Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Colts' Defense May be Better Than Their Offense

Vontae Davis rocks Giovanni Bernard
The Indianapolis Colts bring the NFL's second-rated offense to Heinz Field on Sunday, so it's almost easy to overlook how good their fourth-rated defense has been this year. It is jelling into a unit that has to be in the conversation as possibly the best defense in the NFL today.

It's getting better as the season goes on. The Colts not only shut out Cincinnati last Sunday, they completely stymied the Bengals. Even without injured receiver A.J. Green, nobody would deny the Bengals have a lot of talent; they entered that game against the colts ranked No. 5 in the NFL on offense.

Yet the Colts forced the Bengals to three-and-out 10 times, held the Bengals to just 1-of-13 on third-down conversions, and kept Cincinnati on the wrong side of the 50-yard line until the fourth quarter.  Time of possession for the Bengals: 20:17.

Vontae Davis and Josh Gordy contesting a pass attempt.
That's dominant.

No doubt that performance has gotten the attention of Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger and company. But it wasn't just the Cincinnati game; the Colts have been coming together on defense all year.

It's a cohesive unit that is getting better and better.

Safety Sergio Brown: "Our secondary is playing lights out. Our linebackers are playing lights out. Our defensive line is playing lights out.''

Give Chuck Pagano credit. The former Ravens defensive coordinator is doing exactly what he set out to do when hired to become head coach of the Colts, which is to build a defense modeled after the dominant squad he led in Baltimore.

Patience Required
Down goes Dalton.
If the Steelers' overall game plan is to limit Andrew Luck's time on the field, it will be up to Roethlisberger to orchestrate an offense than can convert third downs regularly and score touchdowns instead of field goals. Haley and Roethlisberger are going to have to be patient. They are going to have to resist the temptation to force plays that aren't there.

Blunt Force
With that in mind, this is the perfect game for the Steelers to finally put running back LeGarrette Blount to work in earnest, early and often. Blount has had more than eight carries only once this season, and that was just 10 carries vs. Carolina (for 118 yards). It's time to give him some work.

"Blunt Force" may be the Steelers' best weapon against the Colts.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Lots of Receiving Options for Andrew Luck

T.Y. Hilton
T.Y. Hilton is a problem. He is the deep threat for the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL's top-rated passing game.

Two weeks ago vs. the same Houston Texans team the Steelers defeated last Sunday, Hilton caught passes of 49, 40, 37 and 33 yards. Over Hilton's last three games, he has caught at least seven passes a game, averaging 140 yards receiving per game. He's trouble.

How the Steelers counter that threat will be largely dependent on cornerback Brice McCain getting help from the safeties -- we're looking at you, Mike Mitchell.

Hilton may be Indianapolis's most dangerous deep threat, but he certainly is not the Colts' only receiving option. With running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson combining for 43 catches this season, and with tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener combining for 38 catches, the Colts present a diversified passing attack.

And the thing about the tight ends, they're not used solely for short, move-the-sticks checkdown throws: Allen averages 14.5 yards per reception, which says he gets downfield (like Cleveland's Jordan Cameron, who gave the Steelers fits). Fleener averages a very respectable 12.6 yards per catch, in the mold of Carolina tight end Greg Olson.

We haven't even mentioned future Hall of Famer Reggie Wayne, who may be sidelined with an elbow injury. If he can't play, expect veteran Hakeem Nicks and rookie third-round draft pick Donte Moncrief, from Ole Miss, to play instead of Wayne, who has been the target of one of every five passes the Colts have thrown this season.

Donte Moncrief vs. Jacksonville
Moncrief is 6'2" and 221 pounds and runs a 4.4 40. He and the Steelers' rookie fourth-rounder, Martavis Bryant, were often mentioned in the same grouping of tall, fast but unpolished wide receivers coming out for last May's draft.

Moncrief appears to be a bit ahead of Bryant in his development so far. He has nine receptions this year, and this week offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton had this to say about Moncrief:  "He's ahead of schedule. He's a guy that we feel like at any given moment we can plug him in and he'll be ready to go out there and perform at the level that's expected."

Head coach Chuck Pagano said this about Moncrief: "From the minute he got here, we knew we had a long, athletic guy that could run, a guy that was mature beyond his years. We're getting him a little bit of burn, he is going to continue to get a little bit more action as we move forward. Obviously he's got playmaking ability and again, the game's not too big for him."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dissa 'n Datta: Points per Game, etc.

Scoring defense: 
  • The Indianapolis Colts' defense is ranked fourth in the NFL, allowing 19.4 points per game. 
  • The Steelers' defense is ranked 16th, allowing 23.1 points per game.
Scoring offense: 
  • Indianapolis's offense has scored an average of 30.9 points per game, ranked second in the NFL behind Denver's 31.5 points scored per game.
  • The Steelers have scored an average of 22.0 points per game, tied with the New York Giants for 21st in the NFL.
Stats for Sacks: 
  • On offense, the Colts have allowed 11 sacks. 
  • On defense, the Steelers have sacked the QB 10 times.
  • On offense, the Steelers have allowed 20 sacks. 
  • On defense, the Colts have sacked opposing quarterbacks 21 times.
That's nearly proportionally inverse (stats for sacks) on both sides of the ball.

Common Opponents: 
  • The Steelers and Colts have played three common opponents: Baltimore, Jacksonville and Houston. 
  • The Colts beat all three teams; the Steelers lost to Baltimore.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Steelers' defense had better be ready

Beating the Steelers by at least 20 points in each game, the Ravens and Browns both administered whippings on the Steelers this season.

The Indianapolis Colts will be Pittsburgh's stiffest test so far. 

Following losses to Denver and Philadelphia, the Colts are a hot team with five straight wins. The Colts are coming off a 28-0 shellacking of the Cincinnati Bengals. They've put up 30 or more points five times, including games where they've racked up 44 points (vs. Jacksonville) and 41 points (vs. Tennessee).

Visiting Heinz Field late Sunday afternoon, here's how the 5-2 Colts stack up vs. the 4-3 Steelers in four of the NFL broadest team statistical categories:

  • First in passing offense (329.6 yards per game) vs. the Steelers' 13th-ranked passing defense (230.9 ypg)
  • Fifth in passing defense (214.4 ypg) vs. the Steelers' 8th-ranked passing defense (230.9 ypg)
  • Ninth in rushing yards per game (123.3 ypg) vs. the Steelers' 14th-ranked rushing defense (114.1 ypg)
  • Ninth in rushing defense (128.6 ypg) vs. the Steelers' 9th-ranked rushing game (123.3 ypg).

