View From 522: Steelers vs. Jets

Hi. For the six of you that still check in on this site hoping to see an update, thanks for that! But today we actually have something for you, and we hope you enjoy it. Since Adam is a Steelers season ticket holder, he will share his thoughts and observations from each home game. We call it The View From 522 (because that’s where he sits). 

 

It was a beautiful day in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

I don’t want to be the guy that starts with the nonsensical overreactions after two weeks of football, but here is the one thing I haven’t liked about the Todd Haley offense through two games (and that is an admittedly absurd statement to start off with): The desire to hand the ball off to Isaac Redman every first down and allow him to plow into the line for one or two yards. It hasn’t been very effective to this point, and even worse, the Steelers seem to be telegraphing to the opposing defense what they’re going to do.

Take Sunday’s 27-10 dismantling of the New York Jets as an example.

On over 20 of the Steelers offensive snaps — with many of them on first down — the Steelers offense lined up without either of Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown on the field, instead opting to go with Emmnauel Sanders and Jerrico Cotchery, or three tight ends and one of Sanders or Cotchery. Ben Roethlisberger did a fantastic job spreading the ball around to as many different receivers as possible on Sunday — a result of the many different personnel groupings used by Haley — and that’s fine. But doesn’t it seem to be counterproductive to remove your two best players from the field that often? When you line up with Redman dotting the I and Cotchery and Sanders out wide, you’re pretty much telling the defense “HEY, LOOK AT US, WE’RE GOING TO RUN IT!” Old school Steeler fans will love that, and we’ll hear about how the Steelers are going to “impose their will” on the defense, but I just hate the idea of removing your best playmakers for nearly a third of the offensive snaps.

I still think the Steelers, given the makeup of their roster, are better off having an offense that throws the ball more than it runs. But if you’re going to insist on running it and finding that 50/50 balance why not try to disguise it a little more? If Wallace and Brown (or, hell, even just one of them) are on the field you’re at least making defenses account for the possibility of a pass …  and not just a pass, a potentially deep pass. NFL defenses are good enough; don’t make it easier for them.

Then again, I’d rather see the Steelers use more high percentage throws to Wallace and Brown (and even Sanders) that are basically long handoffs and allow those guys to make plays because let’s face it: who is more dangerous with the ball in their hands: Antonio Brown or Jonathan Dwyer?

I shouldn’t complain too much because Sunday’s gameplan resulted in 27 points, even if it was against a completely mediocre Jets team that was minus a couple of key players. And speaking of the Jets, man … if that collection of talent played in any other city in the country, and didn’t have Tim Tebow (more on him in a second) on its roster, nobody would give two craps about that team nationally.

They’re the Jacksonville Jaguars in a bigger media market.

– For me it’s just as entertaining to watch two bad teams play as it is to watch two great teams play, if for no other reason than the unexpected and unintentional hilarity that can come from two incompetent squads going up against one another.

I now feel the exact same way about the NFL’s replacement officials. These guys are just amazing. When I saw the fourth quarter pass interference call on Ike Taylor in person, as it happened, I thought it was a laughably bad call (I initially thought they were going to call Ryan Clark for an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver). When I saw the terrible replay on the terrible video board at Heinz Field I thought it was the worst penalty call I’d ever seen. When I saw it on TV and YouTube after I got home I changed my opinion.

This is not a call we should be angry at. This is a call we should embrace. This is a rarity. It’s not every day that you see a failure of this magnitude. This call is so incredible, it is so amazing in how bad it is, there are simply not enough ways to even come close to accurately describing its failure.

I will watch this play over and over again just to laugh.

Here’s another referee observation: These guys can be bullied into throwing a flag.

If something borderline happens along the sidelines and the players and coaches cause enough of a ruckus, the flag will eventually come out (late). It happened at least four times on Sunday, twice on the Jets sidelines and twice on the Steelers sidelines (the late hit call on Emmanuel Sanders and a defensive holding call on the Jets). It was pretty incredible to watch.

– The NFL made a big deal about how at stadiums around the league this season fans would be given the opportunity to see what the referee sees in the replay booth on the scoreboard. This is true. We do get to see that. In theory. What you actually get at the stadium is about 1/3 of the scoreboard (a huge, big ass scoreboard that spans the width of the field) showing the actual replay views, while rest of the scoreboard is a combination of wasted empty space and advertisements (and the occasional video of some random fan waving at the camera).

