Some thoughts on the disappointing loss today.
* Add another first to Peyton Manning's already long resume: the Colts won for the first time in Pittsburgh since 1968. Makes me sick.
* We sure didnt have any problems to start the game.
* Think back to just one short month or so ago. Not very long. What was still the biggest concern with this team, as it had been all offseason? The offensive line was the main worry. Is it now? No, it's not. The line is not dominant - our struggles in the running game attest to that - but not longer is it a massive liability like it was most of last year and to start this year. The problem now is finding some sort of offensive identity and rhythm within the framework of knowing we have to design plays that quickly get the ball out of the QBs hand. We're still struggling with that, but because the offensive line is not in shambles like last year, there is still cause for hope.
Finally, and I think this is very important: there's reason to believe Ben Roethlisberger will get out of his funk because of the improved play of the offensive line. He hasn't and won't in the future have all day to throw, nor will the running game consistently take the pressure off him entirely to produce. But he will have enough time to do what NFL QBs are expected to do, and that's make good confident decisions and deliver the ball accurately more often than not.
* The Colts had two sacks today. And only one in the first 59:30 of the game.
* Another pretty impressive day from our defense. When you consider the QB we were playing against, it was really all the more impressive. Peyton completed just a hair more than half his passes (21/40) and that YPA of 6 yards is pretty damn outstanding. Throw in a few breaks for the Indy offense and it's easy to see why Steelers fans are frustrated the offense failed to do their part to ensure the win.
* Well, the Steelers offense almost did enough. Say everything played out the way it did except for us converting on 1st and 5 from the Indy 5. We still likely send Jeff Reed on for a game-winner on that 'close but no cigar' final drive of ours. Teams like the 2008 Steelers have to take advantage of opportunities on the goal line. Our offense just isn't high-powered enough to settle for 3 when we get down there.
* I wish we would have gone for it on 4th and 1. Even if we miss we force them march the length of the field. Second guessing doesn't accomplish much, and of course, we see what happened to Kansas City today when they rolled the dice. Tough decision, but the coaches never should have been put in that dilemma in the first place.
* On to Bruce Arians. Well, again, that first drive was a dandy. Then after going three and out, the Steelers offense delivered another 7 points, this time compliments of a 41 yard flea flicker to Hines Ward. A well designed and executed play. It's important to note that we also were still finding ways to get Moore involved even though the running game was struggling. His 10 yard catch and run on 3rd down led to the flea flicker a few plays later.
I have major beef with the series of goal line calls, but other than that, it wasn't a shabby game at all from Arians. He certainly doesn't deserve the same type of criticism that he garnered earlier in the year. It would have been nice to smash the ball down their throats when we got it back up 3 with about 7 minutes to go, but the fact is, we weren't running the ball very effectively all game. I don't much like how that drive that ended with Ben's 2nd pick started with a cutesy pass play to Santonio Holmes on 1st down. But other than that, no major beef.
* One major cause for concern with regards to Arians actually. It was not necessarily today that tipped me off about it, rather, it seems to be developing into an alarming trend: We really seem to struggle offensively in the middle parts of games. Now, last week against Washington, the opposite was true. We were awful to start, a bit better near halftime, then great in the second half. But it seems we've had some nice success early on in games this year only to come crashing to a stand-still for prolong periods of the game afterwards.
* I wonder if Hines Ward read BTSC this week and decided he'd silence any critics who wondered if he was still capable of making plays and earning a fat paycheck :)The answer? Yes. Ward caught 9 passes for 116 yards, and looks to be poised to notch a 70-80 catch season with roughly 850-1000 yards receiving. On this offense, that's legit production.
* Two of Ben's three picks came fairly deep inside our own territory. Those are just killers. Our defense, even without LaMarr Woodley, played good enough to win. But you can't spot Peyton Manning two short fields and expect to survive unscathed. That's unfortunate the focus will shift away from the D's oustanding work stymying the Indianapolis passing game for almost the entire game.
* Ben made three crucial errors, particularly the first two picks, but for the day, he was more accurate than he was against Washington, for sure. He completed 30/42 passes (71%) on the afternoon. That % would be good for tops in the league. Unfortunately, three of those incompletions were back breakers. Professional quarterbacks can not do that and expect to win. But to say he was terrible all game or needs to be cut is laughable. Drew Brees throws picks. So does Peyton Manning. It's an unbelievably fine line between playing very well and costing your team a victory. Ben ended up on the right end of the stick last year with some smart decision making and a little luck. This year, he's been a little more careless with his reads and throws, and he's also gotten a bit unlucky. People will turn to the 8 INTs in four games, but as has been pointed out, only two or three of those have truly been poor decisions.
* So what to do? Well, if he's feeling no worse than he did this week, he will be playing against come next Sunday. The temptation now will be for Ben to press. To try even harder to prove that he still has it. That's EXACTLY what we don't need at this point. What a tricky spot though for the team. We really can't afford not to have a QB who can make all the throws, particularly the deep outs and stopping patterns, as well as the occassional deep ball. If teams are able to just hone in on the middle of the field and not roll a safety back deep to account for the vertical passing game, we're going to be in a lot of trouble. Too many athletes in the NFL to cut off part of the field for an offense. We'll see how his health is this week, but my guess is he'll be playing moving forward. Some may disagree with that, but the fact is you don't bench your franchise QB because of a few bad games and a sore shoulder. Either the string of shoddy play or the severity of the injury will have to be amplified before we see Leftwich again. At least, in my opinion, and that could be for better or worse.
I'm not sure which way I feel right now, but really it's only because I'm scared Ben might try to do too much to compensate rather than toning it down and being much safer with the ball until he finds a comfort zone again a bit further down the road.
Much more on Ben throughout the week.
* Every last big goal or dream for this team is still on the table for two reasons. One, we've shown enough, particularly on defense, to think that we're good enough to beat anybody on any given day. And two, even the league's most dangerous QB Pyeton Manning is on a team that's very beatable. The Titans and Giants continue to impress, but we've seen what we can do against the Giants and the Titans continue to win impressively but not dominatly. We can hang with anybody.
BUT, this loss really hurt. If we lose the division to the Ravens, this loss may REALLY hurt, as Indianapolis is likely a team that will be vying for one of those WC spots. And they now have the head-to-head advantage. That said, the Ravens still have three of the four NFC East teams to play beginning the next two weeks when they play @ New York and home to Philadelphia. In fact, the worse team they play outside of Cincy (which is still on the road) is Jacksonville. The roads about to get a bunch bumpier for them.
We better hope that we can learn from this unique loss and stave off Baltimore to reach the playoffs. From there, anything's possible. We've seen that two of the last three years with #6 seeds winning.
The question though is can we not trip on our own feet and actually make it to the dance.