Monday, November 10, 2014

Steelers starting on defense was a big mistake

Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, 11:03 p.m.

Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin talks with Mike Mitchell and William Gay during the third quarter Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Defer, and get what you deserve. The Steelers did both Sunday.

OK, so there was more to the lousy (and familiar) script penned by coach Mike Tomlin and his staff, but not all that much more. Tomlin, not worried about a potential letdown against the woeful New York Jets, basically asked for one before a football was snapped.

The Steelers won the coin toss.

Ben Roethlisberger, he of the that-really-happened 12 touchdowns and 862 passing yards the past two weeks, started by watching this game.

"I'll leave that decision-making to us," Tomlin said.

Clearly, because anybody else might have placed the ball in Roethlisberger's hands and authorized the franchise quarterback to announce the Steelers' presence at MetLife Stadium with authority.

Generally, I presume coaches know a lot more about their profession than members of the media. Tomlin surely had his reasons for keeping the Steelers' best player on the sideline to begin their most important game of the season.

"Obviously, it's a decision that needs to be made on a week in and week out basis," Tomlin said. "That's the decision we came to (Sunday)."

Well, now that I'm enlightened, allow me to humbly suggest Tomlin made the wrong decision, and it factored significantly in a loss in the Steelers' most important game of the season.

Yeah, I wrote that last part twice already.

That's because this was their most important game. Only by beating the Jets, who had not won in two months, would the Steelers make good on all of their hard work from the past three weeks, when they jumped from last to first place and leaped into the Super Bowl conversation.

Rarely does a conversation seem like such a case of wasted time. The Steelers aren't a Super Bowl team. 
They might not be a playoff team.

The Steelers are a team nobody should trust, a group of coaches and players that rarely backs up tough talk and can't help backing down against bad opponents.

Remember all of those promises about avoiding a letdown after big home wins over Indianapolis and Baltimore?

Empty words, and coming off two consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance, Steelers ownership should be sick of hearing them from everybody — especially a head coach with only an 11-9 record against losing teams since 2012 and a quarterback who should be above performances like the one he turned in against the Jets.

Roethlisberger, with high or wide throws, looked a lot like he had at Cleveland, which was the Steelers' previous loss.

"Give them credit," Roethlisberger said after completing 30 of 43 passes and throwing two interceptions to one touchdown on Sunday.


The Steelers didn't seem to give the Jets any credit.

Said they would. Swore they would. But they didn't, and that was clear from the moment Tomlin deferred the option of receiving the ball.

Tomlin should have trusted his offense, the one that produced touchdowns on half of its previous 24 possessions.

How about showing a little faith, coach? There was magic in those past three nights at Heinz Field, with the Steelers performing like a heart-stopping, earth-shocking, air conditioner-shaking band blessed with skill, soul and rhythm.

Instead of turning to that offense to rock the Jets early, Tomlin opened with a defense that rocks about as often as Justin Bieber.

I couldn't Bielieb it.

Roethlisberger said he "didn't mind deferring," explaining that the Steelers like to score with the final possession of the opening half, then get the ball to start the second so they can score again.

The score was 17-3 at halftime. The Steelers had held possession for only 12 minutes and 35 seconds, with the Jets' big advantage coming on a nearly eight-minute opening field-goal drive.

"I'm never opposed to deferring and getting the ball in the second," Roethlisberger said.

Even if the Steelers were performing offensively like no Steelers had performed offensively?

"Correct," Roethlisberger.

No, actually, that's wrong, but with a 6-4 record and coming off yet another baffling backward step against a bad team, staying on message was the right course for Roethlisberger.

Six games remain, after all. Sunday was no time for Roethlisberger to start questioning his coach. It was the time for the Steelers to make a statement by finally beating down a lesser opponent.

Instead, the Jets were offered the first shot. It landed, and now the Steelers have come crashing back to earth.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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