Monday, October 20, 2014

Gameday: Houston Texans


8:30pm
Heinz Field
TV: ESPN
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

What To Watch For

1. JJ Watt

JJ Watt is the best defensive player in the league. Period. He is a disruptive force and will move all over the defensive line to find mismatches. Even when he doesn't get pressure, he does a great job at getting his arms up to deflect passes. He has scored 3 touchdowns this season, which is more than anyone on the Steelers not named Antonio Brown. He is just as good against the run as he is against the pass. The Steelers will need to double-team Watt wherever he is on the field. The key to the Steelers success will be keeping the Texans defense out of the end zone. Watt is going to make his plays, but if you limit them to tackles for loss and not turnovers or defensive touchdowns, the Steelers will have a chance to win.

2. The Outside Zone

The Steelers defense is bad. We know that. On top of that, they now have to face a rushing attack that features the best outside zone running back in the game - Arian Foster. The Steelers have been atrocious in defending the outside zone scheme and Arian Foster runs in it better than anyone. This could be a long night for the Steelers defense if they're unable to put the plug in the Texans ground attack. Considering Houston has Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, it is essential for the Steelers to not only get out to a lead, but to make Houston's offense one-dimensional and force them to throw the ball.

3. The First Quarter

Houston has only scored twice in the first quarter through 6 games this season, and both of those scores came against Oakland. The Texans have been slow starters otherwise. If the Steelers can come out hot and put two touchdowns on the board before the Texans know what hit them, they can put the ball in Ryan Fitzpatrick's hands and take it away from Arian Foster. If the Steelers piddle around in the first quarter like they did against Jacksonville and Cleveland, they'll let the Texans stay with their run-heavy gameplan and hang around throughout the game. This is a team that can be buried early. Whether or not the Steelers actually do that is another story.

4. All Antonio Brown Does Is Make Big Plays

Did you watch the Texans-Colts game on Thursday night last week? If you did, you saw TY Hilton running through the Texans secondary like their defensive backs didn't even exist. When the dust had settled, Hilton had 9 catches for 223 yards. Hilton is a very good receiver but Antonio Brown is better. The Colts moved Hilton around the field, including into the slot, to get him beneficial matchups. If the Steelers were smart and watched film on the Texans, they will work Antonio Brown early and often because Houston simply can't match up with him.

5. The Strange Place of the Fanbase

The Steelers fanbase is in a bizarre place right now. Just 7 days ago, everyone was ready to burn it all down, fire everyone, trade everyone and draft Marcus Mariota. Now? After just one more weekend of NFL football? All of a sudden the Browns were the Browns and the Bengals were the Bengals and the narrative has become: "Hey, if we beat the Texans we're right back in the playoff race." Gene Collier set off a stinkbomb on sports radio all week with his article that called for Todd Haley to be fired but totally ignored stats like points scored and allowed. I did his work for him. Alan Robinson at the Trib tried to compare the first 7 Tomlin drafts to the first 7 Cowher drafts. He made up some ridiculous scoring formula for grading picks rather than using an established metric like Career Approximate Value, which I used in the spring when I analyzed the 7 Tomlin/Colbert drafts and the 7 Cowher/Colbert drafts. Social media is a bizarre place right now where some people are ready to light the wagon on fire and drive it off the West End Bridge and others are clinging to the fact that it's a long season and there is still some hope for this team. The strangest part of it is that there is basically no middle ground. Either the sky is falling or the Steelers are going to make the playoffs. If the Steelers struggle in this one, there are enough angsty fans that the boo birds could come out early and often tonight.

Friday, October 17, 2014

WPIAL Week 8 Games of the Week and Playoff Scenarios

There are two weeks left in the regular season. In Quad-A, 12 of the 16 playoff spots have been clinched. One conference title will be decided this week as Pine-Richland faces Central Catholic on ROOT Sports. Penn-Trafford can win their conference title with a win over Plum. The Southeastern title will come down to the Woodland Hills-Penn Hills game next week. In AAA, only 8 of the 16 playoff spots are secured and only the Greater Allegheny conference has been won. The Big Nine will be decided by the TJ-West Mifflin game next week unless West Mifflin loses to Trinity this week. The Parkway Conference will be decided by the West Allegheny-Central Valley showdown next week. Even less spots are secure in AA where only 7 teams have clinched playoff spots. Highlands can win the Allegheny Conference title with a win against rival Valley tonight and the winner of Seton-La Salle - South Fayette will win the Century Conference. A Washington win and McGuffey loss would give the Little Prexies the Interstate Conference crown while a New Brighton win over Beaver Falls would give Aliquippa the Midwestern title. In Class A, 10 of 16 playoff spots are secure with Neshannock and Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic winning the Big Seven and Black Hills Conference titles. Clairton can win the Eastern Conference with a win over Monessen and Beth-Center can win the Tri-County South with a win over Jefferson-Morgan.

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).


AAAA Game of the Week
Pine-Richland (6-0, 7-0) at Central Catholic (5-0, 7-0)
(Highmark Stadium)

Two undefeated teams with the Northern Eight title on the line face off at Highmark Stadium on Friday night. The Riverhounds stadium is an excellent venue with the backdrop of the downtown skyline and will play host to the ROOT Sports Game of the Week. This will be a matchup of strength on strength as Pine-Richland boasts the top offense in Quad-A and Central Catholic has the top defense in Quad-A. Central Catholic is the defending Northern Eight and WPIAL AAAA Champions while Pine-Richland has never made it out of the first round of the playoffs in 6 years since moving up from AAA. Pine-Richland QB Ben DiNucci leads the WPIAL in passing with 1915 yards and 23 TDs. His primary targets have been senior WRs Mike Merhaut (678 yards, 9 TDs) and D'Ondre Gastion (492 yards, 9 TDs). The Rams have a solid ground game, led by senior RB Connor Slomka's 609 yards and 14 TDs. Central Catholic's strength is on the defensive side of the ball where they have pitched 4 shutouts in 7 games but their offense is no slouch either. Senior RB Grant Foster has been a workhorse, running for 454 yards and 12 TDs while Brian Totten has added 330 yards and 2 TDs while two other backs (Ronnie Jones and Vinny Emanuele) have also run for over 200. Both teams have already clinched home playoff games and the winner will take the conference title (and possibly the top overall seed in the Quad-A bracket as Woodland Hills lost to West Allegheny last week).

Honorable Mentions: Plum at Penn-Trafford, Norwin at McKeesport, Butler at Fox Chapel, Woodland Hills at Mt Lebanon

Penn-Trafford is a win away from clinching the Foothills Conference title while Plum, who entered this season with a WPIAL-leading losing streak, has also clinched a spot in the playoffs. Currently, Altoona, Plum and Norwin sit in a 3-way tie at 3rd through 5th in the Foothills. Norwin has also clinched a playoff spot but can elevate themselves into the race for second place and a home playoff game if they can find a way to beat McKeesport this week. The Foothills is the only conference in Quad-A with two games between teams that have clinched playoff spots. In the Northern Eight, Butler and Fox Chapel are battling for the last playoff spot in the conference as the top four spots are locked down. A Fox Chapel win would clinch a playoff spot for the Foxes while a Butler win would keep hope alive for both Butler and Seneca Valley heading into the final week of the season when Fox Chapel plays a non-conference game. At the beginning of the season, the Southeastern Conference was seen as the best conference in Quad-A, but its teams have not fared well in non-conference play, including against AAA opponents. Woodland Hills is still unbeaten in conference play while Mt Lebanon sits in 3rd place and still has an outside shot at the conference title if they win out.

