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23 Dec 2007

Every Play Counts: Steelers Defense

by Michael David Smith

Six weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were generally recognized as, at worst, the No. 3 team in the AFC, behind only the mighty Patriots, and maybe the Colts. They looked like a better team than the 2005 squad that won the Super Bowl, and their defense looked like it could keep them in any game.

But the Steelers have lost three of their last six games, and even in the three wins they haven't looked particularly impressive, and while their defense isn't bad, it's no longer dominating. So what's happened? To find out, I watched the Steelers' defense on every play of Thursday's game against the Rams, a game they won handily but also a game in which the Rams' offense –- one of the worst in the league –- frequently moved the ball effectively, including three different touchdown drives of 50 yards or more.

One thing is very clear: The Steelers miss free safety Ryan Clark, who started the first six games of the season but is out for the rest of the year because of an inflamed spleen. Clark is a smart player who understands his responsibilities in coordinator Dick LeBeau's defense, and the Steelers' secondary looks a bit disorganized without him.

The Rams' first two offensive plays demonstrated first the wrong and then the right way to attack the Steelers' secondary. On both plays cornerback Deshea Townsend was matched one-on-one with Rams receiver Isaac Bruce. On the first play, Bruce ran a deep route along the left sideline. Townsend did a good job staying step-for-step with Bruce, and Rams quarterback Marc Bulger's pass fell incomplete. But on the second play, Bruce ran a slant over the middle, and while Townsend made a sound tackle once Bruce caught the ball, it was a fairly easy 9-yard gain for the Rams because Bruce and Bulger knew Townsend was going to keep Bruce in front of him the whole way, and because strong safety Troy Polamalu was lined up more as an additional inside linebacker than as a true safety.

The Steelers' cornerbacks at times lined up as if they were in press coverage on the Rams' wide receivers, but they rarely touched them at the line of scrimmage. On a second-and-3 in the first quarter, Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor was lined up opposite Torry Holt, and even though Taylor was right on top of him, Holt ran inside easily without Taylor touching him. The result was a 19-yard gain.

LeBeau's scheme relies heavily on the cornerbacks helping out in run support, and I liked the way the Rams used motion against that. At the start of the Rams' second drive, St. Louis came out in a run-heavy formation, with a tight end and a fullback in front of running back Steven Jackson. When Bruce went in motion to the opposite side of the field, Taylor cheated up toward the line of scrimmage, clearly expecting a handoff to Jackson and thinking Bruce's motion meant he wasn't responsible for covering a wide receiver. But just before the snap Bruce began running back to the right and behind Jackson, selling a fake-end around. That forced Taylor back toward the sideline, occupying him while the handoff went to Jackson. Jackson picked up seven yards before free safety Tyrone Carter (who started after Clark's first replacement, Anthony Smith, didn't pan out) tackled him. It was a well-designed play by Rams coach Scott Linehan and a play I think other teams should emulate when they play the Steelers.

Other teams should also emulate plays like Bulger's 12-yard touchdown pass to Bruce in the second quarter. On a third-and-8 at the 12-yard line, Bruce and Holt both lined up on the right side of the field, and the Steelers gave them a huge cushion, with Taylor eight yards off the line of scrimmage. With that much space in front of him, Bruce had an easy time running into the end zone and getting wide open, and he did a nice job of getting both feet down as he reeled in Bulger's pass.

The best player in the Steelers' secondary is still Polamalu, but even he had a few missed tackles against the Rams. Overall, I'd take Polamalu over almost any strong safety in the league because of plays like the shovel pass to Jackson in the third quarter, when Polamalu showed both his athleticism and his intelligence: He came flying in and ran Jackson down near the sideline, and then he smartly saw that Jackson was holding the ball in his inside arm –- a habit every running back needs to break –- and slapped at it. The ball came loose but bounced through the arms of Carter and was ultimately recovered by Rams receiver Dane Looker.

The Steelers' scheme is so reliant on Polamalu, though, that when he misses tackles, there's no one else around to make the play. If Clark were still playing, a Polamalu missed tackle wouldn't be quite as catastrophic as it is with Clark sidelined.

In addition to Clark, the other injured player the Steelers miss is defensive end Aaron Smith. Travis Kirschke, Smith's replacement, is the weak point on the defensive line. Jackson's longest run of the game, a 36-yarder at the beginning of the second quarter, came when Kirschke was blown back at the snap, and it didn't even take much of a block to do it: Rams right tackle Brandon Gorin gave him one hard push, and that was all it took for Kirschke to get out of position. Jackson ran right behind Gorin, and when Polamalu dove at Jackson's feet and missed, Jackson was in the clear. The run could have been limited to about 20 yards, but Taylor dove at Jackson's feet and missed, too, and Jackson got 16 more yards before Carter finally pushed him out of bounds.

When Mike Tomlin first became the Steelers' head coach, there were a lot of questions about whether Tomlin or LeBeau would run the defense. But the defense I saw the Steelers use against the Rams Thursday was the same defense they ran last year. This is LeBeau's defense, not Tomlin's.

LeBeau spent 14 years as an NFL player and has spent another 35 as an NFL coach, and he's done a lot more than just develop the zone blitz that he's best known for. Still, that is the staple of his defense. The scheme I liked best against the Rams was an overload blitz late in the fourth quarter, when the Rams had Jackson lined up to Bulger's left, and a tight end running a route on the right, meaning there were just two blockers to Bulger's right side. Linebackers James Farrior and Clark Haggans both blitzed from that side, and when Townsend did too, there was no-one left to block him, and he came in untouched, hitting Bulger just as he passed the ball. That's the kind of aggressive play-calling the Steelers are going to need the rest of the way, especially without Smith collapsing the pocket.

Most of the Steelers' defensive problems seem to be about execution, not scheme. On a Jackson run in the first quarter, inside linebacker Larry Foote came on a run blitz, and it was the perfect call for what the Rams were doing: With Jackson all alone in the backfield and the Steelers' defensive line occupying the Rams' center and left guard, Foote had a clear path to drill Jackson behind the line of scrimmage. But Jackson's spin move left Foote grasping at air, and linebacker Clark Haggans also missed a tackle on the play, leaving Jackson alone to pick up 10 yards.