On defense, the Colts don't have any mega-stars like J.J. Watt, but they've been playing good, solid team defense -- as evidenced by Sunday's shutout of the Bengals.

On offense, the leader of course is Andrew Luck. Receiver T.Y. Hilton is emerging as a big-time playmaking deep threat.

Their receiving corps is deep: In addition to Hilton (47 receptions; 15.1 ypc), there's Reggie Wayne (38 catches; 11.4 ypc); tight end Dwayne Allen (21 catches; 14.5 ypc); tight end Coby Fleener (17 catches; 12.6 ypc); Hakeem Nicks (17 catches; 8.3 ypc); and rookie Donte Moncrief (9 catches; 11.4 ypc).

Not to be overlooked, running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson have combined for 43 catches in seven games.

The Steelers' defense is going to have their hands full.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Big-time plays, takeaways and lucky bounces

Three touchdowns scored in 73 seconds late in the second quarter. Bing bang boom. That was the difference in the game. 

Martavis Bryant: Touchdown!
Ben Roethlisberger was opportunistic and spot on when he absolutely needed to be, with drop-a-dime, Big-Time-Franchise-Quarterback passes on the money to Martavis Bryant for a 35-yard touchdown and Antonio Brown.

Running back Le'Veon Bell was evasive, slippery and clutch the whole game, with 88 yards receiving, 55 yards rushing and a touchdown reception.

Todd Haley made a brilliant play call in the red zone that would have been called absurdly idiotic if it had been intercepted instead of going for a touchdown pass thrown by Antonio Brown to Lance Moore. Haley would have been tarred, feathered and pilloried if that pass had been intercepted. Antonio Brown, though, threw a perfect pass that Moore caught. Everything worked on that play, thank goodness.

Antonio Brown, running free
And the defense played takeaway, for once. The bounces went their way. Fumbles recovered, and the ball that bounced off Lawrence Timmons' head into Brett Keisel's arms cannot be scripted. Then Keisel did his best J.J. Watt impersonation on the return.

Speaking of Watt, he was held more or less in check most of the night -- if you count a fumble recovery, a sack and a hard hit on Roethlisberger being held in check. Still, for that guy, yeah, that's being held in check. Somebody (Haley, Mike Munchak, the offensive line, et al, collectively) deserves credit for that. Team effort.

Room for Improvement, with Better Teams Coming
For all of the big plays, opportunistic breaks, lucky bounces and solid game-planning, it took all of that to keep the Houston Texans at bay in a one-score win at home on a Monday night. Not all was lollipops and roses: Arian Foster averaged 5.1 yards per carry for 102 yards. Pittsburgh's defense had only one sack and allowed a 33-yard run and pass plays of 32, 24, 18 and 15 yards. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked three times and fumbled the ball once. The Steelers got next to nothing on their kickoff returns, again, and that is now a trend.

Better teams are coming to Heinz Field, beginning next Sunday with the 5-2 Indianapolis Colts, who shut out and thoroughly humiliated the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. One game at a time, though, and there's lots to feel good about this desperately needed win over the Texans.

Now, it's time to build on the good vibes and get another win. Beat the Colts and then the Baltimore Ravens the following week, and we can begin to consider the Steelers legitimate contenders this year. It's a tall order but within grasp.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Game Day 7: Texans at Pittsburgh

It will be interesting to see tonight how the Steelers respond to the widespread criticism levied at them recently. It wasn't only Hines Ward and Bill Cowher who called them "soft," which the rest of the world could see anyway. Their own coach, Mike Tomlin, told them they aren't tough enough, mentally and physically, according to Antonio Brown.

No doubt, the Steelers have some very talented players (Brown, Roethlisberger, Polamalu, Bell, Timmons, etc.).  Just not enough of them. So, it may not even be a mater of toughness. If the team doesn't have enough talent, the Steelers are going to have trouble even with another so-so team like the Houston Texans.

Tonight, we will find out whether the Steelers are merely mediocre or just a lousy football team.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Still Searching: A Question of Identity


Zeke's Coffee opens its new drive-through location on
Broad Street near the East Liberty Post Office 
The defense is a problem,"obviously," to borrow Mike Tomlin's oft-used fall-back word. The defense has been soft against the run and loose in pass coverage. And there's been precious little pass rush. Jason Worilds has done next to nothing six games into a contract "walk" year (during which he's being paid $11 million).

"Obviously," too, the offense is a problem. There have been flashes: The Steelers rank second in the NFL with 11 plays (eight passes; three runs) of 30 yards or longer. But the Steelers rank 20th in the NFL in points scored at 20.7 points per game.

That last stat is unfortunate when your defense allows 23.2 points per game (14th in the NFL).

It looks like the Steelers have to outscore opponents, and this is yet another week where some match-ups on offense appear to favor Pittsburgh.

The Texans' defense have allowed more plays of 30-plus yards than any other NFL team. That seems to favor the Steelers, eh?

Yes, BUT ONLY IF the Steelers' offensive gives Ben Roethlisberger enough time to throw. The Texans do have J.J. Watt, and he alone could be enough to disrupt Roethlisberger's timing with his receivers -- which, as we have seen recently, hasn't exactly been orchestrated with any sort of reliability.

That offensive line the Steelers have been trotting out has two players who received big-money contract extensions during the off-season: Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert. Yet the Steelers failed to get enough of a push up front that they failed to score against the Browns on three rush attempts inside the 10-yard line. On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh's defense failed to stop Cleveland's three runs by Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell inside the Steelers' 10-yard line.

No wonder Bill Cowher and Hines Ward called them soft.

Everybody's been wondering what sort of identity the Steelers have on offense -- because they don't have one. Ramon Foster said this week that it's "versatile."

Nice try, Ramon.

As Joey Porter's Pit Bulls wrote a few weeks before the Jacksonville game:
"The overall tenor and identity of the offense, though, is more or less set by the coordinator, head coach and quarterback. Three years after Haley's arrival, it is fair to say the Steelers still lack a cohesive, consistent identity on offense. 
"This week's visit to Jacksonville presents a perfect opportunity to set a tone and establish some continuity and a sense of identity."
Substitute "Houston" for "Jacksonville" in that last sentence, and we will say, once again, "Now's your chance, Todd Haley."

