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The bowl games heat up with ranked teams facing one another, including matchups between Louisville-Georgia, Nebraska-USC, and Clemson-Oklahoma.

27 Jan 2011

Word of Muth: Surprising Steelers

by Ben Muth

Ben Roethlisberger was one pass away from playing a terrible game on Sunday. If he had failed to complete his third-down pass to Antonio Brown, he would have played a lousy game.

Everyone who has listened to a color commentator knows that numbers do not matter. This is especially true for quarterbacks, during the playoffs, and for quarterbacks in the playoffs. It is important to note that there is one situation in which numbers do seem to matter. That is if you lose.

This is especially true for quarterbacks, during the playoffs, and for quarterbacks in the playoffs. Peyton Manning critics will be the first to disparage stats as a way to measure a player's legacy, but the first to point out his passer rating in playoff losses. This would be like claiming that Cindy Crawford could never be the most beautiful woman in the world because true beauty is on the inside, then pointing out that she has a mole on her face.

Once Brown caught that pass and sealed the win, he rendered Big Ben's yards per attempt moot. Roethlisberger had apparently once again played a great game when it mattered the most. Just as he had all year, the rugged superstar had put an injury-battered offense on his back and made the play to win the game. This is the story that has emerged from the AFC championship game. There are two problems with this line of thinking:

1. It is wrong.
2. It is not as interesting as the real story.

The real story from the AFC title game was the Steelers running attack playing its best game of the year. The much-maligned (often in this column) offensive line stepped up and played better than it ever had as a unit. Rashard Mendenhall certainly did his part (probably more than his part), but the big boys up front did theirs too. The unit wasn't overpowering. The linemen didn't knock the Jets from end to end, but they did sustain their blocks and force the Jets to make (and miss) a lot of arm tackles. They did this despite losing their best lineman to an injury on the first drive of the game.

Flozell Adams and Ramon Foster played light years better than they did against Baltimore. In fact, the right side of the line was largely responsible for the improved play of the unit. The lead-footed duo consistently got to linebackers for the first time all year. Their combination blocks have turned into straight double teams in the past, with neither of them ever climbing to the second level.

On Sunday this wasn't an issue, as one of the two always seemed to be plodding into a linebacker. The best example of this was on Mendenhall's long second-quarter run, where Adams and Foster performed a textbook combo block to spring Mendenhall. Adams may have had a couple of breakdowns, but nowhere near what he had last week, and less than his season average.

Word of Muth punching bag Jonathan Scott was not his usual revolving door self, either. He may have played the best of any of the Steelers offensive linemen (wow, that looks weird in print). The Steelers ran mainly to the right, but this week Scott was much better at cutting off backside penetration. This allowed for a lot more cutback opportunities for Mendenhall.

I don't want to downplay the Big Jon's contributions in the running game, but what was most impressive to me was his improvement in pass protection. I don't know what Scott did to play better. His technique didn't look noticeably different, except that he was sustaining his blocks a lot longer. Perhaps Jonathan Scott is the Mark Sanchez of left tackles.

The remaining two Pittsburgh linemen were not as effective. Chris Kemoeatu played poorly from the first series of the game. He was asked to pull twice on the first drive for Pittsburgh and tripped both times. It got better from there, but not much. Kemoeatu just didn't seem to play with his typical sense of urgency. His strengths -- finishing blocks and effective pulling -- weren't as prevalent in this game, while his weakness -- poor pass blocking -- remained. After playing well last week. this is a step back that the Steelers may not be able to overcome against the Packers.

Once Maurkice Pouncey went down with an injury, the Steelers turned to Doug Legursky. I've been a fan of Legursky's all year. He's filled in at all three interior spots and always acquitted himself well. He's even been used effectively in goal-line situations. It turns out a little Legursky goes a long way.

The Marshall product looked like a different player this week. He looked flustered and overmatched throughout the game, and it looks like he has really short arms (I couldn't find the measurement). The problem with that is that he has to play nose to nose with everyone and can be thrown off of blocks more easily. To get away with short arms, even on the inside where arm length isn't as necessary as it is at tackle, you have to have great grip strength, which Legursky seems to lack. A lot of players have overcome short arms by being better in other areas. Last Sunday, Legusrsky didn't show that ability, but with the increased reps he will get in practice over the next two weeks, he will certainly have an opportunity to hone his craft.

