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Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Thoughts going into NE game

Pretty much everyone is writing this game off as a loss for the Steelers.

And they're pointing at the defense as the main culprit.

Guess what? It hasn't mattered how good of a defense the Steelers have taken to New England. The Patriots have still rung up a bunch of points on them. That's what they do, particularly at home.

The defending Super Bowl champions also are 9-0 with an average winning margin of 11 points in Thursday night openers at home since the league started kicking off its season in this fashion in 2004.

At some point, the champions have to lose one of these games, right?

I don't think it will happen in this case, but I expect the Steelers defense to play better this season than most people seem to think.

The preseason showed us little in terms of what this defense will be like in 2015.

Mike Mitchell played 22 snaps. Lawrence Timmons didn't play after the opener. Stephon Tuitt sat out the final two games. Will Allen, who will start at strong safety, started only the opener.

The Steelers were both 18th in total and scoring defense in 2014, not last as many would lead you to believe.

I believe they have, at worst, a middle-of-the-pack defense again this season. But it also is one with some upside potential.

And it doesn't have to be a top-5 defense for this team to win games, not with the offense the Steelers will put out there on a weekly basis.

The Patriots are 7-point favorites in this game and I think they'll cover, 37-28, but it will be closer than many think.

* Plenty of people are pointing at the benching of Shamarko Thomas as a failure by him to win the starting job and thus a failure of the front office.

I don't think that's the case on either point.

Will Allen gives this team the best chance to win at New England because he not only has more playing experience, he's got more experience playing the Cover-2.

I truly believe the Steelers looked at Thomas' preseason - he struggled in space in the Cover-2 - and decided Allen gave them a better chance to win now.

That doesn't mean that Thomas is being given up on. He was, however, drafted to play a different style of safety than what the Steelers are currently asking of him.

That doesn't mean he can't learn that and be part of the equation at some point this season. It just means he wasn't ready now.

* I wouldn't be surprised to see the Steelers play some dime defense against the Patriots, who will likely be starting James White or Brandon Bolden at running back with LeGarrette Blount suspended.

Both White and Bolden are bigger threats as pass catchers than they are as runners. Getting an extra defensive back on the field who can cover and yet also tackle, say Robert Golden, could be the way to go.

* Antwon Blake also told Jim Wexell of Scout.com that he expects to start in the base 3-4.

That's all well and good, but I don't expect the Steelers to play a whole lot of base in this game. Cortez Allen, who has been bothered by a sore knee throughout training camp, will see plenty of playing time.

* I also don't expect newly signed running back Jordan Todman to be active on Thursday. Todman was signed Sunday and could play if he absolutely had to, but the Steelers feel comfortable with Will Johnson and Dri Archer backing up DeAngelo Williams.

Williams is going to have to shoulder a big load the next two weeks. Despite being 32 and a 10-year veteran, he's had 20 or more carries in a game just 14 times in his career. Ten of those 20-plus carry games have been 100-yard games for him.

23 comments:

datruth4life said...

Dale, the reason why I think Toddman will be active on Thursday is not just what he can do as a RB. He's a proven commodity on special teams. Toddman was one of the top kick returners in the league last year (25.6 yard average on 38 KR) as well as finishing tied for 2nd on the Jaguars with the most special teams tackles. He can also pass protect and is good running the draw play or stretch play.

In other words, he can help you on special teams from Day One (KR and cover kicks) as well as provide a few carries from the backfield and be insurance in case Williams gets hurt. Why wouldn't the Steelers have him active? He is a 5th year pro. This isn't his first rodeo.

Anonymous said...

Teams forced the Steelers to play more base last year by going with more 2TE formations. Their base was bad against the run and even worse against the pass. Teams could do whatever they wanted, but still didn't bother much with trying to run when air yards were free. I don't see that changing until the Steelers make them change. Teams will force them into base by playing 2TE until they prove they can stop the run and especially the pass.

Last year the Steelers used a Dime subpack 4 times. All year. Didn't use Dime at all thru the first 3 preseason games, but did use it a whopping 11 times over the final 2 preseason games. All by deep scrubs, so I'm not sure what that might mean going forward.

Pats have good TEs. Gronkowski is back from his back surgery. I think. And their WR unit is underwhelming and nicked up. Sounds like everyone is expecting 3 wide. I'm not.

Anonymous said...

Uh... That's not covering

marc said...

One thing that beats Brady is pressure. Aside from some genius scheme from butler, does anyone think the steelers can pressure brady?

Otherwise, the steelers offense needs to control the ball and convert td's instead of fg's. Without bell and bryant, that's not happening either.

The steelers will need to double gronk, no one on the team can cover him straight up. The pats will move him around to figure out where they can exploit the mismatch elsewhere. It may be close at halftime, but I expect the pats to pull away in the third. Maybe a couple late scores in garbage time will make it look better for the steelers.

adamg said...

Brady doesn't like pressure up the middle. Luckily, ILBs are the Steelers' strength. If McLendon, Heyward, Tuitt can draw double teams, there should be openings for the ILBs to shoot through and into Brady's face.

But, the fact is the Steelers were assigned this game because the league expects them to lose. They didn't want to take any glow off Brady, NE and their SB win. Of course with spygate blowing up again, that plan is kind of passe'.

Anonymous Brian said...

Last time the Steelers beat the Pats, the offense had the ball for 40 minutes. Still ended up being a one-score game because of kicking FGs instead of TDs.

Seems like everything is against them this week. No defending champ has lost this game yet, Brady mostly destroys them, Steelers have gotten off to slow starts the last few seasons, etc.

Week 1 can be weird, though. I'd guess it'll be closer and lower-scoring than expected, with Pats still winning.

