Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

02 Oct 2007

Any Given Sunday: Cardinals over Steelers

by Ned Macey

After a disappointing Super Bowl defense in 2006, the Steelers hoped to rebound in 2007 under new head coach Mike Tomlin. After three games, it looked like "mission accomplished," but after a disappointing Sunday in Arizona, the Steelers appear to have some of the same problems as a year ago. Meanwhile, Arizona, a sleeper team for so many years, may finally have the talent to compete for the NFC West championship. A rejuvenated offensive line and an attacking defense complete the shiny toys they have been accumulating for years.

This article should be able to write itself, since according to conventional wisdom, the Cardinals were able to spring the upset because they imported offensive coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm from Pittsburgh. The problem is that a year ago, the Steelers were undone by similar problems with those coaches on the staff.

Much of the blame for last season's mediocre finish was deservedly placed at Ben Roethlisberger's feet for his inconsistent season. Equally responsible, however, was a ground game that struggled, ranking 21st in DVOA. Willie Parker played well, but his boom-and-bust style prevents the Steelers from developing a consistent attack. Parker is hardly helped by an offensive line that no longer controls the line of scrimmage.

In the Steelers' first three games, their vaunted running game appeared to be back in form. This impressive form could have been the result of inferior opponents. The Browns, Bills, and 49ers are hardly a Murderer's Row of defenses, and all have struggled defending the run all season. Parker was averaging 5.0 yards per carry, and Najeh Davenport was dominating short-yardage situations. Things were not so rosy against a quality run defense.

To call Arizona a quality run defense is somewhat surprising but is actually not a new development. The Cardinals have had an above-average run defense DVOA each of the past three seasons. Now, these defenses were far from dominant against the run, but they certainly held their own. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast likes to attack the line of scrimmage, most notably with Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson. Eight men in the box will thwart many rushing attacks.

These complaints about the Pittsburgh running game do not mean that Parker is a bad back. The problem is that Parker struggles to gain consistent yardage on his own. Without a hole, Parker's substantial big play ability is eliminated. Parker had no real chances on Sunday. He gained only 37 yards on 19 carries. Only six carries gained as many as three yards and more than half his yards came on a 20-yard scamper.

When a team stymies the running game, the key for an offense is to make them pay in the passing game. The Steelers had some success with this on Sunday, but the passing game struggled for consistency. Ben Roethlisberger has made a career out of highly efficient play in limited numbers of throws. He did make some plays down the field this week, but was put into too many difficult situations thanks to the anemic ground attack and poor pass protection.

Roethlisberger was sacked four times. If he had been as immobile as Donovan McNabb appeared to be on Sunday night, Roethlisberger too might have gone down 11 times. The Cardinals defensive line dominated the Steelers offensive line, with pressure coming from all over. Darnell Dockett led the sack parade and provides a steady upfield rush. Since the Steelers like to throw the ball down the field, many of these sacks follow deep drops. All four cost the Steelers at least eight yards.

The easy explanation for the offensive line's struggles is the departure of Grimm. The former "Hog" on the Washington Redskins Super Bowl teams has earned almost mythic status as an offensive line guru. Nobody doubts that Grimm is a good coach, but Sunday's game was not a sign that he is a miracle worker. The Steelers line struggled last season with many of the same problems that manifested themselves against Arizona. Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times while making 469 pass attempts last season with Grimm on board.

Referring to an offensive line as a single unit is often times misleading, but on Sunday it may have been accurate. Other than Alan Fancea, who controlled Gabe Watson at the point of attack, each other player had at least one breakdown. Further, the line struggled with communication, failing to deal effectively with delayed blitzes and stunts by the defensive linemen.

On the Steelers' first four offensive drives, this poor offensive line play was implicated. They were forced to punt three times. Two of these drives featured Roethlisberger sacks, while on the third, Parker totaled one yard after runs on first and second down. The only scoring drive was the second drive of the game, which appeared equally doomed when Parker lost six yards on first down and Roethlisberger was sacked for a ten yard loss on second down. Miraculously, the Steelers responded on third-and-26, with Roethliberger throwing a touchdown to Santonio Holmes on inexplicably poor coverage by Arizona.

