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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What we learned: New England

Sorry this was so late, but apparently there was a problem with blogspot.

But that does allow me to talk about the latest Steelers news, which is the fact Aaron Smith is out for the year with a torn biceps.

That's bad news for the Steelers, who face a very physical Jacksonville team this week.

© After playing the Steelers in a semi-conventional way in the first half of their game Sunday, the Patriots adjusted at halftime and went back to their game plan from 2002.

New England threw the ball on 25 consecutive plays against the Steelers in that game, a 30-14 Patriots’ victory, was strangely reminiscent of Sunday’s 34-13 win at Gillette Stadium.

New England had quarterback Tom Brady drop back to pass on 33 consecutive plays. That’s right, the Patriots dropped back to pass 33 consecutive times, including their first 26 plays of the second half.

Until their final possession of the game, when they were just trying to burn some clock, Tom Brady attempted to pass on every play, throwing 25 times and scrambling for a four-yard gain on another.

It was a game plan that rendered the strength of the Pittsburgh defense, its front seven, totally useless.

For most of the game, Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton stood on the sidelines watching. Backup defensive end Nick Eason got more snaps in the second half than Hampton did as Pittsburgh countered by playing a lot of nickel.

And Brady was getting rid of the ball so quickly, the Steelers rarely even pressured him.

In fact, the Steelers failed to register a sack Sunday and had just four pressures.

That’s not going to get it done.

Perhaps getting Troy Polamalu back for a possible rematch in the playoffs – Playoffs? Did you say playoffs? – will make a difference.

With Polamalu back, the Steelers can play more dime, with Tyrone Carter coming in as the deep safety and William Gay staying on the sidelines. And Pittsburgh can also go with its big nickel as well, with a line of Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith, Hampton and Chris Hoke.

In fact, I’m not sure why we didn’t see that formation Sunday. Hampton and Hoke may have been able to use their bulk to push the pocket up in Brady’s face.

What the heck, nothing else the Steelers did Sunday worked.

© Actually, the reason the Steelers didn’t use the big nickel was because they didn’t want to take linebackers James Harrison and Clark Haggans off the field.

OK, they didn’t want to take Harrison off the field.

© As big a game as Sunday’s matchup was, it’s not nearly as big as this week’s game against Jacksonville.

Jacksonville is a team that could quite possible come to Heinz Field in the playoffs in the opening round.

And the Steelers have to prove they can be effective against the Jacksonville defense, which totally shut Pittsburgh down in a meeting last season.

In fact, a victory by the Steelers Sunday would drop the Jaguars into a tie with Cleveland for the top wildcard spot in the AFC.

Not to mention, Sunday’s loss puts the Steelers just a game ahead of Cleveland in the AFC North standings.

Given that the Browns finish up with games at home against Buffalo and San Francisco sandwiched around a game at Cincinnati, Cleveland could very well finish at 11-5.

Pittsburgh holds the tiebreaker over Cleveland, but a loss to Jacksonville would also be the Steelers’ fourth conference loss and open the possibility that they could fall to the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs.

San Diego has a 7-3 conference record and still has to host Detroit and Denver before finishing up its season at Oakland in three very winnable games.

And, of course, the fourth seed in the playoffs – should it win its playoff opener – stands a good shot of having to go to Gillette Stadium to face the Patriots, who will be coming off a bye.

You want to delay that trip as long as possible.

© The Steelers used Ike Taylor to shadow Randy Moss all over the field Sunday.

Taylor didn’t have bad coverage on Moss a couple of times, but still gave up the reception.

Moss is that good.

© Brady is that good as well.

© Willie Colon had his hands full with Mike Vrabel all day long. The rest of the line actually played pretty well, but Colon struggled with Vrabel’s quickness to the outside.

© The Steelers should continue to use Willie Parker the way they did Sunday for the remainder of this season.

Many times, they passed when they should have run and ran when they should have passed. And Parker was able to get outside more Sunday than he had all season.

Then again, the Steelers outrushed the Patriots, 181 to 22, and it didn’t make a difference.

When you can’t punch the ball in from inside the 10, you don’t deserve to win.

In fact, the Steelers were 0-for-3 in the red zone Sunday and lost by 21 points. You do the math.

© Wouldn’t you have liked to have seen the Steelers try a gadget play or two – I mean other than an end around with an empty backfield on fourth-and-goal from the one – as the Patriots did?


adamg said...

Dale, several thoughts...

One I hope the Steelers don't put Aaron Smith on IR, but if they do, then I hope they promote Scott Paxson
to the 53 man roster. All Paxson did for 3 years at Penn St was start at DT, rarely come off the field and make plays. A lot like Lamarr Woodley did at Michigan.

Second, I believe the Steelers are in a transition year on both offense and defense. I think that's why they aren't doing a lot of things some of us would like to see.

Cotter said...

Frustration, Dale. How frustrated were you watching this team on Sunday? I couldn't believe my eyes. We weren't getting pressure, we weren't tackling well, we weren't even being physical with Brady or the Pats receivers. I would have even accepted a roughing the passer penalty if anyone had even attempted to hit Brady.

The Offense was a bright spot for the most part. But the end around call was just unnecessary. I'm no offensive coordinator, but if I'm going for it on 4th down when I'm down by 11(which I believe we were at the time) and we've just converted two 4th downs pounding the football through, I'm calling either a handoff to Najeh Davenport or a Big Ben sneak. At least then we could say "it was the right call." Plus, the play before that to Santonio - that would've been ok had we snapped the ball 3 or 4 seconds before we did. I'm sure we all noticed Santonio uncovered out there but by the time we got the snap off, Rodney "Roids" Harrison had already trotted over to cover him.

That all said, my question is - do you think the Steelers were intentionally holding back, thinking we may see them again in the playoffs?

Cotter said...

PS - Offense was a bright spot MINUS the fact that we couldn't cash in.

Dale Lolley said...

I wasn't frustrated at all. Despite what some NE fans have written to me this week, I'm not a Steelers fan. I'm a reporter.
I try hard to call them the way I see them.
That game got away from them when they came out and blew their opening drive of the second half and New England hit the throwback pass.

Cotter said...

Fair enough.

Pats fans have written to you?

I can only imagine what they're saying...

Mapod said...

Seem injuries are piling up on the Steelers. Ben missed two practice this week. Can not be good news for Sunday