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S.O.S. - Thoughts on Starting 0-2 and Other Fun Developments

September 21, 2013 by Palmer Sucks


Thoughts on Starting 0-2 and Other Fun Developments

by PalmerSucks

September 20, 2013



It’s “S.O.S.” time in Stiller Nation, as the team opens 0 and 2 and the panic begins. Already there’s talk that the season’s over, fans rolling out stats citing the dim chances of making the playoffs when you lose your first two games. (For the record, it’s a depressing 11.6 percent.)


But there’s another version of this abbreviation I’d like to point out, one that doesn’t have to do with Maydays and cries for help. Long ago, in those pre-Immaculate-Reception days when the Stillers were synonymous with losing, there existed a saying: “S.O.S.: Same Old Stillers.” This referred not just to the failure itself, but the repetitive way the team was failing. In other words, the Stillers were losing, and doing it the usual way, bumbling, fumbling and stumbling all the way.


Fast-forward to 2013, and it’s “S.O.S.” all over again.


For the last three years I’ve opened pre-season commentary with the same outlook that boils down to this: 1. the Stillers can be playoff contenders, but, 2. only if their offense scores enough points to support a defense that no longer dominates, but keeps the opponents’ scoring down enough to keep most games competitive. And every year, the Stillers offense fails to keep its end of the bargain, too often scoring 17 points or less a game and wasting a lot of decent defensive efforts.


So far this season, the pattern’s holding. The Stillers managed a whopping nine points against Tennesse, two of those points gifted via a boneheaded safety on the opening kickoff. In game two they didn’t do much better, managing a meager 10 spot against an overrated Cincy squad. (The Bengals are who we thought they were, frankly stinking up the joint Monday Night; the trouble is, the Stillers managed to stink even worse.) For its part, the defense yielded just 16 the first game, and a respectable 20 the second. So far it’s 2012 (and 2011 and 2010), all over again.


As usual, scoring nine or 10 points a game isn’t going to win you very many of them. Thanks to everyone who screamed that Arians had to go, we now get the Todd Haley offense, complete with blocking schemes ill suited to the Stillers’ linemen, and a West-Coasty passing game just perfect for a smallish receiving crew who can’t create much separation. (Where’s this outside zone-blocking scheme we heard so much about back in August?)


But Haley is far from all that’s wrong with the team right now, despite what you’re reading on the message boards. Go back to Monday Night, seconds after Paulsen fumbles. If you’re anything like me, you were screaming “snap the ball!” over and over at the TV screen. Meanwhile, you’re watching a bunch of guys mill around like zombies for what seemed like hours – you’ve got to get another play off when it’s that clear your guy probably coughed it. Instead, like morons, the Stillers stand around allowing Cincy time to consider making the challenge. Mike? Mike Tomlin? Calling Mike Tomlin.


Mike of course responded with another patented post-game session, where he reassures us the standard continues to be the standard, brings up an injury or bad call that hurts the Stillers, then points out of course that the Stillers don’t use excuses to justify losses. You have to love it.


But Tomlin and Haley have taken their lumps plenty in the papers this week. The two guys who haven’t are the guys who may have more to do with this whole pathetic situation. Somehow they’ve escaped scrutiny, but maybe we it’s time we took a little look.


I’ve both heard and read that Artie Jones—er uh, Rooney (sorry, it’s easy to make that mistake when your owner starts getting involved with the team beyond just signing the paychecks) is primarily responsible for the arrival of scrappin’ Todd. I’ve also heard that Tomlin wasn’t all for Haley’s hiring. But that matters little, when your owner declares it’s time to get back to “Stillers Football,” that brand of hard-nosed, turf-grinding ball that worked great in 1972.


I mentioned in my post-draft I thought taking Bell in the second round was a bit of a reach, but probably not to Artie. Anyway, the running game did look to improve with Bell and the arrival of Stephens-Howling, but so far one guy’s been a china doll who can’t get on the field, and the other’s on IR (which is really a shame.)


Ironically, problem number one is the run game, which has averaged a vomit-inducing 2.4 yards a pop. The main difference between the two offenses Monday Night was that the Bengals could actually run the ball – it’s a passing league, but you need the run to support it.


