Sunday, October 27, 2013

Game Day 7: Steelers at Oakland; plenty of reasons for optimism; and a new position, "far-right" tackle

This is a dangerous "between" game:  It's between Baltimore and New England.

One would hope the Steelers would take today's game in Oakland seriously.

Pittsburgh's record (2-4) is no better than Oakland's. The Steelers don't play in Oakland very often, but they haven't won there since 1995.

Look at it from the perspective of Raiders' fans: They're probably looking at today's match-up as a winnable game.

As noted by the Post-Gazette's Bob Smizik ...

"... the Raiders' four losses have come against teams that are a combined 20-7 -- Denver, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Washington. The Steelers losses have come against teams that are 13-14, Tennessee, Cincinnati, Chicago and Minnesota. 
The Raiders have lost to Peyton Manning and Oliver Luck. The Steelers have lost to Jake Locker and Matt Cassel."
Reasons for Optimism
On the other hand, and we hope this is more realistic, there is plenty of reason to believe the Steelers will win this game, handily.  Let's keep in mind teams actually do improve during the season, and the Steelers have won two in a row.

The top three reasons for optimism today: an improving, reshuffled offensive line; Dick LeBeau; the dislocated finger of Ben Roethlsiberger.

1) The offensive line, believe it or not, appears to be solidifying.

  • Kelvin Beachum at left tackle may never make All-Pro, but he is a quantum-leap improvement over his predecessor; 
  • Ramon Foster at left guard has limitations (mobility), but he can be physical and does some things well. 
  • Fernando Velasco at center is solid. He will never be a pulling center in the mold of Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson, but Velasco may be better than Maurkice Pouncey at handling big, physical nose tackles. Maybe.
  • At right guard, David DeCastro is improving rapidly and playing as if he is trying to make a point; as if he's trying to make up for lost time. If Velasco is the anchor of the current iteration of the Steelers' offensive line, DeCastro is the linchpin. He's plenty strong enough, but even more impressive lately: his lateral crispness in spot-block maneuvering.
  • At right tackle, well, we shall see, eh?  If the coaches have any sense, they would let incumbent Marcus Gilbert, who sat out last week because of an injury, remain on the bench to see if what we saw last Sunday was the real thing. Throughout his three-year career in Pittsburgh, Gilbert has been soft and ineffectual. 
  • Last week, we saw the emergence of "Abdullah the Butcher," formerly known as Guy Whimper. Abdullah the Butcher played with a ferocity we haven't seen from Gilbert. His track record as an eighth-year journeyman isn't great, but ... he played well against Baltimore, and he deserves more playing time. What have we got to lose?  Abdullah's not exactly a finesse player, but he's not just a butcher, either; from what we saw last Sunday, he actually plays with decent technique and attention to detail.
  • Abdullah the Butcher's efforts were augmented by the placement of former left tackle Mike Adams at tight end, but Adams is no tight end. Call him the far-right tackle (although the officials announce him as "reporting at tight end").
2)  Dick LeBeau's defensive schemes vs. a first-year starter at quarterback.  For more on this, we highly recommend a look at Neal Coolong's write-up here on Behind the Steeler Curtain.

3) Ben Roethlisberger's dislocated finger (covered in a previous post) the past two games seemed to have helped his game by making him scale back some of his risk-taking. Roethlisberger would scoff at such a notion, but his passes have not had their usual zip, and he's been throwing less frequently than he was before the injury*.  Two wins later, the Steelers are on the verge of getting on a roll.

Let's see what they do today.  

Game time: 1:05 p.m. Pacific Time (4:05 p.m. ET); CBS TV.

* Roethlisberger's passes haven't had their usual zip the past two weeks -- both wins -- but he seems to have had better touch, and his game has scaled back.  
  • Against the Ravens, Roethlisberger attempted just 23 passes, completing 17 for a mere 160 yards (145 net yards, factoring in the three sacks he took for 15 yards). He would have had 18 completions but for a sure TD dropped in the end zone by rookie receiver Derek Moye.  
  • Longest gain on a pass: 19 yards 
  • Average gain per pass play: a mere 5.6 yards 
  • No interceptions
The Steelers are a better team when Roethlisberger passes less frequently.

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