Monday, November 30, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Mike Tomlin doppelganger Omar Epps wishes he were as cool as Tomlin
This is a special Tomlin Thursday. No, not because it's Thanksgiving. It's Raven Week.
Super submission from Jenn Z. this week based on the poem that shares the name of our biggest rival.
And the Ravens, though strong in beginning, won't be winning, won't be winning
By the hand of Flacco as his O-Line the Steez shake to the core.
Though Lewis' eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the bright-lights over them throw their shadows on the stadium floor
But the the Steelers rise from those shadows on the floor.
Ravens beat the Steez? Nevermore! Nevermore!
Coach Tomlin is as stunned as you that the Steez lost to the Chiefs.So it's no more Mr. Nice Tomlin.
Coach Tomlin remembers the last time we played the Ravens. That one turned out pretty well.
Coach Tomlin wishes YOU a Happy Thanksgiving.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
With 8:35 remaining in regulation on Sunday at Kansas City, Roethlisberger hit running back Rashard Mendenhall with an 8-yard touchdown pass to take a seven-point lead. It was a beautiful, tight throw into the teeth of the Chiefs defense. It was Mendenhall’s first career scoring reception and one of a career-high four passes he caught on the day.
Those facts are significant because the overall success of Roethlisberger, and the Pittsburgh offense, is greatly impacted by plays like that one.
While Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has thrown eight touchdown passes to current running backs Joseph Addai and former Colt Dominic Rhodes
during the past two seasons, Roethlisberger only has four to his three tailbacks (Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore and Willie Parker) in the same period. Ultimately, Roethlisberger would be wise to make more use of his running backs, who have combined to catch only 81 passes since the beginning of 2008 (the Colts trio has 115).
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
They [Pittsburgh] have added two players to the active roster, dumped two, and swapped out a player on the practice squad for a new one.
Specifically, veteran linebacker Rocky Boiman and veteran cornerback Corey Ivy have joined the team. To create spots for them, linebacker Donovan Woods and cornerback Keiwan Ratliff were cut.
The Steelers also released running back Justin Vincent from the practice squad, replacing him with guard Jonathan Palmer.
I don't have too many thoughts on this except that it is encouraging to see them trying some things to fix the issues. We will just have to wait and see what impact these moves have on the team.
Monday, November 23, 2009
But, life must go on. The Steelers are still in the AFC playoff race and it's important to see how the team responds to this loss. Let's take a look at what they had to say after the game.
“Really it is quite simple; I take responsibility for that performance. I have to have this football team better prepared to play and, ultimately, we have to play better than what we played today in that stadium. We are capable of much more than that. You have to tip your hat to the Chiefs because they played well enough to win, but that is not what we are capable of and that is not us, it won’t be us. It was us today (emphasis mine) and as a guy that stands out front, I accept responsibility for that. We were highly penalized and we turned the ball over in the red area. We gave up big plays and we gave up a kick return. When you do those things, regardless of time of possession, yards or what have you, you open yourself up to defeat and that is what happened in that football game.”
Did you sense that your team was not prepared?
“Actually, I did not, but the execution would indicate the case. That is where I judge the preparedness, ultimately, on how we perform. The performance was below the line so the preparation must have been.”
Our take: Good to see Caoch Tomlin take responsibility for the loss. The team looked unprepared and made critical mistakes. Tomlin noted that we played poorly today and the standard of expectation is much higher. I would expect nothing less from our coach. But, let's hope we're more prepared next week.
RB RASHARD MENDENHALL
Did you feel prepared for today’s game?
“I’m not really sure. I’m still new to all of this and trying to figure it out. I know on offense that we didn’t do enough on our side of the ball to win. You know that to play at this level and be a professional the margin of error, the difference between winning and losing, is so little that you’ve got to be on top of your game. We had a chance at the end of the game to put points on the board and put ourselves in a winning position and we didn’t do it.”
Our take: Nothing eye opening here (other than flat out denying that the team wasn't prepared), but it seems that Rashard is starting to get it. I've become more enamored with him as each game progresses. He's learned the hard way that you can't skip the details and expect to win against anyone in the league. This loss was hardly on Rashard, and it seems like every week we talk about he should have been more involved. 20 carries for 80 yards is not outstanding, but I find it inexcusable to not have him in the game in overtime on 3rd and 2.
