Thursday, September 27, 2012

WPIAL Midseason Review

It seems like just yesterday the High School Football season kicked off here in Western Pennsylvania, but we're already four games into the nine week regular season. The wheat has begun to separate from the chaff, so here's a look back at how things are sitting as we approach the midpoint of the season. You can also check out my WPIAL Standings page for full details.


Best Team: North Allegheny

The two-time defending WPIAL champions have rolled through the first four weeks of the season. They have the second best offense in Quad-A with second-year quarterback Mack Leftwich at the helm. The Tigers closest game was the season opener against a good Mt. Lebanon team that they stomped 39-14.

Most Surprising Team: Hempfield

The Spartans were 1-8 last season but pulled an upset for the ages when they beat McKeesport in the opening week of the season.  Even though they have yet to face the top teams in the Foothills Conference, this is a great turnaround story for a team that was a floormat for most of the last decade. The Spartans have a top 5 offense after having the 5th worst unit in AAAA last season.

Most Disappointing Team: McKeesport

The Tigers were supposed to compete with rival Gateway for the Foothills Conference crown, but through four weeks this looks like a team that will be fighting just to make the playoffs more than a conference champion contender. Quarterback Eddie Stockett has not lived up to the billing of the Best QB in Quad-A, and has yet to throw a touchdown pass this season.

Best Week 5 Matchups:
Seneca Valley @ Central Catholic (Thursday on ROOT Sports) - Two of the best teams in AAAA square off with Central looking to shut down Seneca Valley's explosive offense
Mt. Lebanon @ Woodland Hills - Woody High's only loss was to Upper St Clair and will need to beat a very good Lebo team (whose only loss was to North Allegheny) in order to stay in the race for the conference title.
Gateway @ Hempfield - This game means more to Hempfield than it does for Gateway. The Gators should roll to the conference title, but this is a measuring stick game for the Spartans to see how they stack up against one of AAAA's best.

Week 5 Playoff Scenarios
North Allegheny clinches a playoff spot with a win over Butler and a Shaler loss

Top 5 Teams:
1. North Allegheny (3-0, 4-0)
2. Gateway (4-0, 4-0)
3. Upper St. Clair (4-0, 4-0)
4. Central Catholic (3-0, 4-0)
5. Seneca Valley (2-1, 3-1)


Best Team: Montour

Montour is in this spot thanks to an overtime win over Central Valley where they stopped Robert Foster on a 2-point conversion try in overtime. That was the only close game the Spartans have played this year, but their spot at the top might be the most tenuous of any of the four "top" teams right now. AAA, particularly the Parkway Conference, has a lot of good teams, and anyone could pull an upset at any time. Montour won't have an easy walk to the Conference Championship, though they have already topped Central Valley who might be the most skilled team in the conference.

Most Surprising Team: Ambridge

The Bridgers Week 3 win over New Castle was their first conference win since October 15, 2010. It was also their first conference win over a team other than Moon since they beat New Castle back in September 2006. Yes, you read that right. Over the last 5 seasons, the only team Ambridge beat in conference play was Moon, who (counting their Week 4 win this season) they had a 6-1 record against. Now, Ambridge sits at 2-1 in conference play, the most Parkway wins they have had since 2006 when they beat New Castle and Moon in back-to-back weeks.

Most Disappointing Team: Belle Vernon

Belle Vernon got a lot of press in the preseason due to the recruiting of Offensive Tackle Dorian Johnson. After the Penn State sanctions were handed down, Johnson de-committed from Penn State, leaving the four-star recruit up for grabs. However, even with Johnson anchoring the line, Belle Vernon has been less than spectacular this season. After an impressive opening week win over Uniontown, the Leopards have gotten shellacked by West Mifflin (34 point loss), Ringgold (32 point loss), and Elizabeth Forward (29 point loss).

Best Week 5 Matchups:
West Allegheny @ Central Valley - West A has been involved in close games every week while Central Valley boasts one of the top players in all of WPIAL in WR Robert Foster
Knoch @ Hampton - This is an important stepping-stone for Knoch if they are going to challenge Mars for the conference title
West Mifflin @ Ringgold - West Mifflin is undefeated and Ringgold's only loss came to TJ.

Week 5 Playoff Scenarios
West Mifflin can clinch a playoff spot with a win over Ringgold
Mars can clinch a playoff spot with a win over Greensburg Salem
West Allegheny can clinch a playoff spot with a win over Central Valley and a New Castle loss.

Top 5 Teams:
1. Montour
2. Thomas Jefferson
3. Mars
4. West Mifflin
5. Central Valley


Best Team: Aliquippa

The Quips continue their reign as the top team in AA. They have dominated opponents so far this year, including a stomping of AAA Ambridge in a cross-river rivalry game. They have only played two conference games so far, but they have the top-ranked offense (214 points) and defense (7 points against) in AA. The Quips won their first two conference games 68-0 and 66-0 and have a relatively easy schedule the next 3 weeks facing Freedom, Mohawk, and Ellwood City who are a combined 2-10. They won't be challenged until the last two weeks when they face Beaver Falls and Beaver.

