Thursday, October 25, 2012

Steelers Update

I think I can speak for Steelers fans in my reaction to Sunday night's win: whew. Some further thoughts, especially related to the previous post:
  1. Again, like every Steeler fan, I'm sure the first quarter and a half (first 3/8ths?) of the game made your stomach grow cold. Boy was I scared. How many times do we need to (a) commit penalties on the kick-returns?, (b) drop passes?, (c) just suck on defense? It was terrible. I was having flashbacks to NY Met games. But then, somehow they got their act together about 8 minutes into the second quarter (after 2 turnovers, 3 billion dropped TDs, and being down 3 to 14).
  2. Willy Colon takes credit for getting the team back in gear. He claims that he saw the Offense be dejected and lacking the eye of the tiger (I'm severely paraphrasing) and so he decided he needed to fire them up by some brutal blocking (see below)
  3. Before the game Roethlisberger told the Offense that they need to take the responsibility at the end of the games, especially when they were in a one-possession lead, to NOT DEPEND ON THE DEFENSE. This definitely has been the Steelers moo, and rightly so, for years.* This new attitude is both mature and smart - our offense is now our strength, so use that. And this change could be one reason why we won.
  4. Related to that, I have to give Tomlin credit. He always says that he plays to win, not to "not lose." So in the 4th Quarter, after an awesome 32 yard run reached the Bengals 8, the Steelers didn't go for the kill. We we 7 points ahead, could have made it 14 points, but instead they went for the victory kneel-down. It wasn't greedy (and despite my comment a few days ago, it's not what the Patriots would've done). It was classy.
  5. Ike Taylor finally did his job well. I don't think we can rely on it too much, though. While A.J. Green is a great player, and Ike did shut him down, the Bengals demonstrated what happens when a team has only 1 good receiver. If you have man coverage of that 1 guy (did they double him?) then you can shut him down. I do hope it's a trend, but I won't bet on it.
  6. Another issue is the neutralization of Harrison. The Sunday night guys did a good analysis and showed that Harrison's knee injury has severely reduced his effectiveness (see graphic below - last year he was able to slip by tackles with a 40 degree angle; now he's reduced to a 61). If he can't get back up to form, I don't know if he'll be anything better than an average linebacker.
  7. Aside from the first 3/8ths, we reduced our crippling penalties for a second week in a row.
So how did we win? Besides the above, I think of 2 main keys:
  1. No Injuries = I don't know how to keep that trend going, but I believe that when there's a major mid-game injury (and with us it's always multiples) the team doesn't adjust well. In this game we had none, and that's great (and a key to winning). See the graphic, again from the SNF guys, about who is already missing.

  2. Next Man Up = Starter in Waiting; so let them start. Related to point 1, I've felt for a long time that the Steelers get into big trouble when they insist on starting a fragile player, just to see him break down mid-game and since we don't adjust well on the fly (probably because of the new OC and loss of major team captains, see previous post), we fall apart. But when our Next Man starts that also means he practices and trains during the week. Which means he plays well! Look at our O-Line. We lost 2 starters last week but despite that the O-Line was spectacular against the Bengals! Despite a back-up center (who's really good but not pro-bowl Pouncey level) and a flappable rookie (Mike Adams), we had only 3 sacks and - crucially - over 100 yards rushing from our 3rd string running back! Is Dwyer better than Redman/Mendenhall? Maybe. But no RB will be good behind an uncoordinated line!

    I think we're going to keep making this mistake, though. Tomlin seems to want to start the "best" players (remember 2011 when Big Ben played against SF even though he was immobilized?), even if they aren't fully healed. But the Bengals game shows that practice and preparation are worth more than a wounded pro-bowler.
I hope the trend continues. What we can hope for is for the major injuries to sort out by the last third of the season. I.e. if Polamalu actually heals up, and if Harrison's knee gets better, and if our first-rounder DeCastro heals, then we'll have our best players for the crunch time. And like the Giants last year - the issue isn't a stellar record, but who is healthy at the end of the season.

* I was just watching a taped game from 2009, Green Bay vs. Steelers (12-20, Week 15), and the difference in defense in huge! Back then we were swarming, fast moving, smothering. In 2012 we are old, possibly wiser, but not that scary looking.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Steelers Thoughts

My beloved Steelers are playing like a bunch of sick nuns. In general, the AFC seems to be in big trouble, and I can explain that (see below) but the Steelers woes are more serious than the general malaise of the conference. I've seen every game and the offense looks robust - until they make a dozen penalties - and the defense looks porous and pathetic. What are my options as a fan?

