Monday, October 06, 2008

Steelers @ Jacksonville: The Good,
the Bad Better, & the Ugly Best

Every once-in-awhile a performance comes along that does not fit into an existing framework. Such was Sunday's win by the Steelers. Though far from perfect, the team, considering the quality of the opponent, played its best game of this season. So as we head to the bye week in a celebratory mood, we give you the very first "good, better and best."

To begin, we alerted you to an Xbox 360 simulation that predicted a Steelers' loss; and while it had the final score wrong (thankfully) it was pretty close in some other respects. Here as look at some of the numbers:

Total Offense - PIT4094156
Total Offense - JAC276213-63
Rushing Yds - PIT4912980
Rushing Yds - JAC813843
Pass Yds - PIT360286-74
Pass Yds - JAC195175-20
1st downs - PIT22286
1st downs - JAC13141
Points - PIT17269
Points - JAC2421-3

Basking in the warm afterglow of a what was arguably the Steelers' best performance this season we offer up some of our impressions of just what happened.

The Good
  1. Going up against a banged-up offensive line the Steelers defense showed no mercy ~ the Jaguars' dynamic duo of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew was limited to 26 yards on 15 carries. To provide a bit of perspective less than a year ago ~ on December 16, 2007 ~ those same two combined for 247 yards on 37 carries. However the Steelers defense seemed to have learned their lesson because in the two most recent games between these two teams (i.e. 1/5/2008 in the Wild Card game and Sunday evening) they have rushed for only 92 yards on 50 carries.

    The Steelers' defense also seems to have figured out how to contain David Garrard ~ force him to throw the football. In the aforementioned Wild Card game Mr. Garrard had 58 yards on 5 carries (including the back-breaking 32-yard scramble on fourth down late in the game) while throwing for 140 yards on 9-for-21 passing ~ and still Jacksonville scored 31 points (thanks in part to Rashean Mathis). Sunday night Mr. Garrard was limited to 12 rushing yards, forced to throw the ball 32 times, and the Jaguars could only muster 21 points (thanks in part to Rashean Mathis). So in addition to the intense pressure that the Steelers front was able to generate throughout the game (despite the fact that James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were held constantly) they were also able to contain the extremely mobile Mr. Garrard.

    While the outstanding performance of the defense was very much a team effort, particular attention must be given to Aaron Smith whose ability to trip up Mr. Garrard, limiting him to a two yard gain (despite a great deal of open ground in front of him), on 1st-and-10 with less than a minute to play, set up the next play on which James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley converged on the Jaguars' quarterback in the backfield, stripped the football away, and forced Jacksonville to use their final timeout. To top-off an outstanding evening it was Mr. Smith who swatted away Mr. Garrard's pass on 4th-and-14, thereby ending the Jaguars' comeback attempt.

  2. Mewelde Moore is the best Steelers free agent signing since Jeff Hartings ~ at least this week. His ninety-nine yards rushing (46 in the first half, 53 in the second) was the difference maker in this game. He showed tremendous field vision, a great first step, and far exceeded our expectations. We don't know if he could pull it off a second time (though with Cincinnati coming up following the bye week we would like to see him try), but once was certainly great.

The Better
  1. Battered and beleaguered, the offensive line ~ even after the loss of Marvel Smith ~ was better than anyone could have expected. We watched the right side of the offensive line (i.e. Darnell Stapleton and Willie Colon) very closely and were impressed by its consistently good play. In fact, it was our impression that the majority of the pressure that Ben Roethlisberger felt came almost exclusively from the left side of the line. Yes Mr. Roethlisberger was banged around, especially in the second half, but most of that pressure was the result of excellent coverage by the Jacksonville secondary not poor blocking. The three replacement linemen ~ Colon, Essex, and Stapleton ~ performed capably, and this group had its best performance in weeks.

  2. Nobody deserves the bye week more than Ben Roethlisberger, and his performance Sunday night is one that we will remember for some time. Thanks to a good job by the offensive line Mr. Roethlisberger had time 'o plenty to throw (as witnessed by the pump fake on Nate Washington's double-move, touchdown reception), and his ability to manage the no-huddle offense (i.e. the improvement in play that occurs when the Steelers' offense employs the no-huddle) has been impressive. While our love of the running game means that we would like to see fewer passes (the 41 attempts in Sunday's game was his highest number of attempts in a game), there's also little doubt that as one of the league's elite quarterbacks Mr. Roethlisberger is more than capable of carrying the load.

  3. We hammered Bruce Arians last week, but this week we come to praise him for a pitch-perfect game plan. Anticipating the blitz that came early in the game, Mr. Arians looked to quick passes and an effective running game. Additionally, allowing Ben Roethlisberger to go no-huddle early wore down the Jacksonville defense. There's no doubt that the Steelers offensive coordinator still struggles in responding to the changing tactics of the opposition (i.e. when Jacksonville largely discontinued the blitz in the second half the Steelers' offense began to struggle ~ after 300 total yards in the first half they 115 yards in the second), but his original game plan was a winner.
The Best
  1. His team more ravaged by injury than any other Steelers team we can remember, Mike Tomlin refused not only use that as an excuse for poor performance, but refused to believe that it was even a factor to be considered. He may not have convinced us before the game but he convinced his players, and all of the backups . . . and backups of backups (e.g. Scott Paxson and Darnell Stapleton) performed well. The Sunday night performance simply would not have been possible if not for the mental and emotional strength of Mr. Tomlin.

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