The Anti-Tight Brigade that both insists that the 2-tight end set is the Steelers base, and then decries its usage as ineffective were half right against the Lighting Bolts. The Steelers lined up in multiple tight ends on 39 of 71 offensive plays, 55%, and ran 3 or more wides less often (31 of 71 offensive plays, 44%) than at any time since last year's Cleveland Sunday Nighter, which was played in a deluge on the banks of Lake Erie (same body of water that former Red Sox hurler Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd invoked when saying, "That's what you get when you build a stadium next to the ocean").
STEELERS BY OFFENSIVE SET '09
|3- or more Wide||31||8/41||18/21 216||2|
|2-TE, 2-Wide||22||12/105||6/9 88||1|
|2-TE, FB||15||13/31||1/2 14||0|
|2-Wide, TE, FB||1||0/0||1/1 5||0|
Does not include 2 kneeldowns from Victory Formation
Fortunately, the Steelers started a running back, Rashard Mendenhall, who didn't whine about not having a fullback, nor apparently needed one, running a dozen times from the 2 tight end/2 wide receiver set for 105 yards, including scampers of 32, 22 and 14 yards.
Running 3 or more wides more discriminately certainly didn't diminish the effectiveness of this favored set, however, as the black & gold picked up 41 more yards on 8 carries, and Ben completed over 85% of his throws with his most dangerous targets on the field, hitting on 18 of 21 for 215 yards. As for the dreaded "Jumbo" set, with a trio of tight ends on the field, the Steelers ran it twice, both times for touchdowns, a 1-yard run by Mendenhall on the game's opening drive, and then the sweetest play of the night, lining up two tight ends right, bringing Hines, the lone wide, in motion right, then tossing a 6-yard TD to Heath Miller, who had lined up left. Truly a thing of beauty! The other TD to Miller was kind of swell also, with three tight ends, all lined up right, Mewelde Moore swept right and tossed to Miller for the score.
What else did this game show us?
* Pass Pro's a Plus: Yes, Roethlisberger was still sacked 3 of the 36 times he dropped back, not a great percentage, but for those who wondered (but sorta always knew) what Ben could do if he weren't running for his life, well, we're seeing it, completing over 70% of his tosses on the season. Add in the purely Ben element of turning chicken manure into chicken salad, or sometimes even chicken freakin' corden bleu, and I'll be first in line to tell Chris Collinsworth that he's full of baloney when he says Ben's the 4th best QB in the NFL. I'll cut the former Bengal a little slack, as he intended this as a compliment, and I did LOL when he said, at 21-zip, "The Pittsburgh Steelers are kickin' their stinkin' butts."
No way Ben's #4, though; he has twice as many SB rings as two of the guys supposedly above him (P.Manning & Brees) combined. And, oh, based on the performance of the post-knee Tom Brady, Ben's definitely surpassed him. I seriously think Ben knows what he's doing with his loyalty to the O-line, both in having their backs, even when they were allowing jailbreaks that caused him to take a beating, and in serving as their Activities Coordinator, taking them on weekend junkets to the Windy City, and to wrestling shows in Wilkes-Barre.
* Running Game Sometimes Works: Let's not get overly excited with Sunday night. Let's remember that on the Chargers' winter holiday to Heinz last January, FWP gashed the Bolts for a buck-and-a-half, then set a modern-day record for first-down runs yielding two yards or less against the Ravens a week later. It was no surprise, at least to me, the Steelers couldn't run against Tennessee a few weeks ago; they won't run against Baltimore either. Ben best be on his game ... more on that later.
