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Steelers Looking for Answers in Short Yardage Situations



One of the most legendary moments in football movie history is in the 1999 film Any Given Sunday, when coach Tony D’Amato, played by Al Pacino, delivers a passionate speech to his team before a playoff game.

“Life is this game of inches,” D’Amato says. “So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small. One half a step too late or too early and you don’t quite make it. One half-second too slow or too fast, you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second.”

The full speech, which contains some profanity, is below.

The Steelers could have used some of those inches on Monday evening against Washington. Two critical short-yardage situations did not go Pittsburgh’s way in what became a six-point upset loss.

The Steelers had five tries from the Washington 1-yard line in the second quarter, with Benny Snell stuffed on three rush attempts and Ben Roethlisberger passes to Snell and eligible tackle Jerald Hawkins falling incomplete.

Later in the game, the Steelers needed one yard to continue what could have been a game-winning drive with less than five minutes to play and the game tied with the football at the Washington 28-yard line.

Roethlisberger attempted a short pass to the right that was out of the reach of JuJu Smith-Schuster on third down and his fourth-down pass to rookie running back Anthony McFarland Jr. was slightly off the mark, going off one of McFarland’s hands before it hit the turf.

That’s seven plays where the Steelers needed at most one yard. Any one conversion would have been the difference between a win and loss to Washington, but the Steelers couldn’t come up with one.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin might not be delivering D’Amato’s “inches” speech in the Pittsburgh locker room this week, but he made it clear that he ascribes to a similar philosophy.

“I live by the coaching creed that if you can’t get a yard, you don’t deserve to win,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “That was the case for us in this game. We had several sequences where we had an opportunity if we gained a yard it was significant in terms of the development of the outcome of the game, but we were unsuccessful. …

“If you can’t get a yard in our game, you don’t deserve to win. That’s the nuts and bolts elements of football, the physicality element of football. We didn’t meet that challenge, so we have some work to do in that area.”

The Steelers have had some success in short-yardage situations this season, but have been a mixed bag as of late.

Against the Ravens in Week 12, the Steelers were 2 for 3 on 1-yard-to-go scenarios with Roethlisberger intercepted in the end zone by Baltimore linebacker Tyus Battle, but completing a one-yard touchdown pass to Smith-Schuster later in the game. Snell was able to convert a 3rd and 1 on the ground to provide a game-winning first down late.

At Jacksonville in Week 11, Pittsburgh was 4 for 4. Snell scored a 1-yard touchdown, ran for 2 yards on a 3rd and 1, James Conner ran for 17 on a 4th and 1 and Roethlisberger hit Eric Ebron for nine yards on a 3rd and 1.

In the two weeks before that, the Steelers were 1 for 5. Against the Bengals, Roethlisberger unable to connect with Ebron on a 3rd and 1. At Dallas, Conner ran for 2 yards on a 3rd and 1, but McFarland and Snell were both stopped on back-to-back rush attempts and Conner lost 4 yards on a 4th and 1 that would have secured the win, instead forcing the defense to make a last-second stop.

“The big thing for us is to examine why and get back to the lab and recapture some of the rhythm that we’ve had in those situational moments throughout the year,” Tomlin said. “There have been times during the year where we haven’t run the ball as good as we would like, but even in the midst of those in situational moments, we have been solid. We weren’t in our last performance, and we have to own that.”

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