Foothills Conference Playoff Scenarios
  • Penn-Trafford, McKeesport, Plum and Norwin have clinched a playoff spots.
  • Penn-Trafford clinches the Conference title with a win over Plum.
  • McKeesport clinches a home playoff game with a win over Norwin.
  • Altoona clinches a playoff spot with a win over Hempfield or a Connellsville loss.

Northern Eight Conference Playoff Scenarios
  • Pine-Richland, Central Catholic, North Allegheny and North Hills have clinched a playoff spots.
  • Pine-Richland and Central Catholic have clinched home playoff games.
  • The winner of the Central Catholic-Pine Richland game will win the conference title.
  • Fox Chapel clinches a playoff spot with a win over Butler.

Southeastern Conference Playoff Scenarios
  • Woodland Hills, Penn Hills, Mt Lebanon and Upper St Clair have clinched playoff spots.
  • Bethel Park clinches a playoff spot with a win over Peters Twp.


AAA Game of the Week
Thomas Jefferson (7-0, 7-0) at Franklin Regional (5-2, 5-2)

The AAA Game of the Week is once again a non-conference game. Thomas Jefferson has run away with the Big Nine Conference while Franklin Regional currently sits in second place in the Greater Allegheny Conference. This game means more for potential playoff seedings than it does for either team in the regular season. A win over the top team in the Big Nine would be a huge boost for the GAC where middle-of-the-pack teams have spent most of the season beating each other and dropping their records. On the other hand, the WPIAL seeding committee is going to have an interesting decision if they want to separate West Allegheny and Central Valley in the AAA bracket. Would the committee jump the loser of next week's West A-Central Valley game over an undefeated conference champion from the Big Nine or GAC? It would be easier for the committee to separate West A and Central Valley if TJ or Hampton lost one of their next two games, so this game is important for TJ as far as postseason seeding. The Jaguars have the highest scoring offense in AAA along with the best defense and the WPIAL's leading rusher in Austin Kemp (1462 yards, 32 TDs).

Honorable Mentions: Ringgold at Elizabeth Forward, Laurel Highlands at Belle Vernon, Hollidaysburg at Mars, Knoch at Indiana, West Allegheny at Moon, Chartiers Valley at New Castle

Ringgold and West Mifflin have pulled ahead of the middle of the pack in the Big Nine Conference into 2nd and 3rd place, respectively. Behind them, Laurel Highlands, Belle Vernon and Elizabeth Forward are all tied at 3-3. Belle Vernon has two huge games to finish the season against Laurel Highlands and Elizabeth Forward which will determine their playoff fate. Elizabeth Forward already has a loss to Laurel Highlands and needs a win in the next two weeks to help their case for the playoffs. The GAC is even more of a mess than the Big Nine. Behind Hampton and Franklin Regional, 5 teams are tied with 3-3 records. Four of those five face off this week as Hollidaysburg plays Mars and Knoch plays Indiana. The winners will put themselves in excellent position to finish in the top 5 and make the playoffs. In the Parkway Conference, West Allegheny and Central Valley have run out to a 2-game lead and are headed for a showdown next week. First, West Allegheny must get past a Moon team that has already clinched a playoff spot. Chartiers Valley and New Castle are currently tied for the last playoff spot from the Parkway Conference. This isn't quite a casket match as Blackhawk has a win over New Castle and could hop New Castle by virtue of wining a head-to-head tiebreaker for the last spot.

Big Nine Conference Playoff Scenarios
  • Thomas Jefferson, Ringgold and West Mifflin have clinched a playoff spots.
  • Thomas Jefferson has clinched a home playoff game.
  • Ringgold and West Mifflin can clinch home playoff games with wins over Elizabeth Forward and Trinity, respectively.
  • Laurel Highlands clinches a playoff spot with a win over Belle Vernon and an Elizabeth Forward loss.

Greater Allegheny Conference Playoff Scenarios
  • Hampton has clinched the conference title.
  • Franklin Regional has clinched a playoff spot.

Parkway Conference Playoff Scenarios
  • West Allegheny, Central Valley, Montour, and Moon have clinched playoff spots.
  • Central Valley has clinched a home playoff game.
  • West Allegheny clinches a home playoff game with a win over Moon.
  • Chartiers Valley clinches a playoff spot with a win over New Castle.


AA Game of the Week
South Fayette (7-0, 7-0) at Seton-La Salle (7-0, 7-0)

The Defending AA State Champions face their biggest test of the Century Conference slate in Seton-La Salle. Last season, South Fayette beat Seton-La Salle in the regular season and in the quarterfinals. There was a lot of talk out of the Rebels this offseason about setting their sites on the State Title and an undefeated season. But they have to get by South Fayette first. The Lions, led by the WPIAL's all-time leading passer Brett Brumbaugh, have been absolutely slaughtering teams this year. They have the second best offense in AA and the second-best defense. Seton-La Salle statistically has the best defense, but they have not played a team as explosive as South Fayette yet. Brett Brumbaugh has thrown for 1537 yards and 20 TDs this year, spreading the ball around to 3 receivers (Nick Ponikvar, Logan Sharp and Roman Denson) who all have over 350 receiving yards. The Lions are solid on the ground as well, with RB Hunter Hays having run for 637 yards and 15 TDs. Seton-La Salle has a talented QB of their own in Tyler Perone, but he just lost his biggest play-maker in Danzel McKinley-Lewis due to a ridiculous WPIAL "red card" rule because he got 2 personal foul penalties. The Rebels will need to rely on RB Ricky Mellick (690 yards, 7 TDs) on the ground and their other receivers if they're going to de-throne the champs. Both teams have clinched home playoff games so all that is left to decide is the conference title, which the winner of this game will take home.

Honorable Mentions: Shady Side Academy at Kittanning, South Park at Steel Valley, Waynesburg at McGuffey, Southmoreland at Washington, New Brighton at Beaver Falls, Mt Pleasant at Aliquippa

Shady Side Academy and Kittanning played one of the most memorable games on the AA slate last year with Kittanning prevailing and winning the conference title thanks to a penalty after an SSA touchdown at the end of regulation that pushed back the extra point. SSA missed the extra point and Kittanning won by 1. Now, the two are solidified as the 3rd and 4th teams in the Allegheny Conference and are battling for playoff positioning. The winner will clinch a playoff berth and the loser will also do so if Ford City loses. Similarly, in the Century Conference, South Park and Steel Valley sit 3rd and 4th in the standings and the winner of this game secures a playoff spot. The loser can also secure a spot if Quaker Valley loses. The winner of this game will also likely avoid Aliquippa in the first round of the playoffs. In the Interstate Conference, Waynesburg, McGuffey and Southmoreland are battling for the final 2 playoff spots while Washington has secured a spot and could clinch the conference title this week. Southmoreland is trying to reach the postseason for the first time since 1979 but needs to find a win against one of the top teams in the conference. In the Midwestern Conference, New Brighton needs a win over Beaver Falls to lock up 2nd place in the conference and secure a home playoff game. Despite their 35-0 loss to Beaver, Beaver Falls still has an outside shot at the conference title if they can beat New Brighton and Aliquippa in the last two weeks. Speaking of the Quips, they have a non-conference game against Mt Pleasant who currently sits in 2nd place in the Interstate Conference. This game has more importance for playoff seeding than it does for either team in the regular season.

