Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Ol' Fumblerooski

Trickery, chicanery and hijinks. 

Anybody who's played football knows the slippery spheroid (the football itself) can be tricky to handle at times. It can be especially tough to hold onto, especially in wet, cold conditions that frequently occur in places like Pittsburgh and, yes, Foxboro, Mass.

Fumbles happen ... but it always helps if the football is a little under-inflated, making it softer and easier to grip.

A hat tip to our pal Richard over at YinzBurgh BBQ, the best Southern-style barbecue in Pittsburgh, for pointing out this massively stat-backed analysis by Warren Sharp at Sharp Football Analysis.

Mr. Sharp analyzed the New England Patriots' amazing ability to avoid fumbling the football since 2007.  Detailed research by Mr. Sharp includes this tidbit:
"The 2014 Patriots were just the 3rd team in the last 25 years to never have lost a fumble at home!  The biggest difference between the Patriots and the other 2 teams who did it was that New England ran between 150 and 200 MORE plays this year than those teams did in the years they had zero home fumbles, making the Patriots stand alone in this unique statistic."
A coincidence? Does Bill Bellichick cheat in the woods?

This all gets back to the absurd, preposterous NFL policy of allowing the teams to supply and control the footballs they use on offense.

The NFL, which controls every last detail down to the type of socks worn on the field, does not have game-day officials or its own equipment people supplying the footballs used in a game. The NFL created this mess; now the lawyers Goodell & Co. get to stew in it during the very week the league is in the world's media spotlight.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The NFL Looks Foolish in its "Culture of Cheating"

Distractions? What distractions?

During the build-up to the Super Bowl, the media-consuming public is usually subject to non-stop minutiae of the most tedious sort about all the possible storylines, players, coaches, quirks, proposition bets, Xs and Os, and other minutiae in the most agonizing detail.

Not this year.

The New England Deflatriots have seen to that.  This year, virtually the only story has been the one about Deflated Footballs, splashed all over the mainstream news channels in addition to the usual sports outlets (except for the NFL Network, and even they can't totally ignore it).

Good. Coaches hate distractions during game week, and this is the grand-daddy of them all.

Bill Belichick, the ultimate mastermind control freak, can deny and declaim all he wants, but he looks foolish in all his sheepish "Don't know" statements. Tom Brady, in all his wide-eyed "candor," cannot bask in all the wonderfulness that usually accrues to him.

Best of all, the New England Patriots once again are tainted and tarnished by the label of Cheats. They embody what former Carolina Patriots GM Marty Hurney called "a culture of cheating." Even Don Shula has been heard describing Bellichick as "Bill Bellicheat."

And the NFL itself looks foolish because of how colossally stupid it's been for the league to have ever allowed footballs used in a game to be managed by anybody but league officials. Why?

This is supposed to be the NFL's undisputed week in the spotlight. It is, but for the wrong reasons. It's not been a good year for Roger Goodell.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Purple Browns Get Their Man

So, the Ravens landed Marc Trestman to succeed Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator.  This is a reasonable hire for Baltmore, at the very least, making the best of a bad predicament in the wake of Kubiak's departure.

It would be unfair, possibly, to judge Trestman completely on his failure as head coach in Chicago with that jackaloop Jay Cutler.

Trestman moves to a much more talented team in Baltimore, with a much better quarterback and a stable, winning head coach at the reins. Trestman gets to work behind the scenes, where he is most comfortable. He won't have to oversee the defense, or special teams, or deal constantly with the media.

It's good for Flacco, too.  Trestman, whose nickname is "The Quarterback Whisperer," has worked successfully with Steve Young, Rich Gannon and Bernie Kosar, among others. He is known to be cerebral and hard-working. Flacco should get all the care and feeding he needs.

Kubiak's departure still hurts the Ravens, though. Trestman has always been known for finesse offenses, and Chicago ran the ball fewer than all but four NFL teams last season, and that's with Matt Forte. Baltimore may lose running back Justin Forsett to free agency following his breakout, Pro Bowl season, and that would also hurt. Another ripple effect of Kubiak's departure is the loss of two other offensive assistants, quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison and tight ends coach Brian Pariani.

It will be a period of adjustment in Baltimore. No guarantees.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Good News for the Steelers

The best news for the Steelers this young off-season comes out of Baltimore.

Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is now head coach of the Denver Broncos. Not only is Kubiak departing the Purple Browns, he's also taking two of Baltimore's assistant coaches with him to Denver. Good news for the Steelers and everybody else in the AFC North.

Kubiak's departure hurts the Ravens. Badly.

Continuity in a coaching staff is important, and Kubiak was the best offensive coordinator Baltimore has had in years. Guided by Kubiak, the Ravens scored 409 points, their most ever. Working with Kubiak, Flacco had his most productive season: 27 touchdowns and 3,986 yards passing. Under Kubiak, the Ravens ramped up their running game with Justin Forsett, who hits free agency after his breakout season in Baltimore -- another hit to Bawlmore.

Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh might hire somebody every bit as effective as Kubiak, but there's no guarantee. There's going to be a period of adjustment not just for the new coordinator, but for Harbaugh and, especially, Joe Flacco, whose fragile psyche will be asked to adjust, once again, to a new coordinator -- his fourth in four years (Cam Cameron, Jim Caldwell, Kubiak and the next guy).

Yup, this is good news for the Steelers and an unwelcome development for the Purple Browns. At least for the moment, Kubiak's departure must be causing some considerable consternation and hand-wringing in Owings Mills and the surrounding cesspool that is Baltimore.

How Deflating

LeGarrette Blount, in the locker after walking off the
field before the end of the Steelers-Titans game.
LeGarrette Blount. Deflated footballs.

Of course.

Of course the quitter shitheel Blount was the hero of the day for New England, after he trampled the Colts for three touchdowns and 148 yards on 30 carries. It's tough to see a guy like that succeed after he was such a shitstain in Pittsburgh, but give BilB Bellicheat Bellichick credit for one thing: He knows how to game-plan.

Everybody knows the Colts are weak against the run, so Bellichick gave Blount 30 carries.  No brainer, right? Yeah, except we see time and again that offensive coordinators stray from game plans and so rarely commit to the run in today's NFL.

Speaking of committing to the run, the Seahawks deserve credit for staging a Conference Championship comeback win for the ages. How did they do it? They ran the ball. Even when they were down by 16 points at halftime.

Commitment to the run.  It's kind of refreshing to see.

"The time is always right to do what is right."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Playoff Game Day Observations & Coaching Carousel Thoughts

Something to keep in mind today, as the Colts visit New England: Before joining the Colts, Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano was the defensive coordinator in Baltimore.  The Ravens play the Patriots tougher than anybody in the NFL, last week's loss in New England notwithstanding.

If Pagano's defensive schemes evoke Baltimore's approach to playing New England, don't be surprised.  The Ravens give the Patriots fits, and Pagano comes to Indianapolis directly from Baltimore. The question is, whether Indianapolis has the horses, so to speak, to beat the Patriots.

Speaking of the Ravens, once again there are a lot of "ifs" surrounding that team right now.  The biggest "if," perhaps, is whether offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak moves to Denver. If so, who will become Baltimore's offensive coordinator?

Kubiak would be a big loss for the Ravens, but that organization has a knack for finding the perfect replacements for key roles on both the player roster and the coaching staff.  Kubiak isn't a slam dunk to become Denver's next head coach, but preliminary talk is that former Cleveland offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has the inside track to succeed Kubiak in Baltimore, if Kubiak moves on.

Shanahan's Browns gave the Steelers all they could handle, and more, in both games during 2014. He'd be a good get for Baltimore, but losing Kubiak would hurt the Ravens. And that would be good for the Steelers, just as losing defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer hurt the Bengals last season, and there's no question about that.

Speaking of the Steelers, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls would love to see the organization add Deshea Townsend as a defensive backs coach. There's an opening on the staff, and Carnell Lake needs all the help he can get with a secondary in transition.  Townsend is savvy, was a very good cornerback, and he is a terrific communicator. He is currently an assistant coach at Mississippi State.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The NFL has Stupid Rules

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls has no love for Jerry Jones's Dallas Cowboys, but that was a catch.

Dez Bryant made the catch that was first ruled a catch but overturned on replay by indecisive officials who were following the letter of the law, as they interpreted it according to the NFL rule book. And that rule book is part of why the NFL continues to stand for "No Fun League." It's lawyer-ball.

Too bad for Cowboys' fans; while in Detroit, Lions' fans are loving the schadenfreude.

At this point, we have no choice but to pull for Indianapolis to beat New England; Green Bay vs. Seattle, eh.

Knowing that the Steelers whomped the Colts in the regular season does not make us feel any better about the state of the playoffs or what might have been.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

End of an Era: Dick LeBeau Resigns

The Urbana Daily Citizen in Ohio broke the news today that Dick LeBeau has resigned his position as defensive coordinator of the Steelers.  This marks the end of an era in Steeler history.
At least LeBeau got to say for himself that he's resigning instead of having the Steelers announce he's retiring, as they did "on behalf of" Bruce Arians, who promptly went on to find gainful employment has since gone on to win NFL Head Coach of the year honors.

As reported in the newspaper: “I’m resigning this position, not retiring,” LeBeau, 77, said in an exclusive interview with the Daily Citizen. “I had a great run in Pittsburgh. I’m grateful for all the things that have happened to me and thankful for all the support I had in Pittsburgh.”

It's sad that the revered LeBeau, a Hall of Famer as a player, coach and person, was unable to go out on top, as Super Bowl Champion.

In other ways, it feels right: The one thing we've been uneasy about for some time is that LeBeau would linger on and on and on to the point of irrelevance -- to the point of becoming embarrassingly, there is no other word for it, elderly, like Joe Paterno.

