Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
06 Feb 2006
This week, the Football Outsiders staff responds to Super Bowl XL in our usual roundtable e-mail discussion.
Mike Tanier: So what do Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tanier have in common? Neither of us crossed the goal line in the first half.
I try to not to complain about calls, but c'mon.
The Steelers are playing a lot of Cover-3, it looks like, and the Seahawks are trying to beat them by throwing hitches along the sideline. It's working to some extent, because they are hitting on lots of 7 and 8-yard completions. But the Steelers took away everything deep in the first half, and they are a tough team to execute 13-play drives against.
As for the Steelers offensive gameplan, well, after championing Whisenhunt I haven't seen much. Almost every positive play has been the result of freelancing.
Bill Moore: I don't think Roethlisberger got in, but I'm not surprised the review didn't overturn. Not conclusive. Can't see exactly where the ball is in the air. No goal line cameras is a joke, but where's ABC's 3-D technology to show the plane of the goal line? I can't believe that hasn't been created yet. But the real travesty is this:
The Darrell Jackson Non-TD at the end of the first half: How is that 1) not a TD, and 2) not reviewed? He catches the ball with left foot inbounds and his right foot hits the pylon. TD, right? Got no commentary other than Al Michaels saying "ooooh."
Hines Ward MVP?
Al Bogdan: Yeah, I voted for Hines.
Total Access on Wednesday should be interesting with the usual interview with Mike Pereira. Four awful calls cost Seattle 14 points and 45 yards. The Roethlisberger TD, the Jackson pass interference/non-TD, the Locklear holding call where he barely had a hand on the defender, and the truly ridiculous 15-yard low block call on Hasselbeck.
Even with those calls, though, Seattle didn't play as well as they should have, especially in the second half. The defense looked undisciplined on some crucial plays. How do you not stay in coverage when the Steelers give the ball to Randle El behind the line of scrimmage? How many times was Rothlisberger given wide open running lanes to get a first down or close to it? On the crucial third down when Seattle was down to only one time out left, Madden was right on calling a Roethlisberger bootleg. The entire defense collapsed around Bettis giving Ben an easy first down even with that awful spot.
Michael David Smith: Polamalu has deserved the attention he's gotten in the playoffs, but he didn't play very well today. The Stevens touchdown was totally his fault, and he wasn't nearly as influential against the run as he usually is. And speaking of Stevens, did he just have the worst game any tight end has had all year? How many times can you get hit right in the hands with a ball and not catch it?
Roethlisberger was lousy today. I really hate the fact that I turned to ESPNews after the game and the first thing I heard was, "Roethlisberger becomes the youngest quarterback to win the Super Bowl." Roethlisberger is about the last player who deserved to be mentioned.
My three MVP choices for the Steelers...
1. Hines Ward
2. Casey Hampton
3. The officials. A badly officiated game, and almost all the questionable/bad calls went in the Steelers' favor. I don't think Roethlisberger scored. I think the Jackson PI was questionable. I think the hold on Locklear was a terrible call, and I'm the guy who said before the game that Locklear holds all the time. The personal foul on Hasselbeck was absurd. Joey Porter probably should have gotten called for a horse-collar tackle. Peter Warrick's long punt return was called back on a hold that I didn't see (although just because i didn't see it doesn't mean it didn't happen.)
But Seattle shouldn't just blame the officials. Mike Holmgren is one of the best offensive minds in NFL history, but he did an awful job calling plays today. What on earth was Seattle doing at the end of both halves? And, hey, Tom Rouen, this isn't Canada. You don't get a point for kicking one into the end zone.
Al Bogdan: I forgot about Seattle's awful special teams. Rouen had some bad punts deep into the endzone, but a couple of those were downable inside the 20 if the Seahawks had anything resembling a punt coverage team. And what was Warrick thinking not catching that ball at the 20, and instead letting roll down to the two yard line?
On Seattle's poor time management, I didn't agree with their decision not to go for it on 4th down with 6:30 to go. Even if it's 4th and 13, you're cutting it very close to having enough time to score twice if you give the ball over to Pittsburgh there. If you punt it or don't convert, you still need to stop them on the first or second set of downs to have any shot at winning. Seattle was at midfield, so if they turn the ball over on downs, Pittsburgh isn't in field goal range, even after they get the first down. You have to go for it there.
