Big Lead Sports Bar

12/06/2009

FROM BAD TO WORSE

RAIDERS (4-8) 27
STEELERS (6-6) 24
ROETHLISBERGER 18/24, 278 YARDS, 2 TD, 1 INT
MENDENHALL 20 CARRIES, 103 YARDS, 1 TD
HOLMES 8 CATCHES, 149 YARDS, 1 TD

Last weekend was pretty hard to stomach for fans of Pittsburgh football, both of the pro and college variations. Pitt's last-second loss in the Backyard Brawl served as the appetizer to a Steeler overtime loss against Baltimore, putting the city in a collective bad mood as Monday rolled around. Well if that was bad, this will be much, much worse.

By now, everyone has heard about what happened to the Car Care Bowl-bound Panthers. Their misery has been well-documented on every sports network for the past 24 hours. Cincinnati is officially Pittsburgh's Daddy on all levels of football in 2009, as painful as that is to write. But the collapse of the world champs...now that is a script that continues to get authored each week (four weeks in a row, to be exact). Sunday's opponent, the Oakland Raiders, was thought of by many (myself included) to be the elixir that cured a franchise in a tailspin. As it turns out, all they did was downgrade the Steelers' playoff chances from "still likely" to "life support". A few thoughts:

1. The current four-game losing streak is totally new ground for Mike Tomlin. Prior to this season, Tomlin-coached Steeler teams had only lost back-to-back games once, in 2007, to New England and Jacksonville. That team went on to lose six games and find themselves out after one round of the playoffs (again at the hands of the Jaguars).

This streak, however, is virgin territory for the human soundbyte that doubles as a head coach. Tough talk about unleashing hell in December is great for whipping up the fans, but losing to Tom Cable and Bruce Gradkowski is losing to Tom Cable and Bruce Gradkowski. My apologies to all of Gradkowski's local fans and supporters, but that coach/QB combination is just a little less accomplished than the duo the Steelers trotted out on Sunday.

At least if this loss came in Oakland then maybe (and only maybe) could I possibly see a "tired from the flight/jet-lag" excuse pulled out of the excuse hat. But this loss was on their home turf. To a team that's considered a laughing stock. There is no excuse.

As I often say, most of our emotion as fans comes down to expectations. Few would've predicted a 6-6 record for the Steelers at this point in the season; not with a championship team returning the vast majority of their players. Sure, injuries to players like Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith hurt to some degree. But even missing those two and others, this team has much more talent than the Chiefs or Raiders. Fans had every right to have high expectations for the 2009 Steelers, and they absolutely have every right to be disappointed. And when fans are disappointed, the criticism usually gets directed to either the head coach, quarterback, or both. Given that Roethlisberger had a 123.3 rating and only 6 incompletions, I'm guessing he will get the benefit of the doubt for the time being. As for Tomlin, it's going to be a looooong week. I'm already seeing some radicals calling for his head just months after winning a Super Bowl. Gotta love football fans.

2. So much for the scary Steeler defense. Save the statistics or the rankings. When they need a stop, they've proven time and time and time again this year that they aren't up to the task. The secondary is in shambles. They just got carved up by a journeyman backup QB with a lifetime record of 3-9, a lifetime passer rating of 61, and a previous career high of 225 yards passing. Against the swiss cheese-style Steeler secondary, Gradkowski lit up the scoreboard for three touchdowns in the final eight minutes, a career-high 308 yards, and a QB rating of 121.8. I love Dick LeBeau, but will anyone ask him for an explanation of these numbers this week?

3. Loved this snippet from the ESPN recap (my emphasis):
Who does Gradkowski think he is, one-time Raiders comeback king George Blanda? Until Sunday, the Raiders had thrown only five touchdown passes all season.

