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Archive for September, 2011

Steelers vs. Texans Preview

September 29, 2011 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

The Steelers will travel to Houston to take on the Texans on Sunday.  The game will be televised nationally on CBS.

This is a pivotal game for both teams.  Each team has a 2-1 record, but both teams have shown major flaws which need to be addressed.

The Texans have traditionally been a high-scoring team.  This year they’re 7th in the NFL in scoring, averaging 30 points per game.  However, despite the impressive scoring output, the Texans’ offense has actually struggled.  They’ve played without 2010 NFL rushing leader Arian Foster for most of the season, and they’ve struggled in the red-zone without him.

Foster’s back-up, Ben Tate, has been more than adequate in Foster’s absence.  He’s run for 301 yards in the Texans first 3 games, and the Texans rank fifth in the NFL in rushing yards.  However, the Texans rank 30th in the NFL in red-zone percentage.   They’ve managed to score on just 5 of 16 trips inside the 20 yard line.  Last week, against the New Orleans Saints, they were only able to score a touchdown on 1 of their 5 times in the red-zone.  Instead of touchdowns, they settled for 4 field goals.

Last year, Foster led the NFL in rushing touchdowns, and the Texans were fifth in red-zone percentage.  So his return should do a lot to help fix their red-zone woes.

The Steelers have had struggles of their own.  They’ve had difficulty playing on the road so far.  They got crushed in Baltimore, and barely squeezed out a win last week in Indianapolis.  So traveling to Houston may not be a good thing for the Steelers.

But perhaps more concerning for the Steelers is the fact that their offensive line, which was already struggling, got dinged up pretty badly against the Colts.  Jonathan Scott, Doug Legursky, and Marcus Gilbert all got hurt during the game.

Colts’ defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis had their way with the Steelers offensive line last week.  And things aren’t going to get any better this week when they face the Texans’ Mario Williams.  Williams is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, and he may be better than either Freeney or Mathis.

Steelers left tackle Jonathan Scott seems to struggle against speed rushers.  He also struggles against big, powerful bull rushers.  He actually got pushed backwards fairly consistently last week by Dwight Freeney, who is fairly small for his position.  So what’s he going to do against Mario Williams, who is big, strong, and super fast?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, Williams is slightly bigger than Brett Keisel, but he runs like Lawrence Timmons.  See the problem?

Another player who may give the Steelers problems is Texans’ wide receiver Andre Johnson.  Johnson is one of the best receivers in the league.  He’s 3rd in the league in receiving, and will provide a worthy challenge for Steelers’ cornerback Ike Taylor.

Ultimately, the final outcome of the game may be determined by the Steelers’ front 7.  If they can stop the Texans’ running game, that will greatly aid in sealing a win.  Over the past 10 years, the Steelers have been one of the best teams in the NFL at stopping the run.  But for some reason, they’ve struggled in that area this season.

In particular, the left side of the Steelers’ defense has struggled.  Aaron Smith has been unsuccessful at holding his ground and occupying blockers, and LaMarr Woodley has applied almost no pressure to the quarterback.

I anticipate the Steelers are going to struggle with offensive line issues for the rest of the season.  That same issue has plagued the team for at least the last 3 seasons, so there’s nothing new there.  But if Smith and Woodley can pick up their respective games, then the Steelers have a real chance of leaving Houston with a victory.

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How bad are the Steelers?

September 27, 2011 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

The Steelers were the champions of the AFC in 2010.  But as the 2011 season began, it quickly, and painfully, became apparent that something had changed.

Small chinks started appearing in the Steelers’ armor.  First, they got manhandled by the Baltimore Ravens.  They failed in just about every area in that game.  Then their defense couldn’t put pressure on the Seattle Seahawks quarterback for 3 quarters.  It wasn’t until the 4th quarter, when the game was already all but decided, that the Steelers were effective at pressuring the quarterback.  Then against the Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts, they weren’t able to secure a win until the final 8 seconds of the game.  Moreover, they allowed what had been one of the worst run defenses in the NFL to completely shut down their running game.

All of these events leave Steeler Nation with one burning question; How bad are the 2011 Steelers?

On paper, the Steelers look pretty good.  Their record is 2-1.  That’s good enough to leave them  tied for first place in the AFC North.  In fact, they have the second best record in the entire AFC.

But looks can be deceiving.  What looks like diamonds can quickly be found to be cubic zirconia.  That may be the case with the Steelers.

Sure, the Steelers have essentially the same roster that went to the Super Bowl last year.  But after 3 games, the Steelers appear to have aged in dog years over the off-season.

The Steelers’ primary weaknesses from last year, the offensive line and the cornerbacks, don’t seem to have improved.