I'm with Dale as far as not being as worried about the defense over the course of the season. They looked awful in preseason last year and by the end of the year were not bad. In fact, during the 4-0 run to get to the playoffs, they played as well as the offense did.

(Speaking of which, I'm still not confident this is a no-brainer top 3 offense a la Packers, Pats. With Bryant, there's definitely a chance. But even after he joined the offense, they were extremely inconsistent.)



Easley said...

Man, that Peter King take on our D is brutal (see MMQB), but I can't argue against it.

Steve Goff said...

I sure hope you are right that the defense will be at least mid tier. I think with this offense, the d only has to be mid tier to make a run. Unfortunately, I don't share your optimism on D - I simply do not see any improvement from last year in the two primary areas of need (rush and coverage). For this defense to be mid tier, Jarvis and Tez are going to have to show up. I have more hope for Jarvis than Tez, but still cynical. Boykin is looking like a one year rental as Tez insurance; I had hoped he would show enough to start over Tez. Mitchel is also going to have to improve upon last year. I know he had a rough go with the injury so I think there will be a leap in execution there. Interior of the D should rock though - I have high expectations of the DL and the ILB's but in a pass happy league, I don't know if they are enough. You see far more than me being in camp and at the games and in the facility, but for now, I am going to have to be colored Missouri...show me...with regards to the D.

Anonymous said...

I do like Dale's prediction of the defense; by mid training camp he mentioned how the only one he did not see shining was shamarko, and look now he's benched. For a mid tier defense we just need jarvis moats mitchell and cortez to be average players, and for tuitt and shaz to show off their potential that they are capable of. We know what we have in Timmons and Heyward already, as well as Gay and Will Allen, even if they're simply stable players

I could see this group being top 15 and being good enough to not screw up our offense's lead

Birthday Boy said...

Dale,
When Blake and Gay are starting, who comes in as the third corner in the nickel, and what positions do the 3 play? Would Blake and Gay stay outside?

alexrkirby said...

Easley,

Link to this Peter King Article? I could't find it.

marc said...

is cortez allen not starting due to his knee or being outplayed by blake?

datruth4life said...

Dale, Gerry Dulac said in his chat today that he expects Toddman to be active on Thursday. Do you think DEs Nick Williams and Josh Mauro getting poached last year and making their team's final 53 rosters this year in K.C. and Arizona have anything with them keeping 7 DL this year? (keeping youngsters like L.T. Walton & Caushad Lyons in house instead of on the practice squad so that they can get poached as well).

The Steelers have to start developing their young players sooner or later. And lastly, how do you think this year's roster at the beginning of the season compare to last yeear's? I think the kicking and the special teams could be much improved this year. I think both Scobee and Berry are improvements over Suisham/Wing and this team has a lot of good special teams players on the roster that it didn't have last year at the beginning of the year, including Ventrone, Toddman and the rookie fullback to add to Blake, Golden, Vince Williams, T. Garvin and Spence.

Easley said...


Here's the Peter King link. Sorry, should have included it in my original post.

http://mmqb.si.com/mmqb/2015/09/08/pittsburgh-steelers-defense-new-england-patriots-nfl-opener-mailbag

joe said...

"" Guess what? It hasn't mattered how good of a defense the Steelers have taken to New England. The Patriots have still rung up a bunch of points on them. That's what they do, particularly at home. ""

exactly. and really the entire season will be about the offense scoring more touchdowns and kicking less field goals. clearly the defense isn't going to be a great one, but just maybe they have a few new guys who can come up with more turnovers. but the game is still about scoring points now, lots of points

datruth4life said...

Dale, Tomlin said on Steelers.com that Jordan Toddman would be 'hatted' tonight and that he would probably play more on special teams than he would out of the backfield. Having him active is a good thing. Any news on a Beachum extension? Also, what do you think the Steelers will do on D to disrupt Brady and hold down Gronk? Also, who do you think gets the extra hat at WR, Tyler Murphy, or Coates?

marc said...

13 of the past 20 super bowl participants have had a defense ranked in the top ten in either points per game or yards per game. the other 7 participants had defenses that ranked mostly in the 20's, except for the ravens who were middle of the pack.

of those 7 teams, 5 had elite (top 3) offenses in the league. the exceptions would be the giants and the ravens. however, if you recall, the giants defense was superb in the playoffs in 2011. the ravens, i think, were just lucky.

obviously, a top 10 defense does not guarantee a playoff spot let alone a trip to the super bowl. but, i don't subscribe to the theory the defense has to be "just good enough" for the offense to carry the team. history shows it usually doesn't work out unless you have an almost unstoppable offense.

if the steelers' youth movement doesn't show significant growth this year on defense, i fear they will be in store for some difficult seasons ahead.

joe said...

this offense was unstoppable for a few games last season. they aren't going to do that every week, but they need to perform, and can perform like that more often. once the weed smokers get back lol.

if this offense can consistently perform as they should, they are good enough to overcome this week defense. i believe the defense will come up with many more turnovers this season too.

Anonymous said...

Once the Pats are finished dropping a 50 burger on us tonight the coaching staff will have no choice but to find a spot for Brandon Boykin to start the rest of the season. Could see him generate some turnovers.

Anonymous said...

Also looks like we have seen the last season of Beachum in a Steelers uniform. He and his agent would be foolish not to test UFA. Pitt must love Villanueva more than they have shown and think he could play LT or maybe you slide Gilbert next year over to the left side.

adamg said...

Now that the balls will be heavily scrutinized and controlled for proper psi, it will be interesting to see if Brady/NE mishandle to ball in the rain or if they continue their amazing run of few to no fumbles.

Anonymous said...

Uh, they beat the Colts last year entirely in the 2nd half of the game after someone noticed the psi difference. Then they also won the superbowl, under scrutiny.

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