Admittedly, the offensive line's struggles are attributable in part to the fine play of the Arizona defense. The Cardinals often play a 3-4 base defense to defend the run and then attack the line with linebackers and/or Wilson. Dockett has certainly taken to playing defensive end in the 3-4 and is having by far his best season. He has already set a career high in sacks and is on pace to easily set a career high in tackles.

Winning a game with defense is mildly surprising because the Cardinals were supposed to be filled with offensive playmakers. This offensive juggernaut totaled only 14 points. Admittedly, Anquan Boldin was out last week, but the amount of money and draft picks used to secure Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Edgerrin James, Bryant Johnson, and Matt Leinart was substantial. Obviously, the missing link there is a competent offensive line.

Slowly but surely, the offensive line has started to develop. The Cardinals invested a high first-round pick in Levi Brown but survived his injury on Sunday. One under-the-radar addition was Mike Gandy at left tackle. In an off-season of excess contracts for linemen, the Cardinals wisely added Mike Gandy, an adequate if not dominant tackle, for about $3 million for this season. The departed Leonard Davis, equally mediocre, got $7 million per season to play guard for the Cowboys. The line is not perfect, struggling at times up the middle, especially guard Deuce Lutui, but it definitely is providing an opportunity for the stars to make plays.

The Arizona line has a different responsibility than Pittsburgh because the Cardinals have a different style of running back in Edgerrin James. He has not been a big play threat for years but is better able to make positive plays if given even a sliver of an opening. A season ago, particularly in the first half of the year, that sliver was rarely there, and James was not productive. This season, James is not exactly setting the world on fire, but he is consistently putting the Cardinals in manageable third-down situations. 12 of James' 21 attempts garnered at least three yards, and two other runs gained a first down or touchdown. Keep in mind, the Steelers front seven should be vastly superior to the Cardinals.

Of course, the most interesting story for the Cardinals may be their odd quarterback time-share. Over the past two games, Leinart and Kurt Warner have roughly split the snaps behind center. We have no recent precedent for such an arrangement to intelligently analyze its merits, but this is the Internet, so why not try anyway?

Currently, the Cardinals tend to play heavy sets with Leinart in the game and go to four wide receivers with Warner. Presumably, Whisenhunt knows the relative strengths of his own players and is playing them where they feel comfortable. Leinart sat out for much of the second and third quarter but returned and played well in the fourth, dispelling some worries that the platoon would make the quarterbacks lose rhythm.

Intellectually, anyway, the job-share is certainly an intriguing idea. The Cardinals have two good but not great quarterbacks with different skill sets, so why not put in two different types of offenses for them to run and require opposing teams to scheme for both of them? The problem, of course, will be managing the egos and expectations. The system calls for rampant second-guessing both by the media and within their own clubhouse. If Leinart had struggled in the fourth, it would have been a field day for sports radio but a tense situation in Arizona. If Whisenhunt can manage the personalities, then he is making the right choice. If placating the personalities were easily done, I suspect more people would consider a quarterback platoon.

Whisenhunt's handling of the quarterback situation could determine the Cardinals' fate, as they have the pieces to compete in a mediocre NFC West. They feature a decent defense and a decent offense. That combination might only be good enough for last place in a more competitive division but should have them nipping at the heels of the Seahawks all season in their own division.

In Pittsburgh, this game highlights that this team is far from perfect, but they should remain among the game's elite. The difference-making play in this game was a punt return for a touchdown by Steve Breaston that came after a Pittsburgh penalty nullified good punt coverage. The defense remained stout throughout, and the offensive struggles can at least be partially explained by the absence of Hines Ward. The continued development of Holmes is certainly a positive note going forward.

