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Thoughts And Lessons From Week 1- 2015 Edition

The best time of the year just started: autumn approaches with beautiful landscapes. Baseball playoffs are just around the corner and, yes, the Pirates seem playoff bound. And saving the best for the last: Football is back, after a long drought.

After just one game, it’s way too early in the season to push the panic button. We still have 15 games to play, and last time I checked, none of them was a visit to the defending SB champion.

So, I’ll keep it simple, and right before I break down our game, let’s be honest: no one expected our D to shut down NE’s offense. If we were going to win this game (and most of you thought that way earlier), we’d need to be able to score at least 31 points.

Our offense was able to move the football, getting deep into NE’s territory on 6 of 9 total drives. In fact, we were forced to only one 3 & out, while being able to gain 464 yards, with a 46% 3rd down efficiency (7/15) and also a 100% 4th down efficiency (2/2). However, Ben got sacked 2 times (a 3rd one to Brown) and underthrew a well-covered Heyward Bey for the only turnover of the night.

Overall, the offense showed pretty good tempo.

  • Ben Roethlisberger looked sharp and on-sync with his receivers most of the night, having just a couple bad throws (one of them, the only interception he threw).
  • Brown and Miller picked it up right where they ended last season, being able to get open and grab anything thrown their way. Heyward-Bey missed a TD by a toe (which proved costly), but he also had a nice 43 yard catch. Wheaton made a big catch on the sidelines, which showed his footwork and concentration.
  • DeAngelo Williams proved he still has something left, making life easy without Bell for week 1. Here’s hoping he can carry that over to week 2 vs SF, where he’ll be needed more. It was nice to see W. Johnson score, but our Jumbo Package was not effective when used later in the game. Probably, our offense should try using Johnson as a Fullback and Williams as a RB in that situation, keeping in mind we had only 2 active TEs for the game, using a reserve OT (Villanueva) as a 3rd TE.
  • Our Offensive line had a good rushing game, opening lanes for Williams. On the other hand, they managed to protect Ben for most of the night but ended giving up 3 sacks.  However, this unit is probably the most improved since the start of last season, keeping in mind it was playing without Pouncey, their leader and anchor: in his spot, Wallace allowed 1 sack.
  • Biggest Mistakes: Penalties. A costly offside on 3rd & goal at the half yardline, coupled with drive stalling holding and illegal use of hands calls. This was an issue early during last season that got corrected by week 5, and it’s just discipline. Look for this issue to be corrected quickly by coach Munchak.
  • Questionable Playcalling. We can pick several plays, but I’ll stick with three of them: A trick play on your first series, right after you drove 50 yards with basic offense, and hadn’t been stopped on a single play. Also, while in the red zone: Pass on 1st and goal at the 1, but run up the middle on 3rd and 5? Really?
  • Still, I think: This offense will lead the league on Passing yards, will be a top 5 in rushing yards, and top 5 in scoring, with 4 pro-bowlers on that side of the football.

We could go over missing blocks, wrong route running, drops and other penalties affecting the offense and stalling our drives, but 4 key missed plays on offense/STs determined our fate:

  • After gaining 45 yards on the first 5 plays of the game, a very questionable playcall stalled the first series, with Brown attempting a pass on a trick play, getting sacked. Drive result: At NE’s 27, 1st Missed Field Goal attempt by Scobee (44 yarder).
  • At NE’s 29, 2nd Missed field goal attempt by Scobee (46 yarder).
  • Heyward-Bey missing a TD by a toe. Drive result: At NE’s 26, 43 yard Field Goal.
  • Offside on 3rd & Goal at the 1 yardline. Drive result: At NE’s 6 yardline, 23 yard Field Goal.

Any combination of the above would have given us at least 6 points (on a 7 point game).

On Defense, we had:

  • 2 sacks all night (one of them for a loss of just 1 yard, by Dupree)
  • No turnovers created
  • Allowed a 67% 3rd down conversion rate.
  • As if that wouldn’t be enough, what about leaving Gronkowsky, Brady’s primary weapon, untouched or mismatched on crucial plays? Just look at this: 64% of Brady’s completions were for either Gronkowsky or Edelman. With LaFell out, does anybody thought it would be other way?
  • Match the above with our inability to create pressure with the front 4, and our lack of blitzing creativity, resulting on their QB having all night to throw and pick us apart.

Here’s where we can pinpoint several issues:

  • Our front 7 was close to non-existant on pass rush (only got 1 sack, the other one came on a delayed blitz by W. Allen). Let me correct myself: our front 6 or 5, since most of the night we played either Nickel (4-2) or Dime (4-1). Honestly, I long anticipated coach Butler to bring back some exotic blitzes, particularly with our DBs needing help by creating pressure.
  • It’s good to have a great rotation at OLB. However, it would work better if we get them into the pocket on passing situations. Yes, I’m talking about blitzes, hope we still have them on our D playbook.
  • Miscommunication. No one covering Gronkowsky, no one jamming him at the LOS. No help from our safeties. That’s the story on his 3 TDs.
  • Personnel. As soon as preseason started, it looked like Cortez Allen and Shamarko Thomas were going to start. After trading for Boykin, our 3rd CB was supposedly set. I’m not saying we had our own Legion of Boom, but I like to think we had a plan for them. During gametime, none of them started (Blake started for C. Allen, W. Allen for Shamarko and C. Allen played for Boykin). Maybe this explains a little bit of the thought on the previous bullet.
  • Questionable Playcalling. And here I go again: Do we have creative blitzes? Why not use them? High Risk, high reward. However, playing with our DBs -no offense- we always play a high risk situation. Why not help them making their QB get rid of the football earlier? Why not matching their out-of-this-planet TE with double coverage, our quickest or strongest LB, or, at least, jamming him and messing with his tempo?
  • Bad luck. since the 2nd half of last season, Mitchell has been targeting the football when making tackles, and creating some fumbles. Will Allen was not aware the football was fumbled on that play. Otherwise, this game would have taken a very different path.
  • Still, I think: Tuitt and Heyward will both have an exceptional season and will be effective as the season unfolds. Our OLB rotation should bring results in crucial games (and, in the long run, will be a good decision to have all 4 of them available, and looking for something similar at our ILB (with a little less frequent rotation). Our DBs will be slightly better than last season, once a) Boykin gets inserted as our 5th DB, and later on as a starting CB opposite Gay, b) with Blake being the 5th DB, and c) Shamarko getting reps.

