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.

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