Here’s a quick diagram I hastily made of what you actually get. Imagine this rectangle is the scoreboard, and the squares within the rectangle are what the NFL gives you, the ticket buying fan.

Then imagine you’re sitting on the opposite end of the stadium, and then imagine arguing with four people as to whether or not the replay shown on the screen conclusively shows whether or not Mike Wallace was able to get his foot down in bounds in the end zone.

No, really, I understand why more and more people prefer watching from the comfort of their couch on high definition televisions. I’m coming around on that decision and why people do it.

You also don’t have to deal with people like this…

– Late in the fourth quarter there was a lot of yelling come from a few rows back, and a Jets fan in a Tim Tebow jersey was at the center of it. Initially we just figured some Steeler fan in a “We Got 6″ t-shirt was being a jerk, but as the situation started to develop it became obvious that the Tebow fanboy was creating his own problems by screaming about how awesome Tim Tebow is. When it was finally brought to his attention that the Jets were losing and Tim Tebow is so good that he’s backing up Mark Sanchez, he started going on and on about the Steelers-Broncos playoff game from last January. This seemed odd since, you know, he was wearing a Jets jersey. Finally, somebody called him out on this nonsense and asked why he was bragging about a Broncos win when he responded with, “I’m not a Jets fan, I’m a Tebow fan.”

It was all downhill from there.

And speaking of Mr. Tebow. My brother Matt and I agreed that his series actually woke a lot of people up. Before that series the Heinz Field crowd seemed kind of out of it, and his little run and celebration seemed to get everybody jacked up. After that the crowd was nuts.

There was a lot of talk on Monday about how that was the best Jets offensive series of the day, which is setting the bar awfully low. The thing of it is, after that run, the second play should have been stopped for a huge loss. The Steelers were there, but LaMarr Woodley missed the tackle in the backfield and Shonn Greene turned nothing into something. The next play was the six-yard loss the first play should have been. Then the Jets went back to their regular offense and Mark Sanchez continued to Sanchez up the place.

– Ryan Clark had a huge game on Sunday. Perhaps the best defensive player on the field. What a difference he might have made in Week 1. Speaking of which: At this point in their careers, if you could pick one safety to be in the lineup for the Steelers, would you take Ryan Clark over Troy Polamalu? Serious question. Not even joking.

– And finally, when you walk along Pittsburgh’s North Side on game day you often get coupons for local establishments. You know … establishments.

Free drinks! Five dollars off admission! Unfortunately it’s in McKees Rocks. And you don’t go to McKees Rocks unless you absolutely, positively have to.

That’s all for this week, everybody. Next home game is October 7 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

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  • Yoni

    I agree with your comments about the run game. I’ll add a few more criticisms:

    1. Using a full-back is a waste. Nobody on the defense cares if he leaks out into the flat and catches a pass for 5 yards. The defense simply doesn’t have to account for him. If all you’re gonna do is block, you better be Lorenzo Neal in his prime. Will Johnson is not Lorenzo Neal. Ditto for the 2nd TE. Pope can’t block, and nobody on the defense is scared of him running a route downfield. Think about it…when we have Will Johnson and Pope on the field, that’s 3 players the defense doesn’t have to account for on run plays (Ben being the 3rd). The running game is all arithmetic, and the arithmetic is against us.

    2. Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown should be in motion at the snap to threaten an endaround. Like every time. The line can then block down and leave a defensive end unblocked, creating an extra double team at the point of attack. If the D-end begins to crash, hit em with the endaround. The Ravens do this a lot, as well as the Wisconsin Badgers.

    3. Sorry, but I don’t get the coaches love for Dywer. He runs hard, but he runs to the line of scrimmage and stops seemingly every time. Has no idea how to “press” the line of scrimmage and then accelerate through the crease (if there is one). Redman isn’t that much better at it, but he is a tackle-breaking machine. I’m usually a believer in the “fungiblility” of RB’s…but damn these guys are testing that theory pretty hard.

    4. More lead draws please, mixed in with fake-draw play-action. Just as the endaround will threaten the DE, draw plays threaten the linebackers. Plus, it is a good counter against the pass rush. And since we haven’t been able to run a decent screen pass since Ken Whisenhunt was here, we need to find other ways to counter the pass rush. Cowboys do this very very well.

    • Eric

      The defense doesn’t care about giving up 5 yard passes?

      I hope we get to play those types of defenses a lot.

      • Yoni

        You mean like the Steelers defense every year we’ve been under Lebeau?

        • Eric

          No, I don’t. Because what you said isn’t true of LeBeau’s defensive scheme.