* No Lead is Safe: I wish I could offer a reasoned commentary to this one, but I can't. I wish I could say it's due to Troy Polamalu's absence, but I can't. For the third week in a row, and the 4th in 5, going back to the Super Bowl, this is a shutdown defense for 3 quarters, then comes apart in Q4. Several theories have been advanced. Against Chicago, it was 'cause Steelers were blitzing too much. Against Cincinnati, it was 'cause they weren't blitzing enough. Last week, who knows? The special teams gaffes certainly didn't help. Sure, it's nice to have an exciting return guy. Personally, these plays always make me nervous. My heart's in my throat until our returner is tackled and the Steelers still have the ball. Give me a return guy that can catch the ball, not put in on the ground when hit. Any yards gained are a bonus. I had visions of Ricardo Coclough on Sunday Night. And what's with not having the hands team out with 5 minutes left, up 14 points? Al Michaels called it, for Pete's sake. Couldn't the Steelers have been more careful? I'm also pleased to note that once the lead had shrunk to a one-score margin vs. San Diego with a bit over 4 minutes left, Steelers came out and threw to Holmes for 15 yards on the first play.
* Prudent Risk: Coach T, in my estimation, does learn. He learned from the 3rd & 6 disaster vs. Jax in the '07 playoffs. That occasion was the closest I've ever come to entering therapy, wrote a book full of frivolous BS instead, my personal catharsis. Against Cleveland last year, in that Lake Erie deluge, trying to run the clock late, he went play action on 2nd down for 19 yards to Miller. He needlessly spiked the ball in Baltimore in December, leaving himself one less play to score a winning TD. But he didn't make the same mistake in the SB with the game on the line. Last week, after taking the safe 3 points from inside the one, both in the SB, and then in Cincinnati, the Steelers went for it on 4th & inches from around his own 30. It defied convention, but resulted in a seemingly insurmountable 21-0 halftime lead. I've seen it written that no other coach would have made that call. Well, sorry to inform, but many others have, including Bill Belichick the previous week in Foxboro.
An imprudent risk in my estimation -- though the Steelers weren't burned on it -- was throwing the ball from inside the San Diego 30, 3rd & 9, up 7 points, 1:44 remaining, and the Bolts with no timeouts. This situation cries out for running the ball, and taking a good chunk of the remaining time off the clock. Then trot Skippy out to attempt the FG. Even in the case of another kick going awry, the Chargers needed to drive about 65 yards in a minute with no timeouts. Instead, the Steelers were penalized on the ensuing pass attempt, then passed again, got the yards back, and kicked the FG. Had the post-penalty pass been incomplete, the Steelers would have gotten neither a reasonable FG try, nor time off the clock, and SD would have had the ball, quite possibly on their 20, with over a minute and a half remaining.
Going into Sunday Night, the cynics among us waxed that were it not for a couple Rob Bironas miscues, and a coin toss not won against Tennessee, the Steelers could have easily been 0-3. The optimists among us (of which I am one) waned that were it not for a pair of Skippy shanks, and a wretched 4th & 10 defense, the Steelers could just as easily been 3-0.
This team has shown the ability to be dominant, but an inability to close. Last Sunday night was but another example. Steelers just....could...not…close the door on the Chargers. The 28-0 laugher lost some luster when the Chargers spoiled the shutout. Next was a collective, "Not again," among Steelers Nation when the Chargers registered a TD on a punt to the Steelers, halving the original gap at 28-14. There was a collective cleansing breath when the Black & Gold methodically drove for another TD on the Mewelde option pass to Heath, re-extending the lead to 3 touchdowns with 7 minutes to play. Then, many were aghast when the Chargers drove about 80 yards in 10 seconds, recovered the onside, and did it again! It was a one-score game. And even after that, when Steelers pick up a first down in Chargers territory, and seemed a certainty to run the clock down to about 40 ticks, Kemoeatu twisted his ankle, resulting in an extra stoppage of the clock. Slam the stinkin' door; will ya!!
STEELERS BY OFFENSIVE SET '09: CUMULATIVE GAMES 1-4
|3- or more Wide||151||32/152||82/111 940||8||4|
|2-TE, 2-Wide||50||28/163||12/20 171||2||0|
|2-TE, FB||29||25/59||2/4 17||0||0|
|2--Wide, TE, FB||17||12/35||5/5 42||0||0|
|1-TE, 3-Back, 1-Wide||2||2/0||0/0 0||0||0|
Does not include kneeldowns from Victory Formation