Friday, December 27, 2013

Steelers Week 16, Reflections

Before the Green Bay game:
Steelers are a good 6-8 team. [late note, this story confirms my point] Why? Because in our wins, we've been dominant the whole game. They are clean wins.  But all close games we've lost; and almost all of them were close.  We're not like the teams, e.g. patriots, who've won ugly. That's why we are better than our record shows.  It's one of the quirks of football, that since it's only 16 games, each one matters enormously. There's a real difference between a 9-7 and 10-6 even though it's just one game.

As for Green Bay: I may be wrong, but I conceive them as the NFC equivalent of the Steelers.  They seem old-school and classy.  I don't pay much attention to the NFC, but I guess if I had to root for a team in general, I'd boost the Packers. And, as my middle child said last night, in Black & White, the uniforms look almost the same!

After The Game:
We won.  And EVERYBODY ELSE WHO WE NEEDED TO WIN, WON.  Gadzooks.   This is too much to ask for. Holy cow. After this crazy season I didn't expect we could ever make the playoffs. And I still don't because (see below). But I will accept this one gift: because of how all the games went yesterday, at least every week in the season has mattered. We're playing at 1, so that means all the other games that could knock us out of contention will be at the same time. So when we start the game, it will still be a relevant one. And that's nice.

OK, so what has to happen for us to make it to the playoffs? Only this (this website makes this stuff fun and easy):
  • 1:00 PM: Baltimore at Cincinnati
  • 1:00 PM: NY Jets at Miami
  • 1:00 PM: Cleveland at Pittsburgh
  • 4:25 PM: Kansas City at San Diego
The Breakdown:
  • CIN must beat BAL (oh please, oh please).
  • NYJ must beat MIA (this is the really hard one, because the Jets basically suck, Miami is better than I expected, the Jets are out of the playoffs and Miami is the putative 6th seed.
  • PIT must beat CLE (of course; and this is a trap game because our Defense always lays down when they think the game will easy)
  • KC must beat SND - this is also not a fait accompli, because KC is already in, and SND needs to win to get in the playoffs, and they are division rivals.
Sadly, I think Miami will easily handle the Jets.  However, what the sports pundits seem to forget - and I blame both Madden and the stat-crazed Moneyball type analysis - is that NFL teams don't seem to lay down when a game is "meaningless [for the playoffs]"  Maybe the fat journalists who care about stats and postseasons only would think that way, but professional athletes don't.  I assert this not only because it's backed up by observation, but it also fits theory:  professional athletes, by definition, are these things: (a) they love the game they're playing, especially football, because the monetary rewards barely cover the pain for most players; (b) they are fiercely committed to winning because otherwise the motivation to be in top physical condition, and receive bone-snapping punishment, isn't worth it.

Ironically, the only teams that seem to take it easy in meaningless games are the ones who actually have already MADE the playoffs, e.g. the Chiefs (potentially).

So I hope, I hope, that the Jets will come to defeat their division rivals.  If this were the Steelers versus the Bengals (in the AFC East, the analogies for us would be Patriots=Ravens, Dolphins=Bengals, Bills=Browns) and the Steelers were out of contention, and the Bengals needed to win to get into the playoffs, all Steelers players and fans would want the team to play their damnedest to knock the Bengals out.   I assume the Jets would feel the same way.

This can't be said for the Chiefs, alas.  Possibly the players would feel the way against the Chargers as I described above about rivals, but the dynamic is different.  The Chiefs have no way to improve their position; Andy Ried's M.O. is to rest his starters in this scenario; and maybe the Chiefs don't hate the Chargers?   What I'm hoping for is that (a) the Chiefs actually do hate their rivals and want to keep 'em out; (b) that the Chiefs are good enough to beat SND even with their second teamers, especially on defense.

But look, I think just beating Cleveland will be enough because it will be an awesome way to go into the postseason because it will demonstrate to the team that they are monsters, that they will have a winning streak going into the offseason, and that's a lot to build on.

