1.20.2012

The Bubble Screen of Death is Dead

Presumably, at least. How knows if the Steelers will double down on pass happiness and sign Mike Martz just to see how high I'm willing to climb to leap to my demise. Even worse, some are saying Jim Caldwell is a possible replacement candidate. What conversations

For now, let's just celebrate Bruce Arians being gone forever. Granted, he wasn't the worst offensive coordinator the team has ever had in my lifetime (Kevin Gilbride), but the Steelers could certainly do better. I'm sure the guy got tired of the constant hate and blame heaped on him (hate and blame I was only happy to contribute) and really, that was the only way he was gonna leave. Tomlin and Roethlisberger were fiercely loyal to the guy.

If nothing else, hopefully this spells the end of the stupid bubble screen strategy the Steelers routinely employed under Arians. Not only was it usually a waste of a down, it was also turning into turnover bait on a consistent basis. The INT Terrell Suggs got a bubble screen the team telegraphed possibly cost the Steelers the second game against Baltimore. Had they won that, the team is probably still playing this weekend. Only a bad early whistle by the officials stopped the bubble screen from resulting in another turnover in the Wild Card loss in Denver.

1.09.2012

Tebow 3:16 Means You Just Got Sideline Smolderfaced

Fuck.

Fuuuuuuuuucccccccckkkkkkkk.

It's been readily apparent for weeks that the Steelers were too banged up and otherwise out of sorts to put together another bid for the Super Bowl. Most likely they were going to lose to New England in six days in Foxboro, but they should have enough - even with half the defense sidelined or compromised - to down a 8-8 team, even on the road.

The Steelers might have (could argue they should have) pulled it out, but poor coaching and, more importantly, a lack of adjustments kept them from advancing. Moreover, the Steelers just became evidence for the many Tebowtards out there that Timmy is "for real", whatever the hell that means. I'll give the guy credit, of his 10 long completions, a lot of them were pinpoint throws that were downright impressive. But a lot of quarterbacks in this league will excel if the opposition is defending their receivers in man coverage with no safety help.

I don't fault Dick LeBeau for trying that scheme at the outset. Who would trust Tebow to make accurate throws the way he has played? But how was that still the coverage by the time overtime rolled around? LeBeau's ancient and maybe that advanced age makes him more resistant to change than he should be. Shit, it took four or five losses to the Patriots before he tried something new with them. If anything, the loss deprives us of the chance to see if LeBeau would actually stay creative with the challenge of New England. It could have been hubris that convinced him even after his defense got burned several times in the second quarter that lowly Tebow couldn't hit another open receiver streaking down the field.

I'm not among the irate knee-jerkers calling for LeBeau's ouster or even the dispatching of Ike Taylor. Obviously, Taylor was put in a difficult position with Ryan Mundy giving him no help over the top. But you can't be a supposed shutdown corner and get abused the way he was by Demaryius Thomas. Thomas is a great young player who has been on fire the last month of the season. Not really a guy to take lightly in single coverage, even if it's Tebow throwing to him.

The clock management on the final drive of regulation was atrocious. The Steelers seemed to have more issues with that this season than at any point in Tomlin's tenure. Mike is a guy who talks a good game about being hard on himself and his strategies, and he usually, if not always, follows through on that. Let's hope he makes a point to revisit some of those blunders between now and September.

Give it up to Ben playing hurt and rallying the team back. He was obviously hobbled and appeared to have reaggravated his injury at one point in the game, but stuck it out and was solid throughout. Can't say his receivers did him a lot of favors either. Jerricho Cotchery and Mike Wallace had two critical drops on what would have been big plays when the throws were there. It's nice that Wallace made the Pro Bowl as a starter and all, but I can't image that it did a lot for his contract demands that he forgot how to catch the ball the second half of the season.

Had to have heartened a lot of Mendenhall's detractors to see Isaac Redman play so well. That's probably the brightest point for me. If Mendy didn't just suffer a torn ACL, you could conceivably see him offered as trade bait, both to acquire another pick and maybe clear some cap room for Mike Wallace.

In some ways, I guess losing to Tebow isn't as bad as losing to New England, because then at least the last meeting between the Steelers and the Pats was a victory and we don't have to hear about how this season was a repeat of 2004, when the Steelers won the regular season meeting, only to drop the playoff rematch with the Greatriots. That said, I'm not watching a goddamn minute of SportsCenter or any sports talking head show all week.