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Elevator Music isn't what it used to be

The volume button on the "elevator music" washing over the Steelers has been dialed up from a dull roar to a cacophonous crescendo. 

"I don't worry about that; that's elevator music," Mike Tomlin said about criticism of the Steelers' play from former player Hines Ward and ex-coach Bill Cowher, both of whom described the Steelers as playing "soft."

Our fair city.
That kind of elevator music is what you get, Mike, when you get crushed in a Thursday night game against Baltimore; lose at home to woeful Tampa Bay; barely eke out a win over dreadful Jacksonville; and allow a resurgent Cleveland squad to romp and stomp your team although the Browns' roster is largely comprised of rookies and undrafted free agents led by a quarterback you released less than two years ago.

The elevator won't stop until at least Monday night, when the Steelers take on the Houston Texans, against whom they've had spotty success over the years. Like the Steelers, the 3-3 Texans do some things well and some things not so well.

It's Time to Change Some Things
Whatever happens on Monday night, no ending coda for the elevator music is likely to happen unless the Steelers fix some of their most pressing issues, lack of talent notwithstanding.

Where do we start? Offense?

Questionable play-calling aside, Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 17 times, second-most in the NFL. Even with J.J. Watt looming, is that a problem that can be fixed?

Sure.

When you run the ball, you don't get sacked. We're not saying run the ball 100 percent of the time, but if the Steelers are looking to forge an identity, they could take a cue from this year's Dallas Cowboys, of all teams, who have lost just once and have shown a commitment to the run rarely seen anymore.

We thought for sure the Steelers would use a no-huddle running game more this year, especially at home. One example of a team that does that is Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles: On Sunday night vs. the New York Giants, the Eagles ran the ball often out of the no-huddle, gained 11 rushing first downs and racked up 203 yards on the ground.

On defense, it's past time for the Steelers to switch up personnel. Whatever fascination the decision-makers have with Cam Thomas, it's time to try somebody else. The same goes for at least a couple of other positions. What are they clinging to?

It's time for the players to step up, and the coaches, too.  Switch up the personnel, adjust the schemes, do something. Play defense. As Chuck Noll said, "Whatever it takes."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chalk Talk: Mike Mitchell was out of the picture

Steelers' radio broadcaster Tunch Ilkin does a fantastic job in the booth every week, on his radio talk show, and also in his weekly Chalk Talk video-breakdowns of key plays every week on Steelers.com.

Mike Mitchell is on far left of screen, moving toward
Travis Benjamin, who is being trailed by Cortez Allen and
Troy Polamalu in the big circle in the center of the screen,
while Jordan Cameron, in the small circle near the
40-yard marker, make his way to the far sideline.
Following Sunday's game against the Browns, Tunch took a look at the key 45-yard pass play to Cleveland tight end Jordan Cameron immediately following Pittsburgh's botched field goal attempt early in the second quarter.

The Browns set up the Steelers for this misdirection play by their previous commitment to the run (including prior games); their earlier play calls in this game; the three tight-end formation; effective play-action; the movement off the line of scrimmage; and the absolutely perfect execution by Brian Hoyer, Jordan Cameron, Travis Benjamin and everyone else in a Cleveland uniform. Flawless execution on a well-schemed play.

On the Steelers' side of the ball, eh, confusion reigned, and the execution was, shall we say, less than perfect.  In his excellent review of the video, Tunch points out the position of several Steelers and says, "I am not sure who was supposed to be covering him (Jordan Cameron)."

That's because it looks like there were 10 defenders on the field. Why? Safety Mike Mitchell was so far downfield and moving in the wrong direction to boot that he was literally out of the screen on the video. You'll see at about at the 2:33 mark of the video, Mitchell's shadow shows up on the far left of the screen, though, so we know he was actually on the field.

Mitchell just wasn't anywhere near where the ball ended up -- he was moving to the complete opposite side of the field away from Cameron -- along with fellow safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Cortez Allen. With those two already covering Benjamin, why was Mitchell also going there? And why did leave his side of the field completely wide open? What was he thinking?

Not good judgment or instincts, apparently, on the part of Mitchell.
Lots of wide-open pasture for Jordan Cameron.
Mike Mitchell, meanwhile, is to the far left of the screen , moving in the opposite direction

Again, to review: It was first and 10 at the Steelers' 47-yard line. Cleveland sets up in a three tight end formation, giving the appearance of a running play, with wide receiver Travis Benjamin split wide right. Jordan Cameron is the near tight end off the left tackle. As the ball is snapped, the line flows right, but Benjamin streaks downfield on a slant post while Cameron meanders sneakily on a cross in the opposite direction across the back of the line behind the linebackers. Cameron pivots and makes his way downfield along the right sideline. He gets wide open. Why?

Because, if you look at Tunch's video, in the pre-snap formation, Mike Mitchell had lined up 20 yards downfield on Benjamin's side, where Cameron ended up. As the soon as the ball was snapped, Mitchell immediately started dropping back even further and moving to his right. In other words, he followed Benjamin, who was streaking across the field toward the far corner, providing unneeded backup to both Cortez Allen and Troy Polamalu, who were also in trail.

Despite all the attention, by the way, Benjamin was still wide open, and Hoyer could have hit him just as easily as Jordan. That's because neither Cortez Allen nor Troy Polamalu could keep up with the speedy Benjamin, and Mitchell was nowhere near him, either.

By the time Hoyer released the ball, Mitchell was so far downfield, about 40 yards, he was completely out of the picture. His shadow was still there, on the far left side of the screen, so you could see that he was moving in the direction of Benjamin -- and completely in the opposite direction of Cameron.

And that's how Jordan Cameron got so wide open. A breakdown in the Steelers' secondary, and to our untrained eye, it looks like Mike Mitchell should have stayed on his side of the field and at least tried to close some ground to cover the wide-open Jordan Cameron.  Had he been over there, Mitchell might have at least stopped some of the yards after catch. That 45-yard completion completely turned the momentum of the game, and it was all downhill from there.

You can watch Tunch's entire "Chalk Talk" video of the play at this link. It's instructive, revealing and ultimately dismaying. As Tunch said, "After that, it was Katie bar the door."

