Thursday, September 18, 2014

WPIAL Week 4 Games of the Week

The high school football season is a third of the way in the books and there are early-season surprises across the board. Traditional powerhouses like Upper St Clair, North Allegheny, Gateway and Rochester have struggled out of the gate. Teams that have not seen the postseason in years like Norwin, Southmoreland, Shenango and Mapletown are off to quick starts. Only two schools still have goose- eggs on the scoreboard. Clairton has gotten off to a record-breaking start, scoring 230 points in 3 games while not allowing an opponent to score. On the other side of the coin, Brownsville has yet to score a point this season. Last week, Derry got off the schnide with a victory over Charleroi, their first win since August 31, 2012, ending the 5th longest losing streak in the WPIAL at 19 games. Derry's conference losing streak ended at 22 games, the same number where Plum's streak ended after their Week 1 victory over Hempfield. I'll talk more about some of the longer losing streaks in this post, as some of the teams at the top of the list have an opportunity to break their streaks as well.

If you're going to be at home tonight, keep an eye on the following hashtags on Twitter to follow along as people post score updates from games: #WPIAL #MSAscores #Skylights


Also, if you're not already, follow the @MSAsports twitter account which will post score updates and bookmark the MSA Scoreboard for quick reference at the end of the night. They get the final scores up faster than anyone. Also, MSA Sports broadcasts most games over the internet, here is their list of the games they will be broadcasting tonight.

I'll update my WPIAL Standings Page at the end of the night. It's the only one available that includes all playoff tiebreakers (Gardner Points, WPIAL Points Tiebreaker and Head-to-Head wins).

Week 4 is loaded with premier matchups at the top of the slate as well as some games between bad teams that could be very meaningful to the schools involved.


AAAA
Mt. Lebanon (2-0, 3-0) at Penn Hills (2-0, 2-1)

Mt Lebanon and Penn Hills are currently tied with Woodland Hills at 2-0 atop the Southeastern Conference. Most believe that Woody High is the best team in the conference (and maybe the best team in Quad-A) but the winner of this game will be the clear challenger to the Wolverines in the Conference. This game is loaded with playoff implications because the top 2 teams in each conference are guaranteed home playoff games so the winner will also have an inside track to hosting a playoff game. The game features two dual-threat quarterbacks. The Blue Devils are led by Eddie Jenkins who has 139 rushing yards and 3 TDs and 389 passing yards and 8 TDs this season. Penn Hills QB Billy Kisner has accounted for 138 pass yards and 1 TD and 217 rush yards and 2 TDs while getting help in the backfield from leading rusher Te'Shan Campbell who has 265 yards and 6 TDs.

Honorable Mentions: Upper St Clair at North Allegheny

Upper St Clair plays North Allegheny and the loser will fall to 1-3. That's a sentence I never though I would type. It's hard to imagine either Jim Render or Art Walker having a 1-3 team, but one of them will be. USC-NA will likely draw the most headlines this week because of the schools involved, but it is not my Quad-A game of the week because both teams are 1-2 and it is a non-conference game that does not have immediate playoff implications.

Bad Teams, Big Meaning: Butler at Shaler

Shaler currently holds the longest losing streak in the WPIAL at 25 games. The Titans have lost 16 straight conference games. Outside of their season finale at Seneca Valley (who look totally out of sorts without QB TJ Holl), this home game against Butler is their best opportunity to break their losing streak. Things aren't looking good so far for Shaler as they are one of 3 Quad-A teams to have allowed over 100 points through 3 games and have the lowest-scoring offense in Quad-A with just 14 points.

AAA
Central Valley (2-0, 3-0) at Moon (2-0, 2-1)

The Warriors have put together three impressive victories, including a 42-28 demolishing of Penn Hills, one of the better Quad-A teams, last week. In the Parkway Conference, Central Valley and Moon both sit at 2-0, a half game behind West Allegheny for the top spot. In a relatively sparse AAA slate, this is the only matchup between two teams that have not lost a conference game. Central Valley boasts one of the best athletes in the WPIAL in WR/CB Jordan Whitehead who has a number of Division 1 scholarship offers, including Alabama. Whitehead was penalized last week for being too athletic - he hurdled a Penn Hills defender and drew a flag because hurdling is not allowed by the WPIAL because of some arcane rules. Central Valley has the second highest-scoring offense in AAA and Moon (who has allowed 21 more points than they have scored this year) will be hard pressed to defend the Warriors attack.

