Monday, September 26, 2011

Blame from top to Bottom to be Shared

Changes have to be made to keep Big Ben from looking like a dead mosquito on a windshield

It took the Indianapolis Colts exactly one quarter of Sunday night’s game to figure out the Steeler offense and knock it square on its rump.  In the first 15 minutes of Sunday night’s game, Ben Roethlisberger had the best passing quarter of his career and Mike Wallace had his best receiving quarter ever.  For the remainder of the game, the 2011 Steeler offense resembled a late 80’s Bubby Brister-led offense. 

Predictability and poor execution marred what seemed to be a promising evening when the teams switched directions at the end of the first quarter.  The Steelers had jumped out to a comfortable 10-0 lead, terrible towels were being waved and the Indy offense appeared to be ready to wave a white flag.  Unfortunately, the Steelers seemed to take an Ambien and nearly gave away a “should definitely win” game. 

There were many reasons for the lethargic play on Sunday night: poor and stale playcalling; a tentative rushing style; deficient offensive formations; using the same cadence to call the signals; and being careless with the football.  Bruce Arians has said in the past that he doesn’t believe it is his job to adjust the game plan to the players on the team, it is the players’ job to execute the game plan.  In my opinion, this is an insane philosophy.  Leading up to a game, 1000 things could change: the health of key players on the (Steelers or) opposing team; players being benched; new offensive or defensive schemes that the opposition is using for the first time; the weather; etc.  To form a gameplan on Monday and Tuesday and stick with it no matter what happens is being derelict of duty.  Don’t you think Lombardi, Landry, Noll and Walsh made adjustments as the game played out?

There are many ways in which an offensive coordinator or quarterback can assist the offensive line when facing a strong and talented pass rush like the Colts have. 
1)    Playcalling—Screens, shovel passes and draw plays.  In the second half, the Steelers finally called a screen pass to….Heath Miller?  Yep, that’s right.  Not Mendenhall with his quick feet or Isaac Redman with his bruising running style or even Mewelde Moore who is the designated 3rd down and specialty back.  You don’t throw a screen pass to a tight end in a stopped position in the middle of traffic.  It doesn’t work.
2)    Tentative rushing style—We all love the fact that Rashard Mendenhall can spin his way for an extra 3-5 yards on a regular basis.  But “twinkletoes” Mendenhall ran like he was afraid to hurt the field turf last night.  Indy has a small front seven and the Steelers did not take advantage of that with a power running game.  Mendenhall danced like he was wearing a Tutu.  I wanted to see Redman get more carries because he runs with power, but I only got a little tease of Redman last night.
3)    Chipping the defensive ends—If a defensive end is using a speed rush, where he runs as fast as he can around the offensive tackle, one way to slow him down is to line up a tight end across from him and have the tight end “chip” him.  This basically means that before running downfield into a pass pattern, the tight end blocks the defensive end for a split second, halting his momentum and creating an extra half-second for the tackle to block him.  This was not done.  Not chipping Dwight Freeney is like paying for his flight to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.  I don’t care if you are Joe Thomas or Jon Kolb or John Runyan, every so often, your tackle needs help blocking a dominant player.  By the way, John Runyan was a very good tackle but every time he played against Michael Strahan, Strahan destroyed Runyan.

4)    Changing the snap count—Many times in the 2nd half, the Indy defensive linemen were crossing the line of scrimmage before our offensive tackles realized that the ball was snapped.  This causes a HUGE disadvantage for the Steeler linemen since they start from a stopped position and the defensive linemen have forward momentum in their favor.  By changing the snap count, you can get a few free yards by drawing them offsides and, therefore, keep them from guessing the snap count.
5)    Being careless with the ball—I know I’m going to catch flak from the Steeler nation for this but Ben has to stop floating balls into the secondary where safeties can basically call a “fair catch” to his passes.  Also, on the first strip/sack, Ben was carrying the ball like a loaf of bread and held it entirely too long.  The second strip/sack was not his fault. 

The good news is, besides Terrell Suggs, Dwight Freeney is the best pass rusher the Steelers will face this year.  The bad news is, not being prepared to handle him (and don’t forget Robert Mathis who is no slouch) or making in-game adjustments for playcalling, formation or snap count is inexcusable.

As far as the offensive line goes, I am willing to give them a couple more weeks to put it together as a unit (they got better as the season progressed last year).  The concerns that the O-line is too low in talent or is not ready for prime time, are real.  The responsibility for this falls squarely on Kevin Colbert’s shoulders.  He chose to cut Flozell Adams and Max Starks in favor of Willie Colon and Jonathan Scott.  He chose to draft, and cut, Craig Urbik.  He chose to sign Chris Kemoeatu to a $25 million contract.  Yes, he also drafted Maurkice Pouncey which, you cannot argue, was a brilliant move.  Marcus Gilbert is a work in progress and trying to judge his play is unfair right now.

