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.
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