Steelers Having Tough Time Closing Out Games

Vicki FarriesCorrespondent IDecember 3, 2009

3:55 in the fourth quarter, third-and-22 Baltimore on their 29-yard line

QB Joe Flacco passes deep down the middle to WR Derrick Mason for 17 yards to the Baltimore 46.

On a fourth-and-five Coach Jim Harbaugh took a gamble.

Flacco throws a short pass up the middle to RB Ray Rice (beating James Farrior) , for 44 yards to the Steeler 10 yard line.

Although the outcome was a field goal, the Ravens tied the score to send the game into overtime and eventually win the game by three.

Steelers are having a tough time closing out games.

With leads of seven points or better in the fourth quarter, the Steelers lost four games by three points.

At least two were subpar teams.

Then there are the ones they almost gave away, like Detroit and San Diego.

Now they have lost three crucial games to division foes, and chances of a wild-card berth are getting slim.

What happened to the team that was on the upswing with back-to back wins against Cleveland, the Minnesota Vikings, and the Denver Broncos?

The defense is giving up too many big plays. They are not putting away teams in the fourth quarter.

On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens drove 73 yards on nine plays to score in the first quarter.

And in overtime after the 26-yard interception, the Ravens were able to advance 16 more yards to set up the winning field goal.

What about the final two quarters and overtime against a very bad Kansas City Chief team?

The Steeler defense allowed QB Matt Cassel to finish with 248 yards and two touchdowns after a horrible first half passing for 35 yards on four completions.

How about the 21 points San Diego QB Phillip Rivers put on the board in the fourth in an attempt to snatch the lead and the win from the Steelers in Week Four?

The defensive backs are playing badly especially without SS Troy Polamalu.

It is especially true of the two corners, Ike Taylor and William Gay. (I guess a lot can be said about missing Bryant McFadden.)

Both Gay and Taylor are playing poorly and are giving up too many big plays.

Gay has been playing soft and allowing some easy plays.

Offenses no longer fear the “Big Bad Wolf” of the NFL.

With Polamalu out of the picture, offenses don’t have to worry about where he is or what he can do.

Now offenses can target the secondary at will. Without Polamalu, tackling has been dismal across the board, and it’s inexcusable.

FS Ryan Clark, always known as a very good tackler, has not been the same since he was pulled from the Denver game for health reasons.

The other missing link is DE Aaron Smith.

Although the defense has still not allowed a 100-yard rusher, they are still allowing big plays up the field.

LB James Farrior has been beaten twice by running backs, Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson and Baltimore's Ray Rice.

Remember December 30, 2001: 12-3 Pittsburgh Steelers were hosted by the 5-10 Cincinnati Bengals.

Offensive Coordinator Bob Bratkowski called plays for QB Jon Kitna, who with precision torched the two Steeler cornerbacks, DeWayne Washington and Chad Scott.

Bratkowski, a former Steeler receivers coach under Bill Cowher, hoped to fill the offensive coordinator position left vacant by Kevin Gilbride in 2001.

But Cowher elected tight ends coach Mike Mularkey for the job.

However, then-Bengals Head Coach Dick LeBeau, in need of an OC, offered the position to Bratkowski.

Although the Steelers defeated the Bengals earlier that season, Bratkowski had another attempt to get back at his former team in December.

Matching wits with his former colleague, defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, Bratkowski knew the deficiencies of the secondary and prepared a game plan to expose it.

The Bengals not only overcame a 23-10 lead in the fourth to tie, but took the game into overtime where they eventually won on a field goal.

It was that game that set up the torchfest the following year, when Tom Brady and the New Patriots and Rich Gannon and the Oakland Raiders lit up the Steeler secondary with 43 and 63 passing attempts, respectively, for 30 points each to win the first two games of the 2002 season.

History can repeat itself if the secondary continues with the poor play.

What is even more disgusting, our beloved defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has been nominated for Hall of Fame induction.

What a wonderful tribute to him to be presented to the Hall with another winning season commandeering a “great defense.”

There is definite uncertainty to where the Steeler defense will stand in the coming weeks.

The defense cannot depend on a few. On Sunday James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons will surely come with their A-game.

The rest must follow suit.

The Steelers play against another subpar team (3-8) Oakland Raiders.

Then they face the lowly Cleveland Browns, the Packers, and the Ravens at home, then finally Miami.

These next five games are crucial.

It’s not like the Steelers haven’t been down this road before.

The difference it’s 2009, not 2005 and the coach is Tomlin, not Cowher.





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