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Phantom's Fearless Forecast

September 03, 2001 by Steel Phantom

2001 Outlook, game after game

Hard facts and wild conjecture:


The consensus seems to be that the Stillers will face a more difficult schedule in 2001 than was the case in 2000.� Let�s do the numbers:




# Games


Play-off teams

Ravens, Titans, Raiders, NYG, and Eagles.�



4 home, 1-3

3 road, 1-2




1-0, road


Jags, Skins



1-1  @ home

1-0 on the road


Browns, Bengals, and Bolts



2-0 @ home

2-1 road


The 2000 Stillers were 6-2 against teams that were .500 or below and 2-5 against playoff worthy foes. They were 4-4 at 3RS and 5-3 on the road.� Now, consider the 2001 schedule; note that in the table below, teams are awarded their 2001 slots from their 2000 record.


2001 (based on 2000 performance)


# Games


Play-off teams

Ravens, Titans, Bucs, and Vikings


3 @ home, 3 road.


Jets, Lions


2@ home


Chiefs, Bills, and Jags


1@ home, 3 road.


Browns, Bengals


2 @ home, 2 road.


If the Stillers were an elite type team, we might expect a 3-3 split against the playoff group and, say, an 8-2 mark against the rest.� That would be 11-5 and this certainly has to be the outside limit for optimism.


�If the Stillers are �contenders� (defined as 9-7 types though, IMO, most of the 2000 9-7 teams were more pretender than contender) then we might expect 2-4 against the playoff elite, 1-1 against the other contenders, and, say, 6-2 against the rest.� There is your 9-7 but that�s not going to be good enough.� Probably, 10-6 makes the playoffs; assuming 2-4 against the playoff worthy, the required mark remains 8-2 against the rest.� Maybe, facing the �contenders� at home, the Stillers take both.� However, 3 of the 4 games against the mid-level Bills, Chiefs and Jags are on the road.� Assume a 2-2 split there and the Stillers would have to sweep the Bengals and Browns to get in (2-4, 2-0, 2-2, 4-0 = 10-6).


The betting public has the under at 7 �.� 2-4, 1-1, 2-2 and 2-2 respectively would make the under nut.� It is worth noting that the Stillers have been a poor home team for the past two seasons; maybe, the �home dog� tag ends with the inauguration of Heinz Field but, really, who knows?� In tabular form, some options may be:



Stillers 11-5




Playoff worthy






2-0 @ home

2-0 @ home




2-2, 3 away










Naturally, there are many other possibilities.� One will be explored in the game-by-game fantasy to follow.� But first, consider the following points:


On offense, the Stillers have moved to retain the status quo.� Bettis and Hartings were the (2) big O-side off-season signings; these men enfranchise the power back/athletic OC tradition established here.� That�s fine; there are teams on the schedule who will be beaten down by this attack.� Then again, there are teams that will neutralize it.� The problem on offense has been that the power game has received no supplement from any passing attack and, while all hopes for improvement there rest with better play from Stew, Spike and Toy as Mularkey, Clements and Jackson guide that, the preseason is an insufficient basis to project this development.� Given that, it is anyone�s guess whether the Stiller O-side will be as erratic as in years past.� If so, the Stillers may win when they can run but will go down hard when they need to get airborne.� In contrast, if the Stillers can pass effectively, well, anything is possible for this team.


On the D-side, the Stillers remain system-challenged in mounting a pass rush.� The OLB are the sack-kings here; the Stillers haven�t had a D-lineman with double-digit sacks since Keith Willis bowed out.� Bell may provide a necessary 3rd rush threat out of the LB corps but elsewhere around the league, the premium pass defenders are DL who can bring pressure and DB who can cover.�� Broadly, LB figure in a secondary role against the pass but here the LB are the premium Front 7 performers.� IMO, the Stillers are strong in the base but will have problems countering multi-WR sets.�� That could happen a lot; this season, both Cin-City and Cleveland figure to feature (3) WR packages as their base, or co-base, set.� So long as the Stillers �passing down� package removes Holmes, sits Bell, inserts Jones as the dime backer and lines up Porter and Gildon on the LOS, the advantage will rest with their opponents.� Further, teams with a pass receiving RB, get a pressure reprieve when the Stillers are forced to drop one of their LB in coverage.� As constituted, the Stillers must keep as many LB on the field as possible; if the B&G can develop a nickel pack with Porter and Bell as the LB, some (5) DB and (4) rushers then, IMO, they�ll have a chance.� However, since innovation has not been a feature of the Cowher Era, I expect the Stillers will have a lot of trouble countering diversified passing attacks, at least early on


