"You are educated when you have the ability to listen to almost anything
without losing your temper or self-confidence." - Robert Frost

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Steelers 23 Colts 20

Pittsburgh    -11    at Indianapolis       40       -650   +475
Projected Win Pecentage:      84.64%

Good morning.

This might be the most disappointed I’ve seen the Steelers’ fan base following a victory in the Tomlin regime.  And even I take little optimism following the national prime time performance last Sunday night.

It is frustrating as a fan to see the same modus operandi for how we struggle offensively over and over and over again since 2007.  The anger clearly comes from the insanity of watching us do these same things repeatedly.  And to a fan, we all know what these things are:

1.  Dismal offensive line play to the point the plays calls and execution break down so quickly it is laughingstock.

2.  Running plays so poorly designed vs. the opponent’s defensive methods you want to smack your head into a wall.

3.  Unintelligent quarterback play (particularly on the road) resulting in turnovers, untimely sacks to take us out of field goal range and odd play calls/audibles.

4.  A general lack of acknowledgement of these weaknesses from the entire organization both pre-game and post-game that leaves fans dumbfounded and angry.

We can all what-if the personnel decisions this team made over the summer to establish the offensive line players going into the season.  And for some reason injuries are following the group (and Sean Kugler) like some unseen curse.  But this is only part of the problem.

I have stated this since 2008 that the basic issue is the simple fact running the ball is not very high on the priority list for this organization.  The fact remains the background of every major person responsible for our offense (Colbert, Tomlin, Arians, Roethlsiberger, Kugler) has no track record of success in the running game.  Each person’s background is geared towards perimeter players (WR’s, QB’s, DB’s) and the passing game.

Do we forget Colbert’s history as part of both Miami’s organization (arriving the year after Dan Marino’s acquisition) and the Detroit Lions (arriving the year after Barry Sander’s acquisition)?  That Miami never ran the ball effectively in the 1980’s and how the Lion’s of the 90’s ran the run-and-shoot (without a tight end on the roster)?  Or that in each case, the year after Colbert left those organizations, both teams had such weaknesses at offensive line they both heavily drafted linemen the following seasons (Miami drafted Richmond Webb and Keith Sims in 1990, while the Lions drafted offensive tackles with 1st round picks in both 2000 and 2001).

Do we forget what Arians’ history tells us?  That he was a quarterback at Virginia Tech (total record there, 12-20-1) and as a 1974 starter was 4-7.  That as head coach of Temple he rode his prize 1983 recruit, Paul Palmer, into the ground (1035 touches), put Temple Football on the map only to follow up Palmer’s career with two dismal seasons averaging 16.4 ppg and going 7-15.  That his 3-year stint with Jackie Sherrill at Mississippi State (offensive coordinator) ended with a 14-18-2 record (Sherrill’s worst 3-year stretch in his first 10 years there).  That during his one year as offensive coordinator at Alabama (1997) his claim to fame was putting sophomore Shaun Alexander (yes, that Shaun Alexander) third on the running back depth chart, leading a 69th ranked scoring offense (out of 112 teams) and being a part of Alabama’s worst team of the 1990’s (4-7 record).

When he became the Browns offensive coordinator in 2001 (hired by a career college coach in Butch Davis), his offense ranked 25th, 19th and 28th in scoring.  That his attempt to help Tim Couch out of his 51-sack shell-shocked rookie season went nowhere.  That the offense gave up 51, 35 and 40 sacks.  That the offense ranked 21st, 26th and 27th in rushing attempts.  That despite the failing offensive line, the team in 2001 drafted a WR in round 2 and RB in round 3 and followed that in 2002 by drafting  a RB in round 1 and a WR in round 2? (this after the previous regime drafted a WR, RB, WR in the top 100 picks in 2000).  Oh… and his record at Cleveland was 21-27.

