Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Signature Embarrassing Loss

"The first 30 minutes were poor football on our part, and I take responsibility for that, and it starts with me."                       -- Mike Tomlin
The Steelers were not ready to play on Sunday in Oakland.  Come to think of it, the Steelers were unprepared to start the season and unready for the entire first month of the 2013 season. Their record is 2-5.

Blame the coaches, the players and the front office. To think we pay them money. What a gyp.

The Defense Stunk
Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor romps 93 yards 
for a touchdown on the game's first play. (photo: Associated Press)
On the very first play, the Steelers surrendered the longest running play for a touchdown by a quarterback in NFL history. Think about that. 

After the game, the NFL Network's Deion Sanders gleefully mocked the Steelers: "How do you let a quarterback go 93 yards?"

It's a fair question. The Steelers deserve the mocking. As much as it pains Joey Porter's Pit Bulls, there's no denying our once-proud franchise has turned into a laughingstock. 

On that read-option touchdown dash, Pryor simply slid past the left side of the Steelers' defensive front seven and then outran everybody else -- all of whom looked really, really slow by comparison. Cameron Heyward, Lammarr Woodley, all the other linebackers, the entire secondary -- nowhere to be found.  

Pryor said, "I saw Woodley bite, and I was like 'jeez.'  And then I came out (wide), Rod made a phenomenal block (on Troy Polamalu), and it was off to the races."
To add further embarrassment, here's a telling post-game quote from running back Darren McFadden:  
"I talked to one of their defensive players, Ryan Clark, [and he] told me that he worked on tackling me in the middle all week. That’s what he was juiced up about and Terrelle just went around the end."
Do you ever get the impression Ryan Clark talks too much?

Keeping in mind that Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor was sacked nine times in his previous game, vs. the Chiefs, the Steelers managed one lousy sack.  The Steelers also couldn't stop Darren McFadden when they needed to, specifically on his two TD runs. 

Where were the linebackers?  According to the official stat sheet, the linebackers were mostly absent:
  • Lammarr Woodley had zero tackles
  • Jarvis Jones had one tackle
  • Jason Worilds had two tackles
  • Vince Williams had three tackles
Aren't linebackers paid to make tackles?  Aren't they usually the leading tacklers?  The defense clearly didn't do enough. 

The Offense Stunk Worse
Todd Haley's offense was putrid, and he had no answers. 

It's clear that Oakland's coaches read Joey Porter's Pit Bulls, because we've been writing for the past two weeks that Ben Roethlisberger's dislocated finger (sustained in London) has taken some zip off his passes and forced him to scale back his usual antics.

The Raiders' coaches clearly recognized that Roethlisberger either would not or could not throw deep effectively -- and he didn't.  Roethlisberger attempted all of one deep pass. The result?  The Raiders stifled Pittsburgh's running game, limiting Le'Veon Bell to 24 yards on 13 carries (a 1.8 yard-per-carry average).  On four plays, Steeler runners were tackled for lost yardage (11 yards total).

Bottom line: The Raiders didn't respect Pittsburgh's ability to throw deep, and the Steelers never adjusted.  Meanwhile, the Steelers' injury-ravaged offensive line surrendered five sacks. Again. 

The clock management was questionable, at best.  Again.  The Steelers' offense has scored just 11 touchdowns in seven games. 'Nuff said.

The Special Teams Stunk Even Worse
The kickers were abysmal.  Usually reliable Shaun Suisham missed two medium-range field goals (possibly because of bad holds by Zoltan Mesko).  Suisham also directed an onside kick directly to Oakland's Rashad Jennings.

Not to be outdone, Zoltan Mesko managed to shank a punt, kick two touchbacks and have a punt effectively blocked, after which the Raiders scored a touchdown. As noted above, he may have mishandled at least one of the holds on Suisham's missed kicks.  If Mesko's performance last week vs. the Ravens was "junior varsity," as Mike Tomlin described it, this week's was pee-wee league.

Mesko may not be around much longer. 

Speaking of players not long for the team, how what about linebacker Chris Carter and cornerback Curtis Brown?  They were on the inactive list again, making them useless. Again.  Sayonara to them, no doubt, sooner or later.

Other news from around the NFL: Remember when Mike Wallace insisted he is an elite receiver?  He was able to con the Dolphins into paying him like one. Today he dropped a crucial pass in Miami's loss to Cincinnati. He's a bum.

By contrast, Detroit's Calvin Johnson showed what a real elite NFL receiver does: Johnson caught 14 passes for 329 yards -- 329 yards -- to lead the Lions over the Cowboys. Now, that's an elite receiver. Dez Bryant, take note.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs are 8-0, and the Cincinnati Bengals are on a roll as the front-runner in the division the 2-5 Steelers used to own.

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.