Frustrating Steelers Loss Due To 3 Team Weaknesses

So long as safety Troy Polomalu and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger both stay healthy, Pittsburgh is a playoff-caliber team that can beat any opponent in the NFL on any given day.

However, the Steelers have three major weaknesses that make them beatable by many NFL teams and unlikely to win a seventh Super Bowl crown in a loaded AFC, where several teams are designed to exploit those three weaknesses All three areas were on display in a 20-10 loss Sunday at New Orleans and most prognosticators saw these as the reason why few picked Pittsburgh to even make the playoffs this year.

OFFENSIVE LINE IS BETTER COACHED BUT STILL LACKS TALENT
First, the Steelers’ offensive line is not good by any measure, even though Sean Kugler has proven to be a major upgrade as a coach, probably because he watches football film late night in the office instead of porn like his predecessor.

J.J. will provide a detailed breakdown later this week of how bad that line was in the first half on Sunday. But they were confused several times on blitz pick-up and occasionally beaten man-for-man, with ancient Flozell Adams at right tackle continuously having problems with speed rushers.

Adams was a great signee considering the Steelers’ other options at right tackle after Willie Colon was lost due to an off-season Achilles tear, but there are reasons why he was available on the eve of training camp and they were because he is old and slow. In contrast, Colon had evolved into one of the finest right tackles in the game prior to his injury.

Maurkice Pouncey
has made the interior of the line much better, but left guard Chris Kemoetau is easily confused and struggles in pass protection, while neither Trai Essex or Doug Legursky are anywhere near NFL-starting caliber at right guard. Unfortunately, at least one has to start for Pittsburgh. Moreover, Max Starks, who at his best is an average starting left tackle, is evidently still feeling the effects of an ankle sprain suffered earlier in the year.

SUBPAR NO. 2 and NO. 3 CORNERBACKS WHO CANNOT PLAY MAN
After Ike Taylor, the Steelers do not have a cornerback on its roster who could start for more than one or two teams in the NFL. Like he did in 2005, 2007 and 2008, Taylor is again playing at a Pro Bowl-level and will hopefully make it this year since he is actually holding on to potential interceptions.

The return of Bryant McFadden and shifting William Gay back to the No. 3 corner undoubtedly improved the unit. But while McFadden is a great tackler and Gay has mostly played well this fall, both players are too slow and gave up way too much space in pass coverage against New Orleans.

All you need to know about McFadden is that J.J. and Ryan were very pleased with his play after he gave up 13 catches for 111 yards to the Falcons’ Roddy White in the season opener. McFadden never got beat deep that day, never missed a tackle and was obviously instructed to play soft on White. But he has to play soft on everyone or he gets beat crisply like he did by T.J. Houshmandzadeh on the Ravens’ game-winning TD over the Steelers earlier this year.

McFadden is a good fit for the Steelers’ defensive scheme much of the time. However, his inability to play any man-to-man coverage is why defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is justifiably being more conservative in his blitz packages this year.

In contrast, despite having nearly his entire unit of cornerbacks out with injuries or playing hurt, Saints defensive coordinator Greg Williams was more confident with essentially a secondary of safeties tonight than LeBeau was with his corners, which is why the Steelers rarely blitzed.

Pittsburgh entered tonight’s game with the 24th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. Now, Drew Brees is one of the best quaterbacks in the NFL. But Brees has struggled in recent weeks due to New Orleans’ complete lack of a rushing threat due to Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas both sidelined with injuries.

But Brees carved up Pittsburgh’s porous pass defense tonight, going 34-of-44 for 305 yards, including an absurd 20-for-22 in the second half. You simply cannot win when you let the opposing QB complete 91% of his passes in the second half, and most of those were in the direction of McFadden and Gay at corner, or simply finding seams short and over the middle against a soft Pittsburgh zone defense.

LACK OF SEPARATION SPEED IN THE RECEIVING CORPS
The first two weaknesses were obvious to any Steeler fan before the season. While the third is nowhere near as bad, it was evident tonight. Pittsburgh has the fastest receiver in the NFL in Mike Wallace, although he simply does not make enough receptions to be considered a No. 1 receiver, something the Steelers no longer have after essentially giving away Santonio Holmes to the Jets for a measly fifth-round pick this offseason.

I love Hines Ward and have long admired Antwaan Randle El. But combine those two with fumble-prone, tight end Heath Miller (which are usually the three who join Wallace on obvious passing downs), and you have the slowest trio in the NFL among any base 4-WR set.

All three are good at underneath routes, but none have separation speed. That was apparent tonight when Pittsburgh WRs could not break free of the cornerback-depleted Saints’ secondary throughout the first half before New Orleans’ defensive line could instill pressure on Roethlisberger.