Give Up:
Steelers fans are generally used to winning. That's not why I'm so loyal (I'm a Met fan too), my allegiance comes from my attachment to my birthplace. I've moved around so often in my life (upwards of 20 moves) that I think my Steeler fanaticism is my way of maintaining a consistent identity. And I like Black and Gold.

Anyway, we're used to winning. We're tied for most Super Bowls appearances (8), and we have the most wins (6). What's also impressive is that the Steelers have been to more conference championships than any team (15! runners up are Cowboys with 14, 49ers with 13, and Raiders with 11). And 20 Division championships AFC Central: 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1983, 1984, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2001 AFC North: 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2010 (all data, and links, thanks to Wiki).

However, we've had our losing streaks. The late-Noll era, especially 1984-1992, is especially bleak. But even in the Roethlisberger era, when we went to the Superbowl 3 times in 6 years, we've slumped every third year. And that's this year. So I can be fatalistic and say we're due.

Another response is to recognize a few structural problems

1. The whole NFL is in trouble because of the referee-strike.

As I said in the previous post, I have no sympathy for the NFL owners. They screwed up spectacularly with the referee union. As a result the first 3 games of the season were not a reflection of each team's abilities.

Yeah, I can hear the yahoo say that it was the same for each team, or that official stats are the way they are, and that I'm just making excuses. To rebut this idiocy, I will remind y'all about the 2000 presidential election.

We all know, and presumably hate, that the 2000 win was given to George W Bush, but the facts said that Al Gore won. Bush "won" because he gamed the system, played the refs - as its called - and was able to sneak past the finish line. Yes, it's a win, but it teaches nothing about how politics normally (and ideally) works... since Bush cheated.

Anyone who looks at the lead-up to the election to learn from GWB about how to win is making a mistake because everything he did before election day was bad enough to make him lose. The only lesson for people who want to win is to know that you can make all sorts of mistakes and then cheat at the critical moment.

For example, if you use 2000 data to try to predict poll-number prediction for eventual victory, then you should use the data as if Gore won - because he did. To do otherwise is to fundamentally not understand cause and effect.

So here we are in week 6 and many pundits are saying how the AFC is bad because only 2 teams are above 500. Yet 3 is half of 6, and those 3 games are not acceptable data. So we really have no idea how good any of the teams are here in the early weeks because everyone's record is too loaded with noise. Wait a few more weeks, so to dilute the 3 games, and we can get a better picture of each team.

2. That said, the Steelers are pretty bad on the road.

We've played 2 games since the referee's have been reinstated and we lost to a "bad" team, the Titans. True, they could actually be pretty good, given the 3 week problem (dagnabit data) but probably not. This is why we fans are scared. I felt this way all last year but we still managed to finish 12-4 (and lost 2 of the first 4 games). However, it was the offense that was bad last year (bye bye Arians) and the defense kept us alive all year. Yet, by the playoffs, our defense disintegrated. The loss to Tebow was on the hands of the defense, O did fine.

I can make excuses. Out of the 5 games we played, there's an excuse for each bad performance:
1-3: refs
4: rusty from the bye
5: short week (thurs night game).

I can also bring up the catastrophic string of injuries. Yeah, all teams suffer, but gevalt! The Steelers are old, yeah, but one reason is because we lose so many people. In preseason we lost our 2012 round 1 and 3 draft picks to injury and every week we lose a pro-bowler or key starter. It's downright scary.

We would have won last week, seriously, if we didn't lose - in one game - our pro-bowl Center, 2 other O-lineman, and our 2 starting Running backs. ONE GAME! We already were missing our hall-of-fame Safety (Troy Polamalu) and the key matchup of Batman-Robin (aka Harrison and Woodley)

Most commenters (e.g. Bleacher) ignore the above factors or dismiss them as whining (cf. 2000 election above).

However, nobody has mentioned something we were all talking about just few months ago. Again, we want to know why there's been so many penalties - ascribed to lack of discipline - and inconsistent defense.

Let's remember that this past Spring the Steelers fired: (1) the offensive coordinator (deservedly) and (2) all three player captains! Offense captain Hines Ward, Defense captain James Farrior, and special teams captain Arnaz Battle.

With leadership gutted (plus major starters injured, especially on defense) no wonder it's taken so long to get disciplined! A new OC can take a long time to get a handle on things; Farrior was a leader and the defense play-caller.