Ryan Wilson: Don't have much to add, but the Stevens touchdown was a function of a good play call by Holmgren. Polamalu got picked and didn't have a chance to make a play. Give credit to Seattle. The holding call against Seattle was bogus, the low block against Hasselbeck was also bogus, but otherwise, I was fine with the officiating (spoken like a true Steelers fan). I was surprised Tom Brady didn't get the MVP for the coin toss and, oh yeah, Stevens is awful.
Mike Tanier: I think Holmgren called a very good game except at the end of the first half. End of the second half, forget about it, there's nothing you can do. Remember, Holmgren doesn't tell Hasselbeck to throw in the flat to Stevens; Hasselbeck reads the defense and figures Stevens has the best chance to get out of bounds.
Absolutely, viciously terrible officiating. I hate putting the game on the ref's shoulders, but I could not believe what I was watching on several plays. I really have a hard time writing about what the Steelers did well or what the Seahawks did poorly. Yes, the Steelers made big plays on offense and shut down the run fairly well on defense. But I know if I was a Seahawks fan this would ruin my spring and summer. I watched the Eagles get beat last year. The Seahawks ... I just hate to use the term "robbed". But ...
Michael David Smith: Polamalu looked to me like he was looking to the inside all the way on that touchdown catch by Stevens even though his responsibility was on the outside, which is why I think he deserves more blame than Seattle deserves credit. It's hard to say for sure without knowing the defensive call, but I think it's on Polamalu.
Aaron Schatz: Let me start by saying the following: The Pittsburgh Steelers are a great team. I am happy for Bill Cowher -- I never, ever bought that crap about Bill Cowher "not being able to win when it counted" or some such nonsense. I am happy for good guys like Bettis and Ward. I am happy for our man Sean Morey. I am happy for Big Ben, who is going to be a Hall of Famer someday. I am happy for Ryan, I am happy for all the Steelers fans who have supported our site, I am happy for all those fans who haven't had a title in over 25 years. The option play was an awesome play call. The Deshea Townsend blitz was an amazing play call. Casey Hampton was darn swell.
I am glad to see that everyone pretty much agrees with me. I feel so disappointed. I don't feel that the refs stole this game from the Seahawks. I feel that the refs stole a great game from us, the fans of the other 30 teams. Nothing says that with better officiating, Seattle would have won. Nothing says that if Seattle goes up 17-14, Big Ben can't march the Steelers down the field and win the game in the final minute. But wow, I really would have liked to see him try. I can't remember another Super Bowl where I came away saying that the officiating was horrible, and totally slanted towards one team.
Most of the egregious calls have been mentioned, but if I can add a couple more: Roethlisberger's Delay of Game where they gave him a timeout after the clock hit zero, and the fact that the folks upstairs did not review the play where Darrell Jackson's foot hit the pylon. I don't know, what's the rule on that? Clearly he had one foot in and the other one hit the pylon before landing out of bounds.
Watching in Boston, with no Pittsburgh fans and no Seattle fans, by the end of the game we were just screaming at the refs. The Locklear call was the worst, as Ian Dembsky pointed out, the Steelers were doing the same "shove" move on Grant Wistrom the entire first half. We started marking down every play where Pittsburgh was holding. When Randle El caught the seven-yard pass on third-and-6, Hartings was yanking on the jersey and shoulder of Darby. On Big Ben's scramble for a first down, Hines Ward yanked on Trufant's arm to keep him away from Big Ben.
They say holding happens on every play in the NFL. Every play is a judgment call. Fine, but why should all the iffy judgment calls go one way? You don't want to think about conspiracies, but it just seemed like for two weeks, the league, ABC/ESPN, the city of Detroit, and the NFL wanted the Seahawks to just go away so the Steelers could have the title, like Seattle wasn't even in the game. They ran those black and white vingettes of players talking about winning the trophy and the FIRST FOUR were Pittsburgh players. Maybe the way the officials acted was just subconscious.
Seriously, what was the deal with 90% of the tickets going to Pittsburgh fans? How does that work? Where did the corporate fat cats go who usually get these tickets? The Super Bowl shouldn't be a home game for one of the teams.
You don't want to fault the Pittsburgh players. Some of them didn't play their best games -- Walter Jones owned Kimo Von Oelhoffen, for example -- but they took advantage of their opportunities. And Seattle made mistakes. Dropped passes, Tom Rouen is terrible, the time management at the end of the second half was horrific, Michael Boulware overpursued on the play where Parker had the first 16+-yard run against the Seahawks since November and then there was nobody behind him, they didn't give Alexander the ball enough in the middle of the game, they started blitzing in the third quarter and the Steelers were picking them apart until Big Ben threw the interception to Kelly Herndon.
