Monday, October 29, 2012

Steelers Game 7 Recap - Steelers 27, Washington 12

Coming into the game you really didn't know what to expect with this game. We didn't really know what this team was really about. They came out and beat a decent Bengals and Eagles teams and then lost to bad teams like Tennessee and Oakland so the Steelers were really up in the air as to what sort of team they were. Washington wasn't a great team but they still had an outstanding running game and a rookie quarterback that had played some outstanding football and it was going to be a big test.

The Steelers passed that test. With flying colors. The Steelers came out and took control of the football game and outside of one drive in the first quarter the defense came out and had an outstanding performance again. Ben Roethlisberger was great, the receivers were great and the Washington receivers were pretty bad as they dropped a ton of passes.

I was actually able to go out in Chicago to watch this game with a few friends and we ended up going to Dark Horse in Wrigleyville. If you are ever in Chicago during a Steelers game you need to go there. They have about 20 TV's and 19 of them were turned on the Steelers game and everyone in there had on Steelers gear except for one person. It was awesome. Oh yea, they serve Iron City. While it is not the best beer, at all, it is still a little taste of Pittsburgh for those of us who are no longer fortunate enough to live in the city.

I wasn't asked to write any of that. Promise. I just like to point out good places I watch games when I can because I know I appreciate that when I am in cities and am looking for places to watch the game.

Why did I say that? Oh yea, well I was at the bar watching the game so I was bsing with people and watching the game and drinking so I really didn't pay as much attention to the detail stuff as I usually do when I watch the game so I don't rally have much to go off of. Here are just a few quick points I came away with after watching the game then combing through the stats:

-Roethlisberger was outstanding. He threw only nine incompletions in 33 attempts and tossed three touchdown passes. While his yards per attempt was pretty low (for his standards) at 6.7 yards but he is making some great decisions and not turning the football over. He wasn't sacked and he distributed the ball to nine different receivers and found to tight ends and a fullback on his touchdown passes. Seems like I talk about this ever week but man, he is having an MVP type season. Also, best pump fake in the game? Probably.

-Jonathan Dwyer was again the rock for the Steelers. He ran for over 100 yards for the second straight game and was a part of a Steelers rushing attack that gained 140 yards as a team. Dwyer is a nice mix of power and elusiveness and while he can get to the outside he has been pounding the rock in between the tackles and is doing a great job of getting yards after first contact. I still don't think that Dwyer is the best back on the team because I think Rashard Mendenhall gives you more but Dwyer is better than Isaac Redman and if there is one thing we have learned this year is that you can't have enough running backs. With the way the position has evolved the running back position isn't something that you have one guy and he sticks with you for ten years. Those days are over.

-The Steelers offense just continues to control the ball. Much has been made about how the Steelers aren't hitting on the big plays but what they are doing is taking huge chunks of yards and time in drives. On Sunday the Steelers had three separate drives of ten plays or more than resulted in three touchdowns. The first one went for 12 plays and spanned 76 yards over seven minutes for a first drive touchdown. They then scored a second quarter touchdown with a ten play, 74 yard drive and then scored on their first possession after the half with an 11 play, 80 yard drive that took just under seven minutes. The Steelers held the ball for over 33 minutes. I love the big plays but I love making the smart plays and not turning the ball over even more which was something that the Steelers offense hasn't been able to shake in the recent past.

-Coming in Washington led the league in rushing and was averaging over 177 yards per game on the ground. The Steelers limited Washington to only 86 yards on 21 carries and held the leagues second leading rusher, Alfred Morris, to only 59 yards. RGIII ran for only eight yards on six carries. The Steelers have given up some big plays this year, more than normal, but they only gave up two runs of ten yards or more and while they gave up a few bigger plays in the passing game Washington never really had much going.

-RGIII has been dynamic this season and has given team fits but Dick LeBeau's game plan was great. Obviously I don't really know what his game plan was but from what I could piece together from post game quotes and some other things I have read is that LeBeau just tried to keep things simple and didn't try to do too much. Sometimes it's better to keep thing simple and what they were able to do was just make the small adjustments to widen out the linebackers and keep RGIII in the pocket and take away the edges. Once the Steelers did that they were able to run some more traditional stuff to confuse the rookie.

-Casey Hampton was pretty outstanding yesterday. He was dominating along the line of scrimmage and while he only made one tackle he was blowing up plays in the running game and making Morris bounce out a little wider than he wanted to and gave the backers and defensive backs some time to get there and he isn't going to get talked about but he was a beast.

-The offensive line was very good. Ben wasn't sacked a single time and he was only hit one time. Last season he was getting sacked like four times a game and now he is barely getting touched. Now, a lot of this has to do with other factors such as Ben getting rid of the ball quicker but the line has been injured and banged up a good bit so far this season and they still gutted it up and are keeping Ben clean and now clearing holes for the running game. Some of that has to go with the new blocking scheme that Max Starks talked about after the game where they have a hybrid zone/man blocking scheme. No matter what it is though they are getting the job done and this offense looks really good.

