Sunday, January 31, 2010

2010 Draft Resources

With the Senior Bowl today, fans of the 30 teams not playing next weekend got their last glimpse at college prospects before the NFL Combine. If you can't help but look forward to the 2010 draft and have been eating up scouting reports from the Senior Bowl, there are a few sites that will give you your daily fix of pre-draft coverage.

Our new personal favorite is Draft Breakdown, which has in-depth analysis along with forums where fans and the scouts that run the site can interact to get some good info and discussion.

Last year, NFL House was solid in the lead-up to the draft. We're hoping for a repeat performance this year.

Footballs Future always has some good info, but they are also prone to rumor-spreading so you have to take everything there with a grain of salt.

Daniel Jeremiah, a former Ravens and Browns scout who got axed when Eric Mangini's staff came in, runs Move the Sticks which has provided some solid scouting info from the Senior Bowl this past week.

Finally, the folks over at Mocking the Draft always are worth the read.

As a precursor to all the draft stuff, we did a little checking to see how teams are looking heading into the draft. The following numbers are not final, as the compensatory selections have not been decided yet. However, as things stand right now, here is the outlook on how many draft picks each team has:

  • Thanks to Eric Mangini's wheeling and dealing last year, Cleveland leads the pack this year with 11 picks.
  • St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and New England all have 9 picks.
  • Detroit, Buffalo, Miami, San Francisco, and Philadelphia have 8 picks.
  • Seattle, Oakland, NY Giants, Houston, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Baltimore, Arizona, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh all have 7 picks.
  • Denver, Tennessee, Atlanta, Dallas, San Diego, New Orleans, and Indianapolis all have 6 picks.
  • Washington, Chicago, Jacksonville, and Carolina all have 5 selections.
  • Finally, only the NY Jets have 4 picks in the draft, the fewest of any team.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Conference Championship Wrap-Up

Conference Championship weekend has come and gone, with two teams punching their ticket for Miami. For the first time since 1993, both #1 seeds are headed to the Super Bowl. Here's a rundown on the week that was.

  1. Sean Payton's speech after the Saints won the NFC Championship
  2. Seeing Pierre Garcon carrying the flag of Haiti around after the AFC Championship
  3. LOST returns this week.
  4. Following scouts on Twitter. Particularly those that are at the Senior Bowl and are tweeting updates all day. If you're on Twitter, we recommend DraftBreakdown, MockingTheDraft, and MoveTheSticks.
  5. Coach Tomlin going to the Senior Bowl to watch practice. Want to see some dedicated coaches? Look at who is at the Senior Bowl this week scouting prospects.
  6. Brett Favre's toughness. Honestly, besides Byron Leftwich being carried down the field by his offensive linemen at Marshall, we can't remember a more gritty performance by a quarterback not named Roethlisberger. He took a pounding all day, was barely able to walk, and still almost carried his team to victory.

  1. Tempting fate. Brett Favre's last pass as a Packer, Jet, and Viking were all interceptions. He shouldn't tempt fate. Some times, things were just meant to be.
  2. Having to go through the whole "will-he-or-won't-he" media shenanigans with Brett Favre all over again. He'll be back.
  3. Seeing two dome teams in the Super Bowl. As a fan of outdoor football, it makes us a bit sad.
  4. New Orleans' offensive play-calling in the 4th quarter against Minnesota. Really, it was a tribute to Minnesota's defense that the Vikings were even able to take it to OT after how many times their offense turned it over. That being said, New Orleans wasn't exactly calling the most aggressive plays down the stretch. Another performance like that won't be good enough to beat Indy.
  5. Peyton Manning taking dives. He did it against the Ravens and he did it against the Jets. Rather than stand in the pocket and take a hit, he just lays down when he sees someone coming. Weak.
Off the Schnide

New Orleans, after years of paper bags and bad management, finally makes it to the Super Bowl. Congrats are in order to the Saints, but also for the coaching job that Sean Payton did. Let's not forget, the Saints finished last in the NFC South last season.

Greg Lloyd "Badass of the Week" Award

Virginia Montanez

Some of you may recognize the name, some may not. For those of you that don't know, in a previous life she was "PittGirl" who ran the now-defunct "Burgh Blog." Ever wonder where the nickname "Skippy" for Jeff Reed came from? Burgh Blog. Now, Virginia runs ThatsChurch arguably one of the top 3 blogs in the city. She absolutely loves Pittsburgh and there's 1,000 other good reasons why she could get this award. But there is one specific one this week.

Obviously, the earthquake that struck Haiti was a disaster and a terrible tragedy. As you may have seen in the local news, two Pittsburgh women, Jamie and Ali McMutrie, who ran an orphanage in Haiti were stranded without food, water or supplies after the earthquake. Thanks to the efforts of Virginia, aka JanePitt on Twitter, spreading the word about their need for help, Jason Altmire, Dan Onorato, Ed Rendell, and others got on board to rescue the children and the McMutrie sisters from the BRESMA orphanage.

