Friday, September 19, 2008

Game Preview - Pittsburgh comes to The Linc


PIT 2-0
PHI 1-1

The Steelers are one of the best teams in the AFC. They won the AFC North last year and look like the favorites to win the division again. They beat Cleveland in a bizarre game on Sunday night, 10-6. Bill Cowher has been gone for a couple of years now, but the team doesn't look all that different to me. They have a good defense, run the ball, and get big plays in the passing game. Mike Tomlin is maybe adding a bit more speed to the defense, but he hasn't changed too much since taking over. A smart coach knows you don't mess too much with a good thing.

Top Players

QB Ben Roethlisberger - I think Big Ben is underrated by a lot of people. He threw for 32 TDs last year. His career rating is 93.4. Ben has taken the Steelers to the postseason in 3 of 4 years, aside from '08 of course. He doesn't get to throw a ton of passes, so his totals will never rival Manning, McNabb or Gus Frerotte (checking to see who's paying attention). Ben does make his throws count. He throws a TD every 17.9 attempts. Donovan throws one every 21.7. Ben has a good arm. He's athletic and mobile. He will make some boneheaded passes at times. He'll throw his share of INTs.

RB Willie Parker - His nickname is "Fast Willie Parker". Guess what his best asset is? Parker isn't just a speed guy. He is a quality RB who can move the chains or bust off big plays. He has more than 320 carries each of the last two years. He's already got 53 this year.

WR Hines Ward - I think most people know about Hines. Leads the team with 11 catches and 3 TDs. Tough guy and clutch player. Excellent in the red zone. Lines up in the slot down there a lot and knows how to get open. More than just a possession guy, but not the big play threat he was in the past.

WR Santonio Holmes - The speed guy. Has the Steelers long pass play of the year (48 yds) and averages 16.1 ypc. Averaged 18 last year. Doesn't catch a lot of passes, but makes impact plays because of his speed.

G Chris Kemoeatu - The replacement for Alan Faneca at LG. Lots of potential. Huge guy and very physical blocker. Nimble enough to pull effectively. Still a young guy learning how to play, but could be very good.

NT Casey Hampton - Massive dude. Weighed in the 400-pound range in the summer. He's down to only 2 Whoppers a day and has shed some pounds. Does a great job of controlling the middle of the line and making running difficult for opposing teams.

DE Aaron Smith - The 3-4 is good when it has playmaking LBs. It becomes great when DL are able to make plays. Think about the Pats and Richard Seymour. Smith isn't on his level, but the Steelers are significantly better when Smith plays well. He's already got a couple of sacks this year.

S Troy Polamalu - Impact DB. Plays the run like a LB. Solid cover guy. Not the kind of DB who will shut receivers down, but does make things happen. Already has a couple of INTs and 3 PDs.


The Steelers believe in running the ball. A lot. They pound you with Parker, then mix in rookie Rashard Mendenhall. They will use Ward and Holmes on End Around runs.

The OL is big enough to pound on guys and move them off the ball. They also move pretty well. RG Kendall Simmons can pull and block out in space. Kemoeatu pulled to his right several times on Monday and was effective. They ran a version of the Counter Tray, with the LG and TE pulling to the right, agains the Browns. That worked well a few times. The OL is solid at pass protection, but not nearly as good as Dallas. Big Ben has been sacked 4 times this year and went down 47 last season. LT Marvel Smith isn't a shutdown pass blocker. He's more of a run-pass combo blocker.

Pittsburgh does throw the ball well when they do pass. Big Ben has the #1 QB rating in the entire league right now. He's completing more than 76 percent of his throws. He's only got one less TD pass than McNabb. They have 25 completions on the year. 18 have gone to WRs. 6 have gone to TEs. The FB has the other catch. The Steelers really believe in throwing to WRs. TE Heath Miller is a gifted receiver as well, but spends most of his time blocking.

Their offense has always used trick plays to keep defenses off guard. They haven't done anything too wild yet, but this is the kind of game where I could see them doing something.


The Steelers run the 3-4. They are a big, physical team (as opposed to Dallas which is built more for speed). Pittsburgh does a lot of blitzing. They zone blitz better than anyone else in the NFL. On any given play between 2 and 7 guys will rush the passer/attack upfield. You just don't know who. They do a lot of stemming. That is when defensive guys jump around and shift prior to the snap in order to confuse the offense. It works. They already have 15 TFLs.

The DL are used to control the LOS so that the LBs can attack and make plays. I didn't mention one LB in the Players section because there isn't really one guy who is significantly better than the others. The group is good. They also play quite a few guys, giving everyone a chance to contribute. James Farrior is the key ILB. James Harrison is the key OLB and pass rusher. LaMarr Woodley is a young guy with a good motor and a lot of potential.

