Now it’s time to panic.
The Tennessee Titans defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-23 on Thursday Night Football. I repeat, the 1-3 Titans starting a 37 year old backup QB defeated the Steelers. Where do I begin?
I suppose I’ll start by saying this is a total team loss. Anybody pointing to one specific area as “the reason they lost” has no idea what they’re talking about. The defense, for all their struggles, only gave up one legit TD with the other being a gimme from the 1 yard line after a blocked punt. The offense, despite a 363 yard passing day from Ben Roethlisberger to move ahead of Terry Bradshaw as the team’s all-time yardage leader, made some plays but they also missed a lot of chances. And the special teams, well, the blocked punt was just the latest miscue in a season full of them. Maybe Mike Tomlin shouldn’t have ousted Al Everest so he could give his buddy the job.
Regarding the special teams, Stonecold Shaun Suisham is one guy who can leave Tennessee with his head held high. Nobody has been more critical of him than I so trust me when I say making every field goal up through a 52 yarder early in the 4th quarter is all anybody can ask of him. It would’ve been nice for him to hit the 54 yarder at the end but that’s hardly a kick you automatically expect ANY kicker to make.
Right here is one of the problems with the Steelers. I’m talking about field goals instead of touchdowns. Once again, the offense moved in fits and starts, sputtering around for large stretches and failing to put the game away by scoring TOUCHDOWNS instead of settling for field goals. Twice the Steelers got inside the 15 and twice they came away with 3 instead of 6. You let teams hang around, even bad teams like the Titans, and bad things happen.
The receiving star was Isaac Redman. Wait, WHAT? Yes, for all we talk about Young Money and the best receiving corps in the NFL, it was our running back that caught 4 passes for 105 yards. Our TE, Heath Miller, chipped in with 6 catches for 67 yards. Antonio Brown? A measly 20 yards. Manny Sanders? A whopping 43.
Then we have Mike Wallace. Wallace had 94 yards and a TD on two, count’em two, catches. He scored doing pretty much the only thing he knows how to do: run fast straight down the field. I don’t want to hear any more bullshit about how Wallace is “a complete receiver.” Complete receivers catch many balls on a variety of patterns. Wallace is the ultimate all or nothing guy.
Unlike last week when the receivers dropped a ton of passes, this week much of the blame rests with Ben. He makes some great throws, like the bomb to Wallace, but then he’ll turn around and miss plays he needs to make. Suisham’s 52 yarder only happened because Ben made a terrible throw when he had Sanders wide open down the seam. Earlier in the game, he had Heath in the end zone and threw it behind him. Then there was a costly pick as time was running out in the half which probably cost the Steelers at least a field goal.
Like it or not, Ben needs a running game. When they run, they win. When they don’t, they lose. And last night, they couldn’t run at all. Much was due to having no running backs. Rashard Mendenhall played a couple series before leaving the game with what habitual liar Tomlin described as “some sort of Achilles problem.” Then iRed, who wasn’t carrying the ball well but has emerged as a great screen guy, left the game after taking a helmet to the knee. With Jon Dwyer in the doghouse, Baron Batch did his best in relief, even scoring his first career TD, but he’s not a starting caliber running back.
The other problem with the running game was the offensive line. As if losing our top two RBs wasn’t enough, we also lost 2/5 of our line. I think Maurkice Pouncey is way overrated but there is one huge difference between him and Doug Legursky. They’re about the same in pass protection but Pouncey is a much better run blocker. Ditto with Marcus Gilbert, who was replaced by rookie Mike Adams. Adams is fine at pass pro, perhaps even better than Gilbert, but he doesn’t run block very well.
Now let’s talk about the defense. Specifically, Ike Taylor. The Steelers only had 4 flags thrown on them yesterday, two of them went against Ike for pass interference (he had a third which was declined). When he wasn’t getting flagged, he was letting receivers run past, through, and around him. The Titans’ first FG was set up by a penalty on Ike. Their game tying drive was prolonged by a third down penalty on Ike. Their game tying TD was scored on Ike. Hasselbeck threw for 290 yards (and would’ve thrown for about 50 more if his receivers could catch the ball), about 50% of which was on Ike alone.
In summation, Ike sucks. Instead of making pornographic rap songs, he needs to start figuring out why he sucked against Denver and why he’s sucked ever since.
