Week 8: (Throw)Back In The Saddle

 Posted by at 4:32 am  Big Ben, Jonathan Dwyer, Todd Haley, Young Money  Comments Off on Week 8: (Throw)Back In The Saddle
Oct 292012

As the great Hannibal Smith once said: “I love when a plan comes together.”

Things seem to be coming together nicely for the Pittsburgh Steelers following their 27-12 whupping of the Washington Redskins. In the week leading up to the game, all I heard was worry. Can Todd Haley‘s dink and dunk offense score enough points? Can the Steelers’ shaky D hold up? How are they going to deal with the Ultimate Weapon, superstar rookie Robert Griffin III? In fact, ESPN even began floating the idea of RG3 for MVP.

Well, how about Big Ben for MVP?

After all, he only went 24/33 with 3 TDs and zero picks to continue his string of masterful performances. I understand that dink and dunk isn’t as exciting as a 75 yard bomb to Mike Wallace but I finally get what Haley is doing. This almost West Coast style offense has two key benefits. First, it gets the ball out of Ben’s hand faster, leading to him taking less sacks (he was sacked only once yesterday). And by relying on short passes instead of that one big strike, you possess the ball longer. The longer the offense stays on the field, the less you ask of your admittedly less than dominant defense.

The only caveat is if you’re going to dink and dunk, you have to finish drives. And to finish drives, you need a good running game.

Presto, change-o, the Steelers have found a running game thanks to the Minibus, Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer had his second consecutive 100 yard performance yesterday, the first Steeler back to accomplish that since Fast Willie Parker did it way back in 2008. I honestly don’t know how you take him out of the line-up.

In his post-game presser, Mike Tomlin was already in full liar mode talking about Dwyer experiencing “calf stiffness” late in the game. This will undoubtedly be his excuse for starting Rashard Bin Laden next week even though he hasn’t been much more than an average back for almost two years now.

We can worry about next week later, let’s revel in this victory a little more now. The Steelers offense was virtually unstoppable all afternoon, scoring on five of their first six possessions. Rookie Drew Butler could’ve pulled a Skippy and showed up two hours late and hung over because they didn’t really need him until the game was more than half over. The three and outs only started coming in the 4th when the Steelers were obviously trying to run out the clock and Washington loaded up the box to stop them.

Ben hit nine different receivers, with all three of his TDs going to separate targets. FB Will Johnson scored his first career TD on a short goal line catch while TE Leonard Pope made his first reception as a Steeler count for a TD. Heath Miller chipped in with yet another TD catch in what is fast becoming a break out season for him. Wallace shook off last week’s Sweeditis by snaring a team high 7 passes although I wouldn’t ask him to throw any more halfback options. The other members of Young Money combined for 7 catches, several for big third conversions.

Defensively, well, I’m not going to lie. A lot of their dominance was thanks to Washington shooting themselves in the foot. In my game preview, I sagely remarked that their receiving corps was pretty lackluster. They lived down to my expectations, dropping a ridiculous number of balls (official count was somewhere around 11). Rookie RB Alfred Morris ripped off some nice runs but the Skins couldn’t stick with the ground game because they fell too far behind too early. RG3 did everything he could but only Mr. Perfect can throw it and catch it himself.

It’s hard to fairly evaluate their defensive performance because Dick LeBeau was clearly worried about stopping RG3. Receivers got open because the linebackers were instructed not to drop back into coverage lest RG3 take off running. Then Ryan Clark left the game with a concussion. Will Allen and Ryan Mundy played well in relief of Ryan and Troy but they have their limits. Larry Foote and Keenan Lewis (who made his bid for Academy Award consideration with a faux interception…Manny Sanders and his “leg cramp” are still front-runners, though) continued their strong play while LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison did a pretty decent job of keeping RG3 contained in the pocket.

NFL math seldom holds up. A beating B and B beating C doesn’t automatically mean A will defeat C. Next Sunday, the Steelers face the defending champion Giants, who needed a herculean effort to pull out a last second victory over Washington last week. Our manhandling of the Skins doesn’t mean anything when the ball is kicked off in the Meadowlands.

But yesterday’s performance does make me feel a whole lot better about this team going forward. I like what they’re doing on offense. I like how the defense is shaping up. I also like the bumblebee throwback uniforms, which looked surprisingly cool. The stripey socks looked kinda Urkel-esque but the rugby style tops and tan pants were almost snazzy. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I wouldn’t mind seeing them again.

And I wouldn’t mind seeing a similar performance from the Steelers, too. In fact, give me seven or so team-wide efforts like this and I’ll see you in the playoffs.

RGIII: The Next Slash?