Jackson's first touchdown was a short pass he caught near the line of scrimmage on the right side of the field. He turned it into a touchdown by outrunning the entire Steelers defense to the goal line at the left sideline. Once again, there was nothing wrong with how the defense was drawn up, but no players were quick enough to get to the outside and tackle Jackson.

Sometimes football really comes down to something as simple as which team executes better at tackling, and that seems to be the problem with the Steelers right now. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh fans, it doesn't look like a problem that can be fixed in the next week or two. The team that once looked like the biggest threat to the Patriots and Colts in the AFC now looks like it won't get a shot to play either of them.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 23 Dec 2007

53 comments, Last at 28 Dec 2007, 1:42am by Dunbar

Comments

1
by Mikey Benny (not verified) :: Sun, 12/23/2007 - 8:16pm

The Steelers won't get a shot to make it to the second round? You're a smart guy, but that a very silly/borderline dumb remark. You really think it's a foregone conclusion that the Steelers are going to lose to the Jaguars (who scored the winning touchdown with 1:50 to go), or the Browns, who they swept? Come on now, you're almost as bad as the mainstream media with that remark -- every team that wins this week is a world-beater, every team that's going through a down period sucks. Come on... we all know they have next to no chance of beating NE or Indy, but don't take a flying leap and say they're an underdog in their first playoff game. As I said, that's just silly.

2
by hrudey (not verified) :: Sun, 12/23/2007 - 10:17pm

I think it's entirely reasonable to say they'd be an underdog right now if they played Jacksonville. If you see how Jacksonville's line pushed the 3-4 around when the Steelers knew the run was coming, and saw how difficult it was for the Steelers to move the ball on offense (two of the three TD drives started inside Jacksonville territory), you'd have to think it was far from "silly" or "a flying leap" to think that Pittsburgh might be the underdog.

To put it in perspective, the Steelers had one drive where they gained more than 30 yards (two if you include the penalty on the TD drive starting at the Jax 31). Jacksonville had six of them.

3
by BDC (not verified) :: Sun, 12/23/2007 - 10:29pm

There is a big difference between what was actually said "...now LOOKS like it won’t get a shot..." (emphasis added) and what you seem to think he said, "...WON'T get a shot..." (again, emphasis added).

Now, don't get me wrong, The Steelers could certainly win in the first round, but come on, are you really suggesting that it would be a total shock if they were one and done?

4
by peachy (not verified) :: Sun, 12/23/2007 - 10:40pm

The big question is whether Pittsburgh takes the third or fourth seed. Even with their current slump in form, I would expect the Steelers to be favoured by at least a hair against the Browns or Titans. But I think most objective observers would consider Pittsburgh an underdog against Jax - that was a classic example of a game with a deceptively close score, as a quick gander at the DVOA would indicate... and the Steelers can't count on shanked punts and fifty-yard interception returns to even the odds twice in a row, yes?

5
by Rocco (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 12:07am

I think I'd like it if MDS declared the Steelers had no shot. He more or less said they were DOA in 2005 and that worked out okay. :)

6
by Dutch (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 1:03am

Classic NewEnglandoutsiders article.Only thing they left out was a criticism of Big Ben for something.

7
by claytor (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 1:05am

I like how he makes Steven Jackson, who was the average number two overall picked fantasy player, appear to be much ado about nothing compared to the mighty mighty Steel Curtain. This article is like a "Football for Dummies" read, babbling about "execution", and blown assignments. Holy crap, injuries and roster depth really DO affect how a team plays???? Nooooooo wayyyyyyy, dude.

The Steelers played an underrated Jags team with an amazing Drew-Taylor one two punch and Garrard finally getting his due, and a Rams offense that had ALL OF its key players back and healthy, minus the O-line, so honestly, is it really a revelation to know that yes, the Steelers defense may appear vulnerable? Oh, the other big loss was to the Pats, but i suppose no one saw that coming either.

I enjoy how he conveniently keeps omitting the San Diego Chargers from those so called AFC threats as well as making it sound like the Colts really shouldnt be given their due, seeing as how theyre the defending Super Bowl champs.

Sterling job, i say, sterling!

8
by Rocco (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 1:25am

I've linked to the MDS article I referenced earlier.

"Whether Kansas City or Pittsburgh nabs that sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, the Steelers and Chiefs aren’t battling for a chance to play in the Super Bowl — they’re battling for a chance to lose in the playoffs. The Steelers or the Chiefs would have to win three consecutive games, all on the road, to reach the Super Bowl. A likely scenario would be games at Cincinnati in the first round, at a well-rested Indianapolis in the second round, and at Denver in the AFC Championship. The Steelers and Chiefs are good enough to beat any of those teams on any given Sunday, but they’re not good enough to beat all three of them on three straight Sundays."

Unfortunately, the Steelers won't have J. Peezy around to play the disrespect card. Even more depressingly, the Pats and Colts this year may be better than the Colts and Broncos in 2005, and the Steelers o-line is more turnstilish this year than in 2005. But hey, I like omens. As long as the Steelers have something going for them...

9
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 2:45am

Here are the scenarios, in order of likelihood, and what they mean for the Big Two:

3. Chargers 4. Steelers 5. Jaguars 6. Browns

Horrible news for the Colts, who would have to hope the Chargers win the Battle of the Bad Coaches. The Jaguars will annihilate the Steelers just as easily as they did last week. If the Browns beat the Chargers, they'll go to New England and get blown out while the Colts have to try to handle a Jaguars team that just might be better than they are. If the Chargers win, the Colts can handle them in round 2, while the Patriots have to tangle with the Jaguars. I think the most likely result is the Chargers win and the Colts are happy.

3. Chargers 4. Steelers 5. Jaguars 6. Flaming Thumbtacks

I would favor the Flaming Thumbtacks to beat the Chargers, so this is a much better scenario if you're a Patriots fan. The Steelers have no chance against the Jaguars.

3. Steelers 4. Chargers 5. Jaguars 6. Browns

In this scenario, the Steelers host the Browns and probably win, mostly because the Browns defense just can't handle Air Roethlisberger, while the Jaguars bitch-slap the Chargers.

This is a fantastic scenario for the Colts, because the 2007 Steelers are NOT the 2005 Steelers. The Colts will easily blow these Steelers off the field, should the two meet in the divisional round. Meanwhile, the Jaguars would represent the toughest game the Patriots have played all year, and though the Patriots will win, the game will drain them.

