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

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Broncos 31 Steelers 19

at Denver    -2.5    Pittsburgh     45½     -140  +120
Projected Win Probability:     43.56%

The Steelers opened up their 2012 season as underdogs for the third straight year Sunday night and underachieved for a second straight time in a disappointing 31-19 defeat to the hands of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

Similar to last season, I doubt I will write individual game-by-game articles this year, but had some time this week and thought I’d make some comments about the team’s Sunday night performance.  After a few days to let the results sink in and get inside the numbers, I am actually more discouraged than I was immediately following the loss.

Looking at the glass half full, Roethlisberger and the offense did have the ball with 3:00 left in the game, at their own 20 yard line, two timeouts needing a touchdown to win it.  Plenty of time and optimism considering the Steelers had scored on four of their previous five possessions (two of which were touchdowns).  Up to that point, Roethlisberger had scratched and clawed behind an injured offensive line to accumulate a 105.3 deljzc rating, despite an uncharacteristic 5.84 YPA.

Things were not to be however as Roethlisberger threw a pick-six in his third attempt and eliminated any chance of victory.

I was somewhat encouraged by Todd Haley’s first game playcalling.  He stuck with the run even with frustrating execution (67 yards on 23 running back carries), something Arians probably never would have done.  I do think that helped Roethlisberger stay upright most of the game (2 sacks up until that last, meaningless drive).

Execution on offense, in general, was poor and if not for Ben Roethlisberger’s heroics on third down could have led to a really bad looking game.  First down execution, in particular, was horrible producing only 79 yards on 26 plays.  Amazingly, we still had a 73.1% drive success rate, but that is an exception and not to be expected.

Overall, the offense (despite better playcalling) looked very similar to last year.  The offensive line play was very poor and injuries look to be part of the season again (although both Marcus Gilbert and Ramon Foster are expected to return week 2).  The lack of athleticism on the line continues to lead to too many guys on the ground.  That’s when injuries occur and I see nothing to suggest a change moving forward.

The real concern for me was on defense.  Peyton Manning, despite a year away from the game, improved his record to 7-1 vs. a Dick Lebeau defense.  He looked as good as ever, producing a 150.9 deljzc rating, and scoring on his last four possessions (3 touchdowns).  After starting strong in the 1st quarter, the Steelers defense was beat every time for the remainder of the game.  In fact, in those four drives, the Steelers only generated two 3rd and longs (stopping them on the second to force a field goal).  They literally weren’t even close to getting Manning off the field.

It was a bit demoralizing how easily Manning sliced through the defense.  His no huddle attack caught the Steelers with bad personnel grouping (particularly Casey Hampton at NT).  This forced Woodley to drop into coverage over 50% of his snaps on the field.  Combined with James Harrison’s injury, the pass rush looked anemic at times.  Chris Carter and Lawrence Timmons looked overmatched on the weak side and Larry Foote, although he filled up the stat sheet, didn’t make a real difference.

The secondary played below average as well.  Starting corners Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis allowed 12 of Manning’s 19 completions without a pass defended between them.  And both missed a tackle as well.  Ryan Clark’s absence hindered Polamalu’s ability to make impact plays and Manning seemed particularly adept at countering any improvisation Polamalu tried to do during the game.  Ryan Mundy played his usual below-average game covering the deep half.

While this wasn’t the 35-7 shellacking the Steelers got last year at Baltimore, it wasn’t as far off as some believe if not for some clutch 3rd down passes by Big Ben.

Next week is the Steelers home opener versus the visiting J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets.  They are coming off an “everything bounced our way” destruction of Buffalo and have a lot of confidence.  It will be a good test although Vegas already has the Steelers early 6 point favorites.

To improve, the Steelers must do a better job on 1st downs offensively and not get exposed with no-huddle attacks on defense.  Better use of defensive personnel will help (less Casey Hampton please) and both James Harrison and Ryan Clark are expected to play.  I hope the team is up to the challenge.

Go Steelers!

NFL Power Rankings
Power Rankings are based on who I would think would be favored on a neutral field if they played this week.

1.  San Francisco 49ers (1-0)
2.  Baltimore Ravens (1-0)
3.  New England Patriots (1-0)
4.  Green Bay Packers (0-1)
5.  Houston Texans (1-0)
6.  Denver Broncos (1-0)
7.  Atlanta Falcons (1-0)
8.  Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1)
9.  Chicago Bears (1-0)
10. Dallas Cowboys (1-0)

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