Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has a strong sense of style. It is evident in the way he presents himself, in his manner of speech, and in his approach to the game.
Constantly stating that "style points do not count" does not eliminate the fact that his Steelers also have developed according to his style, and that style translates directly into our ability to score points, which certainly do count.
After watching the Steelers lose to the Chicago Bears last Sunday, I saw some elements of their style that inspired me, yet I am left with nagging reminders of other consistencies in the ways in which they have managed to lose.
Chalking up a loss while fighting to the last gasp is both comforting and disheartening. How many times did last year's Detroit Lions let a lead slip away as the game wound to a close?
I would never place the Steelers in the same category as the Lions; however, I am simply stating the obvious fact that a close loss counts the same as a blowout.
This year, the Week One victory over the Titans showed again that the Steelers are a team whose offense has a style that mirrors that of their quarterback: Fight to the end no matter how grim things appear.
Fighting to the end not only won them the Super Bowl, it also worked against several teams last year, most notably the Ravens.
I watched plenty of Steelers games in the late 1990s when the team would be sitting on a sure win, only to strut along the sidelines as their opponent dug in to snatch the victory. The late '90s Steelers teams lacked the urge to fight to the end, and that attitude is critical to any great team.
Conversely, the painful struggle at the end of their Week Two loss to the Bears reminded me a little of the style that was seen in the 2007 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the wild card round of the playoffs.
On that cold slushy Sunday, the Steeler offense was slow to get on track against the Jaguars, but they found their heart and dragged the team to a fragile one-point lead in the fourth quarter.
With our proud defense deflated, we were the ones left to take a beating at the end of the game. In both games, our opponents were the ones kicking the game-winning field goal.
That scenario will always be out of style in Pittsburgh.
I feel that when Tomlin uses the word style, he attaches to it a connotation of beauty or elegance.
I would guess that is why he does not want the team to get caught up on the concept of "style."
Yet "The Drive" and "The Catch" did not occur at the end of blowout games; they emphatically punctuated wins in very close games that could have gone either way.
The countless times those plays have run on highlight reels underscore the height of their value to football. Those plays define style.
In 2008, the Steelers bucked the trend that was to define them later in the season and soundly punished the Bengals in both matchups.
Though the Bengals were without their quarterback Carson Palmer last year, the Steelers' story line was the disadvantage they may have had with literally no running game following the injuries to Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall.
Mewelde Moore was called upon to step in, and he very much rose to the occasion, rushing for 120 yards on 20 carries, scoring two touchdowns.
Conversely, his Bengal counterpart Cedric Benson, who has received much praise of late, was held to a meager 52 yards on 14 attempts, averaging 3.7 yards per carry.
The passing game employed by the Steelers last year in Cincinnati fits squarely into the style of play that Coach Tomlin referred to in his press conference this week when he spoke of the Bears using the short pass as a "run game alternative."
Last year, our run game alternative had brilliant results against the Bengals. Cincinnati had no chance against the Steelers because we had more than alternatives to lean on—we had a running game.
Another big difference last year in Cincinnati was the performance of our linebackers. The glaring statistic of a whopping seven sacks on Ryan Fitzpatrick that day contributed to the Steelers making a statement with their victory over the Bengals.
Our linebackers, LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison, and Lawrence Timmons, who have yet to chalk up their first sack of '09, each had two. James Farrior added yet another sack to the heaping total. Five of those seven sacks came in the second half, which can definitely deflate a team's hopes of mounting a comeback.
Both the lack of running game and the lack of sacks by our linebackers have been discussed in the media this week, so you can be sure that the Steelers are well aware of the areas in which they need to improve.
Hearing Coach Tomlin focus on Chicago's "run game alternatives" in his last press conference, it felt like he was establishing a permanent plan-B mode for the Steelers' running game.
Last year, our running game was officially on the shelf by Week Four.
Yet the mettle and resolution that we have seen displayed by the team in close situations was there.
Moore's effort on the field, coupled with the havoc wreaked by our linebackers, ensured that the game was never close.
I know that Moore's role is not that of a starting back, but he gave it his all when we had no choice but to use him.
Maybe this Sunday, we put the ball in his hands a little more.
I don't believe that there are any fans in the league who feel there is no style more beautiful than the grind of the run as it eats up the clock and allows our stout defense to remain fresh enough to punish our opponents.
Style points always count.
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