-Not everything was good in the game but there just really isn't a whole ton of stuff to complain about and I am not going to complain just for the sake of complaining. The specials teams once against got banged for a penalty that negated a touchdown return by Antonio Brown. The Steelers also didn't finish the job when they had the chance later in the game but they were ahead 20-6 at halftime and only gave up 12 points in the entire game. How can you complain about that?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Steelers Game Day 7 Preview - vs. Washington Redskins

The Steelers are coming back home for the first time in what seems like forever. They have been on the road for much of the past month and also had a bye week mixed in there so you can bet that the Heinz Field is going to be rocking for the Steelers and it will be trying to get loud and throw RGIII off his game.

The Steelers are pretty outstanding playing at home and will a tough game next week against the Giants in New York it is very important to get a win here and keep pace with the Ravens who will be on a bye week. With a win the Steelers will only be one game back of the Ravens with a bunch of games left to play. From there it would be all wide open but a loss puts them two back and really puts them behind the eight ball.

It is going to be an amazing game to watch. I mean I love watching the Steelers play but getting a chance to sit down and watch a full game of RGIII is going to be really exciting also. Should be a ton of fun and it will surely have me on the edge of my seat all game long

There really isn't much else to say about this so lets just get into the preview:

The stats:

Last Week:

Pittsburgh 24, Cincinnati 17
Passing: Roethlisberger: 27-37, 278 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Dwyer: 17 car., 122 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Brown: 7 rec., 96 yards, 0 TD

NY Giants 27, Washington 23
Passing: Griffin III: 20-28, 258 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Morris: 22 car., 120 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Paulsen: 4 rec., 76 yards, 0 TD

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 372.3 yards/game (11th)
Washington: 406.3 yards/game (4th)

Pittsburgh: 282.2 yards/game (6th)
Washington: 228.6 yards/game (20th)

Pittsburgh: 90.2 yards/game (26th)
Washington: 177.7 yards/game (1st)

Pittsburgh: 23.3 points/game (17th)
Washington: 28.7 points/game (5th)


Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 277.3 yards/game (2nd)
Washington: 413.7 yards/game (29th)

Pittsburgh: 184.8 yards/game (2nd)
Washington: 328.4 yards/game (31st)

Pittsburgh: 92.5 yards/game (9th)
Washington: 85.3 yards/game (7th)

Pittsburgh: 22.0 points/game (12th)
Washington: 28.6 points/game (28th)

All-Time Record vs. Washington: 31-42-3 (0-0 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings
November 3, 2008 - Pittsburgh 23, Washington 6
November 28, 2004 - Pittsburgh 16, Washington 7
December 16, 2000 - Pittsburgh 24, Washington 3
September 7, 1997 - Pittsburgh 14, Washington 13
November 17, 1991 - Washington 41, Pittsburgh 14

Hit the jump for the rest of the preview

Monday, October 22, 2012

Steelers Game 6 Recap - Steelers 24, Bengals 17

If you were listening to sports talk radio today (I was) or reading about the Steelers and Bengals game online (I did) then you probably got the general idea that the Steelers picked up a nice win although they did it by a semi slim margin. While I understand the sediment of that sort of thinking I would have to disagree with that. The Bengals were taken to the woodshed last night and the Steelers pretty much did whatever they wanted to the Bengals. The game wasn't close, at least not as close as the score may have indicated.

A few people were telling me last night that while the win was good it wasn't as one sided as I was making it out to be. Here are just a few reasons why the game was not as close as the seven point gap:

-The Steelers held a 431-185 advantage in total yardage

-The Bengals picked up only 11 first downs.

-The Steelers were 10-of-16 on third down while the Bengals converted only five third down attempts.

-The Bengals averaged 3.8 yards per play.

-The first Bengals drive lasted 15 plays that spanned 80 yards and took 8:09 off the clock. The Bengals entire second half where you add all of their drives together totals this: 24 plays, 84 yards, 12:17 time of possession.

-The Steelers held the ball for 15 more minutes than the Bengals (37:30-22:30). The Steelers had the ball for a whole quarter more than the Bengals.

-The Steelers averaged 5.8 yards per carry as a team and converted ten first downs via the run.

-A.J. Green - One catch. Eight yards.

So after looking at all of that I think you are start to see where I am coming from when I say that the Steelers dominated this game. Sure, the Steelers gave up a pretty bad drive on the first series of the game but the only other touchdown they gave up was when the offense fumbled the ball away on their own eight yard line. Four of the last five Bengals drives were three and outs. They closed the deal.

The offense turned the ball over a couple of times and really didn't close the game in the early fourth quarter but it was all good. The Steelers converted third downs and the offensive line not only protected Ben so that he could convert third downs and opened up holes for the backs. There were drops that held back the offense but that really didn't factor in on the ability of the Bengals to not be able to stop the offense. The Steelers stopped themselves.

I was also told by a few people that the Steelers need to beat a good team before we can say that things were really good. As if there are all these great teams in the AFC. Before play began on Sunday there were two teams with winning records in the AFC so when you think about it at 3-3 the Bengals had the third best record in the league. I am sorry a division win over a pretty decent team is great. Especially when you move that division opponent to 0-3 in division play.

