The most difficult time to throw the ball in an NFL game is on third down after two failed running plays have informed the defense that you're not going to run again. When Roethlisberger gets loose, he can sometimes do it. But in Detroit, Cowher never let him get loose.
From the start, if Cowher had him passing at all, Roethlisberger was asked to throw to Steelers downfield in a region infested with defensive backs. And in the upshot, Roethlisberger, admittedly tight as the game started, threw high, low or wild. Then Cowher, unmindful that he was himself to blame, said, ``We have to settle our quarterback down.''
So This Was the Steelers' Worst Game
ONE WAY to look at the 40th Super Bowl, in a series that began long ago in Los Angeles, is to note that the Steelers were so much the better team that when they played their worst game in many months, they couldn't even give it away.
The snake-bitten Seattle Seahawks simply wouldn't take it. Even after moving inside the Pittsburgh 10-yard line on a 97-yard drive --- which would have put them ahead in the fourth quarter --- the Seahawks wouldn't take it.
There they made a typical Seahawk blunder, typical of a day when they were ill-prepared by their coaches. This one was a holding penalty --- in the wide open, where the well-disciplined Steelers are rarely caught --- leading to an interception. And an instant later, the Seahawks, instead of being in charge, were irretrievably out of the game, 21-10.
Pittsburgh Wins Predictably with Trick Play
THE STEELER PLAY that won it, getting rid of the Seahawks once for all, was a routine example of the kind of trick play that no other NFL team executes so well or calls so opportunely. This one was a pass from one Steeler wide receiver to another --- from Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward.
Randle El, on a reverse, faked both run and pass on that play --- as if he were out on a halfback run-or-pass, football's most difficult play to stop --- then threw it like a quarterback, which he was in college, at Indiana.
Although the Steelers didn't play their game in Detroit, the Randle El pass was one of three plays that showed their immense talent advantage over the Seahawks. It's likely that there aren't three athletes on any NFC team who could have made those plays.
To begin with, Roethlisberger lofted a long cross-field pass to Hines Ward at the Seattle three-yard line --- on an incredible third-and-28 rollout play --- which required Big Ben to keep looking at his feet instead of at Ward. Careful not to cross the scrimmage line, he stepped back and let the ball fly at the last possible instant. The play sustained a 59-yard drive, the Steelers' only drive of a 7-3 first half. If no other quarterback has the skill and cool audacity to throw such a pass, no other passer is athletic enough to have scored on Roethlisberger's subsequent one-yard, diving rollout.
Pittsburgh's' second big play came on the Steelers' only effective drive of the second half, and the quickest. On first down after the second-half kickoff, they threw, a rarity for them in Detroit, throwing incomplete. On second and 10, a passing down, they lined up in a spread-out passing formation, then slipped a handoff to tailback Willie Parker, the NFL's fastest man, who raced 75 yards up the middle to score their second touchdown in what was now a 14-3 game.
It was as easy as it looked and as it sounds because the formation used to get the Parker touchdown is the best one in football, the best for either running or passing. If the Steelers had used it as their basic formation, and passed as often as they ran, they'd have produced 40 or 50 points every Sunday this season and stomped on Seattle.
The formation has three wide receivers and a tight end --- or four receivers altogether along the line of scrimmage at all times --- plus one running back. To meet the many passing threats, Seattle had to take out a big linebacker and add a fifth defensive back a smaller athlete. At the same time, Pittsburgh, as it always does in this formation, went without the encumbrance of a blocking back to get in Parker's way. Hence, with Parker's first step, he had clear sailing ahead to the faraway goal line.
Third and chronologically last, Randle El's perfectly placed pass to Ward for a 43-yard touchdown scored Pittsburgh's final seven points and put a 21-10 game out of reach of a team like Seattle, which lacks the quick-strike talent to effectively retaliate.
Steeler Edge Visible in Talent, Not Statistics
Many sports fans in their pre-game assessments had given Seattle a chance. Many had even picked Seattle. But that was because they were paying attention to the statistics run up by the two teams this season against opponents of drastically different quality.
The Seahawks played in the mediocre NFC, the Steelers in the powerful AFC, which has seven or eight teams that might have been favored over Seattle. Among them are New England, Indianapolis, Denver, Cincinnati, Kansas City, San Diego, Pittsburgh, and possibly Jacksonville.
Statisticians have noted that apples and oranges can't be compared. Nor, statistically, can football teams be compared when their statistics are generated in very different schedules. Thus, the Steelers' advantage couldn't be seen in the statistics --- in the bare numbers --- but only through an appreciation of their great advantage in talent.
The Steelers are so good --- stocked with runners and blockers, with passers and receivers, with run-stuffers and blitzers --- that they could overcome their coach's reversion to prehistoric football. Caveman Bill couldn't lose, though he tried.
Bob Oates is at email@example.com Previous columns: latimes.com/oates