We can add, even though I think it is minor, that Tomlin also lacks any/all knowledge of how effective running games work.  His tenures at William & Mary, Tampa Bay and Minnesota certainly didn’t involve any run-game “gurus”.  And to think he would override his offensive coaches to fix the problem isn’t likely based on his knowledge of the game.

History does not paint a pretty picture of Bruce Arians and never has.  Nor does it favor Kevin Colbert’s track record with offensive line development.

The truth is the minute Ken Whisenhunt (former TE) and Russ Grimm (former offensive lineman) left this organization, the creativity, commitment and genius with respect to running the football went with them.

While this may be also a trend throughout the league (the run game guru coaches seem far and few between), it seems to have hit the Steelers hardest with how and when we struggle offensively.  And I don’t really have any answer as to how and fix it.

The problem is deeper than adding a player to the o-line, or hoping an injury didn’t happen or changing game plans.  It is systemic within the organization from top-to-bottom.  It is a reality of the way the team is built and coached.  We will live and die with a mediocre run game being the goal, not the worst case scenario and that in turns means we live and die on the health and ability of Ben Roethlisberger to make plays under chaotic circumstances.

As with previous seasons, we’ll see what happens for better or worse.  In two of the past four seasons “better” has prevailed and in the other two, “worse” has prevailed.  The arrow is pointing down at the moment, but the season is still early.  The 2008 Eagles game proves we can bounce back from horrific offensive performances.  Let’s hope 2011 is a similar type season.

But to not expect more of the same, either this year or next or as long as Tomlin, Arians and Roethlisberger are with the team is foolish.  As the saying goes, "fool me once..."

The offensive issues, as defined above, will reappear at some point.  It’s not a matter of if, but when.  The only unknown is whether or not is costs us our season.

Thanks for reading and let’s hope for some fortune vs. Houston.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Steelers 24 Seahawks 0

at Pittsburgh       -14       Seattle        40          -1000   +700
Win Precentage:  89.2%

It is very hard to me to know whether the Steelers are good or the Seahawks are just very bad from what happened yesterday on the field.

Obviously, the result is extremely acceptable.  We dominated all phases of the game and grinded out a solid 24 point victory and collected a shut-out in the process.  As with last week however, the only score that really matters is now 1-1, which is our record after two weeks of the season.

I would also venture that a team like Green Bay or New England would have beat the Seahawk team I watched by 50 points.  But do you really penalize a team’s performance for only winning by 24 points?

Already, this season is reminding me eerily of 2007.  That was Tomlin’s first season and our schedule was one of the easiest in recent memory.  The Steelers were favored by 4+ points in each of their first 12 contests, including six favored by 9+ points.  The team opened to a 9-3 record but those of us that studied tape knew the team wasn’t playing well and wasn’t executing well.  The running game was bad.  The offense looked lost at time in Arians’ first season.  The offensive line with Sean Mahan at center was consistently getting dominated in the trenches.  The defense was injured and kind of patching things together with string and masking tape.

We all know how that season ended.  The ill-fated New England blowout and two home losses (one in the playoffs) to Jacksonville highlighted four losses in our final five games.  The team looked beat up, out-coached and lacking talented depth players.

When I look back at the failings of that season, it was the overconfidence Tomlin, the coaches and team had about their ability based (apparently) solely on their 9-3 record.  Tomlin preached so much concern about wins/losses, that they seemed oblivious to the lack of execution happening week-in, week-out vs. weaker opponents.

While I love Tomlin’s results oriented approach sometimes (it rubs off on the team to make for a very resilient group), this coaching staff does not seem obsessed with “the relentless pursuit of perfection” when it comes to play execution.  There are consistently too many mental and physical breakdowns on plays we should easily have success on vs. the talent across from us.

For history not to repeat itself, I am hoping for the following:

1.  Tomlin has acknowledge he overworked the team his rookie season and that this contributed to their physical breakdowns as the season wore on.  With the oldest team in the league, Tomlin has to walk a fine line between working on improving execution and not overworking them physically.

