Sunday, November 30, 2008

Steelers @ New England:
The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

Based upon information from the Steelers' media relations department we happily provide you with this fun fact: Including the game against the Patriots, Pittsburgh is now 5-0 in games in which the opponent has scored first, and broke an 0-5 streak the Steelers had at Gillette Stadium. More importantly the Steelers are now 8-1 in the conference, and managed to maintain (at least for this week) their one game lead over a very hot Baltimore team.

With that, and so much more, in mind we offer some of our thoughts on the game.

The Good
  1. Given the brilliance of the performances in all phases of the game it seems unfair to single at anyone for special attention; however we are going to begin with someone who has felt the sting of our (much deserved) wrath on more than a few occasions.

    Bruce Arians, you were magnificent on Sunday.

    Mr. Arians found the balance that he seems to always be in search of ~ the Steelers had 34 rushing plays and 34 passing plays ~ but more significant was the rhythm (always a subjective thing) that the offense achieved, especially in the second half. Moreover, during an incredible third quarter, Mr. Arians used his play calling to dictate personnel moves to the Patriots' defense (i.e. the use of the three wide receiver package kept the Patriots in the nickel) thereby opening up the run (the Steelers rushed for 54 yards ~ six more than they had in the entire first half.

    On this one day, after so many previous games against this opponent resulted in so much frustration, Bruce Arians outcoached Bill Belichick.

    There, we said it.

  2. For years the Steelers' special teams were anything but special, and we were pretty critical of Bob Ligashesky's performance last season.

    Bob Ligashesky, you were magnificent on Sunday.

    Coming into this game the Patriots had been averaging 11.7 yards per punt return. Against the Steelers they averaged zero yards in punt returns.

    Coming into this game the Patriots had been averaging 25.1 yards per kick return.
    Against the Steelers they averaged 19.6 yards per return.

    Coming into this game the Patriots had given up an average of 12.9 yards per opponent punt return. On Sunday the Steelers averaged 14.5 yards per punt return.

    Keyaron Fox is showing the league why the Steelers signed him as a free agent (1 special teams tackle, 1 assist, 1 huge fumble recovery), and Anthony Madison leads the team in special teams tackles (3 versus New England).

    Lest we forget, welcome back Mitch Berger!

  3. But no group within the Steelers has received as much criticism as the offensive line and their coach, Larry Zierlein.

    Larry Zierlein, on Sunday you were magnificent.

    For the third consecutive game, and the seventh time this season, the Steelers rushed for more than 100 yards ~ in the case of Sunday's game they rushed for 161 yards, the second highest total of the season (the highest total was 183 yards versus Houston in the opening game of the season), as well as the second highest total surrendered by New England this season (the highest total was 216 yards on September 21 versus Miami) ~ and the 4.7 average yards per carry is tied for second best this season (the highest was an average 5.0 yards per carry versus Jacksonville).

    On Sunday Ben Roethlisberger was sacked once, after not having been sacked at all in the previous game versus Cincinnati, for a two game total of one sack allowed ~ the lowest two game total of the entire season.

    It's a bit too soon to say that any of this represents a trend, but for one day we can all be encouraged.

  4. There are no superlatives left with which to describe the Steelers' defense.

    On Sunday, the Steelers forced New England into as many turnovers (4) as the Patriots' had in their previous three games combined.

    On Sunday, the Steelers held the Patriots to 1-of-13 (8%) on third down conversions ~ and that came on the final play of the game.

    The Patriots' offense gained more than 500 net yards in each of their previous two games. On Sunday they were held to 267 net yards, their third lowest total of the season and their lowest since they gained 215 yards versus Miami on September 21st.

    The Patriots' ten points is tied for their lowest total this season; and their scorless second half is the first time all season they have been shutout in two consecutive quarters.

    Aaron Smith, James Farrior, James Harrison (we never thought we would see the day when Matt Light was lit up the way Mr. Harrison did), LaMarr Woodley, and Troy Polamalu all deserve your Pro Bowl vote, and Ryan Clark is arguably the most underrated free safety in the NFL (and we respectfully disagree with the personal foul call on his hit of Wes Welker).

    (oh, and Anthony Madison is a Pro Bowler at the Special Teams position)
The Bad
  1. We are going to go out on a limb and say that the Steelers, as a team, have the worst hands of any team in the NFL. We counted two dropped interceptions (one each by Troy Polamalu and, the serial offender, Ike Taylor), three dropped passes (one each by Santonio Holmes ~ the offense's answer to Ike Taylor ~ Heath Miller, and Willie Parker), one fumbled kickoff (Carey Davis, nice way to begin the game), and one muffed punt (Mewelde Moore). With Pittsburgh in its toughest part of the schedule those kinds of miscues/missed opportunities might come back to haunt them.

  2. What was going on with the run defense in the first half? The Patriots had 80 yards on 10 carries in the first thirty minutes of the game, by far the highest total surrendered in the first half of any game this season ~ in fact it is more than the game total that the Steelers defense surrendered in eight of their previous games. While it is unlikely that the Patriots have uncovered a previously unknown weakness in Pittsburgh's defense, with Marion Barber to worry about next week we can only hope this is not the beginning of something ugly.
The Ugly
  1. As rare as a day off for the players during the season, on this day we simply did not see anything from the Steelers that we could characterize as ugly. The team's performance against New England was solid throughout, and the third quarter was, to this point at least, the highlight of the season.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Steelers @ New England:
The Friday Injury Report

Here is who is in, and who is out, directly from the NFL:


DE Brett Keisel (knee),
T Marvel Smith (back)

CB Bryant McFadden (forearm),
RB Willie Parker (knee),
CB Deshea Townsend (hamstring)


LB Adalius Thomas (forearm)

WR Kelley Washington (thigh)

LB Tedy Bruschi (knee),
CB Ellis Hobbs (shoulder),
RB LaMont Jordan (calf),
DE Richard Seymour (knee),
DE Ty Warren (groin)

C Dan Koppen (elbow),
CB Mike Richardson (concussion),
DT Le Kevin Smith (shoulder)


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Steelers @ New England: The Matchups

Last season, when these two teams met, the New England Patriots' offense was performing at a level that seems even more incredible with the passage of time:

Average yards per game ~ 434.4
Average rushing yards per game ~ 124.2
Average passing yards per game ~ 310.2
Average points per game ~ 39.08 (!!)

Of course we all remember what happened in that game last season ~ Anthony Smith's career as a Pittsburgh Steeler effectively came to an end.

Tom Brady was 32-of-46 for 399 yards in passing, while Ben Roethlisberger went 19-for-32 for 187 yards.