 Posted by at 4:36 am  Slash Stewart, Steel Dynasty, Terrelle Pryor  Comments Off on RGIII: The Next Slash?
Oct 242012

“Suck for Luck” was a popular theme last season. While Andrew Luck is enjoying a pretty good rookie season, his accomplishments have thus far been eclipsed by the quarterback taken one spot after him. Robert Griffin III has won the exact same number of games as Luck yet he’s quickly become one of the most hyped players in the league. The Four Letter, always at the forefront of insanity, is already asking if he’s a viable MVP candidate.

As if there weren’t already enough reasons to avoid ESPN.

This Sunday, RGIII will be facing the Pittsburgh Steelers. We here in the Burgh know a little something about dual threat quarterbacks. We had arguably the best one ever. His name was Kordell Stewart.

Every couple years, the NFL finds a new “ultimate weapon” that will “redefine the QB position.” And usually they have a few great seasons, win some games while piling up the fantasy stats, then the league catches up to them and they plummet back to earth. And they never ever win the big one.

People like to argue over what constitutes a dual threat QB. Some people like to list old timers like Fran Tarkenton or even our own Terry Bradshaw (seriously, look up some of TB’s old rushing totals). That’s patently ridiculous as they were classic drop back QBs who used their feet as a last resort, not as a featured part of their offensive repertoire. Others point to guys like John Elway and Steve Young, who at some point led their respective teams in rushing and did manage to win Super Bowls. Again, that’s revisionist history. Both Elway and Young could run but it was never a part of their game plan. They were both prototypical passers who used their legs as a complement and safety valve.

Kordell Stewart was the first real hybrid threat. By hybrid I mean a QB whose offensive game plan was expressly tailored to utilize his running ability as much as his passing. For those too young to remember the Steelers of the mid 90s, Slash was the kind of weapon which gave D-coordinators absolute fits. There were games where it literally seemed like the other team had no idea how to stop him. Nobody had ever seen a guy do the things which Kordell did. The dude rushed for an 80 yard TD, caught a 71 yard TD and threw a 90 yard TD over a five year period.

And that’s why I’m an unapologetic Stewart fanboy and always will be.

Slash represented the first real attempt by the NFL to change the perception of what a QB can be. The standard thinking, which exists to this day, is a college offense won’t work in the pros. Way way back in the day, pro teams ran things like the wishbone or Wing-T and in the 90s there was a brief flirtation with the run and shoot. Still, no team runs the option (because the belief is your QB will eventually get killed) nor do they run the run and shoot’s less insane cousin, the pistol/spread (exclusively that is).

What invariably happens is the NFL takes a great athletic QBs and eventually tries to shoehorn them into a pro set offense. Slash had great success as a multi-faceted weapon but eventually Bill Cowher and the Steelers decided they could only win with a classic pocket passer so they tried to rein him in. And without the running dimension, Slash quickly became just an ordinary average NFL QB.

And this happens over and over every few years. When Michael Vick entered the league, he soon became the new ultimate weapon. His passing skills were never near as good as Stewart’s but the dual threat led him to some early success. Since getting out of the clink, the Eagles have made him more and more of a pocket passer and, just like Slash, his sudden plummet to mediocrity is due to the fact that’s not his strength.

Vince Young was supposed to be the next Vick, Slash 3.0 if you will. A combination of Jeff Fisher trying to rein him in almost from the start and his own stupidity when it came to reading defenses led to a totally unmemorable NFL career. Jeanette’s own Terrelle Pryor is currently languishing on the Raiders despite Carson Palmer clearly being on the downhill slide because I don’t think they know what to do with him. His passing skills were rudimentary by college standards. And as I said, teams aren’t willing to try something new like going to a full-time spread.

Which brings us to last season. In 2011, the Broncos made the playoffs with a hybrid QB because they ditched conventional thinking and played to his strengths.  Tim Tebow led his team to the second round by basically running the option. Of course Elway couldn’t wait to go back to a pro set with Peyton Manning because the NFL doesn’t believe you can win any other way.

Which brings us back to RGIII. He’s putting up some monster numbers this season. His rushing yardage alone is more than all the Steelers running backs COMBINED. He’s also completing a whopping 70% of his passes. But the whispers are already starting. When he was concussed a few weeks back, the talking heads couldn’t wait to say “he needs to learn” which was code for “You can’t keep running, you’re a QB.”

Now maybe RGIII will have a career similar to a Randall Cunningham or Donavan McNabb, athletic QBs who successfully transitioned to pocket passers. More likely, he’s having a huge season because the Redskins are letting him be himself. They’re turning him loose and nobody knows what to do. But as soon as something happens, be it a bad season or a serious injury, NFLThink will kick in and they’ll try to make him into a regular QB. When that happens, he’ll be just another quarterback and everybody will wonder what happened to RGIII?

We’ll know here in Pittsburgh. Just ask Kordell Stewart.