Still, the Steelers are going to have problems with negative plays all season thanks to their offensive line. Roethlisberger will be sacked and pressured into bad throws. Parker will be stuffed in the backfield. All the Russ Grimms in the world would not help since the same things happened time and again a season ago.

The good news is that the Steelers' remaining schedule features only two teams that currently have winning records, and struggles in Baltimore and Cincinnati make what seemed like a highly-competitive division much less daunting. Even after a loss in Arizona, the Steelers should remain favorites to win their division, although they appear to still be a step below the top AFC teams in Indianapolis and New England.

Each Tuesday in Any Given Sunday, Ned Macey looks at the most surprising result of the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game, but we use these surprises as a tool to explore what trends and subtle aspects of each team are revealed in a single game.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 02 Oct 2007

49 comments, Last at 05 Oct 2007, 12:03am by G

Comments

1
by Mikey (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 12:03pm

There were two pivotal plays in this game.

The punt return for a TD is covered in detail here.

The other play was the INT of Ben in the end zone. This was the play where I though Whiz's knowledge of the Steelers was incredibly important.

Every Steeler fan knows a couple things about the Steelers in the red zone, and Whiz obviously knows them too. One, Ben will absolutely force throws to his first option. Two, Arians loves to go to the TE in goal-to-go.

With Ward sidelined, gambling on a TE curl was a great risk. Wilson stepped in front, turnover, huge momentum swing, and you know the rest.

2
by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 12:05pm

Great article. With a pick thrown in the red zone and a punt return for a touchdown I am concerned we are in 2006 again. McNair appears to be broken down and Cincinatti is as bad as we thought on defense (and possibly worse with injuries to their thin linebacking corps). The injuries on defense to the Steelers have me a little concerned until we find out how serious they are.

3
by centrifuge (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 12:17pm

Still having Russ Grimm wouldn't really help the Steelers much, sure. But did having him on the Cardinals give them extra information about the techniques that work best against the Pittsburgh O-line?

Also, you mentioned Adrian Wilson being in the box, but didn't mention that it was pretty much every play. Losing Hines Ward and replacing him with scrubs, plus knowing they could get good pressure, meant the Cards didn't have to respect the pass at all. Wilson should have been wearing a linebacker jersey.

If Whisenhunt pulls off this QB timeshare, and it looks like he's going to, it will change the way rookie QBs are brought into the league.

4
by Luz (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 12:32pm

i disagree with the label that is often thoughtlessly slapped on parker that he is "boom-or-bust." i think it would be more accurate to apply that descriptor to the offensive line. most of parkers short or negative runs were the direct result of the offensive line letting someone through unblocked. on the plays were parker dodged the free rusher, the poor WR blocking allowed a DB to clean up.

people haven't started to notice yet but parker has turned himself into a pretty good inside rusher, and if the line can get him to the second level cleanly, a home run hitter.

5
by Ben (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 12:38pm

I thought Ben made a lot of plays, and single handedly kept the team in it for a while. However, the Cards were not hiding their intentions on defense at all, and he probably should have audibled to some shorter routes instead of running the play that was called and throwing to his hot read.
Also why did the Steelers not show the no huddle? It seemed like they were unable to adjust to the simple strategy of a full frontal assault.

6
by PD (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 12:49pm

The Steelers also lost Troy Polamalu and Casey Hampton to injuries in the second half, which is kind of important, considering they're the team's two best defensive players. Bryant McFadden and Chris Hoke's injuries added to the pain. But Arizona's clock-killing drive in the fourth quarter that featured seven Edge runs, including a TD, would have been a lot harder to come by if Hampton was still in the game.

7
by dryheat (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 12:52pm

Frankly I didn't think this was much of an upset, probably ranking below Cleveland/Baltimore, Buffalo/New York, and Kansas City/San Diego. Although I guess you just did San Diego last week, and BUF/NY was a rather boring game...

