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Thread: Steelers look to reverse habit of squandering 4th-quarter leads

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    Steelers look to reverse habit of squandering 4th-quarter leads

    Steelers look to reverse habit of squandering 4th-quarter leads

    By Alan Robinson
    Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012

    Keenan Lewis (23) and Jason Worilds react after Lewis dropped a would-be interception during the fourth quarter of the Steelers' 26-23 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 11 at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.

    Steelers’ record in games decided by 4 points or fewer (final record):

    2012: 1-2 (TBD)

    2011: 4-1 (12-4)

    2010: 3-1 (12-4)

    2009: 3-5 (9-7)

    2008: 4-1 (12-4)

    If there were ever a team needing to sign up for Protecting the Lead 101, it’s the Steelers.

    Former coach Bill Cowher often talked about the fine line between winning and losing, but the Steelers’ more immediate problem is getting to the finish line with the lead.

    They have squandered fourth-quarter leads in four of five games, and they’ve lost after leading in the final quarter 11 times since they won the Super Bowl during the 2008 season.

    The Steelers (2-3) need to find a reliable closer, especially if they’re in another close game Sunday night in Cincinnati. Every one of the nine touchdown passes they’ve permitted came when they were ahead; and they’ve lost twice as each of their past three games was decided by a last-play field goal.

    “If you look around the NFL, every game, every week, games are pretty close,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said Thursday. “There may be one or two games that get a little bit out of touch, but most of them come down to that fourth quarter. There is no doubt you have to win your share of close games because you are going to be in a ton of close games.”

    Last season, the Steelers were 4-1 in games decided by four points or fewer. This season, they’re 1-2, while the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens (5-1) are 3-1.

    “We weren’t winning every game (in 2010 and ’11) by multiple touchdowns or by two possessions. We were winning the games at the end,” safety Ryan Clark said. “We were making the plays, whether defensively, offensively or on special teams, that made the difference. Right now, when the games get into crunch time, we’re allowing people to convert third downs. We’re allowing people to score touchdowns in the red zone in the fourth quarter.”

    Opposing quarterbacks are 27 of 41 for 319 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions on those key third downs.

    Their own offense isn’t extending enough drives, which results in the defense being on the field too long. That leads to their secondary giving up too many drive-extending catches, in part because their pass rush isn’t getting to the quarterback enough.

    It’s the classic cause and effect.

    “All these games were really one-play games,” LeBeau said. “We have to be the ones that find a way to make a play at the end of the game that swings our way. These guys are going to fight through it, and we are going to come out on top. I am really confident in that.”

    The Bengals’ Andy Dalton has thrown 12 touchdowns but has been picked off nine times, three for touchdowns. Just one such pass that goes the other way might be what the Steelers need to end their run of fourth-quarter failure.

    “He’s had to throw the ball late when they fell behind against Baltimore and Cleveland, but it also shows they’re putting the game in his hands,” Clark said. “You’re going to have some mistakes when you do that, so we have to capitalize on them.”


  2. #2

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    That sounds like a pretty good idea!

  3. #3

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    Well the statement about the offense having to extend drives to keep the defense off the field doesn't hold water based on TOP from the 5 games.

    Steelers vs Denver 35mins vs 25mins
    Steelers vs Jets 36mins vs 24mins
    Steelers vs Raiders 37mins vs 23mins
    Steelers vs Eagles 33mins 27mins
    Steelers vs Titans 30mins vs 30mins

    The only game that was close in TOP was the Titan game. Now, the Steelers offense may want to keep the defense off the field, but that's just because the defense isn't that good right now. I'm not sure why writers continue to try and protect the defense. The offense has been holding up its end of the deal and limiting the amount of time the defense needs to be on the field. What the defense can't do is stop the other team consistently.

    Last edited by papillon; 10-20-2012 at 03:25 PM.

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    (Borrowed without permission from another forum)

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    LeBeau's famed defense puts up great stats — except when it matters most

    BY SCOTT KACSMAR Oct. 19, 2012

    Facing an important game in Cincinnati on Sunday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3) have lost a fourth-quarter lead in four of their five games this season. It’s one thing to be victimized by a Peyton Manning comeback, but they have lost on last-second field goals in Oakland and Tennessee; two teams who are a combined 1-8.

    Many will point to legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau not having all of his starters healthy due to a rash of injuries. In a given week that could have meant Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, or Ryan Clark.

    Cornerback Ike Taylor, healthy but struggling mightily, lashed out at local media for criticizing this year’s defense. Taylor says to look at the facts, and “if you want to go by numbers, we're not doing as bad as what they say we're doing."