"[Tomlin] is our leader and the veteran guys on this team will do what he says," Ward said. "All of us are responsible for this. All of us need to look in the mirror."
"The coaches have to put us in a better position. All of us have to look in the mirror, but we're all in this together; the coaches have to evaluate themselves as much was we do.
Re: the 3rd down play call in overtime
"I guess we thought we could catch them in something. I cracked down on the end, but it didn't work. If you run something else and it doesn't work, maybe it's fourth-and-1 and you give us a chance. But when you lose 3 yards, you have no choice but to punt. The play call is what it is; we have to execute it."
Our take: Hines Ward is one of the leaders of the club, so he's one of the few guys who could get away with criticizing the special teams and criticizing the coaches. But, he walks a fine line, also mentioning that the players need to perform better. You have to think it would take a lot to make Ward publicly criticize the coaches. Maybe I'm seeing what I want to see, but when you take a shot at a play call, that is a direct shot at Bruce Arians. Maybe some of the players disagree with some of Arians play calls. Arians is a lightning rod for criticism, but rarely from his own players. It will be interesting to see how this is handled.
"I guess if they go zero -- and all-out blitz, we might have been able to pop one outside on them. But they didn't."
Our take: Batch trying to rationalize the play call. And not doing a very good job.
Man, special teams haven't helped us very much lately.
Our take: Maybe it's time Harrison gets involved in special teams. Then again, maybe we're not having this discussion if the defense holds the KC offense without a touchdown in the final 6 minutes of the 4th quarter.
"We play like we played today, you deserve to lose. You play like that, that's the outcome. We'll get it corrected, whatever it is. We can still win 12 games, so it don't matter. Twelve will get you in [to the playoffs]."
Our take: I love the positive attitude from Big Snack. But, a loss of this magnitude does matter. Let's just hope it spurs a late season winning streak that gets us back to the playoffs
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
The caption was submitted by one of our most faithful readers, David Scerbo. Congrats on having the winning submission! Your prizes will be delivered shortly and I believe you already got your congrats email from Alex. Thanks to all who submitted a caption.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Tomlin Thursday is upon us once again. For the first time in a few weeks, it is after a loss. The above photo was taken by a friend of mine who was at the game. Tomlin clearly looks frustrated with the boys.
Culture is returning to Tomlin Thursday once again with another spectacular effort from our Cultural Corresponent, Jenn:
There once was a team from Kansas City,
Whose play is so bad you almost feel pity.
For Haley's an inexperienced ,
But Tomlin's beyond reproach, and this week, a Steez win will be pretty!
I love the shirt and I love the smile. Time to inject some enthusiasm to this bunch, especially the special teams.
Someone clearly likes Mike Tomlin as much as we do.
Did you know that he is an All Pro Dad as well as an All Pro coach?
The best owner with the best coach. I'm glad they found each other.
I figured I'd throw out a couple articles and thoughts about our not so special teams:
- According to Football Outsiders, the Steelers kick off team is nearing the record for worst special team unit since they started tracking special teams in 1994. Not only does Jeff Reed have the worst kick-offs of the year, but Pittsburgh has the worst coverage too, and by a healthy margin.
- Mike Tomlin made headlines by smacking down Stefan Logan this week when Logan remarked that lanes open on Steeler kickoffs, but not on Steeler returns. "That's the perspective of a kick-returner who hasn't run one back yet, so that perspective may not be reality," Tomlin said.
I certainly respect Coach Tomlin for how he handles the players (his handling of a disgruntled Willie Parker last year was excellent), but Logan has a point. Logan never has return lanes on kickoffs or punts. He's basically surrounded immediately and has to fight for everything he gets. I doubt Josh Cribbs would be anything special if he had Pittsburgh's blocking.
Judging by the blogging world, there seems to be a decent portion of Steeler nation that are so disappointed in Logan this season that they think he should be cut. That it's a waste of a roster spot when he hasn't returned a kick for a touchdown. I disagree that Logan has been that bad. And he is still better than any returner we've had in Pittsburgh since Randle El. But I do agree that it's a waste of a roster spot if he has no blocking up front.