If you don't do anything else today, swing by That's Church and read about what went on with the rescue effort. Truly incredible and inspiring. If you only have time to read two things, I recommend these two: here and here. Special thanks from us to everyone who has stepped up to help the relief efforts in Haiti.

If you have the time, here is a list of organizations across the nation that are working on relief efforts in Haiti. There are a few Pittsburgh organizations on the list. Another good option is always the American Red Cross. Thanks to everyone out there who has already donated to the relief effort.

Bob Smizik "Douchebag of the Week" Award

There were a lot of great entrants for the Smizik Award this week, and it was really hard to pick just one to give the coveted prize to. In the end, it came down to which rated highest on the Smizik Scale of DouchebaggeryTM.

Former City Council President Doug Shields scored at the "Mid-Season Article About A Slumping Penguin" level on the Smizik spectrum.
Pat Robertson scored on the "Throwing a Well-Loved Steeler Under the Bus" level for his comments about the earthquake in Haiti.
Three Pittsburgh Police officers who brutally beat and tasered a CAPA student walking down the street scored at the "Criticizing a Long-Held Institution As Unnecessary" level of Smizik.

But the winner of this week's Smizik Award goes to AABA Grand Wizard "Commissioner" Don "Moose" Lewis.

For those of you who haven't heard, Lewis is the self-appointed "commissioner" of the All-American Basketball Alliance. Now, if the name AABA doesn't scream "racist" to you, just wait. What are the league rules? According to an "official" statement,

"Only players that are natural born United States citizens with both parents of Caucasian race are eligible to play in the league"

While Lewis claims he isn't a racist, he goes on to drop this gem:

"people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here's a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like."

Last time I checked, and someone can correct me if I'm wrong on this one, but you'd better have a data source better than the US Census, White Americans made up about 74% of the US population. I guess 75% is a minority now. Interesting. That would mean that the 12-4 Minnesota Vikings actually had a losing season and the 4-12 Washington Redskins had a winning season.

Now, I realize that this fool's racist agenda is probably only getting furthered by people actually talking about his White's Only basketball league. But really, is this how far we've fallen? That we think the athletic arena, a place that should be the most open and accessible to anyone from any walk of life that simply enjoys playing the game, should become segregated? I know blow-hards like Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck have been touting how great life was in the time of segregation and how awesome it would be to go back to a time when all Americans were not equal, but it's even more frightening when someone takes the the ideals of segregation and tries to apply it to something like sports. Yikes.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Conference Championship Previews


By now, you've heard the story-line. The Colts phoned it in by resting their starters at the end of the year. Consequently, the Jets pounded their second string, enabling them to make the playoffs. Now, there's a rematch at the scene of the crime. The Jets wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the Colts. Which Peyton Manning will we see?
We're hoping for Cry-Baby Manning

No rookie QB has ever made it to the Super Bowl. Could Mark Sanchez be the first? The only way that will happen is behind a strong running game. Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene (who we absolutely loved coming out of Iowa last year) will have to shoulder the load. In all honesty, the Jets O v. Colts D matchup is reminiscent of the '06 Colts-Chiefs Wild Card game. The Chiefs came in with one of the best rushing attacks in the league and you knew they were just going to pound the rock. Well, so did Tony Dungy and the Colts. They completely shut down KC's running game and got the first win on their road to the Super Bowl XLI title.

The obvious difference in that analogy comes on the other side of the ball. The Jets defense is one of the best in the league, as can be expected from a Rex Ryan unit. Darrelle Revis probably should have been the Defensive Player of the Year for the type of season he's had. He'll be one-on-one with Reggie Wayne this weekend. Manning has plenty of targets he can use, but if Revis essentially nullifies Wayne, Dallas Clark is going to have to bear most of the burden of the passing game. The Jets are going to bring pressure, pressure, and more pressure, forcing Manning to get rid of the ball quickly. Behind that, the Jets will be playing press coverage on the receivers. Manning isn't very good when he has to move his feet and make plays out of the pocket, so you have to think the Jets defense actually has a fighting chance here.

We absolutely love the way the Jets have been playing with a strong running attack and great defense. However, they're going to have to look to the '05 Steelers for the formula on how to beat the Colts in the playoffs, because they certainly won't do it in a shootout. If Sanchez can take advantage of some play-action passes and catch the Colts safeties flat-footed, the Jets offense could put some points on the board before Indy has time to adjust.

Ian's Prediction: Colts 17-13

As much as I'd like to see the Jets win, their formula for winning this game is holding Indy to Field Goals and not turning the ball over. With Freeney and Mathis back in the swing of things, you have to believe Indy is going to stack the box and force Sanchez to beat them with his arm. If the Colts get a lead in this game, that might be all she wrote for the Jets season.

