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.

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