The special teams was the big black eye with some inability to cover kicks and a lack to not block somebody in the back but in the grand scheme of things it was all good for the Steelers. The Bengals couldn't do anything offensively or defensively no matter how bad they tried. Damn it was good to watch.

Some game thoughts:

-A ton of people are talking about the offense, and rightfully so, but the defense won this football game. This was almost a full 180 of what the Steelers are usually like this year. Typically the Steelers start the game well enough and then crumble later in the game. This time the Steelers looked really bad in the first drive and then just looked like you weren't going to be able to gain a single yard in the fourth quarter. I liked watching this defense.

-The defensive line and linebackers were decent but the secondary was absolutely outstanding. Andy Dalton had no idea what was going on and only threw for 105 yards on the day. Green might be the best receiver in the AFC and he came into the game leading the league in receiving and all Ike Taylor and the defense did was hold him to one catch for eight yards. Keenan Lewis was making plays all over the field and Cortez Allen didn't have his named called out despite playing in the dime. It was all good in the back end for a team that has struggled there. You know I am a Taylor fan and he finally had his coming out party. He was following Green all over the field and he was physical and was playing like the 2011 version.

-The offensive line was great. I can't even pick someone out. They were all good, especially considering the whole right side of the line was filling in for injured starters. Willie Colon was great and was a big reason the Steelers were able to open up holes in the running game. Colon actually was heads up when the offense was sputtering and started a semi fight with Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict which got the offense fired up and going. Mike Adams wasn't bad although he was getting some help with max protection and keeping in the tight end but for all things considered it was a huge win for the offensive line.

-When are people going to start talking about Heath Miller? He is the most complete tight end in the game and he gets no love because he doesn't split out and primarily play receiver. Miller made a nice catch to score a touchdown before the half and then made an outstanding catch on the two point conversion to tie the game. He finished the game with six catches for 53 yards but it wasn't even the catches that made him valuable. Miller might have made the block of the game when he pulled across the formation and set up a massive hole for Chris Rainey's touchdown run and threw great blocks all night long. What a weapon to have.

-I am not really sure what Jon Dwyer is but last night he was the man. 122 yards on 17 carries and he was running hard and hitting the hole and taking on contact. Dwyer got the chance because every running back is hurt but it is nice to know that it is there with Dwyer. I really liked Dwyer this year and it seems as if he is coming into his own so he could be a nice option in the backfield. I still think Rashard Mendenhall is the main guy but it doesn't hurt to have more than one.

-Maybe one of the guys that nobody ever talks about but more than deserves his props is Shaun Suisham. Suisham was a perfect 3-for-3 last night hitting three field goals over 40 yards and has only missed one time this year and that was a 54 yard attempt. I was not a huge fan on him coming back to the team but he is not only knocking down field goals this year but every single one of them is right down the middle. It is really impressive. Last season he was only 23-of-31 on field goals and so far this year he is 14-of-15. His kickoffs are getting much deeper in the end zone and it is refreshing to see.

-Ben Roethlisberger is just money. Straight cash. He went out there with a banged up offensive line and had to deal with a ton of drops from Mike Wallace and still did what he had to do. He was his best on third down as he has been all season and right now he is one of the best quarterbacks in the game. He did fumble and throw a pick but overall he played a pretty nice game. I wouldn't want anyone else.

-Speaking of Wallace, he did not have a really good game. He was targeted 15 times in the game and only made eight catches. He couldn't hold on to anything as he had four drops (I believe) and it could have counted for more. He dropped an easy first down throw and a touchdown pass and it was just really ugly. I know some are mad at him for the holdout and stuff and saying he does this all the time but coming into the game Wallace had only one drop. This isn't him but it doesn't mean this should be excused. Wallace hasn't been good so far this year and it has been disappointing but you just have to feel that he is about to break out. He is a pretty good receiver and while he isn't the Steelers number one I think most teams would kill to have someone like Wallace to stick as their number two.

-The only other big negative were the special teams. Antonio Brown and Rainey were having great returns all night but every single time there was a penalty. On the drive that resulted in the fumble from Roethlisberger was set up by a poor special teams penalty. Brown returned the ball to midfield but thanks to a block in the back it took almost 40 yards off the return and put the Steelers in some bad field position that eventually turned into a Bengals touchdown. On a few other occasions that happened and it can't anymore. Not only were there unlimited penalties on special teams but the kick coverage was very poor. The Bengals averaged almost 27 yards a return and Brandon Tate averaged over 36 yards per return on three returns. Very subpar.

All things considered though it was a big win. Gotta love it. RGIII on Sunday.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Steelers Game Day 6 Preview - @ Cincinnati Bengals

The Steelers are playing a team that is supposed to be pretty good and they have been playing poorly. They typically have played well at Paul Brown Stadium in the recent past. The Bengals have lost to a couple of average to bad teams in the last two weeks. The Steelers on the other hand have beat a decent Eagles team and lost to a pair of really, really, bad teams in the Raiders and Titans. Should be a real barn burner!


