Are the Stillers Really �Finished�?
Special Commentary by PalmerSucks
October 7, 2011
�It�s time for the offense to step up and carry this team.� �Hines Ward, October 6th
A few weeks ago, Warren Sapp declared the Stillers �old, slow and over,� and ever since, he�s had a lot of company. The bandwagon filled to overflowing after the loss in Houston, the airwaves crackling with talk about the demise of the black and gold. According to these people, we might as well get ready for the 2012 draft, because the Stillers are done. The d-line can�t stop the run, and the o-line couldn�t block a high-school defense. The Stillers are the drunken fisherman who cut his head and fell off his boat, with sharks circling, smelling blood.
Should we then throw in the Terrible Towel -- or have the fans and media types overreacted after just 4 games?
No doubt things look bleak as the Stillers now face a tough Titans team, which easily handled the Ravens a few weeks ago. The QB is gimpy, and the best LB is out with a busted eye socket. The Wheelchair Curtain will only age more as Larry �Slow-a� Foote limps�er uh, fills-- in at inside �backer, with Lawrence Timmons forced to slide outside. The big test will come against Chris Johnson, whom the Stillers have owned in the past � will he join Addai, Rice and Foster on the list of RBs who�ve gashed the Stillers run defense?
That said, I want you to take away one thing � if the only thing � from what I�ve written this year:
-�The strength of the Stillers, as discussed in the pre-season commentary, lies with Roethlisberger and his terrific group of WRs. That�s another way of saying the season depends on what kind of offensive line play the team gets. Give Ben time, you�ve got a chance. Get Ben killed, say goodbye to the season.� (PalmerSucks, �The Wheelchair Curtain Strikes Back!� September 23, 2011)
Lost in all the shrieking about the defense was this: for as badly as they got gashed Sunday, they still only gave up 17 points. 17 points should be nothing for a decent NFL offense to overcome, so the blame for the loss goes to the offense � or more to the point the offensive line. The situation should improve with the apparent re-signing of Max Starks, who, as you know I hated seeing the Stillers release while keeping around flops like Jonathan Scott. (It�s time for the Stillers to admit the Scott experiment was a bust, and cut their losses.)
As I discussed BEFORE the season (long before Sapp and his buds did) the Stillers defense had aged and was no longer dominant � which in some ways was beside the point, as it would be up to the offense to carry the load this year. Whether or not the Stillers really are toast will be decided by how many points the offense can score � somewhere between 20 and 30 will be needed to win most games on the schedule. Whether or not that�s possible will be up to the offensive line � it�s really that simple.
So how can the team improve the picture? The return of Starks is a start � but there are other ways the Stillers can help out their lame o-line:
- More supportive play calling: It�s been said Bruce Arians game plans suck; I disagree � he brings no game plan in the first place. Likewise, Arians fails to take into account the weaknesses of his players when crafting plays. When your o-line is this poor, you DON�T call repeated deep drops. One play in particular stands out Sunday � a second-and-two from around midfield. Normally, the offense has the advantage here, the defense having to respect the run, and not being able to bring the house. But what happens? Ben drops back and is immediately buried like a kiddie sled in an avalanche. When your QB can�t even execute play-action, you know you�re in big trouble.
Bootlegs, sprints, roll-outs, waggles and misdirection can all be used to throw off rush-happy teams. Likewise, the Stillers can go to the short-pass game, mixing in slants and dump-offs to keep the defense off balance. The shorter the time the linemen have to hold their blocks, the better. Bruce Arians apparently doesn�t realize this, but then again, Bruce Arians is a moron. Maybe it�s up to Coach Tomlin to take the necessary steps.
������ 2.�� Chip at the edges: This seems so simple, so basic and so obvious � but how many times against
������������ the Colts did we see Scott matched up alone with Dwight Freeney? Having your RBs and TEs chip block
������������ the other guys� DEs would go a long way toward keeping your QB out of the hospital.�
- �Run Redman, and warm up Dwyer: Since the Stillers� line couldn�t pass block a group of cripples right�����
������������� now, the team will no doubt retreat back to the run game. That�s fine, but they�d have more success with���
������������� Redman, who hits the hole instead of dancing around like Hines Ward on ABC. The Stillers should also��
������������� give Jon Dwyer a look, as he ran hard and looked terrific in the pre-season. A Redman-Dwyer combo����
������������� would mean the other guys face a big-back power game, which would help sustain drives and provide
������������� some much-needed nap time for the Wheelchair Curtain crew.
Likewise, the QB can help, and not just with the usual �don�t hold the ball so long� idea. Roethlisberger must be careful to ALTER HIS CADENCE � it appeared Sunday the Texans� d-linemen were getting big jumps on the snap. Ben also missed Ward on a hot read, so there�s room for improvement all around. The Stillers also need to scrap that Arians classic, the horseshit EMPTY SET, which almost always results in a sack or pressure.
Anyway, it�s simple: if the Stillers o-line continues the way it�s been playing, you probably can say goodbye to the 2011 season. If the situation improves, however, don�t throw in the Towel just yet. The schedule is full of creampuffs, and frankly the AFC lacks anything close to a dominant team. And as for the Wheelchair Curtain, injury is doing what the coaching staff lacks the common sense to: weed out the old guys, and try out the new. Look for guys like Sylvester and Worilds to get out on the field in the weeks ahead.
This isn�t 2006 anymore � we all know that. The Stillers are no longer a dominant team, but that doesn�t mean they can�t be a competitive one. A stabilized offensive line, combined with the right play-calling, is the key to unleashing the team�s strength: the QB and his WR corps. Even Mike Wallace is useless, however, if his QB has no time to throw. The fact is, even half-decent o-line play will keep the Stillers in contention for a successful season, and the playoffs. Remember that the next time you hear the doomsayers declare the team dead.
As for the Titans game, let�s see what effort the Stillers can muster: they seem to play better with their backs against the wall. Don�t be surprise if the team doesn�t miss Harrison as much as people think � his play hasn�t been at a high level since December of last year. Timmons may fill in admirably in his spot. Of course there�s Foote to worry about, a guy who should�ve retired 5 years ago, but� you can�t have everything.
I watched the Patriots crush the Raiders: once again Tom Brady had time to have a slice of quiche back there. I also saw what happened to him when Buffalo took away his cushy little tea-room seat � pick city. There is no reason Roethlisberger can�t put up similar numbers given decent protection. We�ll see if the Stillers are up to that task. All that�s at stake here is the entire season.
--Add this one to the list of nicknames for Joe Flacco: �Mr. Irrelevant.� What else can you call a guy who goes 8-for-27 at one point, yet watches his team go up by 20 points? Average Joe is the reason not to hand over the division yet to an otherwise power-packed Ravens squad. Finally the media are waking up to what I�ve been saying about him: he stinks out loud (so much so I�m thinking about changing my name to �FlaccoSucks�).
Had the other guys� QB not found a way to perform even worse than Joey in Sunday Night�s QB stinkfest, the Ravens might�ve lost the game despite dominating it. Baltimore might as well line up two RBs in the backfield in place of the QB, and let their defense handle the scoring chores. Don�t hand over anything yet to the Ravens as long as Joe Flacco, aka �the guy who couldn�t beat out Tyler Palko� is behind center.
Anyway, enjoy the game, and let�s see just how �finished� the Stillers are.