About the game itself.
These past 2 games fulfilled what I said a few weeks ago:
"I will still try to watch the Steelers in future weeks. They occassionaly make a nice play, and that's fun to see. That's what I think makes a real fan. I like watching them win, even when the games don't matter. So if they win any of the last 3, it'll be fun! And if they lose, then it doesn't matter, and it may even be better for our draft position. So it's a win-win. In a filthy depressing way."  
The Bengals game was freakin' awesome (even though I saw it from a hospital bed).  We beat them up, literally, and while it may be like last year's Week 13 pasting of the Superbowl bound Ravens, that's why being a fan is rewarding.  Because even if you don't make the playoffs, football is fun to watch, and every win is precious.  Especially over a division rival.

And the Green Bay game was also fun, even though Tomlin messed up the ending... but that just made it memorable.

I'm seeing the game now and I can say one reason the defense is performing a bit better is due to improvement in the special teams. If McBriar isn't consistent then buy a good punter or ugh draft because they are WORTH IT. We still need way way way better performance on kickoff/punt return defense. Gadzooks, we stink at that. But considering how bad ST has been for years, this year is much better.

As I said here, I think the refereeing - which sucks league-wide - is especially bad for the Steelers.  How many times have they snatched our scores away?  The blocked field goal call was a insult and miscarriage of justice.  We block a field goal, and the refs give GB a touchdown.  And the NFL, as expected, won't admit failure.  Yet they're set to dock us a draft pick because of Tomlin's sideline idiocy.   I hope the Rooneys will use whatever heft they have left to protest this, preferably with lawyers.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Steelers Week 16, pre-game, Playoffs?!

We don't deserve to get to the playoffs given our cruddy defense this year and the winnable games we let slide through our fingers.  But our offense is powerful and it would be nice, real nice, to make it.   Our destiny is not in our hands.  The best we can be is 8-8 and that means all of this needs to happen for us to win:
  1. Win the next 2 games (@GB, Cleveland)
  2. Miami (8-6) must lose the next 2
  3. Baltimore (8-6) must lose the next 2
  4. San Diego (7-7) must lose at least 1
  5. and the tricky kicker, the Jets (6-8) must win the next 2 because if they are 8-8, they knock out the Dolphins in their division and then the Steelers knock them out due to beating them in the regular season
What this means for this week is:
  1. 1pm, MIA @ BUF - Buffalo must win.  Oy.  
  2. 1pm, CLE @ NYJ - Jets must win.  
  3. 4pm, PIT @ GB - naturally we must win or all this is moot
  4. 4pm, OAK @ SND - it'd be nice for OAK to win, but that's a long shot
  5. 4pm, NE @ BAL - gotta root for the Patriots, yuk
What this means is that by 4pm, if either Buffalo or the Jets lose then the Steelers are out.   And in the huge long shot chance that they both win, I'll need the Steelers and the Patriots to win (which I'm more comfortable hoping for).

I'll wait until tonight to go through the rest of the scenario, but those two 1pm games are scary.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Steelers Week 14, part 2

[These are notes I made for the aftermath of the Miami game; I couldn't finish it before the next game because I hurt my back and was hospitalized for a few days]

