Hey guys HSS here, trying to give some input on the state of things as I'm still currently working on making a full-fledged return. Technical difficulties have prevented me from doing so for almost two months now, and it is beyond frustrating. Throughout this whole time I've been checking in a pretty regular fashion, and reading as much as I can, just never long enough to write my own input. Today presents one of these rare occasions. Enough about my sad technological situation; back to the Steelers...My thoughts after the jump.
I know there are half a dozen posts on this already, but I figured I'd throw a couple quick thoughts.
1. Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith cannot get back fast enough. When Tom Brady is releasing the football in under 2 seconds, there needs to be a whole world of hell breaking down on him if the defense wants a shot at keeping the Pat's offense in check. There was virtually no pressure from ends Ziggy Hood and Nick Eason, and when LeBeau's gameplan centered around dropping back 7 or 8 guys in coverage (meaning that there was only a 3 or 4 man rush) Brady had all night to throw the ball, which he didn't even need, which leads me into my next point.
2. The Secondary: I will first begin by retracting an early statement I made this season, criticizing Ike Taylor for a supposed drop off in play. Right now he is playing the best out of all our DB's; yup, even better than Troy. It is however, largely due to Troy's presence that Taylor has returned to 2008 form. Troy on the other hand has not been bad, but he hasn't really been good either. I saw or heard somewhere that he says he's been second guessing himself on the field-that his lack of "big plays" this year has been more of a mental thing, rather than physical. I don't expect this to last to much longer, so I'm not overly worried about him. What I am very worried about is the rest of the secondary. William Gay is bad, really bad, at least as a coverage corner anyway. Almost as equally alarming is the rapid regression of Bryant McFadden from 2008. Both have made some nice plays early on, but have been shredded in recent weeks. I'm sure many of you saw John Harris' post from the Tribune Review in which he stated a secondary shakeup could be on its way. His article was addressing Bryant McFadden and that if he continues to struggle, he could be riding pine. He certainly did not impress against New England. With Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler waiting in the wings, I have to wonder if either would be worse than the #2 and #3 corners we have now. I'd be careful with throwing Butler into a starter's role this early, but I have high hopes for the kid, and would love to see him get a chance i.e. Joe Burnett last year. Lewis can't be much worse than either McFadden or Gay, and I'd really like to see him step up now that he's been activated.
3. Coaching: I'm not gonna take up cyberspace here blasting Tomlin and LeBeau. I'm giving them both passes as both have gained my trust and confidence-LeBeau more than Tomlin, but I digress. Bruce Arians is an entirely different story. I've been on the Arians-hater train before, but figured I'd step back and give him another chance in 2010, after the Rooneys publicly declared there would be more of a commitment to the ground game. At first, I was impressed. The play calling in the weeks without Ben was both creative and balanced, if not more run-oriented. Now, with Ben back, it was only natural for the passing game to be called upon more often, which I had no problem with so long as the offense could continue to have a committed ground game, and a bit of creativity. For the most part I was not disappointed in the first two games that we had Ben back. I'm still pretty content with the number of run plays being called, but another problem arose. It made itself glaringly obvious against New Orleans and again this past week against the Patsies. Where is the short to intermediate range passing game? I'm not going to pretend I know everything/anything about the schematics of an NFL offense, and how it should be run, but I know enough to understand that the offense is not consistent enough. Sure there has to be some blame pointed at the players and injuries sustained at certain positions, but these problems-3rd down and Red Zone scoring %-have been problems in the past with healthy and talented players. Since taking over as OC, Arians' red zone offenses have been inconsistent to say the least. This has not changed this year. I think we were 27th coming into this game in touchdowns in the RZ % with something in the 40% range. But no doubt most of you have heard this all before. As far as what should be done moving forward? Nothing. It makes no sense to cut an OC in the middle of the year at this point. However looking beyond this season, I pray we find a new candidate for the position.
4. Heart. Where was it? The Steelers needed to come out like the Patriots did, pissed off and hungry. Of course it helps when you lose to Cleveland the week before, but I miss the Steelers that came out at the beginning of the year; the Steelers that flipped Vince Young, slammed Chris Johnson, drilled the Browns wide receivers, and figuratively flipped off Goodell and his two-faced entourage with their "too mean, too nasty" style of play. Where are they? Where are Ryan Clark's bone-crunching hits, LaMarr Woodley's abuse of QB's? Are they all truly gone, eliminated by Ray Anderson and the movement to make the NFL simply a game of playground tag? The Steelers swore that they wouldn't change their style of play despite the NFL's shenanigans, and yet I can't help but notice a slight drop off in the ferocity they brought to the game back in the first few weeks of the season. If I'm the Steelers coaching staff, I'd be telling my players to push the limit. Go out there and test how hard and violent you can be before the zebras start throwing flags. Certainly don't go out there with the intention to lead with the helmet, or to purposely injure opposing players, but push the envelope. Get chippy, scrappy, pissed, etc.. Besides, the NFL, despite all its puffed-out-chest proclamations, waving of fingers, and dire threats of discipline, have missed two helmet-to-helmet collisions with our own beloved Hines Ward, in both the New Orleans game, and in this past week's matchup with the Brady Bunch. It's not that I would have flagged either hit, but based off the NFL's new "ramped up" enforcement of such collisions, I should be seeing laundry on the field, and grudgingly filled out checks from the defenders responsible soon after both of those hits. As far as I can tell, or discern, neither have been the case. I heard that the Patriot who hit Ward may be fined but haven't heard anything since. Can anyone confirm or deny this? In any case I just want to see the return of "hit-'em-right-in-the-freakin'-mouth" football.