Pretty shitty showing by the refs yesterday. The botched fumble on the lateral seems to be getting all the attention, OF COURSE. It was a terrible call, no doubt, but the Broncos got their share of breaks as well, if you wish to count three grievous no-calls on Harrison holds, a puzzling incidental contact explanation when a defender tripped Antonio Brown streaking toward the end zone (the Steelers had to settle for a field goal instead) not to mention what could have been a helmet-to-helmet hit on Mike Wallace in the second half. There was some garbage officiating throughout the weekend, which makes yet another case for full-time officials, but don't hold your breath or anything.

Yeah, the Steelers will be back next year, presumably healthy at a lot of positions where they didn't finish the year healthy, so that's nice. Except people like James Farrior, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor and Max Starks are gonna be a year older. Will Starks still be a capable tackle for one more year. Does anyone trust Willie Colon being worth another shot if he even comes back? Another postseason loss that showed that the corner play is a liability might lead you to think a DB would be a big priority come draft time. Who knows, though. With Green Bay and New England the likely participants in the Super Bowl, the line of thinking may just be that defense doesn't mean shit so long as you can put up 40 per game. That would lead you to think that the Steelers are a strengthed O-line away from being a serious threat again.

There's also the matter of the middle linebackers. Fans are furious with Lawrence Timmons, who did have a down year, but James Farrior has lost a step as well. They're two positions that certainly must be addressed. So even though Mike Wallace is the only guy to be concerned about, the Steelers have some veteran fat they can trim, but will have to have a big score or two in the draft to be able to enter 2012 with an eye on another championship run.

1.06.2012

My Grandma's Wild Card Weekend Picks


Pretty sure this is graphic for a baby's bib. Whatever.


My Grandma grew up on the mean streets of Sharpsburg, PA. She lived between a brewery and a cement factory. She worked at a bank for 40 years and only took 3 days off. When she "retired" she got bored, so she went to work at the snack bar at Hills department store in the Waterworks.

Grandma is endemic of so much of what Pittsburgh is. She is a tough lady. She's a busy-body. She tells stories, usually interrupting our conversation to do so. And she tells it like it is. But, she loves each and every one of us in her family. Fiercely.

Growing up, she refused to come see me play football, only baseball (that's her favorite sports and she watches the Buccos on TV whenever she can) because she didn't like, "seeing all of those boys hit into each other."

But, in her golden, hell, platinum years, she's taken to entering her assisted living center's weekly Steeler block pool. It's given us something to bond over. This week, I hoped to solicit her "picks" for the upcoming NFL Wild Card Weekend. Once I dangled the idea of going to lunch at Atria's out there, she quickly agreed. Hey, I figured we had my cat do it previously, so why not? Anyway, here's the first go 'round:



Grandma likes the Steelers, which is sort of surprising actually. She obviously expresses some doubt, but as I said, she used to have a real problem with tackle football. When I was younger, any mention of them and she would immediately say "Bah humbug! Football stinks! Let's Go Buccos!" I suppose this matches the overall sentiment of SteelerNation this week. With all of the injuries and nagging concerns I think most fans will simply be relieved by a win. While we are the better team in nearly every facet on paper...well...Grandma heard they might lose SOMEWHERE, right?

As you can hear, her pick of the Bengals is simple: she knows people in Cincinnati (my in-laws...don't worry, they're Steeler fans). With Andy Dalton's health being a surprise quesiton mark, it's no wonder she took her time to decide/swallow the cheese dip she was eating. This game is likely the most indeterminate of the weekend. If you're like me, pausing to decide who to root for (and ostensibly pull for as an opponent for next week) is a thought, but it has been restricted to a passing one at that. Cannot allow for the 'ole "Thinking Ahead" jinx. She's also a bit confused by the playoff format in the NFL. And I'm not sure I really did much to clear that up...

She goes with the Saints in a matter-of-fact fashion, as have most of the pundits and experts. I suppose that makes sense, especially considering the game is in New Orleans. But, it's worth noting that a healthy Lions defense could easily, yes easily, swing this game the other direction. But, Grandma isn't buying that "rubbish" - she knows the Saints have too many weapons to succumb to what amounts to a leveraged pass-rush. Ok, time for the final segment, a review of her picks and the final one, Falcons/Giants:



So, it's Giants. I actually deleted the story she told me about how her first ever plane ride was to NYC with some of her fellow cashiers from The Federal Reserve Bank she used to work with. They saw a show. It was "delightful"

I'll be back next week with more picks...