A couple of weeks ago, when I did a mailbag article, I got a question about pass protections with pullers. I didn't answer it then because it seemed like something that deserved more attention than I could give as one answer among money. Luckily, the Steelers provided a perfect example of this type of play. On the first drive of the game Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller for a diving catch inside the 10-yard line. The play was overturned, but that doesn't diminish the scheme of the play; it diminishes the perception that Roethlisberger played an amazing game.

The Steelers motioned into what was basically a Weak I-formation. They faked a weakside power, a play they ran effectively the first time they played New York, and threw it over the top. By faking a play that the Jets had undoubtedly been preparing for early in the game, they got the most bang for their buck.

As a game goes along, the game plan gradually loses traction. You stop worrying about stuff you've prepared for and start worrying about stuff that is hurting you. The Steelers were able to use currency they had built up from the previous game to take an early advantage. Plus, the play was designed to go to a player aligned like a fullback, and defensive secondaries lose those guys a lot.

Figure 1: Power Pass

Of course, the key to any shot play (a play where you know you're going to take a shot) is protection. Here the Steelers had to pull someone create the illusion, which is always difficult on pass protection. Pittsburgh solved this problem by keeping two tight ends and a running back in to block (one of the tight ends released eventually).

They faked Power to the left, meaning the puller is the right guard Foster. The running back is also going to the left, since that is the direction of the fake. Because the play fake necessitates two guys going to the left, the Steelers slide everyone else to the right. This means that the pulling guard and running back are responsible for any C- and D-Gap rushers to the left. The rest of the offensive line simply has the gap to their right; it is actually a really simple protection.

Flozell Adams does something on the play that seems small but is actually very smart. He is supposed to slide to the right, but he notices a three-technique inside. Instead of immediately sliding out, he takes a small step inside and offers hand and body presence until the center, Pouncey, can get to the three-techniques. Adams accomplishes this by keeping his eyes outside so he can still pick up any rushers that threaten his gap. It's a little play that goes a long way in locking up the protection.

Next week the plan is to watch some Packers games and try to break down the matchups up front for Pittsburgh. In doing that, I'll try to explain some things that the guys I played with and I look at when we watch film. It should be fun.

Posted by: Ben Muth on 27 Jan 2011

47 comments, Last at 10 May 2011, 1:48pm by loopslike

Comments

1
by Billy B (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 4:13pm

I've been a big fan of this column all season, but this week's effort is bewildering. The column starts by claiming that Roethlisberger had a lousy game and the reason the Steelers won is because of their offensive line. Unfortunately, neither half of this argument is defended very well.

No evidence is offered for why Roethlisberger had a lousy game. A vague mention of yards per attempt is mentioned, but it isn't clear what this means. Is he claiming that Roethlisberger's 7 yds per attempt is lousy? I think that would be a difficult argument to win.

I appreciate the insight into how well the O-line played in comparison to previous games, but how is this related to Roethlisberger having a lousy game? The explanation of the one play was very informative as usual, but I am completely bewildered how this relates to the central argument of the article. How does this play "diminish the perception that Roethlisberger played an amazing game"???

In summary, how do the arguments in this article represent the "real story" more than the conventional wisdom that the Steelers running game was surprisingly effective and that Roethlisberger made plays when he had to? Perhaps this article just needed a good editor to help the lazy writing get out of the way of the insightful analysis.

2
by bravehoptoad :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 4:37pm

I don't believe he's trying to prove that Roethlisberger had a bad game; he's taking it as given. That's not unreasonable at a stats site, since his stats for the game were terrible. His 52% completion percent, 2 INTs, 35.5 QB rating, and -37 DYAR for the game seem conclusive enough.

3
by Nate Dunlevy :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 4:41pm

Or maybe it was patently obvious to most people that he played poorly.

Honestly, the only thing that requires explanation is the over the top defense of a badly played game by Roethlisberger.

5
by Billy B (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 4:54pm

No, the article claims to have special insight into why the play of the O-line explains why Roethlisberger had a bad game. I was very intrigued by this claim and wanted to see the evidence. All I got was one play diagram that had no bearing on Roethlisberger's play.