Most Surprising Team: South Allegheny

The Gladiators have been perennial floormats in the Century Conference, but after being shut out in Week 1 by Seton-La Salle, they have stormed back to win three in a row, outscoring each opponent by 20 points. Before their Week 2 win over Quaker Valley, the Gladiators had lost 12 straight conference games, with their last win coming over Quaker Valley in 2010. Their 3 wins this season are the most they have had since their 4-5 campaign in 2008 when they played in the Interstate Conference. Since then, they had won 3 games total from 2009 to 2011. They have equaled that overall win total and their conference win total through 4 weeks this season.

Most Disappointing Team: Ellwood City

After reaching the quarterfinals last season, the Wolverines have fallen flat on their faces at the start of the season. They reached the playoffs in each of the last 3 seasons and were expected to compete for a playoff spot once again, but an 0-4 start which includes losses to Freedom and New Brighton has severely limited those chances. The good news is that the other teams in the bottom half of the Midwestern Conference keep beating each other, and there are currently 4 teams (Freedom, New Brighton, Mohawk, Riverside) with 1-2 conference records, just a game ahead of the 0-3 Wolverines. They aren't totally out of the playoff race yet, but they're going to have to turn things around fast if they want to get back in the hunt.

Best Week 5 Matchups:
South Fayette @ Seton-La Salle - Two of the best AA teams square off at Baldwin Stadium in a Century Conference showdown. Both schools have one of the Brumbaugh brothers at quarterback and both defenses have been stout.
Jeanette @ Washington - The first big power clash in the Interstate Conference, which currently has 3 undefeated teams.
Shady Side Academy @ Freeport - Both teams are coming off a loss and this game could decide who gets a home playoff game.

Top 5 Teams:
1. Aliquippa
2. South Fayette
3. Seton-La Salle
4. Washington
5. Jeanette


Best Team: Clairton

What can I say about Clairton that hasn't already been said? They survived an opening week scare by Chartiers-Houston and then have gotten back to their old form of just absolutely destroying teams. This week's win over Monessen on Thursday Night was one of the most complete games you'll see. The Bears did what they do best - capitalizing on turnovers and turning them into points. Tyler Boyd is probably the best player in all of the WPIAL and the Bears just keep on dominating. 51 and counting.

Most Surprising Team: Avella

There are a few teams that could fit the bill here, but the Avella Eagles take the crown. Just a few years ago, this was a program on the verge of collapsing and they had to start a cheerleader and one of the band members in order to field a full squad. Now, the Eagles (who had won just 3 games in the previous 5 seasons) sit at 4-0 with a 3-0 conference record. The move to the Tri-County South has obviously benefited Avella, and this is probably my favorite story of any WPIAL team this year. Neshannock deserves an honorable mention here as they are sitting at 4-0 atop a much tougher Big Seven Conference with a huge upset win over Sto-Rox on their resume.

Most Disappointing Team: Geibel Catholic

I may have opinions about certain teams I like and don't like, but one thing I always want to see - regardless of school - is the team playing on the field. Geibel had to forfeit their first two games because they had so many injuries in the preseason they could not field a full team. That sucks. It sucks for the kids on the team, the fans, and their opponents. I'm not blaming these kids for getting injured, but I'm saying it's a disappointment to see a team not make it out onto the field.

Best Week 5 Matchups:
Monessen @ Bishop Canevin - The Greyhounds are coming off a stomping by Clairton and look to rebound against an undefeated Bishop Canevin squad.
Jefferson-Morgan @ Frazier - The Rockets are coming off their first loss of the season and this could be a game that decides who makes the playoffs further down the line.
Northgate @ Sto-Rox - This non-conference matchup features two of the top Single-A teams that are both contenders for their conference title.

Top 5 Teams:
1. Clairton
2. Rochester
3. Bishop Canevin
4. Neshannock
5. Northgate

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Inside the Play: Ben Being Ben Creates Wallace Touchdown

Even though the Steelers lost this week, I wanted to take a minute to look back at one of the biggest plays of the game. Sure I could have talked about the defensive failures on McFadden's TD run or our inability to defend a simple out-route all game. But there was one signature play that was quite special and I felt warranted a look at the X's and O's this week. That play was a vintage Ben Roethlisberger play where he uses his feet to extend the play then hits an open receiver downfield (in this case Mike Wallace) for a big play (in this case, a touchdown).

At the beginning of the play we see the Steelers are aligned with 5 wide, but it's really only a 3 WR personnel grouping as Heath Miller and Baron Batch are on the field as well. Wallace is lined up at the top of the screen with Batch in the slot. Miller is on the line in the slot to Ben's right with Sanders next to him and Brown out wide. The Raiders appear to have their outside corners in man coverage with two deep safeties on the play.

If you watch the tape, you can see the route patterns develop. At the top, the Steelers run a very simple route combo with Wallace going long and Batch running an out-route underneath him. On the bottom, Heath and Sanders are both running crossing routes and Brown is running a fly down the sideline. I believe Heath and Sanders are the first two options for Ben on the play, as their routes are designed to get them open across the middle right at the first down line. The Raiders throw a hitch into this plan with their defense as they drop 8 into coverage with one of the defensive tackles dropping right into the space where Heath runs his route.