John's Prediction: Colts 31-21

While I am also mostly rooting for the Jets, I also realize they have no business being in the playoffs. The Colts will not be so generous this time around, and I feel they will dominate this game with a balanced attack despite their troubles on the ground this season. The final score will not be indicative of Indianapolis's superiority.



Brett Favre. Brett Favre. Brett Favre. Brett Favre. Brett Favre. Brett Favre. Brett Favre.

There, we got that out of our system. These were, without a doubt, the best two teams in the NFC this year. New Orleans has the most potent offense in the league, and they have proven that they can run and throw the ball with success. Minnesota has the best defensive line in the league, but their ends, while potent in the pass rush, can get caught pinching down in run defense. The Steelers had success, in particular, running to the right (aka away from Jared Allen). The Steelers had the most success when they were able to get to the outside, as Minnesota's linebackers aren't the best. For the Saints, this means bruiser Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush might play a big role in the game. If Bush can get into the open field, either on designed runs, swing passes, or screens, he can nullify the defensive line of the Vikings.

The Vikings secondary is susceptible, and no one sees the field better than Drew Brees. The Saints had 7 receivers catch over 30 passes, and Brees threw touchdowns to 10 different receivers over the course of the season. Marques Colston was the only receiver on the team to surpass 1,000 yards.

On the other side of the ball, Minnesota's offense has been driven by Brett Favre's play, but Adrian Peterson is the real juice in the engine. Even though Peterson hasn't had a 100-yard game since November 15th, he still got 24+ carries in 5 of the team's last 8 games (including the Dallas game). The offense is still going through Peterson and Favre has made big plays in the passing game off of play-action. Sidney Rice is really coming into his own as a receiver, but Favre will have to contend with former Viking Darren Sharper lurking in the secondary. Sharper finished tied for the league lead in interceptions with 9, taking 3 of them back to the house.

I like the Vikings running game against the Saints run defense, which has been porous as of late. Will Favre put forth an epic performance to get to the Super Bowl or will we see another late-season collapse? I think the game will be close, and, as is usually the case in the playoffs, the defense that creates the turnovers will win.

Ian's Prediction: Saints 38-34

This one has all the makings of a shootout. Remember the Chiefs-Colts game in 2003 when there were no punts (the only playoff game in history with no punts) and the Chiefs lost because they committed one turnover? This game could go like that. Minnesota's defense is better than either of those teams from 2003 but their offense is also prone to stalling out at times. I would love to see New Orleans be able to pull this off. It would be great for the city and great for the team, one of 5 NFL teams that have never made the Super Bowl.

John's Prediction: Vikings 27-20

It is a known fact that the Vikings are a different team at home, but I feel their play of the past two games will travel with them to New Orleans. I absolutely despise Brett Favre, but with the best running back in the league due to explode, and a plethora of other weapons, with or without Percy Harvin, the Vikings will match the Saints offense and find a way to earn a trip to Miami. Besides, do you really think the NFL won't find a way to get Favre another chance at a championship?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tomlin's Strategy: Get Assistant Coaches from Bad Teams

We like Mike Tomlin.

However, the coaching decisions he has made during his tenure haven't exactly been inspiring.

You may be asking how we come up with that conclusion. He was able to retain should-be-Hall-of-Famer Dick LeBeau when the rest of the upper staff was bolting for Arizona. He retained defensive line coach John Mitchell, linebackers coach Keith Butler, and tight ends coach James Daniel.

These two retentions were great and enabled our defense to maintain their high level of play. But let's look at some of the other coaches he brought in.

Bruce Arians was already in the Steelers ranks when Tomlin was hired. When The Whiz got the head coaching job in Pittsburgh West, Arians was promoted from Wide Receivers coach to Offensive Coordinator. Arians only other offensive coordinator gig was in Cleveland from 2001-03. During his time, Cleveland's offense was in the bottom 10 in the league in Total Offense. The Browns were 21-27 during his 3 years there.

Randy Fichtner was the architect of the spread offense at Memphis that re-wrote the university's record books for offensive efficiency. He was hired as the Steelers Wide Receivers coach when Tomlin took office and Arians promoted to offensive coordinator.

Ray Horton was promoted to defensive backs coach from assistant secondary coach. Prior to the Steelers he was the Lions defensive backs coach, and we all know how good the Lions secondary has been. The Lions were in the bottom 5 in the league in passing defense during his two years there.

Bob Ligashesky was brought in from St Louis to be the special teams coach.

Assistant Special Teams Coach Amos Jones was brought in from Mississippi State where he was special teams and linebackers coach.