Here is the preview:

The stats:

Last Week:

Tennessee 26, Pittsburgh 23
Passing: Roethlisberger: 24-40, 363 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Batch: 10 car., 22 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Redman: 4 rec., 105 yards, 0 TD

Cleveland 34, Cincinnati 24
Passing: Dalton: 31-46, 381 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Green-Ellis: 16 car., 62 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Green: 7 rec., 135 yards, 2 TD

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 360.6 yards/game (16th)
Cincinnati: 382.2 yards/game (10th)

Pittsburgh: 285.8 yards/game (7th)
Cincinnati: 282.8 yards/game (8th)

Pittsburgh: 74.8 yards/game (31st)
Cincinnati: 99.3 yards/game (22nd)

Pittsburgh: 23.2 points/game (17th)
Cincinnati: 24.8 points/game (13th)


Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 295.8 yards/game (5th)
Cincinnati: 344.8 yards/game (15th)

Pittsburgh: 200.8 yards/game (4th)
Cincinnati: 228.0 yards/game (17th)

Pittsburgh: 95.0 yards/game (10th)
Cincinnati: 116.8 yards/game (20th)

Pittsburgh: 23.0 points/game (18th)
Cincinnati: 27.2 points/game (t22nd)

All-Time Record vs. Cincinnati: 51-32 (1-0 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings
December 4, 2011 - Pittsburgh 35, Cincinnati 7
November 13, 2011 - Pittsburgh 24, Cincinnati 17
December 12, 2010 - Pittsburgh 23, Cincinnati 7
November 8, 2010 - Pittsburgh 27, Cincinnati 21
November 15, 2009 - Cincinnati 18, Pittsburgh 12

Hit the jump for the rest of the preview

Monday, October 15, 2012

Steelers Game 5 Recap - Titans 26, Steelers 23

There are no two ways to go about this. The Steelers got absolutely worked by a bad football team and with a chance to get over .500 for the first time this year all the Steelers did was let a pretty terrible team hang around and it took a missed field goal and a busted coverage for the Titans to break the tie and really put the Steelers in a bind in the AFC North.

To be truthful for much of the last couple of weeks I haven't been able to watch the Steelers too much as I could only watch parts of the Eagles game on my phone and I was in the car for all of the first half and a decent chunk of the third quarter driving in the car. I was able to radio it up but turns out that in rural Wisconsin you don't necessarily get the best reception in the car. That being said I will be mostly going off what I saw and I won't be talking about it too much because, well, it sucked.

-The Steelers can blame this one on a number of things. The defense was pretty bad but the offense wasn't very good either. The Steelers only cashed in one of their three trips to the red zone and had to settle for three field goes and scored only a pair of touchdowns. Ben Roethlisberger was good but he wasn't able to overcome some really questionable play calls and just general ineptitude play. The Steelers got some things going in the second half but they just couldn't make that one play. The play on the radio didn't sound great and that included what might have been the biggest play of the game when Roethlisberger threw the interception just before the half when the Steelers were driving. All of this happened to the worst defensive scoring unit in the game and one of the worst against the pass. Ugh.

-The running game was bad. Again. Rashard Mendenhall only carried the ball six times for six yards and the leading rusher was Barron Batch who had 22 yards on ten carries. It wasn't pretty. Mendenhall left the game with so few carries due to an injury to his leg which has been deemed minor but still, there wasn't anything going rushing wise.

-The defense coughed up another lead late and it cost the Steelers the game unlike in the last game against Philadelphia. The Steelers pushed their lead to seven with a Shaun Suisham 52 yard field goal (!) but the Steelers proceeded to give up an 11 play, 80 yard drive that took up almost four minutes of play to tie the game. They gave the Steelers the ball back but Suisham came up a yard short of the go head field goal and then the Seahawks went 33 yards and banged home the game winning field goal as time expired. The big play was a Jared Cook 25 yard catch to set it up. James Harrison was on coverage and just got flat beat. The defense wasn't given any favors early by a punt getting blocked and setting up the Titans on the one yard line but when the Steelers needed a huge play they weren't there again.

-I know one guy that has been getting crushed is Ike Taylor and as much as I love Ike and the way he has played while he's been with the Steelers but teams are starting to go after him and win like they haven't been able to do in some time. I was talking with a buddy of mine about the game and he made a pretty nice point about Taylor. He said that it isn't as much the talent, because Ike has that, but it is more the stubbornness to be overly physical and too hard headed just to know when is when. What he meant by all that was that Ike is getting almost too physical with receivers down the field. He is getting called for some penalties and it is killing the team and he seems to be getting a little too over aggressive and getting beat. Ike is lucky that Kenny Britt can't catch or it might have been worse. Now, that being said I am not really worried about Ike. He has the talent and always has. He will be fine going forward.

-Injuries suck. The Steelers are continuing this trend as they lost a couple of offensive linemen. Maurkice Pouncey left the game early with a knee injury and likely won't play in Cincinnati on Sunday nor will right tackle Marcus Gilbert who went out of the game with a bad ankle. Add that on to a missing Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley and you are looking at a team with some huge injury problems. Oy vey.

-The Steelers now can't win on the road. I have no idea.

