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Steelers Mid-Season Analysis (Or, Holy Crap, We Still Have Eight More Games of This?!)

Gen. Colin Powell likes to say that things are usually not as bad as they seem, and that things always look better in the morning.

It was with this thought in mind that I didn’t write last night when my frustration was at a level I had seldom known concerning our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers.

Respectfully, General, things do not look better some 16 hours after the once-mighty Black and Gold got their asses handed to them by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

In fact, the more I read about the game, the more frustrated I get.

SOS (Same Old…umm, Stuff)

The Steelers are now on pace to complete a 4-12 season, which would be their worst in my lifetime. They just gave up a franchise-high 55 points and allowed 610 yards of total offense. Lest we forget, this defense is coached by a Hall of Fame defensive back and the man who invented the zone blitz.

In fairness, Tom Brady has a way of making defenses look bad. Getting the ball to Rob Gronkowski is one of those ways.

The Steelers simply had no answer for Gronk, who played for Woodland Hills High near Pittsburgh for his senior high school year. On the day, Gronk collected 9 catches for 143 yards and a touchdown.

The problem is that the Steelers – like most teams – simply don’t have anyone who can cover Gronk. Anyone who is big enough isn’t fast enough; and anyone with the speed, Gronk towers over.

Gronkowski wasn’t the only one with a big day, though. Two other New England receivers had more than 100 receiving yards.

But the real problem lies not with the impressive play of the Patriots. The real problem is that this defense is simply not that good.

As of yesterday’s drubbing, the Steelers are 28th in the league against the run (Interestingly, New England is 30th on that list.), and the Patroits’ tenth best rushing attack (in yards per game) in the NFL proved why. The Patriots’ running backs had 197 yards on 35 rushes. That’s 5.6 yards per carry. Steven Ridley led the ground attack with 115 yards on 26 carries, good for 4.4 yards per run.

What happened to the days when nobody, and I mean nobody, ran on the Pittsburgh Steelers? The Steelers have allowed 12 rushing touchdowns in eight games this year. That’s three more than they allowed all of last season!

While we’re asking questions, why are the Steelers so suseptable to big plays? Last week, on the first play from scrimmage, a quarterback ran for 93 yards. This week, there were pass plays of 81, 57, and 34, to go along with runs of 23, 14, and 13 yards. The Steelers are giving up massive chuncks of yardage and a lot of those seem to be on scoring plays.

Safety Troy Polamalu had an astonishingly bad day, perhaps one of his worst games ever. He was caught out of position on a number of occasions, and got called for penalties when he was in on a play. He caused the only turnover the Steelers had, but that was far too little to make up for the number of times his name was said in after a negative play.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Steelers did have a big game from Big Ben Roethlisberger. He finished the day with 400 passing yards and four touchdowns, matching Brady’s scoring. He also became only the second Steelers quarterback to throw 200 touchdowns.

However, the thing that he has been doing a lot over the last few years, Ben did a few more times on Sunday. That is, he is still giving the ball to the other team. Two picks thrown and a fumble lost when the Steelers defense is not creating any turnovers themselves is a recipe for a losing season.

Rookie RB Le’Veon Bell continues to look good, but it seems like OC Todd Hailey takes him out of the game for long stretches, just when it looks like he is getting into a rhythm.

The Importance of Scoring Points

Ironically, the Steelers – currently 25th in the league in points per game – scored enough points (31) to beat all but three teams yesterday. Those teams: Caolina, Philadelphia (who annihilated Oakland), and the Patriots.

Watching that game yesterday, as well as what the Eagles did to the Raiders, Carolina steamrolling Atlanta, and how Denver has been playing all year, got me to wondering if the game has progressed beyond the philosphy of the Steelers’ coaches, managers, and owners.

Maybe the old smash-mouth style of run the ball hard up the middle and play strong defense just isn’t the way to win consistently in the pass-happy NFL of the 21st century. Three yards and a cloud of dust is not good enough when your opponent is capable of scoring from anywhere on the field.

Looking back on the last 20 Super Bowls to have been played, only five times did the winning team fail to score 24 points or more. If you look at the 16th ranked offense in the league this year in terms of points per game, the Kansas City Chiefs are scoring 23.9 PPG.

Of the 16 teams scoring in the bottom half the league in PPG this year, only the Jets have a winning record (5-4), and three teams have .500 records (Arizona, Miami, and Tennessee).

Of the top ten in PPG in the league this year, only Detroit and Chicago would be out of the playoffs if this week were wild card week.

Look at the teams that have won the Super Bowl recently. Are they teams known for their offense or their defense? You’ve got the Patriots a few times; the Colts; the Saints; the Packers; even last year, the Ravens got on a run and had their quarterback play out of his mind in the playoffs to win that Super Bowl. There are very few dominant defenses in there, teams that you think, “Yeah, that defense was great.”

My point is that the days of controlling the clock and holding your opponents to 10 points or fewer are gone. Yesterday, three teams didn’t score 20 points. They all lost and only the Ravens were within a touchdown of winning. The other two teams lost by an average of 17 points.

The previous week, nine teams didn’t score 20 or more points. All but one lost and the average margin of loss was more than, you guessed it, 17 points. Basically, if you are incapable of scoring more than 20 points in today’s NFL, chances are pretty good you are going to lose by more than two touchdowns.

If you check the the obscure, but very telling stat Points per Play, you will see evidence that scoring lots of points is the road to success in today’s NFL.

No team in the top ten of that list has a losing record. Conversely, the Jets are the only team in the bottom ten on that list with a winning record. Pittsburgh is 24th.

Good Defense is Being Phased Out of The NFL

On the reverse of offensive points per play, if you look at defensive points allowed per play, you don’t see the same consistency you see on offense.

In the top ten of points allowed per play, you have six division leaders, two teams that would be in the playoffs if they started today, and two teams with a combined record of 7-11.

In the bottom ten of the defensive point per play allowed, you find all the usual suspects (including the Steelers), except for the Bears and, shockingly, the Denver Broncos.

What does that tell us? Well, it means you don’t have to have a great defense if you have an offense capable of scoring at least 24 points a game.

My Point

All of which brings me back to the point I was making and that is that this Steelers team simply is not good enough on either side of the ball to win, and it looks like they are not adapting to the changes in the rules of the game.

At this point, they would have to go 6-2 just to match last season’s 8-8 record. With games at Cleveland, Baltimore, and Green Bay (Green Bay in December. Ugh!); as well as hosting Detroit, Cinncinnati, and Cleveland, I’m not confident that even a 4-12 record is a lock. Buffalo and Miami are not going to be easy games for this Steelers team.

This team is in the bottom third of almost every meaningful statistical category, as well as a several dozen obscure ones. So, it occurs to me that we are in for a long, painful season in Steelers Nation, because this team is right where they should be.

At the bottom of the barrel.


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