    Well as a compiler of football statistics and a Pittsburgh native who has experienced every single high and low, here's the truth:

    The Steelers' defense is vastly overrated, just like much of LeBeau’s coaching career has been.

    Known as the father of the zone blitz, which creates illusions of pressure, LeBeau has also created an illusion that his long career is full of defensive coaching success. That's not the case.

    Defense does not excel when it matters most

    Blasphemy, you say? Well, LeBeau would have quickly been “Juan Castillo’d” out of a job in today’s game. In his first attempt as a defensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals (1984-1991), the Bengals’ average rank in defensive points allowed was 20.3 (there were only 28 teams then). Just once did they rank higher than 17 (No. 9 in 1989), and they were dead last in points and yards in his final season.

    Stating the facts

    Since 2007, Pittsburgh’s defense has allowed 20 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, which is tied with Green Bay for the league's second most.

    Most game-winning drives allowed (2007-2012)

    Rank Team Game-winning drives

    1 Washington Redskins 24
    2T Pittsburgh Steelers 20
    2T Green Bay Packers 20
    4 Kansas City Chiefs 19
    5T Baltimore Ravens 18
    5T Miami Dolphins 18
    32 New York Giants 9 (Note: fewest in NFL)

    Twenty is too high for a defense that allows the league's fewest points and yards, but none of that has mattered when it comes to crunch time.

    Since 2007, the Steelers’ defense has faced a total of 125 drives in the fourth quarter and overtime when tied or leading by 1-8 points. They have allowed 22 touchdowns and 25 field goals (231 points). It works out to 1.85 points per drive, which would have ranked 21st in the league in 2011, a below-average defense. Fifteen of the touchdown drives have been at least 70 yards in length, and nine were more than 80 yards.

    Pittsburgh has allowed 20 game-winning drives, 12 game-tying drives, and 10 go-ahead drives which came during games where the offense would regain the lead for a win. They also allowed five field goals when leading by 5-7 points. That means 78 “stops”, though some of those drives were in the final seconds when the opponent had no realistic opportunity.

    Steelers' game-winning drives allowed (2007-2012)

    Last 2:00 Last 1:00 Last 0:40 Last 0:15 OT Drives Last 0:40 + OT
    10 (1st) 9 (1st) 9 (1st) 7 (1st) 4 (T-3rd) 13 (1st)

    Not only is allowing 10 game-winning drives in the final two minutes the worst in the league, but the Steelers have somehow surrendered the game-losing points a league-worst nine times in the last 40 seconds of the game (no other team has more than six). Maybe the only thing worse than that are the seven times in which they have allowed the winning points in the final 0:15.

    You just leave your offense no real time to answer in that situation, and nearly half the losses have happened that way.

    The context behind some of the losses is both jarring and alarming, and things only seem to be getting worse.

    12/6/2009: Oakland’s Bruce Gradkowski became the first QB in NFL history to throw three go-ahead touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, upsetting Pittsburgh 27-24. The third completed an 88-yard drive with 0:09 left.

    2011 AFC Wild Card: In the first game under new overtime rules, Tim Tebow threw an 80-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play. It is the longest game-winning touchdown pass in NFL postseason history.

    The second largest blown fourth-quarter lead in a Super Bowl belongs to Dick LeBeau’s 2008 Steelers (13 points vs. Arizona). Kurt Warner passed for 224 yards in the fourth quarter alone.

    Since 2009, the Steelers have allowed four game-winning touchdowns in the last 0:32 of the fourth quarter. From 1990-2008, the Steelers had allowed only two game-winning touchdowns in the last 60 seconds of the fourth quarter (both vs. Cincinnati).

    Since October 2011, the Steelers have allowed four game-winning touchdown drives of 80 or more yards. That matches the total they allowed from 1990-2010 (21 seasons).

    9/23/2012: Oakland had lost 48 consecutive games when trailing by at least 10 points to start the fourth quarter. They overcame a 31-21 deficit for a 34-31 win in Week 3.
    In Roethlisberger’s 21 fourth-quarter comeback wins, the Steelers have led after three quarters just as often as they trailed (10 times each plus one tie).

    What has caused so many of these losses? Sure, there has been some bad luck. Keenan Lewis dropped an interception in Tennessee last week that may have turned the game. Joe Burnettt dropped a game-ending interception in that 2009 Oakland game. The league admitted to missing a holding call on Jacksonville’s big 4th-and-2 run by David Garrard in the 2007 AFC Wild Card game.

