Big Lead Sports Bar

9/21/2008

AT LEAST WE DIDN'T LOSE BY 25 TO THE DOLPHINS

EAGLES (2-1) 15

STEELERS (2-1) 6

ROETHLISBERGER 13-25, 131 YARDS, 1 INT

PARKER 13-20

MILLER 4-63

The attempt at humor in my headline is one of the few things that makes me feel better about Sunday's feeble excuse for an effort at Philadelphia in a 15-6 loss, extending that pesky 43-year-drought the Steelers have experienced in that city.
It's funny how knee-jerk we are as football fans. Just this weekend, I was watching the Pitt Panthers take on the Iowa Hawkeyes, and I realized that my hopes and dreams for the season seemed to change on each drive with this team. This is what life as a Pitt fan has come to. One minute you think they'll win the Big East, the next minute you wonder if they'll struggle with Syracuse.
Follow this, if you will: You come into the season with high hopes, ranked in the top 25. You immediately pin 14 on Bowling Green in the opener. You subsequently lose to Bowling Green. Your expectations of a possible BCS berth are greatly reduced. Buffalo in week two suddenly becomes a "must-win" for Dave Wannstedt. You're satisfied with a close win. In comes Iowa. With expectations low, you're pleasantly surprised when the 'Stache goes for it on 4th down in enemy territory. You're even more surprised when Greg Cross finally enters a game and immediately runs for an electrifying touchdown. And when Bill Stull is throwing the deep ball. You start thinking, "Hey, maybe this team might be pretty decent after all," while then taking another roller-coaster dip moments later as they're getting shredded by Iowa's running back to the tune of 147 yards. They fall behind, Shady McCoy reedems himself from an earlier fumble and saves the day, and they hold off a last-gasp effort from Iowa. 21-20, Pitt wins. Elation. Wait. This opponent was 6-6 last year and closed their season by losing a home game to 4-6 Western Michigan with a bowl game on the line. What are we celebrating again?
My long-winded analogy is supposed to have a point. We were collectively concerned about the Steelers schedule going into the 2008 season. Eight, nine, ten wins tops, said many fans. Then we come out and watch the Steelers set the Texans organization back 10 years in the opener. Tom Brady tears his ACL. Shawne Merriman is out for the season. Peyton Manning is not quite Peyton Manning. We shoot up the power rankings. "Top seed in the AFC" is no longer a pipe dream. And all this after just one game.
What we will now see is the knee-jerkers (myself included) explaining what's wrong with the very same Steeler team (sans a healthy Brett Keisel) that was the consensus #2 in the NFL just days before. It's the same group of players, but all of a sudden, they're tragically flawed. They'll want to send each and every offensive lineman on a long trip off a short plank. Offensive line coach Larry Zierlein will get more hate-emails than Ed Hochuli. You get the point. Everybody tends to overreact.
It's not just a fan thing. It's a media thing, too; they're the ones creating these imaginary "rankings" that we obsess over. But looking back on what's happened so far, what have the Steelers really accomplished? They've beaten two winless teams. They've scored a grand total of 16 points in their last two games. They're in second place in the division. And they've managed to get Ben Roethlisberger sacked 13 times in three games.
Are they as good as we thought? It's literally impossible to say. That's what's so fun and at the same time so maddening about the game of football. Did anyone see a Bill Belichick team getting completely stumped by a college formation? Did anyone see Brian Griese throwing for 407 yards? Did anyone see Brandon Marshall have 18 catches in a game? For that matter, did anyone see Pitt beating West Virginia last year, or the Giants beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl?
To be honest, I don't know what the Steelers are. No one does, not even the Steelers themselves. They've got what is always an emotional game coming up againt Baltimore, in front of a Monday night audience, no less. Common sense would tell you that the Steelers would intimidate a rookie QB like Joe Flacco, but common sense also told us the 7-2 Steelers wouldn't lose to the 1-8 Jets quarterbacked by Kellen Clemens last year.
All of a sudden, and in the same vein as Pitt, the Baltimore game becomes a must-win. A Steeler win gives them a half-game cushion, but a Steeler loss puts the Ravens at 3-0 and the Steelers at 2-2, a place no one wants to be.
Game Notes:

--First three Eagles drives:

9 plays, 44 yards, luckily stopped by an INT

13 plays, 85 yards, TD

7 plays, 32 yards, FG

Not a good way to start a game on the road, and certainly unlike the series of drives the Browns assembled last week.

--From A.J., a great point:

"So as I am suffering through the closing minutes of today's Steelers game...
Mike Tomlin's career road record in stadiums not located in Ohio... 1-6.
The only win on the road (not in Ohio) came in St. Louis last December. He has lost on the road to Arizona, Denver, Meadowlands, New England, Baltimore, and now Philly. These guys aren't exactly road warriors."