- Any thoughts out there on Bob Ligashesky, the Steelers special teams coordinator? Normally, if a unit is playing this badly, fans are clamoring for a firing. But Ligashesky's coverage unit was the best in the league last year (ignoring all the special team returns in the playoffs) and now it's the worst in the league. Is it coaching, lack of talent, or lack of desire?
- Steeler Nation should take it easy on Jeff Reed for his tackling ability (or lack thereof). Kickers across the NFL look foolish weekly when trying to make tackles. The coverage unit has failed if the kicker is making a tackle. So let's stick with criticizing Reed for his terrible kickoffs and poor judgment off the field. After all, not every kicker can tackle like Mitch Berger (2:45 into the video - let's be honest, I just wanted to post the AFC Championship highlight)
- Arnold Harrison was cut this week to make room for Donovan Woods, who is supposedly a better special teams player. Don't expect much improvement solely because of Woods.
- On the subject of roster changes, is anyone else interested in Steve Hauschka, the now unemployed former Ravens kicker? Sure, he sucks at field goals, but he was a kickoff specialist last year. That sounds like a better use of a roster spot than Keiwan Ratliff.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
After Troy got injured in the first game of the season, the debate began as to when he should return. I argued here, that he should delay his return until he was fully healthy because of the relative ease of our schedule at that point and the upcoming bye week. This time around, the injury does not seem as serious as the first time Troy injured his knee. Mike Tomlin said the news on the knee was encouraging, according to PFT. The TRIB is reporting that Polamalu was seen walking around the Steelers facility without crutches or even a limp which is most definitely an encouraging sign, however both Tomlin and Ed Bouchette of the PG suggested that Troy is questionable at best for Sunday's game against KC.
Since this is the second time Troy has injured this particular knee this season, I doubt he will be brought back till fully healthy. The Steelers need Troy for the playoffs and do not want to risk any permanent damage to Troy's knees. If it really isn't that serious he will probably miss 1-3 weeks. My opinion would be toward the longer end of the range for precautionary reasons. If you look at our remaining schedule, it really is not that difficult. Here are the remaining games:
The only game in the next four I would want to have Troy for would be @ Balt in two weeks but I think we can afford to hold him out until GB if the injury requires that much time. We should easily beat KC, Oak and Cleveland without Troy in the lineup. I am not as concerned as I normally would be with Baltimore after watching their pathetic first half performance last night against the Browns. I am all for bringing Troy back as soon as he is 100% healthy or as close to it as possible, but I think the schedule gives us the luxury of holding him out until that occurs. We may not need him to win regular season games, but we will need him come playoff time.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
However, Sunday's loss was different. Even though it was an important game, I was over the loss rather quickly. I'm not sure why, but I think it was this:
The Bengals made the plays.
The pre-game zone blitz from BTSC contains some interesting statistics. HERE
Steeler mid-season awards. HERE
Steeler stats at the mid-point of the season. HERE
Preview from Post Game Heroes. HERE
A look at Ziggy Hood's playing time increase. HERE
Comparing Ced Benson to Delicioius. HERE
Gameplans from the Post-Gazette. HERE
Enjoy the game. GO STEEZ!!!!
Friday, November 13, 2009
The Bengals are the surprise team of 2009. Carson Palmer is returning to pre-Kimo Von Oelhoffen form. Cedric Benson is running like he was at Texas. The offensive line improvement, without #1 pick Andre Smith, is even more surprising than the Steelers improvement at O-line. And the Bengals defense has turned into a smash mouth unit.
I can't provide a detailed breakdown as good as the one at SteelerFury, so I'll link you there and be done with it. (Beware of a little homerism)
Instead of dissecting individual match ups to see who has the upper hand, I want to analyze the remaining schedules for the Steelers and Bengals to determine just how important this game is.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Tomlin takes it all in. I don't think I have seen a more intense set of eyes on anybody.
Tomlin, always happy to give an interview, answered a bunch of questions for Steelers.com yesterday. Here is an excerpt. Click the link to read the entire interview.
