I've decided to take a stab at doing a Steelers related editorial that may or may not become a weekly thing. I'd describe it as being something of an opinion piece which I hope will round-up and stitch together the many observations that I've made on the forum over the course of the last week into one cohesive article. If it's too long and boring to read, I won't mind. You don't have to agree with my points - but if you do, that's just as good: I just hope to spur some conversations. Without further ado...
Andy's Cold Steel Editorial (Issue #1)
"If the defense was creating turnovers and the offense was scoring touchdowns more frequently, the ST would be a minor issue. As far as Suisham, I'd say that he's done well - he could have a career year. Their defense, while stingy in giving up yards and points...Troy's absence has hurt the team significantly...his ability to create turnovers and disrupt offenses is not easily replaced. He is just as valuable defensively as Ben is offensively."
- Carl Snyder (my cousin and football guru)
I. Where to Start?
Just so you know, the above quote is an excerpt of something that my cousin said to me earlier today...and aside from his 'current' evaluation of Troy, I can't say there was much with which to disagree. Still, I'd like to elaborate on the points that he made. So, that said, let me start by saying that, in regards to our defense, I'd say that there's more than sufficient evidence to suggest that while they've made significant improvements, as other fans have noted, there's still a lot of room for improvement.
Troy and Ben being out for several games is just one of the team's many glaring problems - Troy's apparently annual multi-game absence is particularly worrisome - I'm wondering - is he running out of steam? The D has still managed to stop the run and has done a good job of deflecting some passes - but when it's come to creating interceptions, it's as if some of our guys on defense have become infatuated with the Mike Wallace philosophy, an his penchant for dropping some very catchable balls - obviously, that's not going to be a formula for success.
Still, the Steelers D has shown a lot of improvement - although they struggled earlier in the season, they've finally managed to cause some turnovers. That's great! But when it's comes converting those big plays into points, I'd say the D has more work to do (especially when you have an offense that's been struggling without Ben to put put together meaningful drives). In other words, the defense needs to try and put more points on the board by immediately scoring on turnovers (just as they did last week). Easier said than done. While impressive, the problem with last week's pick-6 was that it happened on the Raven's first drive - and it never happened again. Of course, most people would argue that a defensive TD is always a good thing (it is), but in my opinion, the timing of one is even better.
II. Gold, Black And Blue (And Conditioned To Break?)
I don't think anyone would argue that our team hasn't essentially been torn to shreds - my question is, when haven't they? This injury problem can be dated at least as far back as the middle of last season, and yet (aside from hiring Haley) I see nothing that suggests to me that this problem is being properly addressed. The Steelers have been playing without key players now for some time now...it's become the norm.
Injuries are nothing new in NFL - the game is dangerous - and as Tomlin might say, the more violent team is the team that wins...and yet, I've been finding myself increasingly surprised by just the sheer number of players who can barely play through a single game without tearing something. This conditioning problem needs to be addressed! With healthier players, I have no doubt that with all of the talent on this team, we'd be tearing it up this season. It's too bad that most of them are sitting on sidelines, and wearing a Steelers hoodie.
Still, I'll concede that - with a functioning offense - the D would be doing well enough to win. The problem is, we don't have a functioning offense and so were probably going to have to rely on them to do a lot more than what we've seen to date. Show us that you're still a #1 defense. Show us you can also put some points on the board...and not just here and there, but more importantly, show us you can do so when the game is on the line! Show us that you can win the game. If we have a lead, hold it. If we don't, take it. Allowing opposing offenses to march down the field on a late game winning drive will no longer be acceptable, nor should it be tolerated.
However, 4th quarter meltdowns have become the name of the game this season. This is what usually happens: the offense will enter the second half with some sort of lead, but will fail to keep up against a rallying opponent...then the D will either give up a lead late in the 4th, or the Steelers will find themselves behind by a few points, but neither the offense, defense or ST will do anything about it...or the team will actually get the ball back with a chance to pull ahead, but won't due to a long field challenge made worse by ST penalties and the absence of effective time management (that one's on Tomlin).
And, thus... we have our lousy record.
III. Baltimore Part Two: A Batch of Problems
After everyone was led to believe that Ben would be back to play the Ravens, the new word on the street is that Charlie's gonna get another chance under center. I love Charlie, but statistically speaking, this almost guarantees a Raven's victory: the Steelers are now 0 for 7 when facing Baltimore minus Big Ben. Sure, anything can happen - but, statistics have a way of revealing cold, hard truths. But, who knows - Charlie's been known to exceed expectations.