  1. We are a magical team this year - we make bad teams look good. We allow others to make team or even league records!
  2. Idea: if a team is eliminated from the playoffs, the tickets at the home games should be 75% off.
  3. I wonder if our defense split open because they thought they would win this game easily and didn't prepare - something they have done repeatedly.  If so, we'll give a good show against the Bengals.
  4. All these players want to win, losing locker room is a cruicial issue not incidental. And a crucial point is this: the pundits who talk about "playing the young guys to get a look at them" are deluded by their ignorance - i.e. the pundits aren't allowed to see practice. So all the pundits *know* are the games.  The coaches see practice so they don't *need* the games to know who's the best player.
  5.  Football isn't baseball/hockey/basketball with their humungous playing calendars.  There are 16 games.  Each win is a major percentage victory for the quality of the team. Not only does the team want to finish 8-8 so they won't have a 'losing season', the higher the number, the better they all are in the minds of all.
  6.  Also, even more than what I said earlier about tanking a season to get a higher draft, who says that a high draft pick is a guarantee of a success?  It's all about proper fit.  If you have good scouts, then draft picks are valued differently.  Good scouts could possibly add 12 to a pick, maybe even a round!
  7. Who do I want to make the 6th WC slot?  Anybody but Baltimore.  Seriously.  I can handle either the Dolphins or Chargers but I guess I prefer the latter.  I think Miami is a classless organization, like the Ravens, but I have no opinion about the Chargers.  Although if they make the playoffs maybe that will stop them from moving to LA?  
  8. For late comers, read the earlier Steelers 2013 posts because many of the reasons I gave for the losses in the early part of the season are applicable now.
Other issues: Ben confirms what I said (that the NFL network has a lock-on for the team):
"It's unbelievable," Roethlisberger said during his weekly radio show on 93.7 The Fan. "It gets blown up and it's by reporters that come in there and ask the dumbest questions after a game, and it makes it ridiculous when they only take part of your answer.

"It was taken way out of context. There is absolutely no issue between Coach Haley and I. I love where this offense is right now."
Thinking Draft:

And for next year, who would I eject/keep. BEfore asking that, let's see who we will get back from IR (from the Steeler Website):
31Brown, CurtisDB6-0185253Texas
67Brown, LeviT6-6324297Penn State
80Burress, PlaxicoWR6-52323612Michigan State
67Embernate, NikG6-430423RSan Diego State
50Foote, LarryLB6-12393312Michigan
85Johnson, DavidTE6-2260265Arkansas State
53Pouncey, MaurkiceC6-4304244Florida
51Spence, SeanLB5-11231232Miami (FL)
34Stephens-Howling, LaRodRB5-7185265Pittsburgh
61Velasco, FernandoC/G6-4312284Georgia
91Williams, NickDE6-430923RSamford
The biggest losses that Jenga'd our season, in retrospect certainly but even at the time, were Pouncey & Foote.  But we can't forget that we will have Sean Spence along with Foote, and those 2 have the potential to rapidly rebuild our inside LBs.  Depot guys think Foote's gone?

Just a simple eight month wait...

Salary Cap problems.  As I said previously, in the draft we need to go all defense except for a tight end.  Everything else is fine.  Our QB is still in his prime, especially since he hasn't taken a pounding.  The O-Line has improved enough that I want coaching to take care of it, not new players.  Our receivers are great.  Our running backs do their job too.

Our biggest problem is old & slow defense and special teams.  ST aren't going to improve because Tomlin is an idiot.  But defense I expect will because of what they did between 2012 and 2013.  We lost a *lot* of key veterans, and I think the guys we kept were based on the principle of reload not rebuild.   But if we let Harrison and Hampton go, then I think it's manifestly clear we will let Kiesel and even Ike Taylor go.  Clark is so out of here it's not even debatable.

But what about the high priced people.  I think Troy will stay until he retires.  LeBeau loves him to death and when we get our inside LBs back, he can return to his job (luckily he hasn't been hurt yet either).  However I can't imagine he should be paid the 8.2 million base salary.  And I hope Troy knows that.

Ike is set to make 7m!  Woodley is a cap issue because of his current salary (cash/cap weirdness).  Even if cut after June 1, we need to carry 13.9 cap hit until June 1.  We really should keep Worlids and Woodley, but if I had to choose one, it'd be Worlids.

High rounds: (a) Cornerback with hands x2, (b) powerful Geno Atkins type Nose Tackle? (although Al Woods looks like a beast)

Monday, December 09, 2013

Steelers Week 14, Reflections (Part 1)

Ah, that sucks. The season is over.  We looked so good in weeks 8-12, and today we just looked (sounded, I heard this one on the radio) very very bad.  Especially our defense.  What the heck happened to the Defense?!  A warm weather team, in the snow, and the defense just give up play after play.  It's why we lost the first 4.
  1. We're a Steelers team with a cruddy running game and pathetic defense.  How terrible is that?