The 34-13 beatdown (which followed a Steelers win versus Cincinnati) was not as close as the score would seem to indicate; and started a stretch in which Pittsburgh lost three out of their next four games.

Sorry to be such a bummer right before Thanksgiving ~ here are this week's numbers:

New England Offense v. Steelers Defense
Average total yards per game: New England offense 7th (363.1) v. Steelers defense 1st (235.4)

Average net rushing yards per game: New England offense 7th (131.3) v. Steelers defense 1st (66.5)

Average net passing yards per game: New England offense 10th (231.8) v. Steelers defense 1st (168.8)

Average points per game: New England offense 10th (24.27) v. Steelers defense 1st (14.55)

Steelers Offense v. New England Defense
Average total yards per game: Steelers offense 26th (306.0) v. New England defense 12th (316.0)

Average net rushing yards per game: Steelers offense 24th (101.7) v. New England defense 13th (100.2)

Average net passing yards per game: Steelers offense 18th (204.3) v. New England defense 13th (215.8)

Average points per game: Steelers offense: 23rd (21.45) v. New England defense 8th (20.18)

Special Teams
Average yards per punt return: New England 8th (11.7) v. Steelers 32nd (5.5)

Average yards allowed per punt return: New England 30th (12.9) v. Steelers 3rd (4.8)

Average yards per kick return: New England 5th (25.1) v. Steelers 30th (20.3)

Average yards allowed per kick return: New England 21st (23.8) v. Steelers 1st (19.2)

Net yardage punting average: New England 17th (36.8) v. Steelers 20th (36.6)

Opponent net yardage punting average: New England 16th (37.1) v. Steelers 26th (39.0)

Turnover differential: New England 15th (+1) v. Steelers 18th (0)

Time of possession: New England 7th (32:17) v. Steelers 11th (31:14)

Red Zone touchdown efficiency (touchdowns): New England 20th (51.2%) v. Steelers 5th (64.5%)

Red Zone defense (touchdowns): New England 31st (66.7%) v. Steelers 1st (34.4%)

Sacks allowed: New England 27th (35) v. Steelers 27th (35)

Some Individual Numbers
AFC Passer rating: Matt Cassel, 5th (90.5) v. Ben Roethlisberger, 11th (80.5)

AFC Leading rushers: Kevin Faulk, 21st (372 yards) v. Willie Parker, 12th (485 yards)

Note: Sammy Morris is New England's second leading rusher (356 yards) and Matt Cassel is third (199 yards)

AFC Leading receivers: Wes Welker, 2nd (80 catches, 838 yards, 10.5 per catch, 1 touchdowns) v. Hines Ward, 12th (54 catches, 718 yards, 13.3 yards per catch, 5 touchdowns)

AFC Sack Leaders: James Harrison, 2nd (12.0) v. Richard Seymour, 8th (7.0)

Note: LaMarr Woodley is third in the AFC in sacks with 10.5.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Getting Draft Ready: Nolan Nawrocki's Top 150

With the Steelers fighting tooth and nail to secure the best possible playoff position, it is easy to lose sight of what is really important. Which is why God invented Pro Football Weekly.

Nolan Nawrocki has come up with his list of the top 150 college prospects, and it is interesting to see an offensive tackle, Jamon Meredith of South Carolina, rated at the number 21 spot. We are the first to hope that the Steelers are picking at #32 (DeAngelo Smith, CB, Cincinnati), but we strive to be realistic (some might call it fatalistic, but we ignore those people) in all things.

Moreover, there are four offensive linemen (inclusive of Mr. Meredith) that are rated between numbers 21-32. So start working on your mock drafts now!

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Friday, November 21, 2008

2008 Schedule: Looking Forward

If anyone doubts that the game versus Cincinnati was of the "must win" variety, they need only look at how the Steelers have fared against their next five opponents (including playoffs):
  1. New England:
    • 13-11 all-time
    • 3-3 at New England
    • Most recent road win was December 13, 1997 (24-21 in OT)
    • 1-6 in their last seven meetings overall

  2. Dallas:
    • 14-15 all-time
    • 7-6 in Pittsburgh
    • Most recent win in Pittsburgh was September 4, 1988 (24-21)
    • 1-4 in their last five games overall

  3. Baltimore:
    • 15-10 all-time
    • 6-6 at Baltimore
    • 0-5 at Baltimore in their last five games

  4. Tennessee:
    • Including games versus the Houston Oilers, the Steelers are 41-29 all-time
    • Including games versus the Houston Oilers, the Steelers are 17-19 on the road against this franchise
    • Since the Oilers moved to Tennessee (1997) the Steelers are 1-7 in the last eight games
    • Their most recent road win versus the Titans was November 25, 2001 (34-24).

  5. Cleveland:
    • 58-55 all-time
    • 36-21 at Pittsburgh
    • 10 straight wins overall
    • 16 wins in their last 17 meetings
    • Most recent loss was at home, October 5, 2003 (13-33).
To say that it is a tough stretch ~ perhaps the toughest of the entire season ~ is something of an understatement. Making it all the more daunting is the comparative ease of Baltimore's schedule. Given that fact, it would seem that the Steelers have to do no worse than 3-2 in their next five to have any chance of making the playoffs (unless of course teams like Indianapolis implode, in which case the Wild Card becomes a possibility for Pittsburgh).

So let's hope the Steelers' players rest well for the next week, because there will be no rest for the weary the remainder of this season.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cincinnati v. Steelers:
The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Normally we utilize a very standard template ~ good stuff, bad stuff, ugly stuff ~ but for this game we are turning the whole thing upside down; and would like to begin by highlighting a portion of Mike Tomlin's post game press conference:

The Ugly
  1. Question: It seemed like the punting was a problem tonight . . .

    Mike Tomlin: It was horrible.

    Question: Will you look at that situation?

    Mike Tomlin: We'll address it.

    Now we would like to repeat a portion of our post game analysis from last week:

    "Paul Ernster has to go.

    Four kicks, a 31.0 yard average, and a net of 30.8 yards. His average is tied for lowest so far this weekend (with only the Monday evening game remaining), and his net is the second lowest (Indianapolis punter Hunter Smith had a single punt with a net of 16 yards). He has done a good job holding for field goals, but his fourth quarter, 20-yard punt from the Chargers' 38 yard line was horrific.

    Thursday evening's performance makes that look spectacular:

    4 kicks, 28.4 yard average, 28.4 yard net.

    We checked the position list for punters at, and there are any number of players available, including Zac Atterberry who had a good training camp with Chicago.