Keenan Lewis…KEENAN LEWIS is now our best corner. And yes, people are going to point out he dropped a crucial interception late in the 4th that could’ve altered the game. How many of those has Ike dropped? At least Lewis is actually covering people and making plays. Cortez Allen, pressed into duty as a safety when Will Allen got hurt, did his best although messed up several times. Ryan Clark led the team in tackles as he continues to be our defensive MVP. Lawrence Timmons continued his strong play, coming up with a big interception on a play that was positively Polamalu-esque.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the D held strong for three quarters, holding Tennessee to only 9 points (as I said, the blocked punt TD shouldn’t be held against them) while the offense dicked around. Then they totally collapsed in the 4th. Why Tomlin made the insane decision to try a 54 FG instead of punting and playing for overtime, I don’t know. Dick LeBeau making the asinine call of asking James “Missed the first month of the season because of a bum knee” Harrison to drop back in pass coverage instead of, oh say, SUPER SPEEDY LAWRENCE TIMMONS was equally perplexing.
I’ve avoided dire predictions and grand statements thus far this season. Well, that time is done. The Steelers, with about 12 starters on the disabled list, get 10 days off before facing the Bengals. That has now become a MUST WIN game. I don’t care if it’s still early in the season, I don’t care that neither Cincy nor the Ratbirds are setting the world on fire, you can’t start 2-4 and expect to go anywhere. It’s time to sink or swim.
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I hate NFL pre-season games. I understand why they’re necessary but I still loathe them. To me, they’re tedious, dull, and totally meaningless. I don’t know what’s worse, that they televise them like they’re actual games or that rabid football fans watch them and then buy that some undrafted third string linebacker who got a sack in the fourth quarter will actually see playing time during the regular season.
Teams would rather trot out a starting linebacker with one eye or starting quarterback with one leg *cough*Steelers*cough* than play the guys you see playing in the fourth quarter.
Last night, the Pittsburgh Steelers were edged by the Philadelphia Eagles on a last second field goal by some dude named Alex Henery. At least, that’s what Bob Pompeani told me because I turned the game off long before then. I did suffer through the first half and a few plays of the third quarter before flipping over to the Olympics to watch Usain Bolt blow everybody away in the 200 meters. Which reminds me, who thinks Kevin Colbert should give Usain a call? It doesn’t matter if he can catch the ball so long as he can run cheetah-fast in a straight line thereby “stretching the field.”
He probably wouldn’t want no damn $12 million a year to do it.
Anyhow, last night we got our first look at the Black and Gold’s new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, new offensive line, new backfield, new receiving corps, new secondary… Well, we we sorta got a look at them because coaches keep their game plans blander than Justin Bieber in a Disney movie because nobody in their right mind would waste valuable chunks of their playbook on a meaningless game. So while we saw all these guys on the field last night, we really can’t say with any certainty if they’re ready for some football (that counts). However, since I spent valuable Assassin’s Creed time watching this nonsense, here are a few totally random observations.
– I thought the offensive line was supposed to be good this year? It sure didn’t appear that way what with Ben Roethlisberger getting sacked twice on the opening drive and running for his life a couple other times. For the record, the starting unit was (left to right) Mike Adams, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert. The bookends looked shaky, with Adams surrendering one of the sacks while Foster surrendered the other. Both Adams and Gilbert were repeatedly pushed backwards or ran around by a speed rusher in what looked like a repeat of the same old O-line play we’ve seen the past few years.
DeCastro looked pretty solid, though. He pulled on a number of plays and got downfield to block on several others. Him and Pouncey opened up a couple big holes which is a nice sign going forward. Speaking of the running game:
– Chris Rainey. Rainey took over Antonio Brown’s return duties which isn’t surprising because that’s why we assume he was drafted. What was surprising is he’s also taken over Mewelde Moore’s role as the third down back, where his elusiveness and ability to catch balls out of the backfield were on full display. At one point he took a third and long draw and converted a first down in what was probably the first team’s best play of the game. Rainey will never be a three down back (he ended up with 1 yard on 4 carries despite that 14 yard gain) but if you’re looking for this year’s Wallace/AB surprise breakout offensive star, Rainey may be your man.
– The running back battle. Redzone Redman is going to be the starter, we already knew that. The first guy to relieve him, and thus the nominal back-up, appears to be Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer hasn’t done bupkiss during the regular season but he was the running star last night, ripping off 40 yards on only two carries. The Steelers gave rookie (technically, this is his second year but he blew out his knee before the season started) Baron Batch an extended look to mixed results (19 carries 41 yards, mostly against third and fourth string scrubs). He ran hard but straight ahead showing only mediocre speed and elusiveness. At 5’10 210, he’s not big enough to run like that which is why he got stoned on three tries from the goal line. Later on, he loosened up a bit and began making some cuts but I’m not sure he’s all the way back yet.
