Pittsburgh Steelers Roll, But Can Mike Tomlin Keep Them Rolling?

Justin ZuckerCorrespondent IJanuary 12, 2009

I was expecting the Steelers to beat the Chargers.  I did not expect to see a complete domination in the second half.

I expected the game to be close, and I fully expected to write an article blasting the below-average offensive line play.  Perhaps discussing Ben Roethlisberger's decision making?  Perhaps Willie Parker being indecisive or slow?  Wrong again.

I sat in front of the television and watched an offensive line completely control the line of scrimmage.  I watched Ben look very sharp, and his arm had more life than I had seen in a while.  And Willie Parker looked fabulous.  He looked fast for the first time since Week Two.  He was cutting, accelerating, and making quick reads.

These are all terrific signs for the Steelers.

My only complaint, and yes there must be at least one, was some questionable decision making by Mike Tomlin.  Perhaps I am splitting hairs, worrying about minutiae, or just being a typical Steelers malcontent. 

Decision No. 1 - The fake punt.  With 5:11 left in the second quarter and the game tied at 7-7, the Steelers were stopped at their own 48-yard line.  They lined up as if to punt, direct snapped the ball to Ryan Clark who was stopped immediately. 

At this point in the game, there was no reason to try a fake punt.  Fake punts are for desperate teams.  There was no need to be desperate.  Pin them deep and play for field position.  Mike Tomlin handed them three points.

Decision No. 2 - Goal line decision. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Steelers were 4th-and-goal at the Chargers goal line.  They were winning 21-10 and had just pushed the ball down after recovering a muffed punt.  A field goal puts them up by two touchdowns, and yes, a TD probably ices the game.  I understand being aggressive and going for the throat, but they have struggled in short yardage all year and to not get any points could have been a killer. 

Decision No. 3 - Goal line play call.  More surprising than going for it was the play call.  The call was a quick hand off to the fullback out of the I-Formation, Carey Davis.  Carey Davis barely touches the ball and when he does, the results are usually less than stellar.  He bobbled the hand off and was stopped dead in his tracks.  Gary Russell is the designated short yardage back.  Willie Parker was dominating the game.  Heath Miller and Hines Ward barely, if ever, drop passes.  I can think of more than a few plays to call over a Carey Davis dive.

I really like Mike Tomlin as a head coach, and these decisions ended up meaning nothing.  But if you make the same mistakes against a much better Ravens team, they will probably make the Steelers pay for it with no trip to Tampa.

This game is going to be a brawl.  If you saw the first two match ups you know exactly what to expect.  Whichever team imposes its will and makes the fewest mistakes will end up victorious. 

Mike Tomlin needs to be a bit more pragmatic.  Like Bill Cowher used to say, sometimes a punt is your best option.  No shame in that when you have a dominant defense.

It will be interesting to see a second-year coach and a rookie coach go head to head in the AFC Championship.

Buckle up.