47
by loopslike :: Tue, 05/10/2011 - 1:48pm

dental lab
Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best player of this team. His dribbling is really awesome. I like his game-play so so. But in that day his luck was very bad. So we can not blame him for this. It was bad luck.

9
by Ben Muth :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 5:59pm

Basically, I think Ben's stats should speak for themselves. The reason I think the o-line diminshes Roethlisberger's case is that this came should've been far easier for Big Ben than usual. His team was running the ball effectively, and actually giving him time throw. These are two things that haven't been every day occurrences in Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger has played almost unbelievably well all season in the worst of circumstances and probably hasn't gotten as much credit as he deserves for it. Now, the one game where he is off, and he was off (both picks were his fault, and he a third one bounced off of Wilson's facemask), his previously poor teammates picked him up.
I was a little surprised/upset that no one was welling to credit Pittsburgh's line for stepping up when it needed to. If Pittsburgh had been a quarterback, like Mark Sanchez who has gotten a reputation for playing better in big games, they would have been the story. Instead people insist on crediting the one guy on the offense (actually Mike Wallace makes two) who played worse than usual when it mattered most. Bu I have no doubt that if the Steelers did lose people would've blamed 7, but since they won he has to get the credit. It seems like the only thing that matters in playoff games is QBs and possibly defenses. All other aspects of the game are simply obstacles for these stars to overcome, or tools meant to aid their performance. I am more bothered by the coverage than the performance (which was bad, not awful like the numbers may indicate, but still bad).

15
by Billy B (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 6:39pm

I have no problem with your conclusion. I was just trying to point out how your writing was confusing, feedback which a beginning writer might find to be useful. For example, the only QB stat that you mention (yards per atempt) was Roethlisberger's best stat - it was the same as Sanchez's. And you claimed that your analysis of the play demonstrated Roethlisberger's ineffectiveness, but that's not clear at all. The strength of the article (why the O-line deserves more credit) is buried by the questionable logic of the writing. Ok, I'll stop now. Thanks for the articles and keep them coming.

4
by Mike H (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 4:53pm

I agree, Billy B. Looks like Muth took a page from the Bardwell playbook and slams Roethlisberger without offering real analysis and ignoring the components of his game that were effective.

We can all agree that Roethlisberger didn't have a great passing game (as evidenced by the overthrow on the overturned Miller reception Muth mentions and by his second interception). But what about his constant ability to extend plays on those receptions he did complete (like the clincher to Brown)? And what about his ability to successfully extend drives by scrambling for first downs?

I know the site prides itself on innovative statistics, which are certainly important. But too often the authors rely only on those stats without considering a player's contributions in the larger context of the game. Roethlisberger did not have a great game in a Steelers win, but it wouldn't be true to call his efforts "terrible" even had they lost.

7
by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 5:06pm

I took that as more of a comment on how the conventional wisdom regarding qb playoff performance stupidly relies on the team outcome.

6
by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 5:03pm

This game has Clay Matthews, Super Bowl MVP, written all over it, until I remember that Roethlisberger is actually bigger than ol' golden locks, so finishing those speed rushes could be an issue. I'll be interested in hearing your breakdown of the Packers, Ben. They aren't a bad pass protection team, I don't think, but they have their low moments, and it'll be good to hear your take as to how much that has to do with McCarthy's willingness to let Rodgers fend for himself.

8
by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 5:49pm

FO has the Packers OL 21st in pass pro I believe. This game could just as easily have James Harrison/Lamaar Woodley MVP written on it.

For all the talk of the Packers pass rush, I dont hear much about it the other way around. I dont think GB is going to have an answer for that tandem.

10
by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 5:59pm

Oh, I agree; I've already stated in another thread that I think both defensive fronts have the pass protection schemes outclassed. I do think the Packers have the edge in the defensive backfield, which often times translates into increased hits on the qb. I expect Rodgers to get hit very hard, however, and whether those hits happen early or late could have huge impact on the outcome.

13
by tuluse :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 6:27pm

And this game will probably end with James Starks or Ben Roethlisberger winning MPV, for looking good on one final drive after sucking for 3 and a 1/2 quarters.

