Monday, December 31, 2012

Steelers - "Post" Season, part 2

My philosophy about the draft: there's a cliche that you're supposed to draft the 'best player' when your number comes up. I guess it should be assumed but everyone needs to repeat this caveat, but it's still based on your team's depth. For example, the Steelers don't need a first-round QB because Ben is still doing well (even if he is dumb, stubborn and I would trade him for Peyton/Brees/Brady/Rodgers because those guys seem to know how to follow a complex offense) and has around 4 years left in him, and a rookie in 2013 will be a free-agent by the time we need him. Depending on Ben's performance and health next year will determine whether we go for one in '14+.

I think what I get from the cliche (which is not what others say) is that I need to think of "first round" as All-Pro (especially if you draft in the first half). And given that, we can ask, do we need an All-Pro in that position? Here are my thoughts:

1. QB see above. Because it's a big risk, that if we draft an RG3 (for example), when would we use him?

2. All defense: this is a Steelers Culture issue. As I said earlier Dick LeBeau, the HOF defensive coordinator, gets #1 defenses and part of his MO is (a) to train and develop the players for a few years before they can start, (b) this training can turn low round guys into top quality (cf. Harrison).

3. O-Line: enough years of loading up on O-line has shown me that the problem is the coach and not the players (although stinkers like Kemoeatu had to go). But I think we have enough depth in this that we shouldn't waste a 1st round *even if a probowler is available*

4. Wide Receivers - This is one of the only positions where I think they actually have depth. I know Wallace is almost guaranteed to not be here next year and there are many who want his like again, but (a) he stunk this year, (b) Brown is better, (c)
from what I've been able to analyze, its much more important to have 2 halfway decent receivers than 1 real threat. In the former, the defense needs to cover both, in the latter they just need to double team (or have 1 great corner). How well has Larry Fitzgerald done for the past few years?

More soon.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Steelers - "Post" Season, part 1

A few comments before today's game:

1. Seems like Polamalu agrees with me:
“James Farrior was a great leader here for a long time. So was Hines [Ward], Jerome [Bettis]; so was Joey [Porter],” he said. “James was not Joey, and Hines was not Jerome, but they definitely led in their own ways. So I think when you look for a leader, there‘s no need to look for the same cast those guys are built out of. You just look for someone who will step up that someone respects, and some of that is really natural.”

“When I look at the personnel that you lose, and I say, ‘Can we actually win a Super Bowl without them? Could we win a Super Bowl without Hines? Could we win a Super Bowl without James Farrior?‘ I think it‘s obvious that we can. But it took us a while to adjust when we lost Jerome. So I think this is kind of that adjustment period.”
Of course we shouldn't forget that the last time we had a disappointing losing season, 2009, had a strong similarity with this year in one big way: Polamalu was injured for much of the year. The stats are astounding.

2. When dealing with the draft and next season, there are things people have been saying we need. There's a saying that 1st round pick should be a passer, pass rusher, or pass-protector (Left-Tackle). OK, as far as it goes. But a few weeks ago, I was saying that we need to draft a Tight End, and that was before Heath got hurt! I will explain why.

My thinking was this: our defense is #1 this year (see below for more) and we lost not because of them but because of cruddy offense and special teams. I think we have talent for ST and all we need is a halfway decent coach. But what about offense?

Well, we were humming in the middle of the season; we had a running game and we were protecting Ben very well. Why/How? Because the o-line was finally working. What I hope is that now that we got rid of O-Line Coach Kugler - who I've disliked the moment I found out that he was the former ooach in Buffalo when they - whoda guessed it - had massive O-line imjuries. The guy is a problem and good riddance.

So with a better coach, maybe our O-line will be as good as they should be and that will mean that our running game will suddenly be good. Which will mean Haley's offense should shine. Those 3 games (Cincy 1, Washington, Giants) were indicative of what we should have been. Ironically the most indicative games were Cleveland and San Diego. Those games weren't lost because of our new Offensive philosophy but because our players weren't playing up to their necessary level. And I blame that on either (a) bad training and coaching, or (b) the fact that the players were spending so much time learning a complicated new offense that they didn't have time to spend on fundamentals. This especially goes for the Wide Receivers and Running Backs. One more year of training will help 'em.

