Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Microcosm of the Steelers' Season

The Steelers showed both sides of their Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde season on Sunday at Heinz Field.

The first half, they were the smooth and flawless Mr. Hyde. The second half?  Dr. Jekyll reared his hideous head.

Before we go any further, who was the idiot (on the Steelers) who head-butted a concussion-prone Troy Polamalu immediately after he appeared to have gotten kneed in the head while tackling Maurice Jones-Drew for a loss in the fourth quarter?

This game ended up being much closer than it should have been. The Steelers cruised through the first half but let the Jaguars back in the game. Showing considerable spunk and resilience, the Jaguars made it a close, uncomfortable finish -- with rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert firing into the end zone with a chance to win the game as time ran out.

To his credit, Gabbert kept his composure after an unimpressive first half. During the first half, Gabbert looked like, well, like a rookie and appeared tentative in the face of Dick LeBeau's veteran defense.When he dropped back to pass, Gabbert often held onto the ball too long, which led to multiple sacks (four in the first half alone).

Gabbert rebounded to engineer the touchdown drive that made it a one-score game late in the third quarter, and he and the Jaguars hung in to make it close at the end.

Shame on the Steelers for squandering a comfortable lead.

In the first half, the Steelers clicked on all cylinders.The defense shut down Maurice Jones-Drew, Rashard Medenhall reasserted his status as the feature running back, and Ben Roethlisberger reclaimed his deep passing game.

In the second half, the Steelers got sloppy, committed costly penalties, and Roethlisberger misfired on passes time and again.

That sort of performance won't fly against better teams. They'd better fix whatever needs fixing. 

Next up for the Steelers: A road game vs. the Arizona Cardinals.

Winning Formula, Redux

Before we discuss today's Steelers-Jacksonville game at Heinz Field, did you know the Buffalo Bills' defense has scored 79 points this year? The Bills have a turnover differential of +11, which leads the NFL. The Steelers' -10 turnover differential isthe league's worst, tied with Philadelphia.

The point? Jacksonville totes Blaine "Gabby" Gabbert, a rookie quarterback making his fourth NFL start, into Heinz Field today -- so this looks like a prime opportunity for the Steelers' defense to get some turnovers. That would help.

Having said that, the real key to winning today's game, just like last Sunday -- okay, every Sunday -- the Steelers must STOP THE RUN. We went to ALL CAPS right away here to emphasize the need to STOP THE RUN.
Eugene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb, circa 1964, stopped the run.
Specifically, the Steelers must stop Maurice Jones-Drew, also known as "Pocket Hercules." The Jaguars have other talented players on offense, but let's face it: Their offense has scored fewer points than any in the NFL, and Jones-Drew has accounted for 40 percent of their offensive output. To win today, the Steelers must stop Pocket Hercules.

Stop MJD, force Gabbert to throw, and the Steelers should win.

Still, even this edition of the Jaguars are not to be taken for granted. Entering today's game, Jacksonville is 3-0 at Heinz Field, so the Jags have found ways to beat the Steelers in years past. Cornerback Rashean Mathis has six career interceptions vs. the Steelers, including three returned for touchdowns, for crying out loud.

This year, Jacksonville's eighth-rated defense is solid.  As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday, "They've been really salty on defense."

And, of course, as Coach Tomlin said earlier this year, "There's a fine line between drinking wine and squashing grapes."

Go, Steelers!
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