-When the Steelers lost it didn't look good in terms of getting to the playoffs. After Sunday things actually went pretty well as the AFC kind of came back to the Steelers. The Bengals got worked by the Browns and the entire AFC East is 3-3. The Steelers are 2-3. Granted there is much more wrong than worrying about other teams but the Steelers are far from out of it. A win against the Bengals would really get the Steelers right on track and with the Ravens playing the Texans this week the Steelers could really do a lot of good. Maybe I am just overly optimistic but there is a lot of ball left to be played.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Steelers Game Day 5 Preview - @ Tennessee Titans

Who doesn't love Thursday Night Football? Well, if you are like my and try to put together a preview for the games it really isn't the greatest thing in the world. Does it give me a few extra days to throw together a recap? Sure, but condensing all of this information in two days isn't fun. Whatever.

Thursday night games usually aren't that good and as you read this you aren't going to be convinced that this is going to be a good game. The Titans aren't a good team and they are coming off a really ugly loss to the Vikings last week. THey lost their starting quarterback the week before and there just isn't much talent there.

The Steelers, however, are coming off a pretty nice win over the Eagles and despite some poor play for stretches they are 2-2 and only one game back of the Ravens for the top spot in the AFC North. The start to the season hasn't been great for the Black and Gold but the situation could be a lot worse.

There really isn't much else to say about this so lets just get into the preview:

The stats:

Last Week:

Pittsburgh 16, Philadelphia 14
Passing: Roethlisberger: 21-37, 207 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Mendenhall: 14 car., 81 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Brown: 7 rec., 86 yards, 0 TD

Minnesota 30, Tennessee 7
Passing: Hasselbeck: 26-43, 200 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Johnson: 15 car., 24 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Wright: 9 rec., 66 yards, 0 TD

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 347.8 yards/game (18th)
Tennessee: 305.0 yards/game (26th)

Pittsburgh: 265.0 yards/game (11th)
Tennessee: 239.6 yards/game (16th)

Pittsburgh: 82.8 yards/game (26th)
Tennessee: 65.4 yards/game (30th)

Pittsburgh: 23.3 points/game (16th)
Tennessee: 17.6 points/game (29th)


Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 280.0 yards/game (5th)
Tennessee: 423.8 yards/game (29th)

Pittsburgh: 184.8 yards/game (4th)
Tennessee: 279.6 yards/game (25th)

Pittsburgh: 95.3 yards/game (11th)
Tennessee: 144.2 yards/game (28th)

Pittsburgh: 22.3 points/game (16th)
Tennessee: 36.2 points/game (32nd)

All-Time Record vs. Tennessee: 41-29 (3-1 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings
October 9, 2011 - Pittsburgh 28, Tennessee 17
September 19, 2010 - Pittsburgh 19, Tennessee 11
September 10, 2009 - Pittsburgh 13, Tennessee 10
December 21, 2008 - Tennessee 31, Pittsburgh 14
September 11, 2005 - Pittsburgh 34, Tennessee 7

Hit the jump for the rest of the preview

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Steelers Game 4 Recap - Steelers 16, Eagles 14

Well, doesn't it feel good to get back into the win column? In the preview (which you should have read!) I talked about limiting LeSean McCoy and making Michael Vick beat you. The Steelers did that and Vick turned the ball over twice and the Steelers got the win.

It wasn't a pretty win and some might not call it a "good" win but in the end the Steelers are 2-2 and not 1-3. I know there are a lot of things that didn't go well today but in the same breath there were some things that went really well. All in all the Steelers got a win despite some really bad things and at least for one more week the Steelers season isn't over. The crazy thing is that the Steelers next game is in like five minutes. For that reason this will be a pretty brief recap as I will try to prepare to get a preview ready for the game on Thursday. Thanks NFL, you need to consult with me and fellow bloggers when you put together the schedule! /shakes fist

The Good:

- Ben Roethlisberger is pretty good at this game of football. I know I talk about it pretty much every week but Ben was really good again today and he is putting together maybe his best season of his career. He did it today with no help from his receivers and despite that he put together a comeback victory after the Eagles took a late 14-13 lead. With a 14 play, 64 yard drive that took up all the 6:33 that was left in the game Ben converted a 3rd and 12 inside his own 20 and then a 3rd and four to put the Steelers in field goal range. His stats were gaudy (21-of-37, 207 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT) but his receivers dropped a ton of passes and the offensive line was called for holding on pretty much every other play to put the offense in long yardage situations. He did what he had to do and didn't turn the football over and got the Steelers the win. He was really good but he might not have been the player of the game if not for...

- Rashard Mendenhall. He came back for the first time since he tore his ACL last season and he looked outstanding. He ran the ball 14 times for 81 yards and a score and also caught a pair of passes for 20 yards. He was shifty and he was hitting the holes inside with force and gave the Steelers a much different dimension to the offense. The Steelers have been struggling in a big way with the run game but thanks to Mendenhall the Steelers more than doubled what they averaged on the ground with 136 yards on 31 carries. While I think Isaac Redman does an OK job he just isn't a guy that can really catch balls out of the backfield and doesn't have that explosive burst to get to the second level. Mendenhall does and he showed it today. In the past Mendenhall has been inconsistent which has to do with a lot of factors but you have to like what you saw today.

