Stillers-Panthers Post Game Analysis & Grades:
The gods have finally come to the aid of the Stillers. No, not the Football Gods. Rather, the Weather God, who presumably answered Bill Cowher's halftime snow-dance and responded by cranking up the mild flurries into a full blown blizzard, enabling the hapless Stillers to hold off Carolina's high-octane passing attack (2d in the NFL) for a 30-20 win. There were some positives, but as usual, also a whole lot of ugly warts and pock marks.
QB: Again, as I've said all along this year, I'll waste no time typing an evaluation of a worthless 15-year, over-the-hill greybeard who has no business being on an NFL roster. D.
RB: The Bus turned in his most impressive performance of the year, churning out 132 yards on 33 carries. A good chunk of that yardage was gained after the initial hit was made, as Bettis continually rumbled over tacklers and plowed for extra yardage. Hunt also had a superb game, gashing the Panther's #21 rush defense with 72 yards on only 7 carries, including a nice 25-yard TD scamper in the 2d quarter. Hunt also had a critical 8-yard run around end for a key first down late in the game on 3d & 8. Hunt really impressed me with the way he read his blocks today, as well as his ability to shift it into overdrive when the hole developed. A.
FB: Witman blocked adequately and caught his obligatory 6-yard with zero RAC. I didn't spot him making any major blunders, although I've yet to scrub the tape, play by play. B.
WR: Ward led the way with 5 grabs for 40 yards (wow, 8 yds/catch!!) and 1 TD, though it should be noted that his 9 yard TD pass was the case of terribly botched coverage in which 3 Panthers jumped on Shaw while Ward was all along on a crossing route. Edwards, likely severely hampered by his groin pull, caught 3 for 36, including 1 short hitch that he turned into a 9-yard gainer with some nifty moves. He also committed a false start. Stewart dropped 1 sloppy but catchable pass and finished with no grabs. Shaw had 1 grab for 5. Due to his rookie status, Malcolm Johnson was only allowed to play in the rarely used 4 WR set. B-.
TE: Cushing shouldn't get too cush in his job. He allowed the 1 pass to him to glance off his hands and into the arms of a DB for an INT. His blocking was adequate. B-.
OL: It's hard to determine if these men actually stepped it up today, or if they were merely the benefactors of a porous Carolina defense that came into the game 21st in run defense and 26th in pass defense. To be sure, this was the best this unit has played since the season-opening laugher in Cleveland, with regular holes opened for the running attack and the QB afforded good time and downfield-vision in the pocket. Faneca pulled and made a superb block on the Hunt TD run. Gandy and Shar Poundyerass solidly held off their flanks from harassing the QB. Even Stai, as unbelievable and Disney-like as it may seem, made it thru the entire game without committing some jackassed, nitwitted penalty, which might be a first in his entire career. Actually, the whole line had no penalties today that I can recall off-hand. Seeing the Mad Iranian at least provide some obstruction to the opposing defender today at RT, makes me wonder, "WHY did Conrad & Brown get THAT MUCH playing time while this man was DEACTIVATED every week??" A.
DL: A so-so game from this spotty crew of sluggos. Henry, Vrabel, and Staat were so silent and invisible all game that they all could have been accused of any crime that took place outside of 3 Rivers Stadium --- and they'd have had no alibi of their whereabouts except for perhaps the game films. Henry & Staat each only had 1 assists apiece, and Vrabel had none. (Staat committed 1 offsides penalty, and was quickly replaced by E. Brown, who immediately jumped offsides the very next play and then reported to the bench.) Roye was a bit more visible, including the play where he knifed in on the Lane goal-line plunge and just so slightly disrupted Lane, who then fumbled when hit by Kirk. The pocket push was non-existent. C.
