About that offensive line ...

The Steelers offensive line includes the same cast of characters from last year's 8-8 season. The only difference is the o-line coach. But will it be enough?

Perspective's a funny thing. Twelve months ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were defending Super Bowl champions and I spent most of the preseason trying to convince myself that Big Ben would be fine, and that the team wouldn't miss Antwaan Randle El, Chris Hope and Kimo von Oelhoffen. I also found more enjoyment than I should probably admit in reading the message boards of those teams less fortunate than the Steelers. And by "those teams," I'm of course talking about the Baltimore Ravens. But a funny thing happened on the way to an 8-8 record and no postseason appearance: Baltimore, in a phrase made popular by my dad, beat Pittsburgh "like they stole something." And they did it twice just to make sure we all knew it wasn't a fluke.

Oddly, I quit making those virtual field trips to Ravens Land after the second beat down, and I haven't been back since (well, except in the seconds following their AFC playoff meltdown, but that's it). Last year's results raise two important questions, though: What the hell happened? And how do the Steelers fix it?

If there's a takeaway from those clubbings, it's this: nobody died, and Pittsburgh managed to actually cross the goal line during the second meeting. (You know, because losing 31-7 is so much better than 27-0.)

That first Ravens game -- the team's worst effort since Dallas slapped them around 37-7 in the '97 opener) -- left a particularly bitter taste in my mouth. It was Thanksgiving weekend and my wife and I had been with her family in Upstate New York. I had talked my way into us leaving early Sunday morning for the 400-mile drive back to Washington, D.C., but there was a problem: because D.C. isn't Baltimore, the local CBS affiliate wouldn't be airing the game. Instead, the network would show "Three Stooges" reruns opposite the Redskins. (And no, the "Three Stooges" as a metaphor for Pittsburgh's efforts that day weren't lost on me either.)

This meant that instead of watching the action in HD, I would instead be busting out the auxiliary television. So as I raced south Sunday morning to make the kickoff, I warned my wife that once we got closer, we'd be making an emergency pit stop ... at Best Buy. That's right, I would need the old-school rabbit ears if I was to have any chance of getting the Baltimore feed from my apartment.

Somehow, I pulled all of this off before the 1 p.m. start, although it took me a good 20 minutes to jerry-rig the antenna at just the right angle so I could make out most of what was going on. If there's anything sadder than a grown man watching a 10-year-old television -- with newly-purchased rabbit ears, no less -- right next to a 42-inch plasma, it's a grown man watching a 10-year-old television -- with newly-purchased rabbit ears -- right next to a 42-inch plasma while his favorite team is getting demolished by its division rival. The good news, I guess, is that after that drubbing, the season was over and I could start focusing on more important things like the 2007 draft and what Bill Cowher would be doing with all his free time. But I digress...

So back to the original question: What happened? Well, here's what I wrote following the first Ravens-Steelers get together:
Against the Ravens, Whisenhunt either lost his call sheet, his headset connection to Mark Whipple, or his mind (or all three). How many crushing sacks does Ben Roethlisberger have to take before somebody makes an adjustment? Sure, the blocking was suspect, but when defenders go unblocked – all day long – maybe the game plan should be called into question. I'm only half-kidding when I say this, but Roethlisberger should give serious consideration to pressing charges. Not against Bart Scott or any of the other Ravens' defenders who beat the crap out of him for three hours Sunday, but against Whisenhunt for reckless endangerment. And as long as we're pointing fingers, add Russ Grimm as an accomplice.

I'm not saying Whisenhunt still shouldn't be a candidate for the job should it become available, I just think we need to temper our view of his magical play-calling abilities.

Ditto for Grimm. Although I think of him more like Cowher: a motivator who leaves the game planning to the assistant coaches. (I could be wrong given that I have no idea what Grimm contributes during practice and on game days, but this is just the sense I get.)
After reading Jim Wexell's insightful interview with new o-line coach Larry Zierlein, this last paragraph seems about right. As Wex writes, Kendall Simmons sums up Grimm's coaching style best:
"Russ's whole deal was he didn't care if you lined up and leaped out ass backwards. He didn't care as long as you got him blocked. He went over schemes and stuff like that and said, 'I'm not going to change the way you do things. I just want the group to work as one.' And Coach Z is more about fundamentals and stuff like that."
A couple of thoughts: At some point during that first massacre -- say, after sack No. 8 -- you'd think somebody would've made an adjustment. I think it's a helluva lot harder for players to do that, especially in the middle of a game, when the coaching consisted of "leap out ass backwards … but just make sure you all work as a group." I'm kidding (although if you told me Willie Parker was working on his "leaping out ass backwards" technique during that game I would believe you), but you get the point: eventually, athleticism isn't enough to make up for crappy fundamentals. I'm not bashing Grimm -- the guy was also the coach when the line had some success in '04 and '05 -- but as a mediocre athlete, I have a deep appreciation for the importance of doing things the right way.