Of course, the Browns could beat the Steelers, and then the Colts are screwed, with the Jaguars coming to town while the Patriots pretty much get another bye week.

3. Steelers 4. Chargers 5. Jaguars 6. Flaming Thumbtacks

I would not like the Steelers' chances of winning this game, and so, again, this is a scenario the Colts would like to avoid, as it represents a strong possibility of having to deal with the Jaguars.

I don't think the defending world champions have enough gas in the tank to survive a brawl with the Jaguars and then go to New England to take on the Patriots. The Colts NEED Jacksonville to go to New England for fifteen rounds. The best-case scenario for the Colts involves the Steelers getting the 3 seed and beating the Browns in round 1; for the Patriots, it simply involves the 6 seed winning, whoever that might be.

If the Browns take the 6 seed, they're probably going to lose regardless of whether they play the Chargers or Steelers. If it's the Flaming Thumbtacks, I like them to win regardless.

Whoever gets the 4 seed is going to get destroyed by Jacksonville.

Thus, were I a Colts fan, I would be rooting hard for the 49ers to upset the Browns next week. Not only does that cost the Patriots another couple of draft slots, it also sets up the best probability of not having to take on the Jaguars in the playoffs.

10
by Frankie (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 3:27am

As I understand the playoff seeding rules, 2 teams from the same division can not play in the first round of the playoffs. Therefore, all these scenarios with the Steelers playing the Browns simply will not happen. If the Browns make the playoffs, they will play the Bolts.

Can anybody confirm this?

11
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 3:29am

No, you're confusing the NFL with baseball, which does have that rule. Last year, for instance, the Jets played the Patriots in the first round; the Steelers and Browns played each other in the first round in 2002, as they well may again this year.

12
by Jerry (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 3:45am

As I understand the playoff seeding rules, 2 teams from the same division can not play in the first round of the playoffs.

While that was the case years ago, there were some complaints that higher-seeded teams got tougher games, so the league decided that seeding order would remain undisturbed.

13
by Jimbohead (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 4:49am

out of curiosity, does anyone see the recent rash of injuries as a result of Tomlin's intense training camp? I remember a lot of players complaining, and media types saying that they would struggle late in the year with injury as a result, and it seems to be playing out that way....

of course, fatigue probably didn't cause Clark's inflamed spleen.

14
by Marcus (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 5:40am

Here is how I read that article: The major point was this, "The Steelers suck at tackling, and you can't fix that."

My problem with that is this: I understand that if you suck at tackling all year, you can not fix it. But for the first 12 weeks the Steelers were good at it, so returning to it isn't impossible. Right? Having watched all the Steeler games this year I am fairly certain they were good at tackling the first 12 weeks. Correct me if I am wrong though.

15
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 8:56am

Larry Foote has never been very good at tackling technique. For that matter, neither has Troy Polamalu, who's more inclined to the Polaris Missile Method of "tackling". The inability to tackle was reason 1a why Ike Taylor was always in Cowher's doghouse (his tendency to abandon his "stay six yards behind the receiver at all times" directive to gamble for interceptions was 1b). It's a matter of degrees.

But really, there are only two notable things about the Steelers defense the last few weeks:

1. They REALLY miss Aaron Smith. I'm astonished at what a difference he made. They were able to lose Casey Hampton and still be OK, but apparently Smith was always crucial. Without him, they're really struggling on the strong side, especially against the run. The Rams' offensive line is terrible, and they still shoved the Steelers' defensive left side around.

2. They played the Patriots and Jaguars, who teams good enough to expose the Steelers' defense's weaknesses (primarily, if you pick up their pass rush, they simply allow you to have completions; anyone remember the Wes Welker Sequence?) Even with Aaron Smith, the Steelers defense was never really the best in the league. What the Steelers defense WAS very good at was completely annihilating incompetent offenses like the Browns (Charlie Frye version), 49ers, Ravens, Bills (J.P. Losman version), and Dolphins. The only really impressive defensive game they've played all year was the shutout of the Seahawks, and that was partially because at the time the Seahawks were still screwing around with Shaun Alexander. (Frankly, at this point the Seahawks would be best off just releasing the guy.)

The Steelers are still what they've been all year, except with noticeably weaker run defense without Aaron Smith. They won't go far in the playoffs, and given their cap situation, age situation (Hines Ward, Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, and James Farrior are all getting up there) and how painfully awful their offensive line is, it's hard to fathom them improving anytime in the next two years.

In fact, I must admit I would not find a total collapse as soon as next year shocking. The Steelers have a franchise quarterback and that alone will keep them competitive--they'll never go 4-12 as long as Roethlisberger plays close to full seasons, as he can beat weak opponents by himself--but their o-line is already at rock bottom, and their defense is going to collapse very soon. I suspect the defense will have one more year of respectability, and then LeBeau will retire, Hampton and Smith will depart, and Tomlin will reshape it into more of a Tampa-2 scheme.

The Steelers have an elite quarterback, an elite receiver (Santonio Holmes) and an elite tight end. That means that for the next several years, they can ignore all the offensive skill positions with their first-day draft picks and focus solely on their offensive line and their defense (their d-line in particular), in that order.

The Steelers' cap situation is not good, and Roethlisberger is probably going to need a bank-breaking extension this offseason. The problem is, the Steelers are most likely not going to be able to compete for a championship during Roethlisberger's best years and mega-contract.

16
by fiddycentbeer (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 9:31am

#13: Reports as to the severity of Tomlin's camp were greatly exaggerated. It is true that he scheduled more twofers than did Cowher, but it's also true that he cancelled a fair number of those. When he didn't, the second was (often) a 1 hr. walk-thru. Not always, but often.

#15: In 2004, when Hampton went down and Hoke played astonishingly well, the Steelers still could field two 2-gap DLmen. They were Smith and Kimo. This year, when Smith went down, they had one, Hampton. Casey is not a 60-snap guy (tho neither was KvO).

MDS makes some points: much of the Steelers' problems are execution related. However, some of it is personnel related, imo.

Today, most 34 teams play OLB in the 255-270 # range. The Steeler OLB are listed ~240-245#.

They do not have a take-on ILB. Both Farrior and Foote tend to run around blocks.

