Tuesday, September 27, 2005

No Hookey Dookey

Hey, maybe this was one of those good losses you hear people talk about from time to time. When neither the Tribune-Review nor the Post-Gazette can muster anything negative to say after a Steelers' loss then the team must've played pretty well. Still, Pittsburgh didn't play well enough to actually win the game, so there's plenty of stuff to work on. But unlike seasons' past, it shouldn't require a major overhaul in any phase of the game, but instead, just a few tweaks.

For starters, Antwaan Randle El should probably stop lateraling the ball when he's fifty yards past the line of scrimmage. What's interesting (or maybe troubling) is that Randle El and Ward actually practice the play:
"The two made eye contact, and Randle El flipped the ball to Ward, who could not handle it. New England safety Eugene Wilson recovered at the 11.

I can't fault 'Twaan for that," Ward said. "He was trying to make a play. I thought he was going to get out of it and I was going to block, and he ended up pitching to me and I took my eyes off the ball and I wasn't really ready for it. I'm partly to blame. If I catch the ball, we don't turn the ball over and if we don't, we at least get a field goal out of it."
Uh, yeah. Here's an idea: stop it. Don't do that. Randle El, you run the ball. Hines, you block. As my junior high basketball coach, Wayne Royal, used to say after some wisenheimer on our team (read: me) would invariably throw yet another behind-the-back pass out of bounds during practice: "We don't need any hookey dookey on this team! Keep to the fundamentals!" Words to live by: no hookey dookey.

I watched the first half of the game again last night -- which actually says a lot since I usually delete any game from TiVo that involves the Steelers losing. But for the first time, maybe ever, I didn't have the usual visceral reaction after it was over. Like I mentioned yesterday, losing sucks, but Pittsburgh didn't throw in the towel when they were down in the second half. There still were stretches when the Steelers were outplayed. As Rene noted in the comments:
One thing that annoyed me, was watching how the Patriots players maintained their intensity (yes, AGAIN, and yes, in Pittsburgh) way higher than the Steelers. The defense look defeated a few minutes into the 4th Quarter. The camera captured the Steelers defense huddled up in the sideline after the tying touchdown in preparation to take the field for the final drive, and Joey Porter, defensive co-captain and "motivational" leader looked like he was asleep, scared or visualizing defeat, instead of rallying up the troops. That in my humble opinion, is not acceptable from a leader. It is OK to lose a game fighting, and I agree that this game was a positive compared with last year's AFC Championship game, but you just cannot have a team, come to your house, get decimated by injuries, play second and third stringers, players playing out of their position, and still overwhelm you with their incredibly superior desire to win.
Yep, all fair points. I commented to my buddy Andy after the game that James Farrior didn't really show up, but I guess it's kinda hard for a 250 lbs. linebacker (even an All-Pro) to cover someone like Kevin Faulk one-on-one when he's coming out of the backfield, without risking a big play. And when Pittsburgh drops a lot of guys into coverage 20 yards off the ball, Farrior was basically on his own, especially in the 4th quarter. Of course none of this explains why the offensive line was manhandled by the Patriots front four. (Especially Richard Seymour, who is easily the best athlete on that team. He gave Kendall Simmons front row seats to and old-fashioned ass kicking for 60 minutes.)

All my blabbing can be condensed into a very pithy comment left by Eric:
(pats D-line ate steelers O-line's lunch) + (pats O-line stopping steelers pressure) = patriots win
That's it in 20 words or less. What's funny is that as I listened to the bobbleheaded ESPN guys, everyone once again wants to compare Tom Brady to (insert best quarterback in the Milky Way here). Look, I think Brady is awesome, and he's probably is the best QB in the NFL, but what's so unbelievably goofy about super-hyped stories like this, is that seven days ago, these same blathering fools were wondering what the hell was wrong with Brady after a pretty crappy outing against the Panthers. And yes, I know, that's how this stuff works -- the major media outlets only seems to operate as reactionists, never really having an interesting or original thought.