Gradkowski, who completed only two passes and had a 1.0 passer rating during a 31-0 loss in Pittsburgh with Cleveland last December, finished 20-of-33 for 308 yards with a passer rating of 121.8.
And then there's this:
"That was so exciting, I can't even put into words how I feel," said Gradkowski, whose first two starts in Pittsburgh in 2006 and 2008 yielded three points, five interceptions and zero wins.
Excuse me, I have to go vomit.

Much better. On to #4.

4. Joe Burnett dropped what would've been a game-ending interception, Ryan Mundy committed a personal foul on the final drive to give the Raiders a 15- yard boost, and Ike Taylor got beat by something called a Louis Murphy for a 75-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Much like I said about the Pitt game, numerous scapegoats are usually a telltale sign of a game you didn't deserve to win.

5. Once again, the Steelers committed the Cardinal Sin of what not to do when playing against a bad team: they let them hang around too long. When it's 10-6 after three quarters, you're technically still winning, but you've left yourself no room for an error. The game can change on one play - which it did. After the Steelers fell behind, they responded. But for every Steeler score, the Raiders had an answer, and they had the ball at the end of the game. You want to beat the Raiders? Score some of those 14 fourth-quarter points in the first half and watch them wilt away and die like a hot dog under a convenience store heat lamp.

6. The offense was in better balance this week, with 27 rushes and 24 passes. The only problem is that the vast majority of those 27 rushes went nowhere. The one big play they did have, Rashard Mendenhall's 60-yard-run, culminated in a drive that stalled on the Oakland 5 yard line and resulted in zero points. The other 26 carries resulted in just 49 yards.

The running game continues to get nothing out of Willie Parker (15 yards on three carries) and the line can't get one yard when they have multiple shots. It's a sad state of affairs. Somewhere, Jerome Bettis weeps (while sitting on a pile of money and eating a deep fried meatloaf hoagie).

7. On the good side, I don't see any special teamers players getting cut or coaches getting fired this week. And Stefan Logan actually provided a spark with an 83-yard kick return. On the other hand, if Gary Russell would've beaten the Steelers with a runback, I think there would've been even more mass hysteria in the streets than normal after a game like this.

8. This game certainly brought back memories from the last time these teams met, in 2006. Back then, the Steelers were also defending champs, they lost to a below-average QB (Andrew Walter), they were in the midst of a free-fall (a week away from 2-6), and the Raiders stunk (they would finish 2-14 under the classically clueless Art Shell).

9. Hines Ward showed no ill effects of a week spent discussing Ben Roethlisberger, with six catches for 77 yards and a TD. Santonio Holmes had his best game of the season, and found the end zone for just the third time in 2009. But Heath Miller was held to just one catch for the second consecutive week. He has been a non-factor through the air since his 95-yard effort at Kansas City.

10. Next up for the Steelers: Cleveland, and on Thursday night at that. I would normally expect a whitewash, but at this point, Brady Quinn could throw for 400 yards and I don't think I would bat an eye.

We've reached the point of no easy answers, and that's always a great place to fire up a good old-fashioned dissection of the Steelers' ailments. I've provided a few amateur theories, but as always, I'm more looking forward to hearing your two cents on the current state of football affairs.

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22 comments:

Koz said...

The performance by the Steelers secondary in this game was the worst I've ever seen, by any team, at any level. Period.

Jason said...

Gradkowski wasn't exactly under pressure all day. He had some pressures, but all in all he had enough time to find open receivers. Our decreased pass rush from last year has exposed a secondary weakened by the loss of McFadden and the injury to Troy. Woodley is often in pass protection, as opposed to last year when the secondary was solid enough to let him rush the passer most of the time. Smith is out, exacerbating the pressure situation. Also, look how often teams dink and dunk from the shotgun on us-hard to get a sack when the receiver is ready for the ball in 3 seconds or less and the QB has extra time. The offense needs to find a way to grind out short yardage so that we can close games better. Say what you will, but Cowher ball when leading at half time had an excellent record. No, we don't have Bettis and we won't, but I don't think even Bettis would do that great with the inconsistency of the blocking in the running game right now. I'd offer two cents on special teams, but I don't know much about it.

taxidermist1313 said...

