Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Good News and Bad News: Patriots at Steelers

As I always say: Every time I pick the Steelers to lose, I hope and pray that I'm wrong.  That means I'm glad I was wrong about this game.  Sunday's game was a pretty impressive display by the home team, with more good news than bad.

Good news first:
  1. The big story lines on Monday morning were about how Ben Roethlisberger outdueled Tom Brady, but I think the biggest story from this game was how well the secondary played.  Ike Taylor was already having a big year, but supporting guys like William Gay, Cortez Allen, and Keenan Lewis really picked up their games.  I was surprised (and relieved) to see how well they all played in man coverage.  In general, the Zone Blitz scheme involves more blitzing and zone schemes -- hence the name -- but it was refreshing to see the Steelers take a break from what usually works for them and actually try something that had a good chance of working against the offense they matched up against.  Everyone in the defensive backfield kept the intensity up all game, didn't give up a big play, and tackled well.
  2. I was talking to someone yesterday and they mentioned that the pass rush has been much improved since Brett Keisel came back.  I agree with that, but I also think LaMarr Woodley had a little something to do with the resurgence.  I think Casey Hampton is playing himself back into game shape and Ziggy Hood/Cameron Heyward keep improving game by game.  This is still a unit that has an age problem, but they're starting to silence some of the critics that said they were too old and too slow after the opener against the hated Ravens.
  3. Again, I must be desensitized to pressure on Roethlisberger, because I was surprised to find out that the Patriots sacked him five times on Sunday and recorded four quarterback hits in addition to the sacks.  I thought the offensive line continued to play well and improve.  I thought they looked especially sharp in pass protection.  If they can field the same starting five for the third week in a row in Week 9 against Baltimore, they can really start to build something good.  I'm not going to say "special" or "great," because I don't think this group has that much upside.  I would be more than satisfied with "good" at this point, especially considering how poorly they've played in stretches over the past few seasons.
  4. New England converted 30 percent of their first downs (3 of 10) and the Steelers converted 62.5 percent of theirs (10 of 16).  That's a huge swing.
  5. Time of possession was also a huge factor, with the Steelers winning that battle 39:22-20:38.  They did that by dropping back to pass on 55 of 78 plays, which proves that they can be just as efficient throwing the ball and playing keepaway now as they were running the ball and playing keepaway during the Cowher Era.  They ended up with only 98 yards rushing, but they also averaged 4.3 yards per attempt, so I'm fine with that.  I don't think that they need to pile up a bunch of yards, they just need to be efficient when they run the ball.
Bad news is mostly injury-related:
  1. It looks like Lawrence Timmons -- who still doesn't have a sack this year -- could be the only healthy starting linebacker against the hated Ravens.  Woodley has a hamstring issue, James Harrison is recovering from eye surgery (really can't rush back from something like that), and James Farrior could be out until December with a calf injury.  Marcus Gilbert got hurt again.  It seems to be something slightly different every game, but he also comes out every game.  I think the Steelers should just rest him a week or so and make sure he's completely healthy.  He's a young player that wants to impress the other guys on the roster, so he may be overstating how good he's feeling week to week.
  2. If I were a Patriots fan, I'd be thinking that my team got pretty well dominated in all phases of the game, but still only lost by eight.  That would be the good news for New England and part of the bad news for the Steelers.  This is their third dominant performance of the season: Tennessee and Arizona were the other two -- but it's the first time where they pushed the other team around and weren't comfortably in the lead in the fourth quarter.
  3. The Steelers didn't blow the Patriots out because they were 2-for-5 in the red zone and didn't force any turnovers.  It's true that they're turning the ball over a lot less on offense, but they're still not forcing any turnovers on defense.  At the half way point in the season, they've forced a total of three turnovers and they've converted only half of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns.  That needs to improve if they're going to actually be the favorite in the AFC, as opposed to the chic pick of the week in the AFC.
  4. Shaun Suisham missed another field goal, giving him five misses in 18 attempts.  Those five missed field goals are the most in the NFL.  His 72.2 percent conversion rate is 30th in the league.  I know Heinz Field is a tough place to kick, but there seem to be a number of younger, better guys lying on the scrap heap right now.  Jeff Reed is also available.  If nothing else, the Steelers should bring a few guys in to have a look at them.  Kickers have been getting more and more accurate -- and from longer distances -- over the years, but Suisham has not kept pace.  The Steelers need to find someone who can keep pace.  Jeff Reed is also available.
Don't get me wrong, I'm excited about the fact that I was wrong and that the Steelers won.  I was overjoyed and fairly drunk on Sunday.  The problem is that I don't think they're the team to beat at this point.

Yes, they're leading their division.  Yes, they just beat the Patriots and hold an important tiebreaker for playoff seeding.  Yes, they have a solid defense and an outstanding quarterback.  Yes, the AFC is down this year due to the fact that Peyton Manning has not played and no one seems to want to win the AFC West.

There's still the red zone issue.  There's still the turnovers issue.  There's still a shaky kicker and an offensive line that is being held together by duct tape.  There's the fact that their depth has been tested a bunch already and we're only eight games into the season.  Injuries tend to pile up towards the end of the year and there are limits to every team's depth.  They can't withstand more injuries to the offensive line, defensive line, or linebackers. 

Homefield advantage is nice, but history -- especially Steeler history -- has proven that it doesn't guarantee a Super Bowl.  They're one of the best teams in AFC, but I don't think they're the team to beat just yet.

They still need to beat the hated Ravens on Sunday night.  Wins against the Chiefs and 49ers would help.  They can't choke against the Bengals or Browns.  But, I guess you can still call them the team to beat this week if you really, really want to.

1 comment:

  1. Nice win this week fellas. Don't get me wrong I was pulling for the Pats but good win. Looking forward to the game Sunday night, and I'll be watching for your pre-game analysis and thoughts. I'm curious to see how injuries pan out as well as how your O line can stop the blitz. Although the same can be said about our line as we both have given up a bit of QB hits 38 a piece.