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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Gloom, Despair, Agony

GAME PRELUDE

I watched Pittsburgh’s intense victory over Cincinnati with my wife at home last week. This week, I’m in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Amazingly, I met a Steelers fan in a country most Americans have probably never heard of. Citizens of Steelers Nation can be found everywhere.

Ben Mendelson is a Pittsburgh native who attended the Shadyside Academy. He related this Pittsburgh anecdote to me:

His uncle’s store was called “Hill’s Flowers” (“Uncle Dave” Hill) and it was right across the street from City Hall (1932 – 1976). The mayor and his political cronies would come in every morning for free coffee and a fresh flower for their lapel. There was an old folding chair by the front door, where this skinny old guy would sit, chain smoking Marsh Wheeling stogies with Ben’s Uncle Dave. Ben never really knew who he was, but remembers them calling him “Joe”. Whenever Ben stopped by to say “hi” to Uncle Dave and get a bottle of soda he’d see Joe in his old chair. But one day in 1972, he stopped by the flower shop and the chair was empty but had a framed sign on it: “This chair is forever reserved for Harold Joseph (Pie) Traynor, the greatest third baseman ever to play Major League Baseball.” Ben later learned that the old beat up folding chair had been “borrowed” from the front row box seats at the old Forbes Field (demolished in 1970).

Harold Joseph “Pie” Traynor. MLB Hall of Fame third baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates who played from 1920 to 1937. Then managed the team until 1939. Just hanging out at the flower shop.

Ben remains an avid Steelers and Pirates fan. Old school he follows the game progress on Steelers Nation Radio as streaming services are still sporadic here.

After an awesome display of defensive fireworks last week, the Steelers move ahead without the services of T.J. Watt for the time being. Najee Harris practiced fully this week after hurting his foot in the Bengals game. Here we go.

STEELERS OFFENSE

The Steelers offense is lackluster.

People said that Pittsburgh’s offense should improve since they had quarterbacks that were mobile.

This just demonstrates the mediocrity of Matt Canada. A good offensive coordinator has a creative scheme that players must adapt to or be let go. A great offensive coordinator adapts his plans exploit the strengths and mask the weaknesses of the players he has.

Canada has done neither. Also, the Steelers offense abandons half the field by avoiding plays in the middle. Charlie Batch has a critical eye but normally tries to be diplomatic inn his analysis. But Charlie Batch was uncharacteristically blunt in his post-game show.

He added adamantly that Matt Canada’s offensive scheme does not permit audibles at the line of scrimmage.

This may explain why the Steelers offense often looked better when they went no huddle last season with Ben Roethlisberger calling the plays on the field.

Mitch Trubisky admits to bad decisions leading to the interception and two of his three sacks. Frankly, the way he is described throwing off his back foot, the Steelers offense would be better with Mason Rudolph under center.

Right now, it does not seem to be an offensive line problem. The line is mediocre, but it seems that the offensive coordinator is trying to approach the game as a game console rather than giving more decision-making to the player’s on the field.

STEELERS DEFENSE

The Steelers defense held New England to 17 points. 10 if you discount the gift Gunner Olszewski gave his old team at the 20 yard line.

Minkah Fitzpatrick played lights out. Ahkello Witherspoon should compare elevation of Minkah on his interception to the 44 yard touchdown pass given up in tight coverage:

We learned how vital T.J. Watt is to this defense. Foregoing the blitz for much of the game, the Steelers defense failed to sack Mac Jones even once. Alex Highsmith came close with a pressure that led to the interception. There were two other quarterback pressures but that is it. I heard the Steelers announcer over and over again, “Mac Jones going back to pass, he has time …”

That gives Jones the time to throw accurately. Witherspoon was tight in on the receiver of the 44 yard touchdown pass. Greater pressure on the quarterback likely would have impacted his delivery. Witherspoon needed to reach for the ball by getting off his feet, but the lack of effective pressure did not help.