Allegheny Conference Playoff Scenarios
  • Highlands and Apollo-Ridge have clinched playoff spots.
  • Highlands clinches the conference title (and naming rights to the bridge) with a win over Valley.
  • Apollo-Ridge clinches a home playoff game with a win over Deer Lakes.
  • Shady Side Academy clinches a playoff spot with a win over Kittanning or a Ford City loss.
  • Kittanning clinches a playoff spot with a win over Shady Side Academy or a Ford City loss.

Century Conference Playoff Scenarios
  • Seton-La Salle and South Fayette have clinched playoff spots and home playoff games.
  • The winner of the Seton-La Salle-South Fayette game will win the conference title.
  • The winner of South Park-Steel Valley clinches a playoff spot.
  • The loser of South Park-Steel Valley clinches a playoff spot if Quaker Valley loses to East Allegheny.

Interstate Conference Playoff Scenarios
  • Washington has clinched a playoff spot.
  • Washington clinches the conference title with a win over Southmoreland and a McGuffey loss.
  • Mt Pleasant plays a non-conference game but can clinch a playoff spot if Waynesburg or Southmoreland lose.
  • McGuffey clinches a playoff spot with a win over Waynesburg.

Midwestern Conference Playoff Scenarios
  • Aliquippa and New Brighton have clinched playoff spots.
  • Aliquippa plays a non-conference game but can clinch the conference title if Beaver Falls loses.
  • New Brighton clinches a home playoff game with a win over Beaver Falls.
  • Beaver Falls clinches a playoff spot with a win over New Brighton or an Ellwood City loss.
  • Beaver clinches a playoff spot with a win over Freedom and an Ellwood City loss.


A Game of the Week
Clairton (6-0, 7-0) at Monessen (4-3, 4-3)

Monessen is fighting for their playoff lives. The Greyhounds have a non-conference game next week so this is their last game against an Eastern Conference foe. If Clairton emerges victorious, Monessen would miss the playoffs if Springdale wins one of their final two games. Clairton is absolutely loaded with talented players and will be out for blood against a Monessen team that ended their 66-game winning streak last season. The Greyhounds have done most of their offensive damage through the air this year, led by QB Noah Rullo, but they have a difficult task against a Clairton secondary loaded with D1 recruits. The Bears have set an historic pace on offense, putting up 496 points in 7 games, an average of 70.9 points per game. Incredibly, Clairton should surpass the regular season WPIAL scoring record of 513 points set by the 2007 Terrelle Pryor Jeannette team. That Jeannette team also set the State Record for points in a season with 860 through 16 games. If Clairton continues at their current pace of over 70 points per game, they would need just 5 more games to surpass Jeannette's record. The Bears have unbelievable talent on this team, from QB Ryan Williams (1262 yards, 18 TDs) to his top receivers Aaron Williams (321 yards, 9 TDs) and James Hines (390 yards, 5 TDs). Top RB Harrison Dreher was injured in Week 4 but Lamont Wade has taken the helm and run for 991 yards and 19 TDs. Clairton's historic scoring pace could force the WPIAL selection committee to break from tradition of awarding an undefeated defending champion the top overall seed and put Clairton in the top slot for Class A.

Honorable Mentions: Shenango at Riverside, South Side Beaver at Avonworth, Chartiers-Houston at Neshannock, GCC at Springdale, Jefferson-Morgan at Beth-Center, Carmichaels at Avella

Outside of Neshannock, the Big Seven Conference has been a surprise this season. Shenango has not made the playoffs since 2006 when they played in AA and they have clinched a playoff spot and can secure a home playoff game with a win over Riverside. Riverside is likewise in position to make the playoffs and has multiple avenues to get there. There are two big non-conference games that are worth paying attention to. Avonworth (who has secured 2nd place in the Black Hills) plays South Side Beaver, who has clinched a playoff spot in the Big Seven. Chartiers-Houston (who will likely have a casket match with Fort Cherry next week for the final playoff spot in the Black Hills) faces Big Seven Conference Champion Neshannock. Since both games feature teams in playoff position, they will be important to pay attention to in order to scale the relative strengths of each conference. In the Eastern Conference, Springdale could clinch a playoff spot with a Monessen loss and if the Dynamos win one of their two remaining games. Many wrote off Springdale after they lost to Leechburg early in the season but the Dynamos have rebounded and could finish as high as 3rd in the conference if they win out. Beth-Center can win the Tri-County South title with a win over Jefferson-Morgan who is locked in a tight battle with Carmichaels, Bentworth and Avella for the last playoff spot. All signs point to a Carmichaels-Jefferson Morgan casket match next week.

Big Seven Conference Playoff Scenarios
  • Neshannock has clinched the conference title.
  • Shenango and South Side Beaver have clinched playoff spots.
  • Shenango clinches a home playoff game with a win over Riverside.
  • Riverside clinches a playoff spot with a win over Shenango or a Vincentian loss.

Black Hills Conference Playoff Scenarios
  • Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic has clinched the conference title.
  • Avonworth has clinched a home playoff game.
  • Brentwood clinches a playoff spot with a win over OLSH and a Bishop Canevin loss.

Eastern Conference Playoff Scenarios
  • Clairton and Jeannette have clinched a playoff spots.
  • Clairton clinches a home playoff game with a win over Monessen.
  • GCC clinches a playoff spot with a win over Springdale.
  • Monessen clinches a playoff spot with a win over Clairton and a Springdale loss.
  • Springdale clinches a playoff spot with a win over GCC and losses by Monessen and Riverview.

Tri-County South Conference Playoff Scenarios
  • Beth-Center has clinched a home playoff game.
  • Beth-Center clinches the conference title with a win over Jefferson-Morgan.
  • Frazier and Mapletown have clinched playoff spots.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Falsity of Nostalgia for Bruce Arians

The Steelers fanbase is in a strange place right now. A few weeks ago, we were all kind of chuckling at Snoop Dogg's instagram messages about how Todd Haley should be fired.


Now, one of the most respected sports journalists in the city (along with one who is basically a giant troll) have picked up the mantle and run with it. Gene Collier's article in the Post-Gazette has been all the talk of Pittsburgh Radio this week. Mark Madden's column in the Beaver County Times requires a subscription to read and there's no way anyone in their right mind should pay to read what Mark Madden writes.

