When was the last time you were embarassed as a Steelers fan? Seriously, try to remember. The Steelers-Raiders game in '06 was pretty awful, as was the second Ravens game in Week 16 of that year, in a game actually that would have put us in the playoffs (assuming we still would have beaten Cincy in Week 17). There's others, obviously, both in recent memory, intermittently in the Cowher years when our offense was painfully one-dimensional and ineffective, and of course during various times in the 1980s, during the final years of the previously pristine and glorious Chuck Noll era.
But what we saw today from our offense was shocking. I believe one of you guys or gals said today that it was like the Eagles had found some secret button on a video game that was unstoppable. So true. Another commentor, Steeler Ric, said:
Yeah our Oline is average at best, and definitely stunk it up today, but they are professionals. The Eagles made us look like a poor college team. I dont recall too many NFL Offenses ever getting dominated like we did today. I’m embarassed.
It got so bad that fellow Steelers fans and I at the neighborhood bar were laughing, almost uncontrollably even, knowing that the next wave of pressure was just a few seconds away from the Eagles defenders. I even remember saying late in the game, when we got the ball back inside the ten yard line again (after the first safety and the score just 12-6), that 'well, another safety would still make it just a one score game.'
For those of you who have read for years, you know that I'm very optimistic, perhaps too much at times, while of course still trying to be analytical and reasonable about what my eyes are seeing. Hell, re-read the comments in the open-thread and you'll notice that I thought we might still have a chance at half time. But by day's end, I was calling for the worst, before it happened, knowing that nothing was changing on this day for the Steelers.
Anyway, enough about that and on to why today was one of the darkest days in Steelers history, as far as I'm concerned. Coaching. First, before I sully your name Mr. Dick LeBeau, you're excused sir from the room. You were amazing, again, today, inspiring your players and finding new and clever ways to confuse McNabb and Andy Reid in the second half, after the Eagles had done what'er they pleased in the air in the first half, even if the scoreboard didn't prove it.
Now, on to the culprits.
I have no idea exactly how offensive line coaches teach their craft, but at this point, I think it's clear that Larry Zeirlein has to go. We may not have the biggest and best horses in the stables, but the sack numbers are out of hand. Sorry. No time at the moment to check the historical presedence of whether OLine coaches have been fired mid-season in the past before, but if so, and if we can get someone in immediately without totally disrupting the flow of the season, then by all means, let's pull the trigger. Enough is enough in his case.
Bruce Arians. I'm actually going to hold off and have a post later today or tomorrow about some thoughts on what might have worked better. For now though, I think it's safe to say that Arians just got embarassed by Jim Johnson today. I will go into this more later, but the put Heath Miller back there to block with a RB thing was a joke. That shit didn't work one lick. Instead, what we needed to do was simply flare a RB into the flat, let Ben dump it over the outside blitzer's head, then let FWP hopefully make a guy miss. Ever seen New Orleans play? Ever seen that Drew Brees doesn't get sacked? Believe me, their O Line isn't THAT much better than ours, yet each week, Brees puts up huge numbers without taking many hits. Why? Because he just dumps it off to Bush when the blitz is on. And because they do that so much, teams can't blitz quite the same! Novel! I know.
For all of you who have been clamoring that we didn't try any screens. WE DID try many screens. Problem is, the screens we run are these chicken shit slow developing WR screens, not simple, easily executable screens to our RBs. Those WR screens towards the middle of the field rarely work. Maybe in a Toledo vs. Fresno State game. But not in the National Football League where defensive lineman can detonate a pocket in 3 seconds or fewer. Just terrible stuff from Bruce today. The worst offensive performance I've maybe ever seen as an NFL fan. Perhaps only a mid 90s Bengals team or a Stoney Case led Ravens team back in 1999. That bad.
That said, it's on Mike Tomlin to make Bruce figure it the f*&k out. Sure, Tomlin's pedigree may be as a defensive guy, but that matters not. Some things are visible to even us, just fans. Surely, as a head coach in the NFL, he can pick up on some things to suggest to his struggling OC. Maybe not in game, but there needs to be some serious time spent this week (a long week, mind you, since we play on MNF next week) between Tomlin and Arians.
We'll get into that subject more, but what about the decision to go for it on 4th and long late in the game, when we needed two scores to win? Not that it mattered, since clearly we weren't going to win this game. But that doesn't absolve a coach from making the practical decision there. You kick the FG, extend, the game, hope the opponent tightens up a bit, then see what transpires. Going for it on 4th and 10 just doesnt; make much sense.
One final thought before sigining off. This too will be a subject for discussion throughout the week (and year, most likely). What I hope we see is simply some changes along the line. Max Starks, grab your helmet. Darnell Stapleton, you ready? Let me be real clear about one thing. If we're willing to burn $7 mil watching Starks ride the pine, why aren't we willing to burn big bucks benching other more highly paid players in favor of younger (potentially more motivated and better) guys. Like, for example, what if we had Starks at T, Essex at T, Stapleton at G, Chris K at G, and Hartwig at C. Or something similar (perhaps Colon at G, Stapleton at C). Point is, we're burning money as is. Why not burn money while trying other combinations? Above all else, I was sick of sticking with what was not working last year for continuity's sake. That's the definiton of insanity, no? Repeating over and over what's not working?
The sky ain't falling. No team looks great each week in this league. The internals looked good through two weeks, so we're not quite in a fixed pattern yet. That's the good news. The bad news is we just got enough evidence to last a lifetime that this team has serious, serious flaws on offense in two very critical areas: the line and the coaching department.