At the snap of the ball, the Raiders tackle has dropped into coverage instead of rushing. At this point, there are three Raiders defenders (circled) all looking into the backfield to see where Ben is going with the ball.

The dropping DT makes a very nice defensive play by picking up Heath as he comes across the formation. This enables the linebacker who was in the middle to drop a bit deeper. The slot corner steps up to cover Sanders as he runs parallel to the line. At the top of the screen, we see the route concept working to perfection. Wallace is drawing the corner off by running deep and Batch is coming open underneath for Ben's "check-down" option.

Now Ben is starting to run out of time. Even though it was just a 3-man rush, the internal clock in his head is going off. His first option (Heath) is being shoved off his line by the defensive lineman that dropped into coverage and is essentially double-covered by the DT and slot corner. Sanders is also being blanketed. At the top of the screen, the Raiders make their first mistake. Rather than running with Wallace, the corner takes a peek into the backfield. For the moment, this prevents Ben from throwing it out to Batch on the check-down. This is a trademark move of a Cover-2 defense in that the corner will "hand off" the receiver to the safety over the top.

CBS showed this camera shot during the replay and it pretty much shows what I just described. Brown is essentially double-covered at the bottom of the screen. The Raiders have the two receivers in the middle covered. At the top, the corner is releasing Wallace back to the safety who should drop back to cover Wallace as he goes deep while the corner steps up to cover Batch.

With the corner releasing Wallace to the safety behind him, he has a bead on Batch who is still open at the first down sticks. Miller and Sanders are blanketed by 3 guys across the middle and there is no way Ben is getting the ball. So Ben does what Ben does best: he improvises. He rolls back to his right to create some time.

From the wide-angle, we see the bigger picture as Ben rolls to his right. The safety on Wallace's side is beginning to sprint towards him and the corner has turned his hips and is now turning back towards Batch. Ben's passing lanes to the two receivers over the middle are covered. The DT who dropped to cover Heath (black arrow) is right in the middle of the passing lane.

As Ben comes back to his right, Heath turns and tries to follow Ben back to get open. He may look open in this screenshot, but he really isn't, which forces Ben to look downfield.

As Ben rolls back to the right, the Raiders pretty much have perfect coverage. The eight defenders have Brown (bottom), Sanders (hash marks) and Heath (between hash marks and numbers) all double-covered. Only Wallace (top) and Batch (top sideline) are single-covered. But as Ben rolls back to his right, things start to open up.

From a slightly wider view we see that Heath and Sanders are pretty much surrounded by 4 defenders. Even if Ben could get the ball to Heath, it's a risky throw. So Ben just points Wallace to the middle of the end zone.

This is probably the strangest part of the play. The safety that came over the top to cover Wallace, rather than turning and running with him back towards the middle of the field, keeps running towards the sideline after Wallace makes his break. The safety is now out of the play and Wallace has the entire end zone to himself. The other safety makes a break towards Brown, tightening the double coverage as Ben rolls to the right.

Ben winds up an throws, just barely behind the line of scrimmage. All four defenders that had been covering Heath and Sanders are making a run towards Ben. I'm not sure if they would've gotten to him before he reached the sticks if he had tried to run for the first down, but it would've been close.

Looking at the wide angle, we see that the safety at the top is still standing by the sideline, completely out of the play. The corner that had been eyeing Batch is now desperately trying to make a beeline towards Wallace, who is wide open in the back of the end zone. The four Raiders defenders over the middle are closing in on Ben and there really aren't any passing lanes to get the ball to Heath or Sanders.

As a final screenshot, here's a look at the direction each of the Raiders players were moving at the end of the play. Only one, the corner who had originally been covering Wallace, spotted him running open in the end zone. This was a fantastic improvisation by Ben and Wallace for Mike to get open across the middle and for Ben to find him. This was only possible because Ben used his feet to keep the play alive and gave his receivers time to get open. Remember, at the moment when the pocket started to break down and Ben had to scramble back to his right, the Raiders had excellent coverage. It was only because of Ben's ability to move around and create time and space that Wallace was able to exploit a terrible play by the safety and get open for the touchdown.

You can watch the whole play for yourself here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

O Defense Where Art Thou: Steelers Lose


The Raiders take the opening kickoff across the 40, but Carson Palmer throws one right to Ryan Clark on the first play to set up the Steelers in great position.

Ben hits Heath down the numbers off play-action but it's called incomplete and the refs don't see enough to overturn it when Tomlin challenges. Ben hits Cotchery on 3rd down then hustles the team to the line on 4th and 1 rather than going for a 45-yard field goal off the dirt. Ben tries to draw them offsides but the Raiders hold on so Ben options to a slant to Wallace who snags it and takes it all the way down inside the 10. On 3rd and goal Ben hits Heath in the flat and he waltzes into the end zone.


On the Raiders 3rd play, Run DMC takes a handoff through the right side and Mundy whiffs on him and he's off to the races.

