Tag Archives: Steelers

Big ‘Ole Catch Up

image from itomsbykids.com

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.

Steelers

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.

Pitt Basketball

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.

Penguins

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.

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Huge Recap

image from sspreowned.com

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.

Steelers

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).

Pitt Football

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?

Penguins

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 Basketball

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.

Pirates

….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.

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Steelers 24 Chiefs 27 (OT)

 

image from espn.com

 

Game Recap

First of all (and I can not stress this enough), do NOT use one of Pittsburgh’s many bridges to jump off of.  It’s not worth it.  Ok?  Seriously.  There.  Now that we have that out of the way, let’s pick our jaws up off the ground and examine how in the world this game just happened.

This game confused me.  We seemed to be handling them pretty well, but the scoreboard doesn’t agree.  So what happened?  Well, in times like that I always check the box score first to see if my perception of the game is correct.  We out-gained them 515-282, had way more first downs (27-13), had more rushing yards, more passing yards.  I’d say we thoroughly outplayed them.  So why did we lose?  Well, when the scoreboard doesn’t match the boxscore, you know it was the consequence of big plays.  That’s absolutely the case here.  The kick return for a touchdown.  The interception in the endzone that was almost returned for 6, the long pass to Chambers that set up KC’s last touchdown, the 61 yard pass to Chambers to set up the winning field goal.  These were all massively big plays that went KC’s way.  That’s how you lose games that you should win.  A majority of those plays were just a lack of focus for by one player for one play, and that’s all it takes.  You hate to see that, but sometimes you just can’t come up with more winning plays.  All you can do is work hard, and generally the plays will start going your way.  Hopefully this is the kick in the pants we needed to get back on track and focus again.  We’ve got the talent to do some great things this year.  I’m not sure how much of the desire we’ve got.

The other major news besides the loss was the injury to Ben.  He went down with a blow to the head towards the end of regulation, and didn’t return.  This would be a huge blow to the team.  We’ve already got an up hill climb to make the playoffs, and losing Roethelisberger would make it even more difficult.  Especially since we’re already dealing with some other injuries (you think we couldn’t have used Troy today?).  As of now, the Steelers are saying that Ben’s injury is ‘concussion oriented’ to which my response in ‘no crap oriented’.  But I’ll be keeping an eye on it as I’m sure you will too.  Yet another way in which bad luck has smiled upon us.

Overall, I don’t think this is something to get too upset over.  We outplayed Kansas City by a mile.  We deserved that game.  But, with a few big plays, the Chiefs pulled it out.  It happens.  That’s why they say anyone can win on any given Sunday.  Now, I’m very upset with another kickoff return.  I have a feeling that more than just players heads will roll at the end of the season because of it.  But that’s different.  It’s a sustained problem that isn’t being fixed.  The rest of it, however, is dumb luck over one week.  If we come out and play like we did today (with Big Ben hopefully in the lineup), we’ll be fine.  As I said before, we’ve got an uphill climb to the playoffs, but we can take a giant step towards that goal by beating Baltimore next weekend.

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Steelers 38 Chargers 28

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Game Recap

Wow.  I guess the one thing you can take away from this game is that no lead is safe for the Steelers.  Not even a 4 touchdown one.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  I guess the best way to attack this is to take it one score at a time.  The drive for San Diego’s first touchdown was long and drawn out.  It was filled with lots of short passes and drop-offs.  It also had a 3rd and 8 and a 3rd and 15 that were both converted.  3rd and long has to be a death sentence.  You can’t give up 2 in one drive.  The second score was a fluke “fumble” by Stephan Logan.  I have fumble in quotes because it was ripped out of his hands, he didn’t drop it.  He’s gatta go down when 3 guys have him.  He’s not big enough to power for yards.  The third score was again an attack on our secondary.  4 passes and a score.  Same story on the fourth score.  4 passes (including one interference call) and a score.  On those two drives, Phillip Rivers was 7 for 7 (8 for 8 if you include the interference) with 2 touchdowns.  That’s terrible for our secondary.  It wasn’t because of missed tackles like Pitt.  It was because of blown coverage and bad defensive calls.  We really miss Troy back there.