I have to say that Oakland with Gradkowski at QB is a different team from Oakland with Russell at QB. I'm not saying Gradkowski is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but he's a ton better than Jamarcus Russell.

That being said, the Eagles loss to the Raiders was far more embarrassing than this game. Don't worry Steeler fans, we could be St. Louis Ram fans! Remember, if it weren't for seasons like this, Super Bowl wins wouldn't be nearly as sweet.

Chip said...

This is definitely one of the most poorly coached Steeler teams I've ever seen.

Put a tape of this game up against a tape from one of their week 2 or 3 losses and you won't tell much of a difference. It's like they make no effort to correct any problems or learn from any mistakes.

Gay sucks but yet they leave him out there on an island. Farrior is washed up but still he plays on passing downs. Clark has no conception of tackling. The offense has no coherent plan in the red zone. Mendenhall still doesn't get enough carries. Roethlisberger is clearly a game manager and they still insist on asking him to be Peyton Manning when he has 1/10 of the talent. It's maddening.

And it's not all on Arians or (hate to even say it) Lebeau. Tomlin needs to stop watching Russel Crowe movies and actually do some coaching. What's he doing? Is he even trying? Cowher had some bad seasons but I always thought he got the most out of what he had. We still have All Pros and #1 draft picks all over the field and lose.

I'm not "a radical" suggesting we Fire Tomlin but if he's the poster boy for "Smart young head coaches" because he inherited a great team from Cowher and just rode it to a Super Bowl, he should be made to answer for this debacle. I know the Pittsburgh media won't because he's African-American and nobody wants called racist. But, honestly, I am not at all impressed by his "leadership" this season.

Steve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

Why not fire Tomlin? You're telling me this is the best this coaching can do with their backs against the wall against an awful west coast team playing on the road in December? A cocky coach that can't motivate or find that extra something to beat a team that has no right even playing in the NFL isn't deserving of firing? Tomlin's tough talk after last week's loss is just that and until he can back it up I really don't care if they fire him or not. Doesn't look like he's got a grip on this team anymore if you ask me. What really pisses me off, is probably the only coach to get the axe after this season will be LeBeau, at which point I will become a big proponent of seeing Tomlin fired. Ligashesky will also be fired but who cares, he should have been fired 8 weeks ago.


Would someone please go over the contract status of anyone wearing a # 20-something on this team who's not named Mewelde Moore. I'd like to see them all gone before the New Year if possible please.

Anyone notice the Hillgrove-Ilkin reaction to everyone leaving when the Raiders went up 13-10? They went on to bash the fans for not sticking around after the Steelers went up again 17-13. Sorry Bill and Tunch, not everyone is blind to what was happening. Some of us saw this coming weeks ago so maybe you should give them credit for sticking around that long.

BurressWithButterflyWings said...

@ Steve, I made the comment that Tomlin should be on thin ice and people were going crazy on me. Pulling out the old " we just won the SB with him last year" .

No, letting Dick LEbeau blitz won us a SB last year.

Tomlin talks in riddles because he is trying to disguise the fact that he has NO IDEA how to be a head coach and answer any questions. We are now 3/4 of the way through the season and the secondary is still getting torched, yet when they asked him why its happening he said " Your guess is as good as mine". Can someone tell me why I should expect improvement there?

William Gay is horrible, downright awful .

Play calling was more balanced on an overall level yesterday, but when one play worked, it was run 4-5 times in a row becoming very predictable.

Tomlin seems to have fooled a lot of people with his little quips, but when it comes down to it, he doesn't really know how to answer the questions and that is why phrases like " Ben is Ben" and " Hines is Hines" are amongst his favorite.

okel dokel said...

I said this team was mediocre a few weeks ago and was told we have weak schedule.

The alleged quality of the opponent doesn't matter when you are unwilling to make adjustments a stale game plan.

