Monday, October 31, 2011

A Mike Tomlin impersonation

The sun must surely being shining brighter today in Pittsburgh than nearly any place else the world over.

The win versus their nemeses ~ Tom Brady, Bill Bill Belichick, and the rest of the New England Patriots ~ is as satisfying as a regular season win can get. But the game next Sunday is the one that matters most.

First, of course, it is Baltimore that come to town; and if ever the Steelers owe a team something it is the 2011 edition of Ravens. Beyond that, another loss to Baltimore would be a crushing blow to Pittsburgh's hopes for winning the division (and securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs).

The 2011 Steelers are in a position to achieve something very significant ~ i.e. bouncing back from a Super Bowl loss in a superb way ~ and unless they do Sunday's emotionally satisfying win against the Patriots will ring hollow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New England vs. Steelers: The Matchups

With a 1-6 record against Tom Brady it is tough to see just what the Steelers are capable of doing this time to achieve a different outcome; but that's why they play the games!  With fingers crossed, here are are this week's AFC numbers.

New England Offense v. Steelers Defense
Average Total Yards per Game: New England Offense, 1st (474.5) v. Steelers Defense, 2nd (279.0)

Average Net Rushing Yards per Game: New England Offense, 10th (124) v. Steelers Defense, 11th (107.1)

Average Net Passing Yards per Game: New England Offense, 1st (350.5) v. Steelers Defense, 1st (171.9)

Third Down Conversions: New England Offense, 3rd (53.6%) v. Steelers Defense, 15th (38.3%)

Average Points per Game: New England Offense, 4th (30.83%) v. Steelers Defense, 3rd (38.3%)

Steelers Offense v. New England Defense
Average Total Yards per Game: Steelers Offense, 9th (383.3) v. New England Defense, 32nd (423.7)

Average Net Rushing Yards per Game: Steelers Offense, 15th (117.9) v. New England Defense, 8th (101.5)

Average Net Passing Yards per Game: Steelers Offense, 9th (265.4) v. New England Defense, 32nd (322.2)

Third Down Conversions: Steelers Offense, 4th (48.9%) v. New England Defense, 23rd (42.5%)

Average Points per Game: Steelers Offense, 19th (21.57) v. New England Defense, 15th (22.5)

Special Teams
Average Yards per Punt Return: New England 9th (11.6) v. Steelers, 7th (12.0)

Average Yards Allowed per Punt Return: New England, 10th (7.0) v. Steelers, 4th (5.1)

Average Yards per Kick Return: New England, 9th (21.6) v. Steelers, 8th (26.5)

Average Yards Allowed per Kick Return: New England, 18th (24.2) v. Steelers, 21st (24.8)

Net Yardage Punting Average: New England, 11th (39.7) v. Steelers, 20th (39.4)

Opponent Net Yard Punting Average: 29th (40.8) v. Steelers, 20th (39.1)

Turnover Differential: New England, 13th (+1) v. Steelers, 32nd (-10)

Time of Possession: New England, 21st (29:15) v. Steelers, 5th (32:32)

Red Zone Touchdown Efficiency: New England, 5th (63.3%) v. Steelers, 16th (52.4%)

Red Zone Defense: New England, 20th (83.3%) v. Steelers, 24th (94.1%)

Some Individual Numbers
Passer Rating: Tom Brady, 1st (104.8) v. Ben Roethlisberger, 3rd (95.3)

Leading Rushers: Benjarvus Green-Ellis, 11th (391 yards; 4.3 per carry; 5 touchdowns) v. Rashard Mendenhall, 12th (351 yards; 3.7 per carry; 3 touchdowns)

Leading Receiver: Wes Welker, 1st (785 yards; 15.4 per catch; 6 touchdowns) v. Mike Wallace, 2nd (730 yards; 20.3 per catch; 5 touchdowns)

Field Goal Accuracy: Stephen Gostkowski, 7th
  • 20-29 Yards: 6/6
  • 30-39 Yards: 1/1
  • 40-49 Yards: 3/4
  • 50+ Yards: 0/0
v. Shaun Suisham, 13th
  • 20-29 Yards: 3/3
  • 30-39 Yards: 2/4
  • 40-49 Yards: 4/5
  • 50+ Yards: 0/0
Sacks: Mark Anderson, 10th (3.5) v. LaMarr Woodley, 1st (7.0)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Jacksonville vs. Steelers: Instant Analysis, fourth quarter

Offense:  Two steps forward, one step back.  This unit was completely shutdown by the Jacksonville defense, managing to get one first down the entire quarter.  Ben Roethlisberger did not complete a pass, fumbled once,  and was sacked twice.  Meanwhile, running backs combined for 25 yards on seven carries.

Defense:  After giving up a big third quarter drive, the defense got their act together in the fourth quarter, giving up three points (in the aftermath of Daniel Speulveda's horrible punt) and three first downs.  The Brett Keisel sack on first down of Jacksonville's final possession was a  big play.

