Big Lead Sports Bar

1/06/2008

Close, But No Garrard

JAGUARS 31

STEELERS 29

In a way, this was the perfect game...if you were making a team video of the 2007 Steelers. It captured the highs, the lows, the strengths and the faults of a moderately successful yet disappointing team in a 60-minute span.

Ultimately, what did the Steelers in on Saturday were the same problems that have haunted them all year:

  • An offensive line that surrendered six sacks, sometimes allowing Jaguar defenders in the backfield as Ben Roethlisberger was handing off the ball
  • A defense that bends, bends, bends and then ultimately breaks at the worst possible times
  • A running attack that disappears, most definitely because of problem #1
  • Weak special teams, ironically a part of the team that Mike Tomlin was supposed to fix
  • Reserve players logging plenty of time due to crippling injuries
  • And a questionable answer in the category of "leadership".

As the cliche goes, you win as a team, you lose as a team. And the 2007 Steelers had plenty of blame to go around.

But despite all of those flaws, despite 43 yards on 26 carries, despite four turnovers by Roethlisberger, despite an 18-point defecit going into quarter #4, the Steelers were six minutes and 28 seconds from an improbable trip to the second round.

The Steelers did many things well in this game, most importantly to come up with the admirable effort to not be content to end the season with an 18-point home playoff loss. They bested the Jaguars in numerous second-half categories, but unfortunately you do not advance in the playoffs for statistical victories.

It's fair to say the Steelers weren't beaten by David Garrard (9-21/140/2 INT/1 TD), but they were. It's fair to say that the Steelers bottled up the Jaguars running attack (135 yards as opposed to 224 in the last meeting), but they didn't, allowing 4.7 yards per carry, 2 TDs, and the 32-yard scamper by Garrard that still has Tyrone Carter searching for his jock strap.

Hines Ward and Heath Miller were inspirational to say the least. Their play in the second half was simply unreal, especially Ward, who I haven't seen so irritated by an opponent in some time. 10 catches for 135 yards in the playoffs is a big-time effort. For the record, the great Terrell Owens (2002 vs. Giants) and Randy Moss (1999 vs. St. Louis) have only amassed more than 135 yards in a playoff game once time each. It's also the third time that Ward has acheived 10 catches in a postseason game, a feat neither Moss nor Owens has ever accomplished. So for the people who say the Steelers have no receivers, look elsewhere for your sacrificial lamb.

A good place to find that lamb is on the offensive line. I've never believed that a playoff team could potentially have two or three changes to a line from one year to the next, but with the Steelers, it's a consideration. They were bad before they were ravaged with injuries. Big Bad John Henderson goes down for the Jaguars? No difference. The Steelers still couldn't run the ball, which somehow became acceptable against the Jacksonvilles and Baltimores of the world this year. And I'm not excusing Roethlisberger's numerous bad decisions on Saturday, but I can only wonder how many of the same miscues he would've made behind a solid line. Again, when the game was in the Steelers' hands and they could've milked the clock to end the game, the line rewarded the fans with a three-and-out. That's just not good enough.

The defense should accept part of the blame, but they did not allow all 31 points. One TD was virtually scored on the kickoff, one TD was an interception return, and a third was set up by an interception return that would've gone for even more yardage if the player didn't have dreads. But as I said, on the 4th-and-2, they were beaten for 32 yards by a quarterback that runs a 4.96 in the 40, so take from that what you will.

Lamarr Woodley really showed me something, James Harrison came up with his usual variety of big plays, and the Steelers finally picked off a few passes, something they'd been reluctant to do in 2007. They took Garrard out of his game, disrupting his ratio of 1 INT:108 passes to a much more favorable 1 INT: 10 passes. It was Garrard's blasted "58 yards rushing" stat that really killed the Steelers.

Mike Tomlin's decisions will be debated, especially the decision to go for 2-point conversions in the 4th quarter. World-Class Cliche King Mark Schlereth of ESPN was immediately second-guessing Tomlin, saying that you don't chase points until you have to. I don't know how much longer Schlereth wanted to wait beyond the 4th quarter to chase points, but I agreed with Tomlin's decision in those instances.

So that closes the books on the 2007 Pittsburgh Steelers. They won the division with a rookie coach, they had the league's 2nd-rated passer, and a running back who probably would've won the rushing title had he not missed the final two games. For a team that was universally picked to finish 3rd, I'd say that was pretty doggone good.

What will 2008 bring? Alan Faneca, Max Starks, Dan Kreider, and Nick Eason hit free agency. Trai Essex and Chris Kemoeatu are the team's only RFAs. So it looks like there will be some turnover on the offensive line. And FYI, the Steelers will be picking somewhere in the 20s, so start your draft analysis accordingly.

It was an exciting year that fulfilled my expectations. As much as I enjoyed watching this team (most of the time), they weren't getting past the powers of the AFC. They were too banged up and were a key player or two away anyway. It was a lot of fun chronicling this season and I thank all of you for sharing your thoughts on a weekly basis. Now let's all sit back, forget that tough loss and watch us some American Gladiators tonight.

10 comments:

okel dokel said...

Modesi, thanks for a great year of chronicling the Steelers. The game left me feeling spent, but I did not count on them doing much at all so I felt surprisingly satisfied even though they lost. I was taken aback by the opening drive. What happened to that play calling the rest of the first half?

