Back to the drawing board

Nothing like scoring 38 points off five touchdown passes and losing. Special teams and turnovers are a big part of winning games and blogger Ryan Wilson wishes someone would type that up and send it to the Steelers because they've been recurring themes all season.

Frankly, I'm getting tired of writing the same story, week after week, loss after loss. To make my job a little easier, and to save you the trouble of reading 2,000 words that leave you wondering why you wasted five minutes of your life, I've come up with a nifty little form that should make all of our Monday-morning-quarterbacking jobs a little less tedious. Give it a spin:
The Pittsburgh Steelers might be the best [insert losing record] team in the NFL. They most certainly should be [insert undefeated record] but Ben Roethlisberger struggled with interceptions early because of [any one of Big Ben's various ailments]. Also, [any offensive skill player] has had trouble with fumbles and [any pass catcher] has had issues catching passes. Other than [insert Troy Polamalu or Ryan Clark] the secondary has been inconsistent and compounding matters, the defense hasn't been able to get off the field on third downs. Even worse, Coach Bill Cowher has made some [any synonym for hair-brained] decisions which have contributed to the losing. Luckily, punter Chris Gardocki has been reliable, so whoopee for that.
I think that should do it. For the next 10 weeks, I can just fill out my loser's form and we can all get on with our lives.

Okay, things aren't that dire, and I'm being completely honest when I write that the Steelers could end the season as the best 6-10 team in the history of the NFL. They absolutely dominated the Bengals and the Falcons but because of stupid turnovers they're sitting at 2-4. And like Bill Parcells says, "You are what your record says you are." True that.

Instead of rehashing all the ridiculously inane events that paved the way for Pittsburgh's fourth loss of the season, I'll focus on the positives. You know, just to take our minds off who the Steelers will take with their top-15 pick in next April's draft.

But first, one gripe (you knew I couldn't go an entire column without bellyaching about something, right?):

Can the whiners please stop whining? Seriously, enough is enough. Was the hit on Big Ben illegal? I have no idea. I say this not because it wasn't obvious to me that two Falcons players made helmet-to-helmet contact with Roethlisberger, but because the rules are so convoluted, confusing and inconsistently enforced, it's hard to know what's a penalty and what isn't. That the officials continue to bumble through these calls only proves the point.

And let's just say the play was flagged. Then what? The Steelers' offense moving the ball on the Falcons' defense wasn't the problem; unless the penalty included Atlanta's offense only being allowed to put five guys on the field, I don't think it would've much mattered. And any penalty certainly wasn't bringing Roethlisberger back from what newsreaders want to call a concussion.

Also, Cowher complaining-but-not-really about the false start penalty that ended regulation is not only a waste of breath, but misdirected hostility. If the head coach wants to be upset with anyone it should be at himself for how poorly he managed the game.

Does anybody remember when Atlanta scored their first touchdown of the second half? (For those of you who had already changed the channel, it was after Willie Parker's fumble – Pittsburgh's third turnover of the game -- that gave the Falcons the ball on the Steelers 26 yard line.) Warrick Dunn scored on a one-yard run that was obvious to everybody but Cowher. Of course, he challenged the play anyway to prove ... well, I have no idea what the thinking was there. Not surprisingly, the touchdown was upheld and the Steelers lost a valuable timeout.

Fast-forward to the end of regulation when Cowher burned through timeouts trying to ice the kicker. Sure, Father Time came up short on the 51-yarder, but when the Steelers subsequently moved the ball within field goal range with 13 seconds on the clock, one of those timeouts would've come in handy. Instead, Nate Washington (or Hines Ward ... or both, who knows) moves at the line of scrimmage, is called for a false start, and it's on to overtime.

This is the second time in three games Cowher has been outcoached. He was out-anti-Martyballed during the Chargers Sunday night game, and Jim Mora Jr. looked like Vince Lombardi to Cowher's Phil Weston.

If people want something to criticize, there you go. Otherwise, whining is for Seahawks fans and losers. And no, the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Now, on to the good stuff ...

