Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
12 Nov 2012
by Andy Benoit
Todd Haley will likely hope the Chiefs notice how easy it is to avoid turnovers when you run a quality short-passing offense. In such a system, your quarterback plays with more calmness and rhythm. Your wide receivers have no choice but to use sharp mechanics, promoting focus. Your offensive line makes fewer mental and physical mistakes. And your running backs enjoy the benefit of subtle deception, as defenders can’t help but wonder if you might pass even though you’re aligned in a run-heavy formation.
Yes, Haley has the Steelers offense clicking right now. Jonathan Dwyer (who is hoping to return from a quad injury) and Isaac Redman (147 yards against the Giants) have suddenly gone from lumbering plodders to physical pounders. The later in the game; the better they’ve been.
This week, it will be crucial that Pittsburgh’s runners get clean paths to the second level. Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson is one of the best spot-and-stop artists in the league, but as everyone knows, he’s finesse-oriented. The Steelers running backs must be able to run at him, otherwise, he’ll run them down. The Steelers may roll the dice and ask Maurkice Pouncey to handle nose tackle Dontari Poe one-on-one in order to allow guards Ramon Foster and Pro Bowl-candidate Willie Colon opportunities to reach Johnson cleanly on playside run-blocks. Pouncey probably gives up 40 pounds to Poe, but he’s 10 times more polished than the rookie and has a unique knack for using his athleticism and technique to outperform his own strength.
If the Steelers want to try and win this game through the air, they probably can. They may have to give left tackle Max Starks help against Tamba Hali, and rising right tackle Mike Adams –- who at this point is mechanically unrefined as a pass-blocker -– may also need some help against Justin Houston. But assuming Ben Roethlisberger has time to throw (and if he doesn’t, he’ll create time), the Steelers should be eager to test a Chiefs secondary that’s now without cover corner Stanford Routt. The best way to do that is to go three-wide with Jerricho Cotchery in the slot. That will pull Javier Arenas inside and leave defensive back Travis Daniels in space on the outside against the darting Emmanuel Sanders, who is starting for an injured Antonio Brown.
With Quinn still out due to a concussion, Cassel gets the nod again Monday night. Don’t expect him to have many issues under pressure. The Steelers have just 14 sacks on the season, as James Harrison has looked old and LaMarr Woodley has looked less dynamic. Bad as Kansas City’s offense has been, tackles Branden Albert and Eric Winston aren’t the primary problems.
Turnovers, of course, are the primary problem -– and there’s really no predicting those. For analytical purposes, let’s assume there will be zero. With Troy Polamalu out, the Steelers defense is more stop-oriented than big-play-oriented anyway. Their secondary has been fantastic across the board in man coverage.
Top corner Ike Taylor has an interesting matchup against Dwayne Bowe. The sixth-year receiver has the strength and lankiness to consistently get good positioning against physical coverage. Where Bowe struggles is against slightly off-man coverage; he’s not as comfortable attacking the ball when defenders around him have space to close in. Will the grab-happy Taylor give Bowe a little cushion and be more of a ball-defender Monday night?
Taylor, a stingy run-defender, may have to focus more on overcoming Bowe’s outstanding downfield blocking outside the numbers. The way to beat the Steelers is around the edges on the ground. Expect the Chiefs to use a lot of tight end and wide receiver motion on the edges of their zone-blocking front in order to help create soft corners for the speedy Jamaal Charles. If Charles can avoid fumbles, the Chiefs could surprise people with a sustainable, clock-chewing offense. We forget so quickly that they did this a year ago when Pittsburgh traveled to Kansas City for a Week 12 Sunday night contest.
2 comments, Last at 12 Nov 2012, 6:32pm by Michael19531