Think about it this way (and if you hate golf, go ahead and skip this paragraph): Tiger Woods won his first major, the Masters, in 1997, his second year on Tour. Before turning pro in 1996, he also won six U.S. amateur titles. After all that success, what did he do in 1998? Blew everything up and rebuilt his swing from scratch. It's one thing to be a struggling professional golfer trying to keep a Tour card and deciding that your fundamentals could use some fine tuning. It's something entirely different to be the world's best golfer and come to that same conclusion. Despite all his God-given talents, Woods realized at an early age that his natural ability would only take him so far. For most of us, that would've been plenty; for Woods, it wasn't. Yes, he struggled with his revamped swing during that first season, but by the end of 1999 he was back to winning majors. And in 2000, Woods might've played the best golf we'll ever see.

When you're talking about high school, or even college, players can get away with relying on just athleticism. But in professional sports, where everybody was the best athlete growing up, raw talent is neutralized. Or in the case of the Steelers offense vs. the Ravens defense, raw talent is overwhelmed by raw talent coupled with sound fundamentals.

So the other question -- how does Pittsburgh fix the o-line? -- starts with Zierlein. And I think he's going about rebuilding this unit (or maybe it's more of a tweaking) exactly the right way. If you're still not convinced let me ask you this: Combined, the Colts and Patriots don't have as many first- or second-round picks starting on their respective o-lines as the Steelers, yet they are two of the best units in football. Why is that? The easy answer is that both teams have two of the best offensive line coaches in the league: Dante Scarnecchia and Howard Mudd. And both are big on fundamentals. Huh, must be something to that.

Who knows if Zierlein will have that kind of success, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. After last year, I'm willing to try anything.

Steel City Insider commenter steelersbuckeyesjackets offers a helpful reminder: "The only thing hanging up in the locker room this year should be reminders of the two ass beatings the Ravens delivered last year. Nauseating." Which leads to my last two points:

1. Here's what Terrell Suggs (six tackles, two sacks) said following the 27-0 trouncing: "We do what we always do. We just did a little bit more of it.... You got a rivalry game and they don't score, you not only send a message for the next time you play them, you send a message to the next team you play."

2. The Ravens defense registered 14 sacks in those two meetings last season; the Steelers ... bupkes.

Pittsburgh hosts Baltimore on November 5 in a Monday night game. I think these two reminders would do nicely.


Steel City Insider Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\nPerspective's a funny thing. Twelve months ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were defending Super Bowl champions and I spent most of the preseason trying to convince myself that Big Ben would be fine, and that the team wouldn't miss Antwaan Randle El, Chris Hope and Kimo von Oelhoffen. I also found more enjoyment than I should probably admit in reading the message boards of those teams less fortunate than the Steelers. And by \"those teams,\" I'm of course talking about the Baltimore Ravens. But a funny thing happened on the way to an 8-8 record and no postseason appearance: Baltimore, in a phrase made popular by my dad, beat Pittsburgh \"like they stole something.\" And they did it twice just to make sure we all knew it wasn't a fluke.

Oddly, I quit making those virtual field trips to Ravens Land after the second beat down, and I haven't been back since (well, except in the seconds following their AFC playoff meltdown, but that's it). Last year's results raise two important questions, though: What the hell happened? And how do the Steelers fix it?

If there's a takeaway from those clubbings, it's this: nobody died, and Pittsburgh managed to actually cross the goal line during the second meeting. (You know, because losing 31-7 is so much better than 27-0.)

That first Ravens game -- the team's worst effort since Dallas slapped them around 37-7 in the '97 opener) -- left a particularly bitter taste in my mouth. It was Thanksgiving weekend and my wife and I had been with her family in Upstate New York. I had talked my way into us leaving early Sunday morning for the 400-mile drive back to Washington, D.C., but there was a problem: because D.C. isn't Baltimore, the local CBS affiliate wouldn't be airing the game. Instead, the network would show \"Three Stooges\" reruns opposite the Redskins. (And no, the \"Three Stooges\" as a metaphor for Pittsburgh's efforts that day weren't lost on me either.)