On big hits, reputations, fatigue
"Rashard, I am giving you the ball for the rest of the season. Don't let me down, Delicious, and for my and all of Steeler Nation's sake, hold onto the ball!"
Tomlin knew it was a touchdown as soon as Tyrone Carter touched the ball. Our team is great because we are solid from 1-53. The Denver game proved it. Great job Keyron Fox, Ty Carter, Nick Eason and Ziggy Hood.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
|Steelers Broncos MNF|
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Some things change and some things remain the same. Let's take a look at last night's stellar victory over the media darling Broncos and see what has changed and what has stayed the same.
The "All Men are Created Equal" Things that have stayed the same:
1) The Steelers continue to dominate in prime time games, especially Monday Night Games.
-Overall the Steelers are 35-22 on Monday Night Football, but starting with Bill Cowher and continuing with Mike Tomlin, the Steelers are 21-8 on MNF and under Tomlin they are 5-0.
2) Troy Polamalu, when healthy is the best safety in football and the most exciting player to watch.
-In consecutive plays last night, Troy showed everyone what he is all about. The first play, Troy perfectly times the snap count, shoots into the backfield and stuffs the Denver runner for a loss untouched. The next play is an interception that sets up the Steelers for a TD that puts the game away. I am glad he is back and healthy. The D is totally different with Troy in the game.
3) Santonio shows up in a big way in a primetime game.
-Once again, 'Tone saves his best games for the biggest stage. He made a ton of tough catches last night in traffic. He continues to excel at gaining yards after the catch.
4) Hines makes big plays in big games.
-His first TD catch was huge but so were a couple of his drive sustaining first down grabs. His hurdling of Champ Bailey to ice the game at the end was nothing short of awesome.
5) Ben has another high efficiency game. The media acts like this is the first time they saw him play, still holding onto the ball too long.
-20 for 28 for 230 yards and 3 touches, 1 pick. Ben seems to be in complete control of the offense. He had us moving easily downfield in the no huddle before he threw a pretty awful pick in the redzone. The 2 sacks were both his fault. The line gave him plenty of time to throw. Extending plays also resulted in the TD to Mike Wallace.
6) The Steelers coaches and Ben trust Mike Wallace.
-Wallace should be in contention for Rookie of the Year. He had another solid game with 4 catches,1 for a TD. He also had a great catch on a low thrown ball for a first down.
7) The defense made all the big plays when they mattered.
-Carter with two picks, one for a touch. Troy with a huge pick. Keisel with two sacks.
8) The Steelers get knocked down, but continually get off the mat.
-The Steez were driving down the field easily on their first possession in the second half before Ben got strip sacked and the Broncos returned the fumble for a touchdown. How do the Steelers respond? With a 2 minute, 80 yard touchdown drive with a 25+ yard run by Rashard, and a 35 yard pass to Santonio. Great response. Tomlin has created a great attitude with this team.
-This is emphasized by the fact that the Steelers have given up a return TD (int, fumble or kick) in, according to Josh, six straight games. Return TD's are momentum shifting events that normally turn the tides of games. In 5 of the 6 games that a return TD has occurred, the Steelers have shaken it off and bounced back to win. Call it a silver lining.
9) The team is very tight.
-did you see how supportive Ryan Clark was of Ty Carter? Clark was the first one out there to congratulate Carter on both of his picks.
10) Steeler fans travel like no other teams in the league.
-From being at the game last night, I can attest to the fact that their is no other fan base like Steeler's Nation. The black and gold was everywhere. Seemingly every tailgate had a mix of Broncos and Steeler fans. Even an accident we passed on the freeway heading to the game was between Steeler and Broncos supporters. It was just as loud when the Broncos had the ball as it was when the Steelers had the ball. After the game was out of reach and all the Bronco fans had exited early, you could really see just how many Steez fans there were as the towel waiving maniacs stayed till the very end to cheer on their squad. The people sitting next to us had driven to Denver from Alberta, Canada to see the Steelers. That's dedication.
