5 Miscues That Cost the Steelers the Game vs. the Cowboys
From top to bottom, offensive and defensive, it was a mediocre performance by Pittsburgh. But there were a few specific items that really cost the Steelers their eighth win of the season.
So, let's take a look at five missteps that cost Pittsburgh a win in Big D.
1. Haley Abandoning the Run
When an offense has a run-to-pass ratio of 17-to-40, one would assume that said team was being blown out of the water and trying to come back in a hurry.
But when a team has the same run-to-pass ratio in a game that was really never more than one score away, that's just unacceptable. And it got worse and worse as the game went on.
In the fourth quarter the Steelers ran 19 total plays. Four of those plays were runs, including one kneel down by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
It's not as if the Steelers were completely unsuccessful running the football. They finished the game with 69 yards on 17 carries, giving them an average of 4.1 yards per touch. So why completely stop running the football?
In the seven wins the Steelers have picked up this season they've averaging over 120 yards per game on the ground. In their seven losses, Pittsburgh has mustered only 72 rushing yards per game.
Looking at that, it's pretty obvious that when the Steelers can run, they can win.
It's not to say Big Ben can't win you games; it's just so much easier on the quarterback and the rest of the offense when the ground game is effective. As the offensive line gets healthier, Pittsburgh, in theory, should be able to open bigger holes and move the ball better on the ground.
Todd Haley cannot get away with running the football like that in a game again, especially if he'd like to be coaching in the playoffs.
2. Harrison Used in Coverage Too Often
I'm well aware that it hasn't been a banner year for James Harrison in terms of rushing the passer, but you'd still have to think that's his best contribution to the defense, right?
Apparently the Steelers didn't think so on Sunday.
More often than not, No. 92 could be seen dropping deep down the middle or into the flat in some sort of coverage instead of lining up against a weak Dallas offensive line and rushing the passer. That is mind boggling to me.
The Cowboys offensive line is amongst the worst in the league at protecting the quarterback, and yet the Steelers could manage only one sack on Sunday. A lot of that may have to do with the fact that left tackle Tyron Smith dealt mostly with Brett Keisel, not Harrison.
The only time people remember James Harrison covering anyone was when he took a Kurt Warner interception back for a touchdown in the end zone. Fact is, before this season, he wasn't dropping back into coverage a whole lot. That's because Harrison simply isn't very good in coverage.
I was puzzled and perplexed the whole game. I was trying to figure out why Harrison was in coverage so often, and I still haven't come up with an answer. Whatever the reason, Harrison's expertise could have come in handy as the Steelers got to Tony Romo just one time.
3. Feeding Josh Victorian to the Lions
With Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen both slated to miss the game, you kind of expected that the Steelers secondary was going to take some licks.
But Josh Victorian became the proverbial punching bag for the Cowboys offense early and often.
In the first quarter alone, five of quarterback Tony Romo's seven completions were to Miles Austin, who was covered by Victorian. Austin finished the day with seven receptions for 79 yards.
As the game went on, the Steelers gave Victorian more and more help and eventually quelled the Austin-storm that had struck the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL. But that doesn't mean they had to leave Victorian in the game.
It was pretty apparent to anyone watching that Victorian was in over his head. Not only was he struggling to cover the Cowboys receivers, but he couldn't tackle anyone who came near him.
While Victorian struggled, veteran Curtis Brown sat on the bench and only wound up in the game after Keenan Lewis left with an injury. I know Brown struggled against the San Diego Chargers, but you still have to think he's a better option then Victorian.
The Steelers miss Ike Taylor almost as much as the offense missed Ben Roethlisberger when he missed a few weeks. And if Keenan Lewis is going to miss any time, this secondary, including Victorian, needs to grow up really, really fast.
4. Brown Fumbles and the Cowboys Tie
In terms of playing wide receiver, Antonio Brown had a very nice game. In terms of returning punts, it couldn't have been more of a disaster.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Brown had already muffed one punt that was overlooked because of a few nice returns, and the fact that he recovered it. So when Dallas lined up to punt the ball to Pittsburgh with under nine minutes left and the Steelers owning a seven point lead, no one thought twice.
As punter Brian Moorman kicked and Brown started his return, it became clear that this could be a big one. Brown took the ball at his own 16, and, after a few nifty moves, was headed towards the 40 when "it" happened.
Linebacker Victor Butler came behind Brown and punched the ball out of his arm, forcing the fumble that would eventually be recovered by the Cowboys at the Steeler 44, giving them the ball and great field position.
It's not like Butler went all Charles Tillman and hay-makered the ball from Brown; Brown was holding the ball away from his body, a big no-no for anyone who carries the rock at any level.
The fumble let the Cowboys march down the field, and seven plays later they found themselves in the end zone and in a tie ballgame.
Brown's fourth-quarter fumble killed the Steelers.
At that point in the game they owned a seven point lead and all the momentum. It's easily conceivable that with the good field positioning, Pittsburgh would have gone down the field and at least tacked on a field goal to make it a two-score game.
Instead, it's the Cowboys who tied it up and forced overtime and eventually won.
5. The Collapse of the Offensive Line at the Worst Time
With 1:47 remaining in a tie ball game, the Steelers got the ball back at their own 20-yard line and put the ball in the hands of a quarterback who's made a living off of game winning drives.
To this point, the offensive line had been almost impenetrable, holding the Cowboys to just a single sack through over 58 minutes of play. But that was all about to change.
After an incompletion on first down, Roethlisberger completed a first-down pass to Antonio Brown but got decked by DeMarcus Ware, resulting in a roughing the passer call and an extra 15 yards. The next two plays weren't as fortunate for the Steelers or Big Ben.
On two straight plays, Roethlisberger was sacked for losses of eight yards apiece by Anthony Spencer and Sean Lissemore, pushing the Steelers back to a 3rd and 26 situation. The Steelers got 11 yards on 3rd down and punted on fourth with 47 seconds remaining in regulation.
This was the chance for the Steelers to drive down the field, end the game and sneak out the back door with a victory. But Roethlisberger had no time to throw the football as the offensive front collapsed around him.
The offensive line played a great three quarters, but they couldn't have picked a worse time to pack it in.
As the unit gets healthier they've shown they can play better, especially in pass protection. But it's clear there are still some holes, namely rookie right tackle Kelvin Beachum. Pittsburgh has to shore up these weaknesses heading into the final two games of the season.
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