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Monday, December 17, 2007

What we learned, Jacksonville

Sunday was an opportunity for the Steelers to show they belonged in the conversation when talking about the big boys in the NFL.

They failed miserably.

Not only that, but Jacksonville's victory over the Steelers put those two teams on a collision course for a first-round meeting in the playoffs as well, something that can't be too pleasing for anybody who watched the Jags dismantle the Pittsburgh defense Sunday.

The Steelers did very little in that game that showed why they should be favored in a possible rematch. The were beaten physically.

Mike Tomlin said Monday he was upset with the offense's early struggles because he felt the Steelers would have been able to run the ball on Jacksonville. After a slow start, they did have some success doing that. But some of the running was fluky.

The Steelers certainly didn't beat the Jaguars at the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball.

© Things won't be any easier this week against St. Louis.

The Rams' offensive line is a weak point, but Steven Jackson is one of the best running backs in the NFL and he's healthy and on a roll.

Considering the Steelers will be playing without Clark Haggans and Travis Kirschke, that won't be easy.

Actually, the loss of Kirschke will be bigger than Haggans.

Eason proved earlier this season to be a weak link in a game in which he played in place of injured Aaron Smith, which prompted the Steelers to go with Kirschke at that spot in the following game and when Smith was lost for the season.

And Haggans really hasn't been playing that well, so getting Woodley on the field could be a positive. At least he's a playmaker.

Opponents have been paying James Harrison more attention, giving him the double teams and allowing Haggans to rush the passer one-on-one. He's not winning those battles.

© Troy Polamalu is taking some heat for a couple of missed tackles against the Jaguars. But he was very disruptive in that game and certainly wasn't the only guy whiffing on Fred Taylor.

It was also Polamalu's first game in nearly a month, so I'm willing to give him a bit of a pass.

He was also responsible for the Steelers' first touchdown, coming up to tackle David Garrard inches short of the sticks when it looked like Garrard had a sure first down on a scramble.

The Jags bungled the ensuing punt and the Steelers got great field position and scored.

Nobody else on that team could have made that play.

© That's one of the problems with the Steelers' defense right now. If Harrison isn't making plays and forcing turnovers, they're not getting them from anywhere else.

Maybe Woodley can be that guy.

© In a way, it was good to hear that Marvel Smith's back was bothering him. I'd hate to think he would have played as badly as he did Sunday without a reason.

The Steelers are going to have a very tough decision to make at season's end. They had planned to allow Max Starks to walk at the end of the season as a free agent.

They may want to rethink that position.

According to some estimates, they'll be $18 million under the 2008 salary cap. They want to extend Ben Roethlisberger's contract this offseason, and that will eat up roughly $4 to $5 million of that – though it could be less if they get creative with the signing bonus.

That will leave them with a good deal of money to sign free agents, with offensive linemen being the top priority. And bringing Starks back – with Smith's back now a concern – should be a priority.

The team won't re-sign Alan Faneca and will take a young lineman in the draft to help fill that spot at left guard. But Starks could be one of their top five offensive linemen returning in 2008. Then again, he's probably one of their top five right now and they're not playing him.

© The Steelers need a better complimentary running back to pair with Willie Parker as well.

They liked Maurice Jones-Drew in the draft last year, but the Jags took him in the second round.

Jones-Drew isn't a big guy, but he's a hard-nosed runner capable of being a short-yardage back and a third-down threat. That's what this team is missing.

Jones-Drew is also a solid return man, something else this team needs.


adamg said...

Couple of thoughts...

First, I thought it was significant that Labriola said on the pre-game show that Tomlin had given a hat to Russell and de-activated Dekker. To me, that was the HC sending a message to his OC - run more, pass less. Did Arians get it? If he didn't could BA be a coach Tomlin won't ask back next year?

Second, watching Marvel Smith's stance at the line of scrimmage should tell everyone that he's got a bad back. I don't notice him in a 3 pt stance much if at all these days, just standing with his knees bent and hands up. It just screams major back problems. I give him major credit to trying to play through it, but the coaches should not have dressed him Sunday. I agree the Steelers will make a post-season effort to resign Starks.

This is the perfect time to bring in the 4-3 with Kiesel, Hampton, Hoke, Eason/McBean.

I think the Steelers have a good mix at RB with Parker, Davenport, Russell and Davis. They just need the OC to use them.

Dale Lolley said...

The perfect time to go 4-3? They' ve only got five healthy defensive linemen. And if you think Eason/McBean comprise their best 11, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
I don't think having Russell active had everything to do with the weather. They wanted to run the ball. They couldn't early. And by the time they got it going, they were down 22-7 in the second half.

adamg said...

Why not go to a 4-3? It puts your two best DTs on the field. Hoke's quickness and Hampton's strength mean opposing OLs will have less time to concentrate on LDE. That makes life easier for Eason/McBean. Hoke is not a DE, but he is now their 3rd best DL. Using a 4-3 is the way to get him on the field and limit the problem at LDE. It solves the problem of Haggans' injury, too, since the 4-3 needs one less LB. The Steelers could make a roster move and put Kriewaldt on IR and sign Paxson giving them six DLs.

I don't think Russell being active had anything to do with the weather either and I did not imply that. I think it has everything to do with Tomlin sending Arians a message that he's not enamored with the pass happy, 3 TE offense.

Dale Lolley said...

They wouldn't make that change, particularly on a short week.