  2. I think that we'll now find out all the stories rumored about the season may be true. 

  3. Ironically, I don't think Haley is as much the problem as Tomlin.  He just seems really unprofessional.  And I *know* the Rooneys won't fire him.  But they probbaly should.
  4. Aditi Kinkhabwala on twitter reported at 5:10 pm:  Ben Roethlisberger asked why Steelers didn't run as much in the second half. Says, "No idea. Coach Haley's over there. You can ask him." So I ask: Why is Aditi following the team?  Why are the NFL Network guys all over Roethlisberger?  Why is the NFL gonna dock us a draft pick?   There's something freaky here.  Is it because of Clark?  Are they focusing on his team?  Is he the leak??

  5.  Note, the whole quote:
    “No idea. Coach Haley’s over there. You can probably ask him. Whether it’s scheme, I don’t know. There was no particular reason. We just tried to move the ball, and I thought we did a good job passing it there, too.”
    So I really think that he actually angry at the press asking him nonsense but the horde will twist it to a Haley-Ben Battle.

  6. And I know every fan complains about the refs.  But I watched every game last year and it wasn't like this.  The officiating this year is dreadful for every team, this is also true.  But in the Steelers games we almost NEVER see the calls going our way and an insane number going the other way.   It's confounding.  If I cared about our chances, if we still had a shot, I'd try to go back and chronicle it, but why bother.   We're not 5-8 because of the calls mainly because good teams overcome most of those.  But as today showed, we're just not good enough, and it's in all 3 phases... but mainly the defense.  Gevalt.

  7. At the beginning of the year, I was upset that the Steelers were playing only at night because that meant I had to be depressed and sleep deprived.  Now that we play, and lose, at the 1pm, I'm depressed and miss the afternoon games.

  8. I mean, I expected we'd lose one of these 3 to make it to the playoffs, but that was to be against the Packers.  We couldn't lose this one.  We're not mathematically out, sure, but we shouldn't have lost this one IF WE WERE GOOD.  But somehow the defense gave up.  I don't know why, but they just do.

  9. I couldn't watch any of the later games.  I'm too depressed.

  10. Howeover, I will still try to watch the Steelers in future weeks.  They occassionaly make a nice play, and that's fun to see.  

  11. That's what I think makes a real fan.  I like watching them win, even when the games don't matter.  So if they win any of the last 3, it'll be fun!  And if they lose, then it doesn't matter, and it may even be better for our draft position.  So it's a win-win.  In a filthy depressing way.

What's next? THE DRAFT.  My view, right now, is that aside from Tight End, the draft should all be defense. 

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Some More Steelers Notes pre-Dolphins

Some more points before the game
  1. As I said earlier, I think the O-line coach may be amazing.  Guy Whimper was considered a real dud before he came here but when he's played he's been decent.  Not great, granted, but decent - and that's better than he was before.  That's why I'm hopeful for Cody Wallace at center - he's been on the team all year (so he didn't have to catch up at 60 mph) and the coach, Jack Bicknell, Jr., seems to have a touch. 
  2. For the same reason, I'm hopeful for Mike Adams being better now than in Week 4 (when he was demoted).  If Adams has been practicing since that week, and practicing all week as well, then he'll be prepared.  And if Bicknell has been training him (which I assume the team demanded given the 2nd round status), and if Adams can crack through the doobie haze and realize he's almost out of a job, then maybe he's going to be decent as well.  Too much to ask for him to be good, of course.
  3. As I mentioned earlier, if we finally get a decent pass rush - which could happen with Worlids and Woodley in tandem (maybe move Jarvis inside?), then that could be the missing piece for resuscitating our defense. 
  4. I wouldn't boo Mike Wallace because I think he's a sad, and dumb, person.  He wanted money, I get that, but he's just not good enough to boo.
  5. Dave Dameshek on the BS Report had an interesting insight about NFL teams and  injuries being like the game Jenga: each team, like a Jenga tower, will suffer pieces being removed (by injury) but its unknown which piece will cause the tower to crumble.  This is key this year because almost every team seems to have suffered major injuries.  I wonder which team lost the biggest player?  Right now I'd say Green Bay with Rodgers and before him the Falcons with Jacoby Jones.
  6. So the wags are asking about who will be fired from the Steelers if we don't make the playoffs.  Considering that the Rooneys aren't idiots, I don't see why that will be necessary.  We made a huge comeback after an injury-caused 0-4 start.  I think players will be gone, mos' def, including some of my favorites (e.g. Brett Kiesel) But I don't see why Haley should be fired now that he has let Big Ben run the no-huddle.  Ben runs Haley's plays, even if Haley isn't barking in his ear, and that means Haley is contributing.  Changing the OC would cause another year or so of 'rebuilding' and who wants that?!