8
by Mikey Benny (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 12:55pm

I have never heard anyone say this: Ben Roethlisberger has very often (not always) been nearly unstoppable at the beginning of games, and when the Steelers are behind. He seems to get complacent when the team is ahead/tied, and plays poorly. Am I the only one who's noticed this?

9
by vanya (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 1:03pm

#7, if you judge by Week 3 DVOA then Buf/NY was hardly an upset - the number 31 team beating the number 30 team. Whereas Ari/PIT is the #13 beating the #2. And, interestingly, KC should have been favored to beat SD.

10
by Trevor (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 1:05pm

Things I observed at the game on Sunday:
- Our run defense is pretty good, but Eric Green is killing us on pass defense. Throwing on that guy is like a money play in Madden, it works 90% of the time. Basically a swap of Rolle's interference calls for interceptions...ugh.
- I know he's a pro-bowl safety, but I'm wondering why they don't try Wilson at LB on some pass plays when they need to get additional pressure.
- Grimm seems to be doing wonders on the O-line when compared to last year. Much improved!
- Lineart seems to have regressed with respect to taking shots downfield, and possibly having touch on the shorter throws. He's getting alot more drops than Warner is with the same recievers. I don't know how this time-share works, the play calls don't seem that much different.

11
by Fire Millen (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 1:07pm

Why not platoon QB's? Almost every other position in the NFL has players rotate in and out based on situation. I thought many times last year that ATL would have been a great place for this with two decent QBs with very different strengths. Ego and public reaction are spurious reasons for not doing this. The only real problems I see with rotating QBs is the dearth of good QB's and the time and effort to get each QB up to speed in learning the playbook/reads.

12
by centrifuge (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 1:10pm

#8: In previous seasons, Cowher was very likely to take the ball out of Ben's hands once the Steelers were ahead, and just try to grind the clock with the run, passing only in obvious situations. That may have contributed to your perception.

Until Sunday, the Steelers were ahead/tied for the entire season, and he looked pretty good then.

13
by Cols714 (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 1:30pm

I think that Arians simply called a bad game. When a team is loading up with run blitzes, call some quick pass plays and screens. This will slow down the pass rush. Also they went very run heavy in the 2nd and 3rd quarters with little success. Sometimes you have to stop banging your head against the wall and go with something else. Regardless if your team is known for its running game.

14
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 1:33pm

3: Even if Ward was on the field, it wouldn't have changed where Wilson was lining up, he's a safety in name only.

15
by Mikey (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 1:34pm

"Also why did the Steelers not show the no huddle?"

This same question bothered me throughout the entire game.

I think that once Ward was declared out, Whiz decided to totally sell out to stop the run and see if Arians had the balls to move out of his play-calling comfort zone. He didn't.

16
by Brooklyn Bengal (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 1:34pm

RE: #8

I recall seeing some stats last year that Big Ben actually throws better when under pressure, outside the pocket or being hit. Yes, his completion percentage actually goes up when he's getting hit. So if you expand on that idea...

17
by MRH (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 1:42pm

Re #9 - #7, if you judge by Week 3 DVOA then Buf/NY was hardly an upset - the number 31 team beating the number 30 team. Whereas Ari/PIT is the #13 beating the #2. And, interestingly, KC should have been favored to beat SD.

See, I think this would have been a good reason to do the KC-SD game. The conventional wisdom (measured by a 12 point spread and the picks in a survivor pool I'm in) strongly favored SD but the FO numbers didn't look that way.

Except that the FO numbers weren't opponent-adjusted yet and that by DAVE SD was still substantially better than the Chiefs. Oh well, I'd hoped to see the Chiefs game here but not to be.

18
by DGL (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 1:44pm

#1: "The other play was the INT of Ben in the end zone. This was the play where I though Whiz’s knowledge of the Steelers was incredibly important.

"Every Steeler fan knows a couple things about the Steelers in the red zone, and Whiz obviously knows them too. One, Ben will absolutely force throws to his first option. Two, Arians loves to go to the TE in goal-to-go."