If Pittsburgh had Colon and Holmes on its roster right now, this would be the best team in the NFL even though those two would not improve the CB play.

The offensive line would still not be great, but it would have two legitimate standouts in Colon and Pouncey. The receiving corps would be among the best in the NFL, with Ward handling short and underneath passes, Holmes lethal in the middle of the field and Wallace frightening on deep patterns.

Moreover, as bad as Pittsburgh’s secondary looked in the second half tonight, the defense still only yielded 20 points to Brees in New Orleans, and Taylor (interception) and McFadden (forced fumble) created turnovers that should have resulted in a Pittsburgh win.

This entry was posted in 2010 steelers, Offensive Line, Wide Recievers. Bookmark the permalink.
  • Stop Beating The Horse

    Seriously. Ted. Some friendly advice from a reader. Quit beating the dead horse that is Santonio Holmes. It’s over, man. Move on. You’re not only beating the dead horse, you’re peeing on its rotting, moldy corpse, which is even scaring away the buzzards circling around it. And it’s not like he’s tearing it up for the Jets. He has 10 catches in three games. Let. It. Go. It’s not enjoyable to read people harping on the same crap over and over and over and over and over again. That’s why I come to sites like this and ignore people like Bob Smizik and Ron Cook. Also: my new nickname for you is going to be debbie downer.

    • Ted

      Point taken again. However, you cannot mention the Steelers’ lack of separation speed among their No. 2-4 receiving threats (Ward, Randle El and Miller) without mentioning that they discarded Holmes during the offseason. This was not some post just to complain about the dumb Holmes trade. But you cannot ignore it obviously, just like you can ignore the fact that the WRs had trouble getting open last night.

      A big reason for that loss was no Santonio Holmes. And Andre Johnson could play for the Jets and would still have lousy stats due to the presence of Sanchez at QB. Thus, I would not worry about Holmes’ stats, but you know he will be a gamer come playoff time.

      And do not fret, you will see mostly optimism on this site, sometimes absurd optimism in my opinion. But last night showed the weaknesses that most expected on this Steeler team. I am still very pleased to be 5-2 and believe this team can beat anybody on any given day as I noted above. However, the Steelers have weaknesses that can keep them from winning another title even if everyone stays healthy.

      Would you pick us to beat NO in the Super Bowl on a neutral field? Although it could easily happen, I surely would not. All the same weaknesses would remain for the Steelers, and the Saints’ offense would be more potent with Bush and Thomas back and their defense would smother our WRs even more with their CBs back. The Saints’ blitz packages, aggressive coverage schemes, and Drew Brees are a perfect mix to exploit our weaknesses.

      • You’re Still Beating The Horse

        Of course the Steelers have weaknesses that can prevent them from winning another title. Every team in the NFL does. That isn’t something that’s unique to the Steelers. The Jets don’t have a quarterback. The Colts can’t run the ball or stop the run. The Patriots don’t have a defense. The Saints can’t run the ball. The rest of the NFC stinks in every other aspect of football. And, yes, I’d love to get another crack at this Saints team on a neutral site because the Steelers were one or two plays away from beating them in their stadium.

      • David

        Did anyone pick us to beat Indy in the AFC divisional after they beat us 26-7, or something like that, on MNF?

        So hell yes, I would pick us to win on a neutral field. No noise, no more phantom offensive PI calls on Hines…I’d LOVE to see them at XLV!

  • pghfan

    Is it really fair to call Heath “fumble prone”? I think he has only 4 fumbles in his career.

    • Warriorblitz

      He does only have 4…the problem is all those are very recent. I just hope it isn’t a trend that continues.

    • Ted

      I believe the statline last night said five fumbles in his last 27 games but it may have been four. For a tight end, I would say that definitely makes you “fumble-prone.” Heck, those stats would make any RB or QB fumble-prone.

      Every Steeler fan, including me, loves Heath Miler. But he needs to do a better job in ball security.

  • http://twitter.com/JasonArmes Jason Armes

    I have to second pghfan’s comment about Miller. Guess it does hurt though when I think his past two fumbles really hurt us while driving.

    Only other comment I had was, in the 4th quarter I think it was the play before the saints last TD, and the cameras were on Tomlin. I thought he was telling Lebeau to not blitz. And sure enough he rushed 3. YOu know maybe our corners couldnt cover that well, but last night I think we would have been better off blitzing like the Saints did. THey brought the house several times.

    Oh well, just my $02. Hard to believe a non conference road game has me so ticked off this morning :)

  • http://twitter.com/JasonArmes Jason Armes

    I have to second pghfan’s comment about Miller. Guess it does hurt though when I think his past two fumbles really hurt us while driving.

