Labriola On

Labriola on 'taking your foot off the gas'

Ready or not, here it comes:

• For anyone interested in nitpicking the Steelers 30-27 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there were several legitimate issues from which to choose, and in case anyone needed any help identifying them, Coach Mike Tomlin offered up two himself: penalties, and big plays allowed by the cornerbacks opposite Joe Haden.

• What wasn’t an issue was the oft-cited “taking their foot off the gas.” Which of course is code for the offense going conservative, and is the simplistic reaction to a 30-10 halftime lead ending up a 30-27 victory instead of a 60-10 final.

• The Steelers took that 30-10 lead into the locker room at halftime thanks to a masterfully executed nine-play, 75-yard drive that began with 1:15 left in the first half and ended when Ben Roethlisberger completed a 1-yard pass to Ryan Switzer in the end zone with six seconds left.

• Because the Buccaneers had won the coin toss and elected to defer, Tampa Bay received the second half kickoff. The Buccaneers 14-play drive resulted in a field goal that cut into their 20-point deficit, but because it took them close to eight minutes of game time to score those three points, and those three points came after they had moved to a first-and-goal at the 6-yard line, it wasn’t a complete disaster from the Steelers’ standpoint.

• Following the kickoff, the Steelers offense then put together a 10-play drive – seven of those plays being pass attempts – that covered 46 yards and ate up six more minutes of game time. Because the possession ended with Chris Boswell hitting the right upright with a 47-yard field goal attempt, the Steelers netted no points. But in no way was it a representation of “taking their foot off the gas.”

• The game continued with the Buccaneers offense taking over at their own 37-yard line, and this was when Tomlin’s Issue No. 2 reared its head. Tampa Bay covered 73 yards (including penalty yardage assessed on the offense) to score a touchdown that cut the Steelers lead to 30-20, and all of it came via the pass. The Steelers defense was hemorrhaging chunks of yardage through the air.

• This was when the Steelers could’ve used something from their offense, and the play-calling still was on the aggressive side. Two Roethlisberger completions netted one first down, but after a James Conner run lost one yard, two incomplete passes brought on punter Jordan Berry. An unsuccessful series, to be sure, but again, not an example of “taking their foot off the gas.”

• By this point in the game, the Steelers defense was leaking chunk-plays, and the Buccaneers were taking advantage to take another bite out of their deficit. A 92-yard touchdown drive following Berry’s punt included five plays of 10-plus yards that can be attributed to the passing game – four of them completions, and the fifth a 17-yard scramble by Ryan Fitzpatrick after he escaped the pass rush.

• After a first half in which the Steelers defense recorded four takeaways and forced the Buccaneers offense into a 1-for-3 performance in the red zone, it was giving the impression that the only way it could get off the field was if the next play was to be an extra point. With 5:43 remaining, after said extra point, the Steelers lead was only 30-27.

• The offense recorded a couple of first downs on three running plays, but after Conner lost 4 yards on another run, Tampa Bay used its first timeout. The Steelers stayed aggressive, with Roethlisberger passing on each of the next two plays, but the yardage wasn’t sufficient for another first down, and so Berry came on to punt again.

• His first punt was downed at the 1-yard line, but that was nullified by an illegal shift penalty on Darrius Heyward-Bey, who then compounded the negativity by arguing the call to the extent he drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (See Tomlin Issue No. 1), and Berry’s subsequent re-punt was a touchback.

• On the Steelers final offensive possession, which began with 2:36 remaining, Roethlisberger passed for one first down, Conner ran for another, and then it was time for victory formation.

• In conclusion, maybe the offense was ineffective in the second half, maybe not as efficient in converting third downs as it was in the first half. But any contention that “feet were taken off the gas” just isn’t true.

• This current trend mandating everything that used to be viewed as a football play now being considered as roughing the passer brought to mind a roundtable discussion that aired several years ago involving some of the all-time great players from different eras in NFL history. There were four or five players on the panel, and what stands out about it now was an exchange between Steve Young and Deacon Jones.

• Young, of course, is a Hall of Fame quarterback who won a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers during the 1990s, and he currently makes a living as an NFL analyst/broadcaster on ESPN.

• Jones, now deceased, was a former member of the Los Angeles Rams’ Fearsome Foursome, one of the most famous defensive lines in NFL history. A sideline-to-sideline defensive end with unique speed and athletic ability who always arrived at the man with the ball in a bad mood, Jones was a pass-rush specialist whose signature move was a head-slap to the offensive lineman trying to block him. He’s the guy who coined the term “sack,” and even though he played in an era before the sack was a recognized statistic by the NFL, Pro Football Weekly once did a study of his game film and concluded he finished his career with 173.5 sacks.

• So it came to be that during the roundtable Young and Jones began debating the course the NFL was taking at the time toward enacting rules to help offenses and increase scoring throughout the league. Young, being a typical quarterback, turned to Jones and said, “People pay to see offense.” Jones, then an old man but still the owner of a no-nonsense demeanor, fixed a stare at Young and replied, “People would pay to see me put you in the hospital, too.”

• The NFL is different now, and it should be based on what’s now known about concussions, and while Jones’ words shouldn’t be taken literally, the keepers of the game would be wise to remember that the spirit of his message resonates with a portion of the fan base, too.

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