Saturday, October 1, 2011

Why the Steelers Need to Bring Their "A" Game to Texas

Just click your heels and the Steeler offensive line will be fixed

If it was only so easy, I would put on those red slippers like Dorothy did in “The Wizard of Oz”, click my heels together and the bad stuff would all go away.  (I know I will get comments from some of my friends about that sentence.)  Right now, the bad news for the Steeler offensive line is like the runaway train in “Unstoppable” (filmed in Pennsylvania in 2009-2010).  Every day, more and more bad news comes rolling down the tracks.

On Friday, Doug Legursky and Jonathan Scott were ruled out of Sunday’s game versus the Texans.  Now there are many Steeler fans who let out a big cheer when that was announced but when they came back to their senses, they realized who would be taking their places, Ramon Foster and Trai Essex, and they popped a few Rolaids to keep their lunch down.  I’m not hating on Foster and Essex, it’s just that if they aren’t starters on an offensive line that is struggling, then how bad can this get?  I didn’t blame all of the problems last week on the offensive line, I thought it was a collective disaster.

The problem with the offensive line is that there isn’t any consistency.  There have been players shifted between positions since day one of training camp.  The offensive line is unique, think of it as a chain on a bike.  If one link is off, the whole bike can’t move forward.  The entire offense is similar, in that everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to: the snap count; the blocking scheme; the timing of the play; the handoff from the QB; and the patience or urgency of the running back when hitting the hole.  If the timing is off or players are confused or indecisive at the point of attack, then you are in a load of trouble.  The lack of consistency in the offensive line has resulted in a running game that is ranked 23rd in the NFL in yards/game (85.7) and an offense with twice as many turnovers (10) as TD’s (5).  All this is coming at a time when teams are lighting up the scoreboard.  Needless to say, this is NOT Steeler football.

The reason why this is such a big deal is that the Steelers face a pass rusher in Mario Williams who can dominate one side of the offensive line.  On the other side, JJ Watt is proving to be no slouch himself.  He was selected in the first round of the 2011 draft out of Wisconsin, the 11th pick overall.  He is the total package of big, strong and fast.  They also have DeMeco Ryans who would be a starting linebacker on every other NFL team and Brian “Juice” Cushing who can ‘needle’ his way into any backfield. 

Now I know some people might take exception with my assessment here but the numbers and the successes don’t lie.  The brain trust behind the Texans’ defensive improvement this year is none other than Wade Phillips.  Although Wade has had a less than stellar career as a head coach, his defenses have always been much closer to the top than the bottom.  Last year, the Texans defense was 29th overall.  This year, they are 10th…..and that’s after Drew Brees lit them up for 40 points last week (then again, Drew Brees lights most teams up for 35+). 

Offensively, the Texans are loaded with talent.  They are averaging 30 points/game and they are ranked 5th in rushing yards/game (138yds) and 12th in passing yards/game (262yds).  Matt Schaub is everyone’s 2nd level QB behind Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers.  Andre Johnson is an amazing athlete and wide receiver.  He is big, strong and fast and he has a focus on the field that is unmatched.  The Texans also have a supporting staff that is better than most in the NFL: Owen Daniels; Eric Winston; Arian Foster; Kevin Walter; and Ben Tate (and the only throwing Matt Leinart is doing is throwing beer parties for college girls). 

Is it all gloom and doom?  No.  The Steelers must play their best game of the year.  They need to play like they did against the Eagles in the preseason.  If they can limit their mistakes, play as a cohesive unit and exploit the weaknesses that the Saints pointed out last week, we could see a big Steeler victory deep in the heart of Texas.  Here are some keys to winning.

What the Steelers need to do to win:

1)    Run the football—keep the ball out of the hands of the Texans stars and establish an attitude with the O-line
2)    Get a big play defensively—the Steeler defense has only 1 turnover in 3 games.  Really?
3)    Win the special teams matchup—if the Steeler offense can’t get rolling then field position will be much more important.  A score on special teams would be a big help.
4)    No turnovers—you can’t give the Texans 13 points like the Steelers did with the Colts.
5)    Hit Matt Schaub—Schaub has never been confused with being a tough guy.  Send a message by hitting him hard and often.

Pat Kirwan, a longtime NFL executive and host of “Moving the Chains” on Sirius NFL Radio, said that he likes the Steelers in this game because throughout the Super Bowl era, you rarely see the Steelers play 2 bad games in a row.  He’s right and I hope that this claim holds true on Sunday.  What are your thoughts?  Please comment below.

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  1. Just watched the first half. No consistency with the oline as you say, so no chemistry. One nasty sack on Ben was due to apparent confusion and result was missing a guy completely. One lineman left staring at nothing, while the defender comes clean through. But fact is that half of them are backups in this league. Also, some like Kemoeatu are built for run blocking and can't pass block. You see him get burrrnnnnned on that nasty hit Ben took? Was like he wasn't even there. Also, I don't see our d-line stuffing the run or getting any pressure so far this year. Age may have finally caught up with them. Woodley hasn't done squat in terms of what you expect from such a high paid player. I guess the question is, if you have a couple chinks in the armor on our D... is that enough for teams to be effective at attacking? So far, it is. Especially with an experienced quarterback.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I started to write you a response but realized that what I was going to say was regurgitating my blog post about this game. Please read that post and comment. I appreciate your comments here and look forward to your response to the full blog post. Thanks again.