Honorable Mentions: Ringgold at West Mifflin, Thomas Jefferson at Elizabeth Forward,

The Big Nine Conference has 6 teams that are either 3-0 or 2-1 overall while the other 3 schools are all 0-3. This week features two matchups between teams in the top 6 of the conference. Ringgold rebounded after a shellacking at the hands of TJ in Week 1 while West Mifflin is one of the two unbeaten teams. TJ, once again, looks like one of the best teams in AAA and all 3 of their wins have come against teams in the top 6 of the conference. TJ carries the second longest conference winning streak in the WPIAL at 19 games. Elizabeth Forward has rebounded to a 2-1 start after losing their opener by a point to Laurel Highlands.

Bad Team, Big Meaning: Gateway at Knoch

Knoch is not a bad team. Knoch is currently tied with Hampton atop the Greater Allegheny Conference and already has a win over Franklin Regional. Gateway, however, is a different story. The Gators moved down from Quad-A and were expected to be one of the elite in AAA, particularly with the addition of former Clairton coach Tom Nola. Unfortunately, the Gators have started 0-3 which is as many losses as Nola had in the last 5 years at Clairton. This game has a huge meaning for a proud Gateway program that seems completely out of sorts this season, having the second-lowest scoring offense in AAA.

AA
Apollo-Ridge (3-0, 3-0) at Shady Side Academy (3-0, 3-0)

All four AA conferences have big matchups this week but there are two monster matchups in the Allegheny Conference with Conference Championship implications. The top four teams all face off as Apollo-Ridge takes on Shady Side Academy in a battle of unbeatens and Highlands meets Kittanning. The Vikings boast one of the best athletes in AA in Pitt recruit Tre Tipton. Tipton has donw it all for Apollo-Ridge. Through 3 games he has 360 rushing yards, 113 receiving yards, 128 passing yards and 7 total TDs. Dual-threat QB Duane Brown has thrown for 172 yards and 1 TD and rushed for 364 yards and 8 scores.  If you have a chance to see him play this year, Tipton alone is worth the price of admission. Apollo-Ridge is coming off an overtime victory over Kittanning while Shady Side Academy has not been tested yet this season. The Indians have relied on a dominant rushing attack on the legs of Eric Harris (358 yards, 6 TDs), Lewis Berry (330 yards, 6 TDs) and Jackson Fitzgerald (227 yards, 3 TDs). Their rushing game has been so dominant, quarterback Doc Szlachetka has only thrown 12 passes through 3 games. Both teams are averaging over 38 points per game and this game will matchup the all-around athletic playmaking skill of Tipton and Brown against the three-headed monster in the Indians backfield.

Honorable Mentions: Highlands at Kittanning, Seton-La Salle at Steel Valley, Mt Pleasant at Waynesburg, Beaver at New Brighton

If Kittanning had beaten Apollo-Ridge last week, their game against Highlands would be the highlighted game in AA this week. As it is, the Wildcats now have to take on an undefeated Highlands team that is loaded with talented players of their own. In the Century Conference, two of the three unbeaten teams face off to determine who will be the primary challenger to South Fayette. This game features two explosive offenses in Seton-La Salle's passing game behind QB Tyler Perrone (457 yards, 6 TDs) against Steel Valley's rushing attack on the legs of DeWayne Murray (503 rush yards, 189 receiving yards, 13 TDs) . In the Interstate Conference, Waynesburg lost a heartbreaker in the closing minutes to rival Washington last week but has a chance to assert themselves as one of the top teams in the Interstate against an undefeated Mt Pleasant squad this week. In the Midwestern Conference, Beaver scored a huge victory over Beaver Falls last week and now has to face undefeated New Brighton. The winner will assert themselves as the primary challenger to Aliquippa and have the inside track towards the home playoff game that comes with a top-2 finish.

Bad Teams, Big Meaning: Charleroi at Burgettstown

Burgettstown has the second-longest losing streak in the WPIAL at 24 games. The Blue Devils also have the longest conference losing streak in the WPIAL at 22 games. Entering the season, 3 of the 5 longest losing streaks in the WPIAL were held by Interstate Conference teams (Derry, Brownsville, Burgettstown). Last week, Derry broke their streak with a win over Charleroi. This week, the Cougars draw another team that has not won in over 2 years.