This meant that instead of watching the action in HD, I would instead be busting out the auxiliary television. So as I raced south Sunday morning to make the kickoff, I warned my wife that once we got closer, we'd be making an emergency pit stop ... at Best Buy. That's right, I would need the old-school rabbit ears if I was to have any chance of getting the Baltimore feed from my apartment.

Somehow, I pulled all of this off before the 1 p.m. start, although it took me a good 20 minutes to jerry-rig the antenna at just the right angle so I could make out most of what was going on. If there's anything sadder than a grown man watching a 10-year-old television -- with newly-purchased rabbit ears, no less -- right next to a 42-inch plasma, it's a grown man watching a 10-year-old television -- with newly-purchased rabbit ears -- right next to a 42-inch plasma while his favorite team is getting demolished by its division rival. The good news, I guess, is that after that drubbing, the season was over and I could start focusing on more important things like the 2007 draft and what Bill Cowher would be doing with all his free time. But I digress...

So back to the original question: What happened? Well, here's what I wrote following the first Ravens-Steelers get together:\r\n
Against the Ravens, Whisenhunt either lost his call sheet, his headset connection to Mark Whipple, or his mind (or all three). How many crushing sacks does Ben Roethlisberger have to take before somebody makes an adjustment? Sure, the blocking was suspect, but when defenders go unblocked – all day long – maybe the game plan should be called into question. I'm only half-kidding when I say this, but Roethlisberger should give serious consideration to pressing charges. Not against Bart Scott or any of the other Ravens' defenders who beat the crap out of him for three hours Sunday, but against Whisenhunt for reckless endangerment. And as long as we're pointing fingers, add Russ Grimm as an accomplice.

I'm not saying Whisenhunt still shouldn't be a candidate for the job should it become available, I just think we need to temper our view of his magical play-calling abilities.

Ditto for Grimm. Although I think of him more like Cowher: a motivator who leaves the game planning to the assistant coaches. (I could be wrong given that I have no idea what Grimm contributes during practice and on game days, but this is just the sense I get.)
After reading Jim Wexell's insightful interview with new o-line coach Larry Zierlein, this last paragraph seems about right. As Wex writes, Kendall Simmons sums up Grimm's coaching style best: \r\n
\"Russ's whole deal was he didn't care if you lined up and leaped out ass backwards. He didn't care as long as you got him blocked. He went over schemes and stuff like that and said, 'I'm not going to change the way you do things. I just want the group to work as one.' And Coach Z is more about fundamentals and stuff like that.\"
A couple of thoughts: At some point during that first massacre -- say, after sack No. 8 -- you'd think somebody would've made an adjustment. I think it's a helluva lot harder for players to do that, especially in the middle of a game, when the coaching consisted of \"leap out ass backwards … but just make sure you all work as a group.\" I'm kidding (although if you told me Willie Parker was working on his \"leaping out ass backwards\" technique during that game I would believe you), but you get the point: eventually, athleticism isn't enough to make up for crappy fundamentals. I'm not bashing Grimm -- the guy was also the coach when the line had some success in '04 and '05 -- but as a mediocre athlete, I have a deep appreciation for the importance of doing things the right way.

Think about it this way (and if you hate golf, go ahead and skip this paragraph): Tiger Woods won his first major, the Masters, in 1997, his second year on Tour. Before turning pro in 1996, he also won six U.S. amateur titles. After all that success, what did he do in 1998? Blew everything up and rebuilt his swing from scratch. It's one thing to be a struggling professional golfer trying to keep a Tour card and deciding that your fundamentals could use some fine tuning. It's something entirely different to be the world's best golfer and come to that same conclusion. Despite all his God-given talents, Woods realized at an early age that his natural ability would only take him so far. For most of us, that would've been plenty; for Woods, it wasn't. Yes, he struggled with his revamped swing during that first season, but by the end of 1999 he was back to winning majors. And in 2000, Woods might've played the best golf we'll ever see.

When you're talking about high school, or even college, players can get away with relying on just athleticism. But in professional sports, where everybody was the best athlete growing up, raw talent is neutralized. Or in the case of the Steelers offense vs. the Ravens defense, raw talent is overwhelmed by raw talent coupled with sound fundamentals.

