Monday, December 08, 2008

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

We know we are a little late with our weekly postgame analysis.

The smelling salts just kicked in.

While considering the fact that the Steelers are now enjoying their first four game winning streak since the 2005 season (they actually had two such winning streaks that season), and that Ben Roethlisberger is now 15-4 in his career versus the NFC, we offer up some of our thoughts on what was an unbelievable Steelers win.

The Good
  1. How important was this win? Consider this: The Steelers have not won a regular season game in Baltimore since 2002, and their regular season record in Nashville, Tennessee is 1-6. So, a win against Dallas keeps the Steelers competitive for the division and the playoffs ~ a loss would have been an unmitigated disaster.

  2. Pittsburgh did not do much that was good enough to qualify for this category, at least until Deshea Townsend took an interception 25 yards for the winning score. But he did do just that, and the best thing that the Steelers did was to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

    The defense was good ~ they forced four of the opponent's five turnovers (even Ike Taylor managed to hold onto an interception), they still have not allowed any team to gain 300 yards in a game this season (though just barely ~ Dallas gained 289 net yards), kept the Cowboys to under 100 yards rushing (though just barely ~ Dallas rushed for 95 net yards), and held them more than 11 points below their scoring average (i.e. 13 points in the game versus an average of 24.92) ~ though not as good as they have been of late, but the effort and the results were that of a champion.

  3. Patrick Bailey was officially given credit for a single assisted tackle, but his play today on kick coverage was something special. He busted wedges and kept on coming. He was tremendous all afternoon/evening long, as was Keyaron Fox and all the members of that coverage team. To wit, coming into the game the Cowboys had been averaging 22.7 yards per kick return, but on Sunday they were held to 17 yards per return (i.e. 25% lower than average).
The Bad
  1. This is a very tough one to write, but James Harrison has to be included amongst the "Bads." His efforts against Flozelle Adams were tremendous ~ the fact that he had a sack, five solo tackles, and three assists is testimony to that. However, there were far too many instances in which Mr. Harrison allowed himself to be sucked inside by misdirection, only to have a running play go outside to the left side. Being aggressive is Mr. Harrison's game, but he would do well to remember that run containment is one of his responsibilities.

  2. If an offensive line does not give up a sack in the first half, but then gives up five sacks in the second half are they bad or ugly? This is another close call for us, but we have opted to be charitable. Moreover, watching the offense fail, for at least the third time this season, to get into the end zone from a yard out was painful (and something that has to be laid at the feet of the offensive line). After having improved steadily throughout the season this game was a step backwards.

  3. We also were less than pleased with Ben Roethlisberger's propensity for ~ and stop me if you've heard this one before ~ holding on to the ball too long. Yes he managed to escape trouble a number of times during the fourth quarter, and yes those escapes sometimes led to positive plays, but we renew our call for Mr. Roethlisberger to (everyone say it with us) THROW THE BALL, BEN! No fewer than three of the five sacks suffered in the second half could have been avoided by simply throwing the football away. Dallas did a good job of covering receivers, and Mr. Roethlisberger seemingly recognized as much. Holding the ball for an extra second or two, in the hope/belief that someone is eventually going to get open, is a mistake ~ and may get him killed next week in Baltimore.
The Ugly
  1. Just one question, why did Bruce Arians abandon the running game? Eleven rushing plays in the entire first half? Ten more in the second? Additionally, why did Mike Tomlin allow him to do so? The one-dimensional nature of the play calling led us to wonder whether Mr. Arians was trying to wear down the Dallas defensive line by forcing them to rush the quarterback all day. Obviously we have no explanation, but we can tell you that the Steelers are well on their way to having their worst rushing season since 2003 ~ a season in which they had ten losses.

  2. Hines Ward ~ with a single catch for two yards against Da1las (and seven catches for 76 yards in his three most recent games) ~ was (and has been) a non-factor. Apparently, teams have discovered a method for neutralizing the once dangerous wide out. Considering that in the last meeting with Baltimore he had two catches for 57 yards, it is hard to see that trend changing any time soon.

  3. Jeff Reed had an unusually poor game, at least for him. A missed field goal we can forgive, kicking the ball out of bounds? Not so much.

  4. Mitch Berger, meet Paul Ernster. If not for a fortuitous bounce into a member of the Dallas return team ~ a "fumble" that was recovered by Lawrence Timmons ~ his 28-yard punt from the Steelers' own five yard line would most certainly have resulted in points for the Cowboys. Here is hoping that Kevin Colbert has some additional names in his rolodex.
On December 7, 1969 the Steelers, playing in Pittsburgh against Dallas, trailed by ten points in the fourth quarter. A touchdown pass from quarterback Dick Shiner to running back Jon Henderson cut the lead to three, but they came up short and lost their 11th straight game of the season.

Now that the '69 team has been avenged ~ and at times the 2008 edition of the Steelers looked eerily similar to Chuck Noll's first team ~ we can only hope that the team's performances in the weeks to come are of a better quality that the one they turned in on Sunday.

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