2.  In that respect, Tomlin has to take a better psychological approach in post-game comments about the team.  Instead of praising them for wins, he should adeptly derail them for lack of execution.  This veteran team can take some criticism, both publically and privately.  And Tomlin has to honestly grade his team to the media.  Based on Sunday, we are not ready for the better teams in the league and Tomlin can’t and shouldn’t sugar coat that.

3.  One of the big differences I see from 2007 is the fact this team has better depth players.  When Aaron Smith was hurt that year, the run defense greatly suffered, but I see better front-7 players now on the roster.  And even some emerging depth in the secondary might hold up late in the season.

4.  The team HAS to stop creating offensive game plans that believe our offensive line is above average.  They are not.  They are obviously very below average and unless the offensive game plans compensate for this weakness, Roethlisberger is going to get more than just beat up and sore on game days.  He is going to suffer another concussion or worse.  Considering the team we faced, Roethlisberger took entirely too many big hits in that game.  Going into every game, there has to be a conversation on how to prevent Roethlisberger from taking too many hits.

As I stated in my pre-season analysis, this team is loaded with talent and that talent showed itself yesterday.  But the coaches need to realistically look at the weaknesses on this team and actually game plan to protect those weaknesses from being abused.  Nothing is more important going forward that how Tomlin coaches this team right now.

We need to relentlessly pursue perfection knowing that if we do, we might find excellence along the way.  Keeping this team focused on this task and not becoming complacent with a decent record is paramount for our season.

Thanks for reading.
~ dejzc

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ravens 35 Steelers 7

 at Ravens           -1            Steelers             37         -125   +105
Projected Win %          46.61%

If you are a Steelers fan, all you can ask for is a do-over.  Erase the game from your minds as much as possible, hope everything bad we saw isn’t a permanent trend for the season and get ready to host the Seahawks in 6 days.

Remember, there is only one score that matters and that’s 0-1.

Fortunately for us, a 35-7 score counts the same as 21-20.  It’s only one loss and one many Steelers fans would have accepted on our schedule forecasting the season.

Do I even bother to make comments on the game?  Is there one part of the blowout that angers me more than others?  In the spirit of “analysis”, I’ll try:

1.  As a closet GM, it is frustrating to me to see the Ravens so easily fix their pre-season offensive line issues while the Steelers continue to wallow if poor offensive line play going on five seasons.  The Ravens o-line was horrid three weeks and watching Ozzie Newsome and Co. bring in McKinney, shuffle the line around, patiently wait for a healthy Matt Birk and put out a unit week 1 that flat out dominated a deep Steelers front-7 was not only discouraging, but downright sickening to my stomach.  Is it really that easy?

2.  Speaking of offensive lines, we might as well admit the Steelers right guard spot will again be the worst in the NFL this season (going on 4 seasons).  Doug Legursky isn’t the answer and Foster would not be an improvement.  I’m disappointed with the decision to cut Tony Hills and this game didn’t change my mind.

3.   I know fans want to sweep the whole game under the rug, but I thought the Steelers were in the game and had weathered the storm when we had possession down 14-7 in the 2nd quarter with 8:00 until halftime. The offense had just scored.  The defense had just forced a punt.  The game wasn’t out of hand.   To have an ugly 3-and-out (3 incomplete passes), punt and then allowing the long, 5+ minute Ravens drive (giving up four 3rd down conversions in the process) to go up 21-7 that was the true backbreaker.  I give a lot of credit to the Ravens during this stretch.  We can talk all we want about the turnover-fests in quarters one and three, but the Ravens solidified the game in the 2nd quarter with those two series by just out-executing us.

4.  I am not going to single out any unit more than others for the loss.  Every facet of the team, ranging from Roethlisberger to the running backs, receivers, O-line, D-line, linebackers and defensive backs played below par and failed to make key plays or take advantage of opportunities.  One game does not make a trend for any of these groups.