--The Steelers were 2-for-13 on third down. Yikes and gadzooks.

--As a team, the Steelers had 33 yards on 19 carries, a whopping 1.7 YPC.

--Nice to see a receiver other than Ward or Holmes with a catch on Sunday. May I now suggest a couple screens to your fleet-footed running back, Mr. Arians?

--Bryant McFadden just keeps making things happen. This week, another INT. And another INT for Troy Polamalu, who is looking like the Troy Polamalu of 2005.

--Philly runs their entire offense through Brian Westbrook, so that would definitely account for their small margin of victory despite having their foot on the Steeler offense's collective throats for the majority of the game.

3 comments:

Someone Somewhere said...

In lieu of my previously long-winded comments, I think this game can be summed up in a single sentence fragment: Philadelphia: desperate and prepared, Pittsburgh: lackadaisical, sloppy, unprepared.

The defense, to their credit, played their asses off, negating Ben Roethlisbergers three turnovers with three of their own. They gave Pittsburgh EVERY opportunity in the world to win this game, but the offense just could not put together any semblance of organization. I'm sorry, but there is no way I will believe that the Steelers are -that- putrid offensively.

It's easy to point fingers after a loss, which I will proceed to do right now. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians (and maybe coach Mike Tomlin as well) once again showed that he is very quick to push the panic button. Soon after Philadelphia scored their only touchdown, Arians went right back to what wasn't working for the Steelers in the latter part of the '07 season. The offense gambled WAAAY too much trying to get the big play in the second quarter. Pittsburgh never once tested the will of the small (yet fast) Philadelphia defense. Instead of trying to establish any semblance of a balanced offensive attack, they decided to look for the high risk/high reward plays. Granted, Willie Parker was not blowing through the Philly defense with ease, but he also only had 13 carries in what was a 10-6 game well into the 4th quarter, which, in my opinion, is ridiculous and unacceptable. I ask, with two very good running backs, is it really that difficult to mix in a screen pass or a draw play to keep a team that is blitzing relentlessly, honest? After seeing your franchise quarterback getting sacked and/or mauled on EVERY single pass play, maybe you might want to try something else? Maybe, just maybe, you can gain some sort of rhythm with your offensive line if you allow them to go out and bang on the smaller Philly defense for a few series? Last I checked, it is ok to try and run to give your offense manageable 3rd down situations (rather than 3rd & 8+). It's not like Pittsburgh needed 3 touchdowns to tie the game. 2 more Jeff Reed field goals could have been the difference.

With that out of the way, I don't want to take anything away from Philly's defense, as they played a fantastic game. The coverage was awesome, the blitzing confused the hell out of Pittsburgh all afternoon, and played a significant role in forcing them out of any sort of rhythm.

Troy Polamalu's interception was incredible. The guy seemingly wanted to make DeSean Jackson pay every single time he touched the ball, getting into his head and taking him out of the game after the first half. Welcome to the NFL DeSean. He also appeared to bloody the nose of tight end L.J. Smith late in the 1st half.

Credit has to go to Philadelphia's punter as well as he was clutch throughout the second half, repeatedly pinning the Steelers inside their own 10...which doesn't help anything when you can't move the ball.

The offensive line was awful. There isn't much more to say about them. The Steelers were forced to abandon the game plan and kept both Heath Miller and Mewelde Moore in to block on passing downs just to try and provide more protection for #7, yet that tactic still did not work with any degree of success. I still cannot believe how awful the pass protection was.

If Philadelphia was able to destroy the Steeler offensive line with such ease, it makes me shudder to think what Baltimore will be able to do. As stated earlier, I really do not think the Steelers are -that- bad. Baltimore will struggle to score on the Pittsburgh defense, but I have a feeling that Pittsburgh will have a difficult time trying to score on Baltimore as well. Again, this is a home game on Monday night following a game where Pittsburgh was basically humiliated, so chances are they will probably focus on doing what they do best and not reading about how great they are and how they are now the team to beat in the AFC, etc etc etc. Reason being, if they lose on Monday night they won't even be the team to beat in the AFC North.

LeeTunnel said...

Just remember that the Ravens two victories have also come against winless teams. The Monday nighter will be an important indicator of things to come.

I totally agree about the idea of a screen pass to Willie sprinkled in there somewhere. I was thinking that all game.

An Troy's interception wasn't just an interception. It was an INCREDIBLE interception. What an athletic play!

art said...

The Steelers aren't who we thought they were.

To paraphrase Denny Green.