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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Steelers Weeks 5 - 6

Steelers  16    Eagles  14

@Pittsburgh    -4    Philadelphia    44    -205  +175
Projected Win Probability:    65.15%

Titans  26    Steelers 23

Pittsburgh    -6    @Tennessee    43    -260  +220
Projected Win Probability:  70.49%

The Steelers really had a chance last week to make some noise in a weak AFC.  A squeaker at home vs. the Eagles was greatly helped by a couple Michael Vick fumbles and a clutch 4th quarter comeback drive by Ben Roethlisberger and the offense.

Despite the Sunday injuries to Troy Polamalu and Lamarr Woodley, many fans (including myself) thought a win versus a slumping Titans team on Thursday combined with yet another layoff to get healthy might lead to better things as we head into our mid-season divisional matchups.

But another inconsistent first half offensively, a special teams breakdown to give the Titans seven free points and a defense that just couldn’t get off the field (the Titans ran 42 plays in the first half vs. 26 for the Steelers) contributed to a 16-10 halftime deficit.

Things also didn't look good on the offensive line as both Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert left with injuries.  Combine that with Mendenhall leaving the game after one run in the 3rd quarter (a fitting -2 yard loss) and it was a depressing performance all around.

The Steelers still gave it a run (maybe just to tease us) and Roethlisberger led the team on two long scoring drives to start the second half and take a 23-16 lead to start the 4th quarter.  The hopes of Steeler Nation to get a win and get out of dodge looked positive at this point.

But yet again, the defense broke down in the 4th quarter making the 37-year old Matt Hasselbeck look like John Elway.  The Titans rallied with a 12-play, 80 yard drive that included three 3rd down conversions (3rd and 8, 3rd and 10 and 3rd and 5) to tie the game with four minutes left.

Again, hope was not lost as Roethlisberger looked to engineer a second field goal drive to win it in five days.  Steeler Nation was again tentatively optimistic and pinned our hopes on the shoulders of Roethlisberger.

But the drive failed inexplicably so close to field goal range (after a few huge plays to get us there) at the Titan’s 36 yards line.  Mike Tomlin poorly decided to let Shaun Suisham attempt a 54 yarder on grass (would have been Suisham’s career long) and it came up short by a couple of yards.  With great field position, Hasselbeck again found a hole in the Steelers’ defense and got the one play needed to give them a shot to win in regulation and the Titans hit the 40 yarder to win it.

I was more in shock at first than anything.  Then angry.  Really angry.

I can’t tell you the last time I've been this angry at the Steelers.  It wasn't just the loss, but all the contributing factors to the loss.  Ones we've seen time and again and frustrate so many fans year after year.  Penalties on special teams.  Poor offensive line play.  Inconsistent running game.  Poor late game clock management and decisions making.  Defensive breakdowns and 3rd downs allowed in the 4th quarter.

You couldn't write a script that would upset Steelers fan more than what happened last Thursday.

The lack of late defensive stops is now not the icing on the cake, but maybe the whole cake.  Look at the list of 4th quarter possessions against this season:

14:11 to 9:23       Denver 20           10 plays, 80 yards             6 first downs      Touchdown
8:18 to 3:00         Denver 37           12 plays, 51 yards             4 first downs      Field Goal

14:53 to 13:47    NYJ 20                   3 plays, 22 yards               1 first down        Punt
3:34 to 3:04         NYJ 17                   3 plays, 0 yards                  0 first down        Punt
1:07 to 0:00         NYJ 18                   6 plays, 49 yards               3 first downs      End of Game

1:31 to 12:13       Oakland 20          11 plays, 90 yards             6 first downs      Touchdown
10:45 to 6:30       Oakland 36          9 plays, 29 yards               3 first downs      Field Goal
1:43 to 0:00         Oakland 25          9 plays, 49 yards               3 first downs      Field Goal

14:51 to 6:33       Phila 21                 17 plays, 79 yards             6 first downs      Touchdown

13:34 to 9:56       Tenn 25                6 plays, 27 yards               2 first downs      INTERCEPTION
8:18 to 4:19         Tenn 20                11 plays, 75 yards             5 first downs      Touchdown
0:49 to 0:00         Tenn 45                5 plays, 33 yards               1 first down        Field Goal

The Steelers defense has allowed 40 points on 12 fourth quarter possessions (3.33/drive), but what is most disturbing is an almost unheard of 86.2% drive success rate against (that’s the percentage of 1st and 10 situations that end in either a first down or touchdown).  And remember two of the so-called “stops” were really end of game field goal attempts.  This defense literally only gets a stop in a 1st in 10 situation 10% of the time in the 4th quarter.

That’s as bad a defensive statistic as I have ever studied, recorded or researched.

Something is terribly wrong with our defense and it is possibly systemic in nature (which means there are so many problems, they can’t all be fixed).  Certainly talent is an issue, but so is coaching and defensive planning (with this particular group of players).

It’s probably too early in the season to list ideas and fixes.  I have many in my head right now rolling around (as do many other Steelers fans).  The problem is good fixes (the ones that really help) need to be implemented in the off-season.  They need to be incorporated into the Program and start with off-season front office decisions and lead into coaching points during OTA’s and season preparation in training camp.

I’m sure Tomlin and Lebeau are going to do some things different week-to-week, but those are cosmetic in nature.  They aren’t really going to fix the team.

In my anger, I was about ready to write-off the 2012 Steelers’ season.  But Sunday’s games again give us a ray of hope.  Currently only two teams in the AFC have 2 or fewer wins (Baltimore and Houston).  In the loss column we are tied with eight other teams.  We have yet to lose a divisional game and that brings its own opportunities (starting with Cincinnati next week).

I will be honest and say I’m not confident anymore.  This team is going to have to show me they can do it before I start believing in them again.  I still have some faith in the offense and in Roethlisberger (who is having a very good season).  I still like the changes Haley is bringing to that side of the ball.  But there are so many issues with injuries and defensive talent right now that I’d be a bit surprised if we can plug those holes in the ship and prevent our season from sinking.

I’ll keep an open mind for a few more weeks and am curious how we will fair versus Baltimore.  But if we have another month like we just had, I’ll start taking about fixes and the draft because the season will be lost.

Go Steelers.

NFL Power Rankings

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