Monday, December 8, 2008

More NFL musings


This was meant to be a general NFL post that started out with Steeler stuff, but then I saw Scribbler50’s latest Steeler-related comment (in my previous football post) while I was halfway through this one---so I’m just gonna make this a self-indulgent Steeler post and catch up with the rest of the stuff when I get time later this week.

One general comment: The NY Giants and the Tennessee Titans had strangleholds on the #1 playoff seed in their respective conferences. Now the strangleholds are merely decent grips.

Yesterday’s Cowboy-Steeler game was pivotal.
If the Steelers had lost the game they’d be in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs (having to play Baltimore and Tennessee on the road the next two weeks). Now that they’ve won it, they have a shot at winning home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Steelers need to beat Baltimore (brutal assignment, but doable) to wrap up the division. If they then beat Tennessee, week 17 becomes really interesting---The 12-3 Steelers would play Cleveland at home while the 13-2 Titans would have to play the Colts in Indy. A Steeler win and a Titan loss would mean that the Steelers would be the #1 seed in the AFC. Could happen.

The Steelers aren’t going anywhere, however, if the O-line doesn’t get some of its shit together and if the Steelers don’t stick with the running game regardless. Pick a damn RB and feed him at least 20 carries a game---even behind great O-lines, RBs take 5-10 carries just to get their rhythm and figure out the D, the blocking and the speed. You can’t (like the Steelers did yesterday) have 12 running plays split between two RBs over three quarters, and then expect to successfully run it in when you get first and ten on the 8-yard line in the fourth qtr.

Further, defenses are sitting on the pass and they’re killing Ben Roethlisberger. I spent a few minutes on…..
This is Ben’s fifth year as a starter. In his first two seasons, the Steelers had Bettis and a power running game. They also had good O-line play. In those two seasons, Ben got sacked 30 and 23 times respectively.
The 2006 season was a bad one all around---Ben got into a stupid bike accident, they didn’t have Bettis---and Ben was sacked 46 times.
In 2007, there were major coaching changes--head coach, offensive coordinator, O-line coach---but the Steelers were good and Ben was a fucking stud. He got sacked 47 times, but managed a QB rating of 104.1, a completion percentage of 65.3% and threw 32 TDs vs. 11 INTs. (By comparison, Peyton Manning, who finished 2nd in MVP voting to Brady, was sacked only 21 times, had a QB rating of 98.0, a completion percentage of 65.4 and threw 31 TDs vs. 14 INTs). Anyway, I think this success, of the team and of Ben, masked a larger problem regarding the running game and the O-line. Throw in free agency and injuries and this year that problem is coming home to roost. Ben has been sacked 38 times in 13 games, has a QB rating of 80.1, and has thrown 14 TDs vs. 12 INTs. The Steelers average 3.6 yards per rush attempt this year whereas they averaged 4 yards or more per run in each of the previous four years. This is a merciless league---if teams figure out that your running game ain’t hurting anyone, they’ll tee off on your QB. And as my good friend (and erstwhile Giants fan) Tom once told me, “Its really hard to complete passes when you’re being bounced off the turf all the time”. Ugly as it looks, I think this is one of Ben’s finer seasons. The team is 10-3 largely because in key games Ben found a way to bring it home.

Bruce Arians’ play calling is horrible. Defenses are sitting on 1st down run, and 2nd and 3rd down passes. It is freaking pathetic. If the pass rush is constantly reaching your QB, try calling a screen pass, Bruce. Mewelde Moore may surprise the fuck out of you and take it to the house. Or just hand him the ball 12 times in the first half. And then on the third or fourth carry in the second half, he’ll take it to the house. It is really that simple, especially when you have a dominant defense backing you up. You are punting the shit out of the ball anyway---why not punt while wearing down the other line a bit and giving their D something to think about for a change? And next time you are inside the opponent's 5-yard line, humor me and go for a play action pass fade to the corner of the endzone to Hines Ward on first down. I mean, what have you got to lose? At this point, we expect you to turn it over on downs in such situations anyway.