The secondary is solid. Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor are good CBs. Polamalu is an elite S and Ryan Clark is the other starter. I've liked him since he was in college. Not a flashy guy, but gets the job done.


Former Eagle Mitch Berger is the Punter and Jeff Reed is the PK. Berger, who played for us when Kotite was still coach, is filling in for Daniel Sepulveda who's out for the year. Reed is a good kicker.

The KOR is rookie Rashard Mendenhall. The PR is former Vike Mewelde Moore. PIT is only averaging 17 yds per KOR. That's a nice change from Felix Jones. Moore is having an odd year. He's only returned 2 punts...and only for -2 yards. Last week's bad weather game at CLE didn't help the return stats.


Our defense is in for a long day. They are coming off a short week and have to play arguably the most physical team in the league. That will be tough. The good news is that this is only September and guys are pretty healthy so the short week isn't a killer.

We know PIT will run the ball over and over. We have to control them. The Steelers ran the ball very well in our preseason meeting, especially early on. I think that was based on poor alignment and technique by our guys. Those problems should get corrected. Even if we do stop them, Pittsburgh will continue running the ball. That is just what they do.

Look at our defense in groupings. Mike Patterson, Brod Bunkley, and Stewart Bradley need to control the middle. That trio has to limit the effectiveness of inside runs. Outside runs will need the DE, OLB, and S to play well as a group. Someone has to set the edge and not let the RB get wide. You have to force the runner back to the middle or cause him to run way wide, where the pursuit can catch him. If Parker is able to get upfield easily, we're in for a long day. We also must tackle well.

Our defense loves to pursue. I'm sure PIT will work in some plays to try and take advantage of that. Cutback runs, End Arounds, bootlegs...those kind of plays test defenders. They force guys to be disciplined. You can bet we'll see them.

We've struggled with TEs the first couple of games. It will be interesting to see if PIT tries to get the ball more to Heath Miller because of that or if they stick with getting it to the wideouts. When they do throw, I think we can get pressure on Big Ben. Cole should be able to get by Smith at LT a time or two.

The defender who may need to come up big in this game is Quintin Mikell. He'll be the 8th guy in the box quite a bit. He has to get to the ballcarrier and make the play. That's his strength. A big game from Q will really help to limit their rushing attack.

Our offense should be able to move the ball on them. Anyone who saw the Browns game saw Braylon Edwards drop a few passes. There were openings in the pass defense. CLE did a poor job of executing. The Steelers don't have any DB who matches up well with DeSean Jackson.

The key for us will be protecting McNabb. The OL, TEs, and backs have to really do their homework to understand the PIT blitz scheme. If we block them, we can throw the ball. Last week Andy really focused on protection and it worked. I'll be interested to see if he tries that again.

The Steelers are built to stop the run. They want to force teams to throw so they can blitz. We throw all the time anyway. It will be interesting to see how this battle plays out. Westy didn't have a good day at all in 2004 against them, but he is much better now and we've got a bigger, stronger OL. I'd love to see Brian run for 80 yards in this game.

I think Andy/Marty will be aggressive early on. PIT isn't built to play from behind. If you can get up a couple of TDs, they have to throw the ball a bit more. Getting up a couple of TDs certainly isn't easy, though. I could see us going deep a few extra times in this game. Go with max protection and test their secondary. The Steelers are a much different team if you can get them out of their comfort zone. Could this be the week we finally see the flea flicker?

The Steelers have only given up 23 points this year. Dallas scored 24 on us in the 1st half. The flip side of that is they faced the Texans and a struggling Browns team in bad weather. Their defense hasn't played against an offense like ours to this point. They have a lot to prove.

Our defense struggled last week, but PIT doesn't have those kind of offensive weapons. Nor do they attack like that. We'll play better in terms of yards and points. The big test for our defense is to play strong, physical football and win the LOS. We got shoved around in '04. I actually laughed when watching the tape of that game. Darwin Walker looked like he was on roller skates. We're a different kind of defense now. We get to prove just how different on Sunday.


* We do have the #1 run defense in the NFL. You can say part of that is on STL being a bad team, but only allowing 2.7 ypc is pretty good.

* DeSean is 4th in the NFL in receiving yards. He should be one yard closer to the top, though. Hold onto the ball this week.

* Reggie is expected to play. I don't think he'll have a significant impact or anything like that. I am curious as to who sits. Could it be Schobel?

* We did force 2 turnovers on Monday. We need to keep that rolling.

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