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).
How does a team with Charlie Batch at quarterback go on the road and beat the first place Ravens, only to return home one week later — with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback! — and get its lunch money stolen by a reeling San Diego Chargers team that is clearly going through the motions and simply playing out the string?
That’s the question of the week after the Steelers embarrassing 34-24 loss on Sunday afternoon, a game that wasn’t anywhere near as close as the final score would indicate (and it doesn’t really indicate a close game).
The popular storyline around town seems to be the standard “The Steelers are always playing to the level of their competition” narrative and how they — particularly under Mike Tomlin — don’t seem to get up for games against bad teams and struggle to “finish them” or “put them away.” In a season where the Steelers somehow also lost games to the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans, and Cleveland Browns (yet beat the Giants, Redskins, Ravens, and Bengals) that’s not a surprise.
But I don’t buy it for a second, and you shouldn’t either.
First, this isn’t the SEC where the Alabama Crimson Tide can schedule some game September non-conference against Southwest Nevada A & M State and pencil in a 70-0 win just because they made it to the stadium on time. A team of highly paid, highly trained professionals (even a “bad” one … relatively speaking) beating another team of highly paid, highly trained professionals isn’t that outrageous. It happens every week in the NFL.
But why do the Steelers under Tomlin always seem to struggle in these games?
The answer: They don’t. At least not usually. At least not when they themselves are actually good.
You only think they do because sports fans see what they want to see and react to that selection bias as it’s happening right in front of them. The Steelers struggled with bad teams this season so they must always struggle with bad teams, or don’t get up for them, or play down to their level, or whatever other cliche you want to insert into this paragraph.
I went back to the start of the 2007 season, Mike Tomlin’s first year in Pittsburgh, and looked at how many games the Steelers have played against teams that finished a season with fewer than seven wins (bad teams). Coming into this season they had 28 games against such teams. They won 23 of those games, and did so by an average score of 24-13. For the mathematically challenged, that is an average margin of victory of 11 points. Anytime you beat an NFL team, a good one or a bad one, by two possessions you handled that team quite well.
Eight of those wins were by fewer than 8 points.
Eleven of them were by 16 points or more (the very definition of a blowout).
Of the five losses, an unthinkable three of them came during that forgettable 2009 season, right around the time Tomlin swore they were going to “unleash hell” on the rest of the AFC. You can add at least three more this season (Oakland, Tennessee, Cleveland and maybe San Diego depending on it finishes the season).
So the question now becomes why in 2009 and 2012 did the Steelers struggle with bad teams, yet completely obliterate them (to the tune of a 21-2 record and average margin of victory of 24-10) in the other four years of Mike Tomlin’s still ongoing tenure in Pittsburgh?
Is it because they weren’t “up” for the games? Or because the coaching staff did something wrong in preparation or game day? Were they looking past these bad teams?
But I have a theory — and perhaps a controversial one — but hear me out on it: The 2009 and 2012 Steelers just weren’t very talented football teams, and it’s not out of the ordinary for flawed teams (as both teams are/were) to play bad games and lose bad games to bad teams.
The 2009 team had noticeable and signifiacnt flaws up and down its roster. The offensive line was a disaster and on any given Sunday had Just Hartwig, Trai Essex and Chris Kemoeatu starting. It’s a wonder Ben Roethlisberger made it through the season.
The secondary was pretty much a collection of replacement level players. Troy Polamalu played five games, and guys like Joe Burnett, Tyrone Carter, Ryan Mundy, Anthony Madison, whatever remained of Deshea Townsend’s career and Keiwan Ratliff all had to see playing time. William Gay in his first season as a starter had his worst season as a pro, and the rest of the defense had the likes of Travis Kirshcke, Nick Eason, and Keyaron Fox seeing significant snaps at one time or another.
Aaron Smith, still a fairly productive player, missed 11 games as well.
That team, particularly on defense where most of their problems came from, simply wasn’t very good.
The 2012 team has its own set of flaws. Troy Polamalu and James Harrison are only a fraction of what they used to be (and have both missed significant playing time). LaMarr Woodley can’t stay on the field for more than a game without getting injured again. The young defensive line has had its share of growing pains, and the offensive line is once again a patchwork unit not only due to a lack of talent, but also injuries (first-round pick and potential savior of the interior David Decastro, Willie Colon — again — and the need to have your all-pro center shift to guard). Ike Taylor, also closer to the end of his career than his prime, has been a roller coaster of ups and downs (more on him and his impact in a bit) and the Chargers were able to take advantage of his absence on Sunday.
They force no turnovers on defense and generate very little pass rush which is a bad combination.
They had to play three games with Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch at quarterback.
It’s a flawed team, and this is what flawed teams do. They play inconsistent football, tease you with moments of brilliance and leave you disappointed with games like Sunday.
Mike Wallace deserves your boos, but so does Antonio Brown
I’ve beaten this horse enough this season, but I’m going to keep doing it because I hate the double standard and for some reason it really pisses me off.