I wonder if leadership is the cause of the massacre of injuries. Bad coaching can lead to safety ignorance or something, especially on the O-Line (Sean Kugler has now had 3 years of annihilated O-Lines! I'm suspicious)

Culture Problem

Another major issue is that even if we keep our current players un-injured, we probably won't make it to the playoffs. The defense is too old and our cornerback problem is acute. Our running-backs are mediocre and they won't go anywhere with the craptascular O-Line we seem cursed with Ironically, the only part of the team which is superb is the passing attack. We've got a top-5 QB, 3 great WR, and a great TE. Logic says we should emphasize our strengths. Ah, but then there's Steeler Culture.

We've always been known as a top-notch defense plus a grinding running attack. And, to be honest, that's how I like it. It's old-school, yadda yadda. To do the opposite, to be a gun-slinging team, is to become the Patriots!

Sadly enough, we may need to become the Patriots until we can draft or buy new players for our key problems (e.g. corners, Nose Tackle, O-Line).

I have to admit, though, that even that may be too much. I have to admit that our offense could be so successful because other teams haven't had time to analyze our new OC's style. Haley seems to change his tactics based on his personnel, so our opponents haven't been able to predict him yet. By the last third of the season, our offense could unravel like our special-teams and defense.

Maybe the first option above (accepting the 3rd-year slump) is really the most plausible.

NFL Thoughts

I ask myself (so you don't have to) how I can be an NFL fan despite all the injuries and other related scandals. Well, I'll answer it.

1. I must be clear that I am a fan of the National Football League, not football itself. I have actual disinterest to antipathy for high school and college football. NFL is a job; football for HS and college is a dangerous and even nihilistic perversion of institutions of learning. Colleges and HS should be about education and not sports. The only silver lining - so I've heard - is that sports are fund-raisers for the school... but there's a reason why we've outlawed child labor.

One can argue that the NFL relies on HS and college players to feed the team rosters. I counter-argue that if nobody played football until they were an adult, and were playing it as a job (with risks-benefits) and not the virtual-servitude of NCAA, then it'd be fine for me. Let kids play basketball until graduation and then try to learn the NFL as rookies. The system can change.

2. NFL injuries are a concern, however since I'm in the upper middle class I can separate my entertainment prodution from consumption. My cohort will never be football players and so I put the players in the category of blue-collar workers.

3. I thus consign the injuries to the fact that most blue collar jobs are dangerous, which is why we assign it so much nobility, and people seem to go into the jobs with eyes open. While the military is a solid comparison, it is unseemly to compare any job with the sacred defense professions (no joke) of (a) military, (b) police, and (c) firefighting.

But compare football to coal-mining, iron working, etc and I see the threat level to be the same.

4. What I am concerned with are: (a) injuries to children playing football, which has been exacerbated by the (b) complete indifference to injuries by the white-collar administration at every level. I'm a Democrat because I'm a second-generation Jewish-American which means my grandparents were blue collar (and big Union people) so I have little sympathy for NFL owners, college football, etc.

5. The problem with football hasn't been the terrible injuries as much as the way (a) the owners force the players to ignore the injuries in order to keep their jobs and (b) the owners then discard injured players, without health-care or pension, when they are no longer useful.

My description is not skewed, I think all would agree the facts are accurate, yet when I put it this way, it makes the NFL (and their disgusting clones in the college and HS world) sound like sweatshop owners of 100 years ago. And they are.

So I watch the sport because I support the class of blue-collar workers to get paid for their skills and I decry the owners who treat them terribly. I also wear clothes made in China.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Newsweek to Die

The Times is reporting that Newsweek is closing (Newsweek Will Cease Print Publication at End of Year - They deserve to (I've been critical of their crap for years). The added special twist? "Tina Brown, the founder of the Daily Beast Web site and the driving force behind its merger with Newsweek..." Tina Brown is the hack who almost destroyed the New Yorker until she was canned. I see she set her sights lower, and succeeded. Good riddance to bad medicine on both.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What I said

Nate Silver of the invaluable 538 (and NYTimes) says in his Oct. 16 column: :
potentially suggestive that some of Mr. Romney’s gains since the Denver debate reflect the increased willingness of those who might be inclined to vote for him to participate in surveys, rather than very many Americans having changed their minds.
This was precisely what I said after the Obama numbers started falling after the first debate. It was the only answer for such a swift fall. Hey, maybe I learned something from my time in SOC after all.