However, Collier falls victim to nostalgic reminiscing. The central focus of Collier's argument (which is pretty much the only statistic he cites in his entire article) is wins and losses.

"Haley has been the offensive coordinator in 38 games since the “retirement” of Bruce Arians, much reviled in the same role in the previous five seasons. The Steelers are 19-19 in those 38.
In the 38 games before Arians “retired,” the Steelers were 27-11. In his five seasons with Tomlin, the Steelers were 55-25, winning 12 games three times.
"
For starters, offensive performance is not the sole contributor to wins and losses. Last year's Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks were 17th in the league in total offense. Without getting into complicated metrics like DVOA, which someone who pays for a Football Outsiders subscription can do for you, let's take a look at the three time frames that Collier has laid out: Haley's first 38 games (2012-2014), Arians' last 38 games (November 29, 2009-2011), and Arians' 5 full seasons (2007-2011).

Let's start with the easy statistic that is essential to winning (which Collier totally ignores): points per game.

  • In 38 games under Todd Haley, the Steelers have averaged 22.08 points per game.
  • In Bruce Arians' last 38 games, the Steelers averaged 22.03 points per game.
  • In Bruce Arians' 5-year tenure, the Steelers averaged 22.60 points per game.

The difference between Arians' last 38 and Haley's first 38 equates to a grand total of 2 points. Over Arians' 5-year tenure, the difference was only about a half a point per game. Neither of those numbers are significant enough to say that the Steelers were better off under Arians than they were under Haley. Now, this is not to give Todd Haley's offense a free pass. His offense ranks a putrid 20th in points per game since the beginning of 2012. In comparison to the rest of the league, Haley's offense has to be better. In comparison to Bruce Arians' offense? It is simply more of the same.

However, something as simple as "Points Per Game" can get skewed by non-offensive factors. The "Points Per Game" number is simply the total number of points scored divided by the number of games, which includes the number of points scored on defensive and special teams touchdowns. The Steelers have scored 7 non-offensive touchdowns during Haley's tenure (1 punt return, 5 interception returns, 1 fumble return), lowering the offensive output to 20.79 points per game. During Arians' last 38 games the Steelers produced 6 non-offensive touchdowns (1 kickoff return, 1 punt return, 3 interception returns, 1 fumble return), lowering the offensive output to 20.92 points per game. In total, Arians' offense scored 5 more points over his last 38 games than Haley's offense did in his first 38. The Steelers scored 15 non-offensive TDs during Bruce Arians' tenure, which would lower the offensive points per game over that 5-year span to 21.29. On the whole, there was no great change in the numbers when defense and special teams touchdowns were factored out as Arians' total tenure was still about a half point per game higher than Haley's total tenure.

Yards

One of the common criticisms of Haley's offense has been that they move the ball between the 20s but have been red zone failures. That is a fair criticism, particularly in light of the last few games where the offense has scored all of 10 points against Jacksonville and Cleveland. However, what people are forgetting is that Bruce Arians' offenses suffered from the exact same criticism.

  • Under Todd Haley, the Steelers have averaged 344.8 yards per game.
  • In Bruce Arians' last 38 games, the Steelers averaged 358.5 yards per game.
  • In Bruce Arians' 5-year tenure, the Steelers averaged 345.7 yards per game.

Incredibly, there is virtually no difference (1 yard) between Haley's tenure and Arians' tenure. The one difference is that over the last 38 games, Arians' offense was about 13 yards per game better than his career average and better than Haley's average. From a yards per play standpoint, the story does change slightly as Haley's offense has been less efficient than Arians' but has been able to run more plays per game.

  • Under Todd Haley, the Steelers have averaged 5.34 yards per play and 64.5 plays per game.
  • In Arians' last 38 games, the Steelers averaged 5.72 yards per play and 62.7 plays per game.
  • In Arians' 5-year tenure, the Steelers averaged 5.49 yards per play and 63 plays per game.

One area in which Todd Haley's offense has not been nearly as good as Arians' is in the turnover department. Under Haley the offense has committed 61 turnovers (1.61 per game), 9 more than they did in Arians' last 38 games (1.37 per game). Over Arians' tenure, the offense turned the ball over 118 times, an average of 1.48 per game.

So where does that leave us? As Gene Collier clearly stated, the Steelers won more games when Bruce Arians was the offense coordinator. Ipso facto Todd Haley needs to go. But their offensive numbers, whether breaking it down by total yards or points scored, are basically the same. Perhaps we should turn our attention to the other side of the ball.

The Defense

For some reason, Dick LeBeau seems to have gotten a free pass this year. He has a Hall of Fame resume and somehow has been largely above the criticism heaped on this team because "we expected the defense to be bad." But that's just the excuse this year, what about for the past few seasons?

  • From 2007-2011 (Arians' tenure), the Steelers defense allowed 15.94 points per game and 271.5 yards per game.
  • From Nov 29, 2009-2011 (Arians' last 38 games), the Steelers defense allowed 15.76 points per game and 286.4 yards per game.
  • From 2012-2014 (Haley's tenure), the Steelers defense has allowed 21.67 points per game and 311.3 yards per game.

During Todd Haley's time as offensive coordinator, the Steelers defense is essentially giving up 6 more points and 40 more yards per game.

During Arians' last 38 games, the Steelers won 9 games by less than 5 points and 3 more games by exactly 6 points. Arians' adjusted record over his last 38 games as offensive coordinator if the defense gave up just 5 more points per game would be 18-20. If you include the additional 3 games that the Steelers won by 6 points, Arians' adjusted record would be 15-23. On the flip side, from 2012-2014 the Steelers have lost 8 games by less than 5 points and 2 more by exactly 6 points. If the defense allowed just 5 fewer points per game (as it did during Arians' last 38 games), Todd Haley's record as offensive coordinator goes from 19-19 to 27-11.

So what is the conclusion here? As Gene Collier clearly spelled out, Arians was 27-11 in his last 38 games and Haley is 19-19 in his first 38 games. Simply put, based only on points per game:

  • If Arians had Haley's defense, he would've been 18-20.
  • If Haley had Arians' defense, he would be 27-11.

But what about the notion that the defense is on the field too much because Haley's offense can't sustain drives? This is a fair question. I already laid out above that Haley's offenses have averaged about 1.5-2 more plays per game than Arians' offenses, but let's look at the defensive side to see if the defense is actually on the field more.

  • From 2007-2011, the Steelers defense allowed 4.51 yards per play and was on the field for 60.2 plays per game.
  • From Nov 29, 2009-2011, the Steelers defense allowed 4.70 yards per play and was on the field for 60.9 plays per game.
  • From 2012-2014, the Steelers defense allowed 5.05 yards per play and was on the field for 61.6 plays per game. 

While Haley's offense has averaged 1.5-2 more plays per game than Arians' offense, the defense has only faced about 1 more play per game, so it's hard to make the case that 1 additional play per game is "being on the field too much," particularly when the offense is on the field for more plays as well. The bigger issue is that the defense is giving up over a half a yard per play more since the start of 2012. Unfortunately, Pro-Football-Reference doesn't have data on cumulative time of possession, but I did look up 3-and outs.

