View Full Version : Cook: Home is a winning formula for the Steelers

12-02-2011, 06:19 AM
Cook: Home is a winning formula for the Steelers
Friday, December 02, 2011
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Two weeks ago, Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians gushed about the team's chances of making it to a fourth Super Bowl in seven years even if it has to do it as a wild card.

"This team is capable of going on the road and beating you in a lot of different ways," he said. "If we have to be road warriors again, we can do it. I have no doubt about that."

It was easy to believe Arians then.

That was before a game Sunday night in Kansas City, Mo.

Five holding penalties against the Steelers. A false-start penalty. An illegal shift penalty. Heck, a 12-men-in-the-offensive-huddle penalty.

The Steelers defeated the Chiefs, 13-9, to go to 8-3 and keep pace with the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North Division. That's all that really matters. But the Steelers offense managed just one touchdown and 290 yards in what coach Mike Tomlin called its worst performance of the season. The players blamed a lot of the problems on the crowd noise. Several ranked Arrowhead Stadium as one of the toughest places to play.

OK, that's fair.

But it's still a lot harder to share Arians' faith this morning.

Like most NFL teams, the Steelers are much better at home. "That's why they call it home-field advantage," Arians said.


Of course, it's easier to play at home. It all starts with the quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is much better at home than on the road. He has completed 65.5 percent of his passes at Heinz Field with 10 touchdowns, 3 interceptions and a 102.8 passer rating. On the road, his numbers drop to 62.1 percent, 7 touchdowns, 7 interceptions and an 83.6 passer rating.

Not coincidentally, the Steelers are averaging a touchdown more a game at home.

Arians didn't flinch.

"We have the quarterback and the passing game to win on the road," he said. "The biggest disappointment for me is our [average-per-rush]. When we want to run the ball, we need to run it better. But I believe we have the run game to win on the road."

The Steelers have had to play in four of the NFL's loudest stadiums -- Baltimore, Indianapolis, Houston and Kansas City. They were blown out in Baltimore, lost a tough game in Houston and won closes ones in Indianapolis and Kansas City.

In each game, crowd noise forced Roethlisberger to go to a silent snap count because his linemen couldn't hear his signals. (Yet another reason to run the damn ball. - mesa) That is a huge advantage for the defensive players, who are used to going at the sight of the snap, and a big disadvantage for the offensive linemen, who are trained to go on the sound of the quarterback's count. Unless the timing is perfect among the offensive linemen when a silent count is used, the pass rushers get a step on the blockers and tend to make life miserable for a quarterback.

So it has been for Roethlisberger on the road. He has been sacked 12 times at home and 20 times on the road, although the Steelers have played one more game on the road.

All of this is relevant because there's a good chance the Steelers will finish behind the Ravens because of the No. 1 division tiebreaker -- the Ravens' two wins against them. That doesn't mean it's impossible to win three road games to get to and win the Super Bowl. The 2005 Steelers became the first team to do it. The '07 New York Giants and the '10 Green Bay Packers also did it.

But just about everything has to be perfect for it to happen.

For one thing, the offensive line has to be cohesive.

This has been a problem for the Steelers all season. They started a different line combination in each of the first six games. They made another change in Kansas City, starting Doug Legursky at left guard in place of Chris Kemoeatu. The same group -- Max Starks, Legursky, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert, from left to right -- will start for the second consecutive week Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field. It's nice to think that group will finish the season.

In '05, left guard Alan Faneca, center Jeff Hartings, right guard Kendall Simmons and right tackle Starks started each of the 20 games. Left tackle Marvel Smith started 16.

Consistency matters.

So does getting off to a fast start, which has a way of lessening the crowd noise.

In the '05 playoffs, the Steelers fell behind the Bengals, 10-0, but were able to come back and win because Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer left in the first series with a knee injury. The Steelers went to Indianapolis the next week and took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. They played in Denver the following week in the AFC championship and led, 24-3, at halftime. Noise was no factor in those games.

The Steelers blame themselves for making the crowd a factor in Kansas City. Running back Mewelde Moore fumbled at the Chiefs 2 on their first possession. A holding penalty on tight end Heath Miller nullified a 21-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall to the Chiefs 3 on their second possession. Who knows? Two touchdowns in the first quarter and maybe the game turns out to be a blowout.

"I'll still take our chances on the road," Arians said.

It's a nice thought.

Just to be sure, though, the Steelers really could help themselves by finishing ahead of the Ravens and avoiding the road until at least maybe the AFC championship. To do that, they almost certainly will have to win out. Their remaining games are against Cincinnati and Cleveland at home, at San Francisco, St. Louis at home and at Cleveland. The Ravens must play at Cleveland, Indianapolis at home, at San Diego, Cleveland at home and at Cincinnati.

Win the division, get a week off and play the first playoff game at home?

Or: Go to the playoffs as a wild card and play the first weekend on the road?

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. More articles by this author
First published on December 2, 2011 at 12:00 am

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12-02-2011, 07:56 AM