Big Lead Sports Bar

12/17/2007

"Bad Mondesi"

That was the title of quite possibly the longest email I've ever received from a reader named Mike yesterday. Mike thinks that I'm too protective of Ben Roethlisberger, Willie Parker, and Mike Tomlin, and too critical of Hines Ward.

Mike is a longtime reader and obviously put a lot of time into this email. I started writing a response, and then I figured I'd just share it with all of you. I'm always up for a little level-headed debating.

So here's Mike's unedited email:

I read your recap of the Steelers/Jags game and I'm a little concerned that you are falling into a pattern, most famous in these parts via Mark Madden, of praising your favorite players no matter how they perform, and being over-the-top critical of your not-so-favorite players, regardless of their play. Four examples come to mind:

Ben Roethlisberger
Ben was not sharp yesterday. The PG's report cards was very accurate. No he didn't lose the game for us. And truthfully, looking at his season as a whole, he's the reason we are 9-5 and not 5-9. But he did not play well yesterday. The passes that were dropped were balanced against the at least half-dozen passes that he sailed way over the heads of open receivers. Maybe Santonio should have strangled him after a few of those. He is holding onto the ball way too long and taking sacks when he should throw the ball away. I know, the one time yesterday he held the ball long and, while he was in the process of being sacked, managed to get it to Willie Parker for a nice gain. But one of those a game is not enough to offset taking 5+ drive-killing sacks a game looking for those kind of plays. There were at least 2 occasions where he had running room and chose not to run and threw incomplete. Plus, on that last offensive play for the team, he would have been better off throwing a jump ball to Ward or someone downfield, rather than throw a pass to big and slow Heath Miller, who was 4 yards shy of a first down when he caught it, with a defender bearing down on him. To Miller's credit, he made it closer to the first down than what should have been expected.


Willie Parker
You mock the "#1 defense in the league" (rightfully so after the past 2 games) but continue to give exaggerated praise for the "#1 running back in the league.". Willie's a good back, but he doesn't control the game with his running. Too many times getting dropped in the backfield, or stuffed at the line. The next tackle he breaks will be his first of the year. For a team that revolves around a strong running game, its obvious that the running game isn't there, late in the game, when we need it. And ripping off 1 or 2 long gainers a game (maybe) does not offset all the 3rd and 1's and 3rd and 2's that he doesn't convert in the game. Look no further than the fact that we needed a trick play to make that 2 point conversion yesterday. We had the #1 running back in the league, but you can't count on him to get those needed yards. Same thing in New England last week when we had 3rd and short close to their goal line and ran a Ward reverse. Again, no Willie because he can't make those tough yards.

Mike Tomlin
I like Mike Tomlin too, but I think you are glossing over his faults as well. The Steelers have been flat in losing to 3 lousy teams this year. That maybe is on the players, but the head coach bears some responsibility as well. I assume he had a say in minimizing Dan Kreider's fullback role, which I think is a big reason why Willie can't convert those short yardage situations (see above). He failed to muzzle his team before the New England game leading to the "Guarantee". While Day One of the Guarantee was not really Tomlin's fault, Day Two surely was, since he obviously didn't think it was a problem because Smith came right back the next day and reiterated the guarantee. He should have clunked heads in the locker room after day one of the guarantee, thereby "guaranteeing" that nothing more was to be said about it afterwards. He hasn't been good at challenging calls on the field. He bears some responsibility for one of the worst drafts in recent Steeler history. And for a coach who made special teams play such a big deal in training camp, he seems incapable of finding any answers to our lousy special teams play. Wasn't it his idea to bring Allan "run 7 yards straight ahead and fall down" Rossum to the team because of his excellent kick/punt return ability? Again, I like Coach Tomlin and better days are ahead, but he is a rookie coach and has much, much to improve upon.

Hines Ward
Finally, on the other end of things, I think you have a grudge against Hines Ward (no doubt stemming from the autograph incident last year) and are being a little unfair. If Ben is the team MVP (and he is this year, no doubt about it), Hines is the runner-up. He's saved Ben's bacon many times by pulling in difficult or poorly thrown passes all year. He's been outstanding every year and provides great leadership for the team. Like Ben, he didn't play very well yesterday. The 2 dropped passes were killers. It was part of what cost us the game. His poor play against the Jags is fair game. But as far as dumping on him because of his always present smile on the field, you can't say that he just puts that on for show. Hines smiles all game long, all the time, no matter winning or losing, no matter whether he delivers a big block or gets creamed after making a catch (or dropping one). It's part of who he is as a player. If we can accept players trash-talking all game long, or doing chest-thumps after they "hold" a RB to a 3 yard gain, " or high-fiving because the other teams receiver dropped an easy 20 yard pass, then we should have no problem accepting a player who seems to enjoy every minute of his playing career in the NFL.

