeks ago against the Ravens.

Miami had the ball at the Steelers 21 and it appeared a tie was imminent.   Thankfully, Tyler Thigpen WENT ALL TYLER THIGPEN and forced a terrible throw into double coverage.  Ryan Clark put a period on his Steeler career with a well-timed INT.   The Steelers were still backed up on their 2 yard line and needed to make some plays to at least make Miami work to get back into FG range.

Ben bravely completed a few passes to move the chains.  Then FWP gave Steeler Nation a farewell present in the form of a 34 yard run.  Several plays later, he scored an 8 yard TD which would’ve been the best way to end his Black and Gold career but the score was nullified by a holding penalty on Hines.   Still, his heroics set up yet another FG which all but put the game out of reach.

The game officially ended when Face Me Ike intercepted a desperation throw by Thigpen.  Yes, I can’t belive I just typed those words either.   The only time I use the terms IKE TAYLOR and INTERCEPTION in the same sentence, the word “dropped” is usually sandwiched in between them.  Figures the secondary, although mostly playing a terrible game, would still wait until week 17 to come up with some turnovers.   Where was this at ten weeks ago?

Of course, I could say that about a lot of things.   The 2009 season will long be remembered as one of the more frustrating in Steeler history.   From the high of a 6-2 start to the low of a five game losing streak against the dregs of the NFL, it was definitely a year of extremes.  What makes me shake my head is the fact Baltimore, Minnesota, San Diego, and Green Bay are all in this year’s playoffs and all were beaten by the Steelers.  I don’t know what to think when we may have defeated this year’s Super Bowl winner yet couldn’t defeat the lowly Cleveland Browns.  Hopefully, next year the team gets a few of their personnel issues sorted out and comes back more focused and more importantly hungry for another championship.

I’m already counting the days.

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  • JLaw

    Frustrating indeed. So long as they finished winners I won’t complain, too much. Everyone be safe this off season!

  • Spacemonkey

    I was unhappy at the very start of the season, and everyone told me I was being a worry wart.

    * really poor offensive playcalling
    * completely mis-matched strategies when compared to our players and their skills
    * Jeff Reed refusing to kick a ball further than 30 yards (that was deliberate?!?!)
    * Not enough urgency to inject youth into the defense

    We kept (barely) winning games, and I just couldn’t enjoy watching them. Then the constant screaming began, which went like this:

    1) “THROW THE $#%@#$@!&ing BALL BEN!”
    2) “THROW! THROW! THROW! THROW! (eight mississipi) FREAKING THROW!”
    3) “Here comes the sack. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, SACK.”
    4) (bang head on floor in front of badly damaged television)

    I love Big Ben. I really do, and even have an autographed baseball cap from the XB XL win from the guy, which I hold in reverence. I know the kid just wants to make a play, and I understand he’s hanging on back there hoping something good will happen. No Big Ben, no championships. I feel very strongly about that.

    That said…

    Something has to change. Folks say Arians did a good job yesterday, but I am happy to call BS on BA. On way too many occasions he went with an empty backfield on 3rd-and-long situations, leaving Ben back there like a thanksgiving turkey. Until we get someone that can formulate an offensive game plan that includes faster developing plays, there is absolutely no way Ben is going to be able to honor his current contract. He’s toast.

    As much as I harp on the offensive line play, WTF happened yesterday? Was Miami’s run defense really that bad? Or did we just suddenly discover that while we went pass-wacky and lost five games in a row, we actually had a solid run game just waiting to be taken advantage of?

    Hindsight is always 20/20, but some of this stuff was obvious by week 3. To me, THAT is the sole reason this season has been so frustrating and unenjoyable as a fan to watch.

  • “O”

    Nice post spacemonkey. I agree Ben holds on to the ball to long. I also call BS on BA. Hope he is not here next season. I can also agree that watching these guys play this year was frustrating,embarrassing, revolting. That is because we are used to seeing our team control the clock running the ball, and our defense not getting off the feild in third and long. The idea of bend don’t break scares the hell out of me. Pass first pass often needs to go. Obviously this does not work. Hopefully next training camp they will acually train and not give everybody days off for being a vetran player. Like I have said before and many before me, you play like you practice. If you don’t practice how can you play. Well they went down with a fight and there is always something to be said about that. So here is to next season been a pleasure chatting with all of you about our awesome team. Hope do this again next year. Special thanx to Chris for gin=ving us this forum.Oops I misspelled thanks.
    Go Steelers.

