The final snaps of the Patriots-Steelers game created plenty of fodder for analysis, criticism, and discussion. Here’s a theory that hasn’t gotten nearly enough play.
It came from Chris Simms on Monday’s PFT Live, and it was by far the best point he’s made since joining the show. (And, yes, the bar was low.) During the free timeout that came during the replay review of the Jesse James touchdown that wasn’t, what did the Steelers do to plan for the remaining plays from scrimmage?
A full three minutes and 20 seconds elapsed from the moment James supposedly scored to the moment Tony Corrente explained that the ruling on the field had been overturned. That’s more than enough time for the offense to huddle and to discuss in clear, certain terms what would happen if, for example, the second-down play resulted in the clock ticking after a tackle.
But despite having a full 200 of those ticks to make and to communicate decisions to all of the 11 players on offense, the Steelers seems rattled and uncertain as they lined up for what appeared to be a spike. (The Patriots, on the other hand, were organized, communicating, and prepared.)
At the snap, the only receiver who ran a pattern was Eli Rogers, from the far right of the formation; the other receivers looked tentative and unsure. And Roethlisberger, who claimed after the game that it wasn’t a fake spike, executed a fake spike when he got the snap, pumped again into the ground an instant later, and then threw the ball to Rogers, who had run a slant. Into triple coverage.
Maybe the plan that was devised in the three minutes and 20 seconds on the sideline was to feign confusion in the hopes of confusing the Patriots. If that was the case, it didn’t work. The Patriots (who surely took full advantage of the full three minutes and 20 seconds to plan for everything — including a reprise of the fake spike that the Steelers used against the Cowboys a year earlier) were ready for it.
The Steelers, by all appearances, weren’t ready. They weren’t ready to deal with a ticking clock after second down. They weren’t ready with a plan that had been communicated to everyone. They simply weren’t ready. While the responsibility for being ready ultimately belongs to the head coach, the commitment to situational football that oozes from the Patriots would have, if shared by the Steelers, had Roethlisberger and/or offensive coordinator Todd Haley calling everyone together and using every available second to know exactly what would happen and how it would happen — on second down, third down, and fourth down.
Even though great players make a great team, great coaches periodically make the difference between winning and losing. On Sunday, the failure of the Steelers to use that 200 seconds to come up with their best possible plan for dealing with the final seconds of the game shows that their coaching wasn’t as great as it could have or should have been, especially when going against one of the greatest coaches of all time, in any sport.