OK, that was long. So if you're still reading, now it's my turn to apologize for being an apologist and explain where I'm coming from.

Do I defend Ben and Willie too much for some folks' taste? Possibly. That would be in the eye of the beholder, and it's not something that's quantitative. But I'm not going to be overly critical of anyone who has to play behind that joke of an offensive line.

Mike points out the fact that Parker gets hit for too many losses. But when you're handed the ball and your opponent is already waiting for you, I'm sorry, but there's not much you can do at that point. That's happened waaay too many times this year.

Same thing with Ben. When he drops back and has a defender immediately in his face, what's a quarterback to do? Most of the time, he makes the right decision. But I agree that he holds the ball too long at times. Fortunately, there are some benefits of his style, most notably the plays that he elongates and makes something out of nothing. He also has drastically reduced his interceptions this season, no? But he certainly has room to upgrade his game in taking the sack. He needs to get better at getting rid of the ball. I'm down with you there.

So why am I defensive of Ben and Willie? Other than the fact that I don't think they're the problem, they are known commodities. They're Super Bowl champions and two big reasons why this team has won so many games in the recent past. You know what you're getting out of those two for the most part. On the other hand, this is not the same offensive line that won the Super Bowl. That line would never have been pushed around like they were against Jacksonville.

I'm not going to crush Tomlin yet, because all things considered, I think he's done a good job, and because as I pointed out last week (and contrary to Roethlisberger and Parker), he still is greatly an unknown commodity. Like I said on Monday, we'll have a better idea of who Mike Tomlin is as a coach in a few weeks.

Has he been perfect? Absolutely not. He's made plenty of mistakes. And contrary to what you may think, I have pointed out in the past that he's been atrocious with challenges (I believe the phrase I used was "someone cut him off"). I agree that the special teams have not improved under his watch, as it was implied when he arrived. But I have a hard time completely writing off this year's draft as one of the worst in team history. Have the rookies contributed much? Not at all. And the early returns have not been promising. Remember this, though: Troy Polamalu was considered by some as a bust after his rookie season. In three years, if Lawrence Timmons, Lamarr Woodley and company are still riding the pine, then I'll say that Mike Tomlin contributes nothing to the draft day war room. But I think now is too early to make that call.

I ask you collectively, in all seriousness: what do you think the Steelers' record would be this season with Bill Cowher and his entire coaching staff returning after that disaster of 2006?

Finally, we come to Hines. Some of you won't believe this, but he's one of my all-time favorite Steelers. So some marketing rep popped off at me about my one-sentence, totally factual link about a Hines public appearance in 2006. Big deal. I may not have a soft spot in my heart for that guy, but as for Hines, I hold no ill will. He's one of the toughest men to ever put on a Steeler uniform. I think he's a Hall of Famer. And I am a fan of his style of play.

His smiling after that drop on Sunday just seemed to agitate me. Probably the way it agitates an opponent after Hines smiles after he's leveled by a big hit. And it was such a horrible drop...

It was the perfect storm of frustration from a tough loss, culminating in a huffy day-after post. I realize what Hines has meant and still means to the Steelers. Will I be accused of hating Hines every time I write something borderline-negative about him? I hope not, but hey, I can't tell someone how to think.

And that's the point of this whole post. There's no such thing as a football expert. In August, I sat at an ESPN event and listened to John Clayton give me 1,000 reasons why the Cleveland Browns would suck this season. And here they are, tied with the Steelers (chosen by many to finish 3rd) for first place. Again, that was John Clayton, regarded by many as one of the top football minds in the media, completely whiffing.

What's great about sports is that many times, there is no right answer. Mike is entitled to his opinion, I'm entitled to mine, and you're entitled to yours. I'm just giving thoughts and observations each week from my point of view, and in the grand scheme of things, it means absolutely nothing. But it sure is fun.

10 comments:

Jonny V said...

To add to troy not being utilized his first year, a certain ever-smiling wide reciever was used primarily his first year on special teams. And as for my comment on the previous post, yes the punter is the best player from our draft right now, but Tomlin knew that he was going to be needing linebackers in the next few years when Farrior and Foote start to decline.

We all have our favorite players, and I often find myself having to justify Polamalu's play to my brother. He just doesn't see it like I do.

The Duke from Dukes Court said...

Mike on Willie Parker:
"The next tackle he breaks will be his first of the year."

Mike do you watch the games?

Willie Parker is leading the NFL in rushing, I think he has broken a few tackles this season.

The Duke from Dukes Court said...

Mike on Mike Tomlin:
"He bears some responsibility for one of the worst drafts in recent Steeler history."

