Monday, November 21, 2005

Back to the Future

Hello all, welcome to 2003 all over again. Except this time, Tommy Maddox only has half the arm strength (with just as much mobility, however). God, what an unbelievably boring game. And while I spent most of my Sunday yelling at Tommy Maddox for, well, sucking really, really bad, I don't place all the blame on him.

I mean, it wasn't like he laid an egg that no one expected. In fact, I mentioned several times last week that I had some serious concerns about the offense heading into this game. And apparently, the Steelers had similarly reservations since there was so much pre-game talk about Randle El potentially taking some snaps.

Before I continue with the diatribe, let me once again go on the record as supporting Bill Cowher. The guy's a great motivator -- no doubt about it -- but I do question some of his in-game decisions. Exhibit A: The Jaguars game. The first three possessions ended in two Tommy Maddox interceptions. Cowher intimates after the game that maybe he should have gone with Batch, but felt like Maddox settled down, and consequently left him in there. The result? Pick for six, game over. Exhibit B: Yesterday. Luckily, this game wasn't televised locally, so I didn't TiVo it, which means that I never have to watch it again. But I distinctly remember turning to my buddy Andy with 3:31 left in the 3rd quarter and saying: Well, Tommy's got 3:31 left to do something, because after that, it's Randle El time.

Let's chalk that up to wishful thinking. Cowher, as a surprise to no one, stuck with Maddox, and the Steelers continued to struggle matriculating the ball up the field. A lot. At several points during the game, Andy and I honestly couldn't imagine a scenario that would end in a Steelers touchdown. (As a weird side note, the bar we were at lost the Ravens - Steelers signal for about three minutes, and during that time, Pittsburgh actually had their best drive of the game that ultimately resulted in a nice Willie Parker screen pass touchdown. Don't know quite what to make of it, but just noting it here for the record.)

Honestly, I'm always hesitant to bad-mouth Pittsburgh players because I want them to succeed, and talking trash doesn't really help things. And I'm not really interested in giving Maddox a hard time here either. I know he stinks. As does everyone else with at least one good eye. I mentioned last week that with both Maddox and Boller in this game, the over/under should be 8. It ended up being 29, but I wasn't that far off. Getting to the point, I don't blame this loss on Maddox. I place it squarely on Cowher. I don't know what exactly Maddox had to do to get taken out of this game. Incompletions? No problem. In fact, their a welcome sight after the Jags game. Running plays for two yards? Fine. You have to run the ball. Taking sacks on in critical situations and holding on to the ball so long that Kyle Boller says, "Damn, that guy holds onto the ball an awfully long time," is unacceptable, however. And he did it all day long.

Before I go on, let me say this about Tommy (which something else I also mentioned at some point last week): I'm convinced his arm injury from Week 2 of the 2004 season is still bothering him. I have absolutely nothing to go on other than what I see with my two eyes and what I make up in my own mind as a result. Maybe he's a 100% recovered, but you'd be hard-pressed to convince me of as much given his season to date. It's one thing to make the wrong read and throw a ball right to a defender. Whatever, that happens, you deal with it, and move on. But Tommy can't throw the ball down the field. He can't throw a 15-yard out pattern. These are things he could do in 2002, 2003. Of course, this is just me speculating. I really have no idea what he's gone from above average starter, to the worse QB in the league, but I figure this is as good a reason as any I've heard thus far (And much better than the excuse he used after the Jags game: "It wasn't my fault; blame the wind. And don't throw crap in my yard, either.")

I know, I know. A lot of people would ask, "would Randle El have been any better?" Here's my question: Could he have been any worse? Honestly. Maddox took six sacks, many of which were a direct consequence of him holding onto the ball too long. Put in the same situation, 100 times out of 100, Randle El would be better at avoiding a tackle-for-loss than Maddox. And yes, you could make the same argument for Randle El vs. most starting QBs, but the difference is that Maddox really doesn't bring anything to the table in terms of threatening a defense through the air.

So yes, Maddox still stinks, but like I said, I don't put this all on him. He had a fumble (vintage Maddox, 18-step drop, ball stripped right before he threw it), and a wacky interception, but Cowher takes full responsibility for this loss. I didn't feel good about this game all week, but I think this loss is still worse than both the Pats and Jags setbacks. The Pats game was a good one; and the Steelers were basically a play a way from pulling that out. The Jags game was such a shock, that you could only attribute that to one of the worst professional QB performances this side of a Houston Texans game. But today, everybody knew that Maddox probably wouldn't be able to get it done, and if he started slow, Cowher would have to make that dreaded in-game adjustment. Well, it didn't happen. And as a result, the Steelers now have to go to Indy and then come home to the Bengals. So there's still a lot of work to do.

OK, I'm done the whining.

Despite losing, the defense was pretty stout. It was good to see Deshea Townsend get his first pick of the season (am I the only one who was surprised that that was his first all season?), and the defense was actually pretty good at getting off the field on third down for a change (and I guess a lot of the thanks should go to Kyle Boller for that).

Also, does anybody on earth think that the Ravens are going to re-sign Jamal Lewis? Chester Taylor continues to make him look like Eddie George, version 2004 (in case you're wondering, that's not good). Taylor also returned kickoffs, which also worked out well for Baltimore. Last week, Reuben Droughns ran over the Steelers early in the game, but Taylor might give this defense the most trouble. I'm convinced he takes a Crisco hot tub before heading out onto the field, because he is almost impossible to tackle. But other than a few good runs from Taylor and an unbelievable TD catch by backup long snapper, Randy Hymes, the defense certainly played well enough to win. Well enough on most days, anyway.

Okey doke, the Colts are still undefeated, which is good for the Steelers (at least for now). Pittsburgh now has to go to Indy (and then home for Cincy), and if Ben's still not ready to go, this team could be in trouble (I wasn't buying into this line of thinking prior to the Jacksonville game, but with Batch still out, I'm pretty much convinced). Last week on the NFL Network, Lincoln Kennedy made the point that if Ben was healthy enough to go for the Ravens game, it almost would make more sense to play him, and then sit him for the Colts game because one is in the division and the other isn't. With hindsight being 20/20 and all, I'm still glad the Steelers sat Ben, but that was with the understanding that he'd be ready to go against the Colts. Let's just keep our fingers crossed.

In non-Steelers news (a first on this site in some time), the Tar Heels won their opener -- barely -- against powerhouse Gardner-Webb. Here's a theme I expect to hear a lot about as the season unfolds:
"Gardner-Webb shot 50 percent and forced 20 turnovers from North Carolina. Eight of those came from the point-guard duo of Frasor and Quentin Thomas."
Could be a long year.