The good news is John Clay only got a handful of carries. That’s usually a tell-tale sign of a team wanting to hide a guy on the practice squad. Batch was also a draft pick and we know how Colbert likes to keep his picks around even when other guys are clearly better. I’m not giving up on Batch based on a single pre-season game coming off a major injury. But I am wondering if the team keeps Mendenhall around with the idea of activating him by mid-season, which back will be odd man out. Redman, Rainey and Dwyer look locked in, I don’t know if the roster has room for a fifth back.
– Speaking of injured players, Casey Hampton continues to work his way back from knee surgery so taking his place at NT was Steve McClendon. All McClendon did was record a sack on his first series as starter. Alameda Ta’amu is the future at nose but I liked what I saw of McClendon last season and it appears he’s picking right up where he left off.
– Poor Byron Leftwich. He should probably consider joining Mike Wallace on his couch until the pre-season is over because he’s snakebit in these games. No, he didn’t get hurt last night but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie tried to behead him while he was attempting a pass.
Lefty looked fine, not too mobile but still possessing a good strong arm. Charlie Batch didn’t get in the game which I honestly don’t know how to take. Jerrod Johnson played the entire second half and looked like the second coming of Dennis Dixon, ie; Ran away when he sensed trouble, terrible accuracy, occasional flashes of competence. There was literally zero difference between JJ and DD except that JJ has apparently learned more than three plays. If the unthinkable happened and we lost Ben and Lefty, I wouldn’t trust Johnson any more than I trusted Dixon.
Then again, as the Philly fanbase thought while holding their collective onion-tinged breath when Michael Vick hurt his hand attempting a pass, you lose your starting QB and the season is lost no matter who you have backing him up. Let’s hope the team affords our superstar QB a little better protection than we saw tonight. Otherwise, we’re in for another loooong year.
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The Final Four is down to two. Hennessy and I have picked the two people we feel will be most key to how the 2012 season goes for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since any March Madness style tournament needs a little friendly competition, we decided to do our first ever co-post. I’ll present my reasoning why my pick is the man who’ll be most responsible for the Steelers success (or failure) in the upcoming campaign. And Hennessy will make his case. How will we decide who is right? Only time will tell.
I picked Todd Haley as the man most crucial to the Steelers prospects in 2012. With Rashard Mendenhall hurt, the running game will fall mostly on the shoulders of Isaac Redman. Redman isn’t an explosive back and he’s not going to break a lot of big runs but he’s serviceable enough. I like Baron Batch, I was bummed when he was lost for the season because I thought he’d be a younger more dynamic Mewelde Moore. He definitely has a lot more upside than Jon Dwyer or Jon Clay and I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled a Willie Parker (unheralded RB who comes out of nowhere to take starting job) on Redzone.
However, all this running game talk is moot because the NFL is a PASSING LEAGUE. Despite what Art Rooney II may think, grandaddy’s power running football is a thing of the past. If the Steelers really think they can run the ball 30+ times a game and be successful, well, they’re in for a rude awakening. You win by putting the game in the hands of your playmakers and the Steelers best players on offense are Ben Roethlisberger and his Young Money wideouts (Antonio Brown, Manny Sanders, and Mike Wallace). Last year, the Steelers enjoyed a 4,000 yard passer and two 1,000 yard receivers for the first time in team history. While Bruce Arians certainly had shortcomings, one thing he did well was recognize the need for having a high-powered offense in today’s NFL. The team did struggle in the red zone which affected their overall ranking but that was as much a function of the poor offensive line and ineffective running game as his playcalling. Perhaps Batch can help in the red zone but not as much as Ben and his receivers.
Haley is a combustible personality. When he was hired, the stories you heard were of players who either loved him or hated him. Guys like Dwayne Bowe loved him and he helped mold them into elite performers. However, we’ve seen on teams like the Jets how things can fall apart when key offensive personnel, like the quarterback, don’t get along with their offensive coordinator. If Haley can temper his outbursts and focus his intensity in productive directions, the Steelers’ offense has the potential to be among the league’s best. If he doesn’t, well, we’ll all be looking back fondly on the days of the Flying Circus.
