Steelers look to reverse habit of squandering 4th-quarter leads
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.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.