I will tell you what happened. The Raiders ended up 3rd and 15 on their own 5-yard line. This is the exact situation the Steeler defense is designed to exploit. Instead, Gannon found Terry Kirby across the middle for a 24-yard gain and a Raider first down. The Steelers would fail to hold on two other 3rd and longs (both 3rd and 10) that would result in a Raider touchdown, effectively a 95-yard drive.
The Oakland Raiders would convert on 6 occasions of 3rd and at least 8 yards or more, or 50%. The Patriots were 4 for 5 on the 3rd and 7 or longer. Both Oakland and New England kicked a few field goals after failing on 3rd and long. The majority of the 3rd and long situations that the Steelers put the opposition in either resulted in first downs or points, often both.
Seems everyone in football land is all abuzz about the spread formation and the onslaught of passing, particularly against the Steelers. Suddenly, what is wrong in Pittsburgh? We fans have been drawing in the dirt attempting to figure a way to stop this juggernaut. Well, wipe the slate clean.
The Steelers drafted Casey Hampton in the first round to shore up a somewhat battered run defense. Casey has proven his value on this count. However, Hampton now seems like a wasted pick given the spread and chuck fad sweeping the NFL. Here's the blueprint to beat the vaunted Steelers defense that mostly dominated the opposition in 2001.
I've been on that very bandwagon for the better part of two weeks. In fact, I was recently over at the Browns message board talking about what the Steelers might do and how the Browns might counter. In the middle of writing my first thoughts on what the Steelers might do, I began to think that all this concern about the spread and chuck is overblown.
Why do the Steelers put such value on stuffing the run? The Steelers want to do this because they want to force the opposition into 3rd and long situations. This allows them to unleash the imaginative rush schemes that led to the name Blitzburgh.
Spread and chuck or not, both the Raiders and the Patriots were in those very 3rd and long situations. During the first two games, the opposition converted almost 60% of the time. What difference does the spread and chuck make? They could have just as easily run twice putting themselves into the same 3rd and 8 hole.
Hampton's presence still looms as the Pats and Raiders abandoned the run. This led to a number of third and longs. The Steelers just simply failed to come through in the dime. If something needs to be fixed, it is this. Talk nickel or base 3-4 all you want, but the Steelers just aren't dominating in the situations they were designed to excel. The answers are simply elsewhere.
I am still not sure how the Steelers might accomplish this or exactly what the problem is. I do know that the Steelers faced a similar problem a few years ago against cutback runners starting with Jacksonville's Fred Taylor. The Steelers took a few weeks to iron that out, but also looked to upgrade speed at linebacker and a fireplug at nose tackle in future drafts. The short-term solution was schematic change, but the long-term solution was personnel change. In the 2002 case, the real answer should come from the players. Someone has to step up his game.
Oh, did any of you ever catch Casey Hampton at the University of Texas? I suspect most of you that did not are touting his inability to collapse the pocket and rush the passer. Bring on the spread and chuck. Open up those rushing lanes. Blitzburgh is back!