There have been 106 3-and outs in the Todd Haley era (2.79 per game).
There were 81 3-and-outs in the last 38 games of the Bruce Arians era (2.13 per game).
There were 180 3-and-outs during Bruce Arians' 5-year tenure (2.25 per game).

For one final point of comparison, let's look at turnovers. During Arians' tenure, the offense turned the ball over 118 times while the defense produced 126 takeaways, a +8 margin. Over those 80 games, that averages out to 1.48 turnovers and 1.58 takeaways per game. From November 29, 2009 to the end of the 2011 season, the Steelers had 52 turnovers and 58 takeaways, a +6 margin that averages to 1.37 turnovers per game and 1.53 takeaways per game. Since the start of the 2012 season, the offense has turned the ball over 61 times (1.61 per game) while the defense has only produced 46 takeaways (1.21 per game), a -15 margin. That's a swing of -21 turnovers (9 more turnovers, 12 less takeaways) from Arians' last 38 games to Haley's first 38. In this instance, the offense and defense are almost equally at fault: the offense has turned the ball over more and the defense has not taken it away at the same rate.



Now, this is not to totally absolve Todd Haley from any criticism sent his way. The offense currently ranks 20th in the league in Points Per Game. The offense is clearly not producing as many points as it should and hasn't been giving the Steelers enough points to win games. However, in 6 games the defense has given up 27 and 31 points to the 28th-ranked offense (Cleveland) along with 27 points to the 23rd-ranked offense (Tampa). People might want to make a big deal out of Haley's offense only putting up 10 points in each of the last two weeks, yet this is no great difference from the Arians offense. In Haley's tenure, the Steelers have been held to single-digits only twice (3 times in Arians' last 38 games) and been held under 20 points 14 times (16 times in Arians' last 38 games). The biggest difference is that the Steelers are 5-9 under Haley in games when they score less than 20 and were 8-8 in Arians' last 38 games when scoring less than 20. The criticism of Todd Haley is fair and reasonable. However, the defense deserves just as much, if not more, criticism for its play this year. But no one is writing articles about how Dick LeBeau should be fired or how the defense has let this team down over the last 3 seasons. For some strange reason, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is getting a pass for being mediocre while the Steelers offense is being raked over the coals for being average. Pining for the return of Bruce Arians' offense is just silly, because it was no better than the offense we have right now under Todd Haley. Could the offense be better with a different offensive coordinator? Certainly. However, should the defense also be better? Most definitely.

Monday, October 13, 2014

¯\_(ツ)_/¯: Steelers Lose

 10
 31

Well, that went about as terrible as possible.


Wide range of emotions in Steeler Nation during this game. It started with continued bizarre red zone play-calling but the defense was holding and the Steelers clung to a 3-0 lead.


The Steelers looked to be on their way to going up 6-0, but Brad Wing continues to suck and couldn't even get a hold down on a Field Goal attempt.

(Side note: my 3-year-old just discovered Winnie the Pooh and has been bouncing around the house singing the Tigger song all weekend.)

Then the Browns took Ben Tate out and put Isaiah Crowell in who gashed us in the opener. For all the talk this week out of the locker room about how the defense was going to be ready for the Browns no huddle, it took all of 5 plays for the Browns to score. Then 3 plays on the next drive because apparently Jordan Cameron wasn't worth covering.


After the botched field goal, the Steelers offense went into a shell. They got 1 first down in 2 drives, the second of which ended when Ben tried to take a shot for Wheaton down the sideline on 3rd and 1 instead of just picking up the first down. Cleveland turned right around and scored again and it was 21-3 Browns without the Steelers even getting across midfield.


The Steelers offense was an unmitigated disaster. They got the ball twice in the last 2 minutes of the first half with a chance to move the ball and cut into the Browns lead but couldn't get the ball inside the Browns 45.


By halftime, I couldn't take it any more, so I took a nap during the second half. This was pretty much me during the game:


By the time I woke up, it was just in time to see Ben get picked off on a tipped pass and the Browns score another touchdown on our Swiss cheese defense.


It was 31-3 and the Steelers went 3-and-out. There was poor execution all day with receivers dropping balls and Ben not being sharp, but STILL....


By the time the offense decided to wake up, it was far too late. They did move the ball in the 4th when the Browns decided to lay off. The Steelers got down to the 1 but came away with no points because of a personal foul penalty knocking them back to the 16. Lance Moore scored a meaningless touchdown.


The phrase "situational football" is non-existent right now in Pittsburgh. I'm not even going to talk about the defense. Absolutely no pressure on Hoyer all game, totally unprepared for the Browns offense after all the hot air they blew during the week. Basically watching the secondary play is like this:


Stay off the internet this week, it's going to be a disaster.


At any rate, I'll let The Dude show us out...




Sunday, October 12, 2014

Gameday: Cleveland Browns


1:00pm
America's Toilet
TV: CBS (map)
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

What To Watch For

1. No Huddle

Of course I'm going to lead with this, after the Steelers defense was completely and utterly useless against the Browns up-tempo no huddle offense in the season opener. The Browns would be idiots not to come out and run this offense the entire game and force the Steelers to show they can actually make an adjustment and stop something. To a man, Steelers players said this week that they would be ready for it. We shall see. If the Browns are able to move the ball on the Steelers defense, not only could this be a long game, this could be a shootout.

2. Antonio Brown

Joe Haden is questionable for the game. Then again, Joe Haden is questionable any time he faces Antonio Brown. There are some corners that absolutely have a WR's number (see: Ike Taylor against Chad Johnson). Joe Haden has made his money by shutting down big-time receivers in the AFC North like AJ Green and Torrey Smith. The flip side of that is that there are some WRs that absolutely own certain corners (see: Demaryius Thomas against Ike Taylor). Fortunately for the Steelers, the Antonio Brown-Joe Haden relationship falls into the later category. If Haden plays, buy stock in CVS and Rite Aid because Haden is going to need to be taking aloe baths all week. If Haden doesn't play, rookie Justin Gilbert might face off against AB in which case Ben should throw about 30 passes to AB alone.

3. Injuries

In addition to Haden being questionable, almost the entire defensive line for the Browns is listed on this week's injury report. Phil Taylor and Billy Wynn are out while Paul Kruger is questionable and Barkevious Mingo and Desmond Bryant are probable. The Steelers were able to move the ball, particularly on the ground, in the first half of the opener. With the amount of injuries up front, the Steelers offensive line should be able to control the point of attack and open holes for Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. If the Steelers can run the ball effectively (which they should be able to given the proper play-calling), they can keep the Browns offense off the field.

4. Points

The Steelers defense is basically a block of swiss cheese. They have allowed Brian Hoyer, Joe Flacco and Mike Glennon to throw the ball all over the yard. The Browns defense has been bad and has a ton of injuries this week. Luckily for the Steelers, they didn't suffer any new injuries over the last few weeks and are still working their way through Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier and Ike Taylor being out. Cortez Allen started to come around and has 2 picks in 2 weeks. Nevertheless, both offenses have been very good at moving the ball and both defenses can't stop anything. This game could be played in the 30s.

