Friday, December 14, 2012

Steelers Road To Playoffs Goes Through Dallas

We saw stunts into the "A" gap and crossfire blitzes seemingly all day with barely a tipping of the hand as to who was actually coming. It's something that Pittsburgh Steelers fans are used to seeing when their team plays.

It's just that this time, it was the Steelers who were on the receiving end of those blitzes.

The Steelers had a taste of some of their own medicine. More than once this year, Mike Tomlin and his staff have been out-coached by the competition, as was particularly evident against the Chargers last week.

This has to stop if the Steelers are to pave a road to the playoffs. Period.

The Steelers have had problems with teams .500 and below for the last 10+ years. Per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Bob Smizik, Tomlin is .354 (11 losses) and former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher was .225 (7 losses) in his last 93 games. - http://tinyurl.com/d6blse6

At least the Dallas Cowboys have a winning record. And one of the ways the Steelers can attack them is through ball control, especially on the right side.

The Steelers tried going deep a little too often last week, whether out of design or necessity. Shortening the game with both an array short passes, including slants and screens, and effective ball control would be the beginning of getting a win Sunday and going forward.

Look at it big picture for a minute. If, IF, the Steelers are to make a long run in the playoffs, an effective run game and short passing game is the best defense against a Peyton Manning and/or a Tom Brady, i.e. keep it out of their hands. Getting back to ball control is only advantageous for the Steelers.

To start, especially on first and second downs, shorter passes will help the Steelers offensive line when dealing with the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. Left tackle Max Starks, whom offensive coordinator Todd Haley says not to jinx, had relative success against Ware in their last meeting, holding Ware to four tackles and only one sack.

Don't misunderstand, though, a few well-thrown deep balls for the receivers to convert (ahem) will make sure to take advantage as well, even if concussed cornerback Morris Claiborne plays.

Heath Miller was having a great season before the injury to Ben Roethlisberger. Since then, he’s been missing too much, including early against San Diego. Miller creates a mismatch because it's difficult to cover him adequately while also covering the receiving corps. A few passes to him clears space for the receivers. - http://tinyurl.com/d7ubsqg

Speaking of receivers, this might be a game to use more of Plaxico Burress, who saw all of approximately seven snaps against the Chargers.

Reliability and hunger might just be a good mix for the Steelers passing game.

The Cowboys are also a team that can be run on from the middle-to-right side of the field. In their last four games, they've given up an average of 149 yards on the ground with 58% of those yards running between the center and the right end.

Hopefully, the Steelers can do that with two rookies manning the right side and center Maurkice Pouncey coming off his worst game of the season. Points which Haley addressed Thursday. - http://blog.steelers.com/2012/12/13/coordinators-corner-haley-lebeau-5/

"For several years now, he has been one of the better pass rushers in the NFL," said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau of LaMarr Woodley. "When he is in there, you are going to pick up the rush."

The Steelers catch a break with LaMarr Woodley coming back this week. If It Ain't Steel has recounted his limitations in the past, but he is still good to have around when considering the defense's two main priorities: Tony Romo and Jason Witten.

Tony Romo is tough and elusive. If he is allowed to be mobile, he can be dangerous. Keep him in the pocket and his effectiveness is lessened. Dallas' offensive line has its issues...but so did San Diego's. Nonetheless, hitting and pressuring Romo into quick throws is key. - http://tinyurl.com/cykfpwq

The lack of pressure on Rivers allowed him to complete 18 of 31 passes for 132 yards on throws of 10 yards or less beyond the line of scrimmage. Tony Romo isn't that patient, especially not when being harassed. This will be important for a turnover-prone quarterback.

Speaking of catching a break, Blogging The Boys had some very telling things to say about the Cowboys' right tackle Doug Free's deficiencies. Something Woodley and Jason Worilds can hopefully take advantage of Sunday.

"Break is what a lot of fans probably did while watching Doug Free's blocking attempts on the Eagles Wide 9," said the article. "He was routinely beaten; relinquishing sacks, holds, embarrassment, frustration and curse words." - http://tinyurl.com/cxeccrg

The lack of pressure hurt the Steelers last week. It can't be allowed to happen vs. Dallas. That becomes even more evident when considering the tight end on the other side of the field.

Jason Witten is just as important to Dallas as Miller is to the Steelers. He’s Tony Romo’s hot read, a load to bring down and must be nullified. With a healthy Troy Polamalu back on the field, he must be used to keep Witten in check.

If Dallas' Dez Bryant is hindered, that leaves Romo to force things to Witten and Miles Austin. That is much easier to defend. The longer you make Romo go though his progressions, the easier it could be to get to him.

Being that the Steelers will be down two cornerbacks Sunday, as both Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen sidelined with injuries, the Nickel and Dime packages are up for grabs.

Both Curtis Brown and Josh Victorian are should see time in Taylor's spot, and undrafted rookie safety Robert Golden is expected to line up in the Nickel.

But Golden, a good tackler and ball hawk, has only been in on two plays this season. So, as LeBeau pointed out Thursday, the Steelers will need all hands on deck.

The Steelers best defense going forward may just be a good, ball-control offense. If they can do that and also generate enough pressure on Romo, they can circumvent their first roadblock to the playoffs.

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TIDBITS: INJURY/PRACTICE REPORT: Steelers - Mike Adams, Willie Colon and Ike Taylor are out; Cortez Allen is doubtful; Everybody else is probable.

Dallas - NT Ratliff is out. WR Bryant, CB Claiborne, G Livings, OLB Ware all questionable. Ware (elbow) didn't practice all week.

Josh Victorian, DeMarcus VanDyke and Robert Golden all saw reps in Nickel.

Per Bob Labriola: "Flu bug hitting the Steelers. This week, Harrison, ABrown, Sylvester, Warren all miss practice because of illness."

LS Greg Warren, LB Stevenon Sylvester, WR Antonio Brown all missed Friday's practice due to the virus.

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With the debut of David DeCastro, the Steelers will start their 22nd different offensive line configuration in Sean Kugler's 46 regular-season games on Sunday.

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The Steelers defense has played so softly, the NFL doesn't even fine them anymore. Ed Bouchette explains why: http://sulia.com/channel/pittsburgh-steelers-vs-dallas-cowboys/f/c949bb7f-7d92-4888-af74-5372fdc1d4c1/?source=twitter

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Is the Steelers offense part of the reason the defense isn't getting turnovers? ESPN's David Todd says it might be one of them: http://www.970espn.com/pages/970_david_todd.html?article=10641486

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Mike Tomlin's statement on Rashard Mendenhall:
"Obviously, last Sunday he was not at the game and I deem those actions a detriment to our efforts. I stated as such when I met with him and that there were going to be repercussions of it. He accepted it. He looks forward to coming back and re-joining this team and being a positive contribution to our efforts the rest of the way. Obviously there is frustration with this situation, understandably, but we all have a job to do. I require all guys to remain professional regardless of personal circumstances. He didn't meet the standard in that regard and accepted the consequences of it. So hopefully this will be a lesson learned not only for him but for everyone and we will be able to move on from it. Right now, our focus is the guys who are here and their preparation in an effort to pursue victory this weekend."