But defense was not the only story in this game.  The offense had a resurgence due to the coming out party for Rashard Mendenhall.  He had a heck of a day.  165 yards and 2 touchdowns is incredible.  He showed some good vision and really hit the juke button a lot.  However, I did notice something that worried me.  As soon as he got the ball he was sprinting.  Now, I’ve heard that this is what made him successful as opposed to Willie.  If the line only has to make a hole for a split second it’s much easier on them.  I take the opposite view.  You have to wait for your blocks to develop, and then you hit a hole full speed.  But ask any running back: patience is a virtue.  Those holes might not be there every game, and then you’re just running into the backsides of your line.  If our line isn’t as dominant (or, more likely, San Diego’s defensive front doesn’t have a terrible effort), he goes nowhere.

Speaking of that line, they finally had a tremendous game.  But you have to take into account the competition.  Like I said, with the exception of Shawne Merriman, I’m not at all impressed with San Diego’s defensive front 7.   I’d like to see this again with some better competition before I make any sweeping statements, but I have to give them credit.  San Diego is still an NFL team, and dominating them like that at the line is a huge step up for us, and I like the prospects.  We were also making a lot of 3rd and shorts thanks to the hogs up front.  That’s the football I like.

Overall, you have to love this performance save about 20 minutes by the defense.  I think it might have been worse had the offense not kept the ball away from the Chargers as much.  We won the possession battle 40:20 to 19:40.  That’s San Diego football, though.  Try to out-score you.  They can’t do that without the ball.  So, I’ll take the win and look ahead to a little bit of a breather in the schedule.  We have Detroit and Cleveland coming up, and Troy will be back by the end of those two weeks.  Hopefully that’s a cure-all.  But I doubt it.

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Steelers 20 Bengals 23

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Game Recap

Oh, man.  A two game losing streak.  EVERYBODY PANIC!!!  That’s the impression I get around town, at least.  In truth, we lost two games by a combined 6 points.  That’s not a reason to push the panic button quite yet.  However, there are some developing trends that are quite disturbing on this team.  So lets give those a quick run-down.

Just like Pitt, everybody on the team deserves some blame from the head coach down to the kicker.  The offense is always the easiest thing to pick apart, however.  So lets start there.  We had a rookie as our leading receiver.  That doesn’t say much about this passing game we’re relying on the past couple of years.  Santonio and Limas Sweed just had awful games.  Both had some pretty bad drops, but none were worse than Sweed’s in the end zone.  Santonio has shown enough consistency to dismiss this bad game.  Limas has not.  I think he just cost himself a job.  The run game has shown some signs of life, but its still in critical condition.  Willie is still struggling, and our backup was suspended for the game because of some mistakes in practice.  That’s not a good situation.  I think the blocking situation has reached critical mass as evidenced by the fact that the Steelers signed a ‘fullback’ out of free agency.  If by fullback you mean former Steeler running back Carey Davis.  They already tried this with Frank Summers.  It doesn’t work.  I don’t know if they’re trying to save a roster spot by bringing in a fullback who can double as a 4th string running back or something, but it’s got to stop.  There’s an art to the fullback position that running backs haven’t mastered.  You have to suck it up and dedicate a spot to it.  Also, on the playcalling side, why haven’t we played a little more no-huddle?  It keeps the defense off balance, and Ben’s really good at it.  Seems like a good combo to me.  I realize it goes against traditional football teaching, but so does audibiling 50 times at the line like Peyton Manning.  That seems to work for him alright.

The defense was also a little shaky: especially towards the end.  It’s pretty obvious to anyone watching that the Steelers response to Troy being gone has been to get conservative.  No more blitzes, no more stunts.  Just line up in the base and play defense.  That’s not a bad idea, since Troy was the guy who allowed you to gamble, but it’s obviously not working.  Maybe we should be rolling the dice a bit more often just to see if the defense can surprise us.  Who knows?  Regardless, I’m not willing to write off this defense before Troy gets back.  Remember: this is just temporary.

Jeff Reed missed another kick.  I would wonder if this poor streak was getting in his head if he didn’t make two other ones.  Coach Tomlin also doesn’t escape blame.  The 4th and 4 call was questionable, but I’ll go with it.  It’s a tough spot on the field (at the opponent’s 35).  It’s a long field goal, a medium yardage 4th down, or a way short punt.  I think any of those options would be okay.  I kind of blame the defense for allowing the Bengals to pick them apart for 49 yards in the span of a minute.  But I guess that’s a spot where if they make it he’s a genius and if they come up short he’s an idiot.