Dan Fouts' blatant Raider homerism at it's best. No clue how CBS employs him.


Ben hits Wallace on 3rd down across the middle to get things rolling then hits Sanders on a quick hitter on 3rd and short to move across midfield. Ben takes a look deep off play-action and smartly checks it down to Redman. The Raiders corners continue to give a cushion and Ben takes advantage with another quick-hitter to AB to move us into the red zone. Wallace grabs one on a post to get us inside the 5. On 2nd down Ben executes a perfect play-action fake and zings one right to Heath over the middle for his second touchdown of the game.


LaMarr Woodley storms the pocket and demolishes Palmer on 3rd down for his 50th career sack.

AB makes some moves on the punt return and brings it back across the 50.

Two penalties put the Steelers back into a 3rd and 25. Rainey takes a screen pass back to the original line of scrimmage and Butler pins them back inside the 15.

The Raiders run it twice to run out the quarter.

Second Quarter

Carson Palmer throws an awful pass and it's punt time. AB takes it back to the house, but there were two penalties on the Steelers on the return. Crap.

Heath catches one on a slant to set up 3rd and short and Baron Batch moves the sticks. Ben lobs one off his back foot to Heath down the seam and Heath makes a one-handed grab since the defender is holding his other hand. Oakland challenges and the catch gets overturned.

The defense comes up with a big 3-and-out after a poor punt by Butler.

AB makes some moves on a WR screen to get us to 3rd and short, which Redman converts. The Steelers have some breathing room, but Dwyer fumbles and the Raiders pounce on it at the 30.

The Raiders work it inside the 15, but the defense locks it down on 3rd down. The Raiders opt to go for it on 4th down and draw the Steelers offsides. Questionable flag after the TE and FB both went in motion, which caused Keisel to jump. Palmer lobs one for Heyward-Bey in the corner and he gets both feet down. Puke.


Baron Batch provides a spark as he reels in one for a first down then takes a check-down and scampers for another first down. Heath makes a nice grab to get us across midfield. Ben does his Ben thing and keeps the play alive then ropes one to Sanders who takes a big shot but hangs on to the ball at the 25. Ben spikes it then hits Rainey over the middle to get us to the 15. Ben spikes it with 2 seconds left to bring out Suisham.

Suisham connects.


Third Quarter

Things look bleak to start the second half as Kelvin Beachum starts the half at RT and Ben takes a shot on 3rd and 15 that is a totally illegal below-the-knees hit, but no flag. Ben hit Wallace over the middle to move the sticks and Ben is able to hobble forward and keep things moving. Ben hits AB twice to get us inside the 25 then goes to Sanders to set up a 3rd and 5. Ben scrambles all around the backfield to buy time then rips one to a wide open Wallace in the end zone for the score.

Wallace was literally the only player in the end zone on the play.

Ben. Being. Ben.


The Raiders bring the kickoff back across the 50 then Run DMC finds a crease and takes it down inside the 35. Oakland converts their first 3rd down of the day to move into the red zone. The Raiders go to the ground and pound DMC all the way down to the goal line. On 3rd and goal, Palmer goes play-action and hits a tight end for the score.


Oakland tries a surprise onside kick, but the ball bounces out of bounds. The refs throw their first flag of the day on the Raiders, which is for the kick going out of bounds. Steelers take over at midfield.

AB gets things rolling, then Ben zings one to Heath across the middle to get us to the red zone. After a penalty sets us back, Ben does his Ben thing on 3rd down and is able to find Heath at the sticks for the first down. Ben goes to AB on the quick-hitter with the Raiders playing off and Brown cuts between the defenders, fumbling just before he reaches the goal line. Somehow, the ball finds its way back to AB in the pile, and it's ruled a touchdown.

Replay holds it up. The official ruling is a fumble recovery for a touchdown, so it's not "officially" a TD pass for Ben.


Palmer gets the ball back and goes right back to picking apart the Steelers defense with short passes. The Raiders move into field goal range as the quarter ends.

Fourth Quarter

Oakland gets called for their first penalty of the game - a false start - to start the quarter. Palmer doesn't let it stop him and converts a 3rd down. On the next play he takes a shot for Heyward-Bey over the middle, but Ryan Mundy comes across and lays a lick on DHB, knocking him down and out. Replays show that Mundy's helmet got right under DHB's chin, which knocked his head back then his head bounced off the ground.

Scary moment as DHB stayed down, with his eyes closed, for a good while. Thankfully, it seems like he's going to be okay. Hate to see anyone get hurt like that.

The Raiders come out playing some inspired football and Palmer keeps working the out-routes, converting another third down then hitting Denarious Moore for a touchdown on a similar out-route.



The offense starts rolling again, but the wheels fall off the wagon when AB tries to cut back to the middle of the field to pick up some YAC yards and the ball gets knocked out, right into the arms of a Raider defender.

The Raiders get the benefit of a questionable pass interference call on Keenan Lewis that moves them into Steelers territory. They pound Run DMC to get into field goal range and tie it up.