It’s getting late so I have to stop with this thought---On the final Romo INT, Jason Witten slipped a bit, but Romo threw the ball high (like he’d done a couple of times previously in the game) though not really offline. All the experts were so caught up in whether Witten blew the route or Romo blew the throw that they forgot, I guess, to mention that Romo could see Lamarr freaking Woodley bust through the line right in front of him and flicked his throw a bit offbalance and sooner than he’d have liked to. So while Romo and Witten were falling all over themselves to take the blame, maybe someone should give a bit of credit to Woodley.
Actually, on second thought, don’t. Let him get madder and madder all week thinking about how they just wont give him credit. The Steelers could use some extra red-ass in Baltimore next week.


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scribbler50 said...

Damn, Stache, your musings when it comes to football (and in particular when it comes to Steeler football) are more than just musings... they're comprehensive, well researched case studies. And me being a Steeler guy, thanks!

Now the game... I couldn't agree more about the infrequency of running the ball and how defenses are just teeing off on Ben. You're right, they have to keep pounding the ball no matter what the fuck, until it starts to bear fruit or at least forces the defense to play us honest. I'm not a fan of Arians and never have been. He's too quick to abandon the run and that is not Steeler football. (He should look at the Tommy Maddox era to see the error of those ways.)

And, AND... you're dead nuts on as far as what we do when we get inside the five yard line. Same stupid shit every time. Remember when quite often we would throw on first down to Heath Miller or Ward in middle of the end zone? Or play action? Or something other than what the fuck we do now? It's like a script they have to follow, no matter the recent reviews! You're the stats guy, not me, but I bet we have the worst red zone efficiency (field goals not inclusive) in the league this year. Or certainly over the past six or so games. It sucks. So many drives and so many defensive gifts to the offense, via the turnover, have been wasted by this completely ineffective predictability.

I'll tell ya' something... we lost a hell of a lot when we lost Ken Whisenhunt. And not for nothin', O-Line coach Russ Grimm. There was imagination there with the previous and "been there" wisdom with the latter. In fact I've often wondered if Grimm's absence is part of our offensive line problems which have been glaring for two years now even when we had Alan Faneca. Don't know for sure, can't know for sure but I wonder.

Anyway, huge undertaking next week and if they don't do what we've been talking about... run the fucking ball no matter what... the Ravens will bring a knife and fork to the table.
Thanks again for the Steeler indulgence, I hope it doesn't bore the shit out of the rest of your readers.
Best as always,
PS: I've put up a new post up as well so give her a peek, (he advertised unabashedly!)

Anonymoustache said...

There is no question the Steelers feel the loss of Whisenhunt and, in particular, Grimm.
Good O-line coaches are hard to come by and we need one. Maybe Zierlein will get the unit in sync by the playoffs---but I am not holding my breath.
But the Off Coord could help them out too, but running and keeping it simple for the most part. Game day play calling is 90% basics, 10% art. A lot of OCs get so caught up in their research and schemes that they feel the need to display their genius---they forget to just sit tight and let the players do their thing.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

You Steelers partisans are such dumbasses!

Anonymoustache said...

Thanks for the compliment, muthafucka!

scribbler50 said...

Hey, Prof... and Eagle fans of the partisan nature are nothing but fucking dreamers!

Anon: After this two-man zone defense we've had to put into play here I guess I gotta change that buddy movie now to "Stache and Scrib"!

DamnGoodTechnician said...

Gotta say though, there ain't nothing like watching your team eke out a win against fricking Detroit even though your remarkably awesome D-linemen managed to avoid suspension for one more week. I so wish I could jump ship on the Vikings & root for a respectable team, but what can I say? I can't quit 'em.

Anonymoustache said...

I can understand your frustration. The Vikings' problems are more coach-related, I think. I also think that the return of Tavaris Jackson is good for them---Gus Frerotte is an express ticket to nowhere. Jackson needed to have been given a full vote of confidence and the entire year no matter what.
Too bad about the suspensions though; with that running game, the Vikings could've made some noise if the D had been intact.

DamnGoodTechnician said...

I was really hopeful that we'd manage to get Pennington, after Favre went to the Jets. A decently accurate quarterback to go along with Peterson & shut-down run defense would ruule.

The suspensions suck ass. I think they're still playing against Arizona this week. Of course, Murphy's Law would dictate that they'll wait until round 1 of the playoffs to suspend 'em.

Anonymoustache said...