Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bad News, Steelers Win: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

In a season in which more has gone wrong than any of us could have imagined now we have this. Rather than losing, thereby enhancing their draft position, the Steelers pulled out a gutty, hard fought win.

Even if the Steelers win the remainder of their games, ending the season with a 10-6 record, it is unlikely (because they have lost so many conference games, and do not have tie breakers against any of the teams in front of them in the standings) they would make the playoffs.

Will the nightmare never end?

The Good
He has been inaundated with criticism throughout the season, so it is only fair that the first person to be praised is none other than Ben Roethlisberger. His performance was very consistent throughout (first half statistics: 10/16, 149 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 132.6 QB rating. second half statistics: 7/12, 115 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions, 118.4 QB rating.), and his decision making was significantly better than it has been for some time. None of his passes were forced into areas where defensive coverage didn't allow, he took sacks (though only two of them) rather than "chucking and ducking," and appeared to be more relaxed and confident than he has been since the win against Kansas City.

Also performing well, of course, was Willie Parker. His two big runs -- 148 of 213 rushing yards came on those two plays -- were the result of intelligently setting up his blockers (i.e. moving towards the line of scrimmage, drawing the defenders to the line of scrimmage), and then using what must be exceptional speed -- until, as Alan Faneca pointed out after the game, "Fast Willie" gets inside the opponents' five-yard line -- to get around the corner and down the field. Both runs were remarkable, but the second run was one of the plays on which the game turned. Clearly New Orleans knew Mr. Parker was capable of big plays, and it must have been dispiriting to their defensive unit to see him break off another play.

Finally, the best performance by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday occured before the game even started. According to some of the players -- Willie Parker amongst them -- the pregame meeting was emotion-filled with more than a few of the Steelers crying, or on the verge of tears. In the aftermath of Sunday's game it is clear that whatever was said resonated with everyone and, rather than splintering in the face of a frustrating season, the players are pulling together to support one another in the face of difficult times.

The Bad
It may appear that Chris Gardocki has become something of a whipping boy for Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic, but his continuing struggles are an important part of why the Steelers have been struggling this year and nearly allowed the Saints to score the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. Specifically, his 28-yard punt with 4:40 left in the game was horrible, especially considering that this was a situation in which he should have excelled -- i.e. punting on a short field. Instead Mr. Gardocki performed no better than if he had punted the ball into the end zone.

The Ugly
Following a game in which the opposition amassed 517 net yards, 29 first downs, 77 offensive plays, 67% red zone efficiency, and 63% third down efficiency I would be calling out the defense in a big way. However this Steelers team fought and clawed all afternoon -- a day in which the defense was something less than itself absolute best -- and the feeling here is that because of that their efforts are worthy of praise.

Epilogue
Despite the fact that the Steelers hurt themselves in the draft with each win -- and despite the fact that they have very little chance of making the postseason -- the team's performance against New Orleans was as inspiring as it was inspired. The reason Steelers fans love their team so much was on display Sunday. The team never quits, never stops fighting and playing hard. This group dug a mighty hole for itself, but rather than quitting on themselves they appear to be coming together to do whatever they can to improve the situation.

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