A Lot of "Obviously" and Do Tell?

Odds and ends, dissa and datta ...

Mike Tomlin offered much of the familiar blah, blah, blah during his weekly media session, with a lot of "obviously."

Remember last week, before the game, when Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine hinted that the Browns were aware of several "tells" from Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' offense? Everybody dismissed that talk as so much gamesmanship, but ... 

Following Sunday's loss to the Browns, Cleveland linebacker Karlos Dansby had this to say:
“We were out-executing them,” said Dansby. “We were beating them to the punch. We knew how they wanted to attack us. We were just well prepared.”
Hmmm, maybe there was something to all those veiled references about Roethlisberger's "tells," and maybe Todd Haley's play-calling tendencies, too.

Dansby finished the game with 11 tackles and his 40th career sack. He's provided smarts, toughness and veteran leadership for the Browns, kind of how James Farrior was for the Steelers. Too bad the Steelers didn't sign Dansby when he became a free agent after Arizona let him walk two years ago. He would have been a perfect fit.

For that matter, veteran safety Donte Whitner has also added toughness and leadership to Cleveland's secondary. He would look good in a Steelers' uniform about now, too. Mike Mitchell, the free-agent safety the Steelers signed in the off-season doesn't seem to be working out too well, with just one example to follow in our next post examining the first big pass to Jordan Cameron.

Monday, October 13, 2014

If the Standard is the Standard ... What is the Standard?

Isiah Crowell and the Browns romped
Joey Porter's Pit Bulls never want to hear Mike Tomlin say, ever again, "We have to swallow this one and we will," as he did following Sunday's debacle in Cleveland.

Just what is Tomlin trying to say? ... that the Steelers suck and swallow?

Another question: For the Steelers now, is the new "Standard" .500 football? Has the standard been lowered to such a low bar that it is acceptable to allow Cleveland 193 yards rushing in one game and 158 yards rushing in the second match-up? Is that acceptable?

Does the new "standard" entail asserting, as safety Mike Mitchell said, that "We beat the crap out of them," with "them" being a Cleveland Browns team that had thoroughly drubbed the Steelers by a score of 31-10. It was no contest, and Mitchell has contributed little this season, except to irritate Steeler fans with his celebratory gyrations after the few inconsequential plays he's made -- jumping around as if he'd singlehandedly won the Super Bowl, despite being down by 24 points at the time. Somebody should tell Mitchell, "Hey, Mike, we don't do that here."

That Cleveland team, by the way, had only three healthy defensive linemen on Sunday and featured more than a few rookies and undrafted free agents in key roles -- and a first-time head coach.

Other teams must be licking their chops when they see the Steelers on the schedule. Todd Haley's offense --or is it Ben Roethlisherger's offense? or is it Mike Tomlin's? -- was held to three points until garbage time on Sunday by Cleveland's 27th ranked pass defense, and just 10 points the week before by Jacksonville's 32nd-ranked pass defense. The Steelers have scored no touchdowns in 15 of the 24 quarters played across six games.

Now the schedule gets tougher ... well, after the next game, on Monday night (hah!) featuring the Houston Texans. Has there ever been a matchup of two worse 3-3 teams?

Link: 

Jason LaCanfora: "Steelers Stink Until They Prove Otherwise"




Sunday, October 12, 2014

A new era in Steeler football

Over the past six quarters vs. the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers have been outscored 55-13.

A new era in Steeler football has begun. Sunday's 31-10 drubbing that the Steelers "swallowed" (to use Mike Tomlin's term) makes the .500 Steelers 19-19 over the past 38 games (nearly two-and-a-half years). That record provides enough of a sample size to allow only one conclusion: The Steelers are mediocre at best. And that's being generous.

Actually, they're a bad football team right now, and the future looks unpromising. So much for "stacking wins."

Jordan Cameron scorched Cortez Allen, et al
"We have to swallow this one and we will," Mike Tomlin said after the fiasco.

That sentiment is unacceptable. We've heard Tomlin say that sort of thing before, and it's getting old. It sounds very much like Tomlin and the players and coaches are willing and able to accept losing. How about rejecting, or regurgitating, losses like this, eh, Coach? How's that for a concept?

"Hopefully it will be a learning experience for us moving forward," Tomlin added.

Apparently not. Haven't the Steelers had enough "learning experiences" over the past two-and-a-half years? How many more "learning experiences" do they need?

The on-field ineffectiveness that is becoming chronic reflects poor talent, poor preparedness and poor coaching. There's no other way to explain it.

Once again, they were lousy in the red zone (0-3) and goal-to-go efficiency (0-2). Todd Haley, do you have a clue?

The Stupid Penalties Continue
Here's a question for Coach Tomlin: What happened to the emphasis on averting pre-snap and post-snap penalties?

Bob Labriola on Steelers.com makes the following salient points about some of the stupid yet hurtful six penalties the Steelers incurred:
  • "The first quarter ended with the Steelers having a first down at the Cleveland 24-yard line. Following the television timeout, the Steelers had to burn a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty."
  • "Pittsburgh’s next offensive possession ended in a three-and-out, and then Sean Spence was flagged for a false start, which meant Brad Wing ended up punting from the Steelers 15-yard line."
  • "On a third-and-5 from the Steelers 34-yard line, Troy Polamalu got good pressure on Brian Hoyer, whose hurried throw to Jordan Cameron became a first down when safety Mike Mitchell was flagged for pass interference.
  • "First-and-goal at the Browns 1-yard line. After a slant pass to Antonio Brown that was incomplete, Kelvin Beachum was flagged for a dead ball personal foul that pushed the ball back to the 16-yard line. After two mis-fires between Ben Roethlisberger and Markus Wheaton in the end zone, the Steelers ultimately turned the ball over on downs at the Cleveland 9-yard line."
Where's the Talent?
Brian Hoyer had a clean pocket and plenty of time to throw.
The lack of talent is glaring. The secondary is awful. The front seven is just bad.

How about those off-season free-agent additions? Whatever other skills safety Mike Mitchell may have, pass coverage isn't one of them. And neither is tackling. Cam Thomas is a fat slob who looks lazy, soft and slow. If he's a "space-eater," why were the Browns able to run through gaping holes up the middle after Steve McClendon left with injury? Wide receiver Lance Moore is dissed by his own coaching staff and dropped a critical pass early in the third quarter.