So, I guess in short, there are some problems that keep showing their head, but for the most part, we’re still in these games enough to win them.  We’ve just gotten a couple of bad breaks.  It happens.  Besides, we knew we had a front-loaded schedule.  We’ve still got the Raiders, the Lions and the Browns twice to feast on.

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Steelers 14 Bears 17

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Game Recap

I think that picture above pretty much sums up the game.  Everything was juuuuust out of reach.  Not getting off the field on some key third downs, the dropped pass by Santonio in the end zone, Jeff Reed’s missed kicks, etc.  Everything was close, but not close enough.

The obvious story of the game was Jeff Reed and his missed kicks.  I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous as the people yelling for him to be let go after that.  Really.  The guy had a bad day.  You’ve had them before, too.  They just aren’t in front of thousands of people.  So Jeff Reed had a bad game.  So what.  He’s still got an excellent history of consistency.  I’ll give him a slide for a week.  Besides, there are more players on a team than just the kicker.  If they play better, he’s not in that situation.

Take the defense, for instance.  It allowed 7 3rd down conversions, and had 0 takeaways.  Not it’s best outing by any stretch.  They only allowed 275 yards of offense which isn’t bad, but for the #1 defense in the league, that’s a step down.  And since that step down coincided with Troy getting hurt, everyone dismisses the loss as evidence that the Steelers miss Polamalu too much.  Well, it was obvious that the defense was going to miss Troy.  He’s arguably the best safety in the league, and more importantly he does unique things that can’t be replaced.  But I think we need to keep it in perspective.  We kept the Bears to 17 points.  That’s a lot, but low enough that we can still win.  Especially considering that we turned the ball over  twice and put that defense in a bad position.

Speaking of those turnovers, that brings to mind the fact that the offense is not blameless in this game, either.  After starting the game off strong with a good long drive, the offense struggled the rest of the game.  We accumulated 308 total yards (most of which came on that first drive).  Two thirds of that came in the air.  I wonder if the bad playing surface (the turf had just been replaced after a U2 concert and then rained on) held our passing attack back a bit.  Bad tracks usually favor a running team.  Now, I’m not going to go to the argument that ‘we need to play Steeler football’.  That’s silly.  Football strategy evolves and you have to keep up or fall behind.  But I will say that we’re not a balanced team at all, and that may have hurt us here.

So, overall, this loss was just some bad luck on all sides.  No facet of the game (offense, defense or special teams) played well at all.  Yet, we still only lost on a last second field goal after missing two of our own.  I think that, for a loss, this wasn’t so bad.  I’d much rather look good losing and have hope and motivation for the next game than get blown out and feel inferior.  The bottom line is that this is one game.  Unlike college, one game doesn’t kill you in the pros.  So go ahead and step down off the ledge, Pittsburgh.

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Steelers 13 Titans 10 (OT)

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Game Recap

Man, I missed Steeler football!

Most of the story lines in this one were pretty obvious.  The Steeler running game is on life support.  Big Ben wins close games.  The defense is still pretty good.  Polamalu got hurt or something (maybe you’ve heard?).  Jeff Reed is money in the bank when you need him.  Stefan Logan is as good as advertised.  The Steelers need to stop giving the city a heart attack.  I think that pretty much covers it.

There are a few points I want to get into.  First of all, the Polamalu injury.  Right now the word is an MCL sprain with 3-6 weeks out.  I trust that as far as I can throw a piano.  Teams play too many games with each other.  I don’t think you’ll hear a real diagnosis for a while now.  Especially considering the dramatic shift that the defense will have to take.  Coach Tomlin wants teams to have to prepare for Troy.  That’s common sense.  A lot of the Steeler defenses are based around Polamalu’s speed and general football knowledge.  No one can replace him.  That means that until further notice the Steelers will have to do Steeler defense light: a simplified version of the playbook.  One of the stupider comments I’ve heard around is the notion that this is the Madden curse striking.  If you don’t know, the cover athletes of Sports Illustrated magazine and Madden football games have a history of getting hurt/having a bad year right after they’re highlighted.  Troy was on the cover on Madden this year.  I think it’s silly.  If someone has a bad year after a cover, it’s generally because they’re coming off a career year they can’t possibly repeat.  I mean, that’s the whole reason they’re on the cover of either of those things, right?  The injuries happen because, well, its football.  People get hurt.  A lot.  If you name any person in the NFL, there’s a good chance they’ll miss at least a game or two due to injury during the year.  It’s part of the game.  Just ask a fantasy football player how many players he has to sub out due to injury every year.  I have a 8 player league, and I generally have to sub out at least 2 or 3 during the year.  Those are decent odds.  So, in conclusion, anyone who believes in a Madden/SI cover jinx needs a lobotomy.

