Monday, December 10, 2007

The Stache Report: Steelers vs. Patriots

- In all, the offensive line actually had one of its best games yesterday. Parker enjoyed some long overdue success, and it’s clear from looking at this game and previous New England games that the Patriots can be run on. However, the turning point in the game may have been the result of the subpar O-Line play we’ve been used to seeing this season. The play I’m talking about was Wilfork’s sack on the opening drive of the 2nd half, an absolute killer. Parker had just ripped off a 19 yard run, and the Steelers were set up near midfield. A score of any kind coming out of the half would have put the Patriots on their heels. Instead, the next play results in Wilfork abusing Faneca and Mahan and taking down Ben. Sets up a 2nd and 18 that we couldn’t recover from. We punt, and the Patriots score another touchdown on the subsequent drive. For all intents and purposes the game was over then.

- Speaking of the O-line, I want to talk about Willie Colon. As a whole, the offensive line played well, but Colon struggled with Vrabel. The former Steeler was continually beating Colon off the snap, and was causing Ben to roll out left. Naturally, if Ben wants to move he wants to move to his right, as any right-handed quarterback would want to. I think this game clearly signaled to me that Colon is a better fit at guard. Look, I’m no offensive line guru. But I’ve read that one of Colon’s weaknesses is his short arms. This doesn’t allow him to initially get his hands on pass rushers and keep them away from his body. Putting him at guard would eliminate this weakness a bit, as he wouldn’t have to play in space. While we all would like to sign a new free agent at center and guard and draft two first round offensive lineman, I think a realistic O-Line next year would be Smith-Colon-Mahan-Kemoeatu-1st round draft pick.

- Like most of you, I’m extremely disappointed in this loss. But I’m hoping this can turn out like 2005, when we got trampled by Indy in the regular season and then beat them in the playoffs. I didn’t think winning twice in Foxboro was reasonable, and I saw enough positives to think we have a puncher’s chance if we see them in the playoffs. The offensive line played maybe its best game of the year. We moved the ball on them pretty well, but just couldn’t stick it in the end zone. We didn’t have a healthy Polamalu or Santonio. Their two touchdowns were the result of severe miscues on the part of the Steelers defense, miscues that can be easily eliminated. Will it be a monumental challenge? No doubt. But I can’t imagine anything sweeter than knocking off an undefeated Patriots team in the AFC Championship game, in their own house.

- Anyone who watched yesterday knows that Anthony Smith was the goat of the game. The guy is too aggressive, to a fault. While the rest of us see a play action pass, he sees the opportunity to run ahead at full speed and knock the runningback’s head off, and potentially cause a game turning fumble. This puts him wildly out of position, as we saw against the Jets and multiple times yesterday. What I have a problem with is this. Why in the world is Smith biting on a play-action fake against a team that barely runs the ball? The Patriots ran it a grand total of nine times. Someone needs to get it into Smith’s head: trust the front seven to stuff the run. And against a team like New England that very rarely runs the ball, don’t bite on a play fake.

- Couple things about the defense. First, the lack of sacks is disturbing. Against the Bengals last week, Palmer dropped back to pass 44 times and the defense brought him down only once. Yesterday, we went 0 for 46. Yesterday’s 2nd half was especially disconcerting because the moderate pressure we applied in the 1st half disappeared. The second issue I have with the D is the lack of interceptions being generated. The Steelers defense has only had two interceptions in the past 7 games. Winning games means winning the turnover differential, and the deficiency in producing interceptions isn’t helping the cause. The Steelers are currently 2nd to last in the NFL in this category, with only 8.

- Furthermore, I’m not sure exactly what happened to the defense in the 2nd half. It looked like the two long bomb touchdowns by the Patriots made Lebeau extra cautious. All of the sudden, the corners were playing way off to prevent the big play, and pressure subsided. Two absolutely sickening moments: Welker catching what seemed like 10 straight passes on one drive, with no adjustments whatsoever by Lebeau, and the Patriots driving from their one-yard line all the way into the Steelers red zone, with a dropped Moss pass the only thing saving the Steelers defense from an embarrassing 99-yard TD drive by the New England offense.