A
Brentwood at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic

The Defending State Champions get their first real test of the season with Brentwood's explosive offense. Brentwood QB Connor McWilliams is the WPIAL's 7th leading passer with 589 yards and 6 TDs through 3 games. This will be the best offense the Trojans have faced this season. Last week, the Spartans were shut down by Avonworth to the tune of a 35-7 defeat. The Trojans have been an offensive machine so far this year, with the triple threat of Jerome Turner, PJ Fulmore and Mario Latronica coming out of the backfield. Quarterback Adam Sharlow has been efficient in his return from a knee injury that ended last season early. The Trojans will mix and match offensive weapon PJ Fulmore all over the field and get him the ball on handoffs, reverses, direct snaps or line him up in the slot. On defense, the Trojans have been stingy, giving up only 8.7 points per game. Interestingly, this will be Brentwood's second trip to Lt. J.C. Stone Field in North Park this year - they faced Vincentian there in a non-conference game in Week 1.

Honorable Mentions: Clairton at Springdale, Frazier at Mapletown

Clairton is on a record-setting pace this season while Springdale is off to a slow start including a loss to Leechburg where half of their team got hurt. The reason this game makes the list is due to the history between these two programs - they have met in the playoffs 4 times in the last 10 years. While they Dynamos are only 1-3, they have played the Bears tighter than almost any other WPIAL team during Clairton's decade of dominance. Mapletown is one of the surprise teams of the season, starting 2-1 with their only loss coming to Beth-Center. Mapletown (along with 3-0 Frazier) is one of only 4 teams in the Tri County South Conference to have a winning record after 3 weeks and this could be a key game to determine 2nd place in the conference.

Bad Teams, Big Meaning: Serra at West Greene

Serra Catholic enters the week with the 3rd longest losing streak in the WPIAL at 22 games. While 3 of  their last 4 games are against Riverview, Wilkinsburg and Leechburg, this non-conference game against West Greene might be their best chance to break their losing streak. West Greene has been downright awful - the worst team in the worst conference - so far this year. The Pioneers have scored only 6 points, which presents an interesting dynamic against an Eagles defense that has been one of the worst in the WPIAL for the past 3 seasons. Serra Catholic can score - they are averaging 14 points per game this year, and this is their best chance so far to break their losing streak.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Thor's Day Hammering: Steelers Lose

  6
 26

This game happened on September 11. Before we get rolling in the recap, let's not forget the sacrifices made by countless people on 2001. Words can't really do justice to what happened, so I'll just leave it to The Boss.


Back to football, the Ravens won the toss and deferred.

The Steelers seemingly got off to a terrible start with Ben getting sacked on 3rd down but a flag came out for Courtney Upshaw lowering his helmet on Ben. People were pissed off about the call, but it was the same thing James Harrison got flagged for a few years ago, so there is some consistency there. Basically, this started a giant flag-fest. Wheaton came up with a big grab for a first down and the Steelers started marching. A 3rd down conversion to Heath was nullified by a penalty but Ben came right back and fired one to AB who got hit in the head but hung on to the ball and got us into field goal range. The next few plays were a bit of a blur as they kept showing AB on the sideline undergoing concussion protocol, but Justin Brown fumbled a pass and gave up points.

If there was one injury this team can't afford, outside of Ben Roethlisberger, it's Antonio Brown.

The Ravens picked their way down the field with short passes to running backs and tight ends and the Steelers could not stop them. The defense seemingly held on a 3rd and 1 at the 35, but the Ravens went for it on 4th down and Flacco was able to make an elite fall forward for 3 yards. The Ravens biggest pass play of the night was when Cortez Allen got called for pass interference, giving the Ravens the ball on the 2. Two plays later, Flacco hit a wide open Owen Daniels for a touchdown.

0-7

The offense takes the field without Antonio Brown

Second Quarter

Justin Brown continues to let the team down by dropping a pass on 3rd down that was thrown slightly behind him.

The Ravens continue dinking and dunking the Steelers to death, exploiting the Steelers inability to tackle. They pick their way down inside the red zone and get a first down on another Flacco QB sneak. The defense finally gets a "stop" when Flacco makes two errant throws out of the back of the end zone. Tucker nails it though.

0-10

Antonio Brown is back on the field and the drive looks ready to stall out but Heath takes a TE screen on 3rd and 9 and is able to move the chains. The Steelers get into the no huddle after the first down and goes back to Heath who moves the sticks again and gets us out near midfield. The Prescription makes something out of nothing and breaks free in the middle of the field, scampering for more yards down the sideline before getting into a little shoving match with a Ravens corner as he goes out. The Prescription keeps rolling with a catch on a shovel pass that he takes for 18 more to get inside the 20. Haley out-thinks himself in the red zone and tries to run and end-around to AB on 3rd and 4 that only gets 2 yards. Suisham.