Kirby Wilson was brought in via the reverse route Whiz and Grimm took to be running backs coach. Yes, Tomlin hired the guy responsible for all those great rushing season Arizona had in the mid-2000s to be our running backs coach. During his time in Arizona the Cards were 22nd, 32nd, and 30th in the league in rushing yards.

Harold Goodwin was hired to be our Quality Control Coach on offense. Prior to Pittsburgh he worked with the potent Chicago Bears offense from 2004-06 that was 32nd, 29th, and 15th in Total Offense.

Larry Zierlein, recently-fired offensive line coach, was brought in from Buffalo by Mike Tomlin. Zierlein had spent 1 year in Buffalo where the Bills were 30th in Total Offense, 27th in Rushing offense, and gave up 47 sacks. Before that he was with Cleveland for 4 years. During his time the Browns offense was in the bottom 10 of the league every season.

As we mentioned at the outset, we haven't been entirely thrilled with the people Tomlin has hired as assistants. This particularly stems from the fact that all of the coaches he has brought in have been from bad teams.

So let's summarize. Without question, what were the three biggest weaknesses on our team this past year: Offensive line, special teams, secondary.

Now, where did those coaches come from? Cleveland/Buffalo, St. Louis, and Detroit. Wow. Not exactly an inspiring resume for those coaches. And, as could have been expected, two of those coaches have been fired.

But has Tomlin learned his lesson? It was announced today that the Steelers agreed to a deal with Sean Kugler to be their offensive line coach. Let's look at his body of work.

2001-05 Detroit Lions

Offensive Ranks: 16, 28, 32, 24, 27. Bottom 5 in the league for the last 4 years of his tenure.
Sacks allowed: 66, 20, 11, 37, 31. There was some improvement here, but it also didn't hurt that Joey Harrington decided it was better to throw interceptions than to get sacked.

2006 Boise State Broncos
Yes, that Boise State team. He was there for the magic of the Fiesta Bowl beating of Oklahoma.

2007-09 Buffalo Bills

Offensive Ranks: 30, 25, 30. Ouch. Looking at these numbers is just painful.
Sacks allowed: 26, 38, 46. Obviously Buffalo starting two rookies on the line (Andy Levitre and Eric Wood) along with trading away Pro Bowl LT Jason Peters to Philadelphia hurt their line in '09. That being said, what is there in this guy's body of work that makes him seem like a legitimate candidate to actually improving our offensive line?

As we said at the outset, we like Tomlin, but his personnel decisions leave something to be desired. We can't make blanket statements about the coaches that Tomlin decided to hire, because some of them have (Fichtner) haven't been abysmal failures. However, given the track record of these coaches in the past, it's no surprise that the Steelers are struggling in some areas of the game. Obviously, the talents of players on the field has made up for these deficiencies in some regard. But at some point you have to look at the evidence and say, "Gee, maybe if we brought in some coaches with a proven track record of success, rather than bringing in coaches from crappy teams."

To end on a positive note, we're willing to give Kugler a shot. Maybe he just had crappy luck with bad players/a bad offense in Buffalo. We're certainly not going to argue that point. The point we would like to make, in closing, is that it would be great to see the Steelers actually bring in an assistant coach with a track record of success and stop bringing in cast-offs from places like Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, and St. Louis.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wild Card Recap

The Steelers season is over, but that doesn't mean our weekly "Smiley" and "Frownie" segments have to end.

  1. Three of the four wild-card games were won by teams that were better at running the ball and playing defense. The fourth was won on a defensive TD.
  2. John wiping the floor with me in the first round of playoff picks. He went 4-0 while I went 2-2.
  3. Watching New England fail.
  4. The Big 10 winning two BCS bowls and having their first winning bowl season since 2003
  5. Defensive linemen as fullbacks. Baltimore used Haloti Ngata (read: the best player on their defense) as a tight end against New England and Alabama used Terrence Cody as a fullback in the "National Championship" Game against Texas. Both guys just absolutely annihilated those standing in their path.

  1. The thrill of the College Football playoffs to decide the national champion. Oh wait...
  2. The Pittsburgh Penguins Powerplay
  3. Ron Cook throwing Evgeni Malkin under the bus (more on this later)
  4. The playoffs without the Steelers in them.

Off the Schnide
Dallas Cowboys

As much as we hate Dallas (which probably isn't as much as our parents do, but it's still quite sufficient) they do deserve a shout-out for the smack-down they gave the Eagles this weekend. At the very least, now we don't have to hear about how they haven't won a playoff game in 13 years. Guess what? The Steelers last playoff win was a Super Bowl. Suck it.

Greg Lloyd "Badass of the Week" Award

Jim Wexell

In a time when Steelers fans are divided over the retention of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, there is one voice of reason. While chicken-chokers like Bob Smizik and Ron Cook will rattle off the stats about how Arians' offense wildly surpassed all the yardage totals of any Steelers offense since Nero and how they both wished they had named their sons "Bruce," Wexell has taken the more reasonable ground. He really only needs one stat to prove his point.