  2. Having tall receivers may be something that Ben Roethlisberger wanted, but if Limas Sweed cannot ge away from a punted football then please keep him on the bench. Obviously that play could have been disastrous, and would have been if they had been playing a team with a better offense.

  3. Ben Roethlisberger completed 17 of his 30 passes, and we believe that receivers dropped fourteen of those incomplete passes. For the second game in-a-row Nate Washington dropped a ball that hit him square in the hands. Santonio Holmes, after having his jersey grabbed by a defender, had the ball hit him in the chest before he dropped the pass. Hines Ward and (the usually reliable) Heath Miller each dropped at least one pass. The next five opponents have a combined record of 32-18 (a winning percentage of .640), and missed opportunities like that simply will not do.
The Bad
  1. Why is it that the Steelers' offense will not take a knee when they should? After dodging a bullet following the Limas Sweed miscue Bruce Arians called a pass play? What good could have possibly come from that? Feel free to run out the clock, and head to the locker room next time.

  2. Despite a good performance we want to remind Mewelde Moore that, with time running out in the game and the Steelers in possession of the ball, it is preferable that he remains in-bounds. This is not the first time a Pittsburgh running back has done that this season (as we pointed out following the game against Cleveland), and we would like to think that running back coach Kirby Wilson is delivering the same message.

  3. We love the defense but Ryan Clark had what (we hope) was his worst game as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Missed tackles, poor coverage ~ he has had a Pro Bowl caliber season until now. We are sure (*fingers crossed*) he will bounce back.
The Good
(This may end up reading like the "All Redemption" team)
  1. We have openly questioned Troy Polamalu. His physical ailments, we argued, were talking a toll that few others were willing to acknowledge.

    We stand corrected.

    Whether defending the run by launching his body like a missile into running backs, or tackling receivers in the open field, or picking off another pass he is back, and a force to be reckoned with.

  2. A quick tip of the hat to Aaron Smith for his three deflected passes. Always one of our favorites, he continues to amaze us with his versatility

  3. We have been unrelenting in our criticism of the play calling of Bruce Arians, but Thursday evening he showed us how good he can be. Sure we would like to see 100% running, but 37 rushes and 30 passes is a good mix; and more importantly the Steelers seemed more willing to stay with the run when it was working (we recall only one drive in which a relatively effective running play was followed by two unsuccessful passing plays, and a punt). Despite meager first half numbers the Steelers stayed with the run, and wore down the undermanned Bengals defense. Additionally, the short passing plays worked well, which leads us to item #2.

  4. He has been roundly criticized, and some called for his benching, but Thursday night Ben Roethlisberger looked very good. With time to throw and receivers getting open he had a passer rating of 94.2 ~ his second highest such rating in his last five games (last Sunday's game was his highest in that stretch ~ 96.4). We especially liked the short passes to receivers in space who were then able to make big plays. We believe that that approach ~ i.e. get the ball to playmakers and turn them loose ~ is what good quarterbacks do. Making perfect, downfield passes should be the exception not the rule. Which leads us to item #3.

  5. Yes, we criticized the receivers, but we also recognize that when they were able to hold onto the football (his second quarter catch, a completion that went for 27 yards, in which he grabbed the back end of the football was spectacular) they made things happen.

  6. Last, but not least, a big shout out to the offensive line! Yes, the Bengals have a pass rush that is largely ineffectual, and yes the Cincinnati defensive line was horribly depleted, but the Steelers controlled the offensive line throughout. We were especially pleased with a play in the fourth quarter.

    Facing 3-and-10, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to throw and was immediately pressured, and hit by a Bengals' defensive lineman. Mr. Roethlisberger escaped, and as he did Darnell Stapleton was there to drive that defensive lineman to the ground. That play enabled Mr. Roethlisberger to escpae to his left, and throw a 14-yard completion to Limas Sweed.

    We loved the determination and the refusal to quit on the play that Mr. Stapleton displayed. It really was indicative of how all the O-linemen performed Thursday; and gives us hope for the remainder of the season.

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Bengals Decimated Heading into Game

Wednesday's NFL's injury report contained plenty of bad news for the Bengals and their fans:

"OUT WR Antonio Chatman (neck), DE Eric Henderson (neck), LB Abdul Hodge (elbow), T Levi Jones (back), G Scott Kooistra (knee), S Chinedum Ndukwe (foot), DE Antwan Odom (shoulder), QB Carson Palmer (right elbow), G Andrew Whitworth (ankle)"

Antonio Chatman is third on the team in receptions, is their primary punt return person, and has averaged 29.3 yards per kick off return.

Levi Jones is the starting offensive left tackle.

Andrew Whitworth is the starting offensive left guard.

Chiinedum Ndukwe is the starting strong safety.

Antwan Odom leads the Cincinnati defense in sacks.

And now comes word that Chad Johnson has been deactivated for tonight's game.

The Bengals have been playing better of late, but asking any team to overcome all of this seems a bit much. But they have always been a dangerous opponent, especially in regards to special teams ~ something the Steelers (and all their fans) would do well to keep in mind.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cincinnati v. Steelers: The Matchups

The Steelers go into a game against an opponent that has been struggling on offense, and cannot stop the run ~ sound familiar?

The same snapshot was widely distributed leading up to the Indianapolis game, and we all know how that turned out.

Also making us a bit nervous are the following fun facts:
  • On Thursday night the Steelers have a record of 4-4, are 2-1 at home, and are 3-0 in their last three.

  • The most recent Thursday night loss was against ~ Cincinnati ~ on October 19, 1995. The final score was 27-9.

  • Historically, the Steelers are 25-13 against the Bengals in Pittsburgh, but are only 2-2 in their most recent four games in the Steel City (the Steelers won the games in the odd number years ~ 2007 and 2005 ~ and lost the games in the even number years ~ 2006, 2004).

Never happy unless we have something about which to worry, here are this week's numbers.

