Sunday, October 26, 2008

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

All losses are painful to watch, but this one ~ like the playoff loss to Jacksonville last season ~ was especially so. Like that game from last season the Steelers had a lead in the fourth quarter with the football, and proceeded to turn in one of the more pathetic "three-and-outs" in team history.

A tough loss indeed.

The Good
  1. Are there words enough to praise the overall performance of the defense? Moreover, are there words enough to express the magnificence of Aaron Smith's performance? Our concern about the possibility that he would miss the game seems especially well-founded considering just how well the defense played with him on the field. For the first time this season the Giants failed to rush for 100 yards as a team, despite rushing the ball 35 times ~ the second highest total of their season (they rushed 36 times against Seattle, for 254 yards, on October 5).

    Based upon our analysis of Mr. Smith's impact he is, arguably, the most important leader on a defensive until filled with leaders.

  2. Stop us if you've heard this before, but Mewelde Moore continues to do impressive work. He ran well, caught passes, and fielded punts. Indeed, his 84 yards rushing was equal to, or better than, the rushing totals of four other teams who faced that same Giants defense. He has become the workhorse for the Steelers' offense; and while we look forward to Willie Parker's return we are not nearly as anxious about seeing him back on the field as we were when he was first injured.

  3. The offensive line is getting hammered by some in the media, as well as good Steelers fans (Big Dan the 'Burgh Man was quite vocal in his criticism Sunday evening); but we believe that group is being unfairly criticized.

    The Steelers rushed for 95 yards, and that did not occur despite the offensive line, but because of it. The focus on the number of sacks (5) is short-sighted ~ four of the sacks were the result of Ben Roethlisberger holding on to the football too long. We have been critical of Mr. Roethlisberger's propensity for holding on to the ball too long, but we have to admit that we are now unsure whether the blame lies with Mr. Roethlisberger, his receivers, or a combination therein. What is clear is that when a quarterback has upwards of five seconds to throw the football the offensive line has done its job. We are not saying that they were perfect (keep reading below), but they did a good job of controlling a strong pass rush and of opening holes for the running game ~ in other words, they played well enough to win.
The Bad
  1. We do not have access to the coach's tapes, nor do we have their expertise, but somewhere in the mix of Bruce Arians, Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Nate Washington, and Limas Sweed are the parties responsible for the offensive debacle that was the fourth quarter, a quarter in which the Steelers "gained" -14 yards on 12 pass plays and one rushing play.

    The lack of any semblance of balance in play calling, especially considering that the Steelers were in the lead for most of that time, is mystifying. In our review of this season's offensive performance we discussed our concern that the offense was no longer capable of ball control offense. While we can appreciate a desire to pass on first down, thereby catching the Giants in a run-oriented defense, it also seems that Mr. Arians' fourth quarter play calling did nothing to take time off the clock (six of Mr. Roethlisberger's passes were incomplete and two were intercepted) which is reflected in their 3:53 time of possession in the final quarter.

    We've discussed Mr. Roethlisberger's habit of holding on to the ball too long, but the question has to be asked ~ is it really all his fault? Are the receivers getting off the line of scrimmage cleanly or are they being "out-physicalled"? It seemed that when deep patterns were called the receivers were getting open (or at least relatively open). Do the plays being run call for receivers to run shorter routes, in a tacit acknowledgment of some shortcoming of the offensive line?

    We admit that we are not sure if it is one of these factors, or some combination of all of them, but whatever it is torpedoed the Steelers' chances of a win on Sunday.

  2. We have been very complimentary of the recent play by the special teams, but Sunday represented something of a backward step (especially for the coverage units) ~ and we are not even including the backup long snapper's miscue.

    Coming into the game the Giants had been average 20.2 yards per kick return. Sunday, they averaged 25.3 yards per kick return ~ 25.2% higher than the season average. Coming into the game the Steelers had allowed opponents 4.1 yards per punt return. On Sunday the allowed the Giants to average 9.3 yards per return.

    Perhaps it was just a one week blip ~ we can only hope.
The Ugly
  1. We tend not to put much stock in the time of possession statistic, but in the case of Sunday's game we will make an exception.

    Giants: 34:24
    Steelers: 25:36

    This is the worst such result this season ~ more pitiable than even the performance against Philadelphia (i.e. the Steelers time of possession in that game was 27:26).

  2. The injury bug, which had taken a couple of weeks off, came back with a vengeance Sunday. Ryan Clark's dislocated shoulder, while not serious in-and-of-itself, depletes an already depleted secondary; and the loss of Greg Warren . . . well, we all saw how important that was.

  3. Justin Hartwig's personal foul penalty in the third quarter was ridiculous. The center is the leader of the offensive line, and that makes Mr. Hartwig's bone-head play that much worse.

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