3-10

Jim Nantz totally glosses over the failure by the NFL to properly address the Ray Rice issue just saying "We all know two games wasn't the right call" before throwing it to Phil Simms.

The defense comes up with two big tackles for loss before the two minute warning. After the break, Flacco misses Torrey Smith and the defense gets to come off the field with a big 3-and-out after the score.

Ben takes over with 1:40 left and all 3 timeouts. Wheaton gets us into a 3rd and manageable on a WR screen then makes the grab on 3rd down on an out-route to pick up the first down. Ben goes right to AB who spins out of a tackle and turns it up the sideline to get across midfield and get out of bounds. Ben gets sacked but goes back to Wheaton who gets us into 3rd and 4 again but a false start on Gilbert knocks us out of field goal range. Ben overthrows Heath on 3rd down and that's it.

Third Quarter

The defense wins again, drawing a holding penalty then not giving up anything on a draw play and a throwback screen. Great field position after a punt.

Wheaton gets 11 on an end-around then The Prescription stutter-steps in the hole and bounces it outside to get inside the 30. A sack by Dumervil when he runs Gilbert over on a bull rush sets things back and the Steelers keep it conservative on 3rd down to set up Suisham who connects from 42.

6-17

Phil Simms starts openly rooting for the Ravens and Flacco seems to notice because he hits two passes to get into Steelers territory. The Steelers continue to be unable to defend tight ends in the middle of the field and the Ravens work it inside the 10. Both safeties get called for unnecessary roughness/blows to the head and the Ravens get the ball at the 1.
Two plays later, Flacco finds Owen Daniels even wider open than he was the first time.


6-17

Didn't we use a first round draft pick and spend $25 million in free agency so that we could cover tight ends?

When the Steelers needed a big drive after their defense had been on the field for a long time, the offense couldn't do it and went 3-and-out.

The Ravens go back to the air and move the ball right back down the field, getting the benefit of a facemask penalty on Mike Mitchell.

Fourth Quarter

The defense finally holds inside the 10 but the Ravens tack on 3 more.

6-20

On the first play, Heath Miller fumbled and that was pretty much it. When Heath Miller fumbles, it's over.


I fell asleep on the couch during the commercial break, but apparently the Ravens kicked another field goal?

6-23

Nothing else really happened. Brad Wing had a 56-yard punt that was essentially nullified by a 33-yard return. Jacoby Jones made sure to run up the Ravens sideline, not the Steelers. I guess he didn't want to take a selfie with Mike Tomlin.

The Ravens added another field goal because John Harbaugh has Justin Tucker on his fantasy team.

6-26

Ben drove the Steelers down the field but was picked off by Haloti Ngata. Not sure how that even happens. Whatever.



Baltimore kneels it out.

Long week ahead, see yinz Sunday night for a date with Carolina.

Friday, September 12, 2014

WPIAL Week 3 Games of the Week

As we enter the third week of the season, only 39 teams remain undefeated. Of those, only 3 (Central Catholic, Clairton, Norwin) have yet to allow a point to an opposing team. Clairton has not missed a beat under new head coach Wayne Wade, but former coach Tom Nola might be pining for his old job back after an 0-2 start at Gateway. The biggest result from Week 2 might have been Beth-Center's win over Greensburg Central Catholic. The Tri-County South Conference has been the red-headed stepchild of Class A for the last few years, but they have not helped themselves from a scheduling standpoint by having their non-conference games against formerly unaffiliated Vincentian. This year, their non-conference games are against the Eastern Conference and Beth-Center scored the first victory for the TCS in non-conference play, proving that maybe the conference should garner a little more respect from the WPIAL playoff committee.

If you're going to be at home tonight, keep an eye on the following hashtags on Twitter to follow along as people post score updates from games: #WPIAL #MSAscores #Skylights


Also, if you're not already, follow the @MSAsports twitter account which will post score updates and bookmark the MSA Scoreboard for quick reference at the end of the night. They get the final scores up faster than anyone. Also, MSA Sports broadcasts most games over the internet, here is their list of the games they will be broadcasting tonight.

I'll update my WPIAL Standings Page at the end of the night. It's the only one available that includes all playoff tiebreakers (Gardner Points, WPIAL Points Tiebreaker and Head-to-Head wins).

Week 3 has a very solid slate of games and I had a hard time deciding between which games to highlight.