Friday, December 06, 2013

The Draft and Playing to Lose

The NFL has draft concept, shared with the other sports, that the worst teams of the previous year get to draft earliest.  Personally, I think the rule should be changed because it's very tempting to play to lose.  Players were kicked out of the last Olympics for doing this, yet it's an open secret that in the NBA (and possibly MLB) this can be done.  MLB has a bit of sense in that you can bring players up from the minors, and send others back, so at least you're actually developing talent... but it's disgusting.

The way to fix it is to give the top draft picks to the C teams not F teams, i.e. the middle of the record not the bottom feeders.  Why? Because C teams were at least trying.   The F teams are there, at least in the NFL, usually because of (a) key injuries, or (b) bad owners.  It's not even the bad coaches, because from what I've seen a "bad" coach is often just in the wrong system, and the only *really* bad coaches are hired by bad owners.

I've said in many occasions - and the standard caveat for all of this is that I only really know the NFL for now - that the worst teams are the ones doomed by bad ownership.  They consistently make bad decisions, throw money around, and kill good players.  Why keep throwing #1 picks into bad environments?

Bad teams have bad owners who then usually have terrible scouting departments and bad playing environments.  The middling teams are more likely to try harder and will be a quicker turn-around.

As it is, we keep throwing good picks into terrible environments and I think it's likely that bad teams don't have good scouts and in my idea they'll need to develop their scouting departments.

One illustrative case for my idea are the Cleveland Browns.  I think finally they may turn aronud and all because they changed owners.  When Paul Brown was fired by the skeevie Modell's, the team took a nose dive.  When they re-formed in 1999 they have remained a silly, childish team (see here for a video of their recent history (YT: Cleveland Browns 1999-2012: A Documentary)
).  A team with bad owners will just waste their draft picks!  Look at their 2012 draft.  They had 2 first rounders and they decided to draft for need - which everyone says not to do, but I wondered why because it sounded like a paradox.  You draft every player because you have a need!  What's the difference?  Again, look and learn from the doofus Browns.

To draft for need means you go for the best position candidate at your pick instead of the best player.  So the Browns, thinking they needed these 2 positions went for a Running Back and Quarterback in the first round.  Sadly, both turn out to be middling (Richardson, but there are reasons) or terrible (Wheeden).  [The opposite technique is - for lack of a better term - "draft against non-needs."  For example, the Steelers shouldn't draft in the first round a QB or center because those are non-needs.]   If the Browns had drafted the best players at their spot, then those positions would be stellar for a long time, and that will always help a team. 

Another example of draft dizziness are the Redskins.  While I like RGIII, his injuries demonstrate why you don't spend multiple draft picks on anybody.  Because everyone can get injured, and when you have a few 1st rounders on your roster, they can carry your team while the rest falls apart.  Their 4th rounder, Cousens, seems to be a fine QB - can you imagine DCs fate if they had more draft picks and a decent QB (Cousens) instead of what they face now?  Their terrible draft position is wasted because they threw it away to another team!