So the other question -- how does Pittsburgh fix the o-line? -- starts with Zierlein. And I think he's going about rebuilding this unit (or maybe it's more of a tweaking) exactly the right way. If you're still not convinced let me ask you this: Combined, the Colts and Patriots don't have as many first- or second-round picks starting on their respective o-lines as the Steelers, yet they are two of the best units in football. Why is that? The easy answer is that both teams have two of the best offensive line coaches in the league: Dante Scarnecchia and Howard Mudd. And both are big on fundamentals. Huh, must be something to that.

Who knows if Zierlein will have that kind of success, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. After last year, I'm willing to try anything.

Steel City Insider commenter steelersbuckeyesjackets offers a helpful reminder: \"The only thing hanging up in the locker room this year should be reminders of the two ass beatings the Ravens delivered last year. Nauseating.\" Which leads to my last two points:

1. Here's what Terrell Suggs (six tackles, two sacks) said following the 27-0 trouncing: \"We do what we always do. We just did a little bit more of it.... You got a rivalry game and they don't score, you not only send a message for the next time you play them, you send a message to the next team you play.\"

2. The Ravens defense registered 14 sacks in those two meetings last season; the Steelers ... bupkes.

Pittsburgh hosts Baltimore on November 5 in a Monday night game. I think these two reminders would do nicely. \r\n

","mobileBody":" \r\n\r\nPerspective's a funny thing. Twelve months ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were defending Super Bowl champions and I spent most of the preseason trying to convince myself that Big Ben would be fine, and that the team wouldn't miss Antwaan Randle El, Chris Hope and Kimo von Oelhoffen. I also found more enjoyment than I should probably admit in reading the message boards of those teams less fortunate than the Steelers. And by \"those teams,\" I'm of course talking about the Baltimore Ravens. But a funny thing happened on the way to an 8-8 record and no postseason appearance: Baltimore, in a phrase made popular by my dad, beat Pittsburgh \"like they stole something.\" And they did it twice just to make sure we all knew it wasn't a fluke.

Oddly, I quit making those virtual field trips to Ravens Land after the second beat down, and I haven't been back since (well, except in the seconds following their AFC playoff meltdown, but that's it). Last year's results raise two important questions, though: What the hell happened? And how do the Steelers fix it?

If there's a takeaway from those clubbings, it's this: nobody died, and Pittsburgh managed to actually cross the goal line during the second meeting. (You know, because losing 31-7 is so much better than 27-0.)

That first Ravens game -- the team's worst effort since Dallas slapped them around 37-7 in the '97 opener) -- left a particularly bitter taste in my mouth. It was Thanksgiving weekend and my wife and I had been with her family in Upstate New York. I had talked my way into us leaving early Sunday morning for the 400-mile drive back to Washington, D.C., but there was a problem: because D.C. isn't Baltimore, the local CBS affiliate wouldn't be airing the game. Instead, the network would show \"Three Stooges\" reruns opposite the Redskins. (And no, the \"Three Stooges\" as a metaphor for Pittsburgh's efforts that day weren't lost on me either.)

This meant that instead of watching the action in HD, I would instead be busting out the auxiliary television. So as I raced south Sunday morning to make the kickoff, I warned my wife that once we got closer, we'd be making an emergency pit stop ... at Best Buy. That's right, I would need the old-school rabbit ears if I was to have any chance of getting the Baltimore feed from my apartment.

Somehow, I pulled all of this off before the 1 p.m. start, although it took me a good 20 minutes to jerry-rig the antenna at just the right angle so I could make out most of what was going on. If there's anything sadder than a grown man watching a 10-year-old television -- with newly-purchased rabbit ears, no less -- right next to a 42-inch plasma, it's a grown man watching a 10-year-old television -- with newly-purchased rabbit ears -- right next to a 42-inch plasma while his favorite team is getting demolished by its division rival. The good news, I guess, is that after that drubbing, the season was over and I could start focusing on more important things like the 2007 draft and what Bill Cowher would be doing with all his free time. But I digress...