Including McBean, who was called up after Smith went down, they have 7 DL. Of those, three, at the very most, are effective 2-gap players. With Smith down, they have two, at the very most; those being Hampton and Kirschke. However, Kirschke has had persistent, nagging type injuries thruout his Steeler career. That's as a sub when he rarely if ever logged more than 20 snaps. As a starter he is, let's say, grossly overexposed.

As 34s go, they are a small team. They defend a bog, Heinz. It could be field conditions vs. Miami and Cincinnati sucked their legs off. If that is so, the period between the St. Louis games and the wildcard round may be restorative.

The Steelers last drafted an impact Front 7 player in 2001. Then they got Hampton and that Haley's Comet of ILB, Kendrell Bell. Day 2 picks, Foote and Keisel, came in 2002. Generously, they have developed into replacement level starters. Since then...nothing.

They're old and small. Whatcha gonna do?

17
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 9:52am

Yeah, and they last drafted an impact offensive linemen since Faneca in 2000. Before that... well... what year did they draft Dermontti Dawson, again?

It's a blind spot for the Steelers. There are a few certain positions they always go after in the first round -- wide receiver, nose tackle, offensive guard -- and the few exceptions, before this year, were years where they saw value they couldn't pass up (Polamalu in 2003, Roethlisberger in 2004).

Also, when the Steelers DO draft linemen, the only question they want answered is "how well does he run block?" They HAVE to stop this. They're a passing team now, and they have to shape their roster accordingly. Ideally you want a two-way linemen, obviously, but you don't usually find those after round 1. When the Steelers are looking at linemen in the second round, they need to get pass blockers first, run blockers second. If they don't fix that old organizational bias, it's going to spell doom.

You have to wonder whether Roethlisberger's agent is quietly pressuring the front office that they had better get some pass blockers to stop him from getting killed if they expect to get his name on an extension. He certainly should be, if he's worth his salt.

18
by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 10:21am

15:

I dont know where you get your numbers...but the Steelers are in better shape cap-wise then they have been for many years.

Peter King listed the upcoming cap numbers for every team in the NFL for 2008. He says that the Steelers have about 18.6 million available next year with 43 players already signed, meaning that they have nearly 19 million dollars available to sign 9 players. Conversely, the Pats have about 10.9 available with 41 players signed (11 mil to sign 11 players).

How do those numbers tell you that the Steelers cap situation is bad?

The Roethlisberger extension is unlikely to have a meaningful effect on next year's cap. His contract is designed to encourage an extension prior to the 2009 season ($8 million roster bonus). His cap number for 2008 (~5.5 mil) is unlikely to change much. In 2009 his cap number will almost certainly be less than the ~11 mil it will be with his current deal. Subsequent years will see it go up, but for the next couple of years...his cap number wont be a burden on the team.

Unrestricted free agents next year.

1. Clark Haggans - already have Woodley to replace him.
2. Alan Faneca - a big loss, but it would hurt the Steelers more to keep him (financially).
3. Brian St. Pierre - who? exactly..finding a replacement 3rd string QB wont really bankrupt the team.
4. Dan Krieder - already have Davis to replace him (which he already has done)
5 . Max Starks - he may or may not leave in free agency. If he stays, the Steelers wont break the bank on him
6 . Nick Eason - see Max Starks.
7 . Travis Kirschke - see Nick Eason.

Restricted Free agents include
Trai Essex - low to mid tender
Greg Warren - low to mid tender
Nate Washington - low to mid tender

So to sum up...the Steelers have about 19 million available to sign
1) a 2nd string OLB
2) a starting OG
3) a 3rd string QB
4) a 2nd string FB
5) a (potentially) starting OT
6) a 2nd string DL
7) a 2nd string DE
8) 3 low to mid tenders on RFA's.

That is not bad. The Steelers will be fine...they always manage to get good players for the right money (see Harrison replacing Porter). Even though the media likes to call it the "Patriot way", the Steelers have been doing it much longer.

19
by joepinion (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 10:51am

15: Sheesh, that is quite a judgement.

Santonio, Ben, Willie, Colon, Miller, Taylor, and McFadden are all relatively young players who could all still get very good (some already are).

Woodley and Timmons are waiting in the wings at linebacker and have both flashed. Polamalu will still be in his prime for many years.

Most of the rest of the team is just around 28-30... The only players truly getting old are Faneca, Hines, Deshae, Farrior, and Rossum. Not exactly "old" in the way the Patriots are.

The Steelers are not an old team; their strategy seems alwasy to have that good balance between veterans and youngsters.

True, to be an elite team, these next two drafts will be critical. But why shouldn't they be able to find an impact lineman for each side of the ball?

20
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 11:27am

Re: 14

Here is how I read that article: The major point was this, "The Steelers suck at tackling, and you can’t fix that."

Actually, I read the article as "The Steelers really miss Ryan Clark and Aaron Smith and their execution is suffering greatly as a result. And since you can't really will Clark and Smith back onto the field, it's something you can't fix."

21
by Matt Weiner (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 11:27am

Including McBean, who was called up after Smith went down

My first thought was: "They called up Steely McBeam? Things are desperate."

22
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 11:30am

Re: 6

Dutch, do you actually make an effort to make RaiderJoe look intelligent, or does it just come naturally? You do realize that MDS isn't a Pats fan, right?

23
by Athelas (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 12:19pm

Dutch = steelerjoe.

24
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 1:35pm

Hampton and Smith are both at about the right time to decline; I don't think you can reasonably expect Polamalu, the way he flings himself around the field, to last much more than another couple of years at an elite leve. These are very important players, and replacing them is going to be critical.

Replacing Clark Haggans, I agree, isn't going to be a problem.

LaMarr Woodley's lack of playing time this year indicates he isn't a high-impact player. He could turn out to be James Harrison, but he could also turn out to be Clark Haggans or, worse, Larry Foote.

The Steelers drafted Lawrence Timmons either because they expected to need him for their gradual shift into a 4-3/Tampa-2 scheme, or because they expected him to be a game-changing playmaker. Instead, he got hurt. So we don't know yet.