5. Browns Fans

The Browns are 2-2 and already their fans are coming out of the woodwork to talk trash on Twitter. Before the game. No, I'm not joking. Given the way the second half of the opener went, I'm willing to admit that this game could go very poorly for the Steelers. However, the number one rule of smack talk is being able to back it up. And right now, before the game, Cleveland is pretty much falling back on this:


...and of course this:


Thursday, October 9, 2014

WPIAL Week 7 Games of the Week and Playoff Scenarios

The home stretch is here. As we enter the final third of the WPIAL regular season, 16 teams have already secured their spots in the postseason and 27 more could lock down their spots this week. There is a monster non-conference game between the two most prestigious teams in their classifications this week as Woodland Hills takes on West Allegheny. In Class A, 3 teams can clinch conference titles this week with one game (Avonworth-North Catholic) being a head-to-head showdown for the conference title. I'll be at Lt. JC Stone Field to watch my alma mater's homecoming game this week, so I probably won't be as active on Twitter updating scores.

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).

AAAA and AAA Game of the Week

Woodland Hills (5-0, 6-0) at West Allegheny (6-0. 6-0)

This might be the biggest inter-classification matchup in WPIAL history. That's not hyperbole or exaggeration. Over the last 20 years, these two schools have been the best programs in their respective classifications. West Allegheny made their first trip to the postseason in 1993 and their run of dominance under coach Bob Palko started with winning the AAA title in 1997 (Palko's first year as coach was 1995). Since 1997, West Allegheny has won more championships (7) than any other WPIAL school. The Indians have won 3 of the last 5 AAA titles and are the two-time defending AAA champions. On the other side, Woodland Hills has won 4 championships since 1997 (tied for the most in Quad-A with Central Catholic) and has been to 9 championship games (tied for the most in the WPIAL with Aliquippa and Rochester). The Wolverines have been to Heinz Field in 4 of the last 5 years. Both of these programs are at the pinnacle of their respective classifications and both are the preseason favorites to win their respective titles. West Allegheny holds the longest current winning streak in WPIAL games at 27 with their last loss to a WPIAL opponent coming in September 2012. Both teams enter the game undefeated with stingy defenses - Woodland Hills is allowing 8.8 points per game and West Allegheny 8.1.


This Palko quote is especially poignant considering Bob Palko coached against the State's All-Time Leading rusher Rushel Shell 5 times. Incredibly, Palko was only 1-4 against Shell's Hopewell teams but the 1 win came in the AAA Championship Game. Junior RB Miles Sanders is the real deal and leads the Wolverines with 747 rushing yards and 10 TDs this season and has committed to Penn State. Junior QB Jeremiah Jones (a West Virginia commit) has thrown to 546 yards, primarily to Toledo-commit Art Thompkins (165 yards, 5 TDs) and Jaymond Dunn (206 yards, 3 TDs). As the two-time defending AAA Champions, West Allegheny has a team loaded with big game experience from senior QB Andrew Koester (591 yards, 9 TDs) to senior RB Chayse Dillon (341 yards, 9 TDs) and junior RBs Terence Stephens (412 yards, 8 TDs) and Whitney White (380 yards, 7 TDs). Both teams like to run the ball but have capable quarterbacks and excellent defenses. This might be the matchup of the year in the WPIAL. The Woodland Hills Football Network will be broadcasting the game live online.

Honorable Mentions: McKeesport at Plum, Connellsville at Norwin, Bethel Park at Penn Hills, Mt Lebanon at North Hills

As last season drew to a close, Plum had lost 25 straight games but the Mustangs enter Week 7 at 4-1 in the Foothills with a chance to clinch a playoff spot. The winner of the McKeesport-Plum game will have the inside track to the home playoff game that comes with a second place finish in the conference. Plum still has an outside shot at the conference title if they can beat both McKeesport and Penn-Trafford. Connellsville and Norwin are battling right at the playoff cut line in the 5th and 6th spots in the conference. A Connellsville loss would clinch playoff spots for McKeesport, Plum and Norwin. After losing to Mt Lebanon last week, Bethel Park's chances of earning a home playoff game seem to have gone out the window but they could make a big statement against conference-leading Penn Hills this week. This will be the ROOT Sports Game of the Week on Friday night. Mt Lebanon and North Hills face off in a non-conference game that could decide which team gets a home playoff game and which one has to go on the road. Both teams currently sit in 3rd place in their conferences and 2 of the 3 3rd place teams will get home playoff games.

Foothills Conference Playoff Scenarios

  • Penn-Trafford has clinched a playoff spot.
  • McKeesport clinches a playoff berth with a win over Plum or a Connellsville loss.
  • Plum clinches a playoff berth with a win over McKeesport or a Connellsville loss.
  • Norwin clinches a playoff berth with a win over Connellsville.

Northern Eight Conference Playoff Scenarios

  • Pine-Richland has clinched a playoff spot.


  • Central Catholic clinches a playoff spot with a win over Seneca Valley or a Butler loss.
  • North Hills plays a non-conference game but can clinch a playoff spot with a Butler loss.
  • North Allegheny clinches a playoff spot with a win over Fox Chapel or a Butler loss.

Southeastern Conference Playoff Scenarios

  • Penn Hills, Woodland Hills and Mt Lebanon have clinched playoff spots.
  • Upper St Clair clinches a playoff spot with a win over Canon-McMillan and a Bethel Park victory.


AAA

The Woodland Hills-West Allegheny game is the premier matchup in both Quad-A and Triple-A classifications.

Honorable Mentions: Elizabeth Forward at West Mifflin, Ringgold at Laurel Highlands, Hampton at Hollidaysburg, Indiana at Gateway, Mars at Knoch

Thomas Jefferson is running away with the Big Nine Conference but behind them there are 4 teams with either 4-1 or 3-2 records. West Mifflin and Ringgold enter the week with 4-1 records while Laurel Highlands and Elizabeth Forward are 3-2. Belle Vernon is lurking at 2-3. This is a big week for Ringgold and West Mifflin to separate themselves from the pack or for the middle of the conference playoff picture to get even more muddled. Similarly in the Greater Allegheny Conference, Hampton has pulled out to a 2-game lead after their win over Franklin Regional. Behind the Talbots, Franklin Regional, Indiana, Mars and Hollidaysburg all have 2 losses while Gateway and Knoch have 3. Gateway and Knoch are fighting for their playoff lives while the others are fighting to stay in playoff position.

Big Nine Conference Playoff Scenarios

  • Thomas Jefferson has clinched a playoff spot.
  • West Mifflin clinches a playoff spot with a win over Elizabeth Forward.
  • Ringgold clinches a playoff spot with a win over Laurel Highlands

Greater Allegheny Conference Playoff Scenarios

  • Hampton has clinched a playoff spot
  • Franklin Regional clinches a playoff spot with a win over Greensburg Salem and losses by Gateway and Knoch.
  • Mars clinches a playoff spot with a win over Knoch and a Gateway loss.