The Steelers have a lot of work to do if they want to uphold “The Standard”, as Mike Tomlin likes to say.  There are many weaknesses from the front office to the last reserve offensive linemen.  If these weaknesses don’t get strengthened, the Steelers could have another long offseason after their most recent Super Bowl appearance.

What are your thoughts?  Your comments are welcome and encouraged.

photo courtesy of Getty Images


  1. SPOT ON! I was so frustrated by the line and Mendenhall and the play said it perfectly.

  2. Finally, someone else is calling out Arians & Big Ben. I agree in totality. The team seems to lack focus at times too. A quick fix is needed. I called out the defense also for not putting pressure on opposing QB's & lack of take aways.
    Y aren't there more plays for MWallace on the fly. We r waaaaay behind the competition!!!!!! I luv my SteeLers but we have to do a lot better from top to bottom if we're going to be contenders. Green Bay isn't the only team with a target on their backs. No one is trying to help up get #7 we have to take it & show up really big on game day.
    /s/ SteeLerFan4InfinI

  3. Arians' inflexibility can be likened to using salt to make lemonade because you ran out of sugar, and expecting it to taste sweet. LeBeau would know to make margaritas, and that's why Dick is successful.

    By the way, I'm buying you a beer next time up for the mere mention of Jon Kolb!
    By far, the greatest Steeler I ever saw to wear number 55 (Joey was 2nd), and not enough people mention him with all the greats that played during the Steel Curtain era. Stronger than Webster...which is like flying faster than Superman, and probably the most balanced lineman for run and pass blocking we ever had.

  4. I think that another major mistake the organization made was not going after any free agent lineman. For example Dallas cut their center with 2 weeks left in the preseason. Not only did we not try to acquire him, we let him go to Baltimore. This proved very costly since they ran all over our Defense in week 1. Some things have happened this year that has forced the Colbert to make certain moves. Leftwitch getting hurt again made it a requirement to keep 3 QBs. Which could have led to Tony Hills being cut. A guy I thought was having a pretty good preseason. I sorta wish we had him now. I figure Heyward will be good, but not right now. He and Hood should help anchor our line after Hampton, Smith and Keisel are gone. But was he necessary? Hard to say, but now I am wondering if their was a higher ranked lineman that we should have gone after. Now we are going to have to ask Flozell Adams to come off the couch and come back, for probably more money now. Lastly, we all know that Ben hangs on the ball too long. I have to say that despite Pouncey, all of our lineman are out of shape!!!!! They don't look athletic and I feel that this is adding to the lack of running game on top of your assessment of Mendenhall's timid running. This is when Tomlin must take charge and turn this around. I know he can and will!

  5. I think when a team gets down to five healthy lineman in uniform due to in-game injuries, there is little you can risk doing on the creative end of things. In addition, the consistency of the snap count, which you termed "predictable", was in my opinion a necessity with so many OL working together for the 1st time in real time.

    Losing Willie Colon for a second consecutive season is definitely a blow and I think the Steelers need to address that in the next draft. Once a player becomes injury prone, he rarely shakes that tag as his career goes along. Some guys are just plain snake bit. In that light, some of the off-season personnel moves made by the Steelers don't make any sense. With Colon out last year, Starks was our best O lineman. Adams is a crafty veteran and made up what he lacks in physical ability with an uncanny sense of the game and what the defense is doing. Only experience can teach that and Flozell has it. He'll probably be brought back now that Colon is out. You only get a guy like Pouncey, and Faneca before him, about once a decade; an O lineman who can step in right out of college and play at this level in his first season. It's even more difficult when the success of your team leaves you drafting in the bottom quarter of the 1st round. There just aren't enough first rounders on the OL for the Steelers to get a crack at them very often. It sometimes drives me crazy that the Steelers won't make a trade to move up in the 1st round to address a need.

    Ben is definitely running scared out there. Instead of floating the ball up, he needs to learn to throw it away. You see guys like Brady and Rogers throwong the ball in the stands if they have to. We all appreciate Ben's ability to make plays, but his obstinance in hanging on to the ball means he will always lead the league in fumbles on these strip sacks. They are at least momentum killers and at worst game changing mistakes that snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. .

    Mendenhall has had one great year. I'm still not sold on him. I agree with you that he doesn't run hard enough. He doesn't have Willie Parker speed or agility so he better learn to run hard or he'll find himself out of a job in another year or two. I don't know that the Steelers have a reasonable alternative right now, but I hate to think that anyone on the Steelers has a starting job by default. That's how I feel about Mendenhall. I'd much rather have a James Starks or Joseph Addai than a guy like Mendenhall who plays with a sense of entitlement instead of dedication.

  6. Thanks for the feedback everyone. The most frustrating thing about all this is that we know this team is capable of much more than they are showing right now. The offense can't keep scoring 16 points and giving up 13 points to the opposition via turnovers. If they do that this week with the Texans, we can expect to lose by 2 TD's.......and maybe more.