Special Teams:  Damiel Sepulveda had two punts in the quarter, one for 55 yards and the other for an unbelievable 23 yards.  His 39-yard net average was actually one yard better than his net average for the game overall.

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Jacksonville vs. Steelers: Instant Analysis, third quarter


Just when you think the Steelers have figured things out, and are ready to begin playing at the level they achieved last season we see a horrible fifteen minutes of football that was the third quarter.

Offense:  Six offensive plays for 3 yards, and one first down.  Not exactly what one would call "setting the tone."

Defense:  Worse than pathetic.  An 18 play drive for a touchdown?  Maurice Jones-Drew is a phenomenal running back, but to allow the Jaguars to seize control of the game that way . . . we started having flashbacks to Baltimore and Houston.

Special teams:  Ryan Mundy is a fine player, but what a horrible penalty.  And Daniel Sepulveda's net punting average of 39 yards didn't help matters.

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Jacksonville vs. Steelers: Instant Analysis, second quarter

Offense:  The quarter seemed decent enough ~ ten points ~ but a missed opportunity to score a touchdown following Rashard Mendenhall's 68-yard scamper left us feeling less than satisfied, and less in control of the game, than should be the case.

Defense:  A horrible performance on one drive allowed Jacksonville to get to within hailing distance of the Steelers.  The second half of the second half was good enough ~ and LaMarr Woodley is playing well ~ but here's hoping that this unit comes out breathing fire in the second half.

Special teams:  Shaun Suisham has already missed too many field goals this season.  Kevin Colbert may want to begin flipping idly through his rolodex of kicker's phone numbers.  Also, Antonio Brown's three punt returns for -4 yards total leaves us feeling less than satisfied.

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Jacksonville vs. Steelers: Instant Analysis, first quarter

Offense:  124 total yards (55 on the ground), six first downs, and a 7-0 lead all add up to a solid start.  The short to mid-range passing game seems to be a huge assist to what is a fairly porous offensive line.

Defense:  Two sacks, and 32 total yards surrendered.  Is the defense back, or is this good work against an inexperienced opponent?

Special teams:  No news is good news; but the 32-yard return following the Steelers' first touchdown is a cause for concern.

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Writing worth paying for

There is a reason I love Ed Bouchette, and pay to read what he writes.  On PG+, the pay-to-view companion to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mr. Bouchette posted an inspired piece following Sunday's Steelers game that is absolutely worth a look (everyone can get one page view for free ~ just clear the cookies on your browser). 

I especially love this description of the day one Steelers running back had:  "Those of you who predicted Jonathan Dwyer would run for 107 yards, please email me. No, come knock on my door because I want to see you say it with a straight face. That included a 76-yard run through a hole bigger than my garage door."
It's a great effort, and worth your time.

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Tennessee vs. Steelers: Instant Analysis, fourth quarter

All's well that ends well.  Despite the special team breakdown (i.e. the blocked punt) the Steelers split possession time for the quarter; and the play-action touchdown pass on third down and six was a back breaker.  Moreover, the defense came up with enough plays to keep Tennessee from ever getting back in the game.

We were especially pleased to see Cam Hayward deliver some important plays, and James Farrior ~ who had looked fairly dreadful through the first four weeks of the season ~ had six tackles in the quarter.

At this point, with all that has transpired, any win is a good win; and the Steelers get to look forward to another week at home.

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Tennessee vs. Steelers: Instant Analysis, third quarter

Oh boy.

A bad first offensive series, followed by an impressive defensive series and offensive series (for a touchdown), followed by a lousy defensive series, and a then a special teams lapse, and then a great defensive play.

Up-and-down in a way that has us feeling that the quarter was a microcosm of the season thus far.

One player distinguishing themselves is the recently returned Max Starks.  The Steelers radio announcer Craig Wolfley has been grading Mr. Starks on every play, and on 45 offensive plays Mr. Wolfley had the Steelers' left tackle down for 42 "plus" plays (i.e. good) and three "minus" plays (i.e. bad).

Heading to the fourth quarter the feeling here is that the Black & Gold are one touchdown away from closing this game out.

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Tennessee vs. Steelers: Second quarter, instant analysis

A carelessly thrown pass by Ben Roethlisberger marred what otherwise would have been a perfect second quarter.

The fake punt worked to perfection, and the Jonathan Dwyer run was made possible by perfectly executed blocks along the offensive front.  Meanwhile the defense, which has been so poor for nearly the entire season completely shutdown the Titans' offense.

At halftime the Steelers offense has outgained Tennessee 261 yards to 118, Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked zero times while Matt Hasselbeck had been taken down twice, with LaMarr Woodley credited for 1.5 of those.  Additionally, the Steelers defense has continued to control the Titans' running game, with Chris Johnson rushing for 21 yards on the eight carries that followed his 21 yard run on his first carry.

