Monday, November 23, 2009


With a home loss to division-leading Cincinnati last week before 65,000 screaming faithful, the Steelers, on the road this week and playing against a lousy Kansas City team were going to have a difficult time getting up for this game. They did not disappoint.

ABOVE: The Steelers were expecting "Chefs", they got "Chiefs" and lost 27-24 in O.T... Not their finest hour.

"How could this be," you wonder aloud? "These are the Steelers we're talking about, they're road warriors"

This week's Kansas City game would once again display two recurring themes of the 2009 season: Poor special teams play and sloppy ball handling.

I have long contended that "attitude" and "hunger" are as big of factors in determining who wins in the NFL as much as raw talent, injuries, even "X's and O's". As an example, last year who would argue that the Bengals were a grotesquely-underperforming team. Yet, how can you explain this same team recovering to the point where they have already swept their divisional games with the Steelers and Ravens this season? They apparently have become world beaters!!! Welcome to the crazy world that is the N.F.L. (an abbreviation apparently for No F'ing Logic).

The Steelers this week were able to top last week's inept performance against Cincinnati with an even more unexplainable loss to the woeful Chiefs. The Steelers managed to tip enough passes into the hands of the opposition, fumble enough receptions and drop enough interceptions that they lost in overtime despite even winning the coin toss! How often do you see a "defeat snatched from the jaws of victory" as thoroughly as this one?

Big Ben was his elusive, Houdini-like self, throwing for 398 yards, but therein may lie the answer to the Steelers offensive turnover problems. Rashard Mendenhall  ran the ball 21 times, averaging 3.8 yards per carry. NEWS ALERT TO STEELERS: THROWING THE BALL IS SIGNIFICANTLY MORE HAZARDOUS THAN RUNNING IT!!! This can be evidenced by two turnovers caused by Heath Miller and Mike Wallace on balls that were tipped or fumbled after being caught.

The Steelers have apparently become "crack-addicted" to the idea of throwing the ball on nearly every down, but this seems like a good place to remind all of you that, "When you throw the ball, there are six things that can happen and five of them are bad."

"Wait a minute," you ask? "I thought the old adage was that there are THREE things that can happen and two of them are bad?"

Well let's review: You can throw a completion, which is good, an interception (bad) or incompletion (also bad, but not as bad as the interception). New additions to this list are that you can catch the pass then subsequently fumble the ball over to the opposition (very bad), tip the pass to the opposition leading to a major runback (also very bad) or even have your franchise quarterback take a knee to the head, thus making his chances of playing next week very questionable (extremely bad).

Truth be known, this game was lost in the third quarter when the Steelers, having seized control of the game and up 17-7 were driving relentlessly for yet another score. Not only didn't they score, the resultant tipped ball drill by Heath Miller and subsequent interception completely changed the complexion of the game. This is what is known as, "Not putting away an opponent when you're standing on their neck." Instead of being up potentially, 24-7, instead the Chiefs were re-invigorated at 17-14.

But talk about not curing a problem, the Steelers cut Arnold Harrison last week, apparently making him the scapegoat for all of their return woes. On the opening kickoff, the Steelers once again allowed a kickoff return for a 97 yard touchdown, equaling a mark for futility not seen since 1950 (that's 59 years folks)! Once again, the Steelers saw a special teams gaffe not only help beat them, but in this case it actually gave Kansas City the initial spark to help them carry the play to the Steelers.

ABOVE: Jeff Reed makes light of the comment, "Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory". Steeler fans were not amused, but at least Reed has rid himself of his rainbow-colored hair.

Notice that this was a 97 yard return (ball received at the three yard line) as opposed to the many Ryan Succop kicks the Steelers received that were downed five yards deep in the end zone. I maintain that many of the Steelers kickoff coverage problems are emanating from Jeff Reed not getting the ball as deep as Succop who did it consistently. By the way, Jeff Reed is also the same guy who can't even get into a kick returner's way, let alone make a tackle.

But before any Steeler fans head for the nearest bridge or highway overpass, there comes this headline courtesy of the world-beating Cincinnati Bengals: "BENGALS LOSE TO LOWLY RAIDERS ON LAST SECOND KICK".

You see folks, the biggest problem that NFL coaches have is not drafting the right players, having the best assistant coaches, or even designing the best plays or game plan! Sure, all of those things are important, but even more so is the problem of finding a way to have your players play up to their full potential each week and not taking patsies for granted. The Steelers (six SuperBowls) still haven't completely figured this out (although they are usually better than most other teams at doing it). The Bengals, coming off a big win over the Steelers apparently decided that they didn't have to play as hard to win their game against the lowly Raiders. Apparently they still haven't learned anything from the fact that they've never won a SuperBowl in their long and storied past.

ABOVE: The Raiders did what they always do, "Just win, baby."
Next week the Steelers play a tough game against their nemesis, the Baltimore Ravens. In this day of extreme caution following head injuries, don't be surprised if Ben doesn't play this week, even though he says he's "Okay." Could Charlie Batch pull this off? I think so, but not because of anything special that Charlie would do. Instead, the coaching staff will begin use their heads again and quit relying so heavily on the pass. Big Ben has these guys thinking that they should throw on every play. With anyone other than the "Large One" behind center, sanity will hopefully return to the play calling.