It’s really not such a big deal to lose a preseason game. It doesn’t count against your record, after all. But while the result itself might not matter, the manner in which you gain that result does. On Saturday, Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin was still stewing about the manner in which his team lost to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night.
Of particular frustration is the fact that his team struggled on ‘possession downs’ as he calls them, the third- and fourth-down plays that determine whether or not a drive is going to continue. Both sides of the ball struggled to accomplish their goals in these situations in Green Bay.
“We lost leverage too much in coverage, particularly on possession downs”, Tomlin said after practice. “You can’t do that. Leverage is a big element of football. I thought we didn’t do a good enough job there. I didn’t think we did a good enough job of pressuring and containing the quarterback. I thought that was significant early on possession downs”.
We saw this throughout the game with Packers quarterbacks being able to escape pressure and scramble for a positive play. It even happened on the opening drive when Aaron Rodgers ducked under a Daniel McCullers swat attempt, though it must be acknowledged that Green Bay’s quarterbacks are a more mobile group than the average.
Even when the Steelers looked like they succeeded, they still failed. On that first drive, the team got pressure on Rodgers on third down inside the red zone, forcing him to make a poor throw to the back of the end zone that Terrell Edmunds seized for a would-be interception if he could have landed inbounds.
Only the play technically never happened, because Rodgers called to snap the ball early in order to catch the defense changing personnel. McCullers was still on the field by the time the ball was snapped, as the 12th man on the field, drawing a penalty. The Packers scored a touchdown on the subsequent play.
While Tomlin’s direct comments focused on the defensive side of the ball, the offense also struggled to keep drives alive on third down. They went just three for 11 on third down throughout the contest and failed on their only attempt to convert on fourth down.
That shouldn’t be terribly surprising given who was playing at quarterback, but there is no room to grade on a curve. Joshua Dobbs and Mason Rudolph should be able to move the chains, after all. It’s a fundamental part of football, a game they have been playing all their lives.
This is not intended to spell doom and gloom for the regular season, because frankly the Steelers were playing with about half of their starters on the sidelines. The games that count are going to be different. But be that as it may, the team’s performance on possession downs has been nothing short of a letdown.