It has only been 14 games, you can't judge a draft after 14 games. It has long been the Steelers way to draft players for long term impact rather than to fill short term holes.

Anyone else remember how mediocre Troy Polumalu looked as a rookie? How bout Hines Ward, a former 3rd round pick, he didn't do much as a rookie either, now he is one of the best 3 receivers in Steelers history.

Ward's stats as a rookie:
Receptions: 15
Yards: 246
TDs: 0

--

Mike on Mike Tomlin:
"Wasn't it his idea to bring Allan "run 7 yards straight ahead and fall down" Rossum to the team because of his excellent kick/punt return ability?"

Allan Rossum has 1 kickoff return for a touchdown this season, that is 1 more than most return guys.

Before we signed Rossum we didn't have a guy on our roster who could consistently catch kickoffs and punts. Did you see how shaky Davenport was when he had to fill in for Rossum at the end of the Jags game, would you rather "The Dumptruck" be returning our kickoffs?

CapitolMAN said...

I agree with Mike's assessment of Ben's play on Sunday. One of his worst games of the season. Passes sailed away and fell at the feet of receivers. He may not have single-handedly lost them the game, but he didn't make any plays to win it.

I don't think its fair to tweak the game plan. Willie ran well, but how many times can you run a speed back when there are eight men in the box? It came down to execution, and the receivers/QB did not perform.

matthew said...

just to give you a larger reaction sample set here are my thoughts on the game -

ben didn't win or lose the game on sunday, it was just an average day from a good nfl qb. and its tough to say that he holds the ball too long when marvel smith doesn't touch his man.

willie is not a small back, he's an average size back with great speed. and as such he breaks exactly the tackles i expect someone his size to break. he's rarely stopped in the hole by a db but a dt will end his run quickly, its not rocket science. and his spin move on sunday was just sick so thats at least one broken tackle in the hole.

in my opinion tomlin has been worth at least one extra win over cowher this season but he's also had plenty of growing pains as a coach. and that timmons pick just seems foolish right now but i'm willing to give him time.

and hines smiling after that awful drop bothered me a lot too even though i love that man.

but this is all worth as much as john clayton's browns pick was at the start of the season so sorry that it took me so many words to say it.

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

Isn't Colbert, the same guy that drafted so well over the last 7 or 8 years, also heavily responsible for that draft too?

But we can't really judge that draft just yet. It'd be silly to.

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

Isn't Colbert, the same guy that drafted so well over the last 7 or 8 years, also heavily responsible for that draft too?

But we can't really judge that draft just yet. It'd be silly to.

Jonny V said...

I think the yardstick usually used is wait three years to judge a draft.

okel dokel said...

As someone who has been fairly critical of Ben around these parts, I thought he put in a decent effort on Sunday. Does he hold the ball too long on occasion, yes? But he also makes some damn nice plays when he "extends the play." That is what makes him a better than average QB.

Willie is fine; would I like to see them use "the dumptruck" more often, yes. The reason the running game goes in "fits and starts" is the o-line just plain sucks.

Tomlin is fine and trying to judge him now would be irrational. The same with this year's draft and I don't believe he had as much say as we think. My guess is Colbert made most of the decisions in the "war room." God, I hate that term.

Heinz is the man and I have never felt Mondesi slighted him in any way. The smile after the drop irritated me.

The defense is not looking real good and as I posted earlier the 3rd and long thing has been building for a few years. They would really benefit from a shutdown corner or two.

I did not expect much from this team after last year, but I would like to see them end the year playing with more desperation. My feeling is they have let all the positive press go to their heads.

I will shut up now.

PO said...

this draft will go down eventually as one of our better ones in recent years... look at the players..

timmons - physical speciman who is finally recovered from an injury and contributing on special teams (which are improving)... clark haggans can not start forever

woodley - had a great pre-season and has some how vanished from sight over the season, again, haggans can not start forever with wood and timmons behind him waiting to break out

spaeth - has been huge this year in the red zone to start the season and then consistant on all other plays after tuman was lost for the season

sepulveda - has had his ups and downs but you are looking at your punter for the next 15 years atleast, solid pick

mcbean - just called up from the practice squad, jury is still out, but an effective backup none the less

bill gay - probably the most productive of all the rookies, he plays in dime packages, he is a standout on special teams (made a great tackle on a punt against jax) and should be a great nickle guy behind ike/b-mac for years

as for the other guys (stephenson, baker) who knows where they are or what theyre doing, but looking at what we have on the roster that seems like the base for a solid draft with two eventual starters at LB, a long term answer to punting, a very effective nickle back/special teams guy, and a TE who is going to cause all kinds of red zone mismatches for years