Well, it’s been quite a while since I got off my duff and wrote a post, and every team I follow had at least one game. So to get on with things quickly, here are some thoughts I’ve had on each.
Well, the hail mary pass to end the season was complete so to speak. We won each of the last 3 games and held up our end of the bargain. But, alas, the hole we dug was just a little bit too deep and there’s no one to look at but the man in the mirror. When you lose to Oakland, Kansas City and Cleveland in the same season there’s no way you deserve to be in the postseason. So the attention turns to just what went wrong and how do we move forward?
Well, what went wrong was fairly obvious. You can blame the offense for their red zone failures this year, but we had a fourth quarter lead in almost every single game. To me, its obvious that the finger should get pointed squarely at the defense. Not just the defense, but the secondary. I’ve said this in prior posts, but the biggest reason we lost so many games this year is that when we had a lead in the fourth quarter, teams were forced to throw on us and many of them had a lot of success. Now, that’s not to say to say that the offense is blameless. As previously mentioned, the red zone numbers for this team are ugly, and that doesn’t bode well for the future of the team. I’d say that the main reason for this is the lack of a run game. When you get in the red zone, there’s less room to work with, and it’s much easier for a team to cover you in a passing play. I’ve said this as well in previous posts: the Steelers second biggest problem is the lack of balance in the offense. Mendenhall has been pretty good, but we need to use him a lot more than we are. And the only way we can do that is to get some 3 or 4 yard runs with consistency. Right now its pretty much 20 yards or -2 yards. That won’t work.
So what needs to be done in the offseason? Well, first and foremost, we need to decide on which free agents to keep. We have a lot of them: Ryan Clark, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Justin Hartwig, Jeff Reed, Willie Colon and Willie Parker are the big ones. Besides Willie Parker being an obvious release, you’ve got a lot of tough decisions. Whomever is left will decide where we then go in the draft. I’m not an expert on these kinds of things. I haven’t the foggiest clue what the money or cap hit or anything will be. I’ll leave that up to the Steelers. What I will say is that for us to be a better team when we take the field next year, it will have to be a great effort by the front office. We’re also going to have to revamp the secondary. Not to be a pessimist, but things are not looking good for the Steelers as a franchise right now.
Well, as opposed to the Steelers disappointment right now, the Pitt hoops team has been a very pleasant surprise. DePaul at home was expected, but road wins against Syracuse and Cincinnati were big upsets and will look very nice come March. All year I’ve been talking about how this team needs to keep improving and that has continued. You see a lot less turnovers and the defensive lapses are becoming much more rare. We’re also being much stronger with rebounds. Those kinds of little things are what’s making this team play at a higher level (not to mention the return of some seniors). Now, the big complaint I’ve had with this team is the interior scoring. We’ve got no one who can post up. Well you only saw it a little bit against Syracuse and Cincinnati, but Taylor and McGhee made a few moves down low. They weren’t very good moves, and they didn’t score on any of them, but I’m encouraged that they’re trying. Also, once again, I’m not talking about the wide open dunks and layups off rebounds. I’m talking starting with your back to the basket and making a move. They at least showed the potential so that maybe the guards will start backing off the perimeter a bit which will open things up for our backcourt. I’d like to see them try some more. Taylor especially has shown a lot of improvement. He’s getting much stronger around the hoop, but he can still be even more aggressive. Especially when he has the ball. I haven’t seen any kind of hunger out of him yet. When he shows some aggression down in the paint, he’ll be a phenomenal player. I hear he’s on the verge of taking Gary McGhee in the depth chart. I couldn’t agree more. Especially because he’s got a much higher ceiling. Gary’s just not a smart player at all, and he can’t seem to hold on to the ball. I don’t see that changing at all. He showed some flashes against some weaker opponents, but now that we’re picking on some teams that are our own size he’s disappeared again, and worse yet become a liability in a lot of cases. Going into the season, I said that if Gary was a major contributor, we would be in trouble. He’s done nothing to quell my fears. If you look at the past two games, we’ve won because we can score a lot easier than we’ve been able to at any other point in the season. That’s because we have multiple guards who can shoot and drive the lane. Well, that’s fine. But I’m scared of the time when more than one of them has an off night. Or when a team doesn’t shoot 7% from beyond the arc like Syracuse. But, overall, you have to be pleased with the progress of this team. If we can continue this curve for the rest of the season we’ll be in fine shape.
It’s been a big disappointment for the Penguins of late as well. They tore off a 4 game losing streak complete with a pair of collapses and loses to inferior teams like Toronto, Tampa Bay and Florida. The other loss was to New Jersey which is understandable. I think it’s definitely reason to worry a bit, but you have to keep the long season in perspective. The good news is that this is a long season, and just tonight we ended the losing streak against Atlanta. The bad news is that it took the worst team in the NHL to break the streak and the style of the losses is troubling. Besides the choke jobs, there are some other troubling patterns that are shaping up. This team is getting smoked in the puck possession battle. That’s because of two main reasons. First of all, a lot of teams have noticed that we’re weak against the trapping defenses. Now, the trap isn’t something you can implement overnight, but I’ve noticed a lot more pressure at the blue line in the past 5 games or so. More troubling is that we’re still trying to dance into the zone and take too much on the individual. We’re not learning. It’s creating a lot of turnovers before we even get a chance to set up a play. Second of all, and probably more troubling, we’re getting out-hustled. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but it seems like we’re getting beat to loose pucks more now than we ever have before. Just a lot of mental errors. It’s very troubling, but it can be easily corrected. Not by the coaching staff, but by individuals taking it upon themselves. Maybe it’s just me that’s seeing this. Maybe a lot of guys are looking forward to Vancouver, but that’s got to stop. But, like I said before, it’s a little 4 game stretch. In the course of a season, that’s nothing. It’s not time to panic yet.