-If Roethlisberger or Mendenhall gets the game ball for the offense then Lawrence Timmons gets the defensive game ball. I have long been a huge fan of LT but he's been jerked around a lot moving around to different positions and never really getting settled but on Sunday he wore his big boy pants and was an absolute monster. This was probably the best he looked in a game in years and he was playing on another level. He finished the game with a pair of QB hits and nine tackles and even forced a few fumbles. Just a beast. The Steelers have struggled on defense and did a little bit today but he was far and away the bright spot.

- The final drive. The first couple of weeks the Steelers didn't get that final drive. It has been something that Roethlisberger has been known for. Being "clutch." The Steelers couldn't capitalize when they had the chance in week one against Denver nor could they in their last game against Oakland. Today they did. They got the score they needed and as I talked about before they made the plays when they had to. Do they make it harder on themselves than they should? Yea, they do. Does that make the result mean any less? Not in my book.

- Shaun Suisham. He knocked down all three field goal attempts he had today and killed the final one that clinched the win. I was not a huge fan of brining him back but he has been really good so far this season and I can't really complain. Today he was good from 20, 34 and 34 and while those aren't really distances that kickers should miss I think we start to take things like that for granted. We never really talk about kickers until they mess up but Suisham has been the man so far this season. Big ups.

The Bad:

- Penalties. The Steelers were penalized nine times for 106 yards. One hundred and six yards. That is a full football field worth of penalties and the Steelers are lucky that they got out of this game with a win. On the Eagles one scoring drive the Steelers were penalized for two 15 yard penalties for hitting head-to-head. They were by Ryan Clark and Ryan Mundy and they were both penalties. I know some people don't agree with me on the Mundy hit but when you go to hit someone you can't lower your head and at the point of contact be staring at the ground. His shoulder hit first but helmets did hit. Penalty every day of the week. This is two weeks after Mundy was a part of two helmet-to-helmet hits. You just have to learn. Those penalties set up a touchdown for the Eagles. Can't do that stuff. Other penalties that killed drives were holding penalties which seemed like was twice a series. This stuff just has to stop if the Steelers want to be a contender. Unacceptable.

- The injuries. Coming into the game the Steelers were the healthiest they have been in a long time (including last season) but that wasn't the case coming out of the game today. Troy Polamalu came back from his calf injury but he had to leave the game after he re-aggravated that injury. It didn't good as he came off the field and he wasn't able to put any weight on his right leg coming off the field. This has been a reoccurring theme with Polamalu and you have to start wondering if we are getting closer to the end of the line than we initially thought with his career. On top of Troy being dinged up again LaMarr Woodley had to leave the game with a bad hamstring. That hamstring injury was what kept him out of action almost all of last season so this is not good. With the Steelers playing on Thursday you almost have to think they are out but the Steelers need these two guys in the lineup. Hopefully they are not serious but I wouldn't be shocked if they were.

- Late game defense. The defense again wasn't able to get a stop when they needed to. With the Steelers up 13-7 the defense allowed the Eagles to go on a 17 play, 79 yard drive that took 8:18 off the clock and resulted in a touchdown. Overall the defense wasn't terrible today as they caused some turnovers and shut down McCoy for the most part but these late game blips are becoming too much of a normal thing. Listen, I know the defense isn't going to be shut down like it used to but they need to get the big stop when they need it and not force the offense to have to score to get the win at the end of the game. Mike Tomlin had an interesting quote after the game when he talked about the win and he said "We had the ball last." That really tells you about how the Steelers defense has played thus far. Pretty good early but in crunch time when you need the big stop they are still coming up short.

- Dropping passes. The Steelers receiving core is probably the best in the league. I mean with Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders you might not find a trio of receivers that can do what they do. They have been great so far this season but they have been dropping their fair share of passes and today it was bad. Brown lets a few passes go right through his hands and on another play Jerricho Cotchery caught a ball with nobody around him and fell on his own at the two yard line. The Steelers would settle for a field goal on that play and it could have killed them in the end. Sanders was targeted seven times and only had three receptions and Wallace was knocked for a huge penalty to negate a long Mendenhall run. It was all-in-all a pretty bad day for the receivers and a trend that we need to see stop. Brown had some trouble with the drops in the preseason and I didn't think anything of it then but it has been happening a little bit more than it did last year. Not a good thing.

There is probably some more things going on that I missed but to be honest I watched the entire game on my iPhone as I was working today so I didn't see particulars but these just are some of the things I caught. A win counts the same no matter how you get it so you won't hear me complain (too much) and the Steelers can work their way to a winning streak. Quick turnaround coming up.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Steelers Game Day 4 Preview - vs. Philadelphia Eagles

If there is one thing that too many people hang their hat on and overuse it is the “must win” game. In week five of the season there isn’t a must win game on the schedule and certainly isn’t one that is going to be played between the Steelers and Eagles. The Eagles are riding high and winning games despite some bad offense and the Steelers have been able to put up a bunch of points recently but haven’t been able to stop anyone. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles defense can step up or if the Steelers defense can find their way with a few of the walking wounded coming back.