-The tickets we got were from friends of a friend in Dallas, TX, who happened to be Steeler fans who could not make it to the game. They were so excited that the tickets were going to other Steeler fans, they sent us a note along with the tickets and a Terrible Towel. The note said, "So glad you are a Steelers fan. Please use this Terrible Towel (it has been to Heinz Field) for me! Here We Go Steelers Here We Go." Amazing. You will be seeing the towel soon when I post pics from the game.
The "Prohibition is a Great Idea" Things that Have Changed:
1) The O-Line is playing well.
-For the past few seasons, everyone's favorite target has been the O-line. Well, we won the Superbowl with them last season. People still complained at the start of this year. Well, who's laughing now O-line? Ben routinely had tons of time to throw last night. Both sacks were pretty much Ben's fault for not throwing it away. The line also paved the way for Rashard to gain 155 yards on 22 carries with a 7 yard per carry average. Don't forget that the Broncos were one of the top D's coming into this game, especially against the run. Dumervil leads the league in sacks. Last night, he had a big fat goose egg. It was nice to see the Steelers imposing their will with the run to ice a game. If we can run like we did last night for the rest of the season, opposing defenses will really have their hands full trying to stop us.
2) Heath Miller dropped a ball.
-The normally sure handed Heath dropped a very catchable ball down the seam which would have been for a crucial first down. You don't see that happen too often from him.
3) Rashard Mendenhall living up to being a 1st round draft choice.
-After missing most of his rookie season with a broken shoulder suffered at the hands of Ray Lewis, there were many questions about whether Rashard was going to be a bust. He pretty much steered clear of the team for most of last year. He had a not so great pre-season and a lousy start to the year. He then got benched by Coach Tomlin for not being prepared during practice. Was this a masterstroke by a master motivator? It seems like just the wake up call Mendy needed because since then he has been a beast. After the benching, he put up 165 yards against SD averaging 5.7 yards per carry. The next week 5.1 yards, then a sub-par 3.6, but the next two games going against the leagues' two best run defenses he averaged 6.9 and 7 yards per carry. If he gets fumbling under control, he could be a beast for a while in this offense.
4) Good coaching decisions.
-What happened to the ultra-conservative approach of days past? With the Steelers up 11, and around 2 minutes remaining, Denver had 1 timeout left. The only way the Steelers could screw up the game was a turnover. They were easily in field goal range which would put them up two touchdowns. On third down, the Steelers should have run the ball, forced Denver to use its last timeout and kicked the field goal to ice the game. Instead they throw the ball. Granted it was a high percentage throw and it is nice to see the Steelers trying to put a game away by trying to win it instead of playing not to lose, but pretty much the only way we could lose is by a turnover. The Steelers got a first down. They got down to the three, ran twice and were faced with third and goal. What do they do? Another pass. It resulted in a TD but the call was a little edgy for my taste.
5) We played better in the second half
-This game was a tale of two halves. The Steelers somehow were leading at the half via a Ty Carter pick 6, but were badly outplayed. The Broncos had the ball for the vast majority of the half and the Steelers offense could only muster 53 yards to the Broncos 183. Credit the D for bending but not breaking. Check out the second half stats. The Steelers had the ball for 24 of 30 minutes. They put up over 300 yards of offense with great balance. The D made great adjustments and held Denver to about 60 yards for the half and no points. The D only gave up 3 points the whole game. And this was while missing 4 defensive starters from the beginning of the year. Fox and Carter played great. Ziggy Hood was in the backfield alot and Denver could not run at all against us. This D is getting better each week which is a scary thought for the rest of the league.
6) Who would have thought that the biggest game of the year for the Steelers and maybe the league would be Cincy at Pittsburgh on November 15th?
-The Steelers and Bengals are both 6-2 coming into the matchup, but the Bengals have already beaten us once. If they win next week in Heinz Field, they effectively have a two game lead over us for the division. In Sunday's game, the Bengals did pretty much whatever the wanted to the Ravens who after a hot start to the season, are 4-4 and two games behind us and Cincy for the division lead. It should be an awesome matchup. If we can continue our level of play from last night and cut down on turnovers, we should win this game. I know the team wants revenge for the loss earlier this year.
