Sunday, October 31, 2010

Steelers @ New Orleans:
The Postgame Comments

A very tough, hard-fought football game in which the Steelers did just enough to lose. Some quick thoughts in the aftermath.

  1. The defensive line was not the problem: I have made much of the loss of Aaron Smith, and the Steelers are now 0-1 without him, but Ziggy Hood acquitted himself pretty well, as did Nick Eason. The Saints rushed the football 21 times for a grand total of 30 yards; and while they are not the most physical offensive line the Steelers will face this season it is a start.
  2. He did what you wanted, so don't complain now:
    Like all NFL coaches, Mike Tomlin has been pretty risk-averse during his tenure in Pittsburgh. So what's up with going for on fourth-and-four, or kicking a 50+ yard field goal with Jeff Reed? How important is field position? On their scoring drives the Saints started from their own 41 yard line, their own 44, their own 41 again, and their own 45. Mike Tomlin coached like a fan, left his defense on a short field once too often, and they were fortunate to give up only 20 points. Hopefully we have all learned a lesson.
  3. The offensive line took a big step backward: Three sacks, numerous quarterback pressures, and ~ most importantly ~ the inability to drive the football in from inside the one-yard line all point to a dreadful performance by a unit that had shown marked improvement over last year. If you don't believe me ask Steelers radio commentator Tunch Ilkin or roundly criticized the offensive until for the inability to pick-up the New Orleans blitz which, from his perspective was n't anything new or terribly exotic.

As many have already, allow me to point out this is the game that the Steelers could most afford to lose. However, the next two are most wins if they hope to find their way into the playoffs.

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A nice article from one of my favorites

Judy Battista is one of my very favorite NFL writers (no Ed Bouchette, but who is?), and she has a good article regarding James Harrison and the aftermath of the fine that was levied against him.

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A quick prediction

I try not to get into game predictions ~ I'm notoriously bad at such things ~ but I do have some thoughts on the remainder of the 2010 regular season and wanted to get those on the record.

First, let me state plainly what is in my head: The Steelers will be fortunate to win four more games this season. The frustrations that some fans have felt regarding the performance of the defensive unit (the Baltimore and Miami games in particular) will only grow as long as Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel are missing from the lineup. The loss of Mr. Smith has devastated the defense in seasons past; and while Ziggy Hood may prove a capable replacement there is no reason to believe he will approach the level that Aaron Smith has achieved in his career.

The inability to effectively stop the run will leave the Steelers offense playing from behind for much of the remainder of the season; and that means more emphasis on the passing game. The net effect will be that the Steelers, who are averaging 55.33 offensive plays a game, will have even fewer plays (and less time) to possess the football while the defense will spend more plays, and more time on the field.

All of this will mean that the Steelers will struggle mightily against the very best teams (e.g. New England, N.Y. Jets, Baltimore) and will see their competitive advantage reduced against teams who they would otherwise dominate (e.g. Cincinnati, Cleveland). Looking at the remaining schedule, we can expect close wins versus Cleveland, Buffalo, and Carolina. The games versus New Orleans, New England, New York, and Baltimore are almost certainly going to be losses ~ and those conference losses may nix whatever playoff hopes the Steelers have ~ while the games against Cincinnati are now toss-ups. And Oakland? It feels as thought the Steelers haven't beaten the Raiders since Ken Stabler was the Oakland quarterback.

Naturally there are certain factors not considered here that could change the Steelers' fortunes ~ e.g. turnovers by the defense, an exceptional ground attack by the offense, big plays by the special teams ~ but all things being equal the next nine games are certain to be a struggle.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Steelers @ Miami: The Postgame comments

Sometimes you win games you should lose; and there seems little doubt that the Steelers played "well" enough to lose. Here are some thoughts:

  1. The Steelers may have lost the war despite winning the battle: Aaron Smith's value to the defense, specifically the rush defense, has been proven over and over. His torn tricep will, apparently, leave him sidelined for the remainder of the season; and one has to wonder how many more injuries Mr. Smith can return from at age 34. Whomever will be inserted into the lineup in Mr. Smith's place is unlikely to play at the consistently All-Pro level we have come to expect from the position.
  2. 88 played great: Rookie wideout/kick returner Emmanual Sanders showed some real fortitude. The fumble, especially for a young player, had to be devastating to him. But on the next kickoff Mr. Sanders did not force a return on the deep kickoff, though he must have wanted to badly. Mr. Sanders stayed patient, and the result was five kick returns for 144 yards, including a career best 48-yard return. It was an outstanding performance made all the more special by the poor start to the day.
  3. Flozell Adams must be the key to the running game: The 37 yards of rushing for Rashard Mendenhall was his lowest game total for the season. In fact, the next lowest total for Mr. Mendenhall was 69 yards in week two versus Tennessee. Perhaps even more telling is that Mr. Mendenhall had 30 yards of rushing in the first half. Whatever the reason(s) for such an anemic second half, the ground game took a big step backwards.

  4. And for all the conspiracy theorists out there, referee Gene Steratore ~ who was unable to determine who had recovered Ben Roethlisberger's fourth quarter fumble ~ is from Pittsburgh.

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Peek at PG+

I am a big fan of PG+, the premium site offered by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The cost is minimal, and readers get to enjoy the unvarnished wit of Ed Bouchette (amongst a lot of other things) which makes it worth the money.

Since it is a pay site I try not to quote directly too often, but this line has to be shared because I thought the same thing during the game, and so did you:

"Does Michael Oher get special dispensation by the officials for false starts because he was the subject of a hit movie?"

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Baltimore vs. Steelers: The Postgame Comments

In the aftermath of a tough loss to your most bitter rival, Steelers fans are going to quick to point to the two missed field goals by Jeff Reed (all Sheetz locations are advised to lockdown their bathrooms) as the key to the loss. However, in the midst of their worst performance so far this season, the real key to the loss can be found in the fourth quarter, long after those missed kicks.

The key to the loss came immediately following what should have been the Steelers winning moment ~ i.e. the goal line stand by their defense. With 2:40 left in the game the Steelers had the football, and Baltimore was down to a single timeout. In that possession Rashard Mendenhall rushed for eight yards on three plays; but of course the two false start penalties proved lethal to that drive. Then, as if that were not enough, the holding call by the highly reliable Keyaron Fox served to made a bad situation all the worse.

Missed field goals and an anemic offense may be easy targets for fans looking to affix blame, but on a day when the Steelers rushed for 84 yards and had the lead late in the game, despite running 15 fewer offensive plays, they missed a golden opportunity to put the game away.

One other thing to remember is that, despite the 3-1 record, the Steelers are very much in the middle of the pack in the AFC. The Steelers now have a 1-1 conference record, good enough for fifth, while Baltimore is now 3-1 in the AFC, and in second place. Sunday's loss means that the Steelers almost certainly have to sweep their five remaining division games; and games versus other conference opponents (e.g. New England, New York Jets, Oakland) have taken on even more significance.

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