By Matthew Marczi
Following one of the worst defensive efforts in franchise history, the subject of ‘effort’ was suddenly a hot topic in and around Pittsburgh.
In fact, coaxed by the local media in the moments immediately following the emotional loss, head coach Mike Tomlin even allowed himself to get sucked into the narrative that the only answer to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ problems must have been a lack of effort, and he promised that those responsible would be held accountable.
The following morning, the stories were published about how the 55-31 blowout at the hands of the New England Patriots was symptomatic of a team that had already been defeated in spirit and motivation before actually losing the game.
Meanwhile, those who spent the following hours and days combing through the aftermath of the loss seemed to collectively determine that, while a veritable smorgasbord of ailments helped contribute to the 55-point defensive effort, a sheer lack of ‘want-to’, as Brett Keisel would say, was not on the menu, nor on the film.
Questioning the effort of a team in the throes of defeat is the most convenient narrative to describe what went wrong. It is an amateur’s diagnosis for a problem that is quite clearly manifold and complex.
As noted by Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, via Twitter, there may have been some plays throughout the evening, particularly late in the game, that initially appeared symptomatic of quitting. Kaboly in particular, and astutely, points to the late-game scores, namely Aaron Dobson’s 81-yard touchdown reception and, later, the score from five yards out by LeGarrette Blount.
Initial impressions might say that these were plays allowed by a team that stopped caring a couple scores back, but that is far from the case. If anything, they are typical of what happens when a team tries too hard to make something happen.
In the first instance, Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark were both caught selling out on the run. Blount had just burned them for 12 yards on the first play of the drive, and the defense was getting gashed on the ground all night. So when they saw run formation, they thought they might cheat up and get a jump on the play.
Instead, the rookie receiver wisely observed the way the secondary was playing him, and before long, he was waving his arm in the air frantically, indicating to his quarterback that, if you can hit me, we’ve got a home run over my way, and so it was. Not for a lack of trying.
It was at this point that many began to wonder whether it was time for the coach himself to quit and call for his quarterback to hit the showers, including the media that had just asked him about his team quitting, as Bob Labriola poignantly discussed yesterday.
The Steelers did not fold then, however. Steve McLendon didn’t give up either, even when Ziggy Hood had Blount in his grasp at the cusp of the goal line. He so wanted to help bring Blount down that he tried to get in on the tackle around his fellow defensive lineman. Only in the process, he knocked Hood off the tackle, as well as himself in the process, which left Blount catapulting into the end zone from the sudden lack of resistance.
Chances are that is not what the play looked like when it happened live. And if you never bother to go back and watch to see what exactly happened, you were probably left with the impression that these players had given up. And that is perfectly fine for Joe Sports Fan, who has no obligations.
Professional sports writers, on the other hand, ought to show more discretion in their work, rather than simply echo the sentiments that Joe Sports Fan is hoping to hear echoed in the Monday morning sports page.
Whether a deliberate appeal to gain favor with a frustrated audience or not, simply throwing up one’s hands and blaming everything is the simplistic angle made equally for easy consumption as well as easy construction.
If your angle is to tell the readers that their team gave up, that they lacked effort, then show them your own effort. Explain how and where and when somebody gave up, and what it led to.
If you’re not willing to do that, then pick another angle.