But what we do know is that the Steelers can produce good linebackers (or at least good looking linebackers) seemingly at will. So why expend first AND second round draft choices on them, at a time when replenishing your offensive line, in particular, was a huge, glaring, emergency-siren need? Their offensive line completely collapsed this year, but it was bad last year, too; the bad pass protection had a lot to do with Roethlisberger leading the league in interceptions.

Drafting Timmons AND Woodley was a mistake. Santonio Holmes turned out very well, but the Steelers gave up several high picks to get him, and they've wasted their third rounders on Trai Essex (whose pass blocking is so horrible he can't play in the NFL at all), Willie Reid, Anthony Smith (whose pass coverage is so bad even the Steelers, who emphasize pass coverage less than any team in the NFL for its secondary players, benched him) and Matt Spaeth (a good but totally unnecessary second tight end).

The result is that it's been several years now, and for the Steelers, who built generally winning teams for many years by wisely using their draft picks, the entire list of impact players they've gotten out of nine draft picks in the last three years' drafts is:

1. Santonio Holmes
2. Heath Miller

And they don't even use Miller half as much as they should. So now they have two great receivers to go with their great quarterback, and the worst offensive line in football. Guess what? You can't win like that. And by the time you've fixed the o-line, your defense has probably dropped from great to mediocre as it's lost Hampton, Smith and Farrior, and Polamalu's kamikazed his way into a semipermanent spot in the trainer's room.

The Steelers are now in transition to the Rams/Colts Blueprint for Success--spectacular offense and merely good-enough defense--whether they want to be or not, and their success over the next, say, five years is going to depend on their ability to not only recognize that fact, but also to finally let go of the old tradition of Steeler Footballâ„¢ and go with it. Because Roethlisberger, Holmes and Miller IS a skill-position core for a championship offense, if you wisely build around it. That's the direction they have to go now.

25
by Mikey Benny (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 2:40pm

Delayed reaction to post 7: exactly. The Rams offense has been pretty good lately. The Patriots offense has been pretty good lately. The Jags' offense has been pretty good lately. Along with an injury to Smith, wouldn't you expect a dip in defensive production with three straight games against those three? The Pats (34 points) have made just about every defense look silly this year. The Garrard-Taylor-Jones-Drew Jags (whopping 22 points) have made just about every defense they've faced look silly as well. The Rams with a healthy Bulger and Jackson (24 points) haven't been half-bad. Give them a break... they had one bad game and two average games against three above-average-to-great offenses.

If I were in Vegas, I promise you, I would bet the value of my house that Pittsburgh will not be an underdog in the first round. And I would win. I wouldn't bet on them winning, necessarily; but I certainly think they would have at worst roughly a coin flip game against the Jags at home, with probably a 60-70% chance of winning if they play the Browns.

Tell me I'm wrong. Tell me why. I live in Jacksonville and watch the Jags and Steelers weekly. The Steelers' D's Achilles' Heel is pass defense; the Jags just aren't a good enough passing team to be a sure thing at Heinz Field.

26
by fiddycentbeer (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 2:42pm

18 wrote: " Peter King...says that the Steelers have about 18.6 million available next year with 43 players already signed..."

and asks...

"How do those numbers tell you that the Steelers cap situation is bad?"

It's not bad, but it's not great either. 18.6 once was a jumbo wad but not post the new TV deal. Last winter, 18.6 would have been middle of the pack, iirc. Check where that ranks wrt other teams.

In addition to finding 10, at minimum, to make out an active 53, they will pay 8 practice squad guys <1M. Typically the Steelers have kept back about 1M for emergency mid-year signings. (Anthony Madison, Marquis Cooper Whoever)

With 6 draft picks, their rook cap is gonna be <4M, probably. Roughly, very roughly, that's ~5.6 of the 18.6 leaving ~13. Presuming 5-6 rooks make the team, they need, at minimum, 4-5 FA, their own or others. Probably more; surely, some of the 43 now under contract for 2008 will not make that team.

It may be worth noting that that their FA are clustered on both lines.

DL: Kirschke and Eason.
OL: Faneca, Starks, Essex and Kemoeatu

The last two are RFA, as is Bryant McFadden. There is little evidence of developing youth.

27
by Mikey Benny (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 2:42pm

Oops, forgot about the last-minute TD to the Jags -- they gave up 29, not 22. The point still stands.

28
by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 3:19pm

24:

"LaMarr Woodley’s lack of playing time this year indicates he isn’t a high-impact player. He could turn out to be James Harrison, but he could also turn out to be Clark Haggans or, worse, Larry Foote. "

When was the last time any Steeler rookie got a ton of playing time? If you would recall, Polamalu didnt see much time his rookie year...did that indicate that he wasnt an impact player?

29
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 4:02pm

Anthony Smith saw decent playing time last year; Bryant McFadden played plenty in 2005. They weren't starters, but they played. Woodley has played only sparingly, which gives him more in common with the last DE the Steelers drafted in the second round: Alonzo Jackson. Who? Exactly.

Casey Hampton, on the other hand, started from day one, as did Kendrell Bell.

The optimist's comparison for a guy like Woodley would be Chris Hope, I suppose. Hope didn't start until 2004, his third year in the league, and for good reason: He sucked. He figured it out in 2005, though, and has been a solid starter since. A Steelers linebacker always has a chance to develop into at least a star's perception, but I'm not crazy about Woodley's chances.

30
by fiddycentbeer (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 5:00pm

28 & 29:

Hampton didn't start from Day 1. The unlamented Kendrick Clancy started for the first few games tho, even then, Case got more time. Kendrell Bell did start, that year. Due to injury, Foote started in Bell's place 2002; Bell reclaimed his job late that season and held it thru 2003. Then the bottom fell out.

Polamalu didn't start in 2003, his rook campaign, but he did see considerable time in packages.

Kendall Simmons, unfortunately, has started almost from Day 1, (actually)from Game 2, 2002, his rook season. It is no surprise that the high point for the PS OL came in 2004, which Simmons sat out.

Other "from Day 1s", or close, include Miller and Roethlisberger. It is a short list.

As for Woodley, or, for OLB in general:

Zo Jackson is not a good parallel. Jackson never started and rarely saw the field. He was a fixture on the gameday inactive list. Clark Haggans was a ST player in his rook season; had no sacks, no pressures.

