Big Lead Sports Bar

11/26/2006

A City Embarrassed

So, how was YOUR Thanksgiving weekend? Did you spend it watching the Penguins lose on Friday, or did you opt to watch their Saturday loss instead? Did you manage to catch the pathetic excuse for big-time college football on display Saturday night, when Pitt dropped their fifth straight game? Or how about Sunday, when the Steelers were finally put out of their 2006 misery by the Baltimore Ravens?
Yes, this was a tough couple of days for local sports fans. But looking back, the Penguins had a perfectly legitimate excuse for their losses (Sidney Crosby's injured groin), and did anyone honestly give Pitt a chance in their game? So that left us at the doorstep of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
We're always told how the Steelers thrive when "their backs are up against the wall". You'd think a team that just took the most difficult route to a Super Bowl victory in NFL history would have learned a few lessons from their 2005 season. But time and time, after crushing losses, we were told to "not count out the Steelers". So we sat back and enjoyed a two-game winning streak at the expense of New Orleans and Cleveland. Fans talked as if a 10-6 season was not such a ridiculous proposition.
Today's game was supposed to be the day the Steelers officially "turned it on": the Ravens had a cushy three-game division lead, the Steelers were riding consecutive wins for the first time since January, and with downtrodden Tampa Bay coming in next week, there was a legitimate chance to climb back to .500 in just seven more days.
For the team that loves to be the underdog, they decided to play that angle right off the bat. The Steelers win the toss, which is usually a good thing; I was thinking they should kick off, put the defense on the field, and try to take the crowd out of the game, especially since the Steeler offense has been less-than-stellar this season. So of course, the Steelers do the complete opposite, electing to receive and sending the offense out for their death sentence rather than wait for the inevitable.
After a rousing 15-yard return from Dump Davenport, Ken Whisenhunt called for a "three and out" offensive series, which the Steelers executed flawlessly. The Ravens were playing right into their hands. The next move was to send the UP (Unblockable Punter) out for one of his patented "short but not blocked" punts. 37 yard punt, 39 yard return. Perfect. But the return was negated by an illegal block. Nice job, Mughelli. Six plays later, Steve McNair is dropping the Omega sign and the Ravens are up, 7-0. But the Steelers could then say that their backs were against the wall. To quote Apollo Creed before his tragic demise at the hands of Ivan Drago, "It's showtime!"
Much like J-Peezy, Apollo did a lot of talking moments before his annihilation
We fast forward through the rest of the first half: Gardocki punts four more times, including one with a friendly bounce, and three others that travelled 27, 32, and 43 yards. Of course, none of them were blocked. Jamal Lewis looked like his pre-drug trafficking self, gashing the Steelers defense like a hypothetical O.J. Simpson victim. And then there's Ben. Poor, poor Ben. I don't know if Roethlisberger did something to simultaneously disrespect the entire offensive line, but they were playing like they wanted him to leave on a stretcher. That was the only thing they managed to achieve, as #7 was destroyed by an especially violent Bart Scott sack late in the first half. I felt like I was watching a Raider game and someone disguised Andrew Walter in a "ROETHLISBERGER" jersey. The half closes with a Roethlisberger kneel, one of the few plays in which he managed to not get hurried, knocked down, or sacked. 17-0, Ravens. But I was sure the Steelers were just a few plays from turning it on.
The oft-discussed but never before seen "switch" the Steelers use to "turn it on", or even worse, "turn it off"
The half opened with the ball kicked to Baltimore. The Ravens, after watching a half of inept Steeler offense, open with a three-and-out of their own, moving the ball just six yards. Not to be one-upped, the Steelers answer with a three-play, one-yard drive, resulting in a booming 41-yard punt by the UP. Touche, Billick.
The Ravens would move the ball 15 yards on their next series, but it was just a matter of time until the Steelers lit it up. The black and gold regain possession, and they start moving the ball consistently, in chunks: 11 to Ward. 11 to Captain Tiffin. 27 more to Captain Tiffin. The Steelers are in business, down to the Baltimore 30. Whisenhunt sends in the play: Parker misses a block, Roethlisberger is unprotected, fumbles, and Adalius Thomas rumbles 57 yards for the insurance TD. Once again, the Steelers execute their execution brilliantly. 24-0, Ravens. Game, set, match, season.
I can sarcastically bore you with more details, but I'll spare everyone the frustration. The Steelers' day netted 9 sacks, 20 incompletions, 2 interceptions, 2 fumbles (1 lost), 7 punts, 21 yards rushing, 0 points, and an injured Troy Polamalu.
Want some eerie similarities? The last time this team looked so inept, I would wager many of you would answer "The Jacksonville Game". Here are the same categories as noted above, but the numbers from the Jags MNF matchup: 2 sacks, 15 incompletions, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble (0 lost), 8 punts, 26 yards rushing, and 0 points.
Hopefully, we can finally close the door on the absolutely absurd playoff talk that has persisted throughout the season. To quote myself, on October 29 I issued this proclamation:
"...when you lose to Oakland, who can't even crack 100 yards of offense, your season is over. Do not keep kidding yourself with playoff talk. This team can't even beat Oakland. This team can't even beat Oakland. This team can't even beat Oakland. Has it sunk in yet? OK, let me repeat it one more time: This team can't even beat Oakland."
Yet the fans still persisted. They still believed. On November 14, I predicted the Steelers would be "lucky to split with Baltimore". So what do I get in the comments? Reactions like this:
"...way to drink the baltimore kool-aid. they needed a miraculous come-back last weekend to beat tennesee. the ravens are chumps and are just as likely to lose out as we are to win out."
I think that comment speaks for itself. The only chumps I've seen all year are the ones pretending to be Pittsburgh Steelers. They lead the league in one category: turnovers. This is a team that's won four games out of 11. Playoffs? Must I conjure up video of Jim Mora?