5.  I do feel a bit disappointed that this game will statistically ruin Roethlisberger’s season.  I had such high hopes for an MVP quality year.  Committing five turnovers, after committing only EIGHT all of last season will be hard to overcome.  Scoring 7 points will be hard to overcome for the offense.  There are no such things as mulligans to the national media and I just don’t see how Roethlisberger and the offense can overcome such a poor performance.  Maybe by December we’ll be singing a different tune, but it would have been nice to have a few garbage drives late to at least make things respectable on paper.

If anything, you hope this game acts as a wakeup call to everyone from the general manager and coaching staff down to the star players and scrubs.  We didn’t come prepared mentally and physically and we got our asses kicked by an arch-rival.  No excuses.  The Ravens deserved to win by a large margin.  I can only hope this isn’t the Super Bowl hangover so many Steelers haters predicted.

Back to the drawing board and let’s hope for just a nice step in the right direction against a bad team in the Seahawks next week in our home opener.

Signing off….


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How to Measure Expectations

How to Measure Expectations:

For many years I wanted to try to statistically measure a “successful season”.  In chat rooms across the country, there is often the hard-core fan that insists every year is Super Bowl champions or bust.  That anything but winning is a disappointment.  But those same fans often defend players and coaches for jobs well done even during non-championship seasons.

A decade ago, I used to define a successful football season as “reaching the AFC Championship game”.  This definition worked well for the Steelers (the Cowher-led Steelers went to 6 AFC championship games in 15 seasons).  And since a majority of these were even without a dominant QB, it always seemed an acceptable goal heading into new seasons.  No excuses, right?

But I came to realize that what a Steelers fan might consider “successful” is not the same as what a Raiders fan would, or an Eagles fan, or a Lions fan.  The truth is, each team enters the season with an “expected” amount of success, often defined by the media pundits and analysts. And often, exceeding those expectations can satisfy many fan bases.  Even today, you hear about Tampa Bay’s “successful” season of 2010, even though they failed to make the playoffs.

The obvious difficulty is trying to measure the media/fan base expectations of a game or season.  Pre-season predictions hardly seem “scientific” enough for accurate analysis.

That caused me to turn to another neutral evaluator of teams:  Las Vegas.

Las Vegas predicts the likelihood of victory every week using odds and point spreads and vigorish.   And these odds are surprisingly unbiased in their analysis.

What if I assign an “expected win %” to each game a team plays (using Vegas odds) and then analyze how that team fairs compared to this baseline?

After experimentation on a number of teams, this became a surprising easy statistical measure of over- or underachieving.  And in every case, matched exactly the mood of the corresponding fan base.  Especially if given time to reflect after an emotional playoff loss.

Periodically throughout this season, I will look at how the Steelers are performing based on this analysis and I promise it will correctly match the current mood of Steelers Nation.  In fact, I have been doing this analysis over the past five seasons (since 2006).  The results are listed below:

YEAR         ACTUAL W-L       EXPECTED W-L            PLAYOFFS               Over/Underachieved

2006                8-8                       9.6 - 6.4                         X                               Underachieved
2007              10-6                     11.4 - 4.6        Lost (H) Wildcard               Underachieved
2008              12-4                      9.7 - 6.3                  Won SB                        Overachieved
2009                9-7                      11.0 - 5.0                        X                               Underachieved
2010              12-4                     10.1 - 5.9                  Lost SB                         Overachieved

Other websites construct expected win totals using complex formulas and point differential.  This analysis uses real-time expectations based on injuries, weather, streaks and the million other factors used to create Las Vegas betting lines each week.

If you would like me to analyze another team or two this year, I will be glad to “run the numbers” or share my spreadsheet and calculations with you.  It is a fun exercise that hasn’t failed to predict how a fair and unbiased fan should evaluate his/her own team.

Enjoy your seasons everyone.  I’m looking forward to 2011 and as always, thanks for reading.