Cam Sutton failing to intercept the ball set up the special team’s gaffe. Don’t let the other team live to get another opportunity. And I’m not even getting into New England running the ball down the Steelers throat at the end of the game. The hotel power outages spared me the details of that defensive series other than to hear Mac Jones was in the victory formation.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams are an underappreciated facet of the game where one big play can shift momentum or even decide the game winner.

I break special teams play into three phases: Kickoffs, punting, and field goals including extra point attempts. Here is an overview of the special teams play during the game:

KICKOFFS

Chris Boswell kicked off four times. The Patriots returned three of four. Kyle Dugger returned the first 37 yards from 3 yards deep in the endzone. He reached the 34 before James Pierre tackled him. The second touched back. Then Pierre Strong came out from five yards deep to the 17 where Myles Boykin tackled him. Strong returned the final kickoff 26 yards to the 28 yard line. Killebrew and Jaylen Warren combined to tackle him.

Punter Jake Bailey kicked off four times. All four were touchbacks and denied Gunner Olszewski an opportunity to return.

The Patriots had slightly better start position but were always threatening to break one. Meanwhile, four straight touchbacks forced the Steelers to start at their own 25 each time.

THE STATS

Kickoffs KOs RTN TB OB IN25 Pen Start Avg
Chris Boswell 4 3 1 0 1 0 NE 26
Jake Bailey 4 0 0 0 0 0 PGH 25

 

Kickoff Returns KR Yds AVG Long Pen TD
Gunner Olszewski 0 0 0.0 0 0 0
Kyle Dugger 1 37 37.0 37.0 0 0
Pierre Strong 2 48 24.0 26.0 0 0

 

Advantage Patriots.

PUNTING

Pressley Harvin punted four times averaging 51.8 yards. The Patriots returned three, and the coverage units limited them to 7.3 yards per punt. Harvin’s first punt sailed 69 yards, but a touchback netted him 49. The second went 55 yards to the ten yard line. But Myles Bryant returned it 16 yards to the 26 with Marcus Allen making the tackle. The third punt from his own 15, Harvin punted for just 40 yards and Robert Spillane tackled Bryant at midfield after a five yard return. The defense held New England from scoring on the short field. Harvin’s final punt went 43 yards and Myles Boykin tackled Bryant after a one yard gain at the New England 30. The third punt gave New England a good scoring opportunity. The last punt failed to flip the field.

Jake Bailey also punted four times. He had a much lower net average than Harvin. But the results dramatically different. His first was a 58 yard touchback that netted 38 yards. But then Gunner Olszewski muffed a fair catch that New England recovered at the 20. Conor Heyward penalized for unnecessary roughness gave the Patriots the ball just 10 yards from the goal line. Patriots scored to go ahead 17-6 as the fourth quarter started. His last two punts kept the Steelers at bay. One was downed at the 11 and the other was a touchback.

Olszewski’s muffed punt was a backbreaker.

THE STATS

Punting Punts AVG Net TB OB/D IN20 Pen Long
Pressley Harvin 4 51.8 41.3 1 0 0 0 69
Jake Bailey 4 41.5 31.5 2 1 1 0 58

 

Punt Returns PR Yds AVG FC Pen Long TD
Gunner Olszewski 1* 0 0 0 1 0 0
Myles Bryant 3 22 7.3 0 0 16 0

*Olszewski muffed fair catch. Pats recovered at 20. Penalty gives ball to Pats at 10.

Advantage Patriots.

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Chris Boswell converted both field goal attempts including a 52-yarder. Mitch Trubisky completed a two pint conversion pass to Diontae Johnson to bring the Steelers within three 17-14 but never got a chance to tie or go-ahead.

Nick Folk went one for two missing a 52 yard attempt. He converted both extra point kicks.

The Steelers gain an edge in this department but overall, the Patriots played stronger special teams.

