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SteelerWatch
05-24-2007, 05:44 AM
Mid-offseason evaluation
Last year was a comedy of errors — albeit, not a very funny one — for the Steelers. On offense, our quarterback was taken out before the season started in part by a Chrysler, but mostly because of the immature mistake of feeling invincible. He quickly came crashing back to earth — with a quick but sudden stop on a windshield along the way — and, to the dismay of we the loyal, he stayed there until the beginning of November.

But that was just the beginning of the problems. We suffered from an underachieving offensive line, an inexplicably — and inexcusably — passive defense, and worst of all, we had a disinterested head coach. Those three problems have been quickly and definitively addressed this off-season, and now that we’ve reached the midpoint of our annual Wait From Hell, it’s time to analyze what’s been done and what remains.

Block, Dangit!
Beyond Ben Roethlisberger’s quick trip over a car hood and the subsequent slide in his confidence and play, the offense had a major failing in 2006. Ironically, it was the part of the team that has been the most consistent throughout the last decade.

The offensive line suffered from a severe lack of, well, blocking ability. Sure, run blocking was alright — Willie Parker did, after all, post better numbers than during the 2005 Super Bowl run. But the life, the drive, the passion…it just wasn’t there. What turned out to be a four-yard run should have been six yards. Had the hole been ever so slightly larger on numerous occassions, Parker likely would have broke loose a lot more often. But running wasn’t the problem.

No, the real failing for the Steelers in 2006 was the pass blocking, or at least the lack thereof. Roethlisberger, already working with shattered confidence (and a shattered face), was in need of help from his front five, and only two delivered on a regular basis. Fortunately, that was his left tackle and left guard. The only bad part was that it meant Roethlisberger got to see the behemouth who would wind up nailing him making a mad bum rush for his head. It doesn’t help wounded confidence when you can’t even depend on the guys who have your back. Or front. Or sides.

In my own defense, I have no defense.
Defensively, there just wasn’t any pursuit. Maybe it was bad coaching (I’ll get to that in a minute). Maybe it was poor conditioning. Maybe it was a simple lack of focus. Whatever the case, the defense just played at a markedly lower level of intensity after they left Detroit in February last year.

What should we do, coach? … Coach?
Of course, it doesn’t help when your coach doesn’t care about the poor performance. Don’t worry about what Bill Cowher said in public. He just didn’t give a damn anymore. His goal was achieved, his decision for the future was made, and he had no reason to fight, especially after starting the season off so horrendously.

And to the future…
The Steelers have quietly had a big off-season. But then, that’s how this team operates. They do their thing and leave the speculation to the rest of the country. So far, they’ve replaced a Super Bowl-winning coach and most of his staff, released one of the most visible linebackers in the league when they gave Joey Porter his walking papers, revamped their defensive scheme, replaced their offensive playbook and drafter a…punter?

Mike Tomlin talks RooneySpeak better than anyone to come along since Chuck Noll, from Bill Cowher to Dick LeBeau to Kevin Colbert. He has a quiet confidence and a “player’s coach” demeanor that has really brought out the best in his players, sans one 300-pound, red-headed man-child who shall remain nameless, but not blameless. Throughout the first few months of his tenure, he has managed to distract his players from the negative and light a fresh new fire under the team. Players are voluntarily working out, often as groups, during their personal time. Attendance at voluntary team functions has been tremendous, as the players are eager to prove their worth to their new leadership — not to mention to get the taste of a bitter, failed season out of their mouths. Players who previously left the leading to other members of the team have begun to step up and take over those leadership positions, both from the departed (Peezy) and those who no longer deserve to lead (Faneca).

Offensively, new coordinator Bruce Arians has created a fresh, new playbook that maintains the Steeler status quo while incorporating new wrinkles like four wideouts on first downs and prominent use of three tight ends. Roethlisberger has spent an inordinate amount of time (for him at least) either speaking with the coaching staff or with his head in a playbook. He’s bonded with Ken Anderson, his new QB coach. Quiet Willie Parker has been relatively outspoken in praising the new offense that will put the ball in his hands in situations that might actually present running room instead of a wall of defenders.

