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Well well. My computer picked an awful bad week to just decide to crap out. Every team I talk about had at least one game. So I’m just going to run down my current thoughts on each, and then I can move forward like nothing happened. Sound good? Alright. Let’s go.
I’ll lead off with ‘dem Stillers cuz I know that’s what yinz guys like to hear about. Unless you’ve been under a rock, you know that the world is ending for the Steelers. We’ve lost 3 in a row for the first time in years. We’ve got our quarterback and star receiver arguing. We’re on the verge of missing out on the playoffs. There is no doubt that the world is going to end tomorrow. So. Now that you’re caught up, how do we save the world (or just the Steelers)? Well, first things first. How do we get everyone to just get along? I mean its bad enough that the Bengals took our division lead…did they have to give us their drama on the way? C’mon! For those that aren’t in Pittsburgh and/or haven’t been paying attention, Hines Ward said in an interview that he’s played hurt and insinuated that Ben should too. Ben allegedly went through the locker room saying ‘good luck without me guys’ in a sarcastic tone. That’s a very high level recap, but the actual details don’t matter. What matters is what happens on the field. How do we cut this beef between Ben and Hines up, grill it up and eat it so that we can play better? Well, the short answer is win. There is no drama in a winning locker room because there is no blame in a winning locker room. The long answer is that Ben and Hines need to sit down and talk about this. It was an obvious misunderstanding. Both were frustrated at the time of their incidents. In fact, I’m fairly sure that they’ve already talked (being that they’re grown men and this is an obvious step to take for two people striving towards a common goal). So, in short, I’m not worried and you shouldn’t be either. So with that cleared up, what is wrong with this team on the field? Well, besides the obvious injuries I mean. The defense seems to be giving up a lot more ground (especially in the fourth quarter) than they ever have before. I’m just stumped as to why. It could be because they’re getting old and tired at the end of games. It could be because we really miss Troy. My personal guess is that it’s the cornerbacks. These have been come from behind fourth quarter wins in the past 3 weeks. That means the other team has been throwing a lot. If a team is most successful coming back in the 4th because they’re throwing, and we usually step up our blitz when we’re ahead, the only thing left is the corners that need to step up. Maybe if they just jam their receivers a bit more at the line to buy some time it would help. But I really don’t know. That’s just a guess. The special teams has also been awful. If it’s not a kickoff being returned for a touchdown, it was awful punt coverage against Baltimore. We just can’t win. But, unfortunately, you can’t do much with special teams beside get guys in who really want to be there. The one thing you can’t say much about is the offense. They’ve been fine. The loss of Ben hurt last week, but hey, it happens. We’re much more balanced lately which I love. So, in conclusion, the secondary will hopefully improve with Troy coming back soon which I hope will shore up the defense, the offense looks good already, and we just have to cross our fingers and hope the special teams don’t cost us too many games. Oakland comes into town next week, so that should be a great opportunity to get back on track (though I said the same thing about Kansas City a couple of weeks ago. Gulp).
Hmmm……well that was a fairly depressing recap I just finished, and it isn’t going to get much better here. The loss to WVU was ugly. We didn’t just play poorly. WVU played poorly and we played even worse. I hate to say it, but this one goes on Billy Stull. Now, as Mike Tomlin would say: ‘he’s got some money in my emotional bank account’, so I’m going to dismiss this as one bad game and not get on him too bad. However, he played awful and he’d admit it. He was overthrowing and underthrowing everybody. It makes me wonder if he just gets tired at the end of a season (remember: he was alright leading up to the Rutgers game last year, though not as good as this season). His inability to pass made us completely one-dimensional. That will lose you a game every time. Now, usually, when a quarterback is struggling, he’ll go with a lot of dump-offs. Just to get back in a rhythm. I saw a couple of passes to Dickerson (which he dropped. He also had a terrible game). But I only saw 2 passes to Dion Lewis. You’ve got to dump off to him a bit more in that situation just to get some completions. It seemed like he was chucking it to Baldwin every time. I understand that Baldwin probably had a mismatch, but you can’t keep trying something that doesn’t work (well, it finally did in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t worth the total effort and wasted downs). But, lucky for us, this game didn’t matter. We still win the Big East with a win on Saturday. And no matter what people will tell you, there was no way the Gator Bowl was taking us even if we won. Especially with Bowden crying for one last gasp of attention (he wants to play his last bowl game in Florida and furthermore against WVU if he can because he used to coach there). This loss probably just dropped us from Charlotte to Birmingham/Toronto if we lose on Saturday. So crappy bowl to crappier bowl. Hmmm….. Not that big of a loss. But this is still a huge game on Saturday. Who would have thought that the River City Rivalry would ever mean anything?
The Pens have been the most busy of any team. Since I last left you, they’ve gone 3-1 including a home and home sweep of the Rangers. Now that we’ve got some guys returning from injury we’re really playing at a high level. Sid really seems to be on a role, but I think that may have more to do with the Rangers opening the ice to the coast to coast game that he really excels at. The power play is still my biggest concern, by far. I have no idea why this team struggles so much, except to say that we look for the perfect shot way to much. The power play is a time for decent shots, not great shots. But, overall, you have to be pleased with the play of this team. Overlooking a hickup on Long Island, we’ve really been controlling the puck well and doing an excellent job being physical and checking teams. It’s a return to that great play we started the season off with, and I’m going to run out of ways to say ‘we’re awesome’ before too long. But Colorado will be a tough test on Thursday.
Pitt only had one game over the long weekend: a fairly easy one against Youngstown State. The game story was that it was a close game for the first 30 minutes before Pitt finally out-lasted them in the final 10. I think the general assumption is that we had superior depth compared to YSU, and that’s what eventually won us the game. I noticed something, but I haven’t read it in any recaps yet, so here it goes: we finally figured out their zone with about 10 minutes left and that’s what lead to the turnaround. YSU played a classic 2-3 zone from start to finish. It was fairly obvious that Coach Dixon thought it was very slow on the rotation. He was having the team do a lot of perimeter passing trying to pass the ball faster than the defense could react. Either it will open up an open 3-point shot or it will open up a lane to pass the ball into the post. Well, the defense was slow to rotate alright, but when we saw the open space we didn’t take the jumper, our eyes light up and we drove the lane…..right into the teeth of the defense. We had a ton of turnovers that way. The only reason we stayed in the game was that Youngstown had a horrible offense and absolutely no frontcourt presence. We also crushed them on the glass which didn’t hurt. With about 10 minutes left, we finally started to attack the zone the right way and take what the defense gave us. It was like the light bulb finally went on that ‘Hey! Coach Dixon might know what he’s talking about. Maybe we should try his advice’. And, what do you know? It worked. I hope that’s the last of our struggles against the 2-3 zone, because as I said before, that’s something we’ll see a lot this year. Duquesne is up next in the city game and the last college b-ball game in the Mellon Civic Arena. I think this will be a really hard test for Pitt. Much harder than most people think. I wouldn’t even be surprised to come out with a loss in this one. But I sure hope I’m wrong.
….still suck. Actually, they signed some guys this week, but no one of consequence. We’re going to trot out a AAA team again next year.