14
by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 6:33pm

Most Punctual Vicar? I dunno about Starks, but Ben, even with his recent proclivity for implying that God is on his side when he takes the field, doesn't strike me as congregation-leadin' sort!

11
by Ben Muth :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 6:08pm

Excellent point VCoB. I know I personally always discount the Steelers because I focus on the worst part of their team (o-line), and basically ignore the best part of their team. The Steelers defense will keep them in any game, and seem to make one HUGE play a game (last week's TD). I am shocked about the amount of Packer love I'm seeing.

12
by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 6:25pm

That's why I look forward to your take after you review a bunch of Packers footage; is the mismatch here Dick LaBeau's pass rush scheme versus McCarthy's pass protection schemes? I could see Rodgers getting rung like a bell if McCarthy is stubborn about helping out his offensive linemen with guys who otherwise can be running pass routes.

19
by ammek :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 8:10pm

Two articles worth looking at. Firstly, Doug Farrar's analysis of OG Josh Sitton going up against Suh, which was on this site a few weeks ago. Secondly, the ProFootballFocus people did an 'unsung heroes' piece on how the Packer running backs excel at pass protection.

McCarthy does call a fair amount of max-protect: one reason the Packer backs don't have a lot of receptions. The scheme mostly forces rushers inside, opening up lanes for Rodgers to roll out — and that puts a lot of pressure on the interior guys, especially Sitton, who has apparently not given up a sack this year.

Run blocking is quite another matter. I'm looking forward to Ben Muth getting his teeth into it, although I'll be surprised if the Packers bother to call more than a few token runs after the first quarter.

16
by Jerry :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 7:19pm

It's nice to have come to the one place where I can believe it when I read that Jonathan Scott had a better game than Ben Roethlisberger.

As I watched the Steelers have success running right, I wondered how much the bunch there helped. (I now know that the combo blocks actually worked.)

17
by Temo :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 7:23pm

It seems to be that the more plausible explanation for lack of pressure this game wasn't necessarily that the Steelers O-Line spontaneously played better, but that the Jets pass rush, anemic for most of the season, disappeared after a brief appearance in the divisional round.

Same for Roethlisberger: this Jets secondary has confounded the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady the past two weeks, so it's not too surprising that Roethlisberger had a bad game, even with less pressure than he's used to.

The Jets run defense collapsing... that I didn't forsee. Pittsburgh all season was only an average run offense, and the Jets run defense has been strong.

18
by Billy B (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 7:58pm

Yes, it seems to me the real key to analysis of this game is whether Rex Ryan conceded some running plays in order to prevent Roethlisberger from making big plays in the passing game. Were the safeties too far back? How much did the man coverage contribute to big running plays? Unfortunately I haven't seen anyone attempt this analysis, and instead everyone has ridiculous arguments about QB statistics.

20
by Temo :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 10:48pm

It's doubtful that the safeties playing back had anything to do with the run game. For most teams safeties making plays in the running game usually means the play has failed already (for the defense), and I imagine it's moreso for the Jets safeties, who have not schematically ever factored majorly into the run defense.

Immediately post game, I thought the O-Line being at least average in run blocking (vs. awful in pass blocking for most of the season) and Mendenhall having a career day was the difference. Ben Muth here seems to at least partially agree, acknowledging the Steelers didn't "blow the Jets away", but held their blocks just long enough.

27
by bengt (not verified) :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 11:16am

I think I remember reading a post-game comment from one of the Steelers coaches whereas they noticed on film that the Jets' corners do not tackle well (makes sense since they are mostly praised for their coverage skills). So it might be that the Steelers game plan was to force those corners to make the run tackles.
Of course that is easier said than done, and if it is at all possible, it certainly is a game plan that they could have used every game, but clearly did not. On the other hand, I often get the impression that they are holding back their best stuff for the postseason.

28
by GlennW :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 11:19am

I also agree that the Jets didn't concede much in the running game by their defensive scheme. In execution yes, but not in scheme. The Jets missed several tackles in the interior in the first half. They seemed to have linemen/LBs in place to make stops, but Mendenhall kept picking his way through them or just plain plowing over them. Scheme is great, but there's no substitute for making plays.

