Monday, September 22, 2008

Steelers @ Philadelphia:
The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

On October 30, 1966 the Pittsburgh Steelers travelled to Dallas and lost to the Cowboys 52-21. In that game the Steelers set a few team records that day that still stand including fewest rushing yards (7), and most sacks allowed (12) which should show us all that the game versus Philadelphia could have been worse.

Not much, but it could have been worse.

The Good
  1. The performance by the Steelers' defense was enough to bring tears to our eyes. Faced with the ineffectual performance of the offense, we kept waiting for the defense to collapse under the strain ~ something they never did. Everyone on the defensive side of the ball was tremendous, but here are a few of the standouts:

    • LaMarr Woodley looked like a veteran, and played better than his two tackles and a sack would indicate.

    • Larry Foote is a veteran, his 1.5 sacks led the team.

    • Bryant McFadden? Five tackles and an interception

    • Travis Kirschke? Six tackles, and a half a sack.

    • James Farrior led the defense with seven tackles, and forced a fumble.

    • Then there was Troy Polamalu's third interception in as many weeks to go along with five tackles.

    The high-powered Eagles' offense, who had scored 75 points in their first two games, were held to thirteen points by a determined and tenacious Steelers defense. It should have been enough to win, but not this week.

  2. On a day when field position was even more critical than usual Steelers punter Mitch Berger performed well. His net average for this game wasn't eye popping (39.2 yards), but three of his five punts (did he really only punt five times?) were downed inside the Eagles' twenty yard line. Keeping the Eagles on a long field helped the defense immeasurably, and that kept the Steelers in the game almost until the end.

  3. While we're talking about kickers, Jeff Reed continues to perform at an All-Pro level, and his 53-yard field goal near the end of the first half should have been a momentum changer.

  4. Our coach is better looking than their coach
The Bad
  1. We've said it before, the line between "bad" and "ugly" is a thin one, and very subjective. With that in mind we are going to designate offensive coordinator Bruce Arians "ugly," at least for this week. Specifically the play calling, which has been rather good during the first two games, never seemed to register the fact that the Eagles' defense was (to put it mildly) disrupting the Steelers' offense.

    Drop back passes, especially when your quarterback is prone to holding onto the football, are not the best types of pass plays to call. We're sure we must have just missed them, but did anyone notice many two tight end sets? The idea of having the extra blocking available must have occurred to someone, and it might have even helped the running game. Moreover, the tight ends could have been used to "chip" oncoming rushers and then release as a safety valve. We only watched the game once, so it is possible that this approach was attempted but we certainly did not see any sustained efforts in this regard.

    The result was 5- and 7-step drops only to have Ben Roethlisberger swarmed over. We might also point out that this is just another reason to have the running back more active as a receiver in the passing game ~ but that would be piling on.

The Ugly
  1. Throw the ball Ben!

    Much will be made of the offensive line's struggles on Sunday, and we will do our share in that regard, but a big part of the difference between Philadelphia's defensive effort last week (when they surrendered 41 points) and this week was Mr. Roethlisberger's insistence on holding on to the football. This is something we have harped on before, but apparently it did not do much good. So we are trying again.

    Throw the ball Ben!

  2. The offensive line was beaten like a drum for much of the day; and while it is true that Ben Roethlisberger's propensity for holding on to the football did not help matters much we also think that Justin Hartwig did a terrible job of coordinating the zone blocking attack, and that Willie Colon looked overmatched.

    How many times will defenders come unabated, up-the-middle, before Mr. Hatwig figures out that it's probably a good idea for him to get in the way? As for Mr. Colon, we're not sure if it was just a case of the Eagles' defensive end having superior speed, Mr. Colon having average to below-average footwork, or a combination of the two factors.

    When an offensive line fails so completely, so utterly, it is as shocking as it is painful. Between Mr. Roethlisberger's inability to get rid of the football more quickly and the offensive line's inability to provide any real time to throw (which comes first, the chicken or the egg?) it's a wonder the Steelers scored any points at all.
Conclusion

What Philadelphia's defense did Sunday was something that Cleveland was able to do, to a much smaller degree, in the preceding week. It is clear that opponents perceive the Steelers' passing attack (i.e. wide receiver-centric), Mr. Roethlisberger's unwillingness to throw the ball quickly, and the offensive line's inability to contend with the blitz as something of a soft underbelly to the Steelers' offense. This past Sunday that weakness undermined an amazing performance by the Steelers' defense. Let's hope the coaches and players on the offensive side of the football figure out how to fix the problem sooner rather than later.

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