Who’s to Blame: Scobee or Tomlin?

The Pittsburgh Steelers squandered an opportunity to beat the division rival Baltimore Ravens without their starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, on Thursday night. This was not one of those games where we have to ask if the Steelers lost the game or if the Ravens won it; it was abundantly clear that the Steelers choked this game away. We must, of course, direct the blame at somebody or something for this disastrous defeat. Most of the fingers are being pointed at kicker Josh Scobee or head coach Mike Tomlin.

Scobee missed two 4th quarter field goals (from 49 and 41 yards) on the Steelers last two possessions of regulation. The Steelers had also seen Scobee miss two field goals and an extra point three weeks into the season. The misses were inexcusable for an NFL kicker; even though Heinz Field is one of the most difficult NFL stadiums on kickers. Had Scobee hit either one of the field goals, the game would have belonged to the Steelers. Instead, the misses made Tomlin reluctant to put Scobee back out there for long field goal attempts and questionable decisions ensued.

The Steelers had two possessions in overtime and turned the ball over on downs on each of them.

The first possession of overtime saw the Steelers faced with a 3rd and 2 from the Baltimore 39 yard-line. On 3rd down Michael Vick could not hook up with Antonio Brown over the middle bringing up a 4th and 2. I would have been a 57 yard field goal, which was never going to be an option. The Steelers could have punted in an attempt to pin the Ravens deep in their own territory. Mike Tomlin decided to roll the dice and go for it. The decision to go for it was not a bad idea at all, but Tomlin should have known before the 3rd down play that he was willing to go for it on 4th. Had the Tomlin decided that this was four-down territory, a run play with Le’Veon Bell would have been the logical 3rd down play. Give your running back two plays to pick up two yards. Bell ran the ball 22 times for 129 yards in the game; I like his chances to pick it up. On 4th down the Steelers ran a horribly telegraphed quarterback sweep with Vick around the left side that was stopped for no gain. The Ravens would take over at their own 39 yard-line with a chance to earn their first win of the season.

The Steelers second possession of overtime began at their own 41 yard-line thanks to the defense forcing the Ravens to go three and out, and a 29-yard punt return by Antonio Brown. After just three plays, the Steelers found themselves in familiar territory with a 3rd and 2 from the Baltimore 33. For most teams in the NFL the 33 yard-line is definitely within field goal range, but not for the Steelers. Once again the Steelers turned to the pass on 3rd down when Vick rolled to his left and hit Le’Veon Bell in the flat where he was immediately brought down by Ravens safety, Will Hill, for a gain of just a yard. To Hill’s credit, Bell did not have any time to turn up field after catching the pass. One has to think that Bell would’ve had a better shot of picking up the 1st if he had some momentum going up the field. Now faced with a 4th and 1, the Steelers are certainly going to run it with Bell, right? Wrong! Antonio Brown motioned across the formation from left to right and ran a speed out. With Brown now on his right, Vick had to open up his hips to throw the ball quickly to Brown in the flat. Had the play been flipped, the throw would have been much easier for the lefty, Vick, to make the throw. Vick threw it to Brown but it was high and behind him. The Steelers gave the ball back to the Ravens on downs once again and would not get it back.

The Steelers ran four plays in overtime on 3rd or 4th down with two yards or less to go for a 1st and failed to run the ball with Le’Veon Bell a single time. This loss falls squarely on the shoulders of Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator, Todd Haley. Without Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers relied heavily on Le’Veon Bell except when it mattered most. It’s almost as though Tomlin and Haley didn’t see what happened to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl when they decided not to give the ball to their best player on 2nd and goal from the 1. Tomline failed to think ahead on both overtime possessions. On a 3rd and short in your opponent’s territory, a coach should already know whether or not he is willing to go for it on 4th down. Based on the timeouts the Steelers took between the 3rd and 4th down plays, Tomlin had no idea and was not prepared to make that decision. Mike Tomlin continues to be one of the NFL’s best motivators and one of its worst strategists.

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