Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Exciting and New

It's funny, after a big victory, it's a lot harder to find things to talk about. The offensive line was solid, special teams didn't play like they were drunk, the play-calling was exceptional, and the defense turned in another good effort.

So now what? Well, for starters, Pittsburgh has to go to Minnesota and play a team that has only lost one home game, and is on a six-game winning streak. Other than the fact that this Vikings team has a prediliction for using Al and Alma's for their naughty nautical escapades, I haven't really followed this team at all. (Honestly, when you're talking about an organization that has given you the Original Whizzinator, a head coach who likes to scalp tickets, an owner named Zygi, and a sex boat scandal -- all in the span of 12 months -- who really cares about football, anyway? And yes, this Sunday, Brad Johnson will play Dr. Bricker, with Fred Smoot as Isaac Washington.) I guess now's as good a time as any to see what the dealio is.

This team is decidedly average in all three phases of the game, but to their credit, they've done a great job of creating turnovers on defense and minimizing a lot of the offensive mistakes that would cost them games early in the season (exit Daunte Culpepper, enter Brad Johnson). Finn's comment actually echo many of the same concerns I have going into this game, especially the last part about Jerome not dressing. Still, things could be worse.

Of the teams Minnesota has lost to, all ranked higher in team DVOA (through Week 13, the Vikings ranked 18th overall):
Team   DVOA Rank
MIN 18
TB 14
ATL 17
CHI 11
CAR 13
The teams they've beaten were ranked as follows:
Team   DVOA Rank
NO 28
GB 22
DET 25
GB 22
CLE 21
DET 25
STL 29
Overall, the average ranking of all the team's the Vikings have played so far is 17.9. Of the games they've won: 22.1. Of the games they've won at home: 25.0. In fact, the only team they've beaten ranked higher than 21st was the New York Giants. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has beaten San Diego, Cincy and Chicago, and two of those games were on the road. Of course, they also lost to the Pats, Jags, Ravens, Colts and Bengals, so that should count for something too (I know, I could invoke the Maddox amendment here, but at this point it should go without saying. That, and those two games still count as losses.)

After doing this little exercise, I feel better about the Steelers' chances. There's still plenty to worry about, but at least this gives some perspective going forward.

It'll be interesting to see how Pittsburgh responds to playing their second game of the season in a dome. Things didn't work out so well the first time, but we all know that was because the Colts cheated. I don't know if the Metrodome is known for being particularly loud, but I have to assume since it's an enclosed space, it'll be lound enough that the Steelers will have to do the whole silent count thing. It's early in the week, so no word on Marvel Smith's situation, but Essex has gotten better during the last four games.

Another potential monkey wrench in this week's game could be the recent bout of fumblitis. There were four Sunday against the Bears, but like I mentioned yesterday, maybe it had more to do with the weather. That's not an excuse -- just like the Maddox amendment isn't an excuse -- but more an observation.

More random junk:

... Yesterday I had the great misfortune of catching part of the truly forgettable Cold Pizza, with those two guys that sold their soul to the devil for their 15 minutes on ... ESPN 2. Anyway, Skip Bayless was -- gasp! -- yelling that if the Vikings make the playoffs, Brad Johnson should get serious consideration for MVP (sadly, Tony Kornheiser said as much during yesterday's PTI). Here's what Aaron Schatz had to say about Johnson in Monday's "Quick Reads" on FOXSports (where Bradley ranked a cool 23rd among all QBs in Week 14 performance):
Brad Johnson: Eight passes on third down, no conversions. Funny how commentators will tell you that defense wins championships and then praise Johnson as if he was the force driving Minnesota's six-game win streak.
Huh. Imagine that, Bayless was wrong.

... In his weekly Sporting News column, Gerry Dulac notes that:
"One of the keys was getting strong performances from their struggling players, including RG Kendall Simmons, who did a good job in run situations against DT Tommie Harris. Also, young Ts Trai Essex and Max Starks held Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye without a sack"
It's funny how one game can change your perspective: the O-line goes from being "much maligned" to "young up-and-comers." I don't like to make sweeping generalizations based on one or two good games, but if there's a bright side (other than the fact that the offensive line was dominant for a change), it's that this unit was consistently awful in 2003 and never even pretended it would be successful. Sunday's Bears game at least gives me hope that the running game can get back on track.

... In the same piece, Dulac also writes about something that my buddy Andy spends most Sunday's yelling at the TV:
"... PR Antwaan Randle El is trying to make too many big plays on returns, and his dancing is costing him yardage."
Yeah, that's an understatement. I don't really care if Randle El dances around and makes people miss just as long as he doesn't fumble. Of course, all that jitterbugging inevitably leads to either Sean Morey or Tyrone Carter blocking somebody in the back, so it's probably in the team's best interest to have Randle El either fair-catch most punts, or at least try to get five yards downfield before going Turbo.

Spacemonkey gives as good an explanation as I've seen as to why the Steelers have been succesful running right. And Gerry Dulac also has some thoughts:
"One of the reasons Pro Bowl G Alan Faneca is so effective is he rarely loses his feet on running plays. The team relies on Faneca for many of their signature running plays, including the counter-power and counter-lead plays that require him to pull to the right side. Faneca is not only powerful at the point of attack, but he will often hit one player, keep his feet and hit another. It's what separates him from most of the guards in the NFL."
Alright, that's all I got.