Okay.  I’m stepping down off my soap box now.  And moving on to another pressing issue in Steeler football: our rapidly dying ground game.  Now, first of all, I’m going to clarify the fact that I’m not one of those yinzers who believe the Steelers need to play ‘Steeler footabll’ all the time and play solid defense, gain 3 yards in a cloud of dust, and win every game 10-7.  That’s stupid.  The game evolves.  Strategy evolves.  If you don’t keep with the times, the times will pass you by.  That’s my biggest (and really only because he’s a real good coach as hard as it is for me to admit) complaint about Dave Wanndstadt.  The game is evolving into a passing/scoring league, and the Steelers are keeping with the times.  Bruce Arians, our OC, has been more concerned with the passing game since he got here.  Maybe that’s because he’s a former wide receivers coach before being promoted (though he does have some running backs coaching experience in his distant past as well).  Maybe it’s because he saw Ben and a good crop of WR’s and saw a way to win.  Whatever it is, he’s been pretty obvious about his preference.  He let go of Dan Krieder, one of the great fullbacks in the NFL, as soon as he got here.  He’s been de-emphasising the offensive line in player development and opening up the playbook for Ben.  As a result, the Steelers are no longer a running hard nosed team offensively.  Also as a result, we’ve got a ring from last year.  We had no running game last year, either, but still managed to put points on the board through the air.  So I’m not complaining.  What I will say is this.  The running game is slipping every year, and while moving the emphasis of the offense to the passing game is fine, you still need to be a running threat or every defense in the NFL will take advantage of it.  So how do we correct this and stop the bleeding?  Well, I heard Jerome Bettis make a great suggestion in his radio show today: bring back the fullback.  Now, I know what you’re saying: but Andrew.  Frank Summers is going to be the fullback this year.  Yes, well, Frank Summers isn’t good enough.  He’s not a fullback.  He’s a tailback.  There’s an art to sensing out and picking up the first man through the line.  You need to go out and find someone who was a fullback in college, and sign him.  Yes, there are some colleges that still use fullbacks (USC, LSU, Virginia Tech and Alabama just to name a few).  You don’t even have to waste a draft pick on one since no one else in the league drafts them.  Just sign the best one to come to camp.  A fullback would do two things: first he would pick up an extra defensive lineman, gaining the running back a couple of extra yards.  This might even solve that pesky short yardage problem (anyone else notice a correlation between short yardage problems and Dan Krieder leaving?).  Second, a fullback would drastically help on pass protection, being someone who could pick up a blitz better than a running back.  This advantage might be cancelled out by the lost receiver, however.  But the bottom line is that you can be a passing team with a fullback.  So, it’s at least something to think about.

One more quick thought that’s unrelated to the game.  Jeff Reed was recently offered a contract and turned it down.  Not a dumb move.  He’s established that he can consistently (that’s a key word) kick in the worst conditions, under the most pressure and in the hardest stadium.  Any team in the NFL would want him.  He’s in for a pay day.  His mama didn’t raise no fool (or at least his agent’s mama didn’t raise no fool).   My thought is that he’s NOT the only kicker who proved he can consistently kick in Heinz Field.  Connor Lee just graduated from Pitt last year and is just sitting around right now.  Bring him into camp next year.  Now, given the choice between the two, you’re crazy if you don’t pick Reed.  He’s proven he can kick on Sundays.  Lee hasn’t.  Therefore, he’s worth more money.  However, bringing in Lee at least takes away his leverage in being the only guy who can kick in Heinz Field.  I’m just sayin’.

So that’s pretty much it.  Another tough test in a road game against Chicago next week.  The Steelers schedule is really front loaded this year.  All our tough games are in the beginning of the season.  I guess that means that we Steeler fans should take the next month or so with a grain of salt and be patient.  HA!  Fat chance of that happening.

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