I’m the first to admit that I’m the resident Mike Wallace fanboy. I’ll also be the first to admit he’s having a bad season and isn’t doing himself any favors when it comes to getting that big contract he so desperately wants (he’s also not doing the team any favors when it comes to winning games. That’s pretty important, too).
He deserves to face criticism for it, and he deserves to be booed for his poor play.
But you know who else does? Antonio Brown.
Nobody will do it, though. And nobody will ever complain about him or send any criticism his way. Why? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. His 2012 season has been just as shitty as Mike Wallace’s, and nobody says a damn word about it.
Both players dropped passes downfield on Sunday, and when Wallace did it he was booed out of the stadium while fans screamed about his big money demands and how he’s not worth it and how he can’t catch.
When Antonio Brown did it the first reaction from fans was that the only reason he didn’t catch it was because he was interfered with and there should have been a penalty (looked like good defense to me, but whatever).
This guy isn’t looking for a big money contract, he already has it. And he’s not playing up to it. You can count on one hand the number of big, meaningful plays he’s made this season, and he can’t find the end zone even if you gave him a map to it, which isn’t a new thing. He’s scored five touchdowns in his NFL career, with one of them coming on a punt return. His only two touchdowns this season came on a fumble recovery in the end zone (his own fumble, which he was lucky to recover to make up for his own mistake) and with less than a minute to play on Sunday in a game his team was losing by 17 points, a play that is the definition of meaningless.
The “young money” crew isn’t getting it done this year. They’ve both put the ball on the ground an unacceptable number of times (both by drops and fumbles), they’re not getting open with any sort of regularity, and they’re not making the same number big plays they used to make. Just keep in mind that they combined for 36 passing plays of 20-yards or more last season (18 for each). In 2010 Wallace had 26 by himself.
This season they’re currently on pace to combine for just 19.
If you’re going to criticize one (and you should) you need to criticize the other as well.
As Ike Taylor goes, so goes the Steelers defense
Ike Taylor missed his first game on Sunday which meant second-year corner Curtis Brown had to see his first real playing time defensively. It did not go well. From the very beginning of the game Phillip Rivers and the Chargers were playing a game of “Where’s Curtis Brown” and throwing to his side of the field. They torched him so badly in the first half that Brown rarely saw the field in the second half and was replaced by Josh Victorian, who may or may not have been some guy the Steelers pulled out of the stands to play.
For years the Steelers were able to get by with average play in their secondary due to a vicious pass rush that ate opposing quarterbacks alive. That pass rush no longer exists, and the Steelers need more from their coverage in the secondary.
Their best cover corner is clearly Ike Taylor, and the Steelers defense this season has reflected the play of Taylor.
Let’s take their third down defense as an example.
In Weeks 1 through 5, when the Steelers were 2-3, opposing offenses were converting on over 47 percent of their third downs. If you recall, Taylor had a miserable start to the season not only in terms of the number of catches, first downs, and touchdowns he allowed, but also in the number of drives he extended with penalties.
But then in Week 7 everything started to turn around for Taylor as he shut down Bengals superstar wide receiver A.J. Green, and over the following six games he played like the cover corner we’re used to seeing (dropping interceptions, but for the most part keeping the other team’s best receiver in check).
Over that stretch opponents were just 16-for-76 (an amazingly low 20 percent) on third downs.
Without Taylor in the lineup on Sunday, the Chargers were 12-for-22. That’s 55 percent.
Here’s a look at the Steelers cumulative third down percentage for the season. It pretty much mirrors the season Ike Taylor is having. When he’s good, the defense is good. When he’s bad (or not there) the defense is bad.
Hurry back, Ike. And play well when you are.
Other assorted thoughts
1) On the fumble that wasn’t really a fumble, why was Antonio Brown trying to pick up the football in the end zone? What was he going to do with it at that point? Even if he succeeds he’s going to be tackled in the end zone for a safety. Why not just make sure San Diego doesn’t have a chance to fall on it for an easy touchdown (as it did) and kick it out of the end zone for the two points? Forget whether or not the refs made the right call (I don’t think they did) Brown made a poor play given the situation he faced.
But as my brother Matt so perfectly asked: Why are they running wide receiver bubble screens on their own five-yard line, anyway?
2) On one of their first drives the Steelers faced a third-and-inches in their own territory. Their play of choice was a slooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow developing stretch play to Isaac Redman (who was lined up about seven yards behind the line of scrimmage) behind their third-string right tackle playing his second game in the NFL. Naturally, the play was stuffed for a loss which has been a rather common occurrence for Isaac Redman in short-yardage situations.
3) For as flawed and mediocre as this team is, the Steelers still control their own destiny for a playoff spot and will continue to do so even if they lose in Dallas on Sunday. Just so they beat Cincinnati and Cleveland in Weeks 16 and 17 (both of which are at home) they will be in the playoffs no matter what they do against Dallas. That is crazy, and a testament to how bad the AFC is.