Steelers beat themselves and why that’s good news

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The Steelers made mistake after mistake after mistake in their week 1 loss to the Patriots. On offense, defense, special teams, and coaching. Throughout the game and in all facets the Steelers were just sloppy. It wasn’t pretty. But despite all that, with all those mistakes, the Steelers only lost by a touchdown to the reigning Super Bowl champions who pretty much played at the top of their game.

That brings me to the good news for Steelers fans. It’s never fun to lose, particularly in week 1, and particularly to the Patriots. But if you have to lose week 1, it’s best to beat yourself rather than have the other team beat you. The difference is the the difference between didn’t and can’t.

The Patriots made no significant avoidable errors. The Steelers made many. Still, the win was right within reach for much of the game. The Steelers didn’t even have to play a perfect game. If just a handful of dumb mistakes could be taken back the Steelers could have won the game. Maybe a couple kicks go in, maybe the defense covers the most dangerous receiver on the field every play, that could be the win.

Beating yourself is a difficult thing to accept. It means that your mind is full of what ifs and if onlys. Good. It should be. Though it feels good to leave it all out on the field, and it should, if you still lose then it means you can’t win. It means it was never in the cards. It means it wasn’t your fault and it’s not in your hands. Beating yourself means that to change that is entirely within your control. You are the one who can fix it.

Let’s consider a handful of the many ways the Steelers beat themselves. It could be painful, but I’m going somewhere with this.

First, let’s talk about the kicking. Oh, that kicking. Josh Scobee looked like Josh NoThree Thursday night. And I will keep using that nickname until he proves otherwise. They were not long kicks either. He was not iced, it was not high pressure, and he wasn’t dealing with the evil wind currents that haunt Heinz Field. He just blew it.

Scobee does not stink however, he has a pretty long and solid career as a kicker. If he shakes off the jitters that must have accompanied a new jersey then there’s 6 points on the board right there. Then take a 2 point conversion on one of the touchdowns and we’re in overtime.

Next, the offense did great. But they were missing Maurkice Pouncey, Le’Veon Bell, and Martavis Bryant. They nearly had 500 yards. If you can march up the field at will while missing an All-Pro center, arguably the top running back in the league, and arguably your second best receiver, then you’d have to feel pretty good about where you’ll stand when they return.

The offense was not without mistakes however. Big Ben maybe bit off more than he could chew with that long bomb in the rain that was intercepted. Heyward-Bey gave away a touchdown by the length of his toe. The trick play that was called on the first drive backfired and was wildly unnecessary given the teams dominant offense. Then there was that weird offsides situation that cost another 4 points.

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There were also two sacks. But the offensive line did tremendous. Ben was holding the ball forever back there. All in all, these were all easily avoidable mistakes. Take any combination of two of these and fix them and the Steelers could have won the ball game.

The defense, oh that defense. Tom Brady completed over 80% of his passes and at one point was within a few completions of the record for consecutive completions.

Tom Brady told WEEI as played on Patriots.com, specifically on the play where Gronkowski walked uncovered into the endzone, “I saw he was uncovered and I can usually get a good sense of when there’s not great communication going on between the defense. I typically want the ball in my hands at that point. Sometimes the chaos on defense is good.”

Excuse me for a second while I say duh. Duhhhhh. Ya, that felt good. But except for the word sometimes the man is right. The defense looked insanely bad. The schedules came out more than half a year ago. For more than half a year the Steelers have known they were going to be taking on Brady and Gronk. Yet, Gronk was uncovered for several key plays of the game. It was not just him.

Typically secondaries approach the game one of two basic ways.

Either a) you give some space, and although that might result in more catches it gives you the opportunity to make quick tackles and limit yards or b) you ballhawk and cover close and although that might allow for the big play if you get beat you’re in a better position to knock down balls. Each have a variety of accompanying tools, be it blitzes or jamming at the line.

The bottom line is, either you tackle or you cover. The Steelers did neither. Nor did they jam, nor did the pressure. A lot is made of the Steelers being out of position and never contesting a catch. But they missed tackle after tackle. Bad angles, arm tackles, tackling without arms, just a fundamental breakdown of fundamentals.

Remember Browns amazing over the back catch? Receivers have not had to do that against the Steelers because there is never anyone there to contest the catch. Then they turn around and run while black and gold uniforms fly past them or off them. It’s ugly.

Nov 3, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) reacts during the second half of a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Butler supposedly simplified the defense so players could play fast and not think. Well despite that they were making mental mistakes the entire game. They were also not playing fast.

Some of that lies with Coach Butler. And that’s my next point. The coaches are not off the hook either. Haley made a bad call with that trick play. He tried to get cute, which is one of the weaknesses of the otherwise talented OC.

Then there was also clock management which falls under Tomlin. In several critical moments the Steelers let time go off the board, whether that’s not using a timeout when they should have or not maximizing the two minute warning.

So here we are 0-1. But if you have to be 0-1, the ideal reason is because you beat yourself time and time again against the Super Bowl Champions. And if you have to beat yourself, the ideal time to do it is the first game.

Right now, the Steelers and their fans need to take an existentialist perspective to the first game and first loss of the season. What do I mean by that? Urban Dictionary defines existentialism as follows

"Existentialism: you can use this word in pretty much any context and it will make you sound pretentious and/or confuse the person you’re talking to."

Ok, fair enough. But I was looking for more the Oxford Dictionary‘s definition, which is

"Existentialism: A philosophical theory or approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will."

What I’m saying may in fact be pretentious and confusing. But what I’m saying is that the destiny of the Steelers is completely up to the Steelers. Obviously you want to win. But if you lose, it is best to lose in a way that makes it clear that you are totally in control of whether you win or lose.

The Steelers at this point need to learn from their mistakes, particularly on defense, and understand it is fixable. The Steelers are as good as any team in the league when viewed as a whole in terms of just talent and potential. They are as good as they want to be. They are as good as they make themselves. It is not a matter of skill, but will.

Put another way, from another famous philosopher, when it comes to the Steelers winning games it is,

"Do or do not, there is no try."

But that’s a whole lot better than can’t.

Next: Steelers Coates should be on the field week 2

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