42 pass attempts and 20 rushing attempts against the league's worst run defense in sub-zero temperatures with 45 mph winds.

And yes, you're going to keep hearing that stat. Because that stat alone should tell you all you need to know about the kind of coach that Arians is. One who would play the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.

Most recently, Wexell penned a column (well, as much as one does that in the age of Al Gore's internet) on a 6-step recovery plan for the Steelers. While we're of the opinion that the Steelers should probably go with a defensive back (either corner or safety) in the first round, we can't really disagree with any of his points.

Bob Smizik "Douchebag of the Week" Award

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Yes, the whole paper. I realize this may be a little redundant since the PG is the employer of Mr. Smizik, so via mitosis, they are implicit in his douchebaggery. However, the PG went above and beyond the call of duty (not to be confused with COD2: Modern Warfare) this past week.

Now, a while ago we theorized that Ron Cook secretly hated Pittsburgh and wanted their sports teams to fail. In all honesty, this makes more sense than him wanting them to succeed because then he'd have nothing to write about.

As can be expected, the internets have been ablaze with responses to Cook.

  • The Pensblog is having a Ron Cook photoshop expo. Entries due by Wednesday night.
  • Puck Daddy at Yahoo, normally an Ovechkin love-fest, defends Malkin's point-per-game pace.
  • Smilin' Like A Butcher's Dog takes Cook to task with *gasp* actual stats. Fact: Malkin hasn't been in the penalty box since December 27th.

However, since Cook has already been awarded the Smizik, and giving it to him again would be pointless. Therefore, because the Post-Gazette, in theory, has an editing staff that (once again, in theory) should review the articles the paper publishes for accuracy, journalistic integrity, and truthiness, the whole paper is awarded the Smizik Award for the week for allowing this garbage to be passed off as worthwhile.

The worst part of it is, the PG tantalizes you with the "extra features" of their PG plus website. What do you get for giving them money? More Bob Smizik.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wild Card Weekend Preview

Yes, the Steelers didn't make the playoffs, but that doesn't mean that we're just going to shut things down and call it a season. There are twelve teams left hoping to become the heir to the Lombardi Trophy. The race starts tomorrow.

4:30 pm
Paul Brown Stadium

Cincinnati is back in the playoffs for the first time since Kimo Von Oelhoffen destroyed Carson Palmer's knee. After being annihilated by the Jets last week, Cincy gets a mulligan. The Bengals passing game hasn't been great this year, but their running game and defense carried them to the AFC North crown. The Jets got in by way of winning five of their last six games. Rex Ryan has the Jets playing aggressive on defense and touting the top rushing offense in the league. With rookie Mark Sanchez playing like a rookie, the Jets will do all they can to keep the ball out of his hands. Their strategy will be similar to how the Ravens played with Flacco last year: run, run, run, and if necessary, punt and let your defense hold the other team.

Ian's Prediction: New York 17-13
John's Prediction: New York 21-10

Jerry Jones Mansion

Before the season, everyone had the Eagles pegged as NFC Champions. However, Dallas came out of no where with Miles Austin arising as a premier receiving threat. The Dallas rushing attack is keyed by the best 3-back tandem in the league with pounder Marion Barber, speedster Felix Jones, and versatile back Tashard Choice. Philly's defense has been porous against the pass, and opposing quarterbacks have lit them up all season. The Cowboys swept the Eagles this year by 20-16 and 24-0 margins. As much as I hate to say it, I think the Cowboys are going to pick up their first playoff win in over a decade.

Ian's Prediction: Dallas 34-27
John's Prediction: Dallas 20-7

Gillette Stadium

The story of the game is Wes Welker, and he isn't even playing. New England is 8-0 at home this season while Baltimore was only 3-5 on the road. Even without the leading receiver in the league, New England's offense is still better than Baltimore's defense, which has taken significant steps back this season after losing coordinator Rex Ryan and linebacker Bart Scott to the Jets. New England's defense isn't great either, but Baltimore's offense is still primarily keyed on running the ball. Todd Heap-of-shit has come on recently for the Ravens, including four touchdowns in the last three weeks of the season.

Ian's Prediction: New England 20-14
John's Prediction: Baltimore 28-20

University of Phoenix Stadium

The defending NFC Champs start this playoff year in the exact same place they did last season. Larry Fitzgerald carried the team to the Super Bowl last year, and they're going to need a similar performance from the passing game to get back this season. As was the case last year, their running game was non-existent, even after spending a first round pick on Beanie Wells. Green Bay brings a potent offense to the table with Aaron Rodgers spreading the ball around. Green Bay had eight receivers with over 20 catches on the season, but only 3 with over 50. On the other side, Warner primarily targets Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston, and Tim Hightower, all of which had over 55 catches. Green Bay has the better defense, finishing 2nd in total defense, 7th in passing, 1st in rushing, and 3rd in scoring defense. Former Steelers coordinator Dom Capers keyed the switch to the 3-4 and it has played huge dividends for the Packers. Kurt Warner doesn't do well when he is pressured often, and that's exactly what Green Bay will do.

