Parity Time - or, A Bit of Perspective on the Bills Game

Okay, I get it.  It was an ugly win, we were lucky rather than particularly good, we didn't make necessary adjustments in the second half, people didn't make catches/tackles/stops they should have made, and even our kicker, who proved so clutch for us, fell a bit short in his kick offs.  Fine.  But we won.  All of the hand-wringing about how the way we played is not good enough to beat the Ravens, or the Jets, or whoever, is completely beside the point, as far as I'm concerned.  Because if we didn't know it before, we ought to realize now that consistency is not a hallmark of the 2010 edition of the Steelers.  Especially on the offensive side, there just isn't something you know you are going to see, game after game, that lets you settle back and feel that things are in good hands.  We might wish it was, but it's not.  And maybe that isn't such a bad thing.

So it was an ugly win.  It was still a win.  Although this isn't a consistent team (other than the D consistently stuffing the running game for a variety of teams, some of them with very good runners,) it is an exciting one, as long as your doctor tells you that your heart is healthy enough to watch them play. So here's some things to put it into perspective, after the jump.

Let's start with Ben.  We're still not quite sure whether Rusty Ben is going to make an appearance in any given game.  Not like the lucky Colts fans, for example, who know that they are going to see quick, perfectly executed passes play after play from the Great Peyton Manning.  Well, except for last night, when he threw 4 interceptions en route to losing to the Chargers, 36-14. Ben, on the other hand, ran around the field like a chicken with its head cut off, Bills defenders dangling from his jersey, and ran the ball when he had to, on a sprained foot.  It might not have been pretty.  He might have made some miscalculations.  But I'll take Ben over Peyton, win or lose.  A city so strongly rooted in the blue-collar ethos needs a blue-collar quarterback, and for that, Ben's your guy.

Alright, but what about the O line?  Maybe they aren't healthy.  Maybe we're playing with a lot of backups.  But dang it, it's their job to keep Ben upright!  And what about all those penalties?  Well, I have to confess that this one is tougher.  Let's take the penalties first. 

Obviously the penalties are not a good thing.  Let's assume for the purposes of argument that all of the holding penalties called were legitimate, since even if the league apologizes for each and every call this week, which they won't, it doesn't make any difference to the outcome of the game.  There are a few factors to consider here.   The first is that holding penalties are being called more often overall.  The Washington Post published an article about this earlier in the season.The article is worth a read, but for those too impatient to click through, here's the point:

According to the league's figures, offensive holding penalties are up 23 percent through four weeks of the season over the number called during the same period last year. It's an increase the NFL's leaders attribute in large part to the offseason decision to move one of the game officials, the umpire, from a spot on the defensive side of the ball to the offensive backfield near the head referee.

This is probably one of the reasons that the number in the "Harrison holds not called" column is as low as it is - because more holds overall are being called than in the past.  The other thing that factors into this is that a lineman who is getting beat tends to hold. I guess I'm willing to accept a few holding penalties as the cost of doing business when you have a quarterback like Ben who insists on extending plays. Better a holding penalty than a damaged quarterback. Special Teams holds are something else.  I can't see any excuse for holding on Special Teams, and I hope that Al Everest comes down on those early and often. And I hope he gives Keyaron Fox a dressing-down for the late hit as well.  That was just dumb.

But back to the O line.  You have to love the run blocking, for the most part, but what about all the sacks they're giving up?  Well, I hate to see them, and I'm always yelling at the line to take care of Ben, but surprisingly, Ben isn't the most sacked QB in the league this year.  That would be Jay Cutler, with 37 sacks right now.  Ben has 19.  If you divide those 19 sacks by the 7 games he's played, you get an average of 2.71 sacks per game, and multiplied by 11 games, you get just under 30 sacks - plenty, but still well under Cutler's 37 sacks.  And curiously, the number of times that Ben is sacked doesn't seem to correlate to how well he plays.  He was sacked 3 times in 2 games - New Orleans and Cleveland.  His passer rating in the New Orleans game was his worst in 2010 - 66.8.  His passer rating in Cleveland was his best in 2010 - 132.0.  I never like to see Ben on the ground, but between his style of play and our constantly fluctuating and seriously banged-up O line, we might just as well accept the reality that his sack numbers probably aren't going to improve much this season. 