Why did they sign these guys?

The judgment shown in evaluating personnel merits scrutiny and second-guessing. Joey Porter's Pit Bulls keep bringing this up, and it goes back to 2012, but ... Josh Victorian over Brian Hoyer?

Maybe Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin should have signed Vic So'oto instead of James Harrison. As great as Harrison has been throughout his illustrious career, maybe the Steelers should have allowed him to stay retired.

This was a crossroads game for both teams, and it's clear: For the Steelers, "the arrow is pointing down."


Game 6: Steelers at Cleveland

Pittsburgh, by Peter Max
Today's game between the Steelers and Browns features two quarterbacks who were spurned by the team on the opposite sideline.

On 24, 2004, with the sixth overall pick of the 2004 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns passed on the opportunity to select Ben Roethlisberger. Instead, the Browns put their chips on tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr., who is out of football.

Cleveland has not had more than five wins in a season since 2007, and Roethlisberger has helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls.

Roethilsberger''s career record vs. the Browns is 18-1.

On Dec. 8, 2012, the Steelers released quarterback Brian Hoyer, who had been on their roster for two-and-a-half weeks. Instead of keeping Hoyer as a backup to Charlie Batch (after Byron Leftwich was put on injured reserve), the Steelers opted to promote reserve defensive back Josh Victorian, who is out of football. The Detroit Lions released Victorian just this past week.

In retrospect, it is mind-boggling that the Steelers kept a fringe-undrafted-free-agent-backup defensive back instead of a three-year veteran NFL quarterback who had been the understudy to Tom Brady and in the tutelage of Bill Bellichick and quarterbacks coach Tom O'Brien in New England.  Hoyer is proving this year that he is without a doubt a starting-caliber NFL quarterback. Why the Steelers discarded him for Victorian is a question only Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley can answer.

"We really got kind of excited about Brian while he was here,'' Haley said this week. "He is a really smart guy. He was well prepared. He brought a lot to the meetings and out on the field. He has real good football intellect as far as the feel and what was going on.''

If he was so impressive in 2012, Todd, why then did the Steelers release Hoyer? Was Josh Victorian that much more impressive?

No doubt the Brown wish they had selected Roethlisberger. And the Steelers must surely regret they allowed Hoyer to slip away and become the starting quarterback for division rival Cleveland, leading a resurgence for the Browns.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mystic Pizza vs. Mystic River: A Question of Identity

Jack Lambert
What kind of identity do the Steelers have?

The fact we're even asking that question says it all. They don't have one. Or do they?

LeGarrette Blount says he wants more carries. Fair enough, and why not? LeGarrette Blount should get more carries, but so should Le'Veon Bell. The Steelers rank 11th in the NFL in rushing attempts. Nobody would say they are a running team.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley and/or Ben Roethlisberger and/or Mike Tomlin just can't resist getting cute -- like in the red zone against Tampa Bay and Jacksonville -- when they should be getting tough, when they should allow their offensive line and running backs to gain momentum, turn 'em loose, let off some steam, vent, hit, explode, into blocks: roll, downhill, and pound, pound, pound.

That's the identity the Steelers used to have. No more. Now the offense is like most others in the NFL. Eh.

And the defense doesn't scare anybody.  

The Steelers' identity used to be the running game and tough, ferocious defense. No more.

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls miss those days. Do you like "Mystic Pizza" or "Mystic River"? Which is it? Cute and funny, or tough and gritty?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Brian Hoyer has marginalized Johnny Football

Brian Hoyer (No. 3), on the Steelers'
practice field with Charlie Batch (No. 16), in 2012
Sunday will be Brian Hoyer's last day as a 28-year-old.

Born Oct. 13, 1985, the former Steeler will take the field as the undisputed on-field leader of the Cleveland Browns. And, if a team with a 2-2 record can be perceived as an upstart, it is this year's Browns, and that is largely due to Hoyer.

The world no longer waits with bated breath for Johnny Manziel. Unless he does something stupid that lands him on TMZ between now and Sunday afternoon, America's breathless fascination with Johnny Football has ebbed.

The cool, level-headed play of Hoyer, the sober one of the two quarterbacks, has quelled virtually all talk of Manziel taking over as Browns' starting quarterback anytime soon.

Brian Hoyer
Hoyer's been more than solid. He ranks ninth among NFL quarterback in Quarterback Rating, at 97.3, which is not far off Ben Roethlisberger's sixth-rated 100.1.

Hoyer has completed 82 of 132 passes (62.1%). Roethlisberger has completed 122 of 177 passes (68.9%).

Keeping in mind that the Browns have played just four games vs. five games played by the Steelers ... Why in the name of Todd Haley have the Browns averaged more points than the Steelers?

Yes, the Browns have scored 25.8 points per game vs. Pittsburgh's 22.8 points per game.

The one thing that concerns us about this game is that Cleveland has a superior offensive line. Their O-line gets a good push for the running game and typically sets a clean pocket for Hoyer, who is decisive and releases the ball quickly. He doesn't take many sacks (just five in four games, vs. Roethlisberger's 15 in five games), and he makes good decisions. He's thrown just one interception in four games and hasn't fumbled.

On defense, though, Cleveland's surrendered more points than Pittsburgh: 26.3 vs. the Steelers' 21.6 points per game allowed.

Looking at stats and numbers all day can make your head spin. They can also lead to misleading conclusions.

Long-suffering Cleveland fans have every right to be excited about the direction of their team. Joey Porter's Pit Bulls suspect they are going to be disappointed on Sunday when the overly amped Browns make too many mistakes and find a way to lose to the Steelers on a windy day in Cleveland.

It says here the Steelers will win in Cleveland. On Monday, Brian Hoyer's 29th birthday will not be entirely candles and cake.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

A Crossroads Game

There may not be a more fascinating contest in the NFL this season. The Steelers vs. Browns on Sunday in Cleveland is sure to be full of intensity, drama and twists 'n turns nobody can predict.

This is a crossroads game for the Browns. Win, and they may confidently build on the momentum they've gained so far this year. Lose, and it's more of the same ole same old.

It's a pivotal game for the Steelers, too. Todd Haley's offense MUST score more than 10 points, which is all they managed in Jacksonville. That's ridiculous.

