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Sunday, January 06, 2008

What we learned: Jacksonville (again)

Saturday night’s playoff loss by the Pittsburgh Steelers was a microcosm of the team’s season.

They gave up a long kickoff return, failed to get anything out of their own return game, couldn’t run the ball to ice the clock, and the defense failed to stop the Jaguars late in the game with everything on the line.

Yep, that’s the 2007 Steelers in a nutshell.

But there’s nothing wrong with this team a few offseason moves can’t fix.

The Steelers don’t need a total overhaul on their offensive line, they just need to make a move or two there – starting with getting Sean Mahan out of the starting lineup.

Mahan is a good guy to have around on game days because he can play some center and guard. But he proved this season he’s not somebody to be counted on in a game-in, game-out basis.

The Steelers can fix that problem, however, by sliding Kendall Simmons – who played some very good football in the second half of this season – to center, moving Willie Colon to guard and re-signing Max Starks to play right tackle.

The fact that the coaching staff didn’t make that move during the season may be its biggest mistake of 2007, one Tomlin likely will learn from.

Even when Jacksonville lost defensive tackle John Henderson early in the first quarter of the game, Mahan wasn’t even what would pass for adequate, getting pushed around by Grady Jackson and Rob Meier. That kind of stuff can’t happen.

© Mike Tomlin went to that little card that all coaches seem to use when deciding to go for a two-point conversion down 28-23 with 10:25 left in the game.

In most cases, the little card is right that the two-point conversion to try to cut the lead to three points. But in this case, it wasn’t.

And it really wasn’t the right move after Mahan’s holding penalty – an iffy one – pushed the ball back to the 12 and negated a Ben Roethlisberger to Hines Ward conversion pass.

“Playing the charts, that is just baseball,” said Tomlin. “Everybody has that chart.”

But all season long, Tomlin talked about going with his gut feeling on decisions. In this case, his gut should have told him that kick from the 12 was the right play.

The Steelers clearly had the momentum at that point and Jacksonville still hadn’t topped 200 yards of total offense.

There was no reason to think that the Steelers wouldn’t come down and score another touchdown – which they did – and trying to score from the 12 just wasn’t the right call to make at that point.

Had the Steelers kicked there, they wouldn’t have needed to go for two after their next touchdown. They would have been up three points just by kicking the PAT.

“If I had a crystal ball and I knew we were going to lose by two, I probably would have kicked the extra point,” said Tomlin.

© The coaching staff’s other blunder in this game was Pittsburgh’s next-to-last offensive series.

There was nothing wrong with the two runs by Najeh Davenport, even though they netted just four yards.

But the third-down keeper by Roethlisberger was a real clunker.

Jacksonville called timeout after the second-down run and the QB sweep was what the Steelers came up with.

“There was, particularly on the third-down play,” said Tomlin when asked if throwing the ball was discussed on that possession. “That was something we worked on all week and we felt good about it. We actually had the look and we didn’t execute it. Good job by them.”

© Let’s see, LaMarr Woodley had three tackles, two sacks and three quarterback hurries splitting time mostly with Clark Haggans. Haggans, meanwhile, had one tackle.

Perhaps inserting Woodley into this defense and getting a healthy Aaron Smith back is all this defense needs to be special again.

© Both Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward talked about how losing Faneca would be detrimental to this team.

The Steelers will make a strong effort to keep Faneca, who was tearing up when talking about the possibility of this being his last game in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers have about a month to get something done before the end of the playoffs. Look for them to try hard to make it happen.

No matter how you look at it, Tomlin's first season with the Steelers has to be seen as a success.

This team went 10-6 and won the AFC North despite being flawed.

And it doesn't need a total overhaul to be back in a similar position next season.


Mapod said...

Ben 4 turnovers was a major reason for the lost. Carter not able to make a open field tackle has to be pointed out also.

adamg said...

Dale, forgive the long post that follows.