AAAA Game of the Week
Penn-Trafford (2-0, 2-0) at McKeesport (2-0, 2-0)
Saturday

It's only Week 3, but the Foothills Conference Title is essentially on the line. With all due respect to Norwin and their 2-0 start, Penn-Trafford and McKeesport are the best two teams in this conference and the winner of this game should take the conference crown. Penn-Trafford is stacked with offensive talent in QB Brett Laffoon who has thrown for 304 yards and 4 TDs on the season, primarily to Tim Vecchio who already has 132 receiving yards. Devin Austin and Jonah Lisbon have provided a solid 1-2 punch out of the backfield for the Warriors. The Tigers defense will certainly have their hands full. On the other side of the ball, McKeesport features the WPIAL's leading rusher in Khaleke Hudson (572 yards), who is the focal point of their triple-option attack. Hudson has found the end zone 9 times already this season. Through two games, McKeesport has only attempted 5 passes, so keeping the score close (or holding a lead) will be key for the Tigers so that they do not have to try to force the ball through the air and can stay in their triple-option offense.

Honorable Mentions: North Allegheny at Central Catholic, Upper St Clair at Bethel Park

AAA Game of the Week
Franklin Regional (1-1, 1-1) at Mars (1-1, 1-1)

This game lost some luster after Mars RB Josh Schultheis was lost for the season with a broken leg in the season opener. These two teams were both pegged to compete for the conference title, but their quests were set back with Week 1 losses to Knoch and Indiana. Both bounced back in Week 2 as Franklin Regional smoked Hollidaysburg 33-7 and Mars dominated Yough 54-0. Senior Ori Rinaman has stepped in for the Fighting Planets, filling the void left by Schultheis and has run for 201 yards and 5 TDs through 2 games and senior QB Jake Rosswog has thrown for nearly 200 yards and 2 TDs. Through two weeks, the Greater Allegheny Conference has seemed content to beat each other and Knoch is the only team 2-0 in conference play (Hampton is 1-0). Knoch plays a non-conference game against an explosive Ringgold team, but will stay atop the conference for another week which means that Franklin Regional (who already has a head-to-head loss to the Knights) can't afford to fall two games behind Knoch in the standings. The Panthers are lead by dual-threat QB Santino Birty who has 172 yards passing and 137 on the ground. Leading rusher Brett Zanotto has 176 yards and has found the end zone four times. Both teams feature run-heavy offenses and the team that can control the line of scrimmage will keep their nose in the conference title race.

Honorable Mentions: Knoch at Ringgold, Penn Hills at Central Valley

AA Game of the Week
Waynesburg (2-0, 2-0) at Washington (2-0, 2-0)

I went back and forth between the Waynesburg-Washington game and the Kittanning-Apollo Ridge game as my AA Game of the Week. While the Allegheny Conference was maligned after an 0-4 showing in the playoffs last year, that game features two D1 prospects in Kittanning WR/TE Nick Bowers and Apollo-Ridge WR Tre Tipton. However, I opted to choose the revival of an old I-79 rivalry as my Game of the Week. After a run of dominance in the late 90s/early 2000s that included a WPIAL championship, Waynesburg has fallen on hard times and not made the playoffs since 2003. Washington has had the best of the rivalry in recent years, but Waynesburg's trio of seniors looks poised to challenge the Little Prexies run of dominance.The Red Raiders have been a run-heavy team through two weeks, led by Hunter Cenname's 295 yards and 5 TDs and John-Glen Davis'284 yards and 4 TDs. Washington's offense features a more balanced approach with QB Jonathan Spina throwing for 269 yards and 4 TDs while leading rusher Malik Wells has posted 250 yards and 5 TDs on the ground. Both teams have beat up on Interstate Conference bottom-feeders through the first two weeks and one will stake their claim towards challenging Mt Pleasant for the Conference title with a win this week.

Honorable Mentions: Kittanning at Apollo-Ridge, Beaver at Beaver Falls, South Fayette at South Park

A Game of the Week
Brentwood (1-0, 2-0) at Avonworth (2-0, 2-0)

What a week in Class A. After last week where I struggled to find a game to highlight as the Game of the Week, there are 4 worthy candidates this week. The Clairton-GCC game might get the most headlines because of GCC's stingy defense and Clairton's explosive offense, but GCC's loss to Beth-Center last week takes some of the luster off that game. In the Big Seven Conference, the only two remaining undefeated teams square off in what could be a battle for the conference title. However, this week's Class A gem features two of the WPIAL's leading passers. Avonworth's Zach Chandler is the second-leading passer in the WPIAL with 483 yards and 3 TDs while Brentwood's Connor McWilliams has 419 yards and 5 TDs. The Lopes primary weapon is 6'2" junior Jamal Hughley who has 205 receiving yards, 60 rushing yards and 5 total TDs. On the other side, Brentwood's leading receiver Tayron Kyser has also found the end zone 5 times. Both of these teams have explosive offenses and this one has all the makings of a shootout between Chandler and McWilliams.