Well, okay, but we can all agree that our defensive backs suck, right?  In a word, no.  Do they get beat a lot?  Well, yes, but part of that is due to our scheme, and if the point is to not give away the big play, they have mostly been quite successful.  And while William Gay definitely has his less-than-stellar moments, he has also made some big plays this season. Yesterday he was a critical part of one of the game's biggest plays - the batted-away pass to the end zone that Troy dove in and grabbed for an interception.  Yes, Troy was amazing, but if Gay doesn't knock that away it's another TD for Buffalo. Should we have drafted a high-round corner this season?  Ike has been mostly terrific, B Mac not so much.  But who would you propose that we lose from the first few rounds instead?  Pouncey?  I thought not.  Jason WorildsEmmanuel Sanders

Maybe you need more information to make that decision.  So let's assume that nobody is willing to give up Pouncey, and look at corners taken in rounds 2 and 3 of the draft.  There were only 2 CBs taken in the 2nd round, both ahead of us.  Chris Cook plays for the Vikings, and as far as I can tell gets the same complaints people make about B Mac.  Of course, we can presume that he will get better as he gets more experience, but here was the draft assessment for him, in 'weaknesses" - "Cook only possesses average speed and probably isn’t suited to play on an island. Does not have the necessary lateral quickness to shadow sharp route runners at the next level..."  Hmm - I'm not sure that's an upgrade, for this year, anyhow.  The other corner, Javier Arenas, taken by the Chiefs, has primarily been used as a returner on special teams, with a few looks in the nickel package.  In the third round there were five corners taken, three ahead of our pick of Manny Sanders and two after.  One of them, Amari Spievey for the Lions, has been moved to safety.  Kevin Thomas for the Colts was IR'd in August, Brandon Ghee for the Bengals has only played in 6 games, mostly ST. The accumulated stats for Myron Lewis, taken by the Bucs, during the 5 games in which he played, are 2 tackles, 0 interceptions, 0 forced fumbles. I think I'll stick with Worilds and Sanders. It would be nice to have an All-World corner like Darelle Revis of the Jets.  That would be the Jets who were shut out by the Falcons.  The same Falcons that we beat without our first-string quarterback.  So let's move on.

What about our coaches?  We experts here on BTSC are always yelling about how our coaches don't make adjustments in the second half.  In light of that, I found this quote interesting:

...according to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, there were no adjustments made a halftime. Simply put, the Bills finally had the ball in the second half, allowing them to gain yardage...'That first half was so hard because...they had some long drives where we just didn't have the ball.  It is hard to get stuff going when you don't have the ball.'" (Mark Kaboly, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

If I was the coach, and my team had completely won the TOP battle, and was up 13 to 0, I would be feeling pretty good about my game plan.  Yes, it's annoying that the Bills then came back with 16 points to force overtime, but they've done that to a few teams this year. 

Our game plan, our coaching staff, our players, our Gatorade squirters, and whoever else affects the outcome of our games may not be good enough to beat the Ravens next weekend.  But  then again, they might.  In closing, I'd like to remind everyone that those same Bills took the Ravens into overtime before the Ravens won.  In the process, the Ravens gave up 505 yards and 4 TDs before Ray Lewis ripped the ball out of the hands of TE Shaun Nelson.  It is worth noting as well that their nose tackle, Kyle Williams, who was in Ben's face all day yesterday, had an ankle injury during the week prior to the Ravens game and had one of his very worst games of the season - only 3 tackles, no sacks.  The final score?  37-34. 

Any Given Sunday, folks. There's a graphic making the rounds showing the sort of snake eating its own tail idea, showing who has beat whom this year, demonstrating that even the 'best' teams have been beaten by some of the 'worst' ones. It's a crazy year, and we're part of that craziness. Here's hoping that we get some healthy linemen back, that the coaches come up with some crafty stuff, that a few of the players have some anger management counseling, and that we do what is necessary to come away with another W next week.  Even if it ain't pretty.

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