Ben takes over with 6 and a half minutes left. Plenty of time, you would think. A holding penalty sets things back from the start, but a big pass to Wallace that he fumbles and is able to recover sets us up with 2nd and short. Redman can't get there on two tries and Tomlin opts to go for it on 4th down from the 30. The risk pays off as Redman plows his way for the first down, but Ben gets sacked on first down and the drive stalls out with just under two minutes to play.

Most depressing drive summary of the game: 7 plays, 4 yards, 4:47 elapsed.

The defense forces the Raiders into a 3rd and long, but Palmer hits his tight end over the middle to move the chains and get things moving. After a timeout, it's Carson City. He works a couple out-routes to get the Raiders to midfield then hits a crossing route underneath the zone that puts them in field goal range. A run to the left gets the spot for the kick on grass and not the infield dirt.

Janikowski nails it.


Players of the Game
Offensive Game Ball: Ben Roethlisberger
Defensive Game Ball: LaMarr Woodley

Honorable Mentions:
Heath Miller
Mike Wallace

Final Thoughts

  • The Raiders didn't convert a 3rd down in the first half and only missed on one - before the tying field goal - in the second half.
  • We have problems at all 3 levels of the defense right now.
  • Steelers struggles outside the Eastern Time Zone continue. 
  • Not the way you want to head into a bye week, but this season is far from a total failure right now. The offense is playing well enough for us to win. The defense has to play better, simple as that.
  • Where has Lawrence Timmons been this year?
  • Ben Roethlisberger is clearly the MVP of this team right now. He's carrying us.
  • Really good game from the offense. Any time we score 31 points we should win the game. The offense did their part.
  • Yes, there were two fumbles,
  • The Mundy hit on DHB really took the wind out of our sails. The Raiders scored 13 unanswered points after that. Glad to hear DHB was released from the hospital and expected to make a full recovery.
  • Heath Miller is playing the best ball of his life. So glad to see him getting an increased role in the offense.
  • When can Mendenhall come back?
  • Bad news for the O-line when Kelvin Beachum is playing RT.
  • We need to get more pressure on opposing QBs. No pressure on Peyton in Week 1. No pressure on Palmer here. A-gap blitzes from the inside linebackers just aren't getting there. No interior pressure at all.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Gameday: Oakland Raiders

The Black Hole
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

What To Watch For

1. Air Show

The Raiders have been downright awful against the run this season. The Steelers have struggled to run the ball. You would think this is a match made in heaven. However, when you look at the Raiders secondary, you have to start licking your chops. Their top corner Shawntae Spencer has already been ruled out with a foot injury, leaving Pat Lee, Joselio Hanson and Phillip Adams to match up against Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders. The last time the Steelers visited Oakland, Ben threw four picks, two of which were returned for touchdowns. But this secondary is hardly the same as the one the Raiders trotted out back in 2006 which included Nnamdi Asomugha and Chris Carr. The Steelers should shred this secondary, so keep an eye out for the no huddle offense when the Steelers go to their 3-wide set.

2. Steelers Out West

I wrote about this earlier in the week - since 2007 the Steelers have been downright awful when they have to travel outside of the Eastern Time Zone. 2007 was a convenient year to start the analysis because it took a look at the last 5 years, but the Steelers weren't fantastic before that either. Their 2006 loss at Oakland is still one of the worst in recent memory. Oakland-Alameda County Stadium is a downright awful place to play, but the Steelers need to make the most of a bad Raiders team and put this one out of reach as quickly as possible.

3. Darren McFadden

Run DMC is one of the most explosive players in the league - when he's healthy. He has yet to play more than 13 games in any season, but when he does play he's a beast in both the run and passing game. The Raiders will try to get the ball into his hands any way they can, and the Steelers need to be aware of him at all times. He's easily the most dangerous player on the field. McFadden leads the team in rushing attempts (26), receptions (15) and targets (25). All told, McFadden has either been handed or thrown the ball on 51 of the Raiders 162 offensive plays this season.

4. Penalties

The Raiders have been one of the most highly penalized teams in the league over the past 5 years. With the replacement officials, you never know what is going to happen, but it seems the tendency so far has been to err on the side of more penalties. This means we very well could see another flag-filled affair. I don't mind the refs throwing flags when there are penalties, but the refs need to be in control of the game and not let complaining players dictate when a flag should come out.