  • Tenser

    I find it difficult to point the finger at Bruce Arians. It’s hard to argue against a 4k passer, two 1k receivers, and a 1k runner. 7th ranked offense in the NFL? My only major offensive concerns involved us not getting the job done in the red zone.

    Doesn’t matter, Jim Wexell posted that BA’s most likely out the door on his twitter, see link:

  • Spacemonkey

    @Tenser: You are only presenting most of the facts, here’s the complete list:

    * 4,000 yard passer
    * 1,000 yard rusher
    * 1,000 yard receiver
    * 1,000 yard receiver x2!
    * 7th ranked offense in the NFL

    Let the Colts and Manning collect all the stats, the Steelers should be angling for the hardware, man! :-)

    Seriously though, there was a smart post about how Arians was promoted from within to minimize veteran protest for the rookie head coach; and that the special teams coach was all that was available and thus hired by default. Will definitely be interesting to see if any changes are made.

    Speaking of offense, we got FWP headed to free agency, and a potentially suspect O-line. Anybody know what, if anything, is going to happen there?

    Ditto for defense, we got age issues all around. How many draft picks did we get? hehe!

  • JLaw

    Yes I do agree that there is an age issue after going back through some stats on ESPN. The organization seems pretty decent at getting what we need and letting go of what we don’t. Guess it’ll be an active few months for the office. “O” are you trying to get the spellcheck police all fired up for one more round of prepositions and punctuation? Ha!! Have a good off season and I expect you to read your Webster every night before bed. Take care.
    Go Steelers!!

  • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

    Spacemonkey, I understand what you’re saying about Big Ben. However, let’s say we had Peyton Manning or Tom Brady instead. They don’t “hold the ball” too long but they’re also statues. If you saw the game (or highlights), neither of those guys would’ve been able to scramble enough to make the TD throw to Heath Miller or convert a big first down on a 12 yard scramble that set up another score.

    In other words, there is no perfect QB. Ben is never going to be a lightning quick decision maker. But he does fight off sacks and make big plays so you have to take the good with the bad. And you’re right, they need to adjust the formations and playcalling so he doesn’t get killed but it’d be stupid to just call “fast developing plays” because Santonio and Wallace are great deep threats and you have to stretch the field.

    That’s not to say they shouldn’t call more short slants to Heath or screens to Rashad (which they’ve done the past few weeks). Nobody has been more critical of Arians and the Flying Circus more than I but it’s not like it hasn’t produced some results (except in the red zone, as Tenser points out). And laying the blame for not making the playoffs or not winning a title entirely on the offense is very unfair.

    As for your questions, I can almost guarantee FWP is gone. He wants to be a starter and he will never get a chance to start here. The offensive line will depend on the draft. If they take an OL with the 1st pick, they might let Colon go (he’s a Restricted FA). He is by far our worst OL. Hartwig played injured most of the season which is why he went from decent to terrible. They’re paying Starks and Kemo a bundle so they’re both coming back. I would like to see them find a decent OG or OT in free agency but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.

  • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

    O, despite what Tenser’s link indicates, I find it highly unlikely that unnamed investors would be telling the Rooneys how to run their team. And the Rooneys aren’t the types to force changes on their head coach and it seems like Tomlin and Big Ben both like Arians.

    And let’s be fair, we did finish 9-7. It’s not like we went 5-11 and couldn’t score a TD for three games. I know it was a disappointing season but I don’t think we need knee jerk reactions here. Although stranger things have happened.

  • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

    JLaw, I don’t know how active the front office will be. Last year, we all thought a major overhaul of the offensive line was in order and they responded by doing nothing but resigning the same guys they already had. They didn’t even bother drafting an OL until late in the 3rd round (and he seems to be a bust because an undrafted rookie, Ramon Foster, got a start before Urbik did). It’s hard to predict what they’ll do. And remember, this team historically doesn’t bother with free agency. They usually sign one or two low level players every year and that’s it.

    So if anybody is expecting them to go out and throw money at an OL, a backup RB, and S and a CB, that’s not going to happen.

  • Tenser

    It’s also been put up on ESPN 1250am out of Pittsburgh.


  • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

    Yeah, I heard that on the Stan & Guy show this afternoon. It looks like there is a bit more fire with the smoke than I originally thought. Still, nothing is official (yet) so I’m going to hold off posting anything until we hear for sure. Don’t misunderstand, I won’t shed any tears over Arians firing but I will be surprised.