Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bring on McBoller!

I can't believe I'm writing this, but I think I prefer Steve McNair over Kyle Boller Monday night. I'd get punched in the face for such silliness just a year ago, but Boller has been just spaz-tastic enough this season to luck into one of those one-kneed touchdowns as time expired. McNair, on the other hand, has gone from Steelers killer, to some old dude who looks like he needs somebody to feed him his applesauce before the 3 p.m. Bingo game gets going.

Obviously, the Ravens could've traded for Trent Dilfer and Elvis Grbac for last year's games and it wouldn't have made a difference, but I'd like to think that things will be a little different this year. For starters, I expect the Steelers to score. Second, let's hope Bruce Arians learned a very valuable lesson from almost watching Big Ben die after taking a nine sacks during the Beatdown in Baltimore (Happy Thanksgiving!).

That was the game that gave me pause when talking about Ken Whisenhunt or Russ Grimm as potential head-coaching candidates. That game film must've been Grimm's downfall during his interviews. Kinda like drunk, college nudie pics, but much more indicting. Anyway, Randy Steele offers Five Wishes for the Steelers, and I think they cover pretty much everything:
1) Aaron Smith starts and is at least 80 percent healthy.
2) No pump fakes. No fake hand-offs. No nutty throws into the middle of the field.
Plus, Ben plays out of the shotgun—a lot.
3) Three words: Anthony Smith unleashed!
4) LeBeau holds back on the blitz, has his guys playing tough, tight zones.
5) Sepulveda keeps putting the Ravens deep inside their 20.
First, I don't think it's an understatement to say the Steelers defense missed Aaron Smith against the Bengals. Yes, Kenny Watson had a nice little day -- mostly running right at Nick Eason -- but as somebody mentioned in the game thread, the Steeers often only had two down linemen, preferring instead to focus on Houshmazilly and Mr. Cinco. I'm pretty sure they were doubling both players -- that's a lot easier when Chris Henry ain't around -- and taking their chances with Glen Holt and Watson. I'm down with that game plan.

Anyway, Smith would be a welcome addition Monday. I read somwhere before the Bengals game but after Smith was ruled out that Richard LeBeau might go with more nickel and dime looks, basically replacing Eason with a linebacker/safety/anybody. Aaron Smith or not, I don't think the Ravens can run on the Steelers. For starters, their o-line is in worse shape than Pittsburgh's. Not only that, but McNair can't get the ball more than 15 yards down the field without a javelin thrower's head start. I imagine the Steelers will have a lot of guys standing near the line of scrimmage. Which leads to Mr. Steele's third point: More Anthony Smith.

Scott Brown had a nifty article in Thursday's Tribune-Review about Smith, how he likes to knock the crap out of people first, ask questions later. This pretty much says it all:
"Once I get on the field you can't tell me anything," said Smith, a third-round draft pick by the Steelers in 2006. "I'm trying to hit everything."

The intensity that makes him a devastating hitter has also gotten the better of him at times, and Horton ticked off some of the transgressions that set Smith back as he battled Clark for the starting job at free safety during training camp.

"Kicking balls, throwing balls, yelling at guys," Horton said. "In this game, you have to have focused aggression."

Horton said he flatly told Smith during training camp that he wouldn't play if he didn't learn to control his temper.

Clark won the starting job in large part because he was more disciplined than Smith on the field but Horton said the latter has made considerable strides in channeling his considerable aggression.

Smith, however, said he hasn't really changed.

"They just got used to it, really," he said of the coaches.
That last sentence sends me back to the '06 Panthers game. When LeBeau is in your grill ripping you a new one, you've probably done something wrong. That said, I love the attitude. It's exactly the mindset Pittsburgh needs against the Ravens ... assuming, it doesn't lead to some dumb penalty. Then I reserve the right to curse Smith for not being in control of his emotions.

Last week, the Steelers didn't sack Carson Palmer, and that got some people a little concerned. You know, because if Pittsburgh doesn't lead the league in every stat every week, something must be wrong. My point: I'm with Randy, less blitz, more tight zone coverages. We all know that McNair's fragile and noodle-armed.

He hasn't taken a five-step drop in two years, and now that he's in that finely-tuned Brian Billick offense, one that relies on getting the ball out of the quarterbacks hands in a hurry (that was more out of necessity than design, I'd like to think), there's no need to send five or six guys after him. Instead, force him to throw his 25 mph fastball through some really small windows 10-15 yards down the field.

I think that was kinda the plan in Denver, but Jay Cutler's arm is just *this* much better than McNair's. I guess the Steelers somehow overlooked that in film study. Whatever, for the Ravens, I think it's a swell idea. And no need in taking guys out of coverage to send them after McNair after he's already gotten rid of the ball.

Jumping around Randy's list, No. 2 is something that drives me batshit crazy. First of all, Ben's chicken-wing pump fake is about as convincing as Roger Goodell claiming that destroying the PatriotGate evidence has put an end Belichick's shenanigans. Second, the extra half-second it takes to execute the pump fake probably leads to 20 more sacks over the course of the season (that might be a slight exaggeration, but you take the point).

I'm a little more open to play-action, but please, Lord, not on 3rd and 27. Or 2nd and 27. Basically, anything with a 27 in it ... no play-action passes.

I'd like to say I feel a lot better about Pittsburgh's chances this year, but last year, I sure as hell didn't expect them to get rocked twice. Man, that was humiliating. And I know it's cliche, but usually, these two teams beat each others brains out, no matter how well they may be playing before getting together. And that's what I'm expecting this week.

Finally, let's go Colts.


Following up on Glenn following up on my bellyaching about Mike Vrabel, I have a general question about the second-dirtiest player in the league: He played in Pittsburgh from '97 to '00, but does anybody think he would've fit into what the Steelers do defensively on any of the subsequent teams? He's an ass-kicker on the Pats, but I just don't see Pittsburgh having a place for him. I'm not knocking the guy -- if anything, it may say more about the Steelers' scheme ... or I could be completely wrong, Vrabel would be a wonderful fit, in which case, it says more about me being an idiot. Just something to think about.


Eric mentioned this a few days ago, but SCI's Ian Whetstone has an awesome article about what the Steelers can expect to pay for Ben Roethlisberger. I say you pay him whatever he wants, but it sounds like Pittsburgh will do better than that. But with that deal looming this off-season, in all likelihood, and Troy and Kendall signing new deals in the past few months, I'm guessing that seals Alan Faneca's fate. (Or did we already decide that?) I suppose the Steelers could franchise him, but that's not their M.O., and given how ornery Faneca was this summer, I don't think anybody wants to see him when he really gets pissed.

Worst case with Ben: he leaves and Brian St. Pierre finally gets his shot.