Monday, April 16, 2007

Rockin' the Boat

Hey, you know what really makes having a newborn exciting? Getting the flu. Yeah, it's awesome. I know what you people with kids are thinking: "Hey, Wilson, grow a pair and quit your bellyaching."

What can I say, I'm soft ... and I get really whiny when I don't feel well. Good news, though. I'm hopped up on benodryl, just got some inspiration and thought I should write it down before I pass out.

Okay, it wasn't the drugs that gave me inspiration, it was Illanin's comment to one of my AOL posts. Here's the post. (If you're too lazy to read it, it's about Romeo Crennel agreeing not to start a rookie quarterback -- assuming the Browns take one -- because of the cautionary tale that was Tim Couch's career. I offered this sentence in support of Crennel's contention: "In 2004, Ben Roethlisberger didn't open his rookie season as the starter -- his first start came in Week 3 -- but what made his situation so much different than the other quarterbacks mentioned above was that he had a strong cast of players around him. Especially along the offensive line.") And here's Illanin's comment:
Ryan, is there something in your contract with AOL that forces you to write one piece of conventional wisdom bullcrap every three articles or something? You wouldn't say something like [the sentence above] on HSS or SCI without checking up on it. Pittsburgh ranked 28th in Adjusted Sack Rate in 2004. Sure, the run blocking was good, opening lanes for Staley and the Bus; but what people think of when you say a QB has a good line is pass protection. Fact is, Roethlisberger's been consistently better than his pass protection - even this year, though not by so much. The Steelers' run-heavy philosophy was as much necessity as intent.
Well, actually I would write that sentence on HSS or SCI without checking up on it, but that's because I didn't think it was such a controversial topic.

I agree that Pittsburgh's pass protection has been bad in recent years -- I know I've written that on HSS and SCI -- and I don't disagree that Big Ben has (mostly) been better than his pass protection, but I think it's hard to argue that Roethlisberger wasn't the beneficiary of having "a strong cast of players around him ... especially the o-line." Roethlisberger averaged some ridiculously low number of pass attempts per game his rookie season and relied primarily on the running game to make his job infinitely easier. Put Couch, Harrington and Carr in similar situations their rookie seasons and I bet they win more games than they did with their actual teams.

I'd also point out that for all of Roethlisberger's scrambling ability, he is also responsible for a fair share of sacks that still get blamed on the o-line. I'm not saying it evens out -- I have no idea, I haven't looked at it -- but it's worth pointing out.

I also take issue with this part of Illanin's comment: "Ryan, is there something in your contract with AOL that forces you to write one piece of conventional wisdom bullcrap every three articles or something?" One of three articles? Huh, I was shooting for one out of two, so I've dropped the ball on that one too. Seriously, I do love that you people aren't afraid to call me out. It keeps me from just completely making stuff up.

In other semi-draft-related news, I posted two Steelers-related things on the ol' AOL site. One about the Steelers drafting OSU's Anthony Gonzalez in the second round; and another about the importance of special teams.

The special teams talk isn't news around these parts, but it's the first time I've mentioned Gonzalez. And the only reason I got on that kick is because of -- you guessed it -- Mike Mayock. He's been running down his first-day favorites the past week or so and he absolutely loves Gonzalez and Steve Smith as second-round slot receivers. Both guys ran sub 4.5-forties, but more importantly, excel and getting open and catching passes.

Now, I'm not convinced Pittsburgh should take a wideout in the second round with about 20 other more important needs, but it doesn't hurt anything to talk about it. I know I was pimping TE Zach Miller earlier this off-season in this spot -- and now, it looks like he might be available -- but if Bruce Arians is going to go to more four-wide sets and disregards my advice on Miller, the Steelers are still two wide receivers short. I still have high hopes for Nate Washington but like the Chicago Bears, Cedrick Wilson is who we thought he was.

Honestly, my Steelers Day-1 draft board is still pretty muddled, though I did take a stab at who I liked in the first round in my latest SCI column: Willis, Carriker, Beason, Brown. Let's just say the SCI message board was less than excited about my choices, but what can I say, I'm no Mike Mayock.

(Oh, which reminds me: Mayock ranks his top 64 players and Rich Gosselin has a similar list. These guys might be two of the best and unlike me, people generally respect them for their draft knowledge.)

Finally, one last thing. Wexell runs a nice column every once in a while where he peppers an anonymous source on the Steelers payroll with questions about what's going on on the South Side. Anyway, in his latest, his source makes a good point: basically, scheme is overrated. Whether it's the 3-4, 4-3 or whatever, it's about -- and I know, this sounds like a cliche -- putting guys in position to make plays. You know, kinda like Bill Belichick and the Patriots. The point, I guess, is that whomever the Steelers draft, it doesn't necessarily mean they are going in one direction over another in the coming years, or that guys like Casey Hampton or Troy Polamalu become expendable.