21
by Mike Elseroad (not verified) :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 1:31am

As far as Big Ben's performance Sunday goes, I have to agree with Ben. Phil Simms said something to the effect that Ben was playing great despite his stats. If Ben was indeed playing great as much as Simms & the mainstream media said he was, the 4th quarter would've been basically a victory lap for the the Black & Gold rather than the white knuckle affair it turned into.

22
by troycapitated p... :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 5:21am

Had their first possession of the 4th quarter started anywhere other than inside the 1 yard line, it may well have been. It was the only drive of the game that did not produce a first down for the Steelers. If they get a first down, or even manage to take the safety on 3rd down, rather than first, that's at least another 90 seconds to 2 minutes off the clock.

Also, had Ike Taylor not fallen down and the Steelers forced the Jets to work their way for the final 45 yards like they had for the first 45 yards of their opening drive in the 3rd quarter, even after the safety there would have been much more time pressure on the Jets to try and get the necessary 2 scores, which might have lead to a mistake by Sanchez.

23
by troycapitated p... :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 5:25am

Incidentally, though the extra 3 points proved valuable towards the end by making FG's meaningless to the Jets, I would have run the ball on 4th & Goal from the 2 in the second quarter, if I were Arians. With the way our defense was playing, if you get stopped, why not force the Jets to start a drive inside their 2 yard line like they ended up doing to the Steelers in the 4th?

26
by GlennW :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 11:14am

In many situations I'd agree with you, but going up 10-0 at that juncture was very big. 4th-and-1 I'd have tried to stick it in the endzone, but at 4th-and-2 I wanted those 3 points. Remember that the previous drive had faltered on 4th-and-1 with the deflected INT, so I think the Steelers really needed to come away with points on the subsequent possession.

37
by troycapitated p... :: Sat, 01/29/2011 - 6:20am

Fair enough. That is an aspect I hadn't really considered and very likely what the coaches were thinking.

24
by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 9:24am

The last time these teams played the Steelers got to Rodgers early, the line adjusted and Rodgers had time in the pocket most plays.

The Packer center, Scott Wells, receives little attention but is a fine player. Folks will talk about Hampton but Wells has faced his share of 'big loads' like Pat Williams and acquitted himself well.

Clifton will have two weeks to rest and while not discussed I would bet dollars to donuts the old warhorse will retire if the Packers win. So he will be looking to pull one last big game out of his back pocket.

Belaga has played much, much better since the last game of the season when he was an abject lesson in poor tackle play.

The Steelers will get in their licks. But the Packer line will give Rodgers his chances to make plays.

29
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 11:49am

Just out of curiosity is your misspelling of Bulaga intentional? I've noticed it before. http://espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?playerId=13247

But I would love to see Ben break down the Packers line. I've done my reviews of it in the comments on this site a few times.

As to the match-ups Matthews can bring Ben down. He did have 2 sacks against him last year (Packers had 5 in the game, but Capers has also been quoted as saying they should have had 5 more if it weren't for poor tackling or Ben being Ben), and Matthews has improved since last year, not just in getting to the QB, but bringing them down when he does. Most of the Packers simply tackle better this year.

The keys will be if Capers can get Matthews isolated in one-on-one situations. He does a pretty good job but can't always pull it off. Matthews can also beat the double teams he faces when Capers doesn't get him isolated, but it's harder of course. If Raji and Jenkins can continue to provide some inside pressure that becomes a lot simpler.

I'm not sure the corner blitzes we've seen the last couple of weeks will happen. I think the Packers are going to play more 3 man fronts, especially if Zombo can play the other outside backer spot as he is better in pass coverage than Walden, and the 2-4-5 won't be used quite as much. If we do see more 3-4-4 "base" from the Packers you can expect some of the schemes to try and get Zombo/Walden isolated not just Matthews. You might even see more Hawk and Bishop blitzes, they have in the past, and I think some of the interior weakness of the Steelers' line would allow these to work. It also gets bigger players coming as opposed to the corners. Again Zombo being healthy is key to being able to play this more I think because while he, like most of the Packers linebackers, have pass coverage issues, he is better than Walden, if only because he has spent more time in the scheme (all offseason + all season, Walden was a midseason pick-up). That allows Capers to respond better to the Steelers offensive formations.

