It’s a play that continues to live in Steelers’ infamy, mostly because that play and too many plays like it continue to torture the Steelers.
Remember Jan. 10, 2021?
Remember Browns 48, Steelers 37?
Remember third-and-2 from the Cleveland 28-yard line with 14:24 left?
How could we forget …
The Steelers had fallen behind 28-0 and 35-7 but were threatening to make a game of it in their AFC Wild Card hosting of Cleveland.
Three snaps into the fourth quarter it was 35-23 and the Steelers were a third-down stop away from getting the ball back and potentially making it a one-score game.
But on third-and-2 the Browns went with three tight ends in the huddle, then emptied the backfield and spread the field at the line of scrimmage.
The Steelers had their run defenders deployed against a heavy formation in anticipation of a run.
They wound up with inside linebacker Robert Spillane on wide receiver Jarvis Landry in the slot.
Landry ran a route just past the line of scrimmage, left Spillane in the dust, caught a short pass without a hint of coverage and wound up gaining 17 yards.
Three snaps after that the Browns were in the end zone again and the route was on again.
It’s gone that way more often than not since Ryan Shazier suffered a career-ending injury in 2017.
Steelers inside linebackers have been consistently exploited ever since in the passing game.
That explains why there’s been a revolving door at the position ever since the Steelers lost Shazier.
The latest perceived answer, free agent-addition Cole Holcomb, didn’t arrive wearing an inside linebacker cape.
But Holcomb maintains he can play the game, including handling his coverage responsibilities in the passing game, even in those inevitable instances when the matchup on a given snap screams “advantage offense.”
“Yeah, I’ve been in plenty of positions like that,” Holcomb maintained on Thursday during his introductory Zoom session with the Pittsburgh media. “Playing at Washington, there were times where I was covering (Philadelphia wide receiver) Quez Watkins.
“At the ‘Mike’ (middle) spot, (offenses) like attacking the ‘Mike.’ They get in that 3-by-1, they put that slot receiver there and let him run his little option route, so I’ve had plenty of experience doing that. I’ve had plenty of experience playing a lot of man (-to-man coverage) on tight ends.
“My time at Washington, I’ve kinda seen, I’ve gone against everything. I’ve seen everything in terms of being in a mismatch, how to handle those situations. I think it’s something I can excel at. It doesn’t have to necessarily be, ‘Oh, are we worried about this happening?’ No, we can live through the down and move on to the next play.”
It hasn’t been that way as Jonathan Bostic, Devin Bush (post injury), Mark Barron, Robert Spillane, Avery Williamson (as an in-season, desperation injury fill-in), Joe Schobert and Myles Jack have gone in and out of that revolving door.
“I got a lot of experience (with Washington) playing different positions,” Holcomb continued. “I spent two years having the ‘call’ helmet (the green dot helmet, the one that communicates with the coaches). I played ‘Mike, Will, Sam.’ I feel like my position flexibility, it allows other players to play to their strengths, so I can help out our teammates the best way I can.
“If it’s in a different position this week, different position next week, I’ve done that before. That position flexibility is one of my strengths. I feel like I can help the organization in whatever way they need me to.”
The Steelers don’t need Holcomb to be a middle, strong-side and weak-side linebacker all at once.
It’ll be more than enough if he can once and for all stop the bleeding at ILB.