THE STATS

FGs and PATs XPM XPA FGM FGA Long 2PTM 2PTA
Chris Boswell 0 0 2 2 52 1 1
Nick Folk 2 2 1 2 28 0 0

 

Advantage Steelers

DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST

Dave Bryan provided five keys for a Steelers victory. Here is how the Steelers performed them:

  1. Heyward takes advantage of rookie Cordell Volson. Heyward made five tackles but none for a loss. No sacks, he did not impact the game. Mission Failure.
  2. Trubisky completes more than two deep pass attempts. George Pickens had one reception for 23 yards. But the pass did not travel 20 air yards. That was Steelers only explosive play. Mission Failure.
  3. Improve last week’s 26.7% third down conversion rate. The Steelers converted eight of 15 third down attempts for a 53.3% conversion rate. Mission Accomplished.
  4. Prevent big runs outside the tackles. The Patriots were able to run the ball up the middle on their final drive. But two runs off tackle gave them a first down that put New England into the victory formation. Mission Failure.
  5. Score more points off of turnovers than Patriots. The Patriots scored seven points off Gunner’s turnover. The Steelers failed to score after Minkah’s interception. Mission Failure.

The Steelers failed to accomplish four of five keys to victory.

YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME

 

Thank you, Ross McCorkle, for keeping us up to date on the game’s first and second half Live Update and Discussion Threads. Steelers Depot respondents contributed 1116 first half comments. Respondents added  1560 more second half comments.  Here are the “best comments” of the game. I don’t know the algorithm used by Disqus but here is how they stacked it up:

In the first half, Doc Ellis D liked when a rookie defensive tackle almost snatched a screen pass for a pick-six. “DeMarvin (Leal) sure looks like a keeper!”

Alex Highsmith hit Pats quarterback Mac Jones as he threw the interception to Minkah Fitzpatrick. Agustin-ARG noted, “With Brady that’s a flag and prison.”

DirtDawg1964 first half summary attracted a lot of likes and comments: “First half thoughts: Get used to Middling Mitch. Yes, he’s mobile and can make plays outside of the pocket but he remains hesitant, throws off his back foot a ton, and doesn’t have the savvy you’d expect of a guy with five years of experience. And makes a decent throw to Pickens followed by overthrowing DJ even though he was wide open. And then takes the sack as time is running out and blows a ton of time doing it. What the eff? This dude is dumb. Just dumb.

Harvin is showing that leg. Meanwhile, Jordan Berry remains a FA after being cut by the Vikes.

OL is showing some improvement. Better run blocking but pass pro remains iffy

Harris needs to explode into whatever hole has been opened for him. Way too much dancing around.

Warren is a find. Thank goodness it’s out an end to the Benny Ball

Tomlin et al can talk all they want about covering for Watt, there’s zero pressure without him.

This absolutely is the 2019 Steelers all over again. Need great D, great breaks and long, plodding drives just to score 3.

It’s going to be a long season.”

TheBus36 led the way in the second half with “When Bill Cowher tells ya you better open up your offense and throw down the field. Lol.” Not sure if Matt Canada and company heard him.

In fact, Jones got a lot of likes with “Did they turn Canada’s headset off?”

TheBus36 had another popular second half comment. He asked, “Big Ben goes no huddle and calls the plays = ball movement and score. Mitch goes no huddle and calls the plays = ball movement and score. Common denominator is (fill in the blank)?”

It just might be a long season Steeler fans.

CONCLUSION

Sutton’s missed interception led to Gunner Olszewski muffing a fair catch. With a lackluster offense that sealed the defeat. A combined defensive, offensive, and special teams loss.

The Steelers on a short week and travel to Cleveland for Thursday Night (Bleh!) Football. The Browns melted down in the fourth quarter to lose 31-30 to the New York Jets. But they showed some offensive power. I predict the Steelers going down by three scores if they do not make dramatic changes in the performance of the offense. Canada must create wrinkles that Mitch Trubisky can look decent in. Trubisky himself must take some risks instead of timidly backfooting his throws. And scramble to daylight when the opportunity to presents. Canada must relinquish his game controller and delegate some decision making to his play-maker.

Defense will need to blitz a little more to compensate for no Wattage. They must pressure the quarterback and force turnovers. As for special teams. The Gunner should be on a short lease. Returners cannot afford to ever fumble. Show us why you are on the roster.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. Not much to say but Steelers fans singing Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me …

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