Parkway Conference Playoff Scenarios

  • West Allegheny and Central Valley have clinched playoff spots.
  • Montour clinches a playoff spot with a win over Blackhawk.
  • Moon clinches a playoff spot with a win over Hopewell and a New Castle loss.


AA Game of the Week
New Brighton (5-1, 5-1) at Washington (6-0, 6-0)

Like with Quad-A and AAA, the best game on the AA slate is a non-conference game. Both schools have already locked up their spots in the postseason and are likely headed for a home playoff game. Washington is the team to beat in the Interstate conference while New Brighton looks like the second-best team in the Midwestern Conference after blasting Beaver then getting obliterated by Aliquippa. This game, along with next week's Aliquippa-Mt Pleasant matchup will have significant seeding implications in the AA bracket. A victory by New Brighton could result in a massive demotion of Interstate Conference teams in the bracket, possibly toppling Washington (the assumed conference champion) out of the top 4 or 5 seeds. New Brighton features a balanced offense between dual-threat QB Payton Fath (727 pass yards, 5 TDs and 391 rush yards and 5 TDs) and RB Scott Florence (768 rush yards, 16 TDs). Similarly, Washington features a talented running back in Malik Wells (634 yards, 10 TDs), an efficient quarterback in Jonathan Spina (748 yards, 11 TDs) and a big-play WR in DeQuay Isbell (369 receiving yards, 72 rushing yards, 11 total TDs).

Honorable Mentions: Freeport at Apollo-Ridge, Seton-La Salle at Quaker Valley, Waynesburg at Southmoreland

Last week, the playoff picture in the Allegheny Conference was a muddled mess but after Highlands beat Freeport, Apollo-Ridge beat Ford City and West Shamokin beat Valley, the picture is a big clearer. Freeport is hanging on for their lives and has already lost to 3 of the top 4 teams in the conference. The Jackets game against Apollo-Ridge is their last hope for a win over one of the conference elite that could propel them into the playoffs. Apollo-Ridge has wins over Shady Side Academy and Kittanning and just needs to hold serve and win out to get a home playoff game. Similarly in the Century Conference, Quaker Valley is desperately trying to claw their way back into the playoff picture after losing to South Park and Steel Valley already this season. A Seton-La Salle win would set up a showdown with South Fayette for the conference title next week. In the Interstate Conference, Southmoreland is searching for their first playoff berth since 1979 and has a huge conclusion to the season with games against teams they are battling for playoff position - Waynesburg, Washington and archrivals Mt Pleasant. Waynesburg has lost 2 close games to Washington and Mt Pleasant and needs to beat either Southmoreland or McGuffey next week in order to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

Allegheny Conference Playoff Scenarios

  • Highlands clinches a playoff spot with a win over Burrell or a Valley loss.
  • Apollo-Ridge clinches a playoff spot with a win over Freeport.
  • Shady Side Academy clinches a playoff spot with a win over West Shamokin and losses by Freeport, Valley, and Ford City.
  • Kittanning clinches a playoff spot with a win over Valley and losses by Freeport and Ford City.

Century Conference Playoff Scenarios

  • South Fayette clinches a playoff spot with a win over Sto-Rox and a Quaker Valley loss.
  • Seton-La Salle clinches a playoff spot with a win over Quaker Valley.

Interstate Conference Playoff Scenarios

  • Washington has clinched a playoff spot.
  • Mt Pleasant clinches a playoff spot with a win over Charleroi and a Waynesburg loss.

Midwestern Conference Playoff Scenarios

  • Aliquippa and New Brighton have clinched playoff spots.
  • Beaver Falls clinches a playoff spot with a win over Summit Academy or losses by Laurel and Ellwood City


A Game of the Week
Avonworth (5-0, 6-0) at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic (5-0, 6-0)

If you think this game will be another walk in the park for the Defending State Champions, think again. Avonworth was arguably the 3rd best Class A team in the Commonwealth last year and played the Trojans closer in their two meetings than any other WPIAL opponent (including Sto-Rox in the championship game). Avonworth is a capable offensive team that has put up at least 35 points in every game this season. The Lopes offense runs through 6'2" junior Jamal Hughley who leads the team in rushing (449 yards), receiving (379 yards) and scoring (14 TDs). QB Zach Chandler (a 6'4" junior) has been battling injuries this season and has not played since Week 3. Chandler is questionable for this game and is a talented passer - throwing for 742 yards and 6 TDs in the 3 games he played. Senior Josh Drwal is Chandler's primary backup but freshman Alex Osborne saw some time last week. Outside of Hughley, the Lopes have two capable running backs in Brandon Wasko and Kevin Simpson who have both run for over 220 yards this year.

The defending State Champs are no slouches either. The Trojans actually have the second-highest scoring offense in the entire WPIAL at nearly 50 points per game, trailing only Clairton's ridiculous mark of 72. The Trojans have been excellent on defense as well, allowing just 11 points per contest. This team is loaded with offensive weapons from leading rusher Jerome Turner, a pounding back averaging almost 11 yards per carry, who has 743 yards and 16 TDs this season. Change-of-pace back Mario Latronica is capable of breaking the game open at any time and has 421 yards and 6 TDs on just 50 carries this year. There is no doubt that the heartbeat of the team is PJ Fulmore, an all-around threat in the mold of Darren Sproles who can run the ball (663 yards), catch the ball out of the slot (75 receiving yards) and has a nose for the end zone (12 total TDs). QB Adam Sharlow has been effective this year in his return from his knee injury that ended last season, but has not been forced to put the ball in the air very often, averaging less than 10 pass attempts per game. Much like last year, the lines have been the strength of the team, plowing the road for the 3 running backs and controlling the line of scrimmage on defense. Both teams have a non-conference game remaining on the schedule, so the winner of this game will be the conference champion. It's Homecoming for the Trojans, so I'll be out at Lt. JC Stone Field in North Park to take this one in.

Honorable Mentions: Riverside at South Side Beaver, Chartiers-Houston at Brentwood, Monessen at Jeanette, Bentworth at Mapletown, Carmichaels at Frazier

In the Big Seven Conference, Neshannock is one win away from the conference title. The other 3 playoff spots are currently occupied by teams picked to finish towards the bottom of the league - Shenango, Riverside and South Side Beaver. A win by Riverside puts them in position to get a home playoff game if they can beat Shenango next week. Avonworth and CWNC have run away with the Black Hills Conference but Chartiers-Houston, Brentwood and Fort Cherry are in a battle for the last 2 playoff spots. A Brentwood win could set the stage for a Week 9 Casket Match between Chartiers-Houston and Fort Cherry for the final playoff spot. In the Eastern Conference, Monessen lost to Springdale last week, which could be just what the Dynamos need to hop the Greyhounds and make the playoffs. If Monessen loses to Jeanette and Clairton next week, all Springdale would need to do is beat Riverview in their season finale to make the playoffs. Jeannette just needs to beat GCC in the season finale to get a home playoff game. In the Tri-County South, Mapletown can clinch their first playoff spot since 2005 with a win over Bentworth, who is fighting for their playoff lives just a game behind the Maples and Carmichaels in the standings. Carmichaels started the season slow but has come on strong as of late and can put themselves in position for a home playoff game if they beat Frazier.