So why do I think we should draft a Tight End? Because (a) the only spot where we have real depth is WR, and it's crazy to waste a 1st Round pick on WR anyway; but more (b) given Haley's offense, we need a TE because of the West-Coast offense (aka 'dink and dunk'). If we had another Heath Miller, or a Gronkowski, can you imagine how awesome the offense would be? Short passing would excel and a HM type would also support the O-line.

The other opinions say to get a pass-rusher. I think that this 'common sense' doesn't apply to the Steelers because (a) we need to see if Harrison will be able to rise back to his standard level, because he's still talented and as far as I know his contact restricts us; (b) all defensemen take at least a 2 years or more to learn LeBeau's defense. So I think our 1st rounders should go to immediate use (cf. Cameron Hayward).

Some comments that I will expand after the game:

3. A dude on Grantland made a good point, that the Steelers follow the pattern of teams with old players are almost always near the cap which limits depth (BTW, the older players should hate this system because it encourages firing them for cheaper rookies). The Steelers defense is old and many players seem not to be able to make it a full year. And this is part of the coaching/management culture and I'm not sure if it'll change.

4. The defense is probably better in stats than they should be because our special teams was so poor, and there were so many turnovers, that the defense had to deal with a lot of short fields. Also since the offense was so poor, and porous, the defense didn't have to give up a lot of points for the team to lose.

5. Our problem this year, IMO, actually wasn't injuries (except for the OL, and I blame Kugler, see above) given that our failures came from WR who couldn't run routes right and didn't try to get tough catches (especially the turkey, Mike Wallace). Also Rothlesberger, after his injury, was getting gun-shy, I believe. People think his new kid may be affecting his sleep, I think if anything it's making him re-evaluate his mortality. The big lug may be done.

6. A last question: has Tomlin actually drafted well? The great people seem to still be holdovers from Cowher: Big Ben, Polamalu, Heath Miller.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sandy Hook Massacre

Like everyone, the Sandy Hook massacre has shaken me deeply. I can't think about it for long without weeping: my middle son just turned 6.

But I have 2 points: (1) This could finally be the "9/11" type event that changes our culture to reject the "unlimited guns." The case I use as a model is smoking. When I was a kid, smoking was everywhere and completely accepted. Then something happened, thank God, and it became socially unacceptable to smoke. Bam, it was done. I'm hoping that this is what happens with guns now.

(2) This leads to my second point. I will now say, without fear of stidency, that I believe we should consider a person who owns a gun a potential murderer. WHat I mean by that is that the biggest fallacy from the gun-nuts is the belief that you can somehow divide the population into 'good people (who should own guns)' and 'bad people (who shouldn't get guns).' As the Treyvon Martin case showed us, the gun-nuts have convinced people that the way to distinguish these two populations is by race. The nuts basically make the bigoted case that blacks shouldn't have guns because they are automatically criminals and everyone else is not. Naturally this view is evil and it got exposed in that case.

After Sandy Hook, we should just admit: everyone who owns a gun is on the verge of being a murderer. What difference is there between Adam Lanza, may his name be cursed, and his mother? His mother owned the guns he used for his massacre. The NRA would claim that you need to keep guns to protect yourself, but those very guns were what killed her.

Again, what separates a gun-owner from a "potential murderer." A gun can only do 1 thing, it can only be used to kill. A knife cuts bread, a car is crucial transportation, a gun just kills. Sure, there a sport where the goal is to kill animals, and we're OK with that for some reason, but is that "sport" so necessary for America that it means I need to accept a few massacres a year? Deer hunting is so important?!?

I've said in many different places that the experience of Jews in the Diaspora is that we're more afraid of our neighbors than we are of the government/police. I think everyone in America needs to have that view too. The US government is not my enemy. It is my representative. And I want that government to protect me from gun-owners. Punto final.

We will know, there will be many signs, before the government gets too powerful that we need to arm our citizens. I cannot imagine that there's a cogent argument out there to say that Americans owning guns have helped our country in any way, at least in the past century. Anyone?

Steelers Week 16

I've said many of these things before, but Sunday is our first play-off game, because if we lose to the Bengals - and I'm afraid we will - we will be out of the playoffs. But I hear a bunch of Steelers radio and these experts seem to be missing the big picture, and maybe because they know more than I do and thus underplay the issues I'm about to discuss, except for the following story.