    Only other comment I had was, in the 4th quarter I think it was the play before the saints last TD, and the cameras were on Tomlin. I thought he was telling Lebeau to not blitz. And sure enough he rushed 3. YOu know maybe our corners couldnt cover that well, but last night I think we would have been better off blitzing like the Saints did. THey brought the house several times.

    Oh well, just my $02. Hard to believe a non conference road game has me so ticked off this morning :)

    • Ted

      Jason, thanks for the comments. We didn’t blitz much and haven’t blitzed much, because we have no confidence in our No. 2 and No. 3 CBs to play man.

  • http://twitter.com/JasonArmes Jason Armes

    I have to second pghfan’s comment about Miller. Guess it does hurt though when I think his past two fumbles really hurt us while driving.

    Only other comment I had was, in the 4th quarter I think it was the play before the saints last TD, and the cameras were on Tomlin. I thought he was telling Lebeau to not blitz. And sure enough he rushed 3. YOu know maybe our corners couldnt cover that well, but last night I think we would have been better off blitzing like the Saints did. THey brought the house several times.

    Oh well, just my $02. Hard to believe a non conference road game has me so ticked off this morning :)

  • Cols714

    I just can’t get worked up about this one.
    Did the Steelers offense, particularly the line and Ben play badly? Yep.
    Did the defense give up too many 3rd down conversions? Yep.

    But what the hell, it’s the defending Super Bowl champs and it’s in their house. You have to lose some games. As long as they bounce back next week, it’s still all good.

    As far as exposing weaknesses, we all knew about these coming into the season. It’s not like New Orleans exposed some huge flaw that’s going to mean the Steelers are doomed.

    • Ted

      Good point, Cols. I picked this as a loss before the season and even before this game, although I was far more optimistic due to how banged up the Saints are at RB and CB, and how poorly they had been playing.

      But you are correct, these are the weaknesses we all knew about. They were just exposed to everyone last night. Fortunately, not many teams have all the ingredients (exotic blitz packages that create constant pressure and very accurate QB) to exploit those weaknesses.

      Tom Brady, though, will pick this defense apart in two weeks. Fortunately, our offense matches up much better with NE’s defense and it is in our house.

    • David

      I picked us to lose as well, but that doesn’t help salve the wounds. I am worked up b/c, like the Raisins game, this was a very win-able game. And it doesn’t help when our coach helps them win with brain-cramped decisions on field position and challenges.

      With all the accolades for them and criticisms for us, our O and D and STs played well enough to give us a chance to win.

      Records for the teams we’ve beaten: 17-12
      Records for the teams that have beaten us: 10-5

      The skinny is that we’ve had, and will continue to have, a tough schedule. We’ve got to win win-able games like this.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    Ted, I think Santonio would have helped last night, too. Instead of “separation speed,” I’d call it “separation quickness,” though, and I don’t think Wallace has that, either. This really helps for quick throws and when plays break down and Ben is in backyard football mode. It also makes the bubble screen much less effective.

    I haven’t been an Arians critic in quite a while, but I don’t think he had a good game last night. For a guy who works in the same building as LeBeau, it took a long time for Bruce to try to exploit the soft spots in that type of D (passes to TEs in the middle, quick slants, screens, etc.).  Anything to buy time for a deep throw to Wallace against 5 safeties would have been nice (you know, play action, flea flicker, pump and go, etc.).

    Ben seemed a bit off, too.  He and Hines were really in synch last week but not as much this week.  Of course, if we had one more play of HEEEATH! instead of heath., we very well might have won.

    Oh, well, can’t win em all. On the plus side, 5-2 is pretty damn good.  Ziggy’s crazy tackle while being blocked is a good sign (it won’t make highlight reels, but it was amazing). If Manny can learn not to fumble, we have a real weapon on both KR and PR.

    And a silver lining: we know how teams like the Pats and Colts will attack us and have time to practice for it in two weeks and before the playoffs.

    • Ted

      Good post. Yes, Santonio had much better quickness and football speed than pure speed like Wallace. Your description was better than mine. I am not an Arians basher like many and believe he has a good offensive mind, although some of his calls frustrate me.

      He was, however, horrible last night. On first-and-goal from the 6-inch line, how about having your 6-5, super strong QB go over C and RG on a QB sneak. And why in the hell would you have RBs going to the outside when you are inside the 2?

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    On my bubble screen comment… I meant not having a guy with more quickness makes it much less effective.

  • FW

    Sure looks like our 2011 draft is pretty well defined.

    Speed/quickness at WR could be easily fixed if we transitioned Sanders in for ARE. Hell, I’d work in Brown for a few plays to exploit spread opportunities. You know, against teams that are down to their 5th CB or something (hypothetically). Yeah, they’re rookies, and yeah, Brown’s supposedly not got a great grasp of the playbook, but come on. Plenty of rookie WRs are getting action this year, and all Brown needs to know would be a handful of specialized plays for spreads.