I cannot blame Ben for this loss even though he thinks he was the cause. He did force the ball on two of those interceptions and the third one was just a case of Derek Landri getting off his ass at the right time. Had they continued the creative short passing game that they opened the game with perhaps Ben would not have forced the ball. I am a little (very little though) concerned that he tries to do too much in big games and tends to lock in on receivers and force the ball. Hell, the running game was non existent so who can blame him.

The defense did better than I expected given their sieve-like quality over the past several weeks. I think Lamarr Woodley will be replacing Clark Haggans and we need to find an effective back up for Ryan Clark. The Tyrone Carter/Guarantee Smith combination cannot tackle, or defend a pass, great qualities for members of the secondary. Even though they did better than I thought their inability to stop teams in crunch time is very discouraging.

Bruce Arians is not very popular throughout Blogfrica and deservedly so. His play calling throughout left a lot to be desired, but the three and out before Jacksonville’s game winning drive was too conservative and just painful to watch.

I agree with your comments about Heinz and with Santonio and Heath the receiving corps is solid. However, if I never see Nate Washington as a Steeler I will be very happy. He just plain sucks. And can we please get some kind of kickoff and punt returner; Ced Wilson and Najeh just didn’t cut it.

I would make a comment about the special teams play, but why bother.

Once again thanks for a great year and I look forward to the “new team” at Mondesishouse.

TheStarterWife said...

Great wrap-up Mondesi.

Before the start of the regular season, I hoped for 10-6 as a best-case scenario under a new head coach. If it wasn't for all the flashes of greatness throughout the season, this game wouldn't hurt so much.

Thanks for another great season of coverage.

Chris said...

the most glaring weakness on our team is the offensive line, followed by special teams. We've got a lot of work to do before next season, especially with Faneca departing.

all in all, a pretty good season.

and on that note, i can't wait for the jags to lose.

Jonny V said...

Whoa there Chris, I'll be rooting for them to at least beat up on the Patriots a little bit next week.

It was a nicely spoken wrap-up Raul. It was a season of ups and downs, but overall I am satisfied with how it played out, and like u said we were picked by almost every media outlet to finish third in the division. Lord help us next year. I hope we draft nothing but offensive and defensive linemen. And maybe a safety.

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

We looked like world beaters early on this year, but our weaknesses eventually were exposed.

.... and the injuries didn't help.

In a year when one team finished the regular season "perfect" it seems that it will take a "perfect" performance to get by that team in the playoffs.

Despite the early flashes of brilliance, I don't think that the Steelers had that perfect performance in them.

Tomlin's biggest accomplishment this year has to be his handling of Roethlisberger. Large Benjamin entered the season at a crossroads in his career, and left the season a top 5 NFL quarterback. We couldn't have even made the playoffs without his performance.

About the game, the first int, I felt, was a great play by the defender to jump the route. The last two, not so great.

But, to Ben's credit, he picked himself back up and played lights out the rest of the way, and almost pulled off the comeback.

There was another #7 in Denver who used to do the same thing way back when. The more I watch Ben, the more things I notice about his game that remind me of John Elway.

And Ben probably would've had a few more Elway-esque comebacks this year too, if his defense wouldn't have let him down just about every time he brought us back.

And the one time the defense didn't foil their quarterback's comeback attempt? Against Cleveland of course!!

And Hines Ward NEVER fails to show up in the playoffs, look it up.

The schedule next year looks hard as hell (1st place schedule PLUS playing the AFC South and NFC North... that's a total of 8 teams that made the playoffs this year, and only two teams with records under .500!!!).

I hope Tomlin learned from this season moving forward.

Dirty Sanchez said...

Solid wrap up Raul, and I pretty much agree with Okel's comments above.

Ben's a solid leader and showed it by trying to take the blame for this loss, but that's just not the case. You think Tom Brady would have put up his gaudy numbers with this porous OL? Every single week Ben was running for his life and this game was no exception.

I know the defense once again failed to close the door when given the chance, but you can't tag them with this loss either. MJD and Taylor didn't do squat, and if Tyrone Carter could tackle (he also whiffed on MJD's pass in addition to getting juked out by the 250lb Garrard) the Jags would still have been out of FG range.

When the Steelers make that defensive stop and got the ball back with 4 minutes left that Arians would get a case of the puckered ass and try and run it 3 straight times and we'd punt it away and lose. Sure as shit, that's what they did. Couldn't run the ball all game long, the passing game was unstoppable in the 2nd half, so now you try and run out the clock?

Woodley made more plays than Haggans in about 1/3 the playing time. There is no way that he doesn't start next year. Not sure what will become of Timmons but I don't see him getting much playing time next year either. And all I can say is I have a new found respect for Ryan Clark after watching Anthony Smith and Tyrone Carter.

Maybe we can get a decent #3 WR in the draft instead of picking a #3 TE in the third round. And we need to draft someone who can return kicks, if for no other reason then to keep Bouchette from pissing and moaning about the 7th rounder we gave up for Rossum. Oh no, there goes our shot to draft another Dallas Baker! I don't even know why we bother making picks after the 3rd round.

GMoney said...

American Gladiators was sensational!!! The Steelers could use a guy like "Wolf". Methinks he would be a fan favorite in Pittsburgh.

Cecil from Cecil Twp. said...

American Gladiators was awful.

I miss Mike Adamle's timely insight.

Staff said...

what I don't understand is how everyone blasts the offensive line, but in the next breath, they mention how it almost produced the league's top rusher.
you can say that Parker's home-run talents attribute to his near rushing victory, but does that mean he'd have 5,000 rushing yards behind a solid O-line?
Better to lose a tough one than to become jokes in New England