Cincinnati Offense v. Steelers Defense
Average total yards per game: Cincinnati offense 32nd (242.6) v. Steelers defense 1st (237.6 )

Average net rushing yards per game: Cincinnati offense 30th (83.7) v. Steelers defense 1st (68.9)

Average net passing yards per game: Cincinnati offense 30th (158.9) v. Steelers defense 1st (168.7)

Average points per game: Cincinnati offense 31st (13.8) v. Steelers defense 2nd (15.0)

Steelers Offense v. Cincinnati Defense
Average total yards per game: Steelers offense 25th (300.2) v. Cincinnati defense 20th (337.7)

Average net rushing yards per game: Steelers offense 23rd (99.4) v. Cincinnati defense 23rd (131.1)

Average net passing yards per game: Steelers offense 18th (200.8) v. Cincinnati defense 19th (206.6)

Average points per game: Steelers offense: 23rd (20.9) v. Cincinnati defense 24th (24.9)

Special Teams
Average yards per punt return: Cincinnati 23rd (8.0) v. Steelers 30th (6.0)

Average yards allowed per punt return: Cincinnati 28th (11.7) v. Steelers 2nd (4.8)

Average yards per kick return: Cincinnati 7th (24.6) v. Steelers 31st (19.8)

Average yards allowed per kick return: Cincinnati 11th (22.2) v. Steelers 1st (19.4)

Net yardage punting average: Cincinnati 31st (33.1) v. Steelers 15th (37.4)

Opponent net yardage punting average: Cincinnati 10th (36.3) v. Steelers 25th (39.5)

Turnover differential: Cincinnati 22nd (-4) v. Steelers 20th (0)

Time of possession: Cincinnati 26th (27:48) v. Steelers 14th (30:50)

Red Zone touchdown efficiency (touchdowns): Cincinnati 23rd (50.0%) v. Steelers 4th (63.0%)

Red Zone defense (touchdowns): Cincinnati 25th (59.4%) v. Steelers 1st (34.5%)

Sacks allowed: Cincinnati 29th (35) v. Steelers 32nd (38)

Some Individual Numbers
AFC Passer rating: Ryan Fitzpatrick, 14th (71.3) v. Ben Roethlisberger, 11th (79.1)

AFC Leading rushers: Cedric Benson, 26th (283 yards) v. Willie Parker, 12th (448 yards)

Note: Chris Perry is Cincinnati's second leading rusher, 28th in the AFC, with 258 yards.

AFC Leading receivers: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, 1st (73 catches, 726 yards, 9.9 per catch, 4 touchdowns) v. Hines Ward, 9th (54 catches, 685 yards, 12.7 yards per catch, 5 touchdowns)

AFC Sack Leaders: James Harrison, 2nd (12.0) v. Antwan Odom, 32nd (3.0)

Note: LaMarr Woodley is third in the AFC in sacks with 9.5.


Monday, November 17, 2008

The NFL Speaks

The National Football League has released a statement regarding the blown call on Troy Polamalu's toiuchdown at the end of the game:

"On the final play of Sunday’s game between the Chargers and Steelers, Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu returned a loose ball 12 yards for a defensive touchdown.

After an instant replay review and crew conference, the on-field ruling of touchdown was incorrectly reversed to no touchdown due to an illegal forward pass by San Diego.

There were three passes on the play. The first was a completed forward pass from San Diego’s Philip Rivers to LaDainian Tomlinson. The second, from Tomlinson to Chris Chambers, was initially ruled a legal backward pass but then reversed in replay to an illegal forward pass. The third, from Chambers, was a legal backward pass that hit the ground and was returned for the touchdown by Pittsburgh’s Polamalu.

The incorrect reversal of the on-field ruling of touchdown was acknowledged immediately following the game by referee Scott Green in the pool report interview with a representative of the media.

If any forward pass, legal or illegal, hits the ground, the play is dead immediately. The officiating crew mistakenly determined that the backward pass that Polamalu legally recovered and returned for the touchdown was the pass that was reversed in replay to being forward and illegal. Therefore, the crew ruled that the ball was dead when it hit the ground and the play was over. (The actual illegal forward pass – Tomlinson to Chambers – did not hit the ground and therefore the play is allowed to continue.)

If the situation had been handled properly, the defense (Pittsburgh) would have declined the penalty for an illegal forward pass from Tomlinson to Chambers and taken the touchdown.

The rules relevant to this particular play are as follows…

Rule 8, Section 1, Article 1 (b) states “When any illegal forward pass is caught or intercepted, the ball may be advanced and the penalty declined.” (page 49 of 2008 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League)

Rule 8, Section 1, Article 5 states “Any forward pass (legal or illegal) becomes incomplete and the ball is dead immediately if the pass strikes the ground or goes out of bounds.” (page 50 of 2008 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League)

Rule 8, Section 4, Article 1 (b) states “A defensive player may catch a backward pass or recover it after the pass touches the ground and advance.” (page 58 of 2008 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League)

The final score will remain Steelers 11, Chargers 10.

Guess we won't see Scott Green in the playoffs.


San Diego v. Steelers:
The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

We're not certain what is most noteworthy about this game ~ that the Steelers were victorious, they were victorious in the first ever 11-10 game in NFL history (so say CBS, with help from the Elias Sports Bureau we assume), or what we assume were huge sums of money that changed hands when Troy Polamalu scored a touchdown on the final play of the game; only to see all that money handed back over on the basis of an incorrect illegal forward pass call that ended the game. In our effort to decide we look at what went well, what was not so good, and what was downright horrible.

The Good
  1. Big Dan the 'Burgh Man sent along a text message during the first half which said "Thank God for Dick LeBeau." Beautiful in its simplicity, yet comprehensive in capturing just how much the Steelers are depending upon their defense this season to be competitive. Philip Rivers' 43.6 passer rating was his worst such number this season (the previous low was 58.8 versus Oakland), and LaDanian Tomlinson's 57 yards rushing was his fourth worst total this season, and the team's 66 net rushing yards was their second lowest this season (the lowest is 60 yards versus Miami). Moreover, their 50 offensive plays was the third lowest total in a game this season, and their 4.3 yards per offensive play was the second lowest total this season (the lowest was 4.1 yards per play versus Miami).

    If this was the first time this season the Steelers' defense had done something like this we might only discuss player performance, but the season-long excellence of the defensive unit is certainly the result of leadership from their ageless leader, Dick LeBeau.

  2. If James Harrison is not the defensive player of the year we simply do not understand the criteria for the award. Often double-teamed (and occasionally held, despite the lack of a call from the officials) he still managed to collect two tackles and two assists.

    And forced a fumble.

    And assisted on the tackle that resulted in a safety.

    And came up with a key interception that kept the Chargers off the scoreboard late in the first half (and there is no need to ask, given the final score, just how big a play that turned out to be).

    The intensity, bordering on rage, that he exhibited early in his career has been harnessed for good (i.e. if you are a fan of the Steelers) and he is following up a very good 2007 season with a Pro Bowl 2008.

  3. During our recent visit to Pittsburgh Big Dan the 'Burgh Man and I spent a great deal of time going through the Steelers' media guide, and while doing so we discovered that Jack Lambert, arguably the greatest linebacker to play in the National Football League, waited until the end of his third full season to go to his first Pro Bowl.