The offensive line may actually be weaker than it was last year.  The Steelers released Flozell Adams during the off-season.  Flozell had been their 2nd most consistent offensive lineman (after Maurkice Pouncey) last year.  But with Willie Colon appearing to be fully healthy, the team made the decision to release Adams.    We all know how that turned out.  Colon is injured, and will miss the entire season (again), and the Steelers are struggling to successfully fill the right tackle position.

But the left tackle position, arguably the most important position on the offensive line, may be in even worse shape.  Jonathan Scott was named the starter at that position, and saying that he has “struggled” would be an understatement.  He’s playing so badly that I won’t be surprised if he gets Ben Roethlisberger killed.  Literally.

Ben takes another hit.

Cornerbacks Bryant McFadden and William Gay were clearly weak links on the team last year.  So the Steelers drafted 2 rookie cornerbacks during the off-season.  Unfortunately, the NFL lockout essentially robbed the two rookies of their freshman season.  Moreover, Keenan Lewis wasn’t able to surpass McFadden or Gay on the depth chart, and Crezdon Butler didn’t make the final roster.  So McFadden and Gay continue to be the #2 and #3 cornerbacks on the team (behind Ike Taylor), just like last year.

The defensive line also seems to have regressed.  Aaron Smith returned from the injury that kept him off the field in 2010, but through 3 games, he doesn’t look like the same player.  Casey Hampton has been all but invisible this season, and most fans accepted long ago that his days as a Pro Bowl caliber player were behind him.  And Brett Keisel is out with an injury.

But the biggest decline may have come from the linebackers.  James Harrison is still recovering from 2 off-season back surgeries, and hasn’t looked like himself.  James Farrior looks noticeably slower, and the team has been giving Larry Foote more playing time in Farrior’s spot.  Lawrence Timmons has been solid, but not outstanding, and LaMarr Woodley has apparently been kidnapped.  At least that’s how it appears.  I haven’t seen Woodley do anything meaningful on the field yet.  Have you?

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is also off to a rough start.  He’s already been sacked 9 times in only 3 games.  He’s also thrown 3 interceptions.  But perhaps the most concerning thing is how often he’s being forced to fumble the ball this season.  Some of the blame for that goes to the offensive line, but it’s a concern nonetheless.

The running game also seems to have taken a step backwards.  Rashard Mendenhall must have gotten jealous watching Hines Ward compete on “Dancing With the Stars”, because he seems to be auditioning for the show.  He spends more time dancing from side to side, and spinning like a ballerina, than he does actually running for positive yardage.  Note to Bruce Arians:  More Isaac Redman.

On the positive side, Troy Polamalu has been playing great.  He seemed determined to beat the Indianapolis Colts all by himself.

The wide receivers may be the best unit on the entire team.  Mike Wallace is a legitimate star, and Antonio Brown has made huge improvements since last year.  I can’t be the only one who has been thinking that it might be time for Brown to replace Hines Ward in the starting line-up, can I?

Despite these bright spots, the overall picture is not a good one.  The team seems to have regressed since last year.

So just how bad are the Steelers?  Through 3 games, the answer appears to be “pretty bad”.  They’re not as bad as the Kansas City Chiefs or St. Louis Rams.  But if they don’t improve drastically, there’s a very real chance that they may go 0-2 against the Baltimore Ravens this year.  Moreover, they may do no better than going 1-1 against the Cleveland Browns.

Need I say more?

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Steelers (Barely) Beat Colts

September 26, 2011 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

When the game was over, the scoreboard showed a win.  But just barely.

The Steelers defeated the Indianapolis Colts by a score of 23-20, in a game that wasn’t supposed to be that close.

The Colts were without their superstar quarterback Peyton Manning.  That alone, put them at a significant disadvantage coming into the game.  No other team relies on one player the way the Colts depend on Manning.  Without him, the Colts’ season was supposed to be a hopeless cause.

Not only was Manning out, but the Colts were without several other starters as well.  Moreover, the Colts were forced to bring in 90 year old quarterback Kerry Collins to replace Manning right before the start of the season.  Nobody expected Collins to even come close to being able to carry the team in Manning’s absence.

And then, to make a hopeless situation seem even more futile, Collins had to leave the game with a concussion, and somebody named  Curtis Painter (who?) had to play quarterback for the Colts.

Curtis Painter gets sacked.

Had this scenario been described to most fans prior to the game, they would have likely predicted a 54-0 win by the Steelers.  But that’s not what happened.

Despite being short-handed, the Colts hung with the Steelers to the very end.  In fact, they led the Steelers 13-10 at the beginning of the 4th quarter.

Somebody forgot to tell the Colts’ defense that they had no hope of winning the game.  They pressured Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger all night.  They sacked him, intercepted his passes, and forced him to fumble the ball.