I also wouldn't be surprised to see a 3-3-5 with Woodson playing like a hybrid linebacker/corner. Or the 3-4-4 with Woodson-Williams-Shields-Collins and Peprah not on the field (Woodson plays more like a safety in this one). They ran this vs the Bears on a few series, though with the Pickett-Raji-Green front, I think they might do this with the Jenkins-Raji-Pickett front as well. Again I think we'll see more 3 man fronts because of the blocking of the Steelers and because I think it will allow better contain of Ben.

The Steelers have a good chance to get clock Rodgers as Will Allen has pointed out. Much like the Bears were expected to (and did) get to him a few times. While Rodgers claims he didn't have a concussion his play did change after that hit. Yes the Bears adjusted scheme, and McCarthy was more conservative with the play calling being up 2 scores, but I think the hit affected him.

Jackson is good at blitz pick-up, but he is also by far our best receiving back (and also very good on draw plays as a runner). So he isn't always an option. I've seen Crabtree in the backfield more often and not just in that jumbo backfield. I think that has to do with him being better on pass protection than Quinn Johnson.

Harrison can and will exploit the Packers line. Woodley as mentioned earlier in the comments could be a huge force as well. Though the Steelers only had the one sack last year vs the Packers, I don't think that is the case.

Hampton has an advantage over Wells, though it's not huge.

I do think this is a lot like last week. I agree with Will Allen that both defensive fronts have the advantage over the offensive fronts. Though I do think the Packers have the overall edge there.

I'm really hoping the Packers can turn the clock back on the Steelers run blocking though. The Packers have been vulnerable to the run all year, sure some of that is the large amount of 2 man fronts they play, and the fact the defense is almost always keyed vs the pass. Since the Packers have never trailed by more than 7 points a game most opponents are passing more than running, as most NFL teams do pass more than run in general. All that being said I think they still have some fundamental issues vs the run even when they are keyed to stop it. If the Steelers can continue pulling off combo blocks all of the Packers linebackers, still have problems getting off blocks, it will be very easy to wipe them, I never like the though of a running back only really needing to be a defensive back to get 20+ yards.

Though I still think it possible that Big Ben and A-Rod could be the leading rushers for their teams.

30
by Will Allen :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 12:18pm

I think the final edge which determines the game, assuming that Rodgers doesn't get drilled too early, may be the superiority of the Packers' secondary. Roehtlisberger just won't have as many opportunities to quickly go to an obviously open receiver, in the face of heavy pressure. Of course, this where the guy extends plays until somebody eventually gets open.....hmmmm......starting to argue with myself.......maybe I don't know what the hell will happen....

31
by GlennW :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 2:10pm

I look for the Steelers to start the game by rushing the football more than they normally do, same as in the Jets' game. If that doesn't work, they could be in trouble unless Ben goes superhuman as he did against the Pack in 2009. I haven't seen enough of the Packers this season to know if they can shut down the run if they're keying on it (or not).

I suspect though that this game will end up as another litmus test on the question of "Is Ben Roethlisberger an alltime great QB?" (it's still too early for Rodgers one way or the other). I don't think the answer to that question has been definitively answered yet, and I'm a Steelers fan. Agree with it or not I do think Ben needs to avoid another Super Bowl clunker as far as his career reputation goes. Not that I care as long as the Steelers win, but I'm sure he (and some fans) do.

33
by ammek :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 3:45pm

I haven't seen enough of the Packers this season to know if they can shut down the run if they're keying on it (or not).

Even if you'd watched every game, chances are you wouldn't have a grip on how well they defend the run. Part of that is a lack of attempts; part of it a relatively weak slate of opposing rush offenses.

Conventional stats point in different ways. The 4.65 yards per carry the Packers have given up is the second-most in 50 years; but they've only allowed 6 rushing TDs, the third-fewest since 1960. DVOA reckons they've been average, though slightly better over the second half of the regular season. ALY shows that they're very good in power situations, and excellent at preventing 'open field yards' — although they were exposed a few times down the stretch by the Giants and Bears. That confirms what my eyes have been telling me: the scheme pretty much allows opponents to pick up short-to-medium gains on first and second down; and then the Packers bring in the beef (Howard Green & co) if they get to third-and-short. No RB has had a game-winning day rushing on the Pack: AD had a nice game in week 7, and some teams have had reasonable success with non-RB runs (Stefan Logan, Percy Harvin, Michael Vick, etc). But it would be a shock if Mendenhall pulls a Terrell Davis on this Packer team.