But I feel so unsatisfied.
Pat Laverty: That chop block call on Hasselbeck was horrendous. He was making the tackle exactly how the other 31 QBs would have. Throw your back at the ball carrier's feet. He made the tackle. He wasn't going after the blocker, he was going after the ball carrier. That official needs a serious review.
Tim Gerheim: This is the first game of the playoffs, and the first game generally in a long time, that I didn't care even the slightest bit who won. Usually after the game I find that I'm either glad or disappointed even if I didn't think I was rooting for one team or the other, but not tonight. Maybe it has something to do with the disappointing course of the game, but maybe it just means I don't care about these teams.
Right after the game, I commented that I had no idea how Pittsburgh won the game. The conclusion was that the defense played pretty well and the offense got a few big plays. Plus, unavoidably, the officiating. But that's still not a very satisfying explanation. I didn't think it was a case of Seattle just losing the game, but I have a hard time giving the Steelers a lot of credit. All in all a disappointing Super Bowl.
Oh, and I'm sorry, but since when do the Rolling Stones suck? Maybe nobody's good at halftime of the Super Bowl, but that was a terrible show.
Russell Levine: Well I think it's a little unfair to say the Roethlisberger TD call cost the Seahawks seven points. If he's ruled down, that's fourth-and-goal at the six-inch line, and a good chance that Pittsburgh goes for it, given that the Steelers still had timeouts to spend on defense had they been stopped.
The offensive pass interference call I don't think falls in the category of "horrible". He clearly extended his arms ... which is what every official looks for, and his action is what created the separation and the touchdown.
Plus, he did it in the end zone, with no one else around, and about six feet from the official.
Still, Seattle got the worst of it with the refs today. Not sure what happened on the Jackson play at the end of the half. Since ABC only showed the one replay, I don't know what happened for sure, but I thought it looked to be out of bounds at first glance.
I will throw another bad call that hurt Seattle at you. Joey Porter absolutely took Alexander down with a horse collar on the play before Hasselbeck threw the interception at the goal line. That would have been an automatic first down. On the replay, you could Porter clearly reach inside the jersey and take Alexander down by the shoulder pads. That's textbook.
Still, the Seahawks screwed up clock management at the end of both halves, missed two field goals, and generally looked discombobulated. Nobody on that team is going to sleep tonight. This was a game that was right there for the taking. Pittsburgh made a few big plays, but at no point did you feel like they were carrying the play. Seattle moved at will between the 30s, then fell apart in the maroon zone. They beat themselves as much as anything.
Al Bogdan: I didn't think Jackson was in on that play at the end of the first half. I saw his left foot hit in bounds, but I didn't see the right foot hit the pylon.
While I am 100% behind everyone that the officiating was awful and the bad calls were slanted against Seattle, let's not forget how many chances Seattle blew for itself without the bad calls. Awful special teams play all game. Terrible time management at the end of both halves. Not recognizing Pittsburgh's two gimmick plays, even when Madden called the Randle El pass before the play happened. Hasselbeck underthrowing a ball by five yards for his interception in the fourth quarter when Seattle could have taken the lead. Not stopping Pittsburgh from getting a first down twice on their final drive because of overpursuit on both the little Rande El screen and Roethlisberger bootleg. Even with the bad calls, Seattle should have won that game.
Michael David Smith: The NFL rulebook, of course, isn't available to the unwashed masses, so we're just going to have to speculate about whether the Jackson pass that he caught but was ruled out of bounds was a touchdown. But I think this is the relevant rule:
A player no longer can be ruled out of bounds when he touches a pylon unless he already touched the boundary line.
I just watched the play again. Jackson's left foot was in bounds and his right foot touched the pylon. I honestly don't know if that's a touchdown or not, but I do know that's exactly the type of play the league was thinking about when it made the rule that the booth is supposed to stop the game and review the previous play when there's a close call within the last two minutes.
I do think the earlier pass interference on Jackson was the right call -- it's just that it's a right call that NFL officials ignore at least half the time.
Pat Laverty: A reporter with any guts at all would go to Joey Porter today and ask him if he's still sickened about the one-sided officiating. If he says anything other than yes, he should be called out on it, big time.