5. Carson Palmer

Hello, old friend. Over his career, Carson Palmer has more losses to the Steelers (8) than to any other team. Palmer has a measly 57% completion percentage against the black and gold and has thrown for 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with only a 76.7 QB rating to show for it. With Troy Polamalu out of the game, someone in the secondary is going to have to step up and make some plays, because the Raiders receivers aren't that good. Denarius Moore was Palmer's favorite receiver last year, but he only has 3 receptions on 8 targets through two games. Former Top 10 pick Darrius Heyward-Bey is 3rd on the team in receptions and receiving yards, but hasn't quite had the breakthrough season many were hoping he would after posting 456 yards and 3 touchdowns over his last 5 games in  2011. From the little bit I've seen of Oakland this year, this isn't a team that is going to go down the field much. There are a lot of short passes and they try to get their speedy receivers the ball. They are trying to limit the number of mistakes Palmer can make with the ball, but if the Steelers pass rush can get after him, they can make life very miserable for Carson.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Goin' West: Steelers Records Outside the Eastern Time Zone

Going on the road in the NFL is never easy. Last season, there was a marked difference between the Steelers play on the road (where they averaged just 16.4 points per game and were 5-4, including a road playoff loss in Denver. By contrast, the Steelers were 7-1 at home and averaged 25 points per game. At home, they averaged just 10 points against per game, while on the road they gave up 19.6. All in all, there was an 18-point swing between home games and road games. Looking back over the last 5 years, from 2007-2001 (conveniently, the "Mike Tomlin era"), the Steelers actually have the 4th best road record in the league at 24-16, a .600 winning percentage away from home. For reference, New England is the top team (28-12) followed by the Giants (26-14) and Eagles (24-15-1) with the Steelers, Saints, and Colts sitting at 24-16.

However, when you dig a little deeper into the data, there is one stat that jumps out. From 2007 to 2011 the Steelers are 5-8 outside of the Eastern Time Zone. To take an even more pessimistic view, you can add in the Steelers two playoff games played outside of EST, which were both losses (Super Bowl XL loss to Green Bay in Dallas and last year's defeat in Denver), which brings their record to 5-10 over that time span. If we include their Week 1 loss to Denver this year, that means the Steelers are 5-11 in all games outside the Eastern Time Zone since 2007.

Here's a brief summary:
2007: 1-2 outside of EST: Lost to Arizona 21-14, Lost to Denver 31-28, Beat St. Louis 41-24
2008: 0-1 outside of EST: Lost to Tennessee 31-14
2009: 1-2 outside of EST: Lost to Chicago 17-14, Beat Denver 28-10, Lost to Kansas City 23-20
2010: 1-2 outside of EST: Beat Tennessee 19-11, Lost to New Orleans 20-10, Lost Super Bowl XL to Green Bay 31-25
2011: 2-3 outside of EST: Lost to Houston 17-10, Beat Arizona 32-20, Beat Kansas City 13-9, Lost to San Francisco 20-3, Lost Wild Card Game to Denver 29-23
2012: 0-1 outside of EST: Lost to Denver 31-19

Looking at both the regular season and playoffs from 2007 to present, the Steelers and Packers are tied with the second best record in the NFL (61-29, .678 winning percentage), trailing only the New England Patriots (69-21, .767 winning percentage). For a team that has won 67.8% of their games, the 5-11 record outside of the Eastern Time Zone (.313 winning percentage) is certainly a data point worth noting. If you look at the Steelers other splits, the record outside of Eastern Time is even more striking.

  • The Steelers are 25-19 overall in road/neutral games (.568) but only 5-11 (.313) outside of EST. This means the Steelers are 20-8 (.714) in road games in the Eastern Time Zone. That includes their two Super Bowls (XLIII vs Arizona in Tampa and XLV vs Green Bay in Dallas).
  • At home, the Steelers are 36-10 (.783). 
  • On the whole, the Steelers are 46-18 (.718) in the Eastern Time Zone while having a lowly .313 winning percentage when they have to adjust their watches. 

Looking back, some of the games they lost were to good teams, including the Houston and San Francisco losses last year. However, in 2007 when the Steelers went 10-6, they lost to two mediocre teams: Arizona (8-8) and Denver (7-9). In 2009, they dropped another game to a mediocre team (Chicago was 7-9) and lost to a downright awful team (Kansas City was 4-12). The 2011 playoff loss was also to a mediocre team.

What does this mean moving forward? In addition to the season opener against Denver, the Steelers have to leave the friendly confines of the Eastern Time Zone three more times, including this week when they travel to Oakland. In addition to this trip, they have a Week 6 Thursday Night game in Nashville against the Titans and return to the Jerry Dome to take on the Cowboys in Week 15. I'm not ready to throw in the towel on these games, but the Steelers record outside the Eastern Time Zone is certainly something to keep an eye on as we move forward.

Inside the Play: Heath Miller Touchdown

For this week's video breakdown post, I decided to take a look at the Heath Miller touchdown, which was the go-ahead score in the game. The Steelers had driven down the field at the end of the second quarter and just converted a 3rd down to put them at the 1 yard line. They came out in a jumbo package with 3 tight ends (Miller, Leonard Pope and David Paulson), a full back (Will Johnson) and Isaac Redman in the backfield.

Before we start, let's take a look at this formation. It just screams "run". There is a tight end on either side of the line and an unbalanced I in the backfield (Will Johnson has his right foot on the hash mark while Redman is standing directly behind Ben). If you look at Ben closely, you'll notice two things that also scream "run" - his feet are not parallel but staggered, which causes his hips and shoulders to be "open" and not parallel to the line. For all intents and purposes, Ben's body language says he is going to take the snap, turn to his left, and hand the ball off to Redman, who is going to follow his lead back (who is already positioned on the left side of the backfield).

