"It's supposed to be fun, the man says 'Play Ball' not 'Work Ball' you know." - Willie Stargell
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Do Steelers have take-care-of-business problem (or Ravens problem)?
Jeremy Fowler ESPN Staff Writer http://espn.go.com/blog/pittsburgh-steelers December 28, 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton (11) kneels on the field after failing to catch a pass in the closing minutes of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015. The Ravens defeated the Steelers 20-17. (AP)
PITTSBURGH -- The Mike Tomlin social media bashers -- and they are more prevalent than I ever expected for a coach with a .641 winning percentage and no losing seasons in nine years -- have feasted on this stat, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
The stat comes with context. The Chiefs had a losing record when they beat the Steelers earlier in the year, but the Chiefs now look like a Super Bowl contender. Pittsburgh has enough quality wins (Arizona, Denver, Cincinnati) to offset some of these losses. Teams peak at different times. Overall, Tomlin has probably done one of his better coaching jobs this season, winning 10 games despite several injuries at key positions.
But the stat poses an obvious and interesting question. Why are the Steelers not taking care of business against teams they should handle? For as good as the Steelers were at times last year, they lost to the Jets, Browns, Saints and Buccaneers (combined 20-44).
Winning in Cleveland this week is hardly a guarantee. The Steelers got pounded there the last time around, 31-10.
I don't buy that the Steelers weren't mentally prepared to play the Ravens. Perhaps they played too tightly. In the locker room during the week, players said they wouldn't be sacked by the playoff hype. It was all about Baltimore, all week.
And it's still all about Baltimore, which is the biggest issue of all. Tomlin and the Steelers are 1-5 in their past six games against the Ravens.
Whether the Ravens are a playoff team or worthy of a top-five draft pick, they know they can beat the Steelers right now. That's a problem. Baltimore has played a key role in Pittsburgh likely staying home in January for the third time in four seasons.
The Ravens are still the Steelers' chief rivals. You can't go 1-5 against your chief rivals.
After a sluggish 215 passing yards on offense, the Steelers tried to sell that the Ravens are a great defense that applied pressure on third down. But they are average this year. That's part of the reason why Baltimore only has five wins. And Ryan Mallett shouldn't have had a career-high 274 passing yards after getting signed off the street a few weeks ago, facing a team in playoff contention.
The Steelers simply didn't have it, which is curious at a time when the Jets, poised to take the Steelers' wild card spot, clearly do.
Calling bad losses a systemic problem is misguided. But the timing of this latest loss -- and where it happened -- can't be ignored.
Sunday's game against the Ravens was a classic take-care-of-business game. Most good teams would have finished this one off. This problem is real and must be fixed starting next season.