Labriola On

Labriola on all-in, pick-sixes, vacation

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been involved in only two games since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 that were decided by a touchdown scored on the final play. The first was on Dec. 20, 2009 at Heinz Field, when the Steelers beat the Packers, 37-36, and the other, of course, was last Monday night in San Diego.
  • Mike Tomlin was the Steelers coach in both of those games, but the decisions he faced in each couldn't have been more different.
  • Against the Packers, the Steelers trailed, 36-30, when the ball was snapped on the final play, and so there was no other option but to go for the touchdown. Last Monday night, Tomlin's decision was whether to go all-in on another play to score the touchdown to win, or kick the field goal to tie and play overtime.
  • Immediately after the game, the question started being asked: Who else among current NFL head coaches would go for the touchdown in that situation? I'm not sufficiently familiar with the other 31 coaches in the NFL to answer that with anything more than a guess, but I feel confident in saying Tomlin is the only coach in modern franchise history who goes for it in that type of win-or-lose situation when an easy opportunity existed to tie the game.
  • In other words, I don't believe Bill Cowher or Chuck Noll go for that touchdown. But that's not to mean they both didn't coach aggressively, but that they each had a firm belief in how to play to win, and I don't believe their method would have included that type of gamble.
  • There were many examples when both coached aggressively to win, and in Noll's case, here are two memorable occasions: the end of Super Bowl X against Dallas when rather than risk a blocked punt he ran another offensive play and then put the game in the hands of his historically dominant defense that was in its prime; and also in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XIV when he told Terry Bradshaw the best way to convert third downs was to attack the Rams defense down the field, which resulted in a 73-yard touchdown pass to John Stallworth on a third-and-8, and then a 45-yard pass to Stallworth on a third-and-7 on the final touchdown drive.
  • During the 2005 AFC Playoffs, Cowher and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt put the ball into the hands of second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger early in the AFC Divisional Round game in Indianapolis and let him duel Peyton Manning in an effort to take the early lead that then would force the Colts to play a brand of football with which they weren't as comfortable.
  • The ultimate example of an NFL coach going all-in was Vince Lombardi in the 1967 NFL Championship Game at Lambeau Field, which has come to be known as The Ice Bowl. Dallas held a 17-14 lead, and the Packers had the ball at the Cowboys' 1-yard line, with no timeouts left and 16 seconds remaining in the game. Sixteen seconds might seem like a lot of time, but because of the weather conditions – recorded at 20-below at the time of the play – it's doubtful the game officials would have been able to un-pile the players and get the ball spotted in time for a fourth-down play had the Packers not scored.
  • I'm not comparing Tomlin with Lombardi, nor is this to be interpreted as some ranking of the Steelers coaches of the modern era. It's just a reminder of how rare it is to see that kind of a decision at the NFL level.
  • It's rare in the NFL because if a coach decides to go all-in on a win-or-lose situation and it doesn't work, it will be perceived as his fault alone. If he plays it conservative, takes the tie, and his team ends up losing in overtime, then the blame most likely will shift to a player or players who didn't execute in whichever subsequent situation ends up deciding the outcome of the game.
  • When coaches get blamed for losing, they get fired, When players get blamed for losing games, they get cut. Call it the NFL version of passing the buck.
  • Whatever else it was, Steelers-Chargers was compelling theater. The Oct. 12 edition of Monday Night Football helped ESPN win the night among all networks – broadcast or cable – in households, total viewers, and all key male and adult demographics. Also, the game was the highest-rated program of the night in all key male demographics, and adults ages 18-34 and 18-49.

The Steelers prepare for the week 6 match up against the Arizona Cardinals.

  • In Sunday's game vs. Arizona, the Steelers will be going against a Cardinals defense that leads the NFL with 11 interceptions through five games, and even more remarkable is that they've returned four of those four touchdowns. That's four pick-sixes in five games.
  • In basketball, it's called the transition game, and no NFL team transitions from defense to offense better than the Cardinals this season. Certainly, it's incumbent on Mike Vick to be careful with the football, but in the event he throws an interception, the other 10 guys on offense better transition to defense, and in a hurry.
  • Make no mistake, offensive coordinator Todd Haley is aware of the impact of a pick-six, and he regularly schools the offensive players on the importance of transitioning to defense to get the interceptor on the ground. To reinforce this point, he regularly shows video of Super Bowl XLIII, and if the players look closely enough they can see Haley on the Cardinals' sideline watching James Harrison return a Kurt Warner interception 100 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half.
  • Among these Steelers, Le'Veon Bell is said to be the best at transitioning from offense to defense and also has the aggressive mentality to track a runner and get him on the ground. In case anyone was wondering.
  • The following item appeared on ProFootballTalk.com on Oct. 14: "The official who failed to correct a clock mistake late in Monday night's Steelers-Chargers game has been disciplined by the league. Side judge Rob Vernatchi has been suspended for one week with pay, a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT. The NFL has not yet responded to PFT's request for comment, and the NFL Referees Association could not be reached. Vernatchi is expected to file a grievance."
  • Getting paid for not working. Isn't that called a vacation?
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