Much like the established players in the Superstar showdown, the impact of Pittsburgh’s up-and-coming players will be critical to the 2012 season. In Baron Batch’s case, he will be looking to fill a void that Mendenhall, Medium-Speed Willie Parker, and Issac Redman have not yet been able to – an explosive running game that scores at will. Punching the ball through the end zone was a routine play when Jerome Bettis put a helmet on during the season. Since his departure, Pittsburgh has seen promise of a second coming several times, but nobody has yet to fit the bill. Providing support to Big Ben and Young Money is a long overdue task, and Baron Batch looks to be the next man willing to take on the challenge. Ziggy Hood will need to mature and become the youth needed on an aging defensive staff. He is making that progress with a few productive seasons under his belt, but there is still work to be done. Much like Antonio’s role being more significant than Harrison in 2012, the need to stack up a powerful run game is more critical short-term than more strength at Defensive End. With Baron appearing to be the RB on deck, I am looking for a solid performance and quick movement to a starting position. If Batch’s ACL is healed and his game is as sharp as last preseason, Mendenhall could very possibly have injured himself out of a starting position if he is not ready for the 2012 campaign.
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Chris had his (long-winded) say, it’s my turn.
Antonio Brown vs Mike Wallace – Given the offseason, the 2012 Steelers roster will most likely include all three members of Young Money. AB and Wallace are no-doubt the most proven of the three, and their 2012 success or failures will be at the top of the Offensive report card. Wallace has been a fleeting superstar for two seasons, and showed he may be worth reaching deep in your pocket for. However, last season his 8 touchdown 1,000 + yard performance was overshadowed by a late-season slip in production. While he’s sitting on top of a $2.7M tender, his eagerness to get Larry Fitzgerald money before proving his long term value has all but signed him up for another year in Black and Gold. Antonio Brown showed he can step up when needed, and proved his durability by being thrown to only 3 times less than Fitzgerald Jr. Though he only crossed the endzone twice, he showed signs of being the go-to-guy for Ben. If Wallace proves his value with a 3rd superstar season, there could be owners opening their checkbook next year. Because I don’t think that owner will be Deuce Rooney, I look forward to draining out another season of Flash Speed from MW and putting my money on the equally capable and seemingly more consistent Antonio.
James Harrison vs LaMarr Woodley – Silverback and Woodley could shake the ground if they faced off against each other in a chess game. The Linebacker tandem has wreaked havoc on opposing offenses more than any other pairing in recent NFL history. 2011 gave us a wide angle at their individual abilities rather than as a tandem, with Harrison and Woodley finding it hard to take the field on the same Sunday as his pass rushing compatriot. Both put up impressive pass-rushing seasons with 9 sacks, but Silverback managed to tackle 22 more men than Woodley, despite playing in only one more game during the campaign. One thing that sets these two apart for me is Harrison’s ferocity and availability on every play. He jumped out of the ESPN highlight reels late in the season, but still managed to compile an impressive record having only played 11 games. If he can come out healthy in 2012 alongside a hopeful healthy Woodley, I’m picking the man with the iron orbital bone to lead the 2012 defense to success.
WINNER: Ironface James Harrison
THE NEW GUYS BRACKET
Baron Batch vs John Clay – Who? It wouldn’t surprise me if a handful of readers have little more knowledge of these two than they do their fifth cousin. Batch was sidelined with an ACL tear before his first NFL campaign got off its feet, and John Clay did little more than squeeze into the gameday roster when CB hopeful Curtis Brown was sent to the IR. He punched a 10-Yard TD on his first NFL run against St. Louis, and went on to touch the ball a few more times to close out the year. Baron Batch spent his 2011 writing wordy excerpts and giving convincing insight into his distinguished character on his excellent blog. If he slips out of the NFL, that man could make a living putting together awesome playlists. He showed great promise in the pre-season, and between the two, I’m hedging my bets on Batch being the future of the elusive running game. He had a great career at Texas Tech, and god knows we need to fill the hole left by a man named Jerome.
WINNER: Baron Batch
Ziggy Hood vs Cam Heyward – James Farrior is arguably the biggest loss on the defensive side of the ball this year, but following in his wake was DE Aaron Smith. Smith was the glue that forged Lebeau’s legendary defense in its infancy. Filling that gap will take leadership, performance, and the general bad-assery Smith carried out on the field with him. OSU native Cam Heyward played 16 games in his rookie year, but is still trying to prove his starting worth. Three year vet Evander Ziggidy-Diggity Hood convinced coaches to start him 7 times, and registered time on the clock for all 16 games as well. Heyward is regarded as the second coming of Iron-Head Heyward, and he needs to start proving it after being overshadowed by Hood last season. Hood registered almost 50 tackles last year. Get with the program, Cam – I don’t care if you’re a rookie or not. With the veterans we lost this year, the defense needs a DE with balls. Both are capable of performing, but so far Hood has showed more promise in carrying the load shouldered by Smith.
WINNER: Ziggy Hood