And Dick LeBeau's defense must withstand an aggressive uptempo, no-huddle offense fueled by Cleveland's impressive running game. As noted previously on Joey Porter's Pit Bulls, the Browns are No Longer a Running Joke.

The Browns run the ball even when they are way down on the scoreboard.

Fueled by their running game, the Browns have proven the ability come back from large deficits: 24 points in Pittsburgh and 25 points in Nashville. In last Sunday's game vs. the Titans, Cleveland ran the ball 25 times after they'd fallen behind by 25 points. Their run/pass ratio for the game was balanced: 36 runs and 37 passes.

  • In Jacksonville, Steelers' running backs had 25 rushing attempts, and Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass 41 times, which includes five sacks and 35 pass attempts.
  • Against Tampa Bay, Steelers' running backs had 24 carries, and Ben Roethlisberger dropped back 45 times, including five sacks.
  • In the convincing win over Carolina, the running backs (Bell and Blount) had 31 carries, and Ben Roethlisberger dropped back 31 times. An even 50-50.

Which Team Runs More?
For all the talk about Cleveland's commitment to the run and Todd Haley's spotty run/pass ratios, it should be noted: Pittsburgh has more rushing attempts than Cleveland: 136 (11th in the NFL) to 127 (17th in the NFL) this year.

Questions abound: Which team on Sunday will be more successful running the ball? Will Roethlisberger exploit a Cleveland secondary likely to give substantial playing time rookie Justin Gilbert, the first-rounder who has been less than impressive so far, even according to Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine?

Lots of questions, but one thing is certain: The Steelers' offense MUST put more than 10 points on the scoreboard.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

How different things might be today ...

Think how different things might be today if the Steelers had not released quarterback Brian Hoyer on Dec. 8, 2012.

Considering the Steelers had just signed Hoyer two-and-a-half weeks earlier, on Nov. 20, it was a curious move, but Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin felt they just had to have an extra defensive back for depth in an ailing secondary.

Quick quiz: Who was that extra defensive back the Steelers added to the roster on Dec. 8, 2012? That was the day they released Hoyer.

Josh Victorian, in a Steelers uniform in 2012
It was Josh Victorian, who was released just yesterday by the Detroit Lions to make room for somebody named Mike Harris, a cornerback promoted from Detroit's practice squad. And if you know anything about Detroit's secondary this year, well, getting released by the Lions at this point cannot bode well for Mr. Victorian's future in the NFL.

Victorian, dreadlocks and all, wore No. 35 for the Steelers during those last four games of the 2012 season, three of which were losses.

He got in on 10 tackles. The three losses started the very next day after the Steelers released Hoyer: Horrifically, to the Chargers at home in the snow; to the Cowboys at Dallas, where Tony Romo absolutely lit up the Pittsburgh secondary; and also an ugly last-minute loss to the Bengals at Heinz Field. We have vague but unpleasant memories of Victorian struggling in those losses, particularly against the Chargers.

What may have happened had the Steelers kept Hoyer and released another player instead from that roster?

Who knows? Maybe Bruce Gradkowski would be the starting quarterback for the Browns on Sunday instead of Hoyer. Maybe even Johnny Manziel?

One thing is certain, though: The Browns wouldn't be enjoying the resurgence of hope and spark of life Hoyer has injected into that long-dormant, miserable life form of a franchise. Hoyer's played extremely well this year and has quieted virtually all talk of Johnny Football taking over. In four games this year, Hoyer has been crisp and efficient, completing 62.1% of his passes, throwing just one interception and getting sacked just five times. His QB rating is 97.7. He's thrown for 1,008 yards.

Just for fun, check out the series of roster moves the Steelers made during that ill-fated 2012 season, courtesy of Wikipedia:
  • On September 7, 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers signed free agent (CB) DeMarcus Van Dyke to a 1-year contract.[39]
  • On October 16, 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers signed (DE) Corbin Bryant to the active roster, signed (G) Jacques McClendon to the practice squad and released (TE) Jamie McCoy.[40]
  • On October 16, 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers suspended (NT) Alameda Ta'amu for two games.[41]
  • On October 20, 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers promoted (OL) John Malecki to the active roster and released (DE) Corbin Bryant.[42]
  • On October 27, 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers promoted (S) Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith to the active roster and released (OL) John Malecki.[43]
  • On November 26, 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers promoted (OL) John Malecki to the active roster and released (WR) David Gilreath.[49]
  • On December 11, 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers suspended (RB) Rashard Mendenhall for one game for conduct detrimental to the team and promoted (RB) Baron Batch to the active roster.[51]

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Credit Where Credit is Due

We take it back. In the week preceding the season opener, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls asserted the Cleveland Browns weren't built to come from behind.

We were wrong, clearly, in the wake of the Browns' 24-point second-half rally at Heinz Field and also in light of this past Sunday's 29-28 win in Nashville, where the Browns scored the biggest comeback by a road team in NFL history, coming from 25 points behind to beat the Titans.

How wrong we were. In their first four games, the Browns have trailed by an average of 9.8 points at halftime in each game this year. Yet they gave the Steelers all they could handle; they beat the Saints; they battled the Ravens till the very end; and they gave the Titans more than they could handle.  It turns out the Browns can play catch-up in the second half of games. Who knew?
Karlos Dansby's fumble recovery in Week 1

If their first four games are an accurate indication, Cleveland has a resilient, determined team that is mentally and physically tough. How did that happen, besides the influence of first-year head coach Mike Pettine?

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls have always liked linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Donte Whitner, the two big free-agent signings this past off-season. These two have added veteran leadership, grit, passion, tenacity, determination and toughness to an otherwise anonymous defense that's been developing young talent for the past two or three years. Dansby and Whitner lead the Browns in tackles, with 31 and 30, respectively.

Travis Benjamin, after a TD at Heinz Field, Week 1
On offense, who would have figured the team could consistently battle back from second-half deficits without star wide receiver Josh Gordon. In stepped Travis Benjamin, fresh off a year lost to an ACL injury, and he has been a revelation so far this season. He caught the game-tying touchdown in Pittsburgh and the game-winner in Nashville. He's good.

Without Gordon, we wouldn't have figured Brian Hoyer to try to throw deep very often. But he's not been shy about going deep, even if only to keep defenses honest. Benjamin's speed helps in that department.