Why do we even bother talking about this team? From today's effort, as well as six others this year, it doesn't appear they care very much. So why do we care? Why do we watch, we write, we comment, we discuss?

I realize that we're about 9 months removed from the first Super Bowl victory this town had seen in 26 years, so it's hard to feel sorry for the Steeler fan base. But honestly, shouldn't we at least get a few games to enjoy and relish in the glory of NFL superiority? The team and their followers had exactly 11 days to enjoy a winning record this season, and that was a mere1-0.

A fan base always reacts based on preseason expectations. Look around town at the other teams...the Penguins bought a bevy of veteran free agents last year, had Crosby coming in and Lemieux coming back. Visions of Stanley Cups danced in fans' heads. But the team stumbled out of the gate and never recovered. The fans were greatly disappointed. This season, expectations were lowered, since it is a much younger team built around a promising nucleus. And to this point, the team has surpassed expectations. Thus, a happy fan base.

Look at Pitt football. They finished 5-6 last year, had a great season of recruiting, and hyped a core of Palko, Blades, and Revis. No one expected anything less than 7-8 wins. And yet the Panthers managed just a 6-6 record, improving upon last year's 5-6 mark by adding a matchup with the Citadel. Combine that with a 5-game losing streak to close the season, career high days allowed left and right, and a defense that is better comedy than Family Guy, and now Wanny is getting some heat.

The Steelers were picked either first or second by every football expert from coast-to-coast. They endured some roster changes, but returned the vast majority of their team, including the entire offensive line, quarterback, and linebacking core. They added two young, exciting wide receivers and a safety who nearly decapitated a Philadelphia Eagle in the preseason (video link, for those who've forgotten). They had every chance in the world to at least contend.

The cruel reality is that the year is 2006, and complaceny will slap you in the face in the NFL. Want to get fat looking at your Super Bowl rings in the mirror? By all means, proceed. But don't be surprised when teams refuse to roll over and die at the mere sight of you as an opponent. This is a league that gets turned upside down every few weeks. Rex Grossman and Eli Manning were the quarterbacks du jour after two weeks; now, the discussion in Chicago is shifting to "should we start Brian Griese", while New Yorkers are talking about the long-term health of the franchise if Eli continues to struggle. The league was Michael Vick's a few weeks ago...now it is owned by Tony Romo and Joey Harrington. Go ahead, make sense of it...I dare you.

Yes, 2006 was a rather grim sports holiday for most of the readers of this site, but there are some bright spots for the near future: the continued development of the Penguins, a Pitt basketball team that will be ranked top-three, and that always-exciting Pirates Hot Stove League season. Hey, two outta three ain't bad.

17 comments:

pr9000 said...

For me, the most perplexing part of this season has to be Professor Cowher's lack of passion and spittle on the sidelines.

