Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Injury to Insult

A bunch of random stuff from the Steelers - Ravens game ...

Two funny quotes I came across while surfing the internets. The first one if from this weekend's Times article about Bill Simmons and his impact on sportswriting (and Simmons still somehow manages to get in a Tommy Maddox jab):
"He is truly bad at his job," Mr. Simmons blurted out after the Steelers quarterback, Tommy Maddux, threw an ugly incompletion. "When they say 'pocket passer,' that's a nice way of saying, 'He's white and he can't run,' " Mr. Simmons said to the TV a few minutes later.
And the funniest thing about this quote is that the New York Times thinks so little of Tommy that they misspelled his name (or maybe they spelled it right, and Tommy's been misspelling it for all these years). And this one is from Len Pasquarelli's "Morning After" (specifically, the Scout's Take):
"The Steelers better get Ben Roethlisberger healthy and keep him healthy. That offense is a mess without him. They might have been better off playing Antwaan Randle El a few more snaps at quarterback on Sunday."
And just for good measure, here's an email my buddy Andy sent me yesterday after we went back-and-forth about how Maddox's performance wasn't really a shocker:
"If I were Tommy I would feel worse that nobody is mad about yesterday. He is so bad that nobody can pretend to be mad when he really stinks."
I laughed out loud when I read that, but you know, it's actually true.

As long as I'm talking about Tommy, I have to admit to secretly wondering how many hits he could take on Sunday and still get back on his feet. Apparently, the number's somewhere north of 20, because he got knocked around pretty good, but always popped right back up. And let me be clear, I never (never, ever, ever) want to see any player on any team get hurt (even A-Rod), but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't me who kept muttering after every Maddox knockdown/sack: "OK, fake an injury and bow out gracefully, Tommy. At the very least, pretend to be hurt! Grab your neck -- your back, your neck and your back! Anything, just stay down!"

Yeah, no luck with that. But at least I didn't wish him bodily harm. On a completely unrelated note, anybody know how to get a hold of Jeff Gillooly? Just kidding.

Here's my nominee for the worst article of 2005 football season. Mike Ciarochi of the Herald Standard scribbles this really dumb piece, which includes an even dumber opening paragraph, and whether it was his intention or not, it certainly got my attention:
"There was no running game to speak of and the pass protection was basically non-existent. In fact, there wasn't much of anything offensively for the Steelers to hang their hats on.

No, you can't realistically blame this 16-13 loss to Baltimore on quarterback Tommy Maddox. Sure, he had his moments. He was as immobile as ever in the pocket and was sacked six times because of it."
Um, huh? How can he say that we shouldn't pin the loss on Maddox in one sentence and then, two sentences later, say he was as "immobile as ever in the pocket?" Seriously, can anybody explain what the hell this paragraph means? Is it a riddle? Crimony. I could quite literally cut and paste the entire column here, but if you're dying for really crappy writing, you'll just have to follow the link (or continue reading -- it's just that my writing is a different kind of 'crappy').

And for the second straight week, the Tribune-Review's Joe Starkey is the voice of reason when talking about the Steelers. This makes me nervous. It used to be, whenever it was a slow news day, you could count on Starkey to say something so ridiculous that the story would basically write itself. I don't know if he's turned over a new leaf, or is just taking a temporary break from insanity, but either way, he's been much better these last few weeks.

I didn't say anything about this yesterday, but I probably should have. If Maddox was 65% responsible for the loss, the special teams gets pinned with the other 35%. The coverage teams were pretty atrocious, and when the Ravens primary offensive weapon is uber-nerd Matt Stover, it's probably not a good idea to give even that offense good field position. Seriously, if the Ravens start at their own 40-yard line, they only need to gain 30 more yards to give Stover a chance. This, for intents and purposes, might as well be a touchdown for this bunch, because outside of the Steelers, it's the only way they can score. To be fair, however, this is the first time all season the special teams unit hasn't been solid. And I guess if you're going to have an off-game, this was a good one to choose.

There were also some comments about the continuing struggles of Ricardo Colclough as a kickoff returner. I basically said as much after the first Ravens game, when he really didn't do much outside of fumble a second half kickoff. And I go back and forth on this (mostly back -- as in, "don't put him back there), but I've since tempered my criticism primarily because I was re-watching highlights from earlier in the season and I had forgotten that he had a really big return against the Pats (at least I think it was the Pats; it was late in the game, and the return set up a late Steelers score, whoever it was against). With that little refresher, I might give Colclough another go at it, but I'd also be OK with just leaving Quincy back there by himself and let him have his chances.

Through both email and the comments, a lot of people stated what apparently was obvious to everybody but the Pittsburgh coaching staff: maybe if the the Ravens are dead set on rushing nine, the Steelers might think about running a few more screens, quick outs, draw plays, Randle El's; anything to take the pressure of Tommy and a five-step drop. Instead, we get Maddox putting it up 36 times, being knocked down just as many, and the Steelers cornering the market on the three-and-out (TM).

And yes, I know the 46-defense is supposed to take away the run and the short passing lanes, but if nine guys are pinning their ears back, somebody's open. Of course, the Steelers couldn't get plays in on time, burned through all their timeouts with about 14:55 left in the 4th, and couldn't tackle anybody on special teams, so this was just part of the overall problem.

Despite all my ranting and raving, I think Henigin made maybe the most reasoned argument for the game turning out the way it did.
Yeah, I'm frustrated with the loss, but you know what I think? I think that the Steelers' coaching staff planned for and knew that we could very well lose this game. Yes, they have to be unhappy about the loss, but think about this:

- Roethlisberger was dressed and listed as the #2 QB. He could have played in a pinch, and the Steelers just wanted to make sure he was healthy for the next two games.

- Farrior AND Marvel Smith were listed as questionable, and at the end of last week reports led us to beleive that both were going to play.

- Bettis had only 2 carries. My opinion (and I think the coaching staff's too) is that despite his age, Bettis is the Steelers' best RB. I like Fast Willie, but if you watch Bettis run, he finds the hole better, moves the pile better, and the team just seems to respond better when he is on the field. Bettis has publicly stated that he can't handle another season with the number of carries he had last year. The Steelers are saving him for Indy and Cincy. He got two carries this week just to keep him fresh, we'll see much more of him the next two weeks.

Basically, the team's confidence and swagger comes down to these two games, and the AFC North (and the 2nd playoff seed) comes down to the game on Dec. 5 against Cincinnati. Cowher knows that, and he wants his team healthy and ready to roll against the two toughest teams left on the schedule.

By the way, don't worry about Denver stealing that 2nd playoff seed, it will either be us or the Bengals. Take a look at Denver's remaining schedule; they will lose at least two more.
Works for me. Let's just hope Cowher read this too.