Stillers-Skins Post Game Notes (Aug 26)
Please note 2 things: 1.) This is preseason, so this is not a full-blown "report", but rather notes on some key things. 2.) I've repeated this throughout preseason -- I do not care about wins/losses in preseason, but rather how players, schemes, and teamwork look.
This was supposed to be the final tuneup for a team that had already played an NFL-high 4 preseason games. Instead, the offense continued to stink and sputter, and more questions abound than any reasonable answers. Questions, you ask? Here's some of them:
- QB remains the biggest question. Neither QB distinguished himself again last nite. Graham completed a sweet 31-yard deep lob to Burress on the game's 1st drive, but that was most of the extent of his good work. Graham tried a few more times to force the ball deep to Burress, but on these occasions -- as we will start seeing ALL season long -- Burress was double-covered. The big play that Graham botched was on that same 1st series, when he had Breuner wide open on a flag route at about the 5-yard line, for what should have been 6 points. Instead, Kent badly overthrew Breuner, and we settled for Brown's missed FG try. Graham's INT was obviously not his fault, per se�.on a 3rd and 6, he hit Huntley between the numbers in the flat, and the ball popped up. The DB snapped up the ball and sped down the sideline for a TD. Stewart was 5-15 for a paltry 47 yards, all in the 2nd qtr. He was victimized by an Edwards drop of what should have been a TD on a deep throw. My beef with Stewart on this play, however, was that the ball was poorly underthrown. The pass needed to be thrown only about 45 yards downfield, and Stewart -- who has an arm to throw it at least 65 yards -- lollipopped it. This is not to absolve Troy from another pitiful drop, but still, Stewart needs to air the ball out when he has a man open deep. Ironically enough, earlier on, Stewart ignored an open Burress deep downfield, and instead tried to force the ball to a near-smothered Hawk on an 8-yard curl. It's all enough to drive a fan batty. Cowhead announced after the game that neither QB has been named the starter, and in what sounds like what occurred late in the '96 season (Mike Prozac and Stewart interchanged at QB), either QB will start and/or relieve based on effectiveness and production. I'll comment more on that in tomorrow's column.
- WR: This group continues to flounder and underachieve. The drops continue to haunt this gang. Three drops by Troy are unacceptable. Plus, no receiver has really stepped up and wrested the #3 WR job.
- Offensive Coordinator: When will Gilbride's infamous system and guru coaching take effect?? 2002 ? '04?? Sure, we finally saw some deep balls thrown, which was a pleasant site. However, NONE of them were set up with any play-fakes, which should be an easy task to do, since defenses will key on stopping Bettis or Huntley. No designed rolls were called for Stewart -- his 1 terrific 29-yard run was ad-libbed off a straight-drop back & scramble. The pass to Hunt, which was bobbled and then INT'd, marks the epitome of what ails this offense. Here's Huntley, receiving the pass at about the line of scrimmage, on 3rd and 6. And he's about 3 feet from the sideline, meaning he has virtually nowhere to move once he makes the reception. Yes, this play appeared to be a safety-valve dumpoff, but this play happens all too often on 3rd and long. You want to release Hunt as a safety valve..? It's a great idea�as long as you put him SOMEWHERE where he can make a play. Standing 3 feet from the sideline, 6 yards from the 1st down marker, is not such a venue. Why not run him down a seam in the middle of the field, in a spot vacated by a blitzing LB or between 2 zones ?? It's abundantly clear that this offense, for the 3rd consecutive season, has no identity & no "this is our credo and this is what we do well" mentality. It's all a grab-bag scheme in which plays are grabbed half-hazardly from grab bag, with absolutely no set-ups (ie, play-action, mis-direction, etc.) permitted.
- What about all the focus, concentration, etc, we heard were being "enforced" during camp ?? "This was the most stringent camp Cowher has ever conducted," said the local media. Oh, sure. Maybe that's why we had about 12 penalties last nite. Offensive pass interference on a screen play. False start on a Steeler punt. A missed Skins' FG is allowed to be re-tried, due to a boneheaded offsides penalty by 2nd-year man Kelsay. A DL (Combs) lined up in the neutral zone, flagged for offsides. Yes, that's SOME concentration and focus, folks. And there's Amoz Z, running a basic draw play in the 4th quarter, getting massacred by 2 Skins, all in the name of a couple offensive lineman totally botching their blocking assignment. It's a miracle AZ was able to walk off the field. The 3rd qtr. TD by Murrell was pretty sickening. Met at the line of scrimmage by literally THREE defenders (Fiala, Simmons, and Battles), Murrell easily spun off, as though he'd simply run into some foam blocking dummies, and sauntered in the the end zone for a 3-yard scoring run.
There were a few bright spots. Kimo made a fine play on the 1st Skins drive, knifing in and stuffing the runner for a loss. This is the kind of play that is indicative of Kimo's crude but effective playing style. Tonwsend batted away a sure TD pass in the 1st quarter in the EZ. The offensive line, for the most part, gave Graham and Stewart adequate time to throw the ball.
The 1st and 2nd team defense played fairly well, holding a skilled Skins offense to 3 1st-half points. The run defense was pretty stingy and the pass defense minimized big plays. Gildon got his usual DongSack®. Kirk came blasting in, and whiffed on an easy sack. (gee, didn't we see that occur, what, 5 times last year?) Gildon, who was blocked only by a RB (that's shows the amount of respect offensive coordinators have for Jason Gildong), eventually cleaned up the garbage and dropped George. The series prior to that, Gildon got totally sucked in on a reverse (again, greaaattt focus and concentration), and then slowly and clumsily failed to cut off the ball-carrying receiver at the sideline, allowing a big 16-yard Redskins gainer. Hawkins scored the lone Stiller TD, off a nice medium-deep throw by Wright. Combined with a 46-yard Hawkins reception from Martin, this spells deep fear to me --- I'm fearful that this will allow Cowhead to justify cutting Danny Farmer and keeping Lil' COurtney, who has been one of Cowher's favorite players of all time.
Soon enough, I'll be cranking out my game-by-game 2000 outlook, so stay tuned.
The Still Mill