          • Yoni

            On early downs its extremely common for our corners to give significant cushions to outside receivers, essentially conceding short passes.

            And that’s not a criticism of Lebeau.

    • David

      Lorenzo Neal? C’mon, no love for Dan Kreider?

      • Yoni

        Heh, you’re right. How soon we forget…

  • drobviousso

    Heh. You actually touched on one of the issues I’m most excited about: Haley’s perpetuity to randomly call for running plays when the run isn’t working. The article below explains why someone should go to the well with the choice that works less often than it first appears. It’s written for tennis, but, it applies to football. I’ll just copy my comment. Remember that at the time, Haley was Arizona’s OC.

    “This is very similar to the run/pass balance problem in the NFL, which has bedeviled both of the participants of the superbowl this year.

    For ‘zona, they have a fantastic passing game and a comparatively abysmal running game. They have made a conscious effort to run a lot, in order to keep the opposing team’s defense honest. This is a big problem against very good run stuffing teams that can stop the run from the nickle (the set with more resources to stop the pass than the run). Their Superbowl opponent Pittsburgh is capable of doing this.For Pittsburgh, their offensive coordinator wouldn’t know a random play call if it put his cat in box that may or may not release poison gas. I believe (but don’t have proof) that they run more Run-Run-Pass pattern of plays than any other team in the league. Thus, opposing teams can stack the box (the set with more resources to stop the run) on first and second, and then focus on the pass on 3rd down.”
    http://mindyourdecisions.com/blog/2009/01/27/is-it-better-to-play-your-strength-or-your-weakness-finding-the-right-mix/

    TLDR: Yes, I know the running game isn’t working. But when they run at random times (which they are improving on), bad running plays keep the D honest.

  • jfishel

    I’d pick Clark over Polamalu. Clark misses fewer games. He’s in on tackles, where Troy is usually close–but a step late.

    I’m over running every first down too. I get it, the idea is to run at the defense and establish dominance. Except, when it doesn’t work, it backfires and now you’re the one getting dominated.

    • countertorque

      It’s not to establish dominance. It’s to keep the secondary up close so that you can pass more. I didn’t chart the game, but I believe that as the game progressed, Ben started throwing on first downs later in the game.

      • Yoni

        Why not the opposite approach? Throw on early downs to keep the safeties back. The Patriots have been doing it for years.

        All of these third and long conversions cannot be sustainable. At some point we need to stay ahead of the chains, and running into our own linemen for 2 yard gains won’t cut it.

  • kflinn

    One big positive I took coming out of this game was Ben hitting at least 10 different receivers. This game almost felt like setting up film for other teams in our future. Yes, they will still double Wallace/Brown, but the Steelers showed they have no problem throwing it to Pope, Johnson, Batch or whoever.

  • tequila0341

    I’m sorry, but Clark over Polamalu? You’re smoking something. Troy still terrifies every QB and OC in the league for very justifiable reasons. His range and playmaking ability are still second to none, and the blinding speed we all know and love is still there. I love Ryan Clark, I own a Clark jersey and not a Polamalu jersey, but he’s not a Hall of Famer, just a very good, very tough, very hard-nosed player.

    And he’s not perfect. The most effective Jets series was the first one, where Sanchez drove the Jets 90 yards down the field and where Clark bit hard on a Sanchez playfake, allowing an easy throw to Santonio for a TD and that annoying airplane impression he does for a celebration.

    • countertorque

      At their peaks, Polamalu is a top 5 talent in the entire league. But, at this point in their careers, I think the defense is more reliable with Clark on the field. Polamalu can single handedly ruin a drive or 2 for the opposing team (when he’s not hurt). Clark can make the passing game very difficult for the entire game.

    • EasyLikeSundayMorning

      I’m pretty sure I’ve never written this sentence before, but I agree with Tequila.

    • David

      They have a synergism that allows each other to make big plays. In a way they are clones. Both are humble–Troy always says the right things and Clark could’ve gotten bigger money at MIA but came back. Both have medical issues and we need them every game.

      I’m glad we have them both.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    The Steelers have two pairs of WRs/CBs who were friends growing up: Wallace / Lewis and Brown / VanDyke. I can’t imagine that something like that has happened too often, if ever, in the modern NFL. That’s a feature story I’d like to read.

  • David

    BTW, off subject, but isn’t the Trib-Review soooo much better with Alan Robinson writing?

    See today’s article on the Steelers-Raiders game that happened 40 years this week.