Six plays. That’s all it took for me to know there was no way the Steelers were going to win their Week 1 matchup with New England. And do you know why? Because they got too cute.
Sure, it’s been easy to pile on offensive coordinator Todd Haley the past few years for his reported clashes with our franchise quarterback and his penchant for calling pass plays whether they’re warranted or not. But as soon as Antonio Brown took that handoff, reversed field and reared back to uncork one of his left-handed beauties toward the end zone, I knew the game was over.
DeAngelo Williams had just gashed the Pats’ for an 11-yard gain, but rather than go back to that well and continue to slug the defending champs in the mouth a few more times, Haley went into his bag of tricks and pulled out a play Bill Belichick had undoubtedly seen on tape 10,000 times.
Trick plays do look awfully pretty when they work. Local and national sports anchors will fall all over themselves while lending their voices to those types of highlights. But at its very core, that play call was Haley and the Steelers showing an astounding lack of confidence to their opposition and a national television audience – not to mention rest of the guys wearing the black and gold on the Steelers’ sideline.
The fact that the drive ended in Josh Scobee’s extreme-wide-right miss in his first real game as Pittsburgh’s placekicker is beyond moot. The drive should not have stalled the way it did because Haley either felt the need to resort to trickery or wanted to showcase that smug smile of his for the NBC cameras should New England’s secondary been caught with its pants down.
The result of that play – and the game – was a loss. Any momentum the Steelers had seized by rolling down the field after the opening kickoff was lost, and there was no getting it back. Not with the Steelers’ defense having no answer for Rob Gronkowski all night, the secondary missing assignments left and right and Scobee’s less-than-stellar debut.
A loss is a loss – no matter how pretty the offensive numbers may look in hindsight. The Steelers are sitting at 0-1 with the 49ers coming to Heinz Field on Sunday. Maybe there’s some consolation in the fact that the Ravens and Browns also lost last week, but all three teams are looking up at Cincinnati. There’s a hole to dig out of, and for the Steelers, it starts on Sunday at 1 p.m.
San Francisco dispatched the Vikings in Week 1 – seemingly without having to strain too much. While I was giddy for the return of NFL football to my TV, I draw the line at a second Monday night game that starts after 10 p.m. and features Chris Berman and Trent Dilfer anywhere near a set of live microphones.
Stopping tailback Carlos Hyde and the scrambling of quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be job No. 1 on Sunday for the Steelers’ defense. Kaepernick is an inconsistent passer at best, but the Steelers had better fix the communication issues in the secondary (or maybe hide Robert Golden’s helmet on obvious passing downs) if they don’t want to see Vernon Davis running free across the middle all afternoon.
The 49ers bottled up Adrian Peterson and the rest of the Vikings’ offense last week, but the Steelers present a much tougher test. As always, Big Ben and the boys will rack up yards and move the chains between the 20s. The question is, will drives bog down and result in more field-goal attempts from Scattershot Scobee, or can the offense land the six-point knockout blows when they’re available?