Despite the negativity and doomsday predictions we saw as a result of the humbling loss to New England, this season is far from over. The final 7 games provide a relatively easy schedule with 2, maybe 3 exceptions. The two clear threats we face are the Ravens and the Jets. Some may make a case for Oakland this week, but if we bring our A-game, and play pissed off football, we should win by a comfortable margin.
The remainder of the season looks like this.
|1||Nov 21||OAK @ PIT||Heinz Field||1:00 PM||Tickets||CBS||708||125 (OAK)
|12||Nov 28||PIT @ BUF||Ralph Wilson Stadium||1:00 PM||Tickets||CBS||705||147 (PIT)
|13||Dec 05||PIT @ BAL||M&T Bank Stadium||8:20 PM||Tickets||NBC||126 (PIT)
|14||Dec 12||CIN @ PIT||Heinz Field||1:00 PM||Tickets||CBS||706||126 (CIN)
|15||Dec 19||NYJ @ PIT||Heinz Field||4:15 PM||Tickets||CBS||716||123 (NYJ)
|16||Dec 23||CAR @ PIT||Heinz Field||8:20 PM||Tickets||NFLN||126 (CAR)
|17||Jan 02||PIT @ CLE||Cleveland Browns Stadium||1:00 PM||Tickets||CBS||707||146 (PIT)
As stated above, the Ravens and Jets are our biggest games left, games we are capable of winning. In all honesty we are capable of winning out, which would mean a stellar 13-3 finish and most likely a division title, but I'll be realistic say we drop one to either the Jets or Ravens and finish up 6-1, giving us a 12-4 record and what should be a playoff berth. Carolina and Buffalo should be blow outs. None of the crap we pulled in the November not to be mentioned last year, straight up blow out, statement games. The biggest statement of all would be to beat both Baltimore and New York, and prance into the playoffs with what would likely be the number 1 or 2 seed. Even if by some ungodly reason we drop a third game, there's still a good chance we make it as a wildcard team. Anything more than 3 losses and we can throw in the towel. If we play like the team I know we can be than 7-0 and 6-1 are not out of the question. Don't despair yet Steeler Nation, there's still a lot of football left to be played, and don't take it for granted either, as it looks like there won't be any football to watch come 2011. On that cheery note I'll let you all get back to your lives, but not before I leave you with a farewell piece of what I like to think is somewhat accurate draft insight. It's not an HSS post without it :).
HighSchoolSteeler's Top 3 players to watch for in the 2011 draft:
#1. Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
A junior with measurables and speed very similar to those of Darrelle Revis, Harris brings a dynamic factor into the secondary. He is an impressive cover corner who is both willing and effective against the ground game. He'll probably end up being a top 20 pick if he declares in 2011, but may fall a little with the rise of Janorice Jenkins.
My guess at the current CB rankings for the potential 2011 Draft:
1. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU-Junior
2. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska-Senior
3. Janorice Jenkins, CB, Florida-Junior
4. Bradon Harris, CB, Miami-Junior
5. Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia-Senior
#2. Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida
Everybody, including myself wants to see this pick happen. Not only would having the Pouncey twins on the same team be a story worthy of a movie and book deal, it would mean yet another massive upgrade for the offensive line at the position, which is easily the weakest on the unit. Pouncey, like his brother, is a well-rounded lineman with both power and quickness. He does need to improve in pass protection, but he's a little bit bigger then his stellar brother, so hopefully that will translate into Mike being an even stronger player.
Scouting Report from nflmocks.com-great site for fellow draft nuts.
#3. Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia
Think Ike Taylor, but with better hands. Of course that isn't the only distinction between the two, but Dowling stands at about 6'2" 200lbs, and can bring the heat on opposing receivers, tight ends, running backs, etc.. He plays with great effort against the run, hits exceptionally hard for a CB, and does especially well in zone. He doesn't have great straight line speed, but he makes up for it with a big stride. He's also said to possess great character and leadership, and an intense competitive drive. Right now teams are uncertain with where he'll line up in the NFL; it may be safety or corner, but regardless, his addition could be of great help to our fading secondary.
Disclaimer: All of the previous 3 player summaries are compiled from scouting reports, and were not necessarily gathered by my own observations. I merely and reproducing what I have heard, seen, or read about the individual.