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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