To be fair, he had exactly one week to prepare for last week's game, and had not taken a single snap since the preseason. Now that he's had some time on the field, I think it would be fair expect some better play from our backup. And if coupled with an adjusted offensive strategy that would cater more to Batch's strengths and weaknesses, the offense may be able to do enough to eek out a win.
IV. A Ravenous Delusion of Grandeur
While the Ravens are 9-2, their level of play is definitely not as good as their record would suggest. The last time we played them, Leftwich was injured early and as a result, the Steelers offense looked and played awful. But, our D managed to somehow keep the game within 3. As a result of this effort, Flacco played only marginally better than the injured Leftwich: subtract the 7 pts earned on a ST blunder, and the Steelers probably win. This time, we face them with Charlie Batch and for what it's worth, of all the QBs over the years who've stepped in for Ben as a starter, Charlie's the only one with a winning record...which is fairly impressive, considering that the man is only days away from turning 38. In fact, when Batch played last week, he managed to set a new franchise record...as the oldest starting QB in Steeler history. Scary.
To sum it up, Ben is questionable, Lefty's out, Charlie's old, and Hoyer's a n00b - to say that we have something of a QB problem would be a major understatement. Sure...Ben still intends to start against the Ravens (which is something he'll always say, questionable or otherwise), but he also admitted that his arm strength is quite back to where it was, pre-injury...which means that the two QBs most likely to start this week will both be playing with a weak arm...
I guess Mike Wallace won't be getting any of those really deep passes that he's been begging for a chance to drop...er, I mean, almost catch...I mean, uh...possibly fumble...um...I mean...yeah. According to inside sources, Mike is about one game away from being demoted. If he wants to be the number one receiver with a top dollar contract, then he better damn well play like one. As it stands, Brown is our number one receiver - no doubt about it.
V. Tomlin: "You're On Notice"
Wallace isn't the only one facing a demotion for dropped balls...as of last game, it saddens me to say that there's not a single reliable RB on the team. Okay, so...I will give them a little bit of credit, in that all four of them managed to fumble the ball at least once - now THAT is impressive! This embarrassing display of offensive ineptitude hasn't gone unnoticed - this week's depth chart would suggest that Tomlin's definitely losing some faith in Mendenhal's ability to be our go to back, seeing as how Dwyer's taken Mendy's place at the top...followed by Redman.
I'm not really sure if this rotation will make any discernible difference...but, I don't disagree with the perception that Dwyer's probably been the least worst of the bunch. Hell, I might even go with the smaller and less proven Rainey...even though he also fumbled last week, he at least had the determination to turn what probably should have been a ridiculously ineffective run up the middle into an unlikely touchdown. I think it's fair to point out that absolutely none of our other fumbling backs were able to do as much.
VI. Is There A Way to Seven?
So, let me finish this with a discussion of where we are in regards to how we can do the impossible and find a way to the playoffs - and if we're lucky (and I mean REALLY lucky), a chance at winning a 7th ring. In my judgment, if the Steelers still want to be taken seriously as a playoff post-season contender, they're probably gonna have to pull a 2005, and win the rest of their games. Can they do it again? It's not impossible, but they're gonna have to do so with the a glass-jawed offense. Their #1 defense will have to step it up a notch or three, and prove that they, too, can win a game by any means necessary. Both phases are gonna have to reignite a great deal of the fire and steely determination of years prior - a task which (given our current circumstances) may prove to be difficult, if not altogether impossible. But, we'll see!
Finally, having a competent special teams would also do wonders. Not spotting your opponent 7 points on a return, or losing the ground game on penalties would be a good place to start. Suisham's been putting points on the board all season long, bailing out one stalling drive after another and while 3 pts is usually preferable to none, constantly settling for the FG is not going to put games away - so, yeah, if the Steelers are truly serious about snatching the 6th seed, then they're going to have to function in all three phases.
So from here on out, there can be no more excuses - the entire team has to play to the best of their ability. They've got to play as one team, with pride and determination, and transform into a unified team that is greater than the sum of their (broken) parts. It's a tall order, but that's probably what it's going to take if the Steelers want to go all the way. But, if any one team can pull off the seemingly impossible, the Steelers have already proven that they can. And, against long odds, I hope they will. It's still too early to be talking about drafts just yet...