Across the line of scrimmage, the defense has been loaded up too. Defensive end Aaron Smith has been re-signed, and on the other side of the line, Brett Kiesel is learning the nuances of a new philosophy that will have him moving around before the snap to create a whole new level of confusion for opposing offenses. The team added two first-round-quality linebackers in the draft when they picked up Lawrence Timmons and converted end LaMarr Woodley. The secondary should benefit from the return of Ricardo Colclough and the likely emegence of guided missile Anthony Smith. Add in the fact that most of the cornerbacks have been working out in Orlando with conditioning specialists, and this could be a huge year for the defensive backs. The team is going to stay primarily with the familiar 3-4 defensive alignment, meaning there won’t be much of a learning curve for the veterans.

From a strategic standpoint, the biggest move in the league this year may have come when the Steelers moved up in the fourth round of the draft to pick up Dan Sepulveda, a linebacker-turned-punter who has on at least one occassion put up a punt of more than 50 yards and then cleaned the returner’s clock before most of his teammates made it downfield. He punts like Ray Guy and hits like Greg Lloyd, which should result in much better defensive field position for the Steelers this year. Rumor has it he regularly boomed punts of more than 60 yards during workouts this month, putting him in on a level he only shares with the Cowboys’ Matt McBriar. Add in the possibility (purely speculation at this point) that he may be capable of taking over kickoff duties as well, and we could see a lot more touchbacks in 2007 than we have in the ‘Burgh in a quarter century.

It remains to be seen how all the new pieces of the puzzle will fit together. But on the surface, at least, this season has the makings of a contender at the least, and a champion if everyone really gives it the effort they were lacking in 2006.

coachspeak33
05-24-2007, 08:36 AM
nice read

RoethlisBURGHer
05-24-2007, 10:01 AM
Nice,I liked it.

And I am oddly pumped up about our new punter.

Livinginthe past
05-24-2007, 10:04 AM
Very impressively written , Steelerwatch.

Its always a pleasure to read well thought out, well contructed articles - its certainly written a good deal better than many examples on the major networks.

alittlejazzbird
05-24-2007, 10:50 AM
And I am oddly pumped up about our new punter.

Perhaps because our new punter is oddly pumped up? :smile:

The picture on an earlier thread showing him punting, showed someone (with fabulous arms!) who really does look like a linebacker. Most punters look like skinny little geeks compared to the rest of their teammates. I can't wait to see Sepulveda in action during a game!

Really nice article, SteelerWatch!

RoethlisBURGHer
05-24-2007, 12:31 PM
Perhaps because our new punter is oddly pumped up? :smile:

The picture on an earlier thread showing him punting, showed someone (with fabulous arms!) who really does look like a linebacker. Most punters look like skinny little geeks compared to the rest of their teammates. I can't wait to see Sepulveda in action during a game!

Really nice article, SteelerWatch!

I really hope Joshua Cribbs breaks a semi-long punt or kickoff (I have a feeling Sepulveda will be handing the KO duties) return on September 9th so I can watch Cribbs get obliterated by our punter.

Also,if we get some type of injury bug at LB,our punter can fill in!

steelersfanmx
05-24-2007, 03:13 PM
nice read, thanks for posting.!:thumbsup:

drew102e
05-26-2007, 12:38 PM
really good post,

wiqidjuggalo
05-26-2007, 03:38 PM
Very well written! I enjoyed the article a lot. You should try getting a job with a local newspaper or Sports Illustrated!

Black@Gold Forever32
05-26-2007, 03:47 PM
Nice and enjoyed reading that...By the way I loved the Sepulveda pick from the jump...No more Chris Gardocki and his old leg.lol