With the Steelers getting the ball first to begin the second half, here's hoping they put the Titans away immediately.

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Tennessee Vs. Steelers: Instant analysis, first quarter

The first half of the quarter seemed very much like deja vu, all over again.  The long, scoring drive by Tennessee (more than six minutes in duration) was only half as long as the drive Houston put together last week; but every bit as painful to watch.

Penalties, sloppy tackling, and an inability to hold the point of attack had us thinking that it was going to be another long day.  But the three-and-out on Tennessee's second possession fives some cause for hope; and after a 20-yard romp on his first carry Chris Johnson was averaging fewer than two yards per on his subsequent five carries.

Meanwhile the offense did more than their fair share, driving smartly for a touchdown following an outstanding kick return by Antonio Brown.  The quick passes, and decisive running style of Issac Redman were a refreshing change from the weeks 1-4.

So far so good, with a long way to go.

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Monday, October 03, 2011

Steelers @ Houston: The aftermath

No group has emotional swings like those of us who cheer for the Steelers; and at the rate the team is going we may all be at our wits ends before the bye week.

We were looking through sundry item, and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's weekly "Steelers Report Card," always done very capably by Gerry Dulac, is a postgame must.  This week Mr. Dulac gives the offensive line an "F" ~ no surprise there ~ and in doing so states that "[c]ritics of LT Jonathan Scott might want to see him back in the lineup after this; Trai Essex gave up at least two sacks as the Texans kept bringing pressure from the left side. OLB Mario Williams had two of the five sacks, including one against RT Marcus Gilbert."

The only issue we take with this assessment is that, by focusing on the two backups who started yesterday, it fails to call into account the miserable performances by the starters who did start.  Yes, the offensive line is a until, and missing two starters was bound to have a negative impact.  But Chris Kemoeatu was beaten badly for three out of four quarters; and the unnecessary roughness call against Maurkice Pouncy, coming at the end of a 14-yard run that put the Steelers' offense at the Houston six yard line with just over a minute to play in the first half, effectively killed what had the looks of a touchdown drive.

As Mr. Dulac undoubtedly knows, the problem with the Steelers' offensive line runs much deeper than some underperforming backups;  and is a problem that may take multiple seasons to truly address.

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Sunday, October 02, 2011

Steelers @ Houston : Instant Analysis, fourth quarter

So, it seems, the third quarter was something of an illusion.

After dominating the third quarter of play the Steelers reverted to first half form, and Houston was able to do enough ~ including Adrian Foster's 42-yard touchdown run ~ to win the game.

In a game that was maddening, the most maddening aspect is that from the point at the beginning of the fourth quarter when the Steelers tied the game, the Texans gained 99 yards and scored the winning touchdown while the Pittsburgh offense gained a net 32 yards on 18 plays, not including punts.

So, with the game up for grabs Houston got the job done, and the Steelers were soundly thrashed.  A disappointing loss leaves the team and its fans wondering how in the world what will come next.

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Steelers @ Houston: Instant Analysis, third quarter

When someone, anyone, figures out this Steelers team will they let the rest of us in on the secret?

After looking so bad in the first half that inept would have been a step up, the Steelers surged to life following halftime.  The time of possession suddenly swung back to the Black & Gold, as they held the football for 13:05!

The defense which could not get off the field in the first half shut Houston down on their lone third quarter possession.  Meanwhile on the offensive side of the football Chris Kemoeatu, who was dreadful throughout the first half, showed just why he's been such an anchor along the offensive front.

All of this means that the fourth quarter shapes up to be a brawl.

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Steelers @ Houston: Instant Analysis, second quarter

When, if ever, has a ten point deficit seemed so insurmountable?

Houston's 21:32 time of possession in the first half is the most lopsided such margin against the Steelers that we can immediately recall.  Of course that advantage was built on 120 rushing yards ~ a stunning achievement for the Texans; and an embarrassment for the Steelers' defense the likes of which they have not seen since being dismantled by Jacksonville in the playoffs more than a decade ago.

At this point someone, anyone, on the Steelers has to begin making plays.

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Steelers @ Houston: Instant Analysis, first quarter

There are always Xs & Os that can be laid out when discussing a football game.  But in the first quarter of the game at Houston the simple, unvarnished, truth is that the Texans are being beaten up physically.  Indeed, if not for the Houston penalties the differences between these two teams would have been even more starkly revealed.

However, in addition to the general ineffectiveness of the defense ~ lack of physicality along the line, slow to the football, shoddy tackling ~ what stood out most in the first quarter was Chris Kemoatu's horrible play thus far.  He was incredibly slow off the snap, to the extent that twice a Houston defender hit him on the Steelers' side of the football.

There is a very long way to go in this game, and the Steelers have time to make adjustments; but you cannot coach toughness, and right now the Texans are bullying the Black & Gold all over the field.

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