Much has been written about the Steelers' changing personality and image. They are no longer a smash-mouth, run first team and haven't been in the Mike Tomlin era. The result is that instead of wearing down teams in the fourth quarter, they are the ones who wear down. The offense has looked strong in the first half of all three games, but in the last two, they downright wilted in the fourth quarter.
Being a first half team, if they don't execute when given opportunities to score, they can't put teams away. The result so far is that the games have been close and it appears that if the Steelers don't have the ball last, they will lose.
This attitude/persona is a direct result of the coaching style. And as much as I'd wish it didn't start with Tomlin, I'm afraid there's nowhere else to place the blame. He’s directing this group; it’s his team. He selected guys like Bruce Arians and Larry Z as coaches and appears quite content with both (although the O Line has looked better with each game). Tomlin says all the right things in front of the cameras, but to his players, he may be a bit soft. There’s no other explanation.
A few other thoughts after three weeks...
The Steelers' coaching has been very conservative, and not just on the offensive side of the ball. Arians' play calling the last two weeks has been very good in the first half and very conservative in the second (yes, I heavily praised his play calling after the Chicago game, but have since re-evaluated; I think I was a bit overexcited after the horrendous play calling in the Titans game). It was clear that the Bengals' safeties could cover the Steeler receivers deep. Why didn't they exploit this more?
More disturbing was the defensive play calling. Is future Hall-of-Famer Dick LeBeau afraid to blitz without Troy Polamalu in the lineup? It sure looks that way. Any coach sending a four-man rush late in the game nursing a one score lead is either very stupid or has no confidence in zone-blitz pass coverage. With LeBeau, it’s definitely not the former. The Steelers defense has looked good this year, but not great.
Young receivers cost the Steelers 11 points. Wallace had a great game and he and Ben finally hooked up deep, something we’ll see a lot more of as the season progresses. But stepping out of bounds after catching the ball behind the receiver at the 10-yard line is inexcusable. The Steelers had to settle for a field goal, which would have been the difference in the game. As for Limas Sweed, he better go see his shrink after his drop in the end zone or we may see him swinging from the showers. Put those two touchdowns on the board and the game would have been long over before the fourth quarter.
The Steelers can play with any team in this league. The question is whether or not they have the character to put teams away when they're dominating and can the defense actually look strong and stop somebody in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. Time will tell.