LB: This was the classic case --- surely the most vivid case this season --- of the "haves" and the "have nots". Kirkland and Holmes dominated play with superb, in-your-face linebacking, while the Pitter Pat Brothers, Gildon and Emmons, played as softly and passively as a starting linebacker could possibly play on the NFL level. Kirkland FINALLY had the kind of game he's SUPPOSED to at least come close to having each and every week, with 7 solos, 3 helpers, 1 sack, and 2 forced fumbles. Yes, he missed an easy sack with another diving whiff --- Kirk's trademark this season ---at the QB's feet, but this was by far his best overall game this season and 1 of his bst since he signed the fatty contract after the '97 campaign. Holmes chipped in with 7 solos, and applied a few crushing tackles -- the kind that make the RB a bit less enthusiastic the next time he runs the ball. As for the Pitter Par Brothers, this was a stench-laden of an effort from a pair of OLBs in the 3-4 defense, as the NFL has ever seen since the Broncos first introduced the 3-4 back in '77. Emmons finished with 1 solo stop -- and that on a 4th quarter running play in which first Holmes busted in and forced Lane wide, then Kirk busted in and strung Lane even wider. Finally, with nowhere else to run, Lane skipped to the sideline and Carla pushed him OOB. That's IT. Emmons did NOTHING else the entire game. As for Gildong, he was easily chopped down like the George Washington's famed cherry tree by FB Floyd, allowing Lane to turn the corner for a 41 yard TD run. This was as poor & clumsy a play as a LB can make in the National Football League. 2 plays prior to that TD run, The Dong was shoved waaay outside and 3-yards off the line by TE Walls, allowing Lane a cavernous hole up right tackle. Gildon did had a chance to make a tackle on this play 7 yards downfield, but flailed badly and missed, and Lane ended up with an 11-yard gainer. On the key 3d & 2 near the end of the half, Gildon was buried by the pulling LG, which allowed Johnson to easily run for 7 yards. Gildon was also literally put on his back on 1 pass rush late in the half. And on Beuerlein's TD pass late in the 1st half, Gildon was ridden way wide and upfield by ROOKIE right tackle Chris Terry. His pass rushing the entire game was appallingly anemic and sickly. He finished with 2 solos, 1 being a weak shoe-string grab of Lane on a dumpoff in the flat. I honestly did not see another solo stop, but I'll review the tape and see. Porter played in perhaps 15 plays and recorded 2 solos, or nearly as many as Gildon & Emmons combined. ILBs: A. OLBs: F.
DB: Another spotty day from this motley crew. You know it was a weird day when Townsend turns in the best performance of the backfield. Yes, he was outjumped by Jeffers on the TD pass late in the half, but Sheilds was too tentative in his help and Jeffers, to his credit, made a superb play. Otherwise, Townsend was providing coverage as tight as Saran Wrap, and even deflected a couple balls away. DeWayne was somewhat quiet, mostly due to Carolina going after Chad and Townsend. Both Flowers and Scott bit up hard on a 2d quarter play-fake, and Jeffers easily grabbed a long toss for an 88-yard TD. This was piss poor by both these veterans. Lee did make some good run stuffs, a good pass breakups, and a couple hard hits on receivers, until he was thrown out (along with Walls) after defending himself against Walls in a skirmish. Davis took a horribly wretched anlge at Lane on his TD run, and Scott was lumpishly shielded off on that play by a WR. Shields, as noted, was too tentative on the late 1st half TD, but did have an INT late in the game off a poor overthrow. This group might very well have been scored upon more were it not for the blizzard that invaded 3 Rivers shortly after halftime. C+.
Spec Teams: Another slipshod day from these band of nitwits. Prozac, who supposedly is the king of holding for placekicks, foolishly dropped a perfect snap on 1 PAT, which resulted in no points. Hunt committed a foolish personal foul after 1 punt pinned the Panthers on their own 15. Kris made a solid 46-yard FG, but many of his KOs were terribly short and shabby. Porter led the way on the coverage teams.
Off Coord: I'm not going to gush and fawn over Gilbride's offense in this win over what was the 27th ranked total defense in the NFL. Just by the law of averages, we SHOULD have moved the ball with ease, since Carolina's defense is so porous and soft. This is about all you need to know about Kevin Gaypride's mental aptitude: with the team holding a 23-20 lead and assuming possession of the ball with 7:38 remaining in the game, Gaypride inexplicably orders a piddly 9-yard out pass to Troy. There are "Zambonis" running amuck all over the field; visibility was reduced to about 10 feet because of the snow; winds and snow were whipping passes around in mid-air --- and Gaypride is calling a 1st down pass to begin this drive rather than a ground attack against the 21st best rush defense in the NFL. That's innately dumbassed, simpletonistic thinking by an offensive coordinator. C+.