I agree that this team doesn't need to be blown up. I also agree with your assessment of the moves on the OL, but last night on the final half hour of the post game show Tunch or Wolf made a surprising comment. They said that Zerlein had mentioned that the Steelers might kill two birds with one stone by resigning Faneca and moving him to C. To me, Faneca could play another 6 or 7 yrs there. I agree about Mahan, he was overmatched at center. It also makes me think Okobi was much more seriously hurt than anyone ever said or he would have won the job over Mahan. I thought Essex acquitted himself well at LT and have no problem with him as top backup. If the Steelers correct the problem at center, it will solve a lot of OL issues as the Gs won't have to constantly give blocking help.

The Steelers need to get and stick to an identity. This year they were neither fish nor fowl. IMO, that made for a lot of confusion on offense. I suspect Tomlin wants them to be a running team, but Arians is a pass first guy. I think these two views never reconciled themselves this year. I'd prefer a run first offense, but the Steelers need to pick one or the other.

I would like to see the Steelers tell Casey Hampton to lose about 20-25 lbs. Hampton doesn't seem as quick to me and I thought he got pushed around some yesterday. Chris Hoke was better, IMO. A 4-3 with a lighter Hampton and Hoke at DTs and Kiesel and Smith at DEs would be formidable. The Steelers do need to draft for both OL and DL depth.

I think Mike Tomlin is going to be a very good coach for a very long time here in the 'burgh. Last year he didn't really have a chance to get his people in place. This year
he'll have much more time to figure out who he wants to keep and who not.

That was a tough loss, but that's football. It WAS a successful season given it was Tomlin's first year and in spite of the injuries to guys they really couldn't afford to lose.

Dale Lolley said...

Adam. If you take a look at my post previous to this one, you'll note that I brought that up as well. It is being discussed.
I noted in the press box that Hampton looked very heavy last night. He does need to come in lighter. He got married last offseason and maybe she's a good cook.

adamg said...

I guess Casey's not named "Big Snack" for nothing! I love him as a football player, but I'm worried about him as person, too. I'd like to see him live to a ripe old age, but I'm scared he'll never make it every time I see how heavy he is.

The thing that makes Hampton so good is his quickness and I think the extra weight has cost him some of that.

Do you agree about Okobi, Dale?

On the post game, Tunch said Stapleton has the right build for a center, big legs and bottom, and it will be interesting to see what the Steelers do with him as far as training in the off-season.

Dale Lolley said...

Arizona signed Okobi for a few weeks after he was released by the Steelers, so he had to pass a physical there. But he has gone unsigned since the Cards released him.

adamg said...

Dale, what's your sense about the coaches? I know Tomlin, of course, defends them in public, but are any, in your opinion, at risk of not being brought back? I understand the Rooneys mandated LeBeau stay on. He and Tomlin seemed to have meshed well, so I can't see any coaching changes there.

Personally, I don't think Arians' offensive philosophy fits with Tomlin's.

Dale Lolley said...

I think the only coaching change you'll see is special teams coach Bob Ligashesky.

adamg said...

Hope that includes the ST asst coach, too. The thing that really bugged me Saturday is that with a single returner, Jax managed to have a kick off designed to direct the ball away from Davenport and to make him run half way across the field to catch the ball thus robbing him of his straight ahead momentum. Jax also used a single return man, yet all the Steelers could do was pooch kick the ball. I'm sure Jeff Reed, having been a pretty fair soccer player, can kick a ball to either side of the field.
Why didn't we have a play like that? It can only be coaching, IMO.

That said, do you think Tomlin will put some parameters on Arians next year as far as dictating pass vs run?

Dale Lolley said...

I think they discuss the run-pass ratio before every game.
As for the assistant special teams coach, I think he'll be safe.

adamg said...

Dale, my question about Arians wasn't clear. What I'm wondering is if Tomlin will dictate identity to BA. That is, will he tell BA that he wants the offense to be run-first rather than pass first?

IMO, a lot of the Steelers run game problems can be attributed to the OL having a "pass protect" blocking (hit, absorb, retreat, hit) mindset first rather than a run blocking (hit, drive forward, hit)one. It's a subtle difference in a violent game, but still even given the OL
issues, one to consider.

Dale Lolley said...

That was Zeirlein's o-line philosophy. Zierlein is a Tomlin guy - they've known each other for years – so I can only assume that's Tomlin's philosophy.