It could be the case of networks not showing it, but somehow I get the feeling that after 15 years of stereotypical coverage (how does a man have muscles in his jaw that can be flexed like that?) the lack of said camera shots indicate a lack of said reactions by the Professor.

The DBs always were suspect; the LBs always were a bit average; the loss of Bus and ARE were big, but not season-ending ... I don't see much different this year in terms of talent. And I can't say that I see less effort on the field.

I can say, though, that I see less passion from Cowher. Ten years ago, his "that will never happen again" comment about the dumb personal foul penalties -- well, his word would have been law. But this year, it seems like he said it ... then nobody cared, or listened, and there weren't any visible consequences for the continued idiocy and lack of focus on the field.

If this is his last hurrah -- and I really think it is -- then I'd rather get it over with quickly.

Dennis said...

Chuck Amato, NC State coach, was fired today. Bill Cowher lives right there, he's taking that job (I pray to god that he does).

A 27-0 loss and not once does he even get fired up? Thats a big big problem.

Woy said...

Well done. That was the rant that I failed to conjure.

Washington85 said...

the STeelers are done for this season lets just look at the future draft pick...the only glimer of hope on the team is Nate Washington...maybe even a new head coach since Cowher doesn't care anymore

POJO_Risin said...

But it's the talk of not enough passion that usually pisses him off enough to get it done. Perhaps it is time for him to step aside. I don't know. I do know that he should be put in freakin' Jail for the abuse that Roeth had to put up with.

pr9000 said...

And that got me to thinking -- was Baltimore's "game plan" on defense so much superior to the Steelers' "game plan" on offense, or were the Steelers just completely outplayed, outmanned and outphysicaled (I love made-up football words)?

I often wonder about things like that, given that (outside the New York Giants) most NFL teams don't publicly discuss their game planning strategies -- meaning, we'll never know the truth.

I shudder to think that it's one or the other, because both have frightening consequences.

Megatron said...

The Cowher statue was in full force today. It got some vitamin D at least from the nice Indian Summer weather? As for the rest of the team it truly appeared that no one gave a shit, except for the fans. They barely pulled that Cleveland game off last week and as for todays game, it was over before it started. I found myself being that guy I always hated after the Raven's first drive for a touchdown, I said to myself, "It doesn't look good." When you say these words you know you lost all faith. With 10 minutes left in the forth I was yelling at the TV, "Please put Heidi on!" If you recall the Jets vs. Raiders 1968 debocle where they switched over to a mini series called Heidi with 1:05 left on the clock which resided to an incrdible comeback considered one of best game ever by some. I wanted some kind of hope and I think Heidi was the Steelers only chance. But look at it this way, at least today the Steelers are not the New York Giants and Eli Manning! God Damn was that pathetic!

wes said...

bloodbath i tell you, bloodbath.

Stoosh said...

Yeah, this Steelers season has gone in the tank because Cowher isn't spitting fire and brimstone over on the sidelines on a regular basis.

It couldn't possibly have anything to do with the fact that we have:

- an offensive line that couldn't collectively keep my 84-year old grandfather from getting to Roethlisberger,
- two receivers (Wilson and Washington) who couldn't catch a football if you handed it to them,
- a top-notch tight end who isn't even catching three passes a game,
- one corner (Deshea) who got older and slower, another supposed "shutdown" corner (Ike Taylor) who is making his performance last year look like the gold old-fashioned "contract year", and another (McFadden) who has been doing his best Chad Scott impressions out there,
- two LBs (Foote and Porter) who seem more occupied with jawing with the opposition than actually trying to stop them on the field, and,
- a team that ranks dead friggin' last in the NFL in turnover margin with a -12. That's one worse than Cleveland and two worse than Oakland.

But yeah, if Cowher was over on the sidelines covering his players in spit every time they missed a block or a tackle or threw a pick, we'd be 7-4 now instead of 4-7.

And he's not taking the NC State job. He's never been a college coach. He's not going to be a college coach because there's no way a guy like Cowher is going to play the kiss-ass game with recruits that he'd have to play to be a college coach. This is a guy that can bring in three or four times the money with another NFL team than he'd ever make at NC State.

pr9000 said...

Practically the same roster as 2005, but it performs totally differently in 2006.

I'm not saying you're wrong, stoosh. I'm just saying that the Professor's behavior is just so perplexing to me. They players are who I thought they were, or rather, who I thought they could be. The coach, though, is not.

worstavid said...