Honorable Mentions: Neshannock at Riverside, Clairton at GCC

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Gameday: Baltimore Ravens


8:30pm
The Town the Built A Statue of A Murderer
TV: CBS
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

Didn't we just get done playing a group of assholes that was getting way too much media attention? Seems like that just happened yesterday. For all intents and purposes, it pretty much did. Short weeks and quick turnarounds suck, especially coming off an emotionally draining win over a division opponent. But it's Ravens week so...


What To Watch For

1. Up Tempo No Huddle


I know it, you know it, the Steelers know it and the Ravens know it. The Steelers can't defend the no huddle, particularly if it is run up-tempo. The Eagles ripped the first team defense in the preseason so bad that Mark Sanchez even led two touchdown drives.
Yes, that Mark Sanchez.

The Ravens would be morons to not to come out and attack the Steelers defense with an up-tempo no huddle offense until the Steelers prove they are capable of stopping it. But then again, this is the team that built a statue of a murderer and gave Ray Rice a standing ovation, so there's no telling what they'll do next.

2. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms

If there is any announcing duo that Steelers Nation hates more than one involving John Madden or one involving Chris Collinsworth, it's Nantz and Simms. However, from an entertainment standpoint, it will be interesting to see how the two - particularly CBS's top dog Jim Nantz - handles the Ray Rice situation and the growing firestorm around commissioner Roger Goodell. What's that Goodell is on fire? If only there were someone to put it out...
(Quote from 3-year-old Men's Journal article)

Of course, Harrison brought his own kind of awesome on twitter, as only James Harrison can:
All that aside, with a primtime game in front of a national audience, will Nantz and Simms address the many, many, many calls for Goodell's firing? Will they gloss over the issue altogether? Will they add their voices to the growing chorus? Either way, it should make for good theater on top of, you know, the actual football game.

3. Bounce-Back Flacco

Joe Flacco has a career 62-34 regular season record. However, he has typically been very good in weeks following a bad performance. Last week against the Bengals was pretty much the epitome of a bad performance. Even though he threw 62 passes, he completed just 56.5% for 1 TD and 1 INT. In his career, Flacco is 23-9 in games after a loss. A prime time home game against a Steelers defense that was running around like chickens with their heads cut off in the second half against the Browns would seem like a prime opportunity for Flacco. The thing the Steelers have working to their advantage is that the Ravens offensive line is absolute trash. The Steelers should be able to dominate the point of attack, particularly Cam Heyward and Jason Worilds. Joe Flacco is not Drew Brees or Tom Brady - he is not a patient quarterback that will dink and dunk all day. Flacco wants to use his big arm and take shots down the field, which require standing in the pocket behind a terrible O-line for a longer period of time. The Steelers should be able to get pressure and force throws, which will help the defense get off the field.

4. Outside Zone

Joe Flacco is not going to run a zone read or read option play. That much we know. However, the Ravens have gashed us before with running the outside zone blocking scheme (see: 2011 season opener). The scheme was essentially the same one that Gary Kubiak was running in Houston. Now, Kubiak is the offensive coordinator for the Ravens. You can bet we will see a heavy dose of the outside zone, which requires defensive linemen to be mobile and hold their gaps while linebackers flow to the ball but also do not over-run the ball. The most successful runners in Kubiak's scheme (like Arian Foster) have been excellent cut-back runners. The Steelers got burned against the Browns when West and Crowell began to exploit the over-pursuit of the linebackers and hit the cutback lanes. 

5. Steelers. Ravens.

Just those two words should be enough to get your blood boiling. I don't care that neither team is as stingy on defense as they were back in the mid-2000s when these games were a bloodbath. The final score could be in the 30s or in the 10s and this will still be one of the best rivalries in football. With the Ravens losing to the Bengals last week, this is a huge opportunity for the Steelers to not only start the season 2-0 but also nab 2 division wins out of the gate while dropping the Ravens to 0-2 against division opponents. As we found out last year, every tiebreaker scenario is important, and getting an early leg up in the division would be a tremendous start to 2014. At the end of the day, it's Steelers-Ravens. It doesn't matter how we win, just that we win. The Browns game left a bad taste in everyone's mouth, even though we won. Not so with the Ravens. A win over the Ravens, in any capacity, is a huge victory. Do whatever it takes and win the damn game.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I'm Not Sick But I'm Not Well: Steelers Win

 27
 30

The Steelers started the 2014 season by unfurling a giant terrible towel in the middle of the field.