    We mention this just so that you understand that we understand the full weight of this next statement: Second year linebacker LaMarr Woodley has earned a spot on the AFC Pro Bowl team. Sure, the Steelers' defense played reasonably well last week against Indianapolis (i.e. well enough to win); but as good as they are without him, the defense is even better with him in the lineup. He pressured the quarterback, he was in on the safety with James Harrison, and his ability to drop into coverage (e.g. the deflected pass intended for Vincy Jackson) makes him supremely valuable.

  4. The defense was terrific, but there were also some good performances on the offensive side of the ball as well, but we were especially impressed by the hard running (i.e. aggressive, downhill running) of Gary Russell and Willie Parker. Tunch Ilkin mentioned it on the Steelers' radio broadcast ~ the Pittsburgh running attack is just different with a healthy Willie Parker in the lineup. We also thought Mr. Russell's contributions, especially in short yardage situations were very significant (e.g. third quarter, 3-and-1, six yard gain; third quarter, 3-and-1, four yard gain).
The Bad
  1. So let's review:
    • 24 first downs
    • 410 net yards
    • 36:31 time of possession
    • +3 in turnovers
    • 8 points ?!?

    Five of the Steelers' nine offensive possessions terminated inside San Diego's 35 yard line, but all the offense ended up with was nine points. Execution is obviously a part of the problem, but we also have issues with the play calling.

    For example, on the Steelers' first offensive possession they worked their way from their own 41 yard line on a 4-yard run by Willie Parker and a 17-yard pass completion to Hines Ward (that put them at the Chargers' 38 yard line). At that point Bruce Arians called three consecutive pass plays ~ an incompletion, a sack, and a 13-yard completion on 3-and-18. That resulted in an ugly, 51-yard, missed field goal from Jeff Reed.

    On their second possession they moved the ball 69 yards, 33 of which was on the ground, but on a critical 2nd-and-4 at the San Diego four yard line a pass play was called and Ben Roethlisberger was sacked.

    On their first possession of the third quarter the Steelers moved from their own 23 yard line to the Chargers' 28 yard line (49 net yards), gaining 26 yards on the ground on five carries. Yet, with a 1-and-10 at that point, they called three consecutive passing plays (completing the first one for five yards, and the other two were incomplete) and had to settle for another field goal.

    We understand the need for a balanced offense, however we also believe in forcing an opponent to stop you before going to something else. On a day when the running game was closer to being a ground attack it seems that Mr. Arians more interested in balance than simply going with what was working.

  2. We sing the praises of the defense often, but allowing San Diego to go 78 yards in the fourth quarter . . . u-n-a-c-c-e-p-t-a-b-l-e.
The Ugly
  1. Paul Ernster has to go.

    Four kicks, a 31.0 yard average, and a net of 30.8 yards. His average is tied for lowest so far this weekend (with only the Monday evening game remaining), and his net is the second lowest (Indianapolis punter Hunter Smith had a single punt with a net of 16 yards). He has done a good job holding for field goals, but his fourth quarter, 20-yard punt from the Chargers' 38 yard line was horrific.

  2. 13 penalties, 115 yards.

    Yes, we thought the pass interference call against Ike Taylor (that set up San Diego's touchdown) was ridiculous (if that is pass interference then the rule needs to be changed), and referee Scott Green has already admitted his error on Troy Polamalu's fumble recovery for a touchdown; but our real problem is with the sloppy, sloppy play the Steelers turned in.

    Nearly a quarter of the Steelers' penalties were called on wide receivers (three on Hines Ward, one on Santonio Holmes), and two more were called on tight ends (one each on Matt Spaeth and Sean McHugh). In fact, only two penalties were called on offensive linemen (one on Willie Colon and one on Darnell Stapleton) and neither was for holding.

    All of this was nearly the undoing of the Steelers, and it is a testament to the good play of the offensive line and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that they were able to overcome it all.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

First Down, the Most Important of All?

Perhaps it was because we were at the game, but last Sunday we walked away from Heinz Field with the distinct impression that the Steelers' offense was particularly ineffectual on first down ~ i.e. they were constantly faced with second- and third-and-long situations. So we decided to take a look at first down performance last Sunday and compare it with the other games the Steelers have played this season.

A brief disucssion regarding our methodology seems appropriate:
  • We used the official NFL Gamebooks for our information on plays run by the Steelers on first downs this season.

  • The great folks at Football Outsiders assess the success of a play based upon how much yardage was picked-up relative to the yardage to go for a first down or touchdown. We like that metric, but instead of a percentage we wanted to see the average distance remaining. So, by that standard, a play on 1-10 that gained 32 yards is a -22 (meaning that negatives are good). An average at or below zero is desirable (i.e. no yards remaining for a first down), and a first down play that gains three yards from the opponent's three yard line (i.e. scores a touchdown) does not negatively impact the average.

  • Finally, we noted whether a play was a running play or passing play.
Here's what the first down numbers look like:

OpponentW or L # of Runs# of PassesAverage Gain
N.Y. GiantsL9125.10

We're not exactly certain what this tells us ~ certainly our perception that first downs versus the Colts were not productive is born out by the numbers; and would any one have expected the Colts' defense to have performed as capably as Baltimore's (we were amazed by the performance versus Jacksonville. On that night the Steelers' offense had 12 first down plays of 10 yards or more, including a 48-yard touchdown pass)?

Having said that we get the general sense that running more leads to better results, but the Steelers have won games in which they passed more than the ran, and lost games in which they ran more than they passed so if there is any correlation it is a weak one.

We heard a comment recently that third down was the most important down in football ~ we will check that and let you know what we find out.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

San Diego v. Steelers: The Matchups

The Pittsburgh Steelers have never lost a regular season home game versus the San Diego Chargers (though they are 0-2 in the playoffs against them). Furthermore, the Steelers have not lost two consecutive home games since 2005 (9/25 v. New England, 20-23 and 10/16 versus Jacksonville, 17-23).

So everything should be just fine this weekend, right?

