The rock broke. Finally.
It is a core belief of Mike Tomlin's that football is a game of attrition, where the physical aspects of the sport are such an integral component that victory in the battle of the hitting typically coincides with a win on the scoreboard.
"We're going to do what it is that we do regardless of circumstance," said Tomlin on this subject. "The rock might not break on the first strike. But we're going to continue to strike it, and continue to strike it, because football is a game of attrition. The plays that are stopped when we come out of the locker room are not necessarily the plays that are stopped 59 minutes later. That's why you play the game.
"That's an element of the game where will is displayed – individual and collective will. There are a lot of reasons why you don't abort plans based on the initial results, particularly when you're talking about something that's physically related to the sport of football, such as the running game."
The way the sport is played at the professional level these days, a team's best path to the physical domination of its opponent is through its running game. When an offense is running the football effectively, what it's doing essentially is moving defenders against their will and then battering them with a 230-pound back when they get them there.
These Steelers aren't there yet, but last Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens they won a game in large part because they were able to run the football. They ran it in a game that came down to the final possession, against a rival that prides itself on not losing wars of attrition. They ran it better than they have in almost a calendar year, and they won the game because they were able to run it.
The final score was 19-16, and the margin came from a 42-yard field goal from Shaun Suisham as time expired, but if you ask Ravens' recent NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs what cost his team the game, betcha he starts off by mentioning the success of the Steelers running attack.
The credit should go to everyone involved. Coaches for not giving up on an important element, and the players for continuing to sledgehammer that rock.
It wasn't supposed to be this way, this difficult, this much of a test of everyone's patience. But when Le'Veon Bell got hurt in the second preseason game, and Maurkice Pouncey got hurt on the regular season's opening possession, the Steelers found themselves missing the two key components behind the whole implementation of the zone-scheme running attack in the first place.
Pouncey is gone for the year, and while Fernando Velasco has turned into a capable option at center, he is nowhere near as athletic and mobile as the man he replaced. Bell came back to the lineup in London, and he used the three weeks since to make himself closer to the guy the Steelers believed they were getting when they spent that No. 2 draft pick last April.
The immediate analysis of that draft included the speculation Bell was a poor fit for the Steelers because he was tentative after taking the hand-off. In Bell's case what was being seen as tentative was in fact patience.
Ninety-three yards against the Baltimore Ravens qualifies as a great job, but as Le'Veon Bell seems to be just scratching the surface, suddenly so do these Steelers.
Whether that 0-4 indeed turns out to be too much to overcome remains an unknown, but right now, as Halloween approaches, the Steelers are getting back to being at least a version of what they need to be. A key component of that will be a balanced offense, and a balanced offense only is attained via a dependable running game.
For this franchise, there long has been a direct link between a dependable running game and winning, and if the 2013 season is to be associated with winning, it only will be through the continued efforts of a rookie running back paired with a Pouncey-less offensive line.
Gotta keep breaking those rocks.
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