Taking a look at the wider angle, David Paulson comes in motion from the top of the screen down to the end of the line before the snap. The two key players are Heath Miller (circled in yellow) and Jets LB David Harris (circled in white).

At the snap, it still looks like a running play. Heath engages the defensive end at the line of scrimmage and the rest of the line gets a hat on a hat. Will Johnson looks squared up to go after the edge rusher, leaving Redman one-on-one with Harris, who should fill the hole. The problem for the Jets is, this isn't a running play. Harris reads and reacts quickly, charging forward towards the hole that he sees opening in front of him.

In the next instant, things change. Heath releases from his block and Ben pulls the ball away from where Redman would take it. Harris reacts to this by planting his left foot in the ground in an attempt to make a cut to cover Heath. For a perspective on just how fast this happens, you'll note that the game clock and play clock read the same in this shot as they did in the previous screenshot. It takes less than a second for this play to go from a run look to a pass look.

At this point, Heath has the clear advantage. He has broken free from the defensive lineman and has a wide open path to the corner of the end zone. Harris is still coming out of his cut while Heath is already running at speed. If you watch the video (linked below), you'll note that Harris takes a full three steps coming forward before he has to stop all of his forward momentum and make a cut to try to follow Heath out into the flat. This is enough time for Heath to gain the advantage.

Less than a second after he released from the lineman, Heath is clearly open with Harris desperately trailing him. Ben sees it and squares his body up to throw. Ben lofts a perfect ball towards the sidelines where only Heath can make the catch. Touchdown.

You can find the whole video on and watch for yourself.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Taking Flight: Steelers Win


The offense gets the call for introductions coming out of the tunnel. First regular season game Hines hasn't been the last one out.

The Steelers win the toss and seeing as we only have 2 captains, Ben says he wants the ball.

The Steelers must have thought the Jets were weak on the edge because right off the bat they try 3 plays to the outside: a WR screen, a run to the outside, then an end-around to AB that he takes for 9 yards and a first down. Ben gets rolling by hitting Wallace on a nice come-back route then goes to Will Johnson out of the backfield who rumbles down the sideline for 26 yards to get us down to the Jets 25.
 The offense goes backwards from there, including a 3rd down sack but Suisham connects from 45.


Sanchez starts the game with a good throw to Holmes on 3rd and 9 to move the sticks on a come-back route. Two plays later, Holmes draws a flag by begging for one after a bad throw. Holmes calls for more flags than any receiver in the league. Pretty much every pass he doesn't catch his hand goes up asking for one. He did it when he was here too. Sanchez takes advantage of an angry Steelers defense and hits a pass right down the seam to move the Jets down to the red zone. On 3rd down, Sanchez goes play-action and the safeties bite up and he zips one to Holmes on a slant for a touchdown.

Penalty kept that drive alive.


Ben comes right back to AB then Redman carries us out to midfield. Brown turns one upfield and gets us to the fringe of field goal range. Haley makes his first downright awful play call on 3rd and 4 when he tries a behind-the-back handoff to Rainey, but it's snuffed out in the backfield.

Second Quarter

The crowd was unhappy through the quarter break, but Suisham puts things back in order by hitting his second 45-yard field goal.


The refs give the Jets another gift on their second drive when Sanchez rolls out then runs forward and throws right before he hits the line and gets walloped by Lawrence Timmons.

Two plays later, Holmes draws another flag on Ike to move into Steelers territory.

Coach with the perfect summation of how everyone felt about these refs.

The Jets go to the ground and are able to make their way into field goal range, but the defense locks it down and holds them to three.


The Steelers respond by going 3-and-out, including a second down sack of Ben.

The defense finally gets some pressure on Sanchez and he starts to look like the Mark Sanchez we all know and love, missing some throws badly.

Ben takes over with just under 7 minutes to play and goes to work. Passes to Pope and Dwyer get us to the 40 then Ben converts a 3rd and long with a pass to Sanders. Ben goes right back to Manny and hits him in stride, enabling him to turn down the sideline and take off for 20. On top of the play, Sanders gets bumped out of bounds and it's enough to draw a late hit flag. Dwyer works it down to the 7 then Ben stands in and hits Cotch who takes a big hit but hangs on to the ball at the 1.

The Steelers bring in a 3 TE look with a fullback and Redman in the backfield. The play just screams run and the Jets bite hard on the play-action, allowing Ben to loft one to Heath in the corner.

Beautiful play.


The Jets get the ball to start the second half so they just run the last minute off the clock.

Third Quarter

The Jets got the ball to start the second half, and if you felt a little nervous, you weren't alone. Thankfully, Mark Sanchez is Mark Sanchez. Woodley annihilates a tackle and blasts Sanchez for his first sack of the season.

Ben goes right to work hitting AB across the middle and gets the bonus of a personal foul penalty on the end of the run. The drive goes backwards from there when Dwyer gets stacked up in the backfield on 2nd down. On 3rd and 16, Ben does his Ben thing and makes a fool out of David Harris, stepping right past him in the pocket and chucks one downfield for Wallace who is locked up with Cromartie in the end zone. Cromartie keeps running when Wallace stops and leaps for the ball...

