Visit NFL from the sidelines on the new Observer-Reporter site:

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Post-Cleveland thoughts Part II

We saw the end of an era Sunday at Heinz Field.

Brett Keisel and Ryan Clark might have both played their final games for the Steelers. Larry Foote might have played his final game in the opener.

If that is the case - and I'm going to say Keisel is 50-50 to come back one more year while Clark is likely gone after saying he's not willing to play here for the minimum - that will leave only Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor as players who have won a pair of Super Bowls with the Steelers.

Foote could be back. He is, after all, under contract at a cap-friendly cost of just $1.1 million, but you get the idea. The Steelers' makeover is just about done.

@ A lot of the focus from Sunday's San Diego-Kansas City game is on the missed field goal at the end of regulation. And apparently, it should be.

Not only did Kansas City's Ryan Succop miss the 41-yard field goal attempt the end of regulation, but apparently Bill Leavy's officiating crew missed the fact that the Chargers were in an illegal formation.

NFL rules state on field goal and extra point attempts that you cannot have more than six players on one side at the line of scrimmage, basically preventing an overload.

The Chargers had eight players on the line, but only one was to the right of ball. The other seven were all on the left side, a clear rule violation. A flag should have been thrown and Kansas City should have been moved five yards closer.

Leavy's crew also apparently, at least according to former head of officiating Mike Pereira, were too quick to the whistle in overtime when San Diego's Eric Weddle was stripped of the football on a fake punt run.

@ But hey, all of that is water over the bridge, as former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher once famously said, mixing his metaphors.

Had the Steelers won one more game - most importantly against Miami a few weeks ago, they wouldn't have needed any help to get into the playoffs.

Or won at Baltimore.

That 0-4 start completely killed the Steelers' margin of error.

@ That said, Pittsburgh finished the season 8-4 after its 0-4 start. The Steelers were also 8-5 with rookie running back Le'Veon Bell in the lineup this season.

Bell only got better as the season went on. He'll rush for 1,400 yards in 2014 if he can stay healthy.

Had he not missed the first three games this season, Bell would have finished with about 1,100 yards this season.

@ The Steelers' offseason priority is signing Jason Worilds to a new contract.

They'll also be looking for a veteran in the secondary. And it might not necessarily be at free safety.

William Gay could shift to free safety, meaning a corner could be added. Ike Taylor also said Sunday that he spoke to the coaching staff about moving to safety at some point.

I don't see that happening, though. Once the team took the responsibility of facing the opposing team's best receiver all over the field off of Taylor, he played solid down the stretch.

Plus, Taylor doesn't have great ball skills - as he points out himself - and the Steelers really need someone back there who can take the ball away.

Certainly it's different playing safety, where you're facing the quarterback most of the time as opposed to playing with your back to the ball, but the Steelers need a free safety who can pick at least four passes.

@ Kudos to Emmanuel Sanders for finding a way to get back on the field in this game. He's been ripped a lot by fans, but 67 catches for 740 yards and six scores isn't bad out of your No. 2 receiver.

And had he not suited up in this game, after Jerricho Cotchery went down with a rib injury, the Steelers would have been down to Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Derek Moye at wide receiver.

They could have activated Justin Brown off the practice squad, but that would have meant cutting somebody else.

@ If you're looking for a silver lining, try this: The Steelers actually finished ahead of Baltimore in the division standings. But thanks to the NFL's draft rules, the Steelers have the 15th pick in the draft, while Baltimore will have to flip a coin to see who picks 16th.

And Baltimore didn't make the playoffs, either. The Joe Flacco-John Harbaugh playoff myth is over.

@ Cam Heyward played the second half of this season like a young Aaron Smith. His bull rush - watch him shove Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas into Jason Campbell on his sack while also drawing a holding penalty on Thomas in the fourth quarter - is as powerful as any I've seen.

@ The Steelers allowed seven sacks in their final seven games this season. Remember that in the offseason when you're reading from draft pundits and national media types that the Steelers are going to take an offensive linemen in the first round.


Anonymous said...

Good analysis Dale and thanks for your insight. While I was disappointed at first, these aren't the Steelers that went to the SB last time as the 6 seed. You just can't continue to lose the games you should / have to win against bad teams. Stop playing down to your competition - start fast and have some killer instinct to put bad teams away.

Their defense especially the secondary just isn't good enough. Denver would have tore them up. You just couldn't depend on this D. Giving up so many big plays killed their season. They need more speed on the team across the board. They need one or two solid and fast DB's. Maybe Shamarko and Golden can step up and at Safety but they still need young, fast Corners that can press and make an interception. If and its a big IF Spence can make a comeback, that would help the speed on D.

I don't love the offense but they were rounding into form and putting up points. The line was keeping Ben off the ground and clean and Bell is going to be even better.

Having said that, they should resign Worilds. I try to keep both Worilds and Woodley until Jarvis is ready but I know that's probably unrealistic. Make a small foray into FA for a cover corner maybe FS and possibly DL. I still draft a big WR or big pass catching TE in the first round and a scat back later around round 3-5 for change of pace and kick returns. In between those rounds, CB or S, maybe OL, maybe DL and maybe LB.