If this wasn't basically the same team that nine months ago just won a superbowl, I'd be saying that these players, "Should be ashamed to be wearing the black & gold".

How do you fall so far, so fast? Simple, lack of passion. It's the big difference-maker on game day. Face it, how different physically can the worst NFL team be from the best? Passion is the difference. The players did their normal trash talking yesterday, but not once did I see any passion from the statue.

Clenching your jaw and shaking your head is not what the Rooneys are paying you for. They want you to inspire your players as you always have. What happened to you Bill? Maybe it is time that you go to that mansion in North Carolina and let someone new who has a fire burning in their gut take over.

Stoosh said...

I do agree that there's something different about Cowher this year. In past years...even last year, he'd be blowing a gasket on the sidelines and in the postgame over a performance like what we saw yesterday. But is that the main root of the problem here? That was the point of my post. I listened to some of the post-game shows yesterday and too often, I hear people suggest that the only difference between this team and a winning record is Cowher's demeanor. I think the problem goes much, much deeper than that.

That's not to say that Cowher's demeanor isn't a contributing factor. He seems complacent, and it's clearly rubbed off on the team (or has the team becoming complacent rubbed off on Cowher?). I think several players have tuned him out - that's the sense I get from the way certain guys are coming across...guys like Porter and Foote, just to name a few. Certain guys just seem to carry themselves like they're holding on to what they won last year.

This team always seemed capable of playing its best football when it's had a chip on its shoulder. While I wondered if this team would become complacent (because there really was no down time after the Super Bowl), I thought all the crap about the Super Bowl officiating would've kept the chip on their shoulder that they to thrive on. Apparently not.

Is that on the coach? I would think a team that was coming off the most difficult Super Bowl run in history wouldn't need that kind of motivation. That's why I think this year is more on the players than anything else. And I'm not sure how much the old Cowher approach would've mattered if that's the case.

louis lipps is my homeboy said...

Someone call Whisenhunt and let him know about a little something called "max-protect". Ben Roethlisberger will thankyou, and might even give you an autographed mini helmet, for doing so.

This team has shamed the good name of my homeboy, Louis Lipps!!!

pr9000 said...

Stoosh, you've got me coming around to your viewpoint a bit more than I expected ... Maybe it's a bit of both opinions -- the players have (for whatever reason) "lost the fire" ... and the coach (again, for whatever reason) has given up as well.

It'd be a "chicken and egg" debate that might never have a resolution unless Cowher turns into Coughlin and Ben turns into Tiki -- or a hairier, much less pretty version of Tiki ...

I have a debate with a friend about this practically every other week; to me, the players who aren't performing well are marginally talented players to begin with.

They just had an amazing run last year, not unlike some NHL teams that are mediocre in the regular season, get hot in the playoffs and ride that to the Stanley Cup.

To see them return to mediocrity isn't really a surprise. To see a coach who's never been anything less than syphillitically rabid about mistakes and poor play turn into "The Professor" on the sidelines -- this is what shocks me about the 2006 Steelers.

And besides, it's much more depressing to think that it's the players, and not the coach. After all, it's easier to replace one man than 45.

HURT STEELER MAN said...

Steelers, Who DEY?

Anonymous said...

WE DEY!

Shawn W(ashington)...no relation said...

To Washington85....

Man, either you are his family...or just plain gay. Any case...I do agree that Nate is a breath of fresh air for the receiving team, and tends to get undo criticism. To put it into perspective, he is second in the depth chart behind Ward, which we can all agree is a tough WR. Therefore, Nate is not afforded the opportunities that Holmes and Wilson are given, yet Nate has the yardage and MORE touchdowns than either of the two. Secondly, he has ZERO fumbles...count them ZERO. As I watched the cleveland game I noticed Holmes getting all the short under the coverage receptions...WOW, great job I guess considering that Wilson, Ward, and Washington were running long, to open up the middle for him. They were busting their ass sprinting down the field the entire second half while he jogged and picked up first downs.

So Where can Nate end up on this team? If he get's more receptions, during practice as well as during the games, he is motivated enough to be an impact player...I hope he proves me right over the next 5 games. For those who are Nate haters...check the stats, stop counting the drops, and be grateful that at least he won't fumble.

I do wish that he would gain 15-20 lbs so he can put a hit on some defenders...cause he does seem to be a little anorexic when it's time to put on a block.

Nate....I'm in your corner, so don't let me down...

Shawn