And comes down just inside the sideline for the touchdown.

Man...what a player.

Replay holds it up. TOUCHDOWN.


The Jets respond with the Tebowcat and rip off two big runs. Ryan Clark has seen enough and slashes into the backfield to stop that garbage in it's tracks. Sanchez returns and plays like the Mark Sanchez we all love. The Jets pin us back inside the 5.

In a strange 3rd down sequence, Sanders gets an extremely generous spot from the refs and it is initially ruled a first down (by a hair) after measurement. Then Rex challenges and the refs move the ball back and decide to re-measure and it's short by a yard. Drew Butler makes a nice punt that the Jets muff and Ryan Mundy falls on it, giving us great field position in Jets territory.

The drive can't get going and Rainey drops a screen pass on 3rd down, and Butler comes back out. The Jets send the house at him but Butler stands in and sticks one inside the 10. No points off the turnover, but that was a huge kick by Butler to stand in under pressure and pin the Jets deep.

Mark Sanchez sucks. The Jets run Tebow out with the punt team and he starts giving hand signals so the Steelers spend a timeout to put their defense back on the field. Good move. The Jets punt anyway.

The offense spends the first two downs going backwards with penalties and negative plays and eventually find themselves in 3rd and 32. Ben hits AB on a post route for 25 yards that is still well short of the sticks.

Fourth Quarter

Sanchez tries to hit Holmes on a post by Ryan Clark delivers a perfect hit to knock the ball out and there's a flag. Everyone thinks it's going to be on Clark but they call pass interference on Ike.


First off, Ike never touched Holmes. Second, Holmes caught the pass and Clark knocked it out. Not sure how you can call Pass Interference when the receiver gets his hands on the ball.

The defense is livid after that, and rightfully so. They start undercutting routes and knocking balls away and it's curtains for the Jets.

The offense comes out and puts together the best drive of the Mike Tomlin era. Flat out dominant. 14 plays, 80 yards, 10 minutes off the clock. Ice it. The running game didn't do anything all game, but Redman and Dwyer combined for 45 yards on this drive alone. Redman put up his longest run of the day on a 3rd and 1 and showed off some nice moves on a check-down pass where he made some guys miss and went for 14 yards. AB lit up the crowd by climbing the ladder for a ball and taking a shot from Landry.
After the shot, AB showed off his guns and stomped downfield as the crowd roared louder and louder. What a moment.
As we worked it down into the red zone, Haley made his best play-call of the day, splitting Heath out wide and getting him one-on-one on safety Yeremiah Bell. Ben threw a perfect fade pass and Bell had no chance.

What a catch.

Redman capped off the drive by pounding it in from the one.

That was our longest scoring drive since 2007. Boom.


The next drive is summed up by me telling the guy sitting next to me "I love Mark Sanchez" and him saying "He sucks SO BAD." Good times.

The Steelers go run-run-run and take two more minutes off the clock. Rex decides not to use his time outs. The last minute was just a formality of Mark Sanchez suckitude and the refs throwing flags everywhere. I wonder if the NFL is paying them hourly?

Cam Heyward ends the game with a sack.


Players of the Game
Offensive Game Ball: Heath Miller
Defensive Game Ball: Ryan Clark

Honorable Mentions:
Ben Roethlisberger
Mike Wallace
Antonio Brown
Isaac Redman
Ike Taylor
LaMarr Woodley
Ryan Mundy
Drew Butler

Final Thoughts

  • The Steelers 10-minute drive that consumed most of the 4th quarter was their longest scoring drive since 2007. To make things even better, they capped it off with the first rushing touchdown of the season.
  • The Steelers have now won 10 consecutive home openers. Ben Roethlisberger has yet to lose a home opener.
  • All Antonio Brown does is make big plays.
  • For as optimistic as I was about the play-calling after Week 1, I am disappointed after Week 2. Haley called some really questionable plays, including low-percentage plays on 3rd and medium. The behind-the-back handoff to Rainey was awful and for some reason he insists on running Redman outside.
  • The running game looked awful at the start of the game but really came around by the last drive when Redman racked up 34 yards and Dwyer added 11 more. To put that in perspective, the Steelers had 66 yards rushing all game, and 45 of those came on the final drive. 
  • The fade pass to Heath Miller over Yeremiah Bell was a brilliant play call and fantastic execution. I love that Heath is finally getting the looks he deserves in the offense. Two touchdowns in two weeks is as many scores as he had all of last season.
  • Mike Wallace obviously didn't need training camp, but he does need a new contract. He doesn't deserve Fitz/Megatron money but he certainly deserves Vincent Jackson/Miles Austin money.
  • How good was it to have Ryan Clark back on the field? He was flying around, making tackles, and keeping the defense in order.
  • Mark Sanchez sucks.
  • Baltimore and New England lost, which is always a good thing. Better yet, they play each other next week so one of them will be 1-2. 
  • Don't sleep on Oakland. We always struggle out there. 
  • Saw this picture on the Steelers website. Awesome.