With the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals losing this week, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a golden opportunity to gain ground in the division and improve their 2012 playoff prospects. Instead, the team blew a winnable game against a struggling opponent and upped the pressure to beat the surging Bengals in two weeks.
In dropping a game to the lowly San Diego Chargers, whose coaching staff and general manager already have their bags packed, the Steelers continued a disturbing trend of easing off against inferior opponents. The Chargers joined the Raiders, Titans and Browns on the list of terrible teams that have beaten Pittsburgh this year. In hindsight, it is a wonder the Steelers managed to beat the Jets and the Chiefs.
Blowing a game this badly is beyond the ability of just one player. There is plenty of blame to go around for Sunday’s inexplicable loss.
The running backs earned some for failing to gain yards, especially in key short-yardage situations.
The dismal rushing output was also the fault of the offensive line, which consistently failed to drive the Chargers off the ball. The poorly-timed holding penalties that have become the line’s signature move didn’t help either.
Pittsburgh’s wide receivers and defensive backs secured their spots in the doghouse for continuing to drop catchable balls. By bobbling away potential long gains, 2013 free agent Mike Wallace did his part to save some team money next year.
Though all of these certainly contributed to the loss, it is Pittsburgh’s coaching staff that deserves the lion’s share of the opprobrium. Even with all their other problems, the Steelers still could have taken the game if Mike Tomlin and his assistants had brought their A game.
Unfortunately, the Steelers coaches committed two key errors. First, they devised a game plan that did not capitalize on Pittsburgh’s strengths or exploit the Chargers’ vulnerabilities. Second, they played timidly, trying not to lose instead of going for the win. Overly conservative in-game decisions ceded momentum to and emboldened a much weaker team.
Here are five coaching mistakes that cost Pittsburgh a very winnable game.