There must be a Superman fan among coaches wearing Pittsburgh’s signature black and gold, as the team’s overall game plan was apparently ripped directly from the pages of DC Comics. Eschewing the familiar football mantra of ‘dancing with who brought ya’ there,’ head coach Mike Tomlin’s crew must have agreed on honoring the comic book series by creating their own ‘Bizarro’ Steelers!
Where was the proficient run game featured during last year’s win over the New England Patriots at Heinz Field? It was Jaylen Samuels, behind the stellar blocking of the offensive line, carving up the Patriots defense in a manner benefiting of any Dad when the Thanksgiving turkey was placed before him.
Fast forward to Foxborough! A healthy James Connor was in the backfield. Except for newbie starter Matt Feilor, the offensive line was quite familiar to everyone. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, hence dubbed ‘Bizarro Fick, decided to short toss his way into bizarro infamy. Why directly hand off to Conner when a Ben Roethlisberger can pitch the ball all of 18-inches to the back? Instead of looking for the hole, Conner had to focus on the catch first then glance up for the disappearing gap. Fichtner has to be the Superman fan. Or, maybe he phoned Sean McVey of the Rams to get his point of view regarding overthinking a game plan against the Patriots. Either way — BIZARRO!
Perhaps defensive coordinator Keith Butler could be the comics book aficionado. He certainly has displayed his penchant for the comical in previous seasons. ‘Bizarro Butler’ surely knew when Tom Brady saw the Steelers in total man coverage he would pick the pick play portion of the New England playbook for his response. His allowing Brady to motion a receiver, thereby making the Steelers defender run clear across the width of the field, is something which isn’t done at the middle school level. Even coaches at that level will ‘bump’ coverage responsibility to a player on the other side of the field and adjust accordingly with the other secondary players.
The next man up (as he, himself likes to say so often) is head coach Mike Tomlin. Maybe he is the Superman fan, as he certainly concurred with ‘Bizarros’ Fick and Butler in developing the game plan from another universe. If Fichtner didn’t make a call to another coach, Tomlin should have done so. He needs to chat with Doug Pederson of the Eagles. Earlier in the day, Pederson’s team faced a fourth-and-1 inside the Philadelphia 40-yard line. Did he punt? NO! Facing a similar dilemma on the Gillette Stadium turf, with the game still within winnable reach, Tomlin did what Tomlin always does — PUNT!
There are times to take the conservative approach in the NFL. When facing Bill Belichick — a brilliant coaching mind, yet allows his insecurity to condone continued cheating (see Antonio Brown scenario) — and quarterback Tom Brady, such is not the time. At the start of the game Belichick saw the Steelers were actually stopping the offense. He reached into his gadget play book and dusted off the double pass. It was definitely a ‘snatch this pebble from my hand’ Kung Fu moment.
Only the hapless showing by the next Super Bowl champion Browns (tongue-in-cheek reference really not necessary) and the ‘Dismal Dolphins’ output against Baltimore will place the the Bizarro play of the Steelers as the 3rd worst NFL performance of Week 1.