I dunno, if "every Steeler fan" knows them, then I'd guess that any competent coaching staff that does any scouting would know them too. And since Arians wasn't calling the plays last year, the fact that he loves to go to the TE in goal-to-go isn't any kind of "inside information" based on Whiz being there last year. So let's not hop on the "Whiz and Grimm had inside information" bandwagon.

19
by calig23 (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 1:48pm

I think the reason that the Steelers didn't switch to a no-huddle, spread the field look, was because the O-line was getting destroyed and guys had to be kept in to help block.

And I've said this before, but the Steelers O-line has been the most overrated unit in football for years. I don't think that line has actually been good since about 2001.

20
by Israel (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 2:05pm

Even if Ward was on the field, it wouldn’t have changed where Wilson was lining up, he’s a safety in name only.

But it would have improved the running game due to Hines' blocking.

21
by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 2:42pm

To suggest that Arizona would only be good enough to be last in another division but will compete for the title of the weak NFC West is quite an exaggeration. What other division would they have trouble not being in the cellar in, right now? The AFC South? Possibly. No other division in the league is showing itself to be head & shoulders taller than the NFC West. They'd be competing for 2nd in every other division, at least, and competing for 1st in the AFC West.

When DAVE is gone, I think the NFC West will constitute a different assessment this year.

That aside, I really enjoyed the article. Since I didn't see the game, can you comment more on Alan Faneca not having any breakdowns? Three different Steeler fans I know and respect said he had a bad game. Did they mis-attribute the breakdown, or did he also give up some things to other Cardinals while controlling Gabe Watson all day?

22
by Spacemonkey (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 2:46pm

I love FWP, he's a great back. However -

Sunday's game would have been the textbook reference for Bettis in his younger years. The line simply wasn't making enough room for a runner like FWP, but The Bus makes his own holes...

I don't think Dookie is an all-down or all-game back, but we would have had a great bit more success running last Sunday if we'd had a battering-ram style runner.

23
by Hank (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 3:07pm

Tomlin stated that injuries would never be an excuse- but having troy, hampton and ward in there certainly would have helped. Tomlin also stated his error on the punt td, the gunners were going to be tired after sprinting downfield. That's a rookie hc mistake and one I doubt Tomlin will ever make again. I also don't think Leinart has the maturity to handle sharing qb duties. Warner, yes, definitely. But Leinart- or any young qb, especially a guy who was a superstar in college and has that superstar ego may revolt under the doubt and jealousy.

24
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 3:10pm

"But Leinart- or any young qb, especially a guy who was a superstar in college and has that superstar ego may revolt under the doubt and jealousy."

Why are QBs any different than anyone else? Superstars at other positions seem to have no difficulty sharing time.

I have a hard time believing that players who've made it to the NFL are really that fragile.

I think the lack of dual QB systems is more a product of a generally large dropoff in talent between the backup and starter, not some ego thing.

25
by TomC (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 3:16pm

Having watched Mike Gandy's disastrous stint as 7th-option-at-left-tackle for the 2004 Bears and occasionally catching his turnstile act with Buffalo, I have a very hard time believing he's even a replacement-level LT in Arizona. But seeing as I'm a bit short on Cardinals game film at the moment, I'll have to take Ned's word for it.

26
by SGT Ben (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 3:34pm

Two wins and two weeks without the Browns being mentioned. I really thought that a talented Arizona team beating the Steelers (who's line troubles have been enumerated many times) would be less surprising than the way that the Browns beat the Ravens. Particularly when you consider how poorly the Ravens defense played for much of the game.

I do understand that McNair was hobbled and ineffective (due mostly to injury)...but what about the rest of the team. Andersons 2nd TD throw was actually (IMO) poorly thrown...but McCallister was beaten so badly, that it made no difference. Little has been said about this anywhere...

That being said, go Browns!