Here are this week's numbers:

San Diego Offense v. Steelers Defense
Average total yards per game: San Diego offense 10th (349.3) v. Steelers defense 1st (240.3)

Average net rushing yards per game: San Diego offense 25th (96.1) v. Steelers defense 2nd (69.2)

Average net passing yards per game: San Diego offense 6th (253.2) v. Steelers defense 1st (171.1)

Average points per game: San Diego offense 5th (20.9) v. Steelers defense 3rd (15.6)

Steelers Offense v. San Diego Defense
Average total yards per game: Steelers offense 26th (288.0) v. San Diego defense 26th (368.0)

Average net rushing yards per game: Steelers offense 24th (96.7) v. San Diego defense 13th (69.2)

Average net passing yards per game: Steelers offense 24th (191.3) v. San Diego defense 32nd (171.1)

Average points per game: Steelers offense: 17th (22.0) v. San Diego defense 21st (24.2)

Special Teams
Average yards per punt return: San Diego 10th (10.9) v. Steelers 29th (6.0)

Average yards allowed per punt return: San Diego 8th (7.1) v. Steelers 3rd (5.0)

Average yards per kick return: San Diego 4th (25.2) v. Steelers 29th (20.2)

Average yards allowed per kick return: San Diego 19th (23.2) v. Steelers 3rd (20.2)

Net yardage punting average: San Diego 1st (42.9) v. Steelers 14th (38.0)

Opponent net yardage punting average: San Diego 29th (39.8) v. Steelers 24th (39.4)

Turnover differential: San Diego 22nd (-3) v. Steelers 20th (-2)

Time of possession: San Diego 23rd (28:28) v. Steelers 17th (30:12)

Red Zone touchdown efficiency (touchdowns): San Diego 19th (50.0%) v. Steelers 2nd (70.8%)

Red Zone defense (touchdowns): San Diego 19th (55.9%) v. Steelers 2nd (34.6%)

Sacks allowed: San Diego 7th (12) v. Steelers 30th (31)

Some Individual Numbers
AFC Passer rating: Philip Rivers, 1st (106.3) v. Ben Roethlisberger, 13th (76.1)

AFC Leading rushers: LaDanian Tomlinson, 3rd (629 yards) v. Mewelde Moore, 3rd (377 yards)

AFC Leading receivers: Antonio Gates, 18th (38 catches, 469 yards, 12.3 per catch, 6 touchdowns) v. Hines Ward, 14th (43 catches, 589 yards, 13.7 yards per catch, 4 touchdowns)

AFC sack leaders: Shaun Phillips, 43rd (3.5 sacks each) v. James Harrison, 2nd (11.0)

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Steelers Free Agent Class, 2009

The great folks at Pro Football Weekly have been good enough to compile a list of players who will, potentially, become free agents this offseason.

Naturally we are concerned primarily with players currently playing in Pittsburgh who fit into that category; and the list is pretty long including two quarterbacks, three cornerbacks, and four offensive tackles (UFA= Unrestricted Free Agent; RFA= Restricted Free Agent):

  1. Charlie Batch, UFA
  2. Byron Leftwich, UFA
Tight Ends
    Sean McHugh, UFA
Wide Receivers
  1. Nate Washington, UFA
Offensive Guards
  1. Chris Kemoeatu UFA
Offensive Tackles
  1. Willie Colon, RFA
  2. Trai Essex, UFA
  3. Marvel Smith, UFA
  4. Max Starks, UFA
Defensive Ends
  1. Orpheus Roye, UFA
  1. Keyaron Fox, UFA
  2. Andre Frazier, UFA
  3. Arnold Harrison, RFA
  1. Fernando Bryant, UFA
  2. Anthony Madison, RFA
  3. Bryant McFadden, UFA
  1. Anthony Smith, RFA
  1. Paul Ernster

The move earlier this year by the owners to terminate the collective bargaining agreement with the players may be something of a complication for these, and all, free agents insomuch as 2009 may be the final season with a salary cap in place.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

LaMarr Woodley Gets his Picture Taken

In keeping with our "great photographs" theme that seems to be emerging this week, here is a brief item, photographic image included, on LaMarr Woodley.

Healthy enough to pose, healthy enough to play?


Mike Tomlin Weekly Press Conference

We were able to listen to Mike Tomlin's weekly press conference on ESPN 1250, and here are some of the highlights:

  • Willie Parker has a sublaxation of the shoulder [this is in direct contradiction to a couple of media reports], but is scheduled to practice this week. The injury is similar to the one that Ryan Clark suffered earlier in the season.

  • Marvel Smith is scheduled to practice this week, but has to show that he is ready "technically" before he returns to the starting lineup.

  • Health Miller "is questionable at best."

  • Bryant McFadden is out; but it is hoped that he will return "soon."

  • Deshea Townsend is out

  • LaMarr Woodley is scheduled to practice this week
Player Personnel Move

In an effort to add depth the Steelers have signed Fernando Bryant, a former Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions.

Upcoming Opponent
  • The San Diego Chargers "have some weapons."

  • Because of their size and strength the Chargers' wide receivers "create matchup issues on the perimeter," and are "legitimate weapons."

  • Antonio Gates (TE) is "the best route runner, at the position, in the league."

  • On defense, Jamal Williams "is the man in the middle," and "it all begins with him."

  • The San Diego corners ~ Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer ~ are among the very best iin the league.

  • San Diego's special teams "are the best in the world."
Last Week's Game
  • The pass play called near the end of the first half (i.e. the pass that was intercepted) came from the sideline and was approved by Mr. Tomlin.

  • Ben Roethlisberger did not turn in a "winning performance" on Sunday; and he should benefit from a full schedule of practice; as will the "timing and cohesion" between the quarterback and receivers.

  • Nobody on the offensive line "is performing great."

  • Mr. Tomlin indicated that, because of its inability to consistently run the football, the Steelers' offense "lacks an identity."

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Amazing & Horrifying All at the Same Time

Christopher Horner, a photographer with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, captured an amazing image of the deflected pass/touchdown from the first quarter of Sunday's game.

Go to the slideshow at the Trib's website, and take a look at image number eight (of 33) ~ make sure not to miss Ben Roethlisberger in the background.

Great shot!

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

For us, being at the stadium to see the game usually makes it easier to absorb a loss (however unpalatable they might be). Certainly there have been exceptions (e.g. the drive home following the loss to San Diego in the 1994 AFC Championship game was interminable), but it usually helps.

And then there was Sunday's game against the Colts. Proximity to the game (rather than going to our seats in section 539 we stood on the rail in the end zone) has clouded our judgment significantly. But we will give objectivity a try and see how it all turns out.

The Good
  1. For all the frustration that Steelers fans may feel the team's defense performed capably. Peyton Manning had his third lowest net passing total of the season (228 yards), the two sacks the defense recorded is the most that any team has recorded against the Colts (a total that three other teams recorded versus Indianapolis), and the Colts had their season-low in total net yards (290). It is undeniably true that the Colts had a short-field to work on a couple times, thereby artificially limiting the Colts' yardage (i.e. the Colts had a 25-yard drive for a touchdown, and a second drive of 32-yards for a touchdown) but the defense certainly played well enough to win.