Turning to the prognostication:


At Jacksonville, Sept. 9:� Under Coach Cowher, the Stillers are 4-5 in their openers.� However, it is worth noting that they�ve started against Dallas (twice), SF and Baltimore when those teams were Super Bowl worthy.� Of course, they also lost their opener at Jaxville in �96 when that team was far from elite.� The Jags are crippled now; McCardell figures to be out, Jimmy Smith may not be at full strength, OT Boselli and Weigart have knee issues and their D-side is pocked with elderly or unproven players.�� My crystal ball shows that the Stillers will get out early but, when the heat kicks in, Fred Taylor will run wild.� Lacking any trace of Front 7 depth, the Stillers D-side wilts in the 4th quarter to blow a slim lead.� Gloom gathers here as heat-induced asthma sidelines the Bus but the Stillers score late behind Amoz and Fu to pull it out.


Outlook: W, 1 -0


Cleveland, Sept 16:� Stillers take the opener at Heinz Field.� The Browns are putting together a stout DL but this will take some time to gel.� Further, the Browns new FA O-linemen aren�t yet ready to play effectively.� The Browns multi-WR set gives Pittsburgh problems but without a big time RB, the Brownies can�t take full advantage.� Surfing a wave of emotion, the Stillers win convincingly.��������������������������������������������������������


Outlook: W, 2-0


At Buffalo, Sept. 30:� The Bills figure to be sub-par this season.� Generally, the Stillers have played poorly following a bye week but IMO Coaches Lewis and Mularkey are better teachers than were their predecessors.� Turnovers and rust do factor as the Stillers start sluggishly on the O-side, generally failing to protect their QB against the Bills new 46.� While the Stillers do little on offense, the Bills do even less.� The D-side dominates and scores; Rob Johnson goes down again and again.� Cowher trumps Donahoe, 23-10. ��������������������������������������


Outlook: W, 3-0


Cincinnati, Oct.7:� The overly confident Stillers are unprepared for the Bengals.� Cin-City fields Darnay Scott, Peter Warrick and Chad Johnson in their base set but lack a QB to get them the ball.� However, Dillon breaks free against the dime package and, while Holmes and Bell look on, the Stillers suffer a catastrophic defeat.������


Outlook: L, 3-1


At Kansas City, Oct. 14:� Coach Cowher, in an agony of rage and shame following the Bengal loss, whips the B&G through a grueling week of practice.� The Stillers drag a number of self-induced injuries into KC; there, when Vermeil spreads the field, the Stillers find no answer for TE Tony Gonzales who teams with Trent Green to lead KC to a convincing victory.�����������


Outlook: L, 3-2


At Tampa Bay, Oct. 21: The emotionally drained Stillers are over matched and crushed by the Super Bowl bound Bucs.��������������������


Outlook: L, 3-3


Tennessee, Oct. 29:� The Stillers rise up to defend their field on MNF; with a huge effort, they win this highly physical contest.


Outlook: W, 4-3


Baltimore, Nov. 4:� Bruised and battered by the Titans and with a short week to prepare, the Stillers are steam-rolled by the defending champs.���������������������


Outlook: L, 4-4


At Cleveland, Nov.11:� Browns establish their Front 4 featuring Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren; the Bus is stuffed but Stewart picks up the slack.� Spike scores his first NFL TD grabbing a late EZ fade over 5�-8� CB Daylon McCutcheon.� The weary Stillers stick with their dime pack against Tim Coach and the Browns dink attack giving plenty of yards, but few points.� ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Outlook: W, 5-4


Jