Sunday, August 31, 2008

Panthers v. Steelers: The Good,
the Bad, & the Ugly

The Steelers wrapped up their 2008 preseason with a win which improved their record this preseason to 3-1, and 8-2 in Mike Tomlin's first two seasons as head coach in Pittsburgh. Even more importantly were the roster cuts that were made this past Saturday. Here's a look back at the game and those roster decisions.

The Good
  1. With his fumbles in consecutive games Rashard Mendenhall came frighteningly close to be consigned to the "Ugly" portion of this posting, however his work in the second half which resulted in 11 caries for 54 yards ~ along with the decision by the coaching staff to keep him in the game ~ had even the most cynical Steelers fan believing that the team has finally come up with their Bettis replacement. And there is this note: Mr. Mendenhall was the third leading rusher in the NFL this preseason (54 carries, 222 yards).

  2. We are the first to admit that, leading into this game, we hadn't heard much about Roy Lewis as a member of the Steelers. However, living in Pac-10 country we are familiar with a player who had a solid college career at Washington. In the game against Carolina Mr. Lewis made the most of his opportunity ~ with two tackles and two passes defended he did enough to impress ~ and after our initial dismay at his release we were pleased to see that he had cleared waivers and been signed by the Steelers to the practice squad.

  3. Anthony Smith is best known for his outlandish guarantee prior to last season's game versus New England and the nightmarish results, but his play at strong safety, as opposed to free safety which is the position he played last season, has been impressive. The switch allows Mr. Smith to play closer to the line of scrimmage and deliver big hits which he did versus the Panthers ~ 3 tackles, 1 for a loss, 1 assist, 1 hit on the quarterback, and 1 pass defended. If he can play at at that level for an entire season he may make people forget all about Troy Polamalu.

  4. Darnell Stapleton outperformed Justin Hartwig, period. While the center cannot be given all the credit, the running game was more effective in the second half (108 yards versus 70 yards in the first half) and time of possession also improved (18:04 in the second half versus 14:34 iin the first). But more than that Mr. Stapleton showed better quickness, speed, and overall understanding of the offense. For one half of one game Mr. Stapleton was the better option at center.

  5. We're glad Mitch Berger was around to be signed. Though it is only the preseason he ranked third in the NFL in both gross punting average (46.3 yards) and net punting average (42.7 yards).

  6. As for the Steelers' placekicker, Jeff Reed was in mid-season form (he was #2 during the preseason in scoring by kickers), and we are looking forward to next Sunday's battle between Mr. Brown and Houston's kicker ~ the former Steelers player formerly known as Mr. Brown.
The Bad
  1. The Steelers pass defense was borderline ugly.

    We know Matt Moore is a former UCLA Bruin but, with the exception of Bryant McFadden's first quarter interception, it seemed as though more than a few of the starters were sleepwalking through the first fifteen minutes. Even worse of course is the fact that, after Mr. Moore's departure from the game (at the end of the third quarter), Brett Basanez (who had not previously played this preseason, and who has played in one game in his entire NFL career, had a 118.0 passer rating. Moreover, though he played just one quarter Mr. Basanez ended up with 106 yards passing and one touchdown. One can only wonder what the likes of Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, and Tom Brady are going to be able to accomplish in their respective games against this defense.

  2. When push came to shove we were surprised that Willie Reid was cut. He was the preseason leader in receptions (9) second in receiving yards (81), he led the team in kickoff returns (5) and kickoff return yards (110). The decision to keep Limas Sweed ~ who seemingly had more drops than receptions during the preseason ~ is an argument for a rookie salary cap. The only thing going for Mr. Sweed, beyond his raw physical ability (often referred to as "potential"), is the fact that the Steelers could not afford to take the salary cap hit that they would incur by cutting him.
The Ugly
  1. Someone tell John Fox that you do not play for the tie in preseason. Despite the obvious benefit that the Steelers derived from the situation (i.e. practice the two-minute offense, kicking under pressure) it was a ridiculous decision.

  2. This may seem a bit harsh, but we're wondering how much longer it will be ~ if ever ~ before Troy Polamalu returns to "form." We would never question Mr. Polamalu's work ethic but his effectiveness has declined steadily over the past couple seasons, and after missing most of the preseason one wonders if he is really the person to start at strong safety as the season begins ~ or if he is even physically able to perform as an adequate backup. We love Troy, but the Troy we fell in love with hasn't been seen in Pittsburgh since 2005.
For all the excitement and angst expressed here, and by everyone in the Steeler Nation, every member of the National Football League starts with a clean slate this week ~ are you ready for some football?

What a silly question.

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