After I blogged the first long Steelers post, a few weeks later I actually called into the Tunch & Wolf show on 970 ESPN. These guys (2 former O-linemen, from the sad 80s) are a lot of fun. Anyway, I mentioned to them that its probable that our troubles are from the fact that we have a new OC, a new special-teams coach, and we cut most of the leader-veterans. This is not even taking the injuries into account, which have been so significant, that people are finally talking about them. Why that's special is because "the standard is the standard" - i.e. every team gets injuries, etc. Except that some teams the injuries are so significant that it ruins their year... I'd say that's a major part of the Jets meltdown - they lost their two best players (1 considered the best Defensive Back alive, and another pro-bowl WR who was a Superbowl MVP).

However, as I had said, and people just seem to miss: our problem is clearly a coaching problem, but it may be unavoidable. And that's because back in March-April the cognoscenti asked the Steelers: "are you in a rebuilding year" and the answer "we don't rebuild, we just reload." That, to me, ranks with the line from Predator: "ain't go time to bleed." People love that line, uttered with swagger by Jessie Ventura, and it's all about him being a superman macho hero. But in context it was actually mocked by his fellow hero, who considers the utterance inane. And that's how I feel about the rebuild/reload line. Because sometimes you need to rebuild, and if you don't do it right, then it won't be effective.

Look we have a new OC, and we fired our Special Teams coach. Why is anyone surprised that our Special Teams stinks! Why is anyone surprised that any time there's a slight glitch, our offense falls apart. My theory is that all the offensive players are spending so much time learning the new - and complicated - Haley Offense, that they aren't spending time on their fundamentals. Like knowing how to catch a ball (I'm looking at you Mike Wallace) or how to hold onto the ball (I'm looking at everyone). Generally, I believe that WR must be the second dumbest guys on the field (#1 is likely the D-line) and it will take them some time to catch up to the new offense. This can explain the interceptions - because they don't know how to run the routes (another fundamental).

The 'rebuilding' issue has been exacerbated by the bad attitudes of two key players, our #1 receiver (Wallace) and #1 running-back (Mendenhall). Mendenhall is a jerk, so good riddance, but Wallace is a dumb prima-donna who has not been exerting himself nearly enough. And this is what makes the situation so tragic: the reason, I believe, we reloaded and didn't rebuild is because we had a special set of circumstances vis-a-vis those 2 players, plus the aging of other key players. For all we know, this could be the last year of Polamalu & Harrison, 2 of the best we have. Roethlisberger is getting older and QBs have a bulls-eye on his head; Heath Miller is one year younger. Too much of our talent is getting old!

I think the team we should be is the one from weeks 7-9: our O-line was intact and so was our running game; Big Ben and the receivers were clicking and humming. And then the Chiefs game. First of all, we played down to our opponents (someone gave stats that showed that this is a historic Steelers problem, and it's probably part of the culture) - which this year I think is a sign of the amount of hard memorizing work that the offense has had to endure with the new OC. But also when there's a key injury - and game 9 hurt our best receiver who is also our best kick-returner, Antonio Brown - we're like a Jaguar/sports-car. We hum and roar when all parts are working, but introduce one pebble and the car breaks down. Again, this SHOULD be expected for a team going through what we have.

I did call in again today to get more info about "rebuild" vs. "reload." What Tunch & Wolf said was that 'rebuild' means to clean house completely (e.g. what the Colts did at the end of 2011); what the Steelers always do, they say, is just make tweaks here and there. And that's why we've been so good so consistently. OK, I accept that.

However, we are paying the price for these tweaks - all of our stars have been injured this year for a long time and are not playing at a top level (even Big Ben, ever since the Chief's Game Injury, has been really gun-shy), and the young players are not doing well. The turnovers are insane!

Last point: the way I feel about the team this year reminds me of my dating days. When I would go out with someone, even for multiple weeks, there would quickly come a time when I would feel "this shouldn't be this hard." I meant that if she were "the one" then the dating process wouldn't have as many difficulties as would inevitably happen. I'd feel better after a date; the conversation would flow well; the sharing of ideas would be quick and bright. Basically, it would be fun. And when I met my future-wife, those problems didn't show up. I was right with my feeling - the other women were wrong and I knew it because it was too hard, not fun.

This is how I feel about the team this year (and last year): it is not fun. The team has great talent, but it's so not smooth; it shouldn't be this hard. I watch the Patriots, or Texans, and I see teams that just work. The Steelers just don't work this year. Heck, if we manage to win it all this year, I'll be proven wrong, and I will learn from it. But I think we shouldn't expect that with all of our reloading, and injuries, that we'd be better than we are right now.