The Steelers win the toss and take the ball.

Before you can even blink Ben hits Bell on a quick slant then AB on another slant that he turns upfield and takes into Browns territory. Not even a false start penalty could derail the offense out of the gates as the Steelers ran a real honest-to-goodness screen pass that resulted in a 20-yard gain. I can't even tell you the last time the Steelers got 10 yards on a screen pass, let alone 20.
The Prescription keeps rolling, bouncing a run to the outside to take it down inside the 5. A holding penalty nullifies a touchdown two plays later and a sack forces us to settle for 3.

3-0


The Browns predictably start it out on the ground but after they move the chains once, Hoyer airs it out for Jordan Cameron who we thought was their only receiver (more on this later) and the Steelers don't have a safety in sight but Timmons has close enough coverage to bring him down. That was pretty much it for that drive, but the pass to Cameron got them into field goal range.

3-3

Ben gets right back at it hitting AB on 3rd down over the middle to move the chains then going downtown to Markus Wheaton streaking down the sideline. It was a similar play to the pass Emmanuel Sanders dropped in the opener against Tennessee last year, but Wheaton pulls it in along the sideline for a big 40-yard gain. Three plays later on a 3rd and 1 Blount powers up the middle untouched into the end zone for the first touchdown of the year.


10-3

Second Quarter

The defense gives up some yards on an end-around but hold to a 3-and-out.

The momentum slows a little when Ben tries to force a late throw to Bell on the sideline that Karlos Dansby picks off. Dansby is a good player. No clue why Arizona has let him get away twice.

The Steelers defense was playing with some serious attitude in the first half. The Browns took over at the fringe of field goal range and wound up punting after Jarvis Jones ripped inside of a tight end and sacked Hoyer.


The Prescription gets us out of the shadow of our own goalposts then takes a short pass and makes some moves up the field and gets us all the way out to midfield against a demoralized Browns defense. A pass to Wheaton and run by Bell move the chains again. At the 35, Ben makes a vintage Ben play, stepping away from pressure then makes an unreal throw on the run that isn't even possible in video games to hit Antonio Brown in stride in the corner of the end zone.



If you read my game preview, you know that Joe Haden has an entire garden of aloe plants just for when he faces AB.


DAT PASS
(gif from the master, OFTOT)

17-3

The Browns made the mistake of trying to run the kick out and didn't even make it to the 10 as the coverage team swarmed. They weren't getting anything on our defense at that point. AB almost put an exclamation point on it by nearly taking the punt back to the house and delivering a Karate Kid Crane Kick on the Browns punter in the process.


Benstonium in midseason form in Week 1.




CAN'T


STOP


LOOKING


Justin Brown gets in on the act with a catch over the middle then The Prescription takes a run off left tackle and makes some moves in the hole, breaks a few arm tackles and is off to the races down the sideline, getting a block from AB and tumbling into the end zone.



24-3

Shazier almost comes up with a pick on the next drive as a 3rd down pass hits him right in the hands but he does his best Emmanuel Sanders impression and drops it.

The Steelers go 3-and-out when AB can't quite get to the sticks on 3rd down.

The defense is absolutely on fire. Jason Worilds gets a sack and the defense stops the Browns before the two minute warning to get Ben the ball back with just under 2 minutes and all 3 timeouts.

When the Steelers came out throwing, someone in my section asked why. I said, "Remember our defense from last year? We need as many points as we can get." Unfortunately, that was about to come true.

AB made a big catch to get things going and Wheaton tacked on another to get us across midfield but made the young player mistake of not getting out of bounds. Two passes to Heath got us into field goal range. Ben took a shot for the end zone and AB drew a holding penalty on Haden with just under 20 ticks left. The Steelers went for another shot but Ben got flushed out of the pocket and took off up the middle. He made an incredibly heads up play to slide in the middle of the field and call timeout with 5 seconds left rather than trying to get extra yards and letting the clock run out (see: Flacco, Joseph). Suisham tacks on to end the half.

27-3

Third Quarter

Brian Hoyer stayed under center in the second half, but it was a completely different Browns offense. They basically burned their first half playbook and went to the Johnny Manziel offense that featured a pistol set with a zone-read running game and sprint/roll-out passing looks off of play-action. That might sound a little bit complicated, but it really wasn't. Hoyer took snaps in the pistol, and either handed off or faked a handoff and rolled out and threw to an open receiver in the middle of the field. That was pretty much it. And the Steelers couldn't stop it. The Browns marched right down the field in a minute and a half and put 6 on the board.