This team has a need. A Need for Speed!

Anonymous said...

The secondary looks awful because everyone's coming up to help stop the run. Nix III in round 1 isn't sexy but would do wonders for this D. McClendon isn't a true NT in a 34 D

adamg said...

Agree anon 2:03, not having a true NT has been the defense's achilles heel all season. I like McLendon, but as a 3/4 DE. It'll be interesting to see if they want to re-sign Hood. If they do, I like a DE rotation of Heyward, Hood and McLendon. I think their #1 draft priority is a NT.

I might switch Curtis Brown to safety and give him a look-see there, too. Otherwise, all the team needs is a little better depth at LB and in the secondary.

I think the offense is in good shape. A Brown was a 6th round choice, so good receivers can be found in later rounds. I think J Brown or Moye can be the bigger possession type wrs ala Cotchery.

Bell, Dwyer and Jones are probably the best 3 rbs the team has had in awhile. They can all run the ball well, pass block and catch out of the backfield.

I've never liked Spaeth, but he did a nice job blocking since he came back and he can be a stop gap compliment to Miller for a few years.

The OL is set now. It was painful ojt, but they've looked very good the second half of the year. I don't think Beachum is the answer at LT and suits the team better as the new Ramon Foster jack of all trades OL, but he can hold down the fort until Adams is ready. Cody Wallace played very well at C after Velasco went out.
I think he's won himself a job for next year as the top C/G backup next year when Pouncey returns. The team had some young OL on the PS this year and that should mean much more quality depth should the injury bug hit the OL hard again.

BR began to play well once he understood Haley and the mgt were trying to help him extend his career. I'd be drafting his replacement this year or next though.

The Steelers aren't bereft of talent, but they've been breaking in a lot of new players the past several years so the beat can go on after a short hiatus.

Anonymous said...

Dale, Thank you so much for the fans around the world that do not get hometown news, I do appreciate the updates. First site I hit every morning. Hopefully the a$$hats that pound your opinions will not push you away from this blog, would kill me not to see your updates.
On to my question: When can we expect to start seeing the cuts?
Thanks again, big fan in Atl!!!

Chris Hein said...

Dale, I also appreciate your opinions and inside look at the Steelers this year as I have the past couple years. Keep up the great work and know it's appreciated.

Happy new year.

marc said...

thanks for all you have done this season. I too check the blog everyday when I get into the office. appreciate the insights and eternal optimism.

as for the steelers, they earned their right to not go to the playoffs. hopefully, this experience will serve as motivation to be ready for the season to start on day 1 next year.

as for the chargers game, bill levy's crew does it again. how are they allowed to come back each year? I didn't know the defensive formation rule until I read it here, but on the field goal I commented to my son, "I wonder why more teams don't overload to one side on FG tries like the chargers are doing?"

as for next year, please sign worilds. the steelers have been rather successful in bringing in FA safeties, so hopefully that trend continues with clark likely/hopefully gone. the Woodley situation will be interesting to watch. I don't think Nix III will be available at 15 in the first round, so CB or ILB may be their first pick. we'll see, but will be fun to watch as always.

finally, there are currently 3 vacancies for head coach and likely more to come. if Swartz is fired by the lions (which would make 4) is haley a consideration for these teams?

happy new year to everyone out there.

Homegrown Misanthropist said...

I just don't see the big need for a WR, I would just go Defense on at least 3 of the first four or five rounds. The oofense is oly going to get better, Sanders might be the only one gone. NT, ILB and CB/Safety are there biggest concerns. As one of you clearly pointed out one of the reasons the secondary was so stunned was due to the lack of run stop, they were biting in on every fake and Polamalu's ability in the secondary was greatly diminished once Foote went down and he had to be close to the line.

As for the blog Dale there's nothing else but to thank you on spending your time in keeping people informed and doing such a great job at it. There might be some ungrateful people out there but I guess it comes with the job. Thank you for the blog and time invested in it, it is truly appreciated.

Wish you all a Happy New Year, and there's nothing left but to wait for the next season, it should be a very interesting one.


Anonymous said...

Who's is your #2 receiver then? Would've loved to see Wheaton but he's done basically nothing. Mike Wallace had a great rookie year. Sanders is gone - good riddance. I like Cotchery but as #3 or 4.

By the way, McClendon is still your NT next year. Like it or not, they won't start a rookie anyway. Get some fat boy in round 3 or 4 for NT. Steed was fine and he was a 3rd rounder.

I still think it needs to be big WR or TE but I would be ok with CB. Maybe LB or NT.

Anonymous said...

And please stop telling me an I drafted WR like Moye is going to be the savior. Or J Brown who couldn't make the team. Harrison could play but he got cut due to lack of assignment. Receivers can ball or not.

Dale Lolley said...

No, I don't think Haley will be interviewing for any head coaching jobs.

There won't be any roster moves for a while. One of the things about not making the playoffs is that you get extra time to evaluate things.