No Longer a Running Joke 
Another surprising thing about the Browns is the success of their running game. They racked up a staggering 191 yards on the ground vs. the Steelers, including runs of 29 and 25 yards, and 6.1 yards per rush. They've been running ever since. The Browns rank fourth in the NFL in rushing at 143.2 yards per game. The Steelers are seventh in rushing, at 137.2 yards per game -- and why the Steelers' pass/run ratio went back to out-of-whack mode last Sunday is another topic for another day.

We saw in the season opener that the Browns would run the ball even when they're behind. One reason they are willing to do that is they have an excellent offensive line. They haven't been afraid to flex their muscles behind Pro Bowlers Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, veteran guard John Greco and rookie standout Joel Bittonio,  from Nevada, who has stepped in at guard as if he's a younger Logan Mankins.

On Sunday, the Steelers are going to have to prove they can stop the run. The converse is true, too: The Browns are going to have to stop the Steelers' running game. It will be interesting to see who is more committed to sticking with the run.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Non-issue


Shrug. The contrived kerfuffle over Ben Roethlisberger's final pass to Antonio Brown last Sunday is so much needless noise. Who cares? It's no big deal.

The radio show hosts who are beating this topic to death seem to be grasping at straws to manufacture a controversy that isn't there. To Joey Porter's Pit Bulls, the play selection is a non-issue, and we are neither agitated nor excited about it. There are other, more important things to concentrate on, starting with the Cleveland Browns.

Escape From Jacksonville

Brice McCain's decisive interception return.
Photo credit: Jacksonville Times-Union.
Until Brice McCain's fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown, Sunday's game in Jacksonville was beginning to take on the eerily familiar look of prior games where the Steelers allowed an inferior team to hang around, and hang around, like Tampa Bay last week and Cleveland in Week One, and too many other such teams in recent years, including Miami, Oakland and Minnesota last year.

Brice McCain
McCain's Pick-Six turned a shaky one-point lead into the eight-point margin of the final score (the Vegas spread was eight-and-a-half; amazing how they do that). Coming as it did with 11:40 left in the fourth quarter and immediately following a sack/strip fumble recovery by Jacksonville, McCain's interception gave the Steelers some much-needed breathing room. It was beginning to look like the Steelers were setting themselves up to be knocked down.

That familiar sickly feeling was brought on mainly because the Steelers' offense managed only 10 points against a Jacksonville defense on pace to surrender an NFL-record number of points in a season. What's up with that? Why the offense couldn't put more points on the board against a Jacksonville defense that had surrendered an average of 38 points a game in its previous four games is a question for Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley and Ben Roethliserger -- and we probably won't get any kind of satisfactory answer.

That familiar feeling of letting a team hang around was also due in part because the Steelers committed seven penalties for 50 yards. Four of those penalties were on special teams, including three by ST captain Robert Golden. What will Mike Tomlin do about that?

And what will Tomlin do about wide receiver Lance Moore? In a fit of pique following his only catch of the day, Moore spiked the ball (an NFL officiating no-no) and appeared to angrily gesticulate at Steelers' coaches on the sideline -- presumably for lack of playing time over the first quarter of the season, almost as if to say, "I'm here; this is what I can do and why I signed with this team!" But Moore's move was exactly the sort of stupidity that Tomlin last week stated emphatically cannot happen and will not be tolerated, coming as it did in the wake of the loss to Tampa, in which the Steelers racked up 11 penalties, including a rash of post-snap fouls.

Cortez Allen's interception
An Inferior Opponent
For all that, we saw many of the reasons why Jacksonville is 0-5 and has lost eight straight games. The Jaguars missed tackles, dropped passes, made too many miscues and couldn't finish drives.

At times, they looked respectable, and the Jaguars do have some talented individual players. Quarterback Blake Bortles is one of those, although he made some rookie mistakes. On his fatal fourth-quarter interception, it appeared he was expecting fellow rookie Allen Hurns, his intended target, to stop his route just as Bortles released the ball. Instead, Hurns kept running upfield, McCain stepped in front of  the pass, and that was the turning point in the game.

Otherwise, Bortles played fairly impressively, especially considering that his offense featured seven rookies. Rookies make mistakes and are not always on the same page, and that was evident yesterday. Hurns dropped three passes and committed a penalty. Fellow rookie receiver Allen Robinson left plays on the field and didn't play to his athleticism.

Bortles is going to be a good one, though, and the Jaguars were lucky Bortles lasted until the fifth pick of the second round. He's got a bright future in the NFL, and why Cleveland chose Johnny Manziel over Bortles is a head-scratcher. Bortles has the look of a franchise quarterback.

Questions Remain
As for the Steelers, lots of questions remain. Why is the offense so disjointed? Why couldn't the offense finish drives and do better than one score in four red zone appearances? Why did the offense score only 10 points despite accumulating 35 minutes and 17 seconds time of possession? Why did the Steelers allow four sacks? To his credit, as usual, Roethlisberger absolved his line of any blame; still, the O-line was not dominant.

Le'Veon Bell, stepping out
Some Good Things
On the plus side, Heath Miller was his steady, reliable outstanding self. Both LeGarrette Blount and Le'Veon Bell did some good things. Antonio Brown was his exciting, playmaking self.

Ben Roethlisberger spread the ball around to 11 receivers, which we understand is an NFL record. Repeat: Eleven receivers caught passes. That's impressive. And Roethlisberger completed 15 of his last 17 passes.

Also on the plus side, on the defensive side of the ball, Cortez Allen stepped up his game, finally, with an interception, three passes defensed and seven tackles. Lawrence Timmons led the defense with seven tackles. Jason Worilds had a sack and three tackles-for-loss even if he seemed to be largely invisible for much of the game. As a unit, though, the front seven was so-so, and Steelers' fans wouldn't be blamed for thinking Jags' linebacker Paul Posluszny (Aliquippa/Hopewell; Penn State) would look good in a Steeler uniform.

At the end of the proverbial day, a win is a win, and Steeler Nation is glad the Black 'n Gold escaped from stinkin' Jacksonville with one in the win column when all was said and done. The Steelers were able to close the deal, finally.