    But it works both ways, and for other teams too. In 2010, Buffalo’s Stevie Johnson dropped the game-winning touchdown in overtime. He was wide open, so LeBeau barely escaped that loss. He was not so lucky last season when Torrey Smith caught the game-winning touchdown with 0:08 left after dropping one, capping off Joe Flacco’s 92-yard drive to take control of the AFC North.

    Trends go back to LeBeau’s days in Cincinnati

    As Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator from 1984-1991, the Bengals allowed a league-worst 27 game-winning drives (tied with Cleveland and Minnesota). Included are a few famous ones against Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers.

    On September 20, 1987, the Bengals led 26-20, but just turned the ball over on downs at their own 25. With only two seconds left on the clock, Montana had one shot, and somehow Jerry Rice was left one-on-one for the game-winning touchdown against LeBeau’s defense.

    That is the shortest one-minute drill since 1981, and perhaps in NFL history. When else has a team taken over with two seconds left, needing a touchdown, and won the game?

    The next year the teams would meet in Super Bowl XXIII, and Montana led the first ever classic game-winning drive late in the big game. He completed 8-of-9 passes for 97 yards and the touchdown to John Taylor with 0:34 left. It was flawless, and LeBeau could only watch it happen to his defense.

    LeBeau’s legacy

    Dick LeBeau’s legacy is secured because of how hard it is to rewrite a narrative, especially for someone with over 50 years of experience in football.

    He seems like a great guy who obviously has found a fountain of youth somewhere, and his players love him like a father. There’s no denying anything about his character.

    But the evidence piles up to show that he is not the flawless defensive guru he gets glorified as. While his defense may produce a lot of good numbers — at least in Pittsburgh it has — it consistently fails in late-game situations and against the best in the game.

    Why is that? Perhaps it is because trailing teams and teams with great quarterbacks will throw the football, and LeBeau’s Pittsburgh defense was built to stop the run, which is less significant in today’s game.

    Without a ton of talent at cornerback, and a stubbornness to continue playing with such large cushions — or to play no real pass defense at all against Tim Tebow in the playoffs — a quarterback can easily get into a rhythm and pick this defense apart as long as the protection is picking up the blitzes, which are no longer very innovative in 2012.

    After writing this the Steelers will probably intercept Andy Dalton three times in the fourth quarter on Sunday, but that’s only going to be one game. These defensive lapses go back decades for LeBeau.

    So the next time you see the Steelers helplessly sending blitzes to no avail as a team marches down the field in the final minute to beat them, just remember that this happens frequently to LeBeau’s defenses.

    Legend or not, the defensive letdowns are just as much a part of his career as the successes.


  6. #6
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    The Kascmar article looks like an indictment. But then, many teams are not in the game by the 4th Qtr so there is no game-winning drive late in the game to be given up, whereas the Steelers are still in it in the 4th qtr of almost every game ... one explanation for why that stat would be comparatively high. Notice the relative absence of bottom-dwellers on that list. What most impresses is the Giants low number, given their competitiveness through several years.

    Sure hoping this defense gets it together. 2 and 4 would look pretty dismal with our tough stretch upcoming.

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    It's easy for a coach to look great when he has great players. It's what he does when he has average players to coach and what he can get out of them that is the true gauge.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BradshawsHairdresser View Post

    (Borrowed without permission from another forum)
    Absolutely hilarious!

    Couple weeks ago I saw a post with a similar approach. Someone suggested it would be in the Steelers best interest to buy a copy of "25 Sure-Fire Ways to Draw Offensive Interference Calls" Solve your teams secondary problems etc etc. $19.95 Call 1 800- etc etc.

    The post inferred that this was seen on one of those late nite info-mercials that are on all night now on TV. It was a followup of an earlier and very successful one called "25 Sure-Fire Ways to Draw Defensive Interference Calls" Gain 100's of yards easily without ever completing a pass etc etc.

    Of course it was fabricated but I thought it was funny. No one else did however! But compared to this which really was well put together the other effort was kindergarten. But nonetheless, the point was made anyhow.

  9. #9

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    Finishing strong has to be Steelers' mantra

    OCT 22
    By Jamison Hensley |

    "We were able to settle down and get our jobs done," coach Mike Tomlin said of Pittsburgh's efforts.

    CINCINNATI -- No one in the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room proclaimed that they're back. No one talked about this 24-17 win over the Bengals becoming the turning point that will lead Pittsburgh back to the playoffs. And no one should after that ragged performance.

    The reality of the situation -- or the craziness of it in the AFC North -- is that the Steelers (3-3) will wake up 1.5 games back of the division-leading Baltimore Ravens (5-2).