Ian's Prediction: Green Bay 38-24
John's Prediction: Arizona 24-21

Thursday, January 7, 2010

And the heads start rolling

The Steelers fired Offensive Line coach Larry Zierlein and Special Teams coach Bob Ligashesky.

Thanks to Jim Wexell of who has been tweeting up a storm the past few days. Wexell has been ripping on everyone, which has been absolutely awesome. He's been ripping on the Arians lovefest that's been going down from Ron Cook and Bob Smizik over at the Post-Gazette.

We're with Wexell on this one. We were never big Arians fans, but the Browns game alone was grounds for dismissal.

In that game, against the worst run defense in the league, Arians called 42 passes and 20 runs in sub-zero temperatures and 30-45 mph winds.

Read that again and think about it for a moment. There's not even a good analogy to fit that.

Ligashesky had to be fired. In his three years as special teams coach we had two downright awful special teams (2007 and 2009) and one very good special teams (2008). Not sure what the difference was between the 2008 season and the others schematically, but there were some personnel changes between 07 and 08 (such as adding Keyaron Fox and Patrick Bailey) that generated significant improvement.

Obviously cutting Anthony Madison in favor of Keiwann Ratliff was a terrible decision this off-season. They rectified that mid-season by bringing Madison back, but also cut Arnold Harrison in favor of Rocky Boiman. We still don't quite understand that one.

On the Zierlein front, we'll start with this article from his son. We don't agree with everything he says (such as the fact that Ben cares too much about passer rating), but he brings up some very good points. Yes, the O-line had a lot of issues this year. However, there were more problems with the scheme than there were with the blocking.

How many times did Ben get sacked when the Steelers were in a 5-wide set with no help for the O-line? This is not to say that the O-line should need help with a 4-man rush. However, when there are only 5 blockers and the defense is sending 6 or 7 guys on a blitz, this is a scheme problem, not a line problem.

This is not to say that the Offensive Line wasn't poor. However, given the lack of investment in the line, it's not surprising they were so bad.

By this point, I think everyone knows where we stand with Arians. His offenses put up good numbers between the 20s, but struggle to punch it in. Why does that happen? The primary reason is because the biggest plays the Steelers get on offense are when individuals (usually Ben) make a great play and make something happen on a broken play. The plays that are being called aren't successful. We don't have plays that are designed to get guys open. And this is why our Red Zone offense was so lackluster.

Our final thought (for now) on Arians. Smizik and Cook will tell you all about the great numbers that the Steelers offense put up this year. They'll tell you about how this was the first time in Steelers history we had a 4,000 yard passer. They'll say how we've never had a 4,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yd receivers, and a 1,000-yd rusher in the same season. What they won't tell you, is how in spite of all that, we only managed 23.0 points per game. While 23 points per game isn't bad, it's not good when your defense is giving up 14+ points in the 4th quarter.

Yardage numbers a great, but they don't mean anything if you're not scoring points or winning games.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Good Night and Good Luck: Steelers Win

Of all the games this season, the sixteenth and final was probably the signature game for the Steelers 2009 season. The offense started strong, and things were looking great after three quarters. Two fourth quarter touchdowns later, we were in danger of losing the game. There were bad play calls on offense and blown coverages on defense. At the end of the day, we did what we needed to do, with Ben fighting through a shoulder injury where he could barely lift his throwing arm to complete two big passes on the final drive.


The Steelers get the ball first and come out with a 5-wide set. Predictably, they throw a WR screen to Ward. The drive looks ready to go the way of the dinosaurs, but Mike Wallace puts the team on his back and converts a third and long. 007 tries to go deep off play-action, but the Dolphins strategy was to knock all our receivers to the ground. It worked and Ben got sacked. Ben comes right back and finds Heath against a linebacker on an out-post and Heath rumbles down the sidelines for 31 yards. Mendenhall carries us down to the 5, where Ben hits Tone on a slant for the score.


Apparently, Tony Sporano told the Miami offense that they were playing for their playoff lives, because they came out looking like a football team. Mixing runs and passes, Henne and Williams take care of business.


Ben comes up just short on a scramble on 3rd down, and with nothing to lose, Tomlin keeps his foot on the gas and calls the QB sneak. First down. 007 wastes no time and goes downtown. Guess who's wide open behind the defense?
That's six baby.


The Steelers stick with their "don't kick it to Ginn" strategy and the Fish get the ball at the 30.