This team is not the same team that won the Super Bowl. The defense cannot hold leads so relying on the offense to come from behind is no longer how they game plan should be managed.

I am not ready to throw Tomlin, or LeBeau, out the door. I am tired of his answers to questions, but, by the same token, I do not expect him to reveal much.

This team needs to "go back to the drawing board." Also, I am not sure if automatically signing potential free agents is a good idea. I think they need to cast a net into free agency as a way to improve the secondary and offensive line. Their inability to draft the past few years will catch up with them soon.

Remember Tomlin inherited this garbage offensive line (it was looking increasingly suspect even with Faneca) and the defense was beginning to leak when he took over, so he did what he could with those short comings. Now it is all coming to a head, the aging of their defensive stars, a porous secondary without Troy and their poor drafting.

I would not be surprised if they lose to the Browns.

Get Fresh Designs said...

wow.

fire all the coaches, yeah that's the answer.

The steelers and their fans need to realize their offense isn't a power running game anymore. With the run setting up the pass, the pass is going to set up the run. this offense should be putting up 40 points a game, they have the weapons for this.

it's not helping teams are doubling on harrison and he's a non factor and the defense just seems like they don't have any life out there. reminding me of the 2007 defense down the stretch.

I don't want to give up on this season, but to save myself from a big letdown. I think its done. But if any of you think it's a good idea to fire coaches to change how a team plays, I think you need to go root for another team. Maybe the rams, or hell go root for the browns.

AJ said...

Ryan Mundy makes Tim McKyer look like Rod Woodson.

Steve said...

I had the same reaction when I read that stupid Tomlin comment. What a douche bag thing to say. Almsot as dumb as the "We'll unleash Hell here" thing. Maybe instead of firing Tomlin, we can re-hire Cowher and have a first-half and second-half coach.

Am I the only one who was pissed when we scored with that much time left on the clock? I would have rather they tried running some time off with a couple more runs and short pass plays, even if it meant possibly settling for a FG with no time left, instead of trying to get it all at once. At least they have a 50/50 chance of getting the ball back to start OT instead of giving it back to Oakland with what equates to an eternity with that $hitty Steelers secondary on the field. Obviously, contrary to Belichick's Patriots, the coaching on this team was more than confident it's defense.

I actually thought Gay getting knocked out of the game was a good thing because any replacement would be better, and sadly I was only half right as Burnett was able to at least defend a pass but drop a sure interception. I guess doing both would be too much to ask from this lot of bone heads. From now on, we can refer to this secondary as the "no-hands" team. They can't defend or catch and tackle with their heads.

Clint Pitts said...

As the person who was one of the biggest optimists about our playoffs chances and talking about our easy schedule...oops.

The secondary looks terrible, losing Troy hurts but it shouldn't be that much, the pass rush seems weak, and although the offense moved the ball well second half, they need to learn to dominate early.

Right now it basically looks like we need to go 4-0 and we need Jacksonville to go 2-2, and since they play IND and NE very possible. Maybe with their backs against the wall they can duplicate the 2004 season. Extremely doubtful ,especially against a team that can throw like GB, but I'll keep hoping.

Someone Somewhere said...

People were talking about how the '08 Steeler defense was one of the all-time great defenses EVER. I just don't know how that unit has come to resemble the '09 Steelers defense? Were Smith and Polamalu really -that- important? The Patriots had a decent enough defense in '04 using Troy freaking Brown as nickelback and minus their top two corners. If Dick LeBeau is such an alleged defensive genius, he should be getting more out of the guys that are out there. There is just no way Oakland (OAKLAND???) should traverse 88 yards in under 2 minutes and NOT EVEN HAVE TO USE THE ONE TIMEOUT THEY HAD.

Memo to coach Mike Tomlin: talk is cheap. How about instead of massaging the fanbase with talks of fire and brimstone, you figure out why your secondary can't stop the most pathetic offense in the league from scoring touchdowns on THREE different occasions in the 4th quarter? I thought this was going to be a playoff type atmosphere? The buck stops with you coach...now that you are under fire, the chiches aren't going to make believers out of anyone...talk is cheap.

Maybe, just maybe...the Steelers aren't that good?

Steve said...

Get Fresh, we're simply trying to point out that Tomlin and coaching needs to get most of the blame for this. We realize that he won't get fired obviously but when the world was annointing him as the greatest thing since the forward pass after last season and the league was hiring coaches in the "Tomlin" mold, they need to be just as critical of him now. This is practically the same team that won it all last year and in many ways I believe better, so it cuts both ways. Losing is one thing, but losing in the manner and to the teams they have lost to is unacceptable no matter how they may double team Harrison, or whether this is primarily a pass or run offense.

I realize you're frustrated too, but maybe you should think before telling people here what teams to root for based on their criticism of their team and its coaches. Remember, some of us have been fans a hell of a lot longer than you.

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

Everyone who wanted "Stillers football" got it the last two weeks. Plenty of running, with ok success I suppose.

But I think that, despite not running enough, and the special teams problems, the problem IS THE DEFENSE. Period.

Why? Because despite all of the other problems, the defense was handed a lead late in the game in 5 of our 6 losses and blew it.

I know maybe the games wouldn't have been as close had it not been for the special teams blunders and the occasional offensive miscue, but we were in these types of games last year all the time and routinely won them. That was when the defense knew how to get a stop when it needed one.

An 88-yard drive to Bruce Gradkowski in 1:50 with the game on the line?? Are you serious?!

Steve said...

It definately the defense. Mostly the secondary however. The D-line and linebackers do an adequate job with what they are asked to do, given the defenses called.

I've found latley during 4th quarters, if you close your eyes you can easily picture Chad Scott, Dewayne Washington and Hank Poteat out there sticking the place up. The only holdover from that epic secondary disaster is Townsend and I don't know if releasing him would make any difference at all.

I have a feeling this is also Tomlin's fiddling with their standard cover-2 with his Tampa-2 crap that is confusing some of the players. Not sure what the major difference is, but Taylor shouldn't be blitzing in a Cover-2. Maybe the Tampa-2 incorporates a zone blitz from the corner position and Taylor simply $hit the bed...something he's been getting quite good at doing recently.

Corey said...

i think don hit it last week when he asked "could troy polamalu be this important?"

yes. yes, indeed.

Steve said...

Yup. He should win the teams MVP award even if he doesn't play another game all season. It just makes it all the more obvious.

Cornelius said...

The Madden curse has wreaked havoc on the Steelers this season. WE LOST TO THE RAIDERS.

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

Tampa 2 is the same crap as the Cover 2, you just have a middle linebacker playing back a little bit to help out with pass coverage. Derrick Brooks made a HOF career out of doing it in Tampa, and many people thought Lawrence Timmons was the same type of player coming out of college.

And I know missing Troy is huge, but c'mon, we should be able to win SOME of these games without him. The front seven is still good. Ike Taylor, while not the most prolific interceptor of the ball, has always been a solid cover corner. Clark used to play responsibly.

I think not having Troy hurts, bad, but it's still not an excuse for some of these inexplicable losses.

Also, bear in mind, that we had two very inexperienced players on the field when we gave up that drive in Mundy and Burnett.

It'd be nice if Mundy made a few plays instead of delivering late hits to players on both teams....

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

Deshea was actually a pretty underrated corner in his prime. He was just made to sit on the bench behind Scott and Washington for about 5 years.

Once we jettisoned those two and let Deshea start, the secondary improved almost immediately.

BurressWithButterflyWings said...

Deshea Townsend was definitely an improvement over those 2 and played very well as a starter. Especially for being small and not the fast, he is a heads up player and was reliable and consistent.

The same cannot be said for Gay, period. Ike made a terrible read yesterday; but has been pretty solid over his career outside of the game he played yesterday and the pvs. wk. vs. the Ratbirds.