The Steelers play scared
I alluded to this in another thread and want to expound on the point.
Anyway, the Steelers play scared football on both sides of the ball. This has been going on since Cowher and Tomlin has carried the torch.
On offense, get any kind of lead and they pull the plug on offense and go into kill the clock mode. Even when they don't, they play to run and control the clock.
On defense, it's contain, keep everything in front of you, tackle the catch. How many times did we see an opponent pinned inside the five only to turn field position around? Thad Freaking Lewis did it with the Browns in the finale.
The result is a defense that doesn't get sacks or turnovers, which kill drives and set up good field position, and an offense that seems to max out at around 24 points on their best days.
That means every Sunday, no matter the opponent, the game will be in reach in the 4th quarter. In close games, a play or two here or there turns them. Enough of them turn the wrong way, and you're 8-8 instead of 12-4.
This philosophy emanates from the head coach down to the players. With Cowher it was "there's a fine line between winning and losing". With Tomlin, you "have to make significant plays at significant times". He said after the season that the reason dominant teams are dominant is because they find a way to win close games, and the Steelers couldn't do that this year.
A little research found that claim to be bogus. The Steelers won a grand total of 3 games by more than one score, i.e. 9 or more points, none by more than 17. The top three playoff seeds in each conference won no less than 6, some won 9 or 10, often times by 20 or more. They don't pucker up hoping to run out the clock in the 2nd half, they continue to attack and bury teams.
Maybe next year the breaks will go our way and we'll win those close games, but if they don't, Tomlin may be on a very short leash in 2014.