Joey Porter is a more fair example. Despite being clearly more talented than the incumbent (Carlos Emmons, Porter saw little time (except on teams) until Game 16 when his sack, strip and score gave Steeler fans some hope for a better tomorrow.

Woodley has 3 sacks, more than Porter's rook 2; Woodley, not the absolutely mediocre Clark Haggans, had a couple pressures vs. St. Louis.

Woodley will be alright. He won't be Merriman, but he'll be a plus starter. That's more than can be said of Haggans. Until Clark took command, LOLB generally led the Steeler-D in sacks. Kevin Green, 3 years straight and Jason Gildon, more often than not; even Jerrol Williams, once. All that ended when Haggans moved in.

31
by AnotherPatsFan (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 6:36pm

You Steelers' fans are as overly sensitive as the supposedly crazy Pats' fans on this site (and you are just ahead of the Colts and Cowboys fans). What kind of "point" is made in the following post by Mikey Benny?: If I were in Vegas, I promise you, I would bet the value of my house that Pittsburgh will not be an underdog in the first round. And I would win. I wouldn’t bet on them winning, necessarily; but I certainly think they would have at worst roughly a coin flip game against the Jags at home, with probably a 60-70% chance of winning if they play the Browns.

They are who you thought they were??? You let them off the hook??? WTF??? If they let you make bets on the what the spread will be, who gives a sh!t if Steelers are favored against likely opponent Jags?(and I'd be surprised if it was by more than home field advantage of 3 points). You play to win the games. Even you admit you wouldn't bet the house -- or probably anything close to it -- on them winning. You admit they are a coin flip (although you say that's the worst outcome for them) to win against the Jags (in the unlikely event they play Cleveland, Pitt smokes them; tougher game against Tennessee is Haynesworth shows up). I think many here (particularly Justin Zeth, who no one wants to really take on with anything more than "you're rubber and I'm glue") think the Steelers will again lose to the Jags, and may get thumped. I think it's probably a close game either way, but as a Pats fan, I will be actively rooting for the Steelers, as the Pats will smoke the Steelers again. Jags scare me far more. Whether from injuries or whatever, the Steelers have lost their swagger (and their ability to play very high level football -- check out the Week 15 DVOA article focus on the collapsing Steelers versus the ascending Jags), and this isn't 2005, nor is it likely to look anything like it for this year's Steelers in the playoffs.

32
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 11:06pm

For the record, Benny's right; assuming the Steelers manhandle the Ravens like they should (and the Chargers beat the Raiders to set up the matchup), the Steelers almost certainly will be small favorites against Jacksonville in their first round matchup, or even money at worst.

Also for the record, at even money--much less giving points to the Jaguars--I would happily bet the value of my house on Jacksonville. That would be the easiest gambling lock of the year.

Yeah, the Steelers-Jaguars game was kind of close last week, but that ignores two important things:

1. That it was close only because of a ten minute lapse by the Jaguars, where they clearly eased up thinking the game was won, let the Steelers back into it. Setting that ten minutes aside, the Jaguars dominated the Steelers all over the field. Ben Roethlisberger played one of his better games of the year and still wound up 16-for-33, because the Jaguars were in the backfield most of the game and his receivers weren't open, and the Jaguars kicked around the Steelers' run defense.

2. The Jaguars won despite actually not getting any huge kick returns from Maurice Edmondson Schwartz Hiroshi Monte Cristo "Jones" Drew III Jr., which was an upset. The Steelers' kick coverage is among the very worst I have ever seen, at any level, and it's likely that will rear up at the wrong time in any rematch with the Jaguars.

In my opinion, Willie Parker's injury means the Steelers now are starting their best running back--the stronger, slower Willie Parker is vastly inferior to the smaller, faster model--but it doesn't make any difference in this context. The Jaguars are a vastly superior team to the Steelers, might be the third-best team in the league right now, and even though the Steelers were never "falling apart" like Pasquarelli and others were writing last week--for heaven's sake, people, they just played the Patriots and the Jaguars!--they're not that good, never have been that good this year, and will get thumped by the Jaguars.

But they DID bring back Verron Haynes today. So they have that going for them. Which is nice. Maybe they can convince the Jets to release Kimo von Oelhoffen and put him in Kill, Kimo, Kill mode in the first round again...

But the Steelers would thump the Browns, should that be their matchup. The Browns' quarterback isn't very good and their defense is god-awful.

33
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 11:08pm

Sorry. Brain cramp. Yes, I just remembered the Jets released Kimo's corpse months ago and the Eagles picked him up. Do they still have him? I have no idea.

34
by MysteryOfSteel (not verified) :: Tue, 12/25/2007 - 12:54am

For #32...

1. That it was close only because of a ten minute lapse by the Jaguars, where they clearly eased up thinking the game was won, let the Steelers back into it. Setting that ten minutes aside, the Jaguars dominated the Steelers all over the field. Ben Roethlisberger played one of his better games of the year and still wound up 16-for-33, because the Jaguars were in the backfield most of the game and his receivers weren’t open, and the Jaguars kicked around the Steelers’ run defense.

Of course, we came back in that game because Jacksonville let us, not because the Steelers offense is one of the better ones in the AFC (and has made those late game comebacks a few other times this season...). Saying that we would have gotten blown out if it weren't for that "ten minute lapse by the Jags" is like saying that we would have beat the Pats if they didn't pass the ball at all.

2. The Jaguars won despite actually not getting any huge kick returns from Maurice Edmondson Schwartz Hiroshi Monte Cristo “Jones” Drew III Jr., which was an upset. The Steelers’ kick coverage is among the very worst I have ever seen, at any level, and it’s likely that will rear up at the wrong time in any rematch with the Jaguars.

I am not sure where you are trying to go with this one other than you think our kick return coverage is bad (it has been, admittedly).

The Jaguars are a vastly superior team to the Steelers,

In your opinion. All the numbers say otherwise-- that both teams are pretty evenly matched.

might be the third-best team in the league right now, and even though the Steelers were never “falling apart” like Pasquarelli and others were writing last week–for heaven’s sake, people, they just played the Patriots and the Jaguars!

And held our own against a Jags team, that is "vastly superior". While the little Steelers haters like you have been stroking Fred Taylor's junk since he had that 100 yard game against us, you conveniently ignore the fact that the Steelers DID IN FACT PUT UP 22 POINTS ON YOUR VASTLY SUPERIOR JAGS and our RB also dumped a 100 yard game on their defense (with half as many carries). Subtract the two easy TD's that sailed over Anthony Smith's head (he has been benched) and we would have crushed the Jags.

