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Print

Labriola on loss to Giants

Posted Aug 10, 2014

Third downs, red zone, and a colossal breakdown by the defense cost the Steelers a chance to win

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Not good enough to win. Another preseason game, another instance of the Steelers doing some nice things, but ultimately another instance of it not being good enough to win.

The Steelers’ preseason losing streak is now at five straight following the 20-16 defeat at the hands of the New York Giants on Saturday night at MetLife Stadium, and while the first four had little to do with the fifth, they will all be linked until the outcome is different.

They will be linked despite changes to the roster, changes to the starting lineups, and changes to the coaching staff because in each instance the Steelers failed. For whatever reasons, in whatever manner, they failed to accomplish the one thing all good NFL teams are able to develop, which is the knack for finding ways to win games while working on the aesthetics of their overall performance.

Coach Mike Tomlin came to New Jersey understanding that his team’s execution wasn’t going to be perfect, but he said what he wanted to see was the players play hard, fast, and with a sense of urgency.

“Not enough to win, and that was our No. 1 goal,” said Tomlin afterward when asked if he got what he wanted from his players. “I’m less concerned about style points and more concerned about the bottom line. My emphasis in that regard was geared toward winning. We didn’t get the job done, so even if it was above the line, it’s going to have to be better.”

The outcome of games in the NFL often turn on what happens in a few of the situations that always go a long way toward separating the winners and the losers. Third down, red zone, turnover ratio, penalties.

Against the Giants, the Steelers were plus-one in turnover ratio and were penalized half as often – 10 for 109 yards for New York vs. five for 34 yards against Pittsburgh. They even recorded more sacks than they allowed. But in this particular loss, the Steelers converted poorly on third downs – 2-of-14 for 14 percent – which prevented them from sustaining any offense, and they were 0-for-2 in the red zone. In a four-point loss, either of those can be the difference.

Situationally, the Steelers were the inferior team on Saturday night, and they compounded those issues with a monumental defensive breakdown on the Giants first offensive snap after a Shaun Suisham field goal had capped a 10-play, 70-yard drive and gave them a 3-0 lead.

The play, arguably the turning point in the game, was a 73-yard touchdown run by Rashad Jennings that served to erase a first quarter performance by the Giants offense netting only 4 yards in addition to his run. After the game, Cam Heyward volunteered that his lack of gap integrity was what sprung Jennings into the secondary, but Tomlin was just as annoyed with his defensive backs’ inability to prevent it from being a touchdown.

“We’re going to have runs that break out every now and then. We have to get it on the ground in the secondary,” said Tomlin. “Sometimes those things break free, but they’ve got to be 8, 10, 12-yard runs, not 78-yard runs. So it was a gap integrity issue in the core, but that’s less of a concern. I’m more concerned about when those things do occur, that we do a good job trying to minimize the explosion play and make it a 8, 10, 12 yard play, not 78.”

Where the Steelers’ secondary could not track down Jennings, the Giants’ secondary had been able to do just that to Dri Archer on the big play of the 70-yard field goal drive by the Steelers. Taking a quick slant pass from Ben Roethlisberger, Archer shot into the secondary, but cornerback Prince Amukamara took the proper angle and ended the play at the 14-yard line after a 46-yard gain.

Reverse the outcomes of those two snaps, and the outcome of the entire game is different. One defensive back takes the proper angle, while the other does not. A fine line, indeed.

“There were some positives, some negatives, some things to build upon moving forward,” said Tomlin. “We’ll look at the tape in an effort to get better. People had an opportunity to grow, and we learned some things about some people. We’ll just take this as part of the process and move forward as a team.”

He very well might have said the exact same thing had the Steelers won, but the difference now is that they will take this as part of the process and move forward as an 0-1 team. It would’ve been better to be doing it as a 1-0 team.