Special Teams:

Scobee’s misses were not in our budget, and it’s not an easy way to start a career in Pittsburgh. Was Coach Tomlin’s confidence in him diminished? Keep in mind Suisham is pretty effective in <50 yard FGs, and the supposed advantage of having Scobee was his larger range, where your coaches confidence in you is most important. Attempting 50+ FGs: if you miss, you give the other team the ball close to midfield. Our coverage units were effective, and we’ll need them as the season unfolds. Dri Archer returned one kick 22 yards (in his only touch of the game).

Just Wondering

  • Our offense was able to get 464 yards without Bell, Bryant and Pouncey, but managed to get just 21 points.
  • And, suddenly, we have a hot commodity on DeAngelo Williams. Don’t look now, but if a contender’s RB goes down during weeks 4 – 7… will we’ll face a trade dilemma?
  • Memo to Coach Haley: Bubble screens now and then and delays on long yardage situations are not the solution. Watch your tape, you know what we’re talking about.
  • Memo to Dri Archer: If you want to keep your roster spot, you should better be targeting at least one long KR the next 4 or 5 weeks.
  • Yes, on today’s NFL you better be ready to go for 2 with your best players on the field. Brown, Miller, Wheaton, Williams and Heyward-Bey (can’t believe I just wrote that!). Expect spread offense to be on the field on 2 point conversions all year long.
  • So, we drafted Sammy Coates with a 3rd rounder in advance to Bryant’s suspension just to see him on the inactive list for how many weeks? 1 and counting so far. A-la-Bryant 2014?
  • That performance by D. Williams says something, too, about the Offensive line.
  • Heyward-Bey can actually catch a football in non-Madden scenarios.
  • Keeping track about whoever said the Steelers offense must score 30 points to win games: you are 1-0.
  • And our most crowded unit is… WR or OLB?
  • By the way, if a LB was supposed to cover Gronkowsky, why Garvin or Dupree, and not Shazier (our fastest LB)?
  • Was that lack of communication on our defense a symptom of youth, lack of practice together (see below) or lack of discipline?
  • So, we were hoping for Shamarko Thomas and Brandon Boykin to fix to our secondary? They played 5 total snaps. Combined.
  • If our plan was to start Allen at SS and Blake at CB, why didn’t they play with starters during Preseason? That, for sure, affected communication among DBs.
  • Who said James Harrison was a backup? He was our most active OLB with 36 plays.
  • A couple of days before the Game, Mitchell and Shazier said they knew how to stop Gronkowski: Jam him and mess with his tempo, which could have been at least more effective than leaving him uncovered or matching against our 5th.  So, why didn’t they do that?
  • Let’s get real, our base D is not 3-4 anymore: We played more time using Nickel & Dime, and did so most of last season. So, are we drafting and getting free agents for our 3-4 or for our base D?
  • Players stepping up for suspended/injured starters? Williams: 127 rushing yards, well above expectations. Wallace, 1 sack allowed. Heyward-Bey letting a TD escape by a toe. Scobee: 2 FG misses.
  • For anyone taking notes, LeBeau’s defense week 1: 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, 1 TD.
  • For you, taking notes: Scobee’s misses week 1: 2. Suisham misses all 2014 season: 3 (2 of them being 50+).
  • And, to make it feel painful again: whoever said Brice McCain wasn’t worth a 2nd contract should watch this.


What comes next?

Next week we’ll have our home opener: Steelers host the 49ers at Heinz Field, Sunday September 20th, which will be the last game without Bell, and Bryant’s 2nd with still 2 more to go. SF’s defense will provide a much harder test to our offense. Still, here’s our chance to get to 1-1 and tie the division lead (while the Bengals host the SD Chargers, Browns hosting LeBeau’s Whisenhunt’s Titans, and Ravens visiting Oakland).


By the numbers

0 Turnovers created by the Steelers.

0 Total snaps played by our 2016 draft picks (we gave our 5th rounder for Boykin).

1 Sack by Bud Dupree. Welcome to Steeler Nation!

2 FG Misses by J. Scobee in week 1, 2015.

3 FG Misses by Suisham last season (two of them, 50+).

3 Sacks allowed by our Oline.

5 Defensive Snaps played by Shamarko Thomas & Brandon Boykin.

6 Steelers drives totaling more than 50 yards, worth 21 points.

6 Steelers drives crossed NE’s 30 yardline, worth… well, you get the idea.

8 Penalties by the Steelers (worth 77 yards).

33 total snaps played by Steelers rookies on offense and defense, combined (Dupree 26, Murphy 7).

33 Consecutive games for Antonio Brown with 5 receptions and 50 yards. A-la-Cal Ripken unbreakable record, anyone?

127 rushing yards by DeAngelo Williams, first 100 yard game for him since 2013.

361 yards allowed by the Steelers defense (8 more than the Steelers 2014 season average (353).

464 yards, Steelers total offense. That’s 53 more than the Steelers’ 2014 season average (411).

About Ricardo M.

Ricardo (WWW) has been a member of the Steelers message board for years, and a Steelers fan for much, much longer.