Franchise/transition tenders aren't due until Feb. 17. Free agency starts March 11, the same day all teams must be under the salary cap, which at this point is estimated - and I stress estimated - at between $126-127 million. It usually goes up a bit. Those estimates always seem a little light.

A true nose tackle would help things, for sure. I don't know, however, in this day and age, with so many teams running three receiver sets and spread options that you spend a first round pick on a player who is on the field for 20 to 25 plays per game.

Homegrown Misanthropist said...

I was thinking of getting back to the defensive mindset Lebeau stressed so much before, basically making a team one sided, forcing them to pass and bringing in the heat, which they have obviously not done in the last season and worked for them wonders in the past. I believe it is due to their lack of line strength and the NT's inability to take two guys and hold his gap thus making the defense so much vulnerable at play action, QB options and fakes. QB's ran the hell out of this team this season and not necessarily talented ones.

Anyway it is my point of view. I do think a WR can help a lot but if you look at the last 5 receivers they got they were taken third round and after and it was a very talented and dangerous group of guys. It is a bit harder o get a good NT and/or ILB in the later rounds, specially with so many teams playing the 3-4 now. I think the departure of Sanders will be of some impact but that is all you need to cover, a 2nd receiver and who knows you might have him in the wings already.

Looking at the past season, specially at the hard losses they took against Oakland, Vikes and Miami it all came down to the defense not being able to hold the fort down the stretch. As for the offense can anyone say they had seen a better one in the past 3 to 4 seasons including their last super bowl run? As for the OL I think we can all agree it is set, there's nothing left but to hope they don't have another injury spree next season.

marc said...

dale, I don't dispute your logic there. but, the numbers suggest it might be a worthwhile pick.

the steeler's defense was 22nd in the nfl on 3rd down, ouch. interestingly, the steelers gave up 30% of their first downs to other teams on 3rd down - second highest in the league. so, the defense was playing contain and getting the other team into 3rd down situations, but then failing to get off the field.

based on pro football reference stats (their play finder is awesome by the way), the steelers were below average on 3rd & short and 3rd & medium (4-6 yards) situations, but well above average on 3rd & longs.

that premier NT may be quite valuable stopping the run and getting teams into 3rd & longs (where the steelers excel) or to plug the middle on 3rd & short. will teams counter by going with more passing formations, sure, and you have now made them more one dimensional.

of course, that's only if they think he has the talent to fill that role.

Dale Lolley said...

Hey, I agree that a nose tackle is needed. I just don't know if you can justify taking one in the first round as they did with Hampton in 2001. This isn't 2001 any more. The game has changed dramatically.

kyle said...

I've seen some articles written by people who went back through a lot of tape and looked at McLendon and said he wasn't the problem against the run. Could they find a better NT in the 1st round? Most likely but is the 15th overall pick worth a player who is on the field about as often as your gunner? Not to mention, knee trouble isn't something you're looking for out of a NT, in regards to Nix.

It's way too early to start picking positions for the 1st round. They haven't cut anyone yet. They haven't resigned anyone yet. And the draft stocks will change drastically between now and April.

I will say this though, Antonio Brown is 5'10 and he finished in the top 3 in receiving yards. So, apparently you don't have to be "big" to play well. And I might also point out that joining Brown in the top 3 are Josh Gordon and Calvin Johnson and that none of the three of them will be playing next Sunday.

Anonymous said...


Big receivers help out most near the goal line, where there isn't as much room to exploit speed mismatches.

marc said...

has it really changed that much from a play calling and results standpoint? I don't think so.

in 2001 the pass/rush ratio was 56%/44%. average yards per pass was 9.0. average yards per rush was 4.0.

in 2013 the pass/rush ratio was 58%/42%. average yards per pass was 8.9. average yards per rush was 4.1.

I think teams are being more creative with their personnel and formations, but ultimately the results are very similar.

a NT that fits the role in the steelers defense has a positive impact on every level of the defense. if such a player is available to the steelers, would you not draft him regardless of the draft pick slot?

adamg said...

One thing that hasn't changed much since 2001 is the Steelers basic defense. It absolutely revolves around a 2 gap NT who can stuff the run on 1st and 2nd down and put the offense in 3rds and long. The stats marc posted show how effective that is for the Steeler D.

Also, add my thanks for a great blog, Dale. I check in multiple times a day and always enjoy your insight and thoughts.

kyle said...


Then why were the teams for which Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon played not very good? There are plenty of reasons but the fact remains that there are very few of the teams with those giant 1st round wideouts that are good teams. Brandon Marshall is great, he's sitting at home. Ditto Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson.

I won't be pulling my hair out if the Steelers draft a 6'3+ receiver at 1.15 but I wish people would stop begging for it like it has a proven track record of working.

And marc,
I'd agree that the league hasn't changed much since 2001 as far as passing statistics (other than records being broken at the very top) but please consider this: Louis Nix is not Casey Hampton. Nix might stay healthy and he might be a very good pro but if you think he's Hamp at his best then I would like to know why you think so.

Dale Lolley said...

The run/pass ratios might not have changed much, but the packages from which they are doing it have.

A lot more college-type offenses and spread-type stuff.