More importantly, the Colts’ defensive line beat up the Steelers’ offensive line the way Ike Turner beat Tina Turner.  Dwight Freeney made Jonathan Scott look like an abuse victim.  He beat him more ways than I thought were possible.  At times, I thought Scott was wearing a pair of roller skates.  Freeney had him moving backwards so fast, Scott had to be on wheels.  In fact, Scott was moving backwards so fast at times that I’m certain it defied the laws of physics.

Rashard Mendenhall also got completely humbled in the game.  The futility that he experienced running the ball was probably partially due to the ineffectiveness of the offensive line.  Nevertheless, it would have been nice to see Mendenhall run for more than one yard on most of his carries.

Mewelde Moore seemed to be much more effective running the ball when he came into the game.  And he was running behind the same offensive line that Mendenhall did.  In fact, by the time they started using Moore, the O-line was already depleted.  So Mewelde’s performance seems even more impressive as compared to Mendenhall’s.

Despite their struggles, the Steelers were able to squeeze out a win.  Kicker Shaun Suisham booted a field goal with 8 seconds left in the game to give the Steelers a 3 point victory.

The Steelers are now 2-1.  On paper, that sounds good.  But anyone who watched that game knows that the Steelers just barely won, and things are far from good.

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Talking to the Enemy (Part 2)

September 25, 2011 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

In our last article, we interviewed Indianapolis Colts blogger Kyle Rodriguez from the blog Coltsider. He gave very candid answers to our questions about Sunday night’s Steelers-Colts game.

Coltsider also interviewed us to get our perspective on the game as well.  Our answer can be found on their blog right now.

If you’re interested in reading the interview, click here.

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Talking to the enemy

September 24, 2011 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

As a prelude to Sunday’s Steelers/Colts game, we decided to interview an Indianapolis Colts blogger.

Our guest is Kyle Rodriguez of Coltsider.  We’ve asked Kyle a few questions about the upcoming game.

1)  Is there any way that the Colts can overcome the loss of Peyton Manning, particularly if Manning is out for an extended period?

In short, no.  Peyton Manning does more for the Colts than any other player in the league.  You can see that just in the last two games.  The Colts have built their team around Manning and his strengths, and until this year it’s worked out fairly well for them.  But for this season, there isn’t much the Colts can do in order to overcome his absence.

Most Colts fans have, and should have, resigned themselves to the fact that this is most likely a lost season.  That being said, there still are things the coaching staff can do in order to improve the team sans-Manning.  For example, I’ve called for them to experiment more with struggling young players Donald Brown and Jerry Hughes.  Both players have tremendous talent, but aren’t great fits for the Colts’ system.  Now would be the time to try some experiments.

2)  What players/strategy do you think the Colts should rely on to carry the team in Mannings’ absence?

The Colts are going to need to rely on their running game much more this season than in the past.  Kerry Collins and the questionable offensive line aren’t reliable enough to lean on.  Fortunately, the run game has looked much improved in the last couple of weeks.  But, due to falling behind early, the Colts have had to abandon the running game much earlier than one would like.

For players, the Colts will rely on the veterans to lead the team. Antoine Bethea, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and Reggie Wayne will likely be the most important.

3)  Which group (e.g. Linebackers, Offensive line, Cornerbacks, etc.) do you think are the Colts greatest strength right now?

The Colts’ greatest strength for me is their defensive ends.  The pass rushing duo of Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney have terrorized the league for years, and don’t show signs of slowing down.  Mathis was a terror in last week’s game against Cleveland, and Dwight Freeney added another sack/fumble to his resume.  The Colts also added former first round pick Jamaal Anderson over the offseason, who has played very well, especially against the run.

Colts DE Dwight Freeney

Unfortunately, the defensive tackle play has been substandard, bringing down the overall play of the defensive line.

4)  Which group is their greatest weakness right now?

Well, there are a few different areas we could pick on here, but I’d say the secondary as a whole has been disappointing.

Free Safety Antoine Bethea has been steady, but the rest of the group has struggled.  Jerraud Powers was a good #1 cornerback for the last couple years, and showed promise to be even better.  However, thus far into the preseason, he hasn’t impressed at all, he may have even regressed.

Jacob Lacey has been the other starter, and is the fan whipping boy due to the huge cushions he generally gives to receivers.  Whether that is by scheme or by execution is unknown, but either way it isn’t succeeding.

Finally, strong safety Melvin Bullitt was resigned this past offseason, but has been very disappointing over the first two games.  His play against the Browns was possibly the biggest killer on defense, and it will need to improve if the Colts are going to have a shot at winning games this season.

5)  What do you think the Colts are going to need to do to beat the Steelers?

Their only chance is via turnovers.  The Steelers have had a problem with turning the ball over in the first couple games, and the Colts defense has been largely active with the ball as well, forcing five fumbles and two interceptions in the first two games.  If the Colts are going to have any chance of winning this game, they will need to take care of the ball on offense, and force turnovers on defense.

6)  Predict the winner of the game, and the final score.

Steelers 31, Colts 17

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