Steelers Go Before God Boy

Unless the Steelers overcome injuries to pull another 2005-esque three-win playoff run on the road, the team is going to end up having its season come to close with a loss to either Tebow, the Patriots or Baltimore. None of those is particularly pleasant to contemplate. Being myth building fodder for the Tebow media machine might not be quite as bad as conceding a first playoff loss to the Ravens, but it's not far off.

The hype behind Timmy has fallen off slightly given Denver's implosion the final month of the season. That should help allay fears that the Steelers won't suffer a crushing one-and-done road upset, but even an out-of-sync Broncos team can pose some problems for a Steelers squad at considerably less than full strength. More to the point, given how Pittsburgh has played on the road this season, I'm not sure how most pundits are calling for a Steelers blowout. What was the best Steelers road performance this season? A 24-17 win in Cincinnati? A two-score victory over Arizona? Those are the only outings I can think of where they didn't lose or squeak by with a sloppy day.

That Maurkice Pouncey will probably also miss this game concerns me more than Rashard Mendenhall being out. This is a game for the Steelers' line and passing game to win or lose. Unless the defense chips in with a score, Denver isn't scoring 20 points. If this were the Steelers run defense of last season, I'd say Denver wouldn't clear double-digits, but McGahee should probably get at least a little traction on the ground.

Anyway, should be the Steelers put up another turnover-laden performance despite the offense moving the day (see either Cleveland game) and the team is probably setting itself up for a unbearable Tebow Time finish. The problem is, Denver knows this. They know Ben isn't as mobile as he usually is. And now the line has further vulnerabilities. So you're gonna see a fierce pass rush from Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. How Pittsburgh copes with that decides the game, almost certainly.

Ryan Clark's absence hurts run stopping possibly even more than pass coverage. Polamalu gets more of the credit for safeties crushing the run, but Clark has been fairly instrumental with
coming in and taking out the fullback. Ryan Mundy's an okay fill-in, but I'm worried, just as I am that LaMarr Woodley, even though he's playing will be anywhere close to where he was when he was winning AFC Defensive Player of the Month earlier this season. Hell, apparently James Harrison has a toe issue now, which, you know, greeeeaaaaattttt. A pure pass rush probably isn't as import against Tebow as is just being disciplined about how you try to bring him down. It's probably similar to the way a lot of teams approach playing against Ben. The worst way to let Denver to move the ball, other than just let their run game dominate you, is to miss on Tebow and have him take off for 20 yard gains.

During the Broncos much overblown run when Tebow first assumed the starting job, Football Elmer Gantry was at least good about not turning the ball over. If anything, that's where his strength lie. He let the running game and defense do their job. In some ways, he obviously helped the run game with some option looks, but for the most part, he didn't hurt the defense or put the team out of the position to stick with the run by not turning the ball over. During the recent three-game skid, that's clearly hasn't been the case, as Tebow is responsible for seven turnovers over that span, compared to only five the previous eight weeks combined. The Steelers defense has also gotten better about creating turnovers, though they're never exactly been great about it this year. Those are two encouraging trends, as any turnovers by Tebow are practically fatal for the Broncos on Sunday. The best chance for a Denver win is their pass rush frustrating Ben, maybe getting a fumble, while Tebow, maybe not even playing what a reasonable viewer might call "good", just doesn't make the killer mistake.

I know I sound racked with worry that the Steelers, but I feel pretty comfortable that the team will win, even though it won't be anywhere near as lop-sided as a lot of the general public believes. Were the Steelers totally healthy, yeah, they'd probably throttle Denver. But that seems to be lost on a lot of casual fans. So if the game remains close, I'm sure I'll see a lot of the Twitter commentary on the game be about how it's a lot closer than people expected and HURR DERR here comes Tebow Time. Not looking forward to that. I think most anxiety from Steelers fans about Sunday come from the fact that the Steelers are getting propped up like that from those hoping Tebow goes down that anything less than complete slaughter will come off looking like a disappointment. Kind of a no-win scenario. That and the prospect of losing and being background fodder for the media hero-making campaign for Tebow is too horrifying not to gnaw at you even a little bit.

As long as the Steelers win, hopefully don't lose another half dozen players to injury and put an end to Tebowmania, at least for this season, I'll be pleased however it comes about. That has to be a Mike Tomlin-approved disregard for style points.