Many fans are still stewing over Sunday's improbable loss to then win-less Tampa Bay. A lot of criticism has been thrown in the direction of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, offensive coordinator Todd Haley and even QB Ben Roethlisberger.
The criticism has been so bad, it even prompted us to publish an article, Stop Blaming Todd Haley, in which we examined why the loss wasn't Haley's fault; nor could one person or play be attributed to a collective failure to win. Yet many are pointing out one specific play as the root cause of why the Steelers fell apart last Sunday.
With the ball on their own 19 yard line and 1:35 on the clock, Pittsburgh faced a 3rd and 5. A first down would ultimately end the game, as Tampa Bay had no timeouts remaining.
Knowing the end result, we can continue to second guess the play call, but for a moment, let's consider the options available to the coaching staff and/or players at that given moment:
- Call a pass play. An incomplete pass stops the clock with roughly 1:30-1:25 left.
- Call a pass play. You risk an interception, as well as the same clock scenario above. You also risk a pick-six or giving Tampa the ball roughly 20 yards out of their endzone.
- Call a pass play. What if Ben gets sacked? You're punting out of the endzone, with little breathing room.
- Call a pass play. Earlier in the game Ben was strip/sacked and Tampa recovered on Pittsburgh's 9. This had to be fresh in the minds of the coaching staff.
According to Mark Kaboly, Steelers beat writer for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Tomlin gave Roethlisberger a run/pass option:
So, run/pass option called by Tomlin on 3rd and 5 at end of game in which Ben decided to call run. #FireHALEY
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) September 30, 2014
Earlier, Bell broke runs of 7 and 16 yards behind the right side of the line. Evidence existed that a run play could work. Giving Bell a chance to pick up some punting room, run the clock down, and potentially gain a first down were all benefits. A good punt puts Tampa on their side of the field and let your defense finish against a team with no timeouts.
Hindsight is 20/20. The run and subsequent punt yielded awful results, however, call allowed Pittsburgh to chew the clock down to 50 seconds remaining.
Kaboly had this to say:
Roethlisberger, by the way, made the correct call by choosing to run on 3rd and 5. 66, 72, 68 missing blocks doomed the play. — Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) September 30, 2014
We should also consider if Tomlin, Haley, Ben or whichever media scapegoat called a pass play, and it didn't work, the backlash would be ten-fold. Tampa Bay could have received the ball off of a turnover or with over a half minute more than Pittsburgh rushing the football.
Going back in time, a failed pass play would've been far worse.
You have to hedge your bets and call the play you feel will be successful. This is not unlike the San Francisco and Philadelphia game, where the Niners ran the ball 3 straight times, forcing the Eagles to use all of their timeouts. The difference was getting a solid punt and favorable field position, which helped the Niners win the game.
Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. But there were many other issues on the field other than a 3rd and 5 run play that caused the Steelers defeat.