27-10

The Steelers crap all over themselves with a penalty on the kickoff that pushes the start of the drive back inside the 10 then go 3-and-out.

The Browns come right back at it with rookie RB Terrence West carving up the Steelers and Hoyer throwing to wide open receivers. In just over two minutes, they're in the end zone again. Rookie Isaiah Crowell got his second rushing touchdown as he came in as the change-of-pace back in the red zone after West did the leg work.

27-17

The Browns scored two touchdowns in the first 6 minutes of the second half.


The Steelers got something together on offense and started moving the ball again with The Prescription shouldering the load. On the edge of field goal range, Ben gets sacked and puts an end to the drive. Not ideal.

Cleveland takes over and picks their way back down the field. The Steelers still can't figure out how to defend the middle of the field and the Browns no-name receiving corps has a field day getting 15-20 yards a pop. The Steelers finally get a 3rd down with the Browns inside the 5 and Cam Heyward comes up with a big stop when the Browns have a miscommunication and the running back and Hoyer go the wrong way.

Fourth Quarter

Cleveland cuts it to a score with a field goal.

27-20

After the defense got shredded in the 3rd quarter, a long drive by the offense was needed to calm things down. Unfortunately, two incompletions and a sack later, the defense was heading back onto the field and not much time had come off the game clock.


Crowell gashed the Steelers on the ground again to set up the Browns in field goal range then Hoyer hit Hawkins over the middle to get them inside the 10. On the next play, Hoyer rolled out and hit an open receiver in the back of the end zone.
All of this was out of the same offensive look, and the Steelers just couldn't stop it. Cleveland didn't even face a 3rd down on that drive.

27-27

Things looked grim when the offense stalled out and went 3-and-out after a holding penalty on Heath. On the previous punt, the Browns had brought their outside guys in to rush the punt and forced the Steelers to bring in their gunners. The Browns tried it again but Robert Golden took the snap and flung a pass out to gunner Antwon Blake who made the catch and scampered down the sidelines to midfield.

What a huge turn of events. Great play by Golden and Blake.

Unfortunately, the Steelers couldn't pick up a first down and punted it back to Cleveland, but the fake punt allowed them to flip the field on the Browns.


With the defense needing a lift, this would've seemed like an ideal time for Renegade, but instead we got Ride the Lightning.

Not bad, but not Renegade.

The Browns shrugged off starting at their own 6 and marched right down into Steelers territory before finally facing a 3rd down at the Steelers 35. Hoyer tried to hit a tight end but William Gay made a great play to knock the pass away.
Big. Play. Bill. Gay.

The Prescription put the team on his back and got us out to midfield on his own. The Steelers went away from him and worked it to a 3rd and 1. The Browns stacked the box and the Steelers ran a shotgun draw to LeGarrette Blount that lost 4 yards. Everyone in the world knew a run was coming. No blocking back, against a loaded box. You have to have a hot route slant to AB in your audible book there, AB was 1-on-1 with Haden with no safeties deep.

The Browns take over with 2 minutes to go, and still no Renegade.

The Steelers finally get the Browns behind the chains when Cam Heyward collapses the pocket and sacks Hoyer on first down. William Gay knocks a pass away on 2nd down then makes a big tackle for a loss on 3rd down on a swing pass to a WR.

The Steelers take over at their own 43 with just under a minute to go and 1 timeout. They try a screen to Bell that gets stopped then waste 20 seconds getting lined up before getting off another snap. Ben hits Wheaton to get us across midfield but has to use our last timeout with 20 seconds left because Wheaton couldn't get out of bounds. With the ball at the Browns 45, the Steelers needed another chunk of yards to get into field goal range. Ben audibled Wheaton's route and hit him on a deep in for 20 yards.

Ben spiked it with 5 ticks left.

Suisham's kick was low and the ball looked sideways, but it went through.



30-27



A win is a win, but no one left the stadium with a good feeling in their stomachs.


Players of the Game
Offensive Game Ball: Le'Veon Bell
Defensive Game Ball: William Gay

Honorable Mentions:
Markus Wheaton

Ben Roethlisberger
Shaun Suisham

I mentioned in my Season Preview that Ben needed one more Game Winning Drive to move into the Top-10 All-Time. There it was.

This happened too.