Monday, December 3, 2007

The Stache Report: Bengals vs. Steelers

- Pat said he wasn’t going to touch the Ben Roethlisberger-Carson Palmer debate. I’m going to. I will take Ben every day and twice on Sunday over Palmer. I’ll always take the winner over the better statistical passer. It’s the reason why I always told people in past seasons that I would take Brady over Manning. Look, I’ve always held the belief that Palmer becomes ordinary when it’s crunch time. He’s great in the first quarter when there’s no pressure on him to get his offense in the end zone. Put him in a situation where he has to bring his team back in the 4th quarter, and he shits the bed. Pat alluded to this fact, and he’s absolutely correct. Palmer has very few clutch 4th quarter comebacks on his resume. Contrast that with Ben, who seems to always show up when it’s crunch time. Here is a great article, from Stillers.com, to drive this point home.

- Our secondary thus far in the season has been good. Real good. One of the few predictions that has gone right for me this season is the fact that I thought Ike would bounce back from his sub-par season a year ago. For the most part, he did an admirable job when manned up against Chad Johnson (as he always does). His coverage on the deep ball early in the game was absolutely perfect. I feel Ike is one of the best corners in the game, and he definitely has the physical skills to keep up with Randy Moss next week. You can’t say that about many cornerbacks in this league.

- Willie P. had a tough day holding onto the football, but I’m really more concerned with his workload. It seems like I say this every week, but Tomlin needs to give some more carries to the 2nd back, whether it be Najeh or Gary Russell, who was active yesterday. Willie is now under 4.0 YPC, and his production has been declining every week. Admittedly, this is a byproduct of lackluster run blocking, but you would be naïve if you didn’t think his high workload isn’t a factor as well.

- MVP of the game was obviously Hines Ward. Actually being at the game gives you a greater appreciation of his play. You can see the way he runs his routes and just finds the open spots in the secondary. My favorite play of his yesterday was the crossing route where he somehow managed to hold onto the ball after taking a vicious hit from a Bengals defender. So good that it brought the crowd to it’s feet. Wilson made a couple of key grabs, but Nate was a disappointment. It’s becoming very apparent that Nate can thrive when placed in a #3 or #4 role. He just isn’t starter material, though. You know after this game that Belichick will attempt to take Ward out of the game, making Santonio’s presence even more paramount. Thankfully, Holmes says he is going to play next week (scroll to the 5th to last paragraph).

- Not sure what to make of these slow starts by the defense. Three out of the past four weeks the opposing team has driven down the field on their first drive for a touchdown. On the plus side, none of these offenses did much thereafter. It’s a credit to LeBeau and Tomlin for making the necessary adjustments, but still, you’d like to see the defense come out and make a stand from the get go.

- I really like the game Arians called this week. I’ve been hoping that they would use the no-huddle more, and they used is substantially Sunday night. Furthermore, we saw some play calls that allowed Ben to get the ball out quickly. This was a nice change of pace from the slow developing, 7-step drops we’ve been used to seeing this season. A perfect of example of this was Hines 2nd TD, a 3 to 5-step quick slant. With substandard offensive line protection, this is exactly what you need.

- One guy who has played very well the past two weeks has been Max Starks. He has come in and played very well for Marvel Smith at left tackle. This is somewhat surprising, considering Max’s performance at left tackle in the pre-season. It’s worth noting, though, that these two games Max started at LT were played on the Heinz Field slop. This was extremely advantageous for Starks against the Dolphins, because it negated Jason Taylor’s biggest asset, that being his speed and ability to get upfield. To a lesser extent the same can be said for Justin Smith. Starks typically struggles against the speed rushers who can get around his massive size, so the sloppy field conditions should be taken into account a little bit when assessing his performance. His quality play is a great sign, and it could make the front office consider bringing Starks back next season (he’s a free agent at the end of the year), but I want to see him perform under more natural field conditions first.

- Which brings us to next week. The Patriots are currently in a street fight with the Ravens. Win or lose, this will obviously be the toughest test to date for the Steelers. The Ravens are showing that getting heat on Brady is the way to curtail their offense. I’d like to see Woodley more in this game. He’s a pure pass rusher who can get to the quarterback. I’d lock Ike on Moss and give him safety help, have someone (Timmons?) chip Welker at the line of scrimmage to disrupt his route, and play Stallworth straight up. Obviously you want to mix it up with some creative zone defenses to hopefully confuse Brady. I’ve been reading that LeBeau has some stuff that he’s been saving. Now is the week to unleash some of it. Stopping the run shouldn’t be a problem, considering the Patriots run it sparingly. You have to hope you can generate a pass rush with 4 or 5. Harrison needs to have a huge game. If he can get to Brady, that will make a world of difference. I almost don’t want to win, because it’s going to be tough beating New England twice, and you know you are going to have to beat them to get to the Super Bowl. But I know that if it’s a close game in the 4th quarter, I’m going to be rooting like hell for a win. Let’s see what happens.

End of Post

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