Big Seven Conference Playoff Scenarios

  • Neshannock has clinched a playoff spot.
  • Neshannock clinches the Conference Title with a win over Rochester.
  • Shenango clinches a playoff spot with a win over Vincentian.
  • Riverside clinches a playoff spot with a win over South Side Beaver and a Vincentian loss.
  • South Side Beaver clinches a playoff spot with a win over Riverside.

Black Hills Conference Playoff Scenarios

  • Avonworth and Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic have clinched playoff spots.
  • The winner of Avonworth-CWNC will win the Conference Title.

Eastern Conference Playoff Scenarios

  • Clairton has clinched a playoff spot.
  • Jeannette clinches a playoff spot with a win over Monessen.

Tri-County South Conference Playoff Scenarios

  • Beth-Center clinches the conference title with a win over Avella and a Frazier loss.
  • Beth-Center clinches a playoff spot with a win over Avella.
  • Frazier clinches a playoff spot with a win over Carmichaels.
  • Mapletown clinches a playoff spot with a win over Bentworth.

The Brice is Right: Steelers Win

 17
  9
 (yeah I'm lazy and haven't updated my Jags logo)

Jacksonville opted to wear their home whites because their jersey combinations are bizarre.

What a picture.

Wheaton drops an easy out-route on 3rd down and it's 3-and-out for the offense right off the bat.

The Jags come out throwing because of course they do and get into 3rd and 2 where Toby Gerhart and his 2.1 yards per carry converts by getting 2.1 yards. The Jags continue to move the ball through the air and get into Steelers territory. Bortles sneaks it on 4th and 1 and keeps the defense on the field on the edge of field goal range. The defense holds to a 3rd and 10 but Bortles is able to scramble for the first down. The defense catches a break when the Jags get called for a hold then Stephon Tuitt gets a rare opportunity to play and he gets a sack.




0-3

We get a Dri Archer sighting, but besides that nothing much else happens. AB drops a WR screen on 3rd and 4. Ridiculous play call.

Jacksonville gets into a 3rd and 1 but decides to throw the ball rather than give it to Gerhart. Strange. Punt.

The Steelers finally get moving when they decide to throw the ball vertically to AB. The Prescription gets in on the act by bouncing a run to the outside for 29 yards down the sideline to move into field goal range.

Second Quarter

Ben hits AB again to get us down inside the 5 but then the offense out-thinks itself. Ben throws a WR screen to AB with Jacksonville in press coverage then tries the back corner of the end zone fade. On 3rd down, Ben gets sacked as he tries to step up away from pressure. Le'Veon Bell didn't touch the ball after his 29-yard run, and Haley didn't call any running plays on 3 snaps inside the 5. Strange.


3-3

The Special Teams decides that just one penalty isn't enough and gets called twice for offsides. On the third kickoff, Suisham pooches one and forces a fair catch.

Luckily, Jacksonville takes a dump on themselves with back-to-back holding penalties that nullify 29 yards worth of offense and put them in 1st and 30. Two plays later, Bortles takes a shot down the sideline but underthrows the ball and Cortez Allen makes a routine pick as he's running with inside position on the WR.


LeGarrette Blount gets some work and takes a screen pass into Jags territory, but a sack on the following play sets things back and the Steelers piddle away a turnover by the defense.

If we were playing any other team in the league, there might be some cause for concern, but the Jags suck and go 3-and-out.

The Steelers finally decide to use the middle of the field and Ben finds Heath who makes a great leaping catch for 30 yards. Will Johnson gets a catch on a somewhat broken play then Blount gets us into the red zone. The Steelers once again decide to stop running the ball once they get to the red zone and throw 5 straight passes, the 4th to Heath to get down to the 1 then the 5th on a play-action to Michael Palmer for the touchdown.


10-3


The Jags take over with 1:47 left and 1 timeout but Bortles is able to drive them all the way down into the red zone. The Jags get some free yards when Troy tries to jump the snap on a spike but Bortles can't make a throw in the red zone and the Jags settle for a field goal.

10-6

Halftime



Can't watch The Big Bang Theory the same any more.

Third Quarter

Unlike every other team the Steelers have faced this year, the Jags did not score on their first drive after halftime.The Steelers took another special teams penalty on the punt though.

Lance Moore makes an appearance with a big 3rd down grab for 26 yards over the middle but spikes the ball after the catch and draws a penalty. Moore has some words with Tomlin on the sideline afterwards. The Steelers are able to pick their way into Jacksonville territory but can't get to field goal range after a penalty on Beachum sets them back.

Rookie RB Storm Johnson does what pretty much every rookie RB has done to the Steelers this year and gashes them a few times to get the Jags out near midfield. Bortles completes two passes to get the Jags into field goal range but can't make another throw.

10-9

Stop me if you've seen the Steelers in this situation before: facing a vastly inferior team but mired in a close game heading towards the fourth quarter. AB makes a huge catch on 3rd down for 30 yards down the left side to get us out to midfield. Justin Brown shows up and makes two big catches to get us into field goal range.

Fourth Quarter

The Steelers needed a touchdown, but once again totally abandoned the running game once they got inside the 20. On 3rd down, Ben was flushed from the pocket and the ball was knocked out of his hands.


 Jags recover.


On the second play, Bortles tried to catch the Steelers napping with a wheel route but he terribly underthrows the ball and Brice McCain makes a great move to get around a pick by a WR and make the interception in stride and take it back TO THE HOUSE.


TWO INTERCEPTIONS IN ONE GAME



DEFENSIVE TOUCHDOWN



17-9


Peezy having some bad luck with celebrations this year.

Jacksonville picks up one first down but Lawrence Timmons makes a big tackle on 3rd down to keep them short of the sticks. Strange decision to punt with a 4th and 1 at their own 40.

The Prescription makes things happen by picking up a 3rd and 9 on a check-down pass then getting us into 3rd and 1 on his own. Strangely, Haley calls for a handoff to Will Johnson rather than, you know, Bell or Blount. Johnson is stopped and the Steelers have to punt it back with 5 1/2 minutes left.

Buttholes clenched all over Steeler Nation as the Jaguars offense took the field in a 1-score game late in the 4th quarter, but thankfully they are the Jaguars and suck.

The Steelers get it back with 4 minutes to go and the chance to finally close out a game. The Prescription gets us into 3rd and 1. Rather than running the ball in short-yardage, Ben goes play-action and deftly hits Heath down the seam for a big 13-yarder to put us 1 first down away from sealing it. The Jags use their last timeout after a first down run and Le'Veon gets us into 3rd and short. Blount converts on 3rd and 1 and the clock winds to 2:00 and that's it.



But wait! AB only has 4 catches so the offense comes out in a spread set and Ben hits AB with a little swing pass out of the backfield so that AB can extend his streak of games with 5+ catches and 50+ yards. AB makes some moves and finally runs out of bounds. The clueless announcers comment on how he should stay in bounds when trying to run the clock out because they don't understand math.

Victory Formation (finally).

Game.