So back to the original question: What happened? Well, here's what I wrote following the first Ravens-Steelers get together:\r\n

Against the Ravens, Whisenhunt either lost his call sheet, his headset connection to Mark Whipple, or his mind (or all three). How many crushing sacks does Ben Roethlisberger have to take before somebody makes an adjustment? Sure, the blocking was suspect, but when defenders go unblocked – all day long – maybe the game plan should be called into question. I'm only half-kidding when I say this, but Roethlisberger should give serious consideration to pressing charges. Not against Bart Scott or any of the other Ravens' defenders who beat the crap out of him for three hours Sunday, but against Whisenhunt for reckless endangerment. And as long as we're pointing fingers, add Russ Grimm as an accomplice.

I'm not saying Whisenhunt still shouldn't be a candidate for the job should it become available, I just think we need to temper our view of his magical play-calling abilities.

Ditto for Grimm. Although I think of him more like Cowher: a motivator who leaves the game planning to the assistant coaches. (I could be wrong given that I have no idea what Grimm contributes during practice and on game days, but this is just the sense I get.)
After reading Jim Wexell's insightful interview with new o-line coach Larry Zierlein, this last paragraph seems about right. As Wex writes, Kendall Simmons sums up Grimm's coaching style best: \r\n
\"Russ's whole deal was he didn't care if you lined up and leaped out ass backwards. He didn't care as long as you got him blocked. He went over schemes and stuff like that and said, 'I'm not going to change the way you do things. I just want the group to work as one.' And Coach Z is more about fundamentals and stuff like that.\"
A couple of thoughts: At some point during that first massacre -- say, after sack No. 8 -- you'd think somebody would've made an adjustment. I think it's a helluva lot harder for players to do that, especially in the middle of a game, when the coaching consisted of \"leap out ass backwards … but just make sure you all work as a group.\" I'm kidding (although if you told me Willie Parker was working on his \"leaping out ass backwards\" technique during that game I would believe you), but you get the point: eventually, athleticism isn't enough to make up for crappy fundamentals. I'm not bashing Grimm -- the guy was also the coach when the line had some success in '04 and '05 -- but as a mediocre athlete, I have a deep appreciation for the importance of doing things the right way.

Think about it this way (and if you hate golf, go ahead and skip this paragraph): Tiger Woods won his first major, the Masters, in 1997, his second year on Tour. Before turning pro in 1996, he also won six U.S. amateur titles. After all that success, what did he do in 1998? Blew everything up and rebuilt his swing from scratch. It's one thing to be a struggling professional golfer trying to keep a Tour card and deciding that your fundamentals could use some fine tuning. It's something entirely different to be the world's best golfer and come to that same conclusion. Despite all his God-given talents, Woods realized at an early age that his natural ability would only take him so far. For most of us, that would've been plenty; for Woods, it wasn't. Yes, he struggled with his revamped swing during that first season, but by the end of 1999 he was back to winning majors. And in 2000, Woods might've played the best golf we'll ever see.

When you're talking about high school, or even college, players can get away with relying on just athleticism. But in professional sports, where everybody was the best athlete growing up, raw talent is neutralized. Or in the case of the Steelers offense vs. the Ravens defense, raw talent is overwhelmed by raw talent coupled with sound fundamentals.

So the other question -- how does Pittsburgh fix the o-line? -- starts with Zierlein. And I think he's going about rebuilding this unit (or maybe it's more of a tweaking) exactly the right way. If you're still not convinced let me ask you this: Combined, the Colts and Patriots don't have as many first- or second-round picks starting on their respective o-lines as the Steelers, yet they are two of the best units in football. Why is that? The easy answer is that both teams have two of the best offensive line coaches in the league: Dante Scarnecchia and Howard Mudd. And both are big on fundamentals. Huh, must be something to that.

Who knows if Zierlein will have that kind of success, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. After last year, I'm willing to try anything.

Steel City Insider commenter steelersbuckeyesjackets offers a helpful reminder: \"The only thing hanging up in the locker room this year should be reminders of the two ass beatings the Ravens delivered last year. Nauseating.\" Which leads to my last two points:

1. Here's what Terrell Suggs (six tackles, two sacks) said following the 27-0 trouncing: \"We do what we always do. We just did a little bit more of it.... You got a rivalry game and they don't score, you not only send a message for the next time you play them, you send a message to the next team you play.\"

2. The Ravens defense registered 14 sacks in those two meetings last season; the Steelers ... bupkes.

Pittsburgh hosts Baltimore on November 5 in a Monday night game. I think these two reminders would do nicely. \r\n

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