Monday, November 02, 2015

Blame it on Michael Vick

Yeah, we know. He didn't play.  But. The bad karma continues.

The big story of the day, of course, was the loss of Le'Veon Bell to what is being reported as a season-ending knee injury (torn MCL). What a bummer. The game's best running back. Done for the year. Get well, Le'Veon.

Even as the bad karma continues, so does the uneven quality of play across the NFL ... way too much bad football, a sloppy, shoddy, spotty mess: the continuous rain of yellow flags; the indecipherable rules; the injuries; and the constant, interminable interruptions for commercial TV breaks. Roger Goodell's NFL is just about unwatchable anymore. But still we do. Watch it, that is. Although, there are plenty of other things to do, Roger.

With a 4-4 record halfway through the season -- and all four losses to AFC teams -- Mike Tomlin's Steelers have the look of a .500 team that may not make the playoffs.

Case in point: On Sunday, going just 3-for-11 (27%) on third-down conversions. Although, to be fair, Cincinnati converted just four of 15 (26%) third-down conversion attempts. Yet they found a way to win. On the road.

The Rain of Yellow Flags
Last week at Kansas City, one big issue for the Steelers was missed tackles. This week at Heinz Field, it was penalties: 10 of them, to be precise, for 91 yards, not to mention a couple that were declined, for good measure. Those 10 penalties hurt flow and compromised field position, never mind that the Bengals also incurred 10 penalties (for 94 yards).

The 10 penalties the Steelers incurred were on them, and they hurt.

  • Too many of those were stupid penalties, too: After a key stop, James Harrison removed his helmet to get in somebody's face. 
  • In the first quarter, Marcus Gilbert's flagrant hold negated a 17-yard pass to Will Johnson.  
  • Punt-coverage gunner Brandon Boykin had a going-out-of-bounds penalty that resulted in a field-poisition advantage for the Bengals that they should never have had.
  • Robert Golden got flagged for a block in the back on Mike Mitchell's interception return.
  • Mike Mitchell incurred another costly penalty himself when he got flagged for taunting after Lawrence Timmons swatted away a third-down pass intended for Tyler Eifert. Mitchell's taunting penalty gave the Bengals a fresh set of downs, however, allowing them to start afresh at the 45-yard line instead of having to punt from their own 30. Stupid.
  • Mitchell also got flagged in the first half for taunting star receiver A.J. Green following a mid-air shot Mitchell administered to receiver Marvin Jones. Mitchell supposedly told Green, "You're next," which prompted the flag. Green who finished with 11 catches for 118 yards and the game-winning touchdown catch, said of Mitchell's taunting, "That woke me up. Thank you." Green added, "Some guys just have to talk. I just play."

Questionable Play Calling and Poor Clock Management (again)
Ben Roethliseberger's three interceptions also didn't help, to say the least.

We have to question the play calling on the fourth-quarter pick by third-year safety Shawn Williams on the sideline in front of Will Johnson. It's easy to question Roethlisberger's decision-making and execution there, too, but the play call there makes you wonder why that play-call was even made there, with 5:45 left on the clock.

  • Despite an average of 6.1 yards per rushing play on Sunday, the Steelers ran the ball only 19 times. Late in the fourth quarter, however, when it could be argued the team should have been trying to run out the clock, there was Roethlisberger making ill-advised throws. 

If the excuse was, "no Le'Veon Bell," then what happened to the "next man up" mantra? Those are questions for Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger, the latter of whom was quick to take the blame for the loss. But, still.

The coaching, the play-calling, the continued mismanagement of the clock ... that's on Tomlin, first and foremost, although he will never admit to it.

  • This is pointless, but we've been clamoring, off and on for several years, for the Steelers to hire a "Clock Management Specialist" -- call him Special Assistant or whatever -- whose sole job is to watch the clock and advise Tomlin to not do stupid things like waste 38 crucial seconds at critical junctures. Not that Tomlin would listen.

Roethlisberger's been a stand-up guy in recent years when it comes to mea culpas. He is often the first to take blame, even when it's not necessarily deserved. This time, his self-criticism is spot-on, as his fourth-quarter unraveled with two interceptions, two short drives that ended in punts and a pass overthrown, out of the back of the end zone, as the game clock ran out. Still, a few of those 38 seconds would have helped there at the end, eh Coach Tomlin?

The National Passing League
On the game's first drive, Roethlisberger surpassed 40,000 yards passing for his career, making him just the ninth quarterback in NFL history to reach that milestone.  FIVE of those quarterbacks are currently active, which tells you all you need to know about how the National Football League has devolved into the "National Passing League."

The other four active QBs are Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Eli Manning. How the game has changed in recent years. If I had to guess, without bothering to look up the names of the previous four, I'd venture the names of Tarkenton, Marino, Elway and Favre.

Other Notes
The Steelers will supposedly bring in former second-rounder Isaiah Pead, who was recently cut by the St. Louis Rams after missing most of 2014 with a knee injury.

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