Monday, October 22, 2007

Things NOT to do in Denver ...

Abandon the running game without giving it much of a chance against the league’s worst run defense.

and ...
  1. Fumble the ball and have it returned 50 yards for a touchdown.
  2. Throw interceptions.
  3. Drop passes.
  4. Allow the Broncos to convert 70 percent of their third downs into first downs.
  5. Mismanage the clock while committing penalties during the last two minutes of the first half.
  6. Commit two defensive offside penalties during the opposition’s last-minute drive to a game-winning field goal.

Ack. Gack. Furball.

About that running game, the Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac summarized it neatly:

“It didn't seem to matter that the Broncos had a run defense that not only ranked last in the NFL, it was easily on pace to be the worst in the franchise's 47-year history. By nearly 30 yards per game.

“It didn't seem to matter that the Broncos, after allowing just one team in the previous three seasons to rush for more than 200 yards, had allowed three of its previous four opponents to run for 200 or more yards.

“Or that the number of rushing yards allowed per game -- 187.6 -- was 75 yards above the league average.

“The Steelers, the best rushing team in the AFC, decided to ignore what appeared to be a overwhelming edge for them and elected to attack the Broncos through the air -- a decision that proved to be their downfall at Invesco Field.”

And this, also from Dulac …

“Willie Parker, the AFC's second-leading rusher, carried only three times in the first quarter and just 10 times in the first half -- a meager amount considering the Steelers' ability to run the ball and the Broncos' inability to stop the run. Parker finished with 93 yards on 21 carries, but this was a game in which the ineptitude of the Broncos' run defense would suggest he have that many carries by halftime, not the end of the fourth quarter.”

The decision to pass early and often seemed to work for a while but backfired – early and often:

“It didn't seem so bad when Roethlisberger threw 10 times and Parker had only three carries in the first quarter because the Steelers had a 7-0 lead. But when Roethlisberger was nearly intercepted by cornerback Dre Bly on second-and-3 on the next series, and then had to endure the first of two drops by Ward on third down, it started to become apparent that the pass, not the run, might be the choice of attack.

“When he was intercepted in the second quarter by linebacker D.J. Williams, the problems really began to mount. The Broncos turned the mistake into a 1-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler to running back Cecil Sapp and a 14-7 lead.”

The game turned for good on Roethlisberger’s fateful second-quarter fumble that was returned for a touchdown and had the Steelers playing catchup the rest of the way:

“On the next possession, the decision to throw really became an issue when Roethlisberger was sacked and stripped of the ball by defensive end Elvis Dumervil and defensive end Tim Crowder returned the fumble 50 yards for a touchdown. All of a sudden, the Broncos were up, 21-7, and the Steelers' greatest weapon -- their ball-control offense -- was negated.”

Foreshadowing, darkly ...

During a pre-game radio interview, the Post-Gazette’s lugubrious and laconic beat writer Ed Bouchette correctly and presciently opined that the Steelers would be well-advised to remember the December 2003 game against the Jets in New York, when the Steelers never tried to establish the run against a terrible Jets run defense – in blustery, wintry weather. In that game, Steelers QB Tommy Maddox finished the game with eight straight incompletions and was 16-of-38 for 137 yards. The Steelers lost 6-0 to seal their elimination from the playoffs.

As Bouchette said of that game, they out-coached themselves.

Which they would have been well-advised to remember as among the things NOT to do in Denver.


  • James Harrison’s offside penalty with 43 seconds left in the game gift-wrapped a crucial first down for the Broncos on their game-winning field goal drive. Harrison somehow managed not so much to line up in the neutral zone as to get caught shifting along the neutral zone in front of his defensive linemates, as the ball was snapped. Inexcusable. We’re betting Harrison gets called out “In the News” for that one.
  • The Steelers missed defensive end Aaron Smith, who left early in the game with a knee injury. They missed him badly. Let's hope he returns soon.
  • Speaking of defensive ends, the Broncos' Elvis Dumervil can play. Too bad the Steelers’ braintrust (Bill Cowher) didn’t draft him when they had the chance in the 2006 draft. They would have had to do some maneuvering to pull it off – the Steelers’ first three choices in the 2006 draft were Santo Holmes, Anthony Smith and Willie Reid. Dumervil was a late fourth-round pick (126th overall). He would have been a perfect fit in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme – a kind of Dwight Freeney Lite. It seems Dumerville is contributing a bit more to his team than some Steelers' players, like, oh, we don't know ...
  • Willie Reid was on the inactive list for last night's game. The Steelers' 2007 first-round choice Lawrence Timmons also appeared to be inactive (even though he was not on the inactive list).