Ned Macey: I think everything that needs to be said about the officiating has been said. I didn't think all the calls were that bad, but everything did seem to go against Seattle. After the Steelers survived the Colts in similar situations, I doubt they have much sympathy for the Seahawks.
The fact that the Seahawks came a couple plays away from winning is a pretty large indictment of the quality of play. The Seahawks missed two field goals. They threw a pick in the red zone. They gave up a 75-yard run. They gave up a trick play that involved Randle El and Ward (if it had been Haynes throwing to Wilson, then maybe I would understand, but how are you not ready for Randle El to Ward?). Stevens did his best Koren Robinson impersonation, and the list goes on.
I have two substantive thoughts. First, the Steelers three touchdown drives all involved a big play, and as usual, big plays are made possible by bad plays by the safeties. Seahawks and Titans' fans can discuss at length between who was worse, Anthony Dorsett or Pruitt, but what was more troubling was Boulware was responsible for two. He let Ward come free on the third and forever play down to the one. Then, he got caught inside on the Parker run and couldn't make a play even though he wasn't blocked. Of course, Pruitt should never have let it go for more than 20 yards, but Boulware (and a block from Faneca on Hill) let Parker get into the open field.
My other thought was that the Seahawks lost this game in the first quarter. They were clearly the better prepared team, and Roethlisberger was overwhelmed by the situation. They dominated the entire quarter and only led 3-0. They kept stalling around midfield, and Rouen kept punting into the end zone (and were it not for Stevens, he was certainly the goat of the game). If they had gone up 10 or 14 points, then they likely would have been able to control the game.
By the way, the Steelers kept their streak of preventing 100 yard rushers by allowing 95 yards on 20 carries to Alexander.
Aaron Schatz: It's interesting. We're all listing all the things Seattle did wrong, trying to prove to ourselves that Seattle would have lost the game even with fair officiating. We're really not talking much about Pittsburgh players who did not have good games, botched plays by the Steelers, things they did badly. But if the controversial calls in this game were split evenly between the two teams, rather than all being slanted towards Seattle, isn't the story this morning how Ben Roethlisberger choked away the Super Bowl with two interceptions, how Joey Porter didn't show up after mouthing off, how Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson creamed Kimo von Oelhoffen, how Jerome Bettis couldn't run the ball in his last game in his hometown, how the Seahawks picked on Ike Taylor in the first half, etc.?
Did Seattle really play worse than Pittsburgh, and make more mistakes? Again, nobody is saying that Pittsburgh should have lost, or that Seattle should have won. All we are saying is that this game should have had a level playing field. And, if you don't buy the idea that the officiating was slanted against Seattle, at least you have to admit that the officiating has been controversial all postseason to the point where nobody seems to know what counts as a penalty anymore, and the league has to do something about this.
Al Bogdan: Mike Pereira did a great interview with Mike and the Mad Dog on Friday where he sort of acknowledged that there is a disconnect between the officials themselves and between officials and teams at least on certain types of calls, like offensive holding. He said one of his goals for the off-season was to develop more of a consensus on offensive holding so that everyone was on the same page.
Michael David Smith: I hate to focus too much on the officials because I think the Steelers and their fans should be happy. I like Jerome Bettis and I'm glad his career ended like this. I like Bill Cowher and I think he earned a bust in Canton last night. I like Hines Ward and I think last night makes it very likely that he'll end up in Canton. I said before the draft that I thought Roethlisberger was a better quarterback than Manning or Rivers, so I always root for Roethlisberger, even though last night he played like crap. So I'm not anti-Pittsburgh, I'm just anti-bad officiating.
Ned Macey: I agree with Aaron that the Steelers played poorly, particularly on offense, but the only real surprise was Roethlisberger's bad play. We didn't think the Steelers could run the ball, and other than the one run, they didn't. Kimo got beat up by Walter Jones, but is that news? Porter was a non-factor, but I felt that Pittsburgh was alwyas trying to attack on the right side of Seattle's line, and they did get three sacks of Hasselbeck (including the huge one that put them in 4th and 13 and effectively ended the game).
Roethlisberger almost single handedly sunk them with his bad play. The interception to Herndon was one of the worst throws I've ever seen. But, he made one big play, and the other two big plays bailed them out.
Pat Laverty: On another listserv I'm on, someone asked if Roethlisberger's
performance was the worst ever by a SB winning quarterback?