34
by Intropy :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 9:54pm

Is the Packers' secondary superior? Charles Woodson vs. Ike Taylor, that's a wash. Tramon Williams has a pretty big edge over Bryant McFadden / William Gay (whomever gets in at #2). I honestly know very little about Nick Collins. Ryan Clark is pretty average, maybe slightly below. And Troy Polamalu is far better than Charlie Peprah. If you include the nickel position, Sam Shields has been decently solid, not great, but playing quite well recently - he's probably slightly better than whichever of McFadden and Gay gets that role for the Steelers. Really, with the Collins caveat it looks pretty close.

38
by Flounder :: Sat, 01/29/2011 - 11:52am

Tramon Williams is really good. Frankly, he'd be the one you'd compare to Ike Taylor, and he's definitely a better cover corner than him.

Nick Collins is a fantastic athlete, really fast for a safety, has some ability to blitz, and can create turnovers if he actually holds onto the ball. The biggest knock on him is that he will, for unknown reasons, sometimes take a terrible angle or be caught flat-footed. While pro-bowls don't often mean much, he's a pro-bowler for a reason.

Frankly, Woodson should be compared Polamalu. They play similar roles in their respective defenses.

No-one can outrun Shields, and he has improved dramatically since the beginning of the season. His ability to cover #2 receivers is the whole reason why Woodson has been able to take on a Polamalu type role. Peprah is definitely just a guy, but is generally assignment sure, and no worse than Clark.

So, GB has three pro-bowl caliber players, one "just a guy" and an extremely fast and rapidly improving nickel back who I would categorize as above average at this point. Pittsburgh has one really good pro-bowl level player, one solidly above average corner, and three "guys" one of whom (McFadden) was roasted unmercifully by Rodgers in the playoffs last year.

The overal edge has got to go with GB in the secondary. By DVOA, GB is third against #1 receivers, fifth against #2s and 4th against other wide receivers. Pittsburgh is fourth against #1s, third against #2s, but only 18th against other wide receivers.

Now, GB is 22 against Tight Ends and Pittsburgh is #5, but that's a linebacker issue.

25
by Blue Steel (not verified) :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 9:37am

Muth, in your following of the Steelers OL this year, have you ever seen the RG pull left on a run? Few if any teams do anymore. And I can't recall ever seeing the Steelers pull left on a play that was not play action pass. Seems counterproductive to selling the run.

And I'm curious why when teams do pull in the running game, it's almost always the LG pulling right?

32
by Geo B :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 2:28pm

Thanks Mr. Muth for the great work. Agreed that #7's number spoke for themselves - a little better touch on two picks - and this game ends 41-19. I'm a huge Big Ben fan (as a player at least) but know he made what should have been an easy game a lot harder. At least he made the throws on the last drive.

Steeler fan trapped in Houston!
Six Time SB Champs! ;-)

35
by New Haven Denizen (not verified) :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 11:40pm

Please, give Big Ben credit for his broken-play runs ! Sure, he's no Vick, but that running/improvising aspect of his game certainly counter-balances (somewhat, anyway) the terrible passing performance...

36
by Wes69Mike (not verified) :: Sat, 01/29/2011 - 4:31am

It looked like the Jets helped the Steelers by shooting gaps, to disrupt and make the runner stop and restart, which worked vs Balt & the Pats, but Mendenhall got past that penetration and at the POA Flozell & Foster had better angles downfield.

39
by EasyLikeSundayMorning (not verified) :: Sun, 01/30/2011 - 1:07am

I was at the game and thought Ben played a good game, not as a conventional QB but as a guy making the crucial and difficult plays when the game was in question.  I was very surprised to read Barnwell saying that Ben played poorly and now Muth assuming the same.  I rewatched the game, and I'm perplexed as to the evidence that supports their case.  