I will get pics from yesterday posted soon.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Clark is an interesting story. The Steelers have been playing games all week, saying he might play but anyone who is familiar with what happened the last time the Steelers were in Denver, realizes there is no way he suits up tonight. On our last visit to Mile High, Clark, who suffers from sickle cell anemia, which was aggravated by the high altitude, had to have his spleen removed, lost 30 pounds and missed the remainder of the season (and nearly died). Clark has been practicing all week with the team. Officially there has not been any word from the Steelers regarding his status for the game tonight. It seems like, Clark really wants to play in this game, but ultimately the decision will be made by Coach Tomlin. I doubt that he would risk the life of one of his players for one regular season game. Ty Carter is a decent back up and I think his style of play is much more suited for filling in for Ryan Clark than it was for filling in for Troy.
Two Steezbros will be at the game tonight so check back for pictures and stories tomorrow. Sorry you can't join us Alex, we will miss you.
Here are some links to peruse until kickoff tonight:
The PG has a bunch of stories analyzing matchups for tonight and reliving games past. HERE
Pre-Game Zone Blitz from BTSC. Always a good read. HERE
A comparison of how Mike Tomlin and Josh McDaniels career paths are similar. HERE
A video preview of tonight's game from AFC Bloger, James Walker. HERE
5 keys for the Steelers. HERE 5 Keys for the Broncos. HERE
Enjoy the game tonight. It should be a good one. GO STEEZ!!!!
Friday, November 6, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
I posted this in my links column on Friday, but since it is a rap about Tomlin (He's the boss), I thought it should be posted again in this space. So, once again, the Tomlin rap:
Our weekly literary showcase continues with another stellar effort from Jenn Z.:
will be filled with crowds,
Watching football from the clouds.
They’re gathered to watch the phenom coach;
But a win tonight, the Broncos won’t approach.
Tomlin’s too smart, and his supporting crew
Will hand McDaniels the worst loss he knew.
The victory will be sweet, but with a touch of injustice,
For in the stands, the Steezbros. But at home, the rest of us.
I recently found a ton of pictures from the Superbowl. It made me think about last season and how we were pretty much in the exact same place at this point last year. I am fully confident in Tomlin's and the teams ability to get us back to the promised land. Here is what we are shooting for:
In case you forgot, we are still the defending champs. 5 year grace period. We are actually in a double grace period this year and next. Let's make next season a triple! I liked this pic because it is a picture of Tomlin holding a picture of himself!
Tomlin might be closer to his players than any other coach in history, yet he maintains their respect.
I call this respectful Tomlin, but maybe they were planning for Hines to have one of his best seasons ever after winning the Superbowl. It's pretty incredible the year he is having, especially considering the physical condition he was in after the season.
Another player having an awesome season, Bungy (Ben). I would like to be in on this hug.
Bring on the Broncos!!!! GO STEEZ!!!!!
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
The most likely players include Keiwan Ratliff, who has been bad on defense and special teams, Carey Davis, who is a good special team player but has been inactive b/c of David Johnson, Patrick Bailey, another special teamer, or Limas Sweed.
I don't think Sweed should be or will be cut.
My vote is Ratliff. Keenan Lewis or Joe Burnett can replace him in dime packages.
Me (Dave Scerbo): Coach I just want to personally thank you for choosing to come to coach in Pittsburgh.
Coach: Thank-you it's my pleasure to be associated with such a great organization.
Me: As a life-long Steeler fan, I feel you truly embody the fundamentals and ideals that this franchise stands for.
Coach: You seem like a pretty smart guy, maybe you'd like to come watch a practice some time.
Me: That'd be great, I consider you one of my heros and you truly are an inspration; not just as a coach, but as a man.
Coach: Maybe after this we could go grab a burger.
Me: I just want to say that I really admire your focus, and your desire to be at your best, always improving and learning from the past.
Coach: You really sound like you know what you're talking about. How would you like to an assistant coach. You can follow me around on the sideline and make sure I don't trip over the cord that goes to my headset.
Me: By the way; You had one sweet-ass flat-top back in the day.
Coach: Thanks, that thing was known to hold bricks straight up in the air without any deformation what-so-ever.
Me: That's one gnarly weave!