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh is a rivalry but not really in football. Obviously the Steelers play in the AFC and the Eagles in the NFC and they only see each other every four years or so. You never get that feeling like you do when the Penguins play the Flyers or the Phillies play the Pirates. Would it be nice to take down the team from the other side of the state? Absolutely, but I think this rivalry thing is being played up a little too much for my liking.

There really isn't much else to say about this so let’s just get into the preview:

The stats:

Last Week:

Oakland 34, Pittsburgh 31 (Steelers Week 4 Bye)
Passing: Roethlisberger: 36-49, 384 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Redman: 9 car., 27 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Wallace: 8 rec., 123 yards, 1 TD

Philadelphia 19, NY Giants 17
Passing: Vick: 19-30, 241 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: McCoy: 23 car., 123 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Jackson: 6 rec., 99 yards, 1 TD

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 349.3 yards/game (18th)
Philadelphia: 417.8 yards/game (5th)

Pittsburgh: 284.3 yards/game (7th)
Philadelphia: 272.0 yards/game (10th)

Pittsburgh: 65.0 yards/game (31st)
Philadelphia: 145.8 yards/game (7th)

Pittsburgh: 25.7 points/game (13th)
Philadelphia: 16.5 points/game (30th)


Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 291.3 yards/game (5th)
Philadelphia: 298.3 yards/game (6th)

Pittsburgh: 182.8 yards/game (3rd)
Philadelphia: 206.8 yards/game (7th)

Pittsburgh: 101.0 yards/game (t14th)
Philadelphia: 91.5 yards/game (12th)

Pittsburgh: 25.0 points/game (20th)
Philadelphia: 20.8 points/game (t10th)

All-Time Record vs. Philadelphia: 27-46-3 (0-1 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings
September 21, 2008 - Philadelphia 15, Pittsburgh 6
November 7, 2004 - Pittsburgh 27, Philadelphia 3
November 12, 2000 - Philadelphia 26, Pittsburgh 23
November 23, 1997 - Philadelphia 23, Pittsburgh 20
December 11, 1994 - Pittsburgh 14, Philadelphia 3

Hit the jump for the rest of the preview

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The 2012 Pirates. Were There Any Positives? Yes.

The Pirates finally ended their season and in the end they didn't break "the streak" and they didn't make the playoffs and they did play some pretty bad baseball for the final six weeks of the season. I know you know how bad it was that they went from 16 games over .500 and in the playoff lead to being four games under .500 and weren't even close to sniffing the playoffs. People are upset, frustrated, mad and wanting answers. Hell, who doesn't when you follow the Pirates like I assume you do? It's maddening.

As many people will point out the season is all about context. They are right and that is how it has to be. I know in the preseason I said this was a 72-73 win team and if you told me that this was a 79 win team before the season started I probably would have taken it and not asked any questions. Now I sit here and I wonder what to think about this season and the Pirates won 79 games. It isn't an easy question to answer when you ask about what you think on the season. It was a total failure when you think that this team could have done and how badly they played down the stretch but was the season a total failure? I am not really sure.

I know the season was bad. As much as you want to forget the context of the season you can't do it. It is frustrating as hell to think of what this team could have done but I, for one, am still pretty excited for the 2013 season. Not too many people are really excited about next year and I have heard and seen people talking about they are done with the Pirates because of the back-to-back collapses. It is really hard to take but there were still some really good things that went on this season. Let me touch on a few of them:

1) Andrew McCutchen. He showed that he can be a guy to carry a team when there isn't much else around him. Last season McCutchen was red hot in the first half of the season but barely was able to hit .200 in the second half and a lot of the season people weren't really sure if he could get up into that next level of playing the game. Well, this year I think we saw that. The first half of the season McCutchen was the easy choice for the NL MVP with a .362/.414/.625 line with 18 home runs and a 1.039 OPS. He was out of this world. The second half a lot of people are going to say that he really collapsed just like the team but that really couldn't be more from the truth. Just in the second half alone Cutch hit for a .288/.385/.477 line for a .862 OPS which isn't as good as the first half but lines up almost identical with his .290/.374/.484 career line. Yea, he really went off the deep end. Actually this full season of McCutchen playing well showed us that he can make the adjustments and can be the middle of the order guy that can propel a team on his back when he needs to.

2) Pedro Alvarez. He finally might have figured out how to hit the baseball. It wasn't an easy season for Pedro. Before the year all we heard about was how Pedro was out of shape and about how he should have played winter ball and how he shouldn't even start the year on the major league roster and should have been playing in Indianapolis. After a horrid spring training there were very few who thought he could make an impact. In his first 15 games played he hit only .149/.200/.426 with 19 strikeouts in 50 plate appearances. Woof. It was bad and it was ugly but the Pirates kept plugging him away. He ended the season blasting 30 home runs while hitting .245/.319/.469. His OPS+ of 118 was third best on the team and his .258/.331/.461 second half line is more than anyone could have expected after his terrible season last year and how bad he was in spring training. Seeing this improvement is huge for the outlook of the team in the coming years and while he did strike out better than 30% of his plate appearances just imagine what he could do if he could cut that down to 25%. The talent is in there and he went from being a bust in the first three weeks of the season to being a cog in the middle of the Pirates lineup. Improvement next year and he is going to be scary good at the plate.

