9.26.2011

Between The Bookends, A Troubled Team

It's not often that a team comes away with a victory and ends up looking the worse for it, but here we are with the Steelers. Granted, I'll take the 2-1 start given how the team has played through three weeks, but unless there is marked improvement in the weeks to come, this team won't do much except prey upon the Seahawks and Curtis Painter-led Colts of the world.

The Steelers' weaknesses were almost all glaringly evident last night. Only the play of the corners who aren't Ike Taylor weren't exploited because Painter and Collins simply weren't good enough to do it. Credit to Ike, by the way. He was tested often in single coverage deep and won the battle each time.

There were some other things to be encouraged about. James Harrison continues to regain more and more of his dominating form each week. Last night, he wasn't very far off. Which is nice, because LaMarr Woodley isn't doing a heck of a lot from the other side. I've noticed over the past few seasons that Woodley's sack totals are mostly backloaded through the schedule. In 2009, he didn't register his first sack until Week 5 and finished with 13.5. Last year, 6.5 of his 10 sacks came in the last nine games. So hopefully that;s the case again rather than Woodley being complacent with the big deal he signed in the offseason.

Troy was everywhere. He had one touchdown and was a hair's breadth away from scoring, or at least causing, one or two more. That was the first turnover the defense has caused since the AFC Championship Game against the Jets in January. Troy and James seem like the only ones capable of creating turnovers on this unit this season. They were the ones close to making them against the Seahawks last week and they were the ones responsible for the strip-sack for a score last night. Others have played solidly - Ike, Timmons, Ziggy Hood, for example - but more are going to have to show themselves capable of making what Tomlin would call splash plays.

As for the line, which I don't really much want to talk about since there's no clear solution for an issue that seems to get worse each week. Doug Legursky, Marcus Gilbert and Jonathan Scott all suffered injuries in varying degrees of severity against the Colts. Even if they hadn't, the picture wouldn't be much rosier. I had said going into the game that the Colts best opportunity for victory was Freeney and Mathis abusing Scott and Gilbert. And that's exactly what happened. It nearly cost the Steelers the game. Against a better or healthier team, it probably would have. Sure, the fumble that Mathis caused was as much on Roethlisberger than anyone else, but Gilbert was getting abused all night. The Steelers had no viable strategies for run or pass blocking. I'm not sure Jonathan Scott even moved on the strip-sack for a TD that Freeney executed. Even after the ball was fumbled. Scott's injury looks to be the worst from last night. Which likely means Gilbert will be moved over to left tackle, as he was late against Indy. And the team will have to cave to the contract demands of Flozell Adams. They simply have to at this point, unless they want to get Roethlisberger killed. Granted, not every team in the league has a pass rushing tandem on par with Mathis and Freeney, but several do. One elite pass rusher is enough to wreak havoc with this unit. I'm already dreading what Mario Williams is going to do next week.

Despite the one fumble he could have prevented (the second was entirely on Scott) and the bad interception, I thought this was the best performance of the season by Ben Roethlisberger. Manny Sanders and Weslye Saunders cost him two scores with poor drops deep in Colts territory. Ben spread the ball around well. After gouging Indy early with Mike Wallace, he was able to move the ball with Antonio Brown and Manny mostly being the primary targets. The screen plays to Heath were largely ineffective. I understand the thinking behind them since teams are going to send the house a lot against this line, but Heath doesn't exactly have incredible speed, even by tight end standards. He's not going break those plays for more than five or six yards.

Oh, and it still shocks me that the team didn't try harder to replace Shaun Suisham in the offseason. Shazam had a good streak to start his stint for the Steelers when he joined the team last season, but he's been mostly a liability since. I've gotten to the point of cringing anytime they want to try any kicks beyond 40 yards.

Obviously, I don't know if the Steelers will call Flozell, but it appears that their hand is forced, as it will be to dress more than seven linemen in any given game. If they do, I'll feel better about the immediate prospects of this team, because it's still very capable of contending. A below average line is one thing, but this unit has prevented what could be a stellar offense from establishing anything close to a rhythm. And now the team is staring down its first real test since Week 1.

3 comments:

Spatula said...

How much of a problem do you think there is with coaching? It seems like the game plans against Baltimore and Indy were way off. The Steelers weren't able to cover up their weaknesses or exploit the other teams' issues. These seem to be, a least in part, preparation issues.

Christmas Ape said...

Tomlin deserves some blame. Arians, too, for highly predictable playcalling. Would be useful to go back and count how many consecutive first downs they tried to run to no avail, but I'd rather not get depressed right now.

Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls said...

Bring back Flozell. Or, Max Starks. Either would have to be better at left tackle than Jonathan Scott.

Mike Florio reports today the Vikings are considering signing Starks.

That Willie Colon signing still bothers me, especially now that it looks like sunk money.