  2. Related to that is the performance of James Harrison: 8 tackles, 3 assists, 2 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss, and 2 quarterback hits. Whatever else happened in that game Mr. Harrison delivered an outstanding performance.

  3. The difference between greatness and being good is making the great plays ~ on Sunday Ike Taylor was good, not great. For most of the game he was responsible for covering the Colts' best receiver, Reggie Wayne, and though Mr. Wayne had a very good day (6 catches, 114 yards, 1 touchdown) our very subjective judgment is that Mr. Taylor was in a position to make plays (i.e. he covered well). That he did not make some of those plays is why Mr. Taylor is not considered an upper echelon cornerback.
The Bad
  1. Where do we begin?

    Not where you may have expected.

    One of the great advantages in being at the game was the opportunity to see the Pittsburgh wide receivers being physically dominated by the Colts' secondary. We acknowledge that we are no experts (and those who read regularly will second that) but there was very little separation between the Steelers' receivers and the Colts' players responsible for covering them. Watching the game from where we did (the picture above gives you a perspective) revealed to us what we have suspected for some time ~ that Ben Roethlisberger's issues are not all of his own making.

  2. We are officially beating a dead horse ~ the offensive line was terrible. The 55 yards rushing was the second lowest total gained against the Indianapolis defense this season (Green Bay gained 51 yards), and as a result the Steelers' offense became extremely one dimensional; and nothing was more galling than watching their offense struggle in vein to gain a yard at the goal line (at the end zone where we were standing). Moreover, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked twice and hit at least three other times.

    Another horrible performance.

  3. We pay special attention to special teams, and Paul Ernster's performance yesterday (despite doing well in his role on extra points and a field goal) was less than impressive. His net punting average (37.7) was the sixth worst (out of nine games) this season.
The Ugly
  1. Ben Roethlisberger's interception at the end of the first half was a poor decision that defies description or explanation. From our vantage point in the stadium there was no way that pass was going to be completed. We have not read any of Mr. Roethlisberger's post-game comments, and frankly we do not really care what he has to say ~ bad decision.

  2. Related to that first item is the fact that Bruce Arians called a passing play (an out pattern no less) with less than ninety seconds left in the half. The Steelers had the lead with time running out in the half. If the Steelers had called a running play what is the worst that would have happened? They punt (yes, the punter had not done especially well), and the Colts get the ball around the Pittsburgh 40 yard line ~ ten yards farther back than they actually did ~ with less time remaining on the clock (as it was the Colts had 1:18 left when they took possession). There is a time to be aggressive, and a time to play it smart. We are not sure Bruce Arians knows the difference.

  3. Losing is horrible, we know that. But those Steelers fans who think Ben Roethlisberger should be benched need to relax. He is mid-way through his fifth season, and we believe that he will develop into a Hall-of-Fame quarterback. However, growing pains are a part of that process and all fans of the Black & Gold (not the most patient group, we know) should keep that in mind.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Looking Backward, Looking Forward

A couple of busy days (including the launch of a new blog) kept us from getting into the nitty-gritty of Monday evening's game, so we'll take a few moments to highlight a couple of items from that game, and also take a quick look at Sunday's matchup.

Steelers @ Washington
We're not sure if you picked up on this, but the Steelers' defense dominated the game.

A couple of statistics to underscore what you already know:
  • Clinton Portis gained 51 yards rushing on 13 carries. More significantly, he had 22 yards on a single carry in the first quarter, which means that on his twelve other carries he gained 29 yards.

  • We mentioned this while writing during the game but it is worth repeating: The Redskin wideouts were limited to nine catches for 55 yards ~ a per catch average of 6.11 yards. The unrelenting pressure the defensive front generated allowed the secondary and inside linebackers to play aggressively against what is an undersized receiving corps.

  • The Redskins' 221 total yards of offense was the first time they gained fewer than 300 yards since week one of the season (209 yards versus the Giants).

  • Coming into the game the Redskins had surrendered 16 sacks on the season ~ they gave up seven versus the Steelers; and the total yardage lost on those sacks was 45 yards
Indianapolis v. Steelers
Even with Ben Roethlisberger playing the Steelers' offense has struggled this season, and this week his presence is questionable. However in this week's opponent they go against a defense that, despite recent improvement, is also struggling:
  • In eight games this season Colts' opponents have managed to maintain possession of the football for 30 minutes or more in seven of those games.

  • They have given up 20 or more first downs in five of their last six games.

  • After surrendering 262 points in all of 2007, they have given up 177 in eight games this season.
Meanwhile the Colts' offense has fallen off a cliff:
  • In the last nine seasons (including 2008) the Colts have failed to score 400+ points only once (2002, 349 total points, a per game of average of 20.53). So far this season they have scored 167 points ~ a 20.88 per game average.

  • The Colts have rushed for 100 yards or more one time this season (114 yards versus Jacksonville), and their average gain per rushing play (3.3 yards) is at a nine season low.

  • Their average time of possession (26:33) is nearly three minutes below their previous low average (2006, 29:32); and there has only been one game in which they have possessed the ball for 30 minutes or more (32:04 versus Baltimore).
We're looking forward to being in Pittsburgh for this game; and the fact that the Steelers are 13-1 in Pittsburgh against the Colts franchise (includes Baltimore and Indianapolis), makes us even more hopeful.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Indianapolis v. Steelers: The Matchups

With Ben Roethlisberger highly questionable for Sunday it is anyone's guess as to how the offense will perform. However, despite marked improvement in recent games, the Indianapolis run defense is still rather porous (in the first four games they gave up an average of 188.5 rushing yards per game, in their four most recent games they have given up an averageof 99 yards).

On special teams Mitch Berger is out ~ two punters and a long-snapper lost in the same season to injury? ~ and Paul Ernster has been signed.