In other words, whenever the Steelers and Jags play, the game could go either way, because despite all your flamboyant claims to the contrary, it is a pretty even matchup.

Against the Pats, the game was pretty even at the half, our RB had already laid 100 yards on them by then, and things were going great until Bill Belicheck realized that we had no starting safeties. Anthony Smith burned us in that game too. Take away those two plays where he got suckered by the play action and had a TD pass sail over his head, and we were in that game.

I can cite these instances because Anthony Smith has been removed from the starting lineup and replaced with a more experienced veteran that doesn't make the same mistakes, game after game (although he may find some new ones to make, as Carter isn't our starting FS either).

–they’re not that good, never have been that good this year, and will get thumped by the Jaguars.

More unsubstantiated claims from a petty little fart of a hater...

35
by Jerry (not verified) :: Tue, 12/25/2007 - 1:20am

To expand on what fiddy said in post #30, I can't remember a 3-4 outside linebacker who started for the Steelers as a rookie. There's enough to learn that it takes at least a year, even for the guys who become studs. What we saw of Woodley in pre-season was a lot more impressive than what the unlamented Alonzo Jackson showed.

As far as the playoffs go, I don't think the Steelers are as good as the Patriots or Colts. (Shocking, eh?) But as Rocco mentioned above, we saw that anything can happen two years ago.

36
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Tue, 12/25/2007 - 1:41am

You know what's funny? I have a Steelers 2005 World Champions trash can next to my desk, a Steelers coat in my closet behind me, and a dozen other pieces of Steelers paraphernalia. But I'm not a fan; no, in fact, I'm a "hater", because I don't blindly believe the Steelers are going to win every game.

I go round and round and round in circles with the zillions of fanboys that surround my universe...

37
by Eric J (not verified) :: Tue, 12/25/2007 - 11:08am

34, if we're subtracting Anthony Smith from that game, can we also get rid of his interception and long return?

Also, the Jags blew 2 extra points in that game, which probably wouldn't happen again. Their offense actually "scored" 31.

38
by Buff (not verified) :: Tue, 12/25/2007 - 2:30pm

Getting back to the article's original conclusion, I've always considered tackling, as well as other fundamental skills, something that can be improved upon. I mean, it's not like Pittsburgh has been a poor tackling team all season long. Why can't they right the ship come playoff time? Indy did it last season, though that seems to be largely attributed to the return of Bob Sanders. Pittsburgh won't be getting any missing players back, but it just seems odd to write off a defense that has traditionally been very sound at flocking to the ball and making a stop after a few weeks of sub-par (OK...atrocious) performances.

39
by Mikey Benny (not verified) :: Tue, 12/25/2007 - 6:45pm

31: I don't think I was Denny Greening my previous comment; all I was saying was that it's preposterous to say that it's a foregone conclusion that the Steelers will lose in the wildcard round. Is that such an outrageous claim? Since the game will be in Pittsburgh, and the Jags are a slightly better team -- with very little passing game -- a game against the Jags will be a coin flip. I don't think any of my points were wrong. I mean, you basically restated them and agreed with them in your own post. No matter, we'll see what happens, congrats on your 4th Lombardi Trophy... you just need one more to catch up after this year!

40
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Tue, 12/25/2007 - 8:09pm

Since the game will be in Pittsburgh, and the Jags are a slightly better team — with very little passing game — a game against the Jags will be a coin flip.

Really? Because I just looked up the DVOA rankings for pass offense. They are:

1. New England Patriots
2. Indianapolis Colts
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
4. Dallas Cowboys
5. Green Bay Packers

7. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Jaguars are 7th in the league at rushing (the Steelers, 16th); but their passing game is even better. David Garrard is legit, their receivers are OK, and their offensive line is awesome.

By the way, the Jaguars rank #2 in the NFL in weighted offensive DVOA. That's behind the Patriots, and ahead of the Colts.

The Jaguars are 6th in weighted defense and trending upward; the Steelers, 4th and trending downward. The Steelers' entire offense is their passing game, which is too bad, because the Jaguars are #7 in the league in pass defense.

The Jaguars are a juggernaut. The Steelers are above-averageish. Not only that, but the Jaguars' strengths (passing, pass defense, and special teams) match up perfectly against the Steelers' weaknesses (pass defense, offensive line, and special teams).

The Jaguars will blow the Steelers off the field.

41
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Tue, 12/25/2007 - 8:16pm

Sorry, that first paragraph is a quote from an earlier post; I guess I messed up my italics there. My bad.

You look into the Steelers, their underlying statistics, and their performance over the year, and the picture becomes pretty clear. On balance, they're an 8-8 team going 11-5 because of a great quarterback and an easy schedule. They're very good at run defense, but very bad at pass protection and kick coverage. Those things balance out. It's hard to see them getting much better next year, and the schedule will be much harder next year (Patriots, Chargers, the AFC South and the NFC East, instead of Jaguars, Broncos and the NFC West). I'll be surprised if the Steelers can reach 10-6 next year.

42
by Anotherpatsfan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/25/2007 - 8:51pm

But Mikey, 4 of y'all's Lombardis are so last century... ;)

We will indeed see what happens, but I agree to the extent that no one should be too surprised if the Steelers win a HOME playoff game this year -- and if I were a Jags fan their trendiness (perhaps from the media picking up on the objective manifestations of their DVOA) might concern me a little.

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays.

43
by DMC (not verified) :: Wed, 12/26/2007 - 1:21am

This thread really hit some nerves all all sides.

Let me just say I am a Steelers fan. Do the Steelers have some serious issues? Of course. We've seen a team that has a crappy o-line, but can be still be explosive on offense. We've seen a defense that has some injury issues, but is similiar to any recent Lebeau defense. They can have flashes of brillance and moments of complete meltdown.

To those that say they have no chance in the playoffs. You are ignoring the reality of the NFL. Please a column called "Any Given Sunday" on a site called footballoutsiders.com. When the offense gets moving this team can rack up some points in a hurry. The defense, even with its problems, can still keep them in a game.