Aaron Schatz: Good question. I plugged Big Ben's numbers into the formula from last year's ESPN article on the best quarterback performances in Super Bowl history. Based on that formula the answer is yes. These were the bottom five -- if you remember, the system was based on a scale from 1-100.
Based on this system, yes, this was the worst performance ever by a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
Ned Macey: Does anyone think that Seattle should have run the ball more? They were moving the ball early, but the drives kept stalling. Alexander seemed to be running well the entire game, but he got almost no touches early. Was he successful once he got touches only because the Steelers were playing pass?
Also, since this is Football Outsiders, wouldn't we be remiss to mention that Engram had an excellent game?
Aaron Schatz: Bobby Engram had an excellent game except for a pass that he could have taken in for a touchdown had he realized Hasselbeck was actually throwing it to him.
I know I'm going to get a ton of hate mail now from Pittsburgh fans, and mean comments on the website. I picked against them. We had them lower in our ratings at midseason because of the Maddox game and the fact that they were getting played close by awful teams like Baltimore and Cleveland and Green Bay. Mike wrote that article about how teams that get in on the last day never win the Super Bowl. Well guess what, folks, that's how probability works. When you say "Seattle is a slight favorite" that means that there is still a 45% chance that Pittsburgh will win. When you say that teams that get in on the last day never win the Super Bowl, well, teams that got in on the last day never DID win the Super Bowl UNTIL NOW. What Pittsburgh did was amazing and special BECAUSE it was unique. 11-5 teams don't usually win Super Bowls. Teams below the top 2-3 in DVOA don't usually win Super Bowls. Sixth seeds usually don't win Super Bowls. If we were all supposed to expect this, it isn't really that special, is it?
Again, I hope Steelers fans understand what is happening here. I keep reading comments on our discussion threads about sour grapes. Let me give you an example:
"Can we accept that the refs made a few bad calls, that close calls against your team are not evidence of cheating and that possibly, maybe, in some fantastical way the Steelers outplayed the Seahawks?"
The problem with that question is the phrase "your team." The Seahawks are not my team and they are not the favorite team of any writer on this website. The FO staff has a couple Patriots fans, an Eagles fan, a Giants fan, a Bucs fan, a Lions fan, and a Colts fan complaining about the officials here. The guys I was watching with, you had a couple Patriots fans, a Vikings fan and a Bucs fan complaining about the officials. Kevin Hench picked the Steelers for FOXSports.com, and he wrote a column today about the bad officials. Michael "not David" Smith is not a Seahawks fan -- as I've pointed out, he's the best example of east coast media bias because he is the only other national NFL columnist who lives farther east than I do -- and he wrote a column today about the bad officials. Slate.com isn't exactly known for writing about sporting events immediately afterwards, but they've got a column up about the bad officials. Skip Bayless would rather rip his own balls off with his teeth than say something nice about the city of Seattle and HE wrote a column today about the bad officials.
Check out profootballtalk.com, and read the e-mails Mike Florio has been getting. Amazing. Pittsburgh fans need to understand just how angry the response is, on our site and others, from neutral fans of the other 30 teams. This is not a case of Seahawks fans whining and being sore losers. I have never seen anything like this in terms of fans of the other 30 teams taking to the internet and complaining about the result of a game. People who had nothing to gain from the Seahawks winning. People who PICKED THE STEELERS in many cases. This should not be happening. Throw out everything that any Pittsburgh or Seattle fan has to say about this game. Fans of the other 30 teams are not supposed to complain about the result of a Super Bowl. Something went wrong.
For those curious:
Seattle's DVOA: 24.0% offense, -19.5% defense, -12.4% special teams, 31.0% total.
Pittsburgh's DVOA: -4.3% offense, -15.1% defense, 7.2% special teams, 17.9% total.
Before we go, I want to thank everyone for their support and for reading Football Outsiders all year. It's been a pretty incredible year, it's been great to have so many new people reading our stuff and we fended off most of the trolls although you wouldn't want to read my e-mail. Anyway, I still can't believe that I get to do this for a living, so thanks to all the readers.
Don't stop reading, though. We've still got the awards balloting through tomorrow, the off-season free agent contest is coming soon, we have one more Every Play Counts (maybe), the season's final Scramble for the Ball on Wednesday, and the first edition of our off-season column Four Downs by the end of the week. Meanwhile, I'm going to take a nap for two weeks. Then we start on Pro Football Prospectus 2006, in stores mid-July. From all of us here at Three Feet High and Rising, this is your host Don Newkirk. Good night.
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