From the start of the game until it was 24-0, Ben (with definite help from a strong start from Mendenhall) led three scoring drives in which he threw for 6 first downs and ran for a first down on 3rd and 12 run and ran for a TD.  So, he produced 8 crucial plays with putting up gaudy conventional QB stats when the game was most in question.  

In terms of stats up to to that point, Ben's pass to Heath was (debatably) overturned and Mendenhall tripped instead of scoring what would have been a receiving TD.  The first INT was a 1-yard loss on 4th and 1 and Mendenhall stumbled before knocking the ball in the air.  Those three plays cut down Ben's stats, including his passer rating, but they had virtually no impact on the game.  

After it was 24-0, excluding the end of half kneel down, Steelers had the ball 3 times over the next 28 minutes of play.  One ended in the underthrown INT and one was the safety.  They didn't get the ball again until the final drive when Ben threw two crucial first downs on broken play scrambles that clinched the game.  Again, when the game was actually in doubt, he made the plays that the team needed to win.   

Contrast that with Sanchez's lauded performance.  He did virtually nothing well until his team was down 24-0, including fumbling to give the Steelers 7 points. After that, he failed within the 2 when he had a chance to cut the lead to one score with 7+ minutes to play, and he used up so much clock on their last scoring drive that they never got the ball back. In fact, after their first drive, the Jets never had the ball with a chance to tie or go ahead at any point in the game.  His performance was a recipe for putting up some good stats and leading a comeback to a close loss.  So this doesn't seem entirely like Ben hagiography, I'd say that Ben did the same thing against the Pats earlier this year.  His stat line looked good, but it was after the game was virtually out of reach against a prevent D when the game was almost entirely decided. 

I've also heard the argument that Ben's stats should've been worse because their were 1-2 dropped INTs.  Rewatching the game, the Steelers D dropped more INTs than the Jets D did.  One could have been decisive, when Woodley dropped a goal-line pick.  

Obviously, QBs don't win or lose games by themselves.  But I thought Sanchez's play contributed negatively to the loss and Ben's contributed positively to the win.  That's my (subjective) opinion, regardless of the final stat lines. 

40
by troycapitated p... :: Sun, 01/30/2011 - 2:55am

I agree with this characterization of the game.

While I will say Sanchez played better than I expected,
I thought he may have benefitted in some ways because the throws he missed tended to miss everyone
minimizing the risk of a turnover, whereas Roethlisberger's missed throws tended to be just off enough to get contested and possibly picked. Both did manage to hit a couple passes in tight windows.

41
by Coltrane (not verified) :: Sun, 01/30/2011 - 6:47pm

I think you are mistaken. Ben made no big plays in the passing game and had 2 picks in only 19 attempts. He missed a wide open Miller and fumbled twice. He didn't make any big plays through the air to make up for these gaffes. If biased Steelers fans lionize this debacle imagine what they would have said if they had the crisp game that Peyton Manning had against the Jets in a loss. Ben was covered by a strong running game and a big play D. The numbers are so horrific that there isn't any wiggle room for a debate. Only a tactical fool like Phil Simms couldn't grasp that a qb who plays like that loses 95 percent of the time.

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by EasyLikeSundayMorning (not verified) :: Sun, 01/30/2011 - 8:25pm

Coltrane, since you have more experience playing QB in the NFL than Simms and Dilfer, you have the authority to say that there is no room for debate and that people who hold a different opinion than you are fools. Either that or should change your name to Massengill.

44
by Coltrane (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 1:25am

Sure....Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Matt Millen and Garth Snow are immune to 2nd guessing because they played the game. The only people who should opine on politics are former presidents because they actually held the position. EasylikeSunday Morning can't face the facts that Ben was carried by the other 53 players last week. Ben is a great player who had a bad week. 31 other teams lose last week with a similiar inept and turnover filled performance.

43
by Theo :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 5:53pm

Funny.
I've heard shit about the Steelers offensive line even before Alen Faneca left, but they'll be up for their 3rd Trophy in 6 years.
.
Some day someone will find a stat that will say that Ben Roethlisberger is underrated.

45
by Temo :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 12:28pm

How about the fact that he was 2nd in DVOA in the NFL this season? Does that help?

46
by cardroo :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 10:24pm

Was glad to hear Aaron Schatz give a shout out to this column on the BS Report. Well deserved.