To those who say this is the next 2005 team, I don't see it. But who saw 2005? That 2005 team clawed it's way into the playoffs by rolling over some suspect NFC North teams (and the Browns).

To those that condemed the team to disaster in the coming years, that story has yet to be written. Most mid-tier teams are a few upgrades from rising to the top. Last year, if you were to ask most Steelers fans where the team needed to stock for the future it was at linebacker and that's what the team addressed (I only half believe this because I think we are a 4-3 team in two years with Woodley at DE and Timmons as the Mike).

This year I would think that the trenches on both sides of the line are the biggest need and I would be shocked if the scouts are not focusing on it already.

44
by Luz (not verified) :: Wed, 12/26/2007 - 2:08am

One thing to note about a jax-pit rematch: in the first game a gimpy and struggling marvel smith played most of the game. The jags abused him and the Steelers offensive improvement coincided with the insertion of Max Starks into the game. As the president of the "Starks sucks” club, I was as surprised as anyone.

However, if Starks can continue to play well, it's likely the Steelers offense will improve from their first matchup.

45
by Bob (not verified) :: Wed, 12/26/2007 - 6:38am

Mr Justin Zeth you are clueless.... You touch yourself way too much

46
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Wed, 12/26/2007 - 8:35am

Last year, if you were to ask most Steelers fans where the team needed to stock for the future it was at linebacker and that’s what the team addressed

Most Steelers fans were wrong. This team's biggest need for the future for years now has been offensive linemen who can pass block. Currently the Steelers have only one lineman (Faneca) who can even be described as a competent pass blocker. The team has ignored this need for far too long, and now it has the NFL's worst pass-blocking line to show for it.

47
by JCRODRIGUEZ (not verified) :: Wed, 12/26/2007 - 12:06pm

As a Steeler fan, its hard to disagree with the article and with the DVOA numbers, this coming playoffs should be a great barometer for the coaching, for both, Tomlin and LeBeau, because major adjustmens will be required to get to the SB, which is, of course, the ultimate goal...as for the O-line, it should be major area of concern for the draft, and ending with low first round pick, the best value can be obatined there, so there will be at least one TALENTED rookie starting next year...

48
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Wed, 12/26/2007 - 12:43pm

I get less impressed with Mike Tomlin every week, but I don't think Bill Belichick could get this roster, as presently constructed, to the Super Bowl. The offensive line and special teams are just too weak to be helped.

49
by Dunbar (not verified) :: Thu, 12/27/2007 - 5:49am

Justin Zeth is pretty damn annoying, but I can't say I'm surprised that he's really a Steeler fan. We Steeler fans are always a lot harder on our team than anyone else is, and I think that only a Steeler fan would spout such vitriol about what is really a pretty good team.

I know because I do it myself every Sunday. :)

50
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Thu, 12/27/2007 - 11:42am

It's only a pretty good team because of Roethlisberger. Take the quarterbacks out of the equation, and can you really argue that, top to bottom, the Steelers a better team than, say, the Texans? Or the Broncos? Or the Ravens? Or the Chiefs? Or the Cardinals? Or the Panthers? Not really. Their defensive front seven is better than most of those teams', and their receiving corp is better than all of them except the Cardinals, but their offensive line is worse than all of them, and so is their special teams.

So yes, the Steelers are a good team. But then, the only other teams with a quarterback as good as Ben Roethlisberger are the Patriots, the Colts, the Cowboys, the Packers, and maybe the Saints and Bengals. There you have the four best teams in the NFL, and two teams that, apart from their quarterbacks, are horribly, horrendously awful.

When you have a franchise quarterback, and you're only a "pretty good team," you're failing. The goal is to be a championship team. The Steelers right now are not a championship team, and they're not getting closer to being one. The o-line has to be fixed.

51
by Dunbar (not verified) :: Thu, 12/27/2007 - 5:48pm

"It’s only a pretty good team because of Roethlisberger. Take the quarterbacks out of the equation, and can you really argue that, top to bottom, the Steelers a better team than, say, the Texans? Or the Broncos? Or the Ravens? Or the Chiefs? Or the Cardinals? Or the Panthers?"

Um, yes.

52
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Thu, 12/27/2007 - 7:08pm

Then please do so. I'm listening. Compare the Steelers roster, apart from the quarterbacks, to the Cardinals.

53
by Dunbar (not verified) :: Fri, 12/28/2007 - 1:42am

Alright. The Cardinals are better at wide receiver (Ward, Holmes, and Miller aren't quite as good as Fitzgerald and Boldin), offensive line (though not by that much--their O-line still isn't that good), and kicker. The Steelers, however, are MUCH better on defense--they have a better D-line, better linebackers, and a better secondary (although aside from a premier safety apiece, neither group is anything to write home about). As for the offense, despite the Cardinals' superiority at receiver and on the O-line, the Steelers still manage to rank higher on offense than the Cardinals, at least according to DVOA (12th vs. 18th). I suppose that has something to do with the Steelers' superior quarterback ... but right, we're not supposed to talk about that. Apparently this discussion is taking place in some alternate reality in which quarterback isn't the most important position in the game.

Here's another point I don't get: "So yes, the Steelers are a good team. But then, the only other teams with a quarterback as good as Ben Roethlisberger are the Patriots, the Colts, the Cowboys, the Packers, and maybe the Saints and Bengals. There you have the four best teams in the NFL, and two teams that, apart from their quarterbacks, are horribly, horrendously awful."

What's your point? Yeah, the Patriots, Colts, Cowboys, and probably the Packers are better right now. But those teams are quarterbacked by Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, and Brett Favre, respectively. All of those players are better than Roethlisberger. They also, for the most part, have better supporting casts. As for the Saints and the Bengals ... yes, you're right, those teams aren't very good aside from their quarterbacks. But again--what's your point? The Steelers have a better overall team than the Saints and Bengals, but they aren't quite as good as those top four. That isn't really news to anyone, is it?

"When you have a franchise quarterback, and you’re only a “pretty good team,” you’re failing. The goal is to be a championship team. The Steelers right now are not a championship team, and they’re not getting closer to being one. The o-line has to be fixed."

They were a championship team in 2005/06. We're all sorry they can't win every year, but they're not "failing" just because they aren't doing that. This is real life, not Madden on Rookie level.