Second Quarter

Pat White comes into the game to run the Wildcat, and alternates plays with Henne to keep the Steelers defense off balance. The Fish get down to the 12, but two clogged runs later, they're forced to throw. Henne throws behind Brian Hartline, and Willie Gay is able to make his first pass break-up of the year. Field goal.


Willie Parker, in possibly his last game with the team, got the call on the next series, and looked surprisingly fresh. After taking us across midfield, Ben looks to go for the kill shot, but his arm gets hit. The refs call it a fumble and Coach challenges. Score one for Tomlin. Ben's arm was going forward. Mendenhall Raises Hell on the next play, taking a swing pass down the sidelines to the 6. Arians craps his pants and the Steelers have to settle for a field goal.


A lot of things happened in this game that we had been waiting all season to see. The first of those was for a cornerback to undercut a route. Deshea steps up and undercuts an out-route, and gets 3 feet in, for the first INT by a Steelers CB this year.

Arians decides to give it right back by having Tone throw on a double-pass play. Tone throws across the field for Mendenhall one-on-one with a linebacker. In theory a good matchup until the safety comes over the top for an easy pick. Ryan Clark should take notes. Eye on the ball. Despite the terrible play call, Tone actually threw a pretty good pass.

Henne looks poised to drive the Fish back down the field, completing six in a row to move them across midfield.

Two Minute Warning

Woodley mentioned during the week how he had been waiting since his days at Michigan for a chance to actually hit Henne. He was getting close the first few drives, and made it count in the last two minutes. He racked up two sacks in a span of 5 plays, including one where he dominated a double-team.

Woodley's dominance forces a punt before the end of the half.


Jimmy Buffett and Ricky Williams rock the gange in the locker room.

Chad Henne got a contact high and was out for the rest of the game.

Williams was just irrelevant.

Third Quarter

Pat White comes in and does his best Goomba impression and gets flattened by Timmons.

With a chance to put the Fins away, the Steelers pull out the motif offense. Run-run-pass-punt.

White is able to pick up a first down with his feet, and the Fins punter booms a 58-yarder to flip the field on us.

The Steelers catch a break on a facemask penalty but have to use two timeouts because Ben has no protection when the Fins were blitzing. Raise Some breaks through the Fins defense and takes it down to the 6. After a run and a pass short of the end zone, Ben scrambles out of pressure and finds Heath wide open in the back of the end zone.


Once again, the touchdown wasn't on the called play. Heath was running an out to the sidelines, but broke off his route when he saw Ben scrambling and came back to the middle of the field to make the play.

The Fins went back to the ground on the next drive. White scrambled out of the pocket on 3rd down and got hit by Ike Taylor along the sidelines. It was a completely legal hit, but White was out cold. He was carted off the field. We hate seeing people get hurt, and we wish Pat all the best and a speedy recovery.

Logan rips off a good return and the Steelers take advantage of the good field position by going after the Fins weak secondary. Tone draws a pass interference call to move the Steelers into field goal range. Ben converts a 3rd down to Hines to get us down inside the 10.

Fourth Quarter

With first and 10 from the 11, the Steelers run 3 plays, none of which attempt to put the ball in the end zone. Field goal.


When you heard Tyler Thigpen was coming in, the first thing that probably flashed through your mind was "Oh shit, he threw the ball all over the place last year for KC. He was good out of the shotgun, spread formation."

The blitzkrieg began on the next drive, as Thigpen completed passes of 8 and 14, coupled with two Steelers penalties, giving the Fins the ball in the red zone. They ran a reverse to Brian Hartline, who beat Ryan Clark to the corner of the end zone.


Things were starting to get tense in Steelers nation as you could feel the momentum shifting. Ben got sacked on first down, and could never get it back. Colon got called for two holding penalties that were declined. Punt.

Thigpen came back, hitting his tight end for 27 yards to get within striking distance. Two plays later, he took a shot downfield for Davone Bess who had left Deshea in his tracks. No safety help.

We don't even need to make a joke about this picture.


With our playoff lives starting to slip away, you knew the Steelers needed to come out with a drive that would put points on the board. The sad thing is, Bruce Arians didn't. Motif offense.

-sack and fumble

Miami takes over at the 13 with a chance to at least tie the game. But Coach Dad must have given the boys a big-time talking-to before they came out because they were inspired. Nick Eason eats Pro Bowler Jake Long's second breakfast and lunch, dropping Ricky Williams for a 3 yard loss. Thigpen looks for Ginn who is blanketed by Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark. Clark, actually looking at the ball for once, makes the interception.

Ben had hurt his throwing arm/shoulder on the sack, but rather than send in a back-up, Ben toughs it out and comes back in. What a player.

