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

Friday, October 28, 2011

Steelers Weeks 4-7

I apologize for the lack of posts.  I wanted to write a weekly game-by-game article on the Steelers, but that got lost in the shuffle of work and kids b-day’s.

So let’s look back at the last month, how we handled the AFC South (and Arizona) and what our prospects are for moving forward.  In summary since week 3:

Steelers 10   Texans 17
@Houston    -4    Pittsburgh    46.5    -205  +175
Win Probability  34.58%

Steelers 38   Titans 17
@Pittsburgh   -3   Tennessee   40   -190  +170
Win Probability  64.24%

Steelers 17   Jaguars 13
@Pittsburgh    -12.5    Jacksonville    40    -700  +500
Win Probability  85.42%

Steelers 32   Cardinals 20
Pittsburgh    -4    @Arizona    46    -220  +185
Win Probability   66.83%

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Steelers stand at 5-2 and atop the AFC North (a half game ahead of the Ravens and the surprising Bengals).  When compared to the expectations of win probability we are pretty much right on target, record-wise (win probability record:  4.72W - 2.28L).  And I would measure the fan base as being cautiously happy with our record to date.

The offense, thanks to better ball protection (only 2 turnovers in the last 4 games) is starting to show glimpses of what I had hoped from week 1.  There are still frustrating lapses into ugly play, but there is improvement.  The re-acquisition of Max Starks seems to really have helped the offensive line, even with some shuffling inside.  And the running game is better (both in quantity and quality statistics).

Roethlisberger has been a bit too inconsistent for my liking so far this season, but at least the turnover bug hasn’t reared its ugly head.  Part of that may be the result of a growing all-or-nothing offensive game plan.  Bruce Arians and company have embraced the long ball to Wallace and more playing time for Antonio Brown as major facets of this offense.  This isn’t a 12-play, 80-yard drive type of team anymore.  It is about chunks of yardage or bust.

The defense has been steady, bordering on exceptional if you look at the numbers, but has had the benefit of playing inexperienced QB’s (Jackson, Painter, Gabbert, Kolb).  This results in the “cautious optimism” I spoke of before from the fan base.  And while injuries have hampered James Harrison, Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton, Troy Polamalu has remained healthy over the past month and looked extremely athletic and disruptive.  If this group could ever start to generate turnovers, watch out.

However, we still (after 7 games) don’t really know who the 2011 Steelers are.  The lack of quality opponents, the up-and-down flashes of good football, the occasional glimpses of complete ineptness on offense all lead to an uncertainty moving forward into the meat of our schedule.

And the tough part of the schedule, we all know, is coming:

New England, Baltimore, @Cincinnati, bye week

We win all three and we are clear-cut favorites in the AFC and the #1 seed is in our control with a bye week and relatively easy remaining schedule (think 2004).

Lose all three and we are behind both Baltimore and Cincinnati in the division and are out of the playoff picture without help (think 2005 or 2009).

Has there ever been a 3-game stretch that seems to have such a huge disparity on our season’s outcome?  If there has, I don’t remember it.

And honestly, I don’t have any gut feeling on how this will play out.  I could pretend to offer expert analysis or how I would set up the defense vs. New England (play Troy in the box!!!) or how I think Baltimore is ripe for the taking, but that’s all conjecture.  The truth is 0-3 or 3-0 and anything in between is possible.

So let’s enjoy NOT knowing.  Let’s stop with the over-analysis, pour a beer, put on our jerseys, grab the terrible towels and just watch.  This stretch might define our season and be something we remember for a long time (for good or bad).  That’s why we like sports.

The World Series is over.  There is no NBA.  The Penguins are on cruise control.  The weather is changing (it’s going to be 45 degrees this Saturday!).  Halloween is here.

It’s football time and for the first time this season, I’m anxious to get into the tough games full force as a fan.  Bring it on and let’s kick some ass!