27
by Disco Stu (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 3:44pm

Great quotes from PKing's MMQB Tues column from Leinert-

"If I'm the franchise quarterback, play me and let me stumble, because I'll fight through it, and that will help me and our team in the long run. I know coaches want to win now, and they have their reasons. But I don't understand, and this switching back and forth is almost worse than getting benched."

PK then rightly (in my opinion) excoriates Leinert for not having the "whatever it takes to win the game" attitude.

28
by SGT Ben (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 3:45pm

#4

Is the reason for Willie Parkers losses (hence his Boom or Bust tag) due to poor lineblocking, or due to his penchant for dancing in the hole instead of hitting it. I think it's a product of both happening. Holes close quick, so if you don't hit them quick, you're taking a loss. When he hits the hole with authority (on a consistent basis) he'll make more big plays...and the O-line will look better. Personally, I like the tap-dancing he does...gives me hope the Browns can beat them the next time they play! lol

29
by B (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 4:11pm

I think the real problem with the QB platoon is it doesn't give the receivers and the QBs enough time to get familiar with each other.

30
by Cols714 (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 4:12pm

#28
If you've watched Parker this year, you would have noticed he does very little dancing in the hole. I think Arizona just beat the Steelers O-line that badly and whenever he tried to turn it outside, Ward was missed.

31
by JCRODRIGUEZ (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 4:37pm

Basically, I think that this was the best time to get a reality check on the O-Line, and hope that while we get on track for a divisional title, we work out and fine tune the line play...it's better to peak late than early...let's just hope that the injuries are not a long term issue, specially on Troy's...

32
by BD (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 5:57pm

My understanding on platoon QB's is this:

Starter-Backup usually split practice reps 90-10. 2 Starters means those reps are split 50-50. In other words, neither QB ends up adequately prepared.

33
by Matt (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 6:30pm

#28 -- LOL! LOL indeed! Except that, as #30 notes, I don't see Willie Parker dancing in the hole when there is a hole there. Maybe two years ago, and maybe on rare occasions still, but most often this year and last I have seen him cutting on dimes and bursting through seams. So I just don't see the evidence of it -- especially not in his routinely superb games against the Browns.

On QB platooning, I don't know that superstars at other positions necessarily platoon that much. Maybe D- lineman and LBs who play situationally, and whatnot, but I'd say (based on admittedly unscientific observation) that star RBs and WRs and most stars in general are in most of their teams packages. Furthermore, nobody even notices half the time when certain guys are in certain sub packages. So I admit that public perception and other such trivia are not a good argument against platooning if it works, but QB is a different position than all others because of the attention paid to it. Leinartian ego is not a good excuse to make bad coaching decisions, but ego and media pressure and public scrutiny are not factors that can simply be ignored either when you talk about a player's mental development and maturation.

Finally, on the Steeler O-Line, I wanted to ask for further comment on Ned's statement about judging this unit as a whole. My problem with convincing myself of the unit's subpar status, even in the face of the mounting evidence, is that no one particular player on the line seems to be downright bad. Maybe I am just fooling myself. Mahan is not particularly strong, Simmons is not aggressive enough and tends to get by on his speed when he has success, Colon is very young, Faneca may be overrated just a tad, etc. But are their deficiencies as a whole against good D-Lines due to (1) bad communication or schemes or coaching (under both Cowher and Tomlin now); (2) the fact that they are just average or worse in the aggregate, or (3) the fact that, whatever my homer tendencies tell me to the contrary, there are some real glaring weaknesses at individual spots?

34
by rk (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 8:06pm

Does anyone remember the Steelers running any play-action passes? With the amount of handoffs on 1st and 2nd down and the way the pass rush was coming, it seems that a couple play fakes would have gone a long way toward opening things up. Perhaps a draw play as well.

Also, Travis Kirschke's playing NT at the end of the game had a lot to do with the D's looking shabby.

35
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 10/02/2007 - 8:42pm

32.