  • Punt-returning lunacy aside, I love Santonio Holmes. He gets better every week. He makes at least one "how the hell did he catch that?" grab a game, and Roethlisberger seems to be more comfortable throwing him the ball.
  • Nate Washington also continues to make a case for Cedrick Wilson getting "Lee Mays-ed" (demoted to fourth team). And if the Steelers are going to continue their losing ways, I'd make this suggestion: get Washington in the end zone at least once a game for the sheer comedy value. God, that guy can't dance, but it sure is funny watching him try. I mean, I shouldn't have to sit through four frustrating hours of football without a few chuckles, right?
  • I wonder what Big Ben did to piss off the Big Guy upstairs? Every week it's something different. Motorcycle accident/appendicitis aside, Roethlisberger has always been ... well, fragile. His rookie season it was his ribs, thumb and toes. Last season it was his ribs, knees and thumb. This year it's been everything and Sunday's injury was just the cherry on top.

    I have no empirical evidence to support my theory, but it seems some quarterbacks are predisposed to injuries while others somehow manage to avoid the nagging aches and pains that result in missed playing time. When was the last time Tom Brady or Peyton Manning missed a game due to injury? Last season Brady was smacked around more than Marv Albert's girlfriend and he didn't miss a start. Yesterday the Redskins tried to break Manning in two and he promptly lit them up for four touchdowns and 400 yards.

    I'm sure a lot of this has to do with luck, good bounces and some other clichés that I'm forgetting, but it still doesn't change the fact the Roethlisberger has trouble staying healthy.

  • Which reminds me: thank God for Charlie Batch. I know every game going forward is of the "must-win" variety, but I'd be quite happy if Batch played Sunday against the Raiders if there are any questions about Roethlisberger. I have that much confidence in the guy. Of course, the consternation is then that Brian St. Pierre will be just a play away, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
  • I understand the importance of having quality backups -- Batch is Exhibit A -- but why the Steelers have this peculiar love affair with St. Pierre is baffling. Here's an idea (and one that I had on eight different occasions -- one for each kickoff -- Sunday): how about re-signing Chidi Iwuoma? Yeah, I know, crazy thought, but since Pittsburgh's special teams went tackling optional against the Falcons, maybe mixing things up might help. I'm sure James Harrison will be welcomed back with open arms, but until then, why not give Chidi a call?

    Or the Steelers can continue to rely on Jeff Reed leg-whipping returners after they beat the coverage.

    Personally, I have no problem with Reed doing this (I seem to recall he also tripped Dante Hall back in the 2003 Chiefs game) and is there really any fear he'll get hurt? Have you seen the size of Reed's legs? They don't call him Quadzilla for nothing.

  • Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark continue to play some very good football. Polamalu missed a big tackle on Vick in overtime, but I don't think anybody on the planet makes that play. The fact that Troy was even near Vick is a testament to his athleticism. And the first-half interception was one of the best of the season.

    Clark continues to tackle well and wear out receivers that come across the middle. I know one of Alge Crumpler's touchdowns was with Clark in coverage, but shouldn't Vick's favorite target draw a double-team? Bryant McFadden had great coverage on Crumpler's first TD catch but it's kinda hard to make a play when 260 pounds is between you and the ball.

  • Finally, I think Hines Wards' hamstring is doing just fine. I also think DeAngelo Hall is the worst cornerback on the planet. For a guy who brags about running a 4.2-forty, he sure had trouble catching one-shoe Ward (a.k.a. the Peg-Leg Cowboy) on that 70-yard touchdown romp. God was that embarrassing. I also thoroughly enjoyed watching Ward block Hall out of every running play to his side of the field. And when Hall did have a chance to hit somebody he often got off the turf holding some part of his body like he was in pain. What an overrated, loud-mouthed wuss. For as annoying as Deion Sanders is as an "analyst" he embodied what it meant to be a cover corner. Hall is a joke.
  • So after seven weeks the Steelers are 2-4. But unlike the 2003 squad, this team actually has a lot of talent. The offensive line has been inconsistent, but nothing like what Pittsburgh put on the field during that 6-10 season, and Tommy Maddox is no longer winging interceptions all over the place (although his ghost is still very much wreaking havoc).

    Despite the talent, it won't much matter if turnovers and silly mistakes continue to plague the Steelers on game day. I'm still cautiously optimistic about the rest of the season, but if Pittsburgh goes into Oakland and lays an egg, well, then all bets are off. In the meantime, let's pray for a speedy recovery for Roethlisberger, James Harrison, Joey Porter, Willie Reid and whoever else might now be on the injury report. But especially Willie Reid.


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