Indianapolis Offense v. Steelers Defense
Average total yards per game: Indianapolis offense 22nd (313.4) v. Steelers defense 1st (234.1)

Average net rushing yards per game: Indianapolis offense 32nd (70.1) v. Steelers defense 3rd (70.1)

Average net passing yards per game: Indianapolis offense 8th (243.3) v. Steelers defense 1st (164.0)

Average points per game: Indianapolis offense 23rd (20.9) v. Steelers defense 2nd (14.5)

Steelers Offense v. Indianapolis Defense
Average total yards per game: Steelers offense 25th (283.1) v. Indianapolis defense 15th (324.6)

Average net rushing yards per game: Steelers offense 20th (101.8) v. Indianapolis defense 25th (143.6)

Average net passing yards per game: Steelers offense 24th (181.4) v. Indianapolis defense 3rd (181.0)

Average points per game: Steelers offense: 15th (22.3) v. Indianapolis defense 21st (22.1)

Special Teams
Average yards per punt return: Indianapolis 25th (6.7) v. Steelers 30th (5.3)

Average yards allowed per punt return: Indianapolis 15th (9.0) v. Steelers 2nd (5.0)

Average yards per kick return: Indianapolis 23rd (21.5) v. Steelers 30th (20.0)

Average yards allowed per kick return: Indianapolis 19th (23.0) v. Steelers 6th (20.7)

Net yardage punting average: Indianapolis 30th (39.9) v. Steelers 9th (38.1)

Opponent net yardage punting average: Indianapolis 29th (40.3) v. Steelers 31st (41.5)

Turnover differential: Indianapolis 9th (+2) v. Steelers 18th (+1)

Time of possession: Indianapolis 29th (26:33) v. Steelers 20th (29:42)

Red Zone touchdown efficiency (touchdowns): Indianapolis 1st (77.3%) v. Steelers 3rd (71.43%)

Red Zone defense (touchdowns): Indianapolis 6th (39.29%) v. Steelers 1st (30.43%)

Sacks allowed: Indianapolis 3rd (9) v. Steelers 30th (29)

Some Individual Numbers
AFC Passer rating: Peyton Manning, 9th (83.3) v. Ben Roethlisberger, 10th (79.6)
Ben Roethlisberger is questionable for the game, Byron Leftwich does not officially have a passer rating at this time ~ 14 passes are required

AFC Leading rushers: Joseph Addai, 21st (248 yards) v. Willie Parker, 3rd (333 yards)

AFC Leading receivers: Reggie Wayne, 7th (43 catches, 586 yards, 13.6 per catch, 4 touchdowns) v. Hines Ward, 18th (34 catches, 445 yards, 13.1 yards per catch, 5 touchdowns)

AFC sack leaders: Robert Mathis, 17th (5.0 sacks each) v. James Harrison, 2nd (10.0)
Note: LaMarr Woodley is fifth in the AFC in sacks with 9.5

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Steelers @ Washington: The Good,
the Bad, & the Ugly ~ the LIVE Edition

Because of some scheduling issues ~ not the least of which is a 7:00AM flight later this week into Pittsburgh (that's right, Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic is coming home for the big matchup between the Steelers v. Colts!), we will be offering up contemporaneous insights of the game. For the purposes of clarity we will post those insights at the conclusion of each quarter, so feel free to check back early and often!

The First Quarter
What a beginning!

The onside kick revealed what the Steelers' coaches must certainly be thinking ~ that Pittsburgh's defense can handle the Redskins' offense. The performance of the defense in that opening possession seemed to vindicate that belief; but three points is three points.

Offensively the Steelers look inept. The offensive line appears completely overmatched ~ Washington is deploying a maximum pressure approach a la Philadelphia and Baltimore ~ despite the quick-hitting pass plays being called by Bruce Arians. To that point, Santonio Holmes looks very ragged after his one week suspension; and frankly none of the receivers has looked very good ~ is Hines Ward even playing? Finally, Willie Parker has had a bit of success, mostly inside the tackles, picking up 29 yards on six carries.

Defensively Pittsburgh had a tremendous quarter. The secondary was more than up to the challenge of covering the Washington wideouts, and except for one carry Clinton Portis has been contained (6 carries, 28 yards ~ his long was a 22-yard carry; so the other five carries have netted six yards).

Special teams have been adequate, even with the unsuccessful onside kick. The new long snapper, Jared Retkofsky has done his job well but Mitch Berger's left leg continues to bother him. Also, the use of Mewelde Moore on kickoff returns seems a good idea, the the per return average is only 18 yards.

The Second Quarter
A tale of two quarters if ever there was one.

Offensively, the Steelers continued to struggle, but their 62-yard drive for a field goal was huge, even only to demonstrate that they couldpass protect a bit, and get down field. In fact, that drive netted more yards than the other seven offensive possessions combined (61 yards v. 62 yards). However Max Starks is killing the Steelers ~ i.e. he's getting beaten like a drum on passing plays, and then was called for a hold deep in Redskins territory.

Defensively . . . this defense is playing amazingly well; and are being led by James Farrior who, frankly, did not play particularly well last week. But tonight, through two quarters, he has five tackles, three assists, a sack, and a blocked pass.

Finally, when a team's offense is not playing well that team needs special teams to step up. Santonio Holmes' struggles seemingly are extending to punt returns, but there are no words to describe how big Andre Frazier's blocked punt was.

Halftime stats snapshot:

Pittsburgh Net Rushing: 46
Washington Net Rushing: 40

Pittsburgh Net Passing: 44
Washington Net Passing: 31

Pittsburgh Net Punting: 33.4
Washington Net Punting: 28.8

Pittsburgh Time of Possession: 14:03
Washington Time of Poseesion: 15:25

The Third Quarter
The injury bug is now an epidemic.

With Ben Roethlisberger out, Byron Leftwich did more than we ever believed he was capable of (we admit it, Mr. Leftwich was singled out for a fair amount of criticism during the preseason). The opening drive of the second half ~ 8 plays, 72 yards ~ was such a breath of fresh air; and despite a -5 net yards on the second possession Mr. Leftwich delivered iin key situations, converting two consecutive third downs to maintain possession.

The defense continued to dominate ~ the interception snuffed out the best Redskin drive of the night.

Special teams was the weak link ~ Jeff Reed had his first missed extra point of the season.

The Fourth Quarter
Last season, at least for most of it, some Steelers fans criticized Mike Tomlin for not showing enough emotion.

Based on Monday night's performance we say that criticism has been laid to rest.

We do not often get into discussions about the officiating, but the roughing the passer call against James Farrior, on fourth down, was utter horse****, and was followed up shortly thereafter by a ridiculous touchdown call. Weak.

Despite all that the Steelers' defense showed how an elite unit plays, with James Farrior showing the way with his diving deflection of what would have been a touchdown pass, and Lawrence Timmons delivered an exclamation point, sacking Jason Campbell on fourth down.

The pressure up front meant that the Steelers' secondary played better than at nearly any time we can remember since the AFC Divisional game in 2005 versus Indianapolis. To underscore this point, the wideouts for the Redskins accumulated 55 yards on 9 catches ~ combined.

Finally, not to be a downer, but we feel compelled to point out that the Steelers offense had two net yards in the final quarter.

We'll have a bit more tomorrow, but for tonight we're going to celebrate a great win.

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