For three years I rewatched every Steelers game with an eye on the offensive line. And a good bit of the time, it wasn't pretty. Whether it was a debacle against the Raiders in 2006 or the mass of confusion against the Eagles in 2008, there have been plenty of lowlights. After watching the Steelers win the Super Bowl last year despite a struggling offensive line, I kind of figured that if everything went well, Pittsburgh could figure out a way to do it again. They had enough defense and enough skill position players on offense to make up for the offensive line's problems.
That appeared to be what the Steelers thought as well--they brought back the starting five from the Super Bowl team, although Darnell Stapleton (sitting on injured reserve) has been replaced at right guard by Trai Essex. It was a somewhat scary formula--stick with what you got and hope for the best. But after rewatching the Steelers-Vikings game with a focus on the line play, it's clear that I was wrong. The defense may be good enough and the skill positions (thanks to Mike Wallace) are even better than expected. But if the Steelers managed to defend their Super Bowl title this year, the biggest reason will be because the offensive line is significantly improved.I haven't watched the Steelers offensive line in detail every week this year like I have in past years, but with them facing off against the Vikings--the NFL's leader in sacks and the team with arguably the best front four in football, it seems like a good time to check back in on the Steelers O-line.
What I found was pretty impressive. In watching the Steelers against the Vikings, the offensive line actually got the better of the Vikings for much of the game. Defensive end Jared Allen, one of the top pass rushers in the game, finished the game with two tackles and no sacks. Kevin Williams, one of the top defensive tackles in the game, had only one tackle. Not only did he end up with one tackle, but right tackle Willie Colon put him on the ground several times on running plays. Colon's play stood out more than anyone. Colon showed dominating run blocking while also showing dramatic improvement in pass blocking from previous years. The Steelers ran nine called running plays to the right for 78 yards. They ran nine other called runnnig plays up the middle or to the left for a grand total of 25 yards. Colon was a big reason for that. When he teamed up with Essex to block Kevin Williams, he put Willams on the ground on three different occasions. On other running plays, he did an outstanding job of sealing the corner.
Over at the other tackle spot, Max Starks had the toughest assignment of anyone. He was asked to block Allen, who came into the game second in the NFL in sacks, one-on-one throughout the game. Pittsburgh didn't give Starks an inordinate amount of help, but his combination of long arms and good footwork allowed him to neutralize one of the game's best pass rusher. I counted only four plays in the game where Allen clearly beat Starks--one pass deflection where Allen got his hands up at the line, a run play where he missed his block but it didn't play a part in the play and two pass plays where Allen got free eventually, but not in time to really bother Roethlisberger. When Allen tried to bull rush, Starks swallowed him up and showed that he could throw out an anchor that kept Allen from driving him back. And when Allen tried to beat Starks with a speed rush, Starks was able to get his hands on Allen quickly enough to win the race to the corner.
Essex wasn't as dominating as Colon or Starks, but he was quite impressive. He doesn't have Colon or Chris Kemoeatu's strength that allows them to plow people at times. But what he did show was an impressive awareness of angles and of his responsibilities. Essex's best play may have been as a pass blocker early in the first quarter. He got in his initial punch on Brian Robison, only to watch Robison loop away on a stunt. Essex quickly handed Robison off, picked up defensive end Ray Edwards looping around and then handed him off to block Jared Allen, who had come all the way around from the other defensive end spot.It may not sound like much, but those handoffs from one offensive lineman to another are the kind of switch-offs that cause sacks every week, usually because a lineman drops his head and fixates on the man he is currently blocking. Essex instead keeps his head up and looking around, which makes it much easier to stay alert to line stunts and loops. Last year, the Steelers were an easy mark for a team that blitzed and stunted to create confusion. This year, they seem to handle it like veterans who have played together and who know what everyone else along the line is doing.
Pittsburgh line still isn't one who will blow teams off the ball. But there pass blocking has improve to the point where it gives Roethlisberger the time to carve up defenses. Because of Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh will continue to have high sack totals--eight of his sacks this year have come on plays where he's held the ball for 3.5 seconds or more--but the improved pass blocking also explains why Roethlisberger is second in the league in passing yardage.