Friday, December 21, 2012

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.

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