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Steelers 75th Season Is In The Books

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I purposefully stayed away from the site yesterday - too much disappoint, too much frustration. When you put as much time into following a team as I do, it's I suppose to be expected that there will be a letdown. Even though I was prepared for it, it still stung.

Here's the talking points I'd like to focus on today and tomorrow. I'll elaborate further in subsequent posts:

1) Big Ben showed his youth and propensity to force things in the first half. To his credit, he responded with an outstanding 2nd half of football, and it was nearly enough for us to sneak out the W. If he has the pieces in place around him, there's no doubt in my mind he's a Super Bowl caliber QB. I couldn't have been more impressed by his response in the 2nd half.

2) Our offense can be scary good, even when our running game is next to nonexistant.

As I thought might be the case, we allowed Heath Miller to eat on Saturday, especially in the 2nd half. 8 catches for 85 yards. Hines Ward finished the day with 10 catches for 135 yards. 50% on 3rd down. All impressive numbers for an offense relying on their 3rd string LT and missing their star RB. Turnovers and sacks were too much to overcome though. More on this soon.

3) The D has serious issues

Sure, the offensive line needs some serious retooling this offseason. But so does the defense, and perhaps even more. Foote, Farrior and Haggans don't provide enough punch in the trenches. Plain and simple. They're all good players in their own right, but collectively, they've really struggled to dominate for just about the entire second half of the season. The good news however has been the late play of LaMarr Woodley, our 2nd round draft choice from Michigan. 2 more sacks on Saturday night for LaMarr, giving him 6 for the season if you count the Playoffs. That's in extremely limited playing time guys. If Timmons can develop and stay healthy this offseason, our LB corp should be younger, faster and more versatile. I should also note that the return of Ryan Clark next year will be huge. We've not spoken much about his absence this year, but as the season progressed, it became more and more clear that we missed his intelligent, steady presence. Tyrone Carter got abused Saturday. From reader datruth4life earlier in the year about Clark:

On the other hand, Anthony Smith didn't do that good of an imitation of Ryan Clark last night when he went high on McGahee and whiffed. That's why Clark has been able to fend off A. Smith up to this point -- he makes the plays he is supposed to make and is where he is supposed to be. Not a knock against A. Smith, who has star potential. It's just that coaches feel more comfortable with the known than the unknown. The team will probably need both this week, as they mix a little 3-deep with Cover 2 to stop the big, bad browns (being a little facetious, there). Clark plays well on special teams too.
Yup, sounds about right. Clark definitely makes several of the tackles T. Carter was late on, including perhaps the 4th down run by Garrad late in the game that kept them alive and positioned them to win.

The defense did play much better Saturday than they had a few weeks ago against the Jags, and for that I tip my cap. The unit nevertheless needs some recalibrating though in the future, perhaps both scheme and personnel wise.  

4)Special Teams matters

No need to explain this one. Maurice Jones Drew's kickoff return following our opening TD drive absolutely killed the momentum we had valiantly earned to start the game. The next thing we knew it was 21-7. At the conlcusion of the game, we yielded a 16 yard punt return that put Jacksonville in golden position to kick a game-winning FG.  Daniel Sepulveda also didn't punt like a 4th round draft choice. He'll need to be better next year in similar situations.

5) Mike Tomlin is still learning

I've yet to read all the gameday comments and diaries, but I'm assuming at least one person called out Tomlin for his decision to go for 2 with that much time left in the 4th quarter. We could argue all day on that one. I tend to believe that we should have kicked the XP, as there were points being put on the board all day long - no reason to think that would be the last of the scoring with 10 minutes left. Still, you never know, that's just the way the cookie crumbled this time for us.

I loved his decision to go for it on 4th down though down by 5 with about 6 minutes left. Many coaches would kick there and make it a 2 point game. Tomlin let his red-hot offense stay on the field. Gutsy. Much more on Tomlin's first year as a coach.

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This is just the tip of the iceberg from me today. I just wanted to throw something out there to open up the discussion before moving on to some more detailed thoughts about the game, a game we should have won.

Go Steelers!