(always a sign of idiocy).  "Drafting for need"
in point for all of this On a related drafting note: if you ever want to know why you never draft for need, look at the 2013 Browns. In 2012 picked

Steelers Week 13, Reflections

Ahhh, gevalt.
  1. What a horrible loss - not the losing per se, but the injuries and the griminess.  Look, if we had won, we'd actually be a top-10 team.  We're average, and this season will show that.  But we're not below average, and we may finish 9-7 but it's likely to be 7-9 or 8-8.   My key point is that the chips were severely against us and I'd like to see how many teams could win these two games in 4 days.
  2. We lost for the reasons why we're an average team, and it kinda goes to age.  Big Ben was not sharp in the first half, and our defense just does not travel well.  They did well on Sunday, but two in 4 days is too much for them.   This is why I think we can actually win the last 4... but not enough for last night.
  3. Luckily, the worst we can be is 5-11 and that would just tie the worst we've been in the Noll era.
  4. Ravens fans shouldn't feel cocky.  Even though we played badly, we should have won.  The botched FG, the Bell TD taken away.  Hopefully they will be as clueless as they are classless and think they're better than they are. 
  5. Case in point, our defense held the Ravens to 74 yards rushing and no rushing TDs. 
  6. The bad: Vellasco! No!!  The good: Worilds is playing so great that maybe with Woodley back we'll have a killer pass rush. for the first time this year.  That will be awesome.  Another good: Ben did not get sacked.  It's nuts, but we were finally getting our O-line working, and now they're demolished.   And we had no turnovers!!  The o-line coach must be a maestro to keep this up.  The crazy thing is that we may lose the next one because of these injuries!   God-Damn Thursday night games!  
  7. God-Damn Thursday night games! I knew this game would be trouble back in August.
  8. Look, it's possible that with Worilds catching fire that he with Woodley (were he to ever return) would finally create the necessary pass rush that would allow the rest of the defense to not be pressed so hard.  Troy could return to being a land-shark and the corners wouldn't have to cover so long.   As such, this would make us a better team and one that can legitimately be in the playoffs.   Sadly, with the devastating and constant O-line injuries, our offense - which by second half Thursday was the best it's been this year - has taken a massive step back.  Damn you Thrusday night games!
  9. Damn you Thrusday night games! 
  10. Is there a curse on the O-Line?  I can make one up.  The Curse of Mike Webster - until concussion money is paid to all the pre-free-agency injuries, Webster's team will lose linemen...  (SteelersDepot says the last time we had a steady line was 2009, so what happened then?) 
  11. A note about luck: if we had Green Bay instead of Vikings or Bears, we'd have the same loss.  But if we had Vikings now, we'd smear 'em.

About the Tomlin Kick Return Thing
  1. Sigh. I actually believe him. He's classy and I think he'd tempt interference like Cowher did (see below) not in a sneaky way.  Tomlin's excuse is that the Jumbotron provides information about his team's activity in coverage that sideline view doesn't give. Wolf confirms that looking at the jumbotron, and sideline standing in general, messes with your spatial awareness.   Sadly, I thought that if we made it to the playoffs, and won a game then too, that Tomlin could be a candidate for Coach of the year.  No more.
  2. Heard the tomlin conference and I'm waiting for the punishment before I post this. I have a feeling he did the conference with input by the league because i don't think they *want* to punish him a lot, and this will allow them to lay a hefty fine and not a suspension or any of the other idiocy.   One thing I noticed, I don't think he said 'obviously' almost at all.
  3. As such, I wonder if "obviously" is his tic when he's saying cliches and in general a monologue of wasted time (in his mind).
  4. The fine is 100K.  And they are still threatening a draft pick (WHY?).  Personally, I thought they'd kick him off the competition committee.   Personally, I'd appeal and offer to be off the field for the next game .  And instead of a flat fee, there should be units of week pay (this way the low-cost players would be equal to the big bucks
  5. People ask; what if it were Harbaugh.  Well, Tomlin has the rep of being a very straight shooter - reflective of the organization.  Harbaugh is a whiny slimeball, so I don't think it's the right example.  What if Coughlin (NYG), or McCarthy (GB) or Shanahan (Wash) did it - those are Tomlin's peers.  Or better yet, the other coaches on the Competition Committee: Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals) or Jeff Fisher (St. Louis Rams)?