You know, for quite some time during Sunday’s game against the Ravens, I believed the battered Steelers could pull one out against the Ravens. But, as the fourth quarter unfolded, that belief quickly filled with doubt until all shred of hope was obliterated even before the Steelers’ last drive. The first thought that came to my mind when the clock reached :00 was, “Tomlin, what the hell were you thinking?”
We point a lot of fingers after a loss, but none falls more squarely than on head coach Mike Tomlin after this one. Sure, there are others who made some mistakes. Quite frankly it was the ‘little things’ added up over the game that helped cost the Steelers this one. But, a big chunk lands right onto Tomlin like the pile of stinking dung heap he put out there on Sunday.
Todd Haley’s offense is structured around two things: 1) The inability of the offensive line to consistently pass block and 2) Big Ben’s quick release of the football. When Ben went out with the shoulder and rib injury, it seems as if Tomlin ignored having to evaluate his QB situation, and who was best suited for the offense. Todd Haley, based at looking at the play selection from the game, appeared to adjust his offense to the QB – I think there was only one or two quick screens to the wide outs. Not really his fault because that’s all he had to work with. Or at least, that’s all that was given to him. Tomlin had an opportunity to flip flop the QB depth chart and place Batch as the starter over Leftwich. It seemed like a rather obvious move to make over the course of the week, but everyone learned early that Lefty was going to be the one under center.
Once Leftwich was obviously hurt – go ahead, pick any of the dozen or so times that Leftwich grabbed his ribs or hunched over in pain over three quarters OR when his accuracy faltered on several easy tosses OR when he couldn’t throw the ball 30+ yards downfield – Tomlin should have yanked him out of there. It’s hard to question Lefty’s toughness. This dude rallied his Thundering Herd back in 2002 after breaking his tibia (shin). Marshall still lost the game, but this kid at the time showed a ton of guts going back out there for several series. Leftwich tried to stir up that toughness again, but the simple fact that it impeded his throws should have had him benched – either by his own admission or by Tomlin’s yank of the hook. This pretty much goes under the category of what Ben tried to do last season against the 49’ers. The questions always looms – was he injured significantly enough that he did more harm than good? The answer to last season’s game against the 49’ers is ‘yes’ as is last night’s an even more resounding ‘YES!’
Batch’s quicker release over Lefty’s and his overall state of health (i.e. he didn’t have a rib and shoulder injury) should have had him in that game sometime early in the second half. I was astounded every single time I saw Leftwich come back out on the field for the next series. I admit, the offense was effective at certain points getting the ball past mid field, but that was in large part from the running game and not Lefty’s arm. The Raven’s defense seemed on its heels at times, but a few incomplete passes emboldened the pass rush or the tighter coverage that caused the drives to stall short of field goal range to tie. There’s no doubt that if Ben was in this game the Steelers would have won handedly. An overall ranked 26th in defense, and the Steelers couldn’t even put 13+ points on the board?
All of it falls on Tomlin. It was horrendously poor decision making by keeping Leftwich in. I have no clue what Tomlin’s beef is with Batch, but that’s all it seems the reasoning could be as to why Tomlin refused to put Batch in the game – there’s an underlying problem between those two that we don’t know about. The piss poor clock management was also on Tomlin. Wasting two time out’s in :44 early in the 3rd quarter is just plain dumb, and the clock management in the two minute drill was just as terrible. Hear me now, and here me many more times until this team puts up big numbers, big wins, big seasons, and big time championships – Mike Tomlin is not an elite coach. He’s good, but he has a tendency to put up stinkers like last night when so much is riding on a season. I say enough of the talking – the standard is the standard, the next man up, excuses are for the incompetent. Put up as a coach and make good but bold decisions. By the way, the coaching seemed pretty incompetent last night, what’s your excuse, Tomlin?
I was going to write in here that if Tomlin had any good sense left in him that he should start Batch. Turns out good sense or none, he has no choice. Sources around the league speculate that Leftwich could be out with a rib and shoulder injury for a significant amount of time. Talk about some friggin’ deja vu. It looks like we’ll have good ol’ Charlie on Sunday against the Browns. The team will more than likely try out some QB’s during the week as Heath Miller is the next guy in line to throw the ball (uhhhhh, so do I yell ‘Heeeeeeeath‘ every time he completes a pass?????). I guess Dixon could come back seeing that he saw glimpses of the play book during the pre-season before he was cut.
The choices don’t get any better from there folks. We’re just going to have to hope for the best every week until we see Ben come back in a few weeks.