Problem number two is that the defense is “S.O.S.” too: yes, it keeps down the scoring, but it’s (again) softer than yogurt, gives up the same comfy cushions to receivers and (yet again) puts no heat on opposing QBs. Oh, and did I mention that once again it creates no turnovers? The Stillers may not give up many big plays, but they don’t exactly inspire fear in opposing offenses.


Part of the reason is age, which produces slower players. The Stillers D again relies on guys like Keisel, Troy Pola and Clark, all of who’ve been around a decade or more. It’s the same old guys expected to come through, even though they were already mature the last time the Stillers won a Super Bowl.


This brings us to a key reason the Stillers look the way they do: let’s take a look at two recent key drafts, 2009 and 2008:










Ziggy Hood





Kraig Urbik





Mike Wallace





Keenan Lewis


Oregon State



Joe Burnett


Central Florida



Frank Summers


Nevada-Las Vegas



Ra'Shon Harris





A.Q. Shipley


Penn State



David Johnson


Arkansas State









Rashard Mendenhall





Limas Sweed





Bruce Davis





Tony Hills





Dennis Dixon





Mike Humpal





Ryan Mundy


West Virginia



How many of these players are even still on the team, let alone producing? The 2008 crew, led by Limas Sweed, is a total washout. These two draft years were vital to the team’s renewal, as the team needed to re-stock after the Joey Porter generation left. Instead, the Stillers gained nothing, and the blame for that goes mainly to one man: Kevin Colbert, whose talent for getting away scot-free would make Bill Clinton proud.


The drop-off after Pola and Clark is immense, and unless Hood and Heyward can start playing like first rounders, or Woodley can start playing like its 2008, you’re not going to see much improvement. The NFL draft system is designed to weaken the teams at the top, and though the Stillers seemingly have been able to cheat decline, maybe it’s finally catching up with them.


Right now the Stillers are a team led by a handful of elite but aging players, “supported” by a cast of mediocre types who lack the same winning know-how. You can point the finger at Haley, but the offense has been underachieving well before he got here.


The absolute scoring minimum needed for the Stillers to win most games is three TDs an outing. In today’s game, big WRs like Andre Johnson use their size to make catches even when they can’t get separation. The Stillers don’t have any receivers that large, so they’ve got to figure out other ways to get guys open. One suggestion: swap in the rookie Wheaton for Cotchery. As I’ve said before, the other team’s dime DB couldn’t handle Wallace as a rookie; that set up all kinds of big plays. Another suggestion: more no-huddle.


But back to 0-2. Does that mean the Stillers are toast already? That’s where things get entertaining. Because despite all the doom and gloom pronouncements, they most decidedly aren’t finished.


In my pre-season look I pointed out the mediocrity of the AFC North, which, for the first time in a long time, was ripe for the taking by anyone. That’s already come into play after just two games. The Stillers may be winless, but look around at the competition:


Cincinnati: The TV promo of the week is “Rodgers vs. Dalton”… what a joke. I admired Andy Dalton coming out of college, but the more I see of him as a pro, the less I like. He’s soft under pressure, much like his team. If the Bengals thought they’d gotten over the hump beating the Stillers, they’ll be in for a surprise when they get beaten down by Green Bay.


Baltimore: Embarrassed on opening Thursday, embarrassed last Sunday being down 6-0 at the half against Cleveland. Now the Ravens get to face Houston, a team that’s bent them over hard as of late. Throwing all that cap money at Average Joe should pay off big in the years ahead – for the opposition.


Cleveland: Nothing says “we give up on the season” like trading away your one threat on offense. The Browns may finally have realized that drafting QBs old enough to collect social security might not be wise – so they’re stockpiling #1s while they wait for Johnny Football to declare.


So are the Stillers dead at 0-2? They might be, if they played, say, in the NFC West. But not in the wild, weak and wacky AFC North, where 8-8 could easily get you a division title. By the time the Stillers play next, Cincy and Baltimore could be 1-2, and Cleveland 0-3. As Collier pointed out in the P-G, a win over the Bears Sunday and you could be calling them your first-place Pittsburgh Stillers. Now wouldn’t that be something?


And here’s the funniest part the Stillers could go into dreaded 0-3 territory, and still not be eliminated from contention. Ha ha! Enjoy the hilarity.

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