And no, I'm not really surprised when I read stuff like this, but I do find it funny (in much the same way you think it's funny that Phil Simms, Super Bowl champion, actually knows less about football than Joe Theismann -- Don't forget, Simms is the same brainiac that said before the season started that J.P. Losman will be better than Roethlisberger because, "He’s faster, more athletic and he has a more powerful throwing arm than Ben Roethlisberger." Solid work on that one, Phil.)

There were also some comments about the curious usage of timeouts by Cowher and company during the last 90 seconds of the game. I must admit that I was kinda confused that Pittsburgh decided to only call one timeout during the Pats last drive, but then let New England basically ensure that Vinatieri would either win it on the last play, or the game was going to overtime.

I've thought for some time that coaches should hire some math geek (paging Carnegie Mellon, paging Carnegie Mellon) to make decisions about when best to use timeouts at the end of the 2nd and 4th quarters. I honestly believe that there is too much going on during the course of the game for coaches to consistently maximize the use of their timeouts. The most glaring example of mangled timeouts usage was last year's Ravens - Jets game when Herm Edwards inexplicably let 50 seconds run off the clock at the end of the game that was probably most responsible for the Jets losing that game.

Of course we found out yesterday that some dope accidentally added 53 seconds to the game clock during the 4th quarter, but I'm not convinced that's why the Steelers lost.

Of all the weird things that happened during Sunday's game, this may be the weirdest:
As tackle Matt Light lay on the turf with a serious leg injury in the second quarter, [Steelers' trainer John] Norwig ran over to see if he could help, as opposing trainers often will do with serious injuries.

Belichick walked out on the field and told Norwig, in no uncertain terms, to get away from his player. Norwig walked off the field and could be seen laughing about it with several Steelers doctors on the sideline.
Geez. I know Belichick likes to keep team injuries under wraps, but maybe the long-term health of your players is kinda important too. What harm could possibly come out of letting someone not on the Patriots payroll try and aid an injured player? Well, it gets even stranger in this AP story:
Belichick also may have been upset because Steelers coach Bill Cowher went onto the field to offer condolences to Patriots safety Rodney Harrison after he badly injured a knee earlier in the game. Harrison is expected to miss the rest of the season with a torn left knee ligament.
I have a lot of respect for Bill Belichick the coach, but this guy needs to relax a little bit. Maybe have a few drinks, go to a strip club (I hear Warren Sapp and Charles Woodson will be in Atlanta again this off-season), collect stamps; do something so you don't take yourself quite so seriously. God, if this story is accurate, he comes off looking like a prick (if it's not, disregard this paragraph -- especially if you're Rodney Harrison; I don't mean to be disrespecting that guy, directly or otherwise). And by the way, if he has such a problem with Cowher talking to Harrison, why didn't he get in his face Lou Pinella-style and let him know about it? (I know the answer to that question, but I'll just take a minute to think about that matchup. Mmmm, Cowher administers severe nerd beating, and then drinks a Duff).

I like Michael Wilbon on PTI, but he's even funnier on his weekly Washington Post chats. Here's him slapping around some numbnut Steelers fan:
Pittsburgh, Pa.: Doesn't Cowher realize that until he trusts Big Ben and open up the playbook, they won't win the BIG Games. Yeah they will get to the playoffs, and he won't get fired b/c it's all about loyalty up here, but he seems to be happy just playing Marty-ball.

They have a 1st round draft pick QB, let him throw the ball more then 15 times a game when your up by 20 points so the passing game can get some rhythm (Ward is the only sure thing), and Big Ben can have confidence in the pocket when the game in on the line and it's more than 3rd and 6..unless Cowher doesn't have confidence in Big Ben...What do you think? (a shorter version of my rant earlier, hopefully you can get to this one)

Michael Wilbon: HELLO! The Steelers just lost first time in the regular season in 16 games. Their last two losses were to a team that has won three championships the last four years. WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? He started a rookie in, what, Week 2 or 3. Please. Stop. Just stop the madness. Open up his playbook? Does he look like Norv Turner to you?
Your bad.