Neil O'Donnell is a Disciple from Hell...
By Tim McMillen
Maybe Al Davis used black magic to conjure O'Donnell from the depths of hell. Why not? Davis hates the Steelers as much as anybody, and it's the only explanation I can come up with for the events at Cinergy field today.
Certainly, no single player in history has inflicted as much woe upon Steelers fans as Neil O'Donnell. The majority of the damage was done when Neil wore the black & gold. Watching the Lombardi Trophy handed to Dallas via two gift interceptions thrown by Neil will haunt most Pittsburgh fans until we die. O'Donnell's embarrassingly good performance today against the Steelers just adds insult to injury.
Give credit to Neil. He did what was necessary to win (and then some). Carl Pickens had a helluvalot to do with it, but Neil got the ball there. There were several passes that were just put up for grabs, but when you have receivers that can go get the ball, those kind of passes aren't dumb throws. Quite the contrary. The 4th & 12 pass late in the game was one such throw. Neil just put the ball up and hoped for the best. As was the case all day, the best is what he got.
But Neil had a lot of help from the Steelers as well. Certainly, the game turned on Huntley's drive-ending fumble deep in Bengal territory late in the 2nd quarter. Instead of trailing 17-3 (or at the very least, 13-3), the Bengals were able to capitalize on the turnover and trail only 10-9 at the half. Fumbles happen... they're part of the game, and Huntley later atoned for his miscue. The Bengals' real victory was scored on the play before Huntley's fumble when Bettis was sidelined for the game with a slight knee sprain.
Back to that TD... my wife spent much of the afternoon saying, "Who in the hell is #23???" Turns out that #23 (who was burned for the TD pass to Scott before halftime) is rookie CB Jason Simmons. Not to second-guess, but shouldn't a rookie CB have some help back there? I question a defensive strategy that left DBs in single coverage all afternoon considering they were getting toasted pretty routinely (including Lake and Washington).
Then again, I'm not expecting any calls from the front office offering me a coaching position, so what do I know?
If I'm going to affix blame to anyone (and I am), my finger is pointed squarely at Bill Cowher for this one. There are obvoius reasons. And then there are less obvious reasons.
The most glaringly bad call was Cowher's decision to go for it on 4th & 2 from the Bengal 40 late in the 3rd quarter. The Steelers were leading 17-12 at the time, and a Josh Miller punt could've pinned the Bengals deep in their own territory (Miller leads the league in punts downed inside the 10). Instead, Cowher called a very vanilla Huntley run right up the gut... an adequate call on 4th & inches, perhaps, but NOT on 4th & 2. In my mind, the game truly turned on this failed conversion. The Bengals took an 18-17 lead moments later on another O'Donnell pass to Scott (this time over Carnell Lake).
Another poor decision was another all-out blitz on that fateful 4th & 12. Why??? O'Donnell/Pickens/Scott had been scorching single coverage all day, while more conservative coverages had seemed to consistantly force Neil into short dump-off passes. Yet... here came the blitz, and the corresponding huge reception by Pickens for Cinci. In my mind, the game was won on that shot-in-the-dark pass by O'Donnell. I think the shock of the play set up the eventual trick play for the TD... the Steelers never did stop shaking their heads & regroup.
I won't even bother to dissect that final TD to Pickens... it's simply too painful.
The less obvious (but no less costly) coaching failure was on the constant penalties on kick returns. I didn't keep track, but at least 5 or 6 kick/punt returns were called back due to holding penalties. This is a problem a coach MUST solve immediately! Cowher didn't. When you have a struggling offense, its generally not wise to continually back them up and extra 10-15-20 yards to start drives, eh?
Anyway, there's my two cents. I feel like Ross Perot... pointing out problems, but offering no solutions. One bright spot: Kordell's running was electrifying, and his passing was the sharpest I've seen it all year. If nothing else, his confidence had to take a huge leap today. Good thing... who knows what other voodoo Al Davis might have lurking out there for us?
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