    Despite all of their injuries, penalties and sloppy play, the Steelers can salvage this season if they play like they did in the fourth quarter. If they play like they did in the first half, the Steelers will be lucky to break even this season. Anyone who has watched the Steelers play this year knows it's that cut-and-dried.

    Over the final 10 weeks, it's about finishing the season the way Pittsburgh finished off Cincinnati. For the final 15 minutes of the game, Pittsburgh pounded the Cincinnati Bengals defense into submission with a resourceful running game and never gave the Cincinnati offense any hope of coming back. For a brief moment, the Steelers looked like the Steelers on the road.

    "I think it was a testament to will," left guard Willie Colon said. "(Offensive line coach Sean) Kugler brought up Peyton Manning in his Monday night game and said, 'If you look at Peyton's eyes, it was the look of you refusing to lose.' I think I kept saying that all week. You've got to refuse to lose, and that's what we did."

    What the Steelers refused to lose was a fourth-quarter lead. In all three road games this season, the Steelers had the lead in the fourth quarter and failed to hold onto it. On Sunday night, Pittsburgh ran for 87 yards in the fourth quarter (12 yards more than the team's per-game average this season) without three starters on the offensive line and their top two running backs. Third-string Jonathan Dwyer and rookie Chris Rainey averaged 9.2 yards per carry in the final quarter behind backups at center, right guard and right tackle.

    This was far from a statement game. This was more like one step in the right direction. This was a day when the Steelers regained confidence while their division rival Ravens lost some in a 30-point defeat in Houston.

    Pittsburgh had blown leads in all three of their losses, which led the NFL. This time, the Steelers went ahead 44 seconds into the fourth quarter on an 11-yard run by Rainey and weren't ever really threatened after that. Pittsburgh controlled the clock in the fourth quarter (10:33 to 4:27 in time of possession) and never let the Bengals get past their own 39-yard line.

    Still, the Steelers hedged when asked if this was their breakthrough moment.

    "We can tell you in January, I guess," said tight end Heath Miller, who scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion. "We first have to do something we haven’t done this year, win two games in a row."

    The Steelers know they have to play much better to be considered legitimate contenders again this year. Dropped passes, turnovers and penalties on special teams could have easily dropped the Steelers to 2-4 and pushed them into panic mode.

    On a trick play, running back Baron Batch failed to catch a perfectly thrown pass from wide receiver Antonio Brown with no one between him and the end zone. Wide receiver Mike Wallace channeled Limas Sweed in dropping four passes, including a deflected throw in the end zone.

    "I’ve made a lot of plays for my team," said Wallace, who had eight catches for 52 yards. "You can’t be good every week. Sometimes you have an off weekend. It was one of those for me."

    Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception in the end zone and fumbled at his own 10-yard line. Pittsburgh also hurt itself in field position by committing four holding calls on returns (three of them had the Steelers starting at their own 9, 11 and 13-yard lines).

    Even though the Steelers have so many challenges with injuries, they make it tougher on themselves with carelessness.

    "When you're highly penalized and you turn the ball over, you put yourself behind the eight ball," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "But the guys didn't blink. They didn't. It's a testament to them. We were able to settle down and get our jobs done."

    If this does turn around the Steelers' season, they have Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to thank. The Bengals had a first down with 1:30 left in the first half and a 14-6 lead. But they went into halftime tied at 14.

    How does that happen? Dalton, who has been picked off in every game this season, threw a pass off the back of right guard Kevin Zeitler's helmet and fell into the arms of Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley. The Steelers converted that into a 9-yard touchdown pass to Miller, who also caught the two-point conversion to tie the game.

    That got the Steelers back into the game but they were the ones who finished it. Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor, who had struggled all season, limited the NFL's leading receiver A.J. Green to one catch for eight yards and broke up a third-down pass to Green in the fourth quarter.

    From there, it was left to the Steelers' ground game, which was ranked next-to-last in the league. Holding a touchdown lead with 2:40 left, the Steelers handed the ball off to Dwyer on the four straight plays to close out the game. The last run was a 32-yarder which officially broke the Bengals.

    "I don't want to sit here and say that we had something to prove because we just wanted to win the game," Roethlisberger said. "Of course, there was a sense of urgency because it was a divisional game. All we had to do was win, which is what we did."

    The Steelers are just as flawed and banged-up as the rest of the AFC. Many of their games will be close because of their inconsistency. How they finish this season will ultimately depend on how they finish games.


  10. #10
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    Now that's how a defense from Pittsburgh is supposed to play in the fourth quarter. The Bengals never challenged in the 2nd half with Green, BJGE, and Dalton all on the field. I'll take that kind of play every week!!!
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