The lack of talent on defense this past year was indisputable -- the Steelers just don't have the same quality or depth that we're used to seeing. LeBeau could only do so much with the talent that was made available to him.

By the same token, it's fair to point out that the Steelers' defensive schemes have gotten a bit stale or predictable. It seemed like opposing offenses knew how to attack the Steelers, and nobody feared this defense over the past couple of years, at least.

All the same, fare thee well, Dick LeBeau, and many thanks for the incredible legacy you built in Pittsburgh. It will be tough to find as fine a gentleman or as smart a defensive coordinator.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Tackle the catch?

The Ravens had only 55 offensive plays vs. 77 run by the Steelers.

Yet, playing without both of their starting offensive tackles, the Ravens offense put together scoring drives of 80, 70, 57 and 69 yards.

The long drives suggest Pittsburgh's defensive scheme of the corners playing off the ball and tackling the catch didn't work.

When Baltimore was on defense, playing with a secondary that has started seven different cornerbacks and four safeties this season, the Ravens limited the Steelers to three field goals and one touchdown.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Penalties: An old bug-a-boo surfaced again

In Saturday night's loss to Baltimore, penalties hurt the Steelers as much as anything.

The eight penalties for 114 yards negated Antonio Brown's nine catches for 117 yards. You take away Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, and what do you have? A loss.

The penalties are an old-bug-a-boo that bit the Steelers badly early this season but had been mitigated for the most part over the second half of the season.

Unfortunately, the flag-fest on Saturday night brought to mind the early part of the season, when the Steelers committed penalty after penalty: Eleven penalties in the season opener vs. Cleveland; nine penalties in the second-game loss at Baltimore; a whopping 13 penalties against Tampa Bay on Sept. 28th; seven penalties vs. Jacksonville, including four on special teams; six bad penalties in the October blowout loss at Cleveland.

Following the loss to Tampa Bay, Mike Tomlin said, "We kicked our own butt today with penalties."

The same could be said about the playoff loss to the Ravens -- although penalties weren't the only reason the Steelers lost. Still, they were a big factor.

Watching some of the penalties committed on Saturday night -- particularly Jason Worild's punch to the (helmeted) head of Crockett Gilmore; David DeCastro's false start; Shamarko Thomas's hit out-of-bounds -- brought to mind Tomlin's words following the haunting loss to Tampa Bay:
"The bottom line is we are an undisciplined group," Tomlin said at the time. "We're too highly penalized. ... It's unacceptable; it's inexcusable. Some of the pre-snap penalties and post-snap penalties are just lack of discipline. It's ridiculous. False starts, encroachment. That we have full control over."
Apparently not. All those types of penalties came back into play at the worst possible time on Saturday night, either derailing Steelers' drives or giving new life to the Ravens.

It's something that should be a point of emphasis in training camp and throughout next season.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Pffffttt ...season over

That's it, Fort Pitt.  Not much point over-analyzing this one.
  • The Ravens brought a pass rush; the Steelers didn't. 
  • The Ravens protected their quarterback; the Steelers didn't. 
  • The Ravens scored sevens; the Steelers settled for threes. 
  • The Ravens collected three turnovers; the Steelers got just one. 
  • The Ravens drew just two penalty flags; the Steelers were penalized eight times for 114 yards.  Some stupid penalties, too, Jason Worilds, Shamarko Thomas.

Not a formula for winning football.

The loss removes whatever luster, such as it was, that was attached to winning the AFC North Division ... especially when two division rivals remained standing following the Steelers' loss.

It's going to be tough to muster much interest in the playoffs from here on out.  Joey Porter's Pit Bulls despise both New England and Baltimore, and we can't stand Peyton Manning. Knowing the Steelers demolished the Colts doesn't help, either.

In the coming weeks and months, there will be plenty of time to try to figure out where the Steelers can be improved. It's going to be a long off-season, especially with the NFL Draft pushed back to May.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Jacoby Jones Redux

Here we go again.

The Steelers have contained some of the NFL's most dangerous kick returners the past several games: Atlanta's Devin Hester; Kansas City's Knile Davis and De'Anthony Thomas; and Cincinnati's Adam Jones.

Now here comes Jacoby Jones, an old nemesis, and every time the Steelers kick off -- and let's hope it's often -- we'll no doubt be reminded of Mike Tomlin's sideline two-step at Heinz Field in November 2013.

As a wide receiver, Jacoby Jones has become mostly irrelevant, having caught just nine passes. Curiously, somehow he's coughed up four fumbles in 2014, losing two.

He remains one of the NFL's most dangerous kickoff returners, however, ranking second (behind Adam Jones) in average yards per return (30.6), with one touchdown and a longest return of 108 yards. He ranks ninth in the NFL in punt return average (9.2 yards, one spot behind Antonio Brown's 10.6 yards).

The Steelers' kick return coverage units will have to on top of their game. Again.