- I don’t feel like this loss will lead to a December meltdown. But the game this week against Jacksonville is probably the most important game of the year. A win reasserts the Steelers position atop the AFC North and rebuilds their confidence. A loss could mean a tie atop the division with the Browns, and intense pressure to win the next two weeks against a dangerous Rams team and an always game Ravens team. The good news is that the Stache will once again be in the house, and I am 1-0 this season when attending games. I believe Pat will be there as well, so the strong Doubt About It contigent will do their part in leading us to victory. In closing, let me put it this way: I don’t want to have to win that Ravens game in the last week of the season to make the playoffs. You know they would love nothing more than to knock us out of the playoffs, much like we did to the Bengals last season. Winning in Baltimore is never easy and they always play us tough in their house. Let’s take care of business these next two weeks, so we can all enjoy a stress free Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Whatever holiday you celebrate.

End of Post


Anonymous said...

I still don't understand going for it on 4th and goal from the 1 down by 18. No matter what, you'll still be down by two scores. Take the field goal.

- - - - - -

Defensively, this game felt eerily similar to the first two games of the 2002 season vs the Pats and the Raiders. In both games, the Steelers were within a touchdown at the half but got blown away by a team that wasn't afraid to abandon the run and pass all day long.

Look at the stats for those games:
2002 WEEK 1 @ NE
Patriots rush 18 times for 63 yards and throw 43 times for 280 yards.

2002 Week 2 vs. OAK
Raiders rush 17 times (5 in the first half) for 95 yards and throw 65 times for 369 yards.

2007 Week 14 @ NE
Patriots rush 9 times for 22 yards and throw 46 times for 399 yards.

Of course the Steelers fumbled about 27 times in that Raiders game but it's insane how patient Oakland was with the passing game. They weren't afraid to go three and out because at some point Jerry Porter, Tim Brown, or Jerry Rice was going to get open for a big gain. I can't remember those games exactly, but yesterday, once the Pats hit on a few long plays, it didn't take long for the secondary to start giving more and more cushion to the slot receivers. Then it was only a matter of time until those mid-level Brady-Welker passes started getting open and those 8 and 10 yard completions started adding up. Also, pass rushers get tired long before pass blockers; I can't imagine any scenario involving a defense getting much pressure on a quarterback running an all shotgun, no huddle offense. It's just not a scheme the Steelers defense is built to defend; the opposing quarterback has to have a bad day and/or the defense has to get some turnovers to make it competitive.

Sam said...

First off, Josh, great research and analysis. You bring up a great point about how the no huddle spread offense is really, to some extent, the Steelers' Achilles heel.

As you also mentioned, we pulled off of the WRs once they hit the two long plays, which opened it up for Welker. This was a mistake, hopefully one that will not be committed again if we get the chance to meet them again.

If there is one weakness in the N.E. offense, it's their lack of intermediate passing. Either they hit you with a 30 yard gain, or Brady chucks it 10 yards or less and lets the WR run with it. I forget the article that I read this in, but the Patriots offense has trouble in the red zone, probably due to the stretching the field option being taken away.

Maybe I just don't want to admit its hopeless, but I still believe we can surprise them next time. Either adopt the Baltimore strategy or even go with the max coverage scheme we seemed to employ against Seattle. We got to Hasselbeck 3 times in that game, but it was mostly coverage sacks.

What if we dropped 8 every time? What about 9? Let the safeties play deep zones, but let everyone else play physical man defense. Beg them to run. Isn't that what N.E. does to every team, take away what they're used to doing? It may go against what every pundit is saying to do to the Patriots, but it would sure as hell beat blitzing 5 or 6 and getting zero pressure while Brady slowly picks us apart. Either way, something needs to be different.