Def Coord: You have to wonder exactly what goes thru Jim Haslet's obviously feeble mind. It's 3d & 10, with 13 seconds left in the half on the Steeler 43 & Carolina has NO TO's left. Asslet uses a vanilla 3-man rush combined with a no-brained "let's keep only 2 men deep and smother the short curl routes" defense. I reviewed the play on tape --- we had 3 defenders all along or near the 25-yard line (covering 2 Panthers), and 1 at the 15 and 1 at the 10, as the ball steamed toward the EZ, leaving just Shields & Townsend against 2 Panther WRs. There is NO EXCUSE whatsoever for Asslet to not have at least 4 men waiting in the EZ for a hail-mary type pass against a team with ZERO timeouts. In this situation you gladly give up the short stuff, and force the opponent to make a last-second FG --- and that can occur only if their WR gets OOB. D.
Head Coach: Field Goal Bill got what he's lusted for --- a cheapo win to break up the hideous losing streak and remove the stigma from his name as the team heads toward a painful offseason. Yeah, yeah, it's nice to win, but at the "expense" of playing youngsters?? I don't think so. I see Delhomme or whatever his name is, with New Orleans, light up Dallas for 278 passing yards and a big win. That was his 1st ever NFL start. Amos and Malcolm barely played at all today. That's bullheaded stubbornness and stupidity at its worst. As I already mentioned, it took Cowhead 14 games to give Pourdanesh some PT, because presumably he felt more comfortable with Conrad, a man who'd been on the team last year?? That's bullshit. Pourdanesh is no All-Pro, but at least the man is getting hands and arms and chest on opposing defenders, something Conrad rarely ever did.
Then there's Cowhead's post-game comments: "You look around, and there's a chance that St. Louis and Indianapolis are the two teams that might end up going all the way; those two teams had seven wins between them last year. There's such a fine line in this business. You can turn it around, but the thing you have to do is create a foundation. You can say maybe we should play young players, but you have to win games. That's the foundation you have to build, and you have to build that belief. Certainly, this is a big win, and I think next Sunday also is going to be a big game for this football team." This is pure, unadulterated bullshit. It's readily apparent that Cowhead would have sold his soul to the devil for a win -- any win -- to halt this losing streak, even if it means rotting youngsters on the pine so that hobbled players (ie, Troy Edwards) and over the hill vets (Mike Prozac) get to exclusively play. If winning games at the end of the season had ANY carry-over effect, then the Cinci Bengals would be perennial Super Bowl contenders. The Bungals are famous for nice strong finishes, only to come stumbling out of the gate the following year 1-5 or whatever. With the amount of off-season player & coaching movement that takes place in the NLF nowadays, there is NO "Carry over effect" from a couple cheapo meaningless late season wins into the following season. NONE. Repeat after me: "There is NO "Carry over effect" from a couple cheapo meaningless late season wins into the following season." This will be especially true for the Stillers, who SHOULD significantly attrit well over a dozen players from this roster thru either unrestricted free agency (Roye), cutting (Emmons, Witman, Conrad, Gildon, Staat, Davis, Harison, et al), or retirement (Prozac, Sweeney). When Cowhead starts babbling about "a fine line", he overly gives the impression that he believes these team -- just like the '98 team -- is within millimeters of an 11-win season. That is bonehead myopia at its worst. And this Cowhead statement says it all about Cowhead's feeble state of mind: "You can say maybe we should play young players, but you have to win games." In other words, Cowher is saying, "Playing young players means that we automatically will lose the game; ergo, you have to win games and that means you have to play veterans." Insisting on sticking with veteran mediocrity is 1 reason why this team is in such a miserable state. D.
Yes, it's nice to end this hideous losing streak. It was brutal enough on me to go into work every Monday and get abused by co-workers about this embarrassing squad. However, my fear is that a cheapo win today --- and remember that were it not for the blizzard, Carolina most likely wins this game in a laugher --- might gloss over the ugly warts and pock marks that overbearingly remain. The trap & the fallacy, is that all of the sudden, with this win, "all is well" and that this will "carry over to the '00 season". Nothing could be further from the truth. If this team is not adequately re-stocked and a change is not made in either coaching or coaching philosophy, this team is doomed to another sub-par season in Y2K.
The Still Mill