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Monday, October 22, 2007

What we learned: Denver

Denver enters the game worst in the league against the run. And so the Pittsburgh Steelers, of course, come out passing.

A game plan that included just three running plays in the first quarter – compared to 10 passes – just makes no sense to me against a team that had been giving up five yards per carry and 187.6 yards per game.

“We knew they would come out in preparation to stop the run and they were,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin following the team’s 31-28 loss at Denver Sunday night.

“It’s the same cat and mouse chess game. … That’s just football.”

Sorry, but in my mind, it’s just not very smart.

Unless the Broncos came up with all 11 men in the box, the game plan for the Steelers should have been to run the ball again and again until Denver proved it could stop it. Three carries in the first quarter doesn’t tell me whether they could stop the run or not.

That’s neither cat and mouse nor chess. The Steelers outsmarted themselves.

Maybe they looked out there and didn't see Champ Bailey playing and thought that was a better matchup. But the Steelers are a running team. Why go away from your strength?

© Despite all of that, the lack of running the ball early in the game wasn’t the reason the Steelers lost. The defense, which had been stout all season long, showed some holes.

Just about every time the Steelers put points on the board, Denver responded with a score of its own.

Against a defense that entered the game No. 1 in the league in both points against and yardage allowed, that was unacceptable. There was very little pressure on quarterback Jay Cutler in the first half and the Steelers only got their hands on two passes the entire game – both of which were interceptions.

Considering the Steelers have Cincinnati up next, the pass defense better tighten up or it’s going to be a long day.

© What in the world were Najeh Davenport and Allen Rossum doing on that kick return on the first play of the fourth quarter?

Rossum came up like he expected Davenport to field it and Davenport let the ball go over his head. By the time Rossum came back and picked the ball up, Denver’s coverage teams were there and he was stopped at the 6.

I guess it was miscommunication.

The Steelers went down and scored on the ensuing drive, but that 1:03 the Steelers ate up getting the ball out to the 34 sure would have come in handy at the end of the game.

© Now that we’ve seen it happen a couple of times, we can surmise that center Sean Mahan has some trouble with the shotgun snap.

He snapped the ball low in the second quarter to Ben Roethlisberger, forcing Roethlisberger to come up and pick the ball up off the ground. By the time he was able to set up in the pocket, it had collapsed, he was sacked and the ball was returned 50 yards for a touchdown.

That’s a game-changing play that, in my mind, doesn’t happen if the ball is snapped where it’s supposed to be at.

© Roethlisberger isn’t without blame in this one. He didn’t have a very good first half, though he kept several plays alive by breaking tackles in the pocket. But he still hasn’t realized that sometimes it’s OK to just throw the ball away.

Roethlisberger keeps a lot of plays alive by shucking would-be tacklers. But Sunday night, a lot of those scrambling throws were sailing high on him. He threw two interceptions and could have had several more.

“You live by the sword, you die by the sword,” Roethlisberger said. “You make plays with it, other times you don’t. You’re not going to look back and second guess.”

© Even with Sunday’s loss, the next three games are the important ones for the Steelers as they face Cincinnati before hosting Baltimore and Cleveland.

Win all three – or even two of three – and they’ll be sitting pretty for the stretch run.

Anything less than two wins in those games, however, is going to have this team fighting for a playoff spot all the way down the stretch.


adamg said...

We also learned the Steelers really, really, really miss Aaron Smith when he can't play due to injury.

The Steelers looked more rusty than flat in the 1st half, IMO.

I have to ask why they didn't take more time off the clock when they were driving for the tying TD inside Denver's 20. They took a grand total of 6 seconds off the clock between the last two plays of the drive. 1:10 is just too much time to leave any team that only needs a FG to win.

Anonymous said...

The O-line was in deep trouble all night on pass protection---unless there was good coverage by the Denver secondary (cant see the wideouts on TV).

Dale Lolley said...

You have to score when you can score, particularly when it's a touchdown that you need. Were they supposed to run the clock down to :01 and then go for the end zone?
Denver had all three timeouts and still had 22 seconds remaining when it hit the final play. The Broncos only used one timeout.

As for the receivers, they were getting open. Ben, it seemed to me, was getting out of the pocket a little early on some occasions. Maybe he's relying on the scrambling a little too much and it's making the o-line play look a little - not much - worse than it is.

adamg said...

Well, that's kind of silly to ask if they should have let the clock run down to 1 sec. Of course they shouldn't, but there's no reason not to put your opponent in the hardest possible position to move down the field and beat you. (This is exactly what happened in 1998 when the Steelers failed to take time off the clock and Elway ran Denver down the field to beat them with a TD.) The same play the Steelers scored on would probably have worked just as well if they'd taken 25 seconds instead of 6 and Denver might have had to run a more hurried offense with only 40 seconds instead of over a minute.

Anonymous said...

Denver loaded the box with 8 and sometimes 9 defenders. The Steelers game plan all year has been run when you face 7 defenders in the box and throw when you're faced with 8. If you look at other games this year they have thrown first and run later in the game. Furthermore, Willie Parker wasn't affective on a consistant basis throughout the game as 11 of his 20+ runs were for a no gain or loss.

Bonaventure said...

I have to agree with Anonymous above. I'm not sure the game plan was a problem at all. Denver was clearly loading the box to shut down the run and especially with Bailey out, I would have done the same thing as Arians most likely.

adamg said...

Scoring 28 points should get you a win on most days. I think we agree that Arians' game plan is not what cost the game; it was the defense not playing up to their usual standards.

Dale Lolley said...

It's not always how many you score, but how and when you score them. In this case, they scored 28 because that's what they needed to tie the game because the offense turned it over three times in the first half, one of which went for a score, another that gave Denver the ball at the 39 and which the Broncos scored off of.