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Bleeding Black and Gold: SORRY CHARLIE

November 25, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

The score: Cleveland 20, Pittsburgh14

The headline: SORRY CHARLIE: Steelers offense crumbles with Batch at the controls

The bottom line: The Steelers got the defensive TD they needed to win what was sure to be a dogfight in Cleveland. All they needed from the offense was the execution of some basic sets and no turnovers. But with Charlie Batch unable to make even the most simple of NFL throws, there was no execution. And with the running backs in a death spiral or fumbles that began with the mistake of starting Rashard Mendenhall, there was no victory.

It was over when: Chris Rainey made a helluva full-effort play to turn a swing pass into a nice gain but gave up the ball when his tiny frame was pinwheeled among several Browns behemoths and his left leg got pinned under his body as he went down. By rule, the turnover should have been reviewed (and hopefully it was by the replay official), but there was no indication from the officiating crew or the CBS broadcast team that it occurred.

Plays of the day:

+ A 10-yard out is the building block of any NFL passing game. Batch floated one to Plaxico Burress midway through the third quarter that Sheldon Brown easily undercut for the interception at the Steelers 30 that set up the game-winning score.

+ Based on the standards Mike Tomlin has laid down, Rashard Mendenhall never should have started Sunday’s game, but Tomlin started him anyway and paid the price when Mendenhall kept the ball in his wrong (inside) hand on his second carry and started the fumble parade for Pittsburgh.

+ Of all the fumbles, the one by Isaac Redman at his own 10 seemed the most careless. Redman did not get another offensive play after it.

Zebra hunting:

+ We’ll begin with this opening statement: What Ron Winter’s crew does week in and week out is dangerous to the NFL in a number of ways. First, it makes the product nearly unwatchable. Second, it frustrates players and coaches to the point where tempers flare. Third, it creates an unfair competitive disadvantage to whichever teams try to play with that crew bumbling around each week. Now, onto some specifics…

+ The hold called against Kelvin Beachum was a textbook example of when NOT to call a hold in the NFL. Beachum’s block was good for four solid seconds before he got a handful of jersey FIVE YARDS BEHIND THE PLAY and AS THE BALL WAS BEING RELEASED.

+ It appeared Trent Richardson fumbled just before the 2:00 warning to give the Steelers a last gasp, but officials ruled Richardson’s forward progress was stopped before giving up the ball. However, they failed to blow a whistle to indicate that, and if you watch the play again, you’ll see Winter following the action as if it were a live play.

Game mismanagement:

+ The only thing we’ll argue with Sunday was Pittsburgh taking the five-yard offside call after Heath Miller bulldozed a Browns player to get 10 yards on a 1st-and-20 play early in the third quarter. We’d rather have a 2nd-and-10 and the momentum.

+ Pittsburgh couldn’t challenge the Richardson fumble because it occurred before the 2:00 warning and they were out of timeouts, but you couldn’t argue with how Tomlin used his timeouts to ensure the Steelers got nearly three minutes for a final drive (that was short-circuited by the Rainey fumble, which should have been reviewed, and might have been, or maybe not, who knows with that crew).

+ We’re on board with Pittsburgh declining the hold on Alex Mack (ticky tacky, btw, his hands were inside the frame for the whole play) and allowing the short Phil Dawson FG in the second quarter. Even with the penalty, you’re probably talking 42 yards on the FG and Dawson has been so automatic this year that it’s probably more risky to mess with the chance of a defensive penalty on the extra down.

+ The final Steelers TD drive, and especially the Chris Rainey scoring run, doesn’t happen without all three timeouts in place at the start. That’s why you take a five-yard penalty instead of using a TO and only challenge game-changing plays in the first half.

Hot topics:

+ We can now say resoundingly that Mike Tomlin knew what he was doing in starting Byron Leftwich and leaving him in against Baltimore while injured. Charlie Batch has had a fantastic career and his contributions to the Steelers have been many, but he’s clearly beyond the point now where he can do what a backup needs to do in the NFL. With Leftwich’s inability to play a complete game without getting injured, Pittsburgh just might end up in the market for a quarterback in the offseason. And if things get really ugly, don’t rule out Bobby Hoyer getting some meaningful time down the stretch to get a good look at him.

+ Where Tomlin went wrong Sunday, and everyone knew it going in, was in stubbornly sticking with Mendenhall as the starting halfback when it’s abundantly clear Jon Dwyer’s running style better fits the Steelers blocking schemes. It’s ironic that any time either Dwyer or Redman has been declare the No. 1 back by injury default, each has shined. But when they’ve been benched for Mendendall, ALL THREE have played poorly.

+ Which brings us to this: The Steelers have a myriad of issues right now, but most of them stem from the spate of injuries they’re enduring. When healthy (and we mean relatively healthy by NFL standards, not 100% healthy, which never occurs), the biggest question mark about this team just might be its head coach, who continues to make questionable personnel decisions and shaky strategic ones.

In the booth:

+ It was late in the third quarter when Solomon Wilcots told us breathlessly, as if he were revealing a secret to we mere viewing peons, that THE STEELERS ARE A DIFFERENT TEAM WITHOUT BEN ROT-LISBERGER. Stop the presses, Solly.

+ He got limited reps for obvious reasons but it appears that Solomon Wilcots has learned to say Mend-EN-hall (instead of Mend-ING-hall) but still struggles with ROT-lisberger.

And now, a word from our sponsors…:

+ That kid in the Cam Newton Play 60 commercial is solid.

+ Nice to see both Gallagher and Slinky getting royalties from Geico.

Sweet tweet: “@ktorgent: Why are they running this? - > Is that Rainey> - > Oh, he’s stuffed. - > Jesus, get down damnit! - > Oh, touchdown!” (Blogger’s note: Same thing in my living room, different curse words, though.)

Next week: Any chance of winning the AFC North is now gone and we’re going to guess Pittsburgh will give Ben Roethlisberger one more week to recover and throw Bobby Hoyer to the lions, er, Ravens next week. There is no way Charlie Batch can start that game with the arm strength (or lack thereof) he displayed Sunday. The game is set for 4:25 p.m. and we don’t see much hope of it being flexed back to 1 p.m. so that likely means Nantz and Simms.

And beyond… By no means are we suggesting the Steelers ARE going to get it together and make a run into the AFC playoffs, but we are suggesting that it doesn’t take much to construct a legitimate scenario where they COULD do that. It starts with Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Marcus Gilbert and maybe even David DeCastro returning to the offense, Plaxico continuing to help in the red zone and Dwyer getting his chance as feature back. On defense, you’ve got Troy Polamalu returning, James Harrison showing signs of improvement and Cam Heyward supplanting Ziggy Hood, all playing in front of three guys (Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis and Ryan Clark) who are having Pro Bowl-caliber years. On the schedule, you’re got home games with the two teams chasing you (CIN and SD) and the likelihood that nine wins will get you into the playoffs. Finally, you’ve got a potential first-round playoff matchup looming at Baltimore with a healthy lineup after being swept by the Ravens in the regular season.

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