Next game: At Cleveland, 1 p.m., next Sunday, Oct. 12th. The Browns, by the way, scored the biggest comeback by road team in NFL history, coming from an NFL-record 25 points behind to beat the Titans in Nashville. They're going to be psyched to take on the Steelers. If the Steelers show up like they should, it will be a Dog Fight in the Dawg Pound.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

A Stinker of a First Half in Jacksonville

The first half was nearly unwatchable.

Holy cow, NFL football has gotten bad, what with the penalties, the commercial interruptions, the saccharine announcing on television, the stinko quality of football, the lousy officiating, and the lack of basic football fundamentals executed with any sort of regularity on the field.

The Steelers are going to have to get their act together in a hurry, if they are going to beat the Browns in Cleveland next week. At the moment, the Steelers lead Jacksonville by a halftime score of 10-6. Jacksonville's offense features seven rookies. Its defense has surrendered an average of 38 points per game this season, which is an historically wretched pace. How the Steelers are leading this team by only four points ...  

First sign of trouble: The defense couldn't and didn't get off the field on Jacksonville's first drive, which consumed a whopping eight minutes.

Second sign of trouble: Penalty on special-teams captain Robert Golden, on Jacksonville's kickoff following their field goal on the game-opening drive.

More red zone woes on offense: Early in the second quarter, the Steelers had to settle for a three instead of seven when Roethlisberger got planted on third down. Nobody was open.

On the kickoff following the Steelers' field goal, another penalty: Second quarter, with 12:30 left, Antwon Blake jumps offside (!) on the Steelers' kickoff (??!!!).  And this was a penalty that was especially hurtful because Blake's penalty off-set a personal foul penalty by the Jags. On the re-kick, Shawn Suisham somehow lofted a short kick that was fair-caught (?) for excellent field position for Jacksonville. Next play, two penalties were called on Jax, accepted; next play, another penalty on the Jags, negating what would have been a first down on what should have been a great catch by rookie Allen Hurns.

Next play, on second-and-28, Bortles launched a long pass to Penn State rookie Allen Robinson who somehow allowed himself to be outmaneuvered by the much shorter Cortez Allen, who intercepted the ball. Bortles and the Jags' coaches probably figure the result is about the same as a punt. The Steelers take over on their 45. Three and out. Brad Wing's punt goes into the end zone.

Holy cow, this game is a stinker.

For as bad as Jacksonville's defense has been this season -- and we're talking NFL-historically bad, as in being on a pace to surrender the most points in NFL-history bad -- how is it that the Steelers' offense couldn't put up more than three points until two minutes were left in the first half?

The Jags' personnel on defense contains some solid veterans. Linebacker Paul Posluszny is very good. So are Red Bryant and linebacker Chris Clemons, who signed from Seattle as off-season free agents. Never mind that. The Steelers should be pounding this team.

What's the problem?

The Steelers once again appear to be playing down to the level of the competition. This has been a recurring pattern for the past few years.  Okay, that's it for the first half. The Steelers' offense is two-for-six on third down.

Hopefully, the second half will be better -- hopefully, the Steelers will be better. Stay tuned.

Game 5: Steelers at Jacksonville

The approach to lovely downtown Jacksonville, Fla.
Everybody said the same thing before last week's game: The Steelers should beat this team.

Last week, it was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had lost six consecutive regular-season games. Today, it's the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have lost seven straight.

Anybody should beat this Jacksonville team. The 2014 Jaguars are giving up an average of 38 points per game. They've lost every game by at least 17 points. The average differential is -23.5 points. The Jags rank last in the NFL in total defense, scoring defense and passing defense. They are on pace to surrender 608 points, which would be an NFL record.

Still, some of the most painful losses in Steelers' history have been to Jacksonville.

For us and many others in Steeler Nation, last week's come-from-ahead loss to the Buccaneers said a lot about this year's edition of the Black 'n Gold. Twenty-five percent of the 2014 season is behind us, and the Steelers are 2-2, on pace to a third straight 8-8 record. Losing to Tampa at home does not bode well for any kind of prospects for a hopeful run the rest of the year.

Jacksonville, Fla.
Yes, the Steelers should have beaten Tampa.

However, as noted on this blog the Wednesday before the Tampa game, "The Steelers should knock the stuffing out of this team, but they'd better be focused and ready. The Steelers aren't good enough to overlook any NFL team."

If the Steelers lose at Jacksonville, the alarm bells turn to panic buttons.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Todd Haley, Now's Your Chance

Over the past 36 games, the Steelers are 18-18, and the offense under Todd Haley has been up-and-down, off and on, hot and cold, and mostly, eh, so-so, during that span. This year has been more of the same: a hot first half vs. Cleveland, cold the next six quarters, clicking on all cylinders in Atlanta, and spotty vs. Tampa Bay.

Ray Mansfield, The Ol' Ranger,
setting the tone.
The mistakes are too many. Justin Brown's dropped pass in the end zone was reminiscent of Derek Moye's dropped pass in the end zone early last year. Haley can't control that sort of thing, and it must be frustrating for him (and for Ben Roethlisberger) to make the perfect play call, get the protection, throw the perfect pass -- and have the young receiver drop it. That's not the coordinator's fault.

The overall tenor and identity of the offense, though, is more or less set by the coordinator, head coach and quarterback. Three years after Haley's arrival, it is fair to say the Steelers still lack a cohesive, consistent identity on offense.

This week's visit to Jacksonville presents a perfect opportunity to set a tone and establish some continuity and a sense of identity.

The Jaguars are on pace to break NFL records for points and yards allowed in a season. That's according to Chris Burke at Si.com, who writes the following:
"The 1981 Baltimore Colts own the dubious distinction of having allowed more points than any team in NFL history: 533, during a 2-14 season. The 2012 Saints defense surrendered more yards than any squad before or since: a staggering 7,042.
The 2014 Jaguars could break both marks. 
"Jacksonville has lost its first four games by an average of 23.5 points, a stat that is embarrassing enough without considering that head coach Gus Bradley is known as a brilliant defensive mind. His team has had trouble proving it. 
"At 38 points allowed per game, the Jaguars are on pace to give up 608 points for the season -- 75 more than that record-setting Colts team. The 451.25 yards-per-game clip the Jaguars defense is allowing stretches out to 7,220 yards over a 16-game season. If there is any silver lining at all, it is that the Jaguars' points and yards allowed have dropped each week, from a 44-point, 529-yard showing by the Eagles in Week 3 to a 33-point, 407-yard effort from San Diego last Sunday."