THeres more than one veteran QB in the NFL that either doesn't attend practice, or is limited to marginal snaps during practice. Tom Brady for example, is listed as probable every week because he misses legitimate amounts of snaps in practice, because they don't want him throwing a lot of balls (bad shoulder).

IIRC, as a Titan, McNair was extremely limited in practices due to injury. I would think the split would be more likely something like 70/30 or 80/20 with Leinart getting the vast majority of the snaps, because Warner is less likely to need the practice.

36
by Red (not verified) :: Wed, 10/03/2007 - 12:37am

Are the people who are bringing up the Steelers injuries also forgetting that Arizona lost both Anquan Boldin and Levi Brown this week?

Arizona had a 3rd string RT and only gave up 2 sacks to a good pass rush. Grimm is worth every penny he is getting paid.

37
by another dean from aus (not verified) :: Wed, 10/03/2007 - 12:37am

Has Arizona's interchanging a left and right handed quarterback provoked any flipping of ends in the defensive fronts opposing them? Probably irrelevant to a 3-4 defence. Have edge blitzes against Warner's passing package been against his blind side?

38
by Daniel (not verified) :: Wed, 10/03/2007 - 1:07am

Didn't Tom Landry have some success using a QB platoon system in the mid-1970's with Roger Staubach and Craig Morton?

I think it is a bit early to worry about the Steeler's o-line. I know that they struggled last year, and some of those tendencies appear to be showing again this year. Most of last year's struggles were the result of nagging injuries, Hartings wearing down, and Max Starks regressing. So far, Mahan and Colon seem to be playing O.K. and there is reason to believe that they will get better as the year goes on. I think much of the problem they had running against the Cardinals was because TE Matt Spaeth was out. I know he's just a rookie, but he has really helped their running game and pass protection.

39
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Wed, 10/03/2007 - 1:14am

The problem with quick slants and screens (as someone suggested the Steelers should have tried against Arizona) is that Ben Roethlisberger can't throw them. It's his one glaring weakness: He has no consistent feel on short passes.

I don't think quick slants, short crossing patterns, etc., are in Pittsburgh's playbook.

40
by Alex (not verified) :: Wed, 10/03/2007 - 2:53am

I would think the split would be more likely something like 70/30 or 80/20 with Leinart getting the vast majority of the snaps, because Warner is less likely to need the practice.

Does Warner really need any practice at all? At least, beyond the amount that a typical backup gets? He was winning MVP awards when Leinart was in high school. What does he really gain by getting more snaps in practice? It's not like he still has to develop as a QB, he's about to retire. A few snaps to shake off the weekly rust would be plenty, right?

41
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Wed, 10/03/2007 - 11:43am

Does Warner really need any practice at all? At least, beyond the amount that a typical backup gets?
Just to work on timing. And since he's running a specific package for the Cardinals (the hurry-up), he can get all the snaps they would normally use to practice that particular package, to work on timing.

42
by Rajiv Kulkarni (not verified) :: Wed, 10/03/2007 - 12:57pm

I agree with a lot of what was said about the O-line not opening holes for Parker and Roethlisberger forcing balls in close. However, I think the penalties causing multiple and multiple 3rd and over 10 yards to go are hard to overcome against any defense, let alone one that has its ears pinned back coming full steam. I am not worried that Pittsburgh will fall into 2006 and that is mostly because of Tomlin. They don't like to lose again and that was missing in 2006. Arizona is on the right path and will fight for the division soon if not this year.

43
by Pariah (not verified) :: Wed, 10/03/2007 - 4:15pm

Everyone likes to bring up the Steelers' injury woes when talking about the Cardinals' victory. It's rarely mentioned that the Cardinals were playing without their best football player in Boldin and were down to their #3 RT in Elton Brown (Oliver Ross and #5 overall pick Levi Brown did not suit up). Also, the Cards were missing their leading sackmaster from last year in Chiki Okeafor.

The game was not lost by the a depleted Steelers. It was won by a depleted Cardinals.