  • GlennW

    For a silver lining, it might be a good thing to get this “best team in football” mantle off our backs and just get back to work. I don’t think the national pundits who had been expressing this opinion were actually watching much of the Steelers’ first six games (which makes some sense, as none of the games until last night were nationally featured ones). Granted, there are no obvious candidates for this “honor”. Although the Patriots are playing reasonable defense all of a sudden (but in watching most of these Patriots games, they’ve also been getting all the bounces– including two huge ones yesterday).

  • ktulu22

    I think you have to also point out the lack of a consistent pass rush for the second week in a row. Harrison and especially Woodley have been awful quit the last few games. Outside of Harrison, we have nobody that can beat their man straight up and get to the QB. All the pressure we generate comes from confusing the offense and having a blitzer come free. We get zero pressure from the interior linemen, I hoped Hood would help this. Woodley really needs to step up his play as he’s been a total non factor. Our defensive scheme is based on getting to the QB. If we don’t get pressure, we will continue to get carved up.

  • Anonymous

    I think you may be canonizing Colon too easily. Is he better than what we have playing now, yes? But I never saw him as anything better than average – of course on this o-line average stands out.

  • JCRODRIGUEZ

    I dont know, but yesterday we were marching down with 6 minutes left and were on track to get this W, so, even if it hurts, c’mon, nothing new here, we lost against a pretty good team, of course that we have our flaws, but so does anybody else. Beyond the absurd theory of being “One Willie Colon Away” from complete domination, here it is my take.

    Game Planning. Defensively, even if conventional stats are terrible, truth is that we held them to 13 points until the back-breaking fumble. I have nothing to say against a game plan that keep the Saints to such low output. On the Offense, man, this is my main complain to BA, he is TERRIBLE to In Game adjustments, he was taken for a ride by Gregg Williams, that is a glaring weakness, we need a better strategist and a OC that can adjust on the fly.

    Maroon Zone. Borrowing the term from TQM, it is obvious that we have issues with the selection and execution between midfield and the opponents 30 yard line. It seems that once that the option of The Wallace Bomb is not available, BA is having issues to move the chains into the red zone.

    Lets take a look into those areas and keep on developing the flow between Big Ben and the WRs. Move on, nothing to see here. Lets go and crash those bungles.

  • steeler junky

    You are right and wrong! Yes the Steelers have waknesses as all teams do. But Still the defense only gave up 20 points.
    The offenses weaknesses were probably more pronounced at New Orleans do to the hostile inviroment. It is one of the few places the Steelers have ever played where the local fan base is over whelmingly home team friendly and prevented all the line calls from being comunicated as good as needed.
    That said; I pretty much agree with your assesment of the Steelers weaknesses on offense. But that is one of the jobs of the Coaching staff. To design and call plays that minimize the weaknesses and maximize your offense……. No I am not an Arians hater. I just think he could do better.
    I did see more screen plays, most were successful. Glad to see that, more should have been used. But I have seen other teams use rolling pockets. max protection schemes and spread offenses at the goal line when running the ball. Just to name a few things the Steelers could have done at New Orleans and did not.

  • TO

    And the staff blows another 4th round pick…..Gibson picked up by the 49ers. McLendon best get some snaps

  • Wildbill99

    How can you say Ben Roethlisberger is a playoff caliber player?

    When are you all going to take your ;love/lust for this guy and put the blame for the Steelers losing where it belongs? ben loses games period. Ben combined with Arians is a lose lose forever situation.

  • JJ Cooper

    Geez Wildbill99, troll much?

    For some reason I’ll take this as a serious response. Ben Roethlisberger has won eight playoff games as a starting quarterback. That equals a playoff caliber quarterback.

  • Johnny_S

    “ll you need to know about McFadden is that J.J. and Ryan were very pleased with his play after he gave up 13 catches for 111 yards to the Falcons’ Roddy White”

    This is just wrong. McFadden only gave up 7 recs for 69 yards to Roddy White. Ike gave up 5 recs and 36 yards to White. The stat that matters it that McFadden only gave up 9 YAC to White. Bryant does not play cover corner, he is supposed to give a cushion and prevent the big play. He is very good at that, because he is a great open field tackler.

  • Johnny_S

    “fumble-prone, tight end Heath Miller”

    This sentence almost made me laugh out loud. Miller has fumbled 4 times in his entire career and only lost 2. That is under 1% of the time he has touched the ball. You are terribly misinformed.

  • Davidstone502

    WE ARE GONNA BLITZ HIS ASS SO MANY TIMES AND RODGERS IS GOING FOR 400 PASSING YALL SUCK SO BAD THIS IS OUR YEAR OUR SUPER BOWL AND OUR TIME FUCK BLACK AND YELLOW NOW RODGERS THAT