3) James McDonald. Just that name alone and you are going to think that he just absolutely bombed in the second half of the season and was one of the biggest parts of the Pirates collapse among others. Hell, when I think of McDonald that is what I think of but to be honest something we can really take going forward is that he can be that number one or number two guy in the rotation. For a full half season McDonald was a frontrunner for the Cy Young and pretty much was doing whatever he wanted on the mound. He held opposing hitters to only a .570 OPS and a .196 average. He was throwing his curveball and slider for strikes and his SO/BB ratio was 3.23/1. It was an impressive start but as impressive his first half was it was the complete opposite in the second half. After the break he threw 78.2 innings and had hitters hitting .269 while he posted over a 7.00 ERA. He was walking a ton of batters and saw his SO/BB ratio drop to 1.70/1 and hitters had a .850 OPS off him. It was bad. While it really couldn't get much worse what I took from the season is what I said before: he can be a top of the rotation guy. Before this year McDonald wasn't able to consistently throw all his pitches for strikes and he rarely got to the seventh inning. He struggled some with command and even though he could get the swing and miss he never really put it all together. This year he did. Maybe it was the help of A.J. Burnett or maybe it was just the right mixture of a number of small things but he flashed that greatness for a half a season which equaled almost 100 innings. We now know he can be that good so his next step is to take it over a full season. I don't expect him to be at a 2.37 ERA like he was for the first half of the season but he CAN be that good and this just isn't hope, he showed us. I am excited to see the adjustments he makes for next year to be more consistent. It's exciting.

4) Garrett Jones. Before the year I wasn't really sure what to think of Jones. He was a guy that the Pirates got off the Twins as a minor league free agent in the 2009 season and since then Jones has been a guy that hasn't been good against lefties and has been the ultimate streak hitter. He can launch baseball's out of the ballpark but since his 21 home run half season in 2009 he went to 21 home runs in a full 2010 season and then only 16 home runs in 2011. I wasn't tied to Jones as being on the team especially considering that he doesn't have a position and he really isn't good at defense, or base running, at all. This year Jones kind of re-broke out for the Pirates hitting 27 home runs and supporting a really solid .275/.318/.519 line and really surprised me with some more consistency which included being able to hit off left handed pitching. Jones had a hotter second half (.282/.344/.538) than the first half (.268/.290/.507) but it really wasn't that big of a difference and it was nice to see Jones with some more consistency. Jones' long string of games without a hit was four games, which he did twice, and was relegated to the first 40 games of the season. After those first 40 games Jones' longest streak was three games which happened twice. To be honest I had no idea it was going to be like that. I thought there would be larger dry spells with more pronounced hot streaks. What I found was some consistency and if the Pirates tender Jones' arbitration, which they should, it will be another welcome hitter in the middle of the lineup.

5) This positive isn't all about the major league team but it is something that is just as important to the Pirates as anything else and that is the young talent that is coming through the season. I am not just talking about Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole but I am talking about the youngsters (so to speak) that have played in the majors this season. Starling Marte, Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson. McPherson and Locke had very strong ends to the season and Marte, despite some injury concerns that caused him to miss a few week, has shown flashes of the kid that everyone was raving about. Along with those three there are the players in the lower levels such as Gregory Polanco and Alen Hason who both have had breakout performances in Class A. This is this wild misnomer that the Pirates have a pretty shoddy minor league system but with Cole in AAA and Taillon in AA we will probably see one, if not both, of them next year in the major leagues. They are pitching well now and if they continue to do so they can be front of the rotation impact arms that the Pirates lack. Marte is going to improve. He has struggled with plate discipline but the flashes he has shown has to have you excited to see more. McPherson was brought up basically from AA and flashed a very good fastball that got into the mid 90's as well as some nice secondary pitches. Jeff Locke showed the development through his few starts with the big club where he held a strong SO/BB ratio of 34/11 and despite his 5.00+ ERA if it comes down to Locke or McPherson for the fifth spot the I am more than OK with that. This isn't saying that the farm system is perfect or that every single guy that performed well this year is going to work out but there are some guys to be excited about and some of them saw some time this year and got their feet wet.

Those are just a few points that I took from this year. Let me repeat again that this season was not a good one. The context doesn't allow it to be and really it is what it is, a bad season. There are plenty of problems with this team that include but are not limited to the terrible base running, horrible plate discipline, poor defense of base running and just really bad bench play. These are all things that are very valid concerns and this wasn't meant to sugar coat the season.

While it was a really bad season that doesn't mean there weren't good things at happened. In my eyes there were some really good things that I touched on here and there is still some more that you could go through. You can't go back and change this to make the Pirates a 87 or 90 win team from all of this but it doesn't mean that the Pirates are a total loss for 2013 and there is no hope. Addition and subtraction needs to be made and the Pirates need to add at positions such as catcher but lets not pretend like the season was a total loss with no positives. That just isn't true.