44
by Scott (not verified) :: Wed, 10/03/2007 - 9:07pm

#39, the only time Roethlisberger seems to throw a slant is deep in the redzone for a TD pass to Hines Ward. They don't throw them anywhere else.

It took 4 games for the o-line to finally be exposed for the awful unit I thought they'd be. That was the biggest problem on the field Sunday. The biggest problem the Steelers had period was their offensive playcalling and lack of adjustments. Arizona sold out for the run, yet Pittsburgh just called runs on 1st and 2nd down, and set up 3rd & long all day. Completely retarded playcalling. Of course when they would pass the o-line would be penetrated in no time and Ben had to scramble. I still think I'd take my chances with those plays (he made several great ones to Holmes) instead of running it up the middle for nothing all the time.

FWP's limitations become more and more obvious.

45
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Wed, 10/03/2007 - 10:24pm

For the record, throughout the entire Cowher era and to the present day, the Steelers o-line has always sucked at pass blocking. They've been usually good-to-awesome at run blocking, as the Steelers' organizational philosophy has long cherished run blocking. But the pass protection was merely OK during the O'Donnell years (thanks mostly to Dermontti Dawson), and horrible during the Stewart, Maddox and Roethlisberger eras.

The Steelers were the best team in football in 2004-2005 because Ben Roethlisberger was unworldly at handling pressure. Roethlisberger has always had to deal with defenders flying through the line at him, but his brilliance at handling the pressure died when his face hit that windshield. That wreck seems to have robbed him of his unflappability, and where before he would elude pressure and wait for the play to develop downfield, now he can't seem to do both at once. It's a subtle change, but it makes all the difference.

I wonder if anyone will really understand how good, and how vital to his team, Ben Roethlisberger was in 2004-2005. He's the new Bert Jones.

46
by Scott (not verified) :: Wed, 10/03/2007 - 11:34pm

45, Watching every snap of his pro career, I can agree with that. The pass protection has never been great in Pittsburgh, but Ben was good enough 04-05 to disguise it. Now post-accident he's just not as good as before. His deep ball (specifically down the middle of the field) just doesn't work anymore. He used to be so great at those plays, getting it out to Burress or Randle El or Wilson. Now it's a miracle if it's not intercepted.

47
by Kevin (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 12:07pm

Willie does not dance very much any more. He has become more of a one cut and go type runner. The problem for Willie is that it appears that he is dancing on the outside runs and stretch plays because the line often takes bad angles or gets beat. So, Willie has to try to avoid a 300lb guy in the backfield. That is not what I would consider to be dancing. That is doing whatever it takes to not go down. Not many backs in this league can take on a 300 pounder and move him forward.

48
by Kevin (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 12:22pm

Those who lament the post-accident Roethlisberger are overstating Ben's problems and blaming the accident. Ben's problem the past two years has not been that he is no longer inflappable, it has been due to his injuries and the fact that he has been taking more direct hits. Look at the Baltimore and Jacksonville games last year. When Ben gets hit hard rather than guys reaching out and grabbing him, he is not the same QB. Neither are Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Remember the 2005 divisional game and the way the Steelers had Manning dancing. Or what about the 2004 regular season game against the Pats in which Brady was dancing. QBs are people and when people take hits like that, they are going to play worse in the vast majority of those games. The Steelers will not have an issue if the line allows people to reach out and grab Ben. He has tremendous capacity to escape a rush. We are doomed if the hits are more like Bart Scott's hit from the 1st Balt game last year.

49
by G (not verified) :: Fri, 10/05/2007 - 12:03am

Amazing how little credit the Cards are given - supposedly they'd be in last in another division. Whatever - as good as this article is, it's obvious the guy writing this article lost a bunch betting against the Cards. It's amazing there are peeps still out there who think the PIT lost more than the Cards won. This was not some fluky win over a good team (like it has been for the Cards the past 20 years). They dominated PIT in the trenches and beat them at their own game. Mark this down - barring the injury bug, the Cards will win the NFC West.