After throwing two passes and having his arm look like a rag doll, Parker comes into the game and just ices it. With 4:41 on the clock, FWP goes for 7, 4, and 4. Ben throws again to Hines to move the sticks and wind some more clock. Parker rips off a 15-yarder before the two minute warning.

Two Minute Warning

Seemingly needing one first down to win the game, the Steelers go to Parker again who explodes down the sideline for 34 yards but goes out of bounds, stopping the clock. A penalty on the next play stops the clock again. Miami uses their second timeout after stopping FWP on second down.

Tense times, as you hoped and prayed Arians would keep it on the ground on 3rd down. He runs a draw to Parker who takes it to the end zone, but Hines gets called for holding, nullifying the play. After another draw to Parker, which might be his last carry in a Steelers jersey, it's Jeff Reed time.


With 40 seconds to play and no timeouts, Miami was technically still in the game. Thankfully, Thigpen isn't a seasoned quarterback and has been sitting on the bench all year. He air mails one over Davone Bess and right into the waiting hands of Ike Taylor. Great way to finish the season.

Victory formation.

Game. Season.

Players of the Game:
Offensive Game Ball- Rashard Mendenhall
Defensive Game Ball- LaMarr Woodley

Honorable Mentions:
Ike Taylor
Lawrence Timmons
Willie Parker
Hines Ward
Heath Miller
Mike Wallace
Ben Roethlisberger

Mr. Yuck Sticker of the Game
New England and Cincinnati mailing it in

We're not going to raise a big stink over this and say the league should penalize teams who phone it in the last week of the season. If you had a good enough year that you can afford to rest players, you've earned that right. The thing that really hurts is knowing that we would have made the playoffs if we could have beaten one of Oakland, Kansas City, or Cleveland.

Final Thoughts
  • We'll have a much longer post at some point wrapping up the whole 2009 season.
  • RB stat line: Mendenhall 20 carries, 96 yards; Parker 12 carries, 91 yards. That's pretty much a perfect distribution. Imagine if we had been giving them 20 and 10 all year. Or even better, 25 and 15.
  • Word from the Twitterverse is that the new partial owners of the team would like to see a "different direction" with the offense, meaning that Arians will likely get canned. Thanks to Jim Wexell for that one.
  • At least the Madden curse is off of Polamalu now.
  • It's never a good thing to have to count on other teams to win or lose to get you into the playoffs.
  • Besides Cincinnati, we beat the six best teams on our schedule, and lost to 4 of the worst.
  • Officially, you can now talk about the "D" word. That being "draft," obviously.
  • In all honesty, we closed out the season in the best possible way, with three wins. Yes, we didn't make the playoffs and we didn't achieve up to the expectations we had coming into the season. However, that doesn't mean that all is lost from 2009. Ben, Tone, and Heath all had career years. Ben broke a slew of passing records. He has grown into a great quarterback and is ready to lead the team for years to come. Hopefully we can rectify some things in front of him so he doesn't get killed in the pocket.
  • We'd like to thank all of you who have been following us all season. We'll still be around in the off season and we hope you'll check back. As always, you can stay up to date with the latest from us by following us on Twitter.
  • Go Steelers!

Gameday 16: Miami Dolphins

And so it all comes down to this. One game. Sixty minutes between us and the playoffs. Even then, if we leave it all out on the field and bring home a victory, the season still might end.

In order for the Steelers to keep playing next week there are three scenarios that need to occur. First and foremost, the Steelers need to win. If they don't beat the Dolphins, there is no tomorrow. If they do, they also need one of the following to occur:
  • New England beats Houston and Cincinnati beats the Jets
  • New England beats Houston and Oakland beats Baltimore
  • The Jets, Ravens, and Denver (vs Kansas City) all lose
Regardless of what happens in Houston, New York, Oakland, and Denver, the Steelers have given us a reason to believe at the end of the year. After the loss to Cleveland, that's really all we could have asked for. Honestly, if we don't make the playoffs, we have no further to look than in the mirror. The Steelers had plenty of opportunities in Oakland, in Baltimore, against Kansas City, and in Cleveland. But they didn't capitalize. It's no use to play the "what if" game and go down that path. However, it's quite obvious that the players didn't play up to their full potential through the second half of the season.

First and foremost, the Steelers can wrap up their 2009 season on a high note. Even if they don't make the playoffs, they will establish momentum going into the offseason that they can build on for next year.

Miami is a bit of an enigma. They either play incredibly well with former Michigan quarterback Chad Henne directing the offense and Ricky Williams running the Wildcat, or they play like total garbage. Their defense has pretty much been the same way. They are ranked 12th in run defense and 23rd in pass defense. Opponents have had no problem getting on the board, averaging 24 points per game. Miami has victories over Jacksonville, New England, and the Jets but lost to Buffalo. Honestly, they're pretty much the definition of a mediocre team.