Monday, January 9, 2012

Points to consider

1. It's okay to admit we were wrong

Coming into this game we knew it was going to be uncomfortably close, but we were sure it was impossible Denver could win. Well, we were wrong about that. Tim Tebow made throws that we were sure were impossible for him to make. Tip your cap, don't read too much into it. Their offense had a terrific day.

2. Our ouster was about a week ahead of schedule

We were the shittiest 12-4 team you'll see. Yes, we had a tremendous yard differential, and that combined with the record looked good on paper. But c'mon. If you've been watching all year, we were frustratingly bad.

Week 1: we got the shit kicked out of us by the Ravens.
Week 2: we beat up on a crummy Seahawks team led by Tarvaris Jackson.
Week 3: we almost lost to the worst team in the league, the Colts.
Week 4: we lost to the Texans.
Week 5: we won in convincing fashion against a hobbled Titans team.
Week 6: we almost lost to the Jaguars.
Week 7: we beat the Cardinals.
Week 8: we beat the Pats, hanging on at the end.
Week 9: we tried hanging on against the Ravens and failed.
Week 10: we narrowly beat the Bengals.
Week 11: bye.
Week 12: we very narrowly beat the Chiefs.
Week 13: we kicked the crap out of the Bengals.
Week 14: we very narrowly beat the Browns.
Week 15: we got the crap kicked out of by the 49ers.
Week 16: we kicked the crap out of the Rams.
Week 17: we narrowly beat the Seneca Wallace led Browns.

That's 7 games with playoff teams. We went 3-4 in those games.

That's 9 games with shit teams. We went 9-0 in them, but only won 3 of them comfortably.

So we're looking at 4 losses and 6 ugly wins on the season. Losing ugly to the Broncos isn't an aberration. If anything, it's a fitting way to go. And if it hadn't been the Broncos, it would have been the Pats next week.

3. Our defense got beat, but they aren't what's wrong with us as a team

If you're interested in how specifically we got beat, let me tell you.

We opted to run a lot of plays from a Cover 1 or Cover 0 shell, which only provides the minimum safety protection against the pass. If a wide receiver beats one of our defensive backs, there's nothing to be done about it in Cover 0. We were running this defense for two reasons, near as I can figure:
1. Because using safeties closer to the line is more effective against stopping the run, and we were afraid we couldn't stop the run.
2. Because Ryan Mundy is slow and big, and therefore better as a run stopper than as a cover guy. Would Ryan Clark have allowed for more Cover 1? I don't know. Certainly Mundy played a good game with what he was given, and I don't think Clark would have had any more impact plays than Mundy, but there exists the possibility that we would have been looser with the safeties.

Our defense was atypical for us, in that we didn't play bend-don't-break. We sold out to stop the run by both bringing in the safeties, and by keeping a 3-man line on the field for most of the game. Rarely were we able to get into the exotic blitz packages, and that was because Denver kept us honest with their short yardage game.

Could we use help in the secondary? Yes. The answer has always been yes. We do not have an heir apparent for Troy. This is nothing new. Ike Taylor is quite capable, and William Gay has made serious strides this year. But we weren't as good as our #1 ranking for pass defense indicated; it was simply a result of a weak schedule.

4. Forget about the defense, we need a face-lift on offense

Bruce Arians and Ben Roethlisberger are enabling idiots. Throw in Ron Cook, and you have a circle jerk that can get sacked out of field goal range with the best of 'em.

"He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer in my mind," Arians said of Roethlisberger. "He's won two Super Bowls and been to a third. He's not done with Super Bowls, I believe. Even if he stopped right now, he'd be a first-ballot guy."

That's cute. Let's get cuter.

"Seriously, it means a lot coming from a guy like that," Roethlisberger said. "He's coached some of the best. He coached Peyton Manning. It's awesome to hear even if it is premature."

Arians coached Manning for two seasons (followed that up by coaching the powerhouse Cleveland Browns to some terrible offensive rankings). Manning had a passer rating of 80.6 and the team went 16-16 in the time Arians was there. You might be saying "But Franco, those were just Manning's first two years in the league, and besides team record can't be blamed on the QB coach!" Sure. I'll give you that. But give me this: Bruce Arians' association with Peyton Manning bears the absolute minimum of greatness. His comparison of Ben with first-ballot hall of famers is further proof that the man has no concept of what a high end offensive player should look like.

The man gets no argument here.

Thanks for backing me up, Ron Cook.

Oh, wait. You were referring to something Arians said about Ben being great, weren't you? Never mind.

Ronny boy concludes that Ben is too awesome and loves Arians too much for the Steelers to get a new offensive coordinator. I conclude that BA waxes Ben's ass and doesn't hold him accountable, and Ben's afraid that if we get someone new in there, he'll be asked to do his homework week-in, week-out.

That is precisely what we need.

This isn't the 1970s, where a QB can call his own plays at the line. If you watch the Saints or the Packers play, you will see a new level of offensive mastery that would blow us out of the water. I'm not saying we have to copy their playbooks (in fact, I'd say we shouldn't just copy their playbooks if we don't understand the plays, see: fullhouse backfield, run for no yards play). I'm saying we have to match their level of precision and discipline. Ben chaffed a little under Whisenhunt because he wasn't allowed to throw the ball as much. But that was the thing, when Ben did throw, he was brilliant because it was very well designed. There is nothing designed about this current offense. It's just two idiots who are making it up on the fly. Don't believe me? Here:

"As I get stale as a play-caller, I like to turn it over to No. 7. We have a wager on who gets to the end zone first."

Know who doesn't get stale as a playcaller? A good offensive coordinator!

Here's what I'm specifically calling for:
1. A new offensive coordinator who will hold Ben accountable.
2. An offense that gets its mojo from short timing routes that crisscross over the middle.
3. Screens to the running backs.
4. Designed QB rollouts, where Ben is given permission to jog and slide for yards if his options are all dead (flopping into the fetal position will be missed).
5. Better time management on offense.
6. Better understanding of the spots on the field where sacks aren't an option (i.e. FG range).
7. A running game that finds its mojo on short yardage situations, and doesn't just run on first down.

There's more, but those are good places to start.

Seriously folks, if you're at all interested in the Steelers being a top-shelf competitor, and not just a winning-record, early-exit playoff team, then you should be getting on board with this. Our offense is below average garbage, and as long as it's run by the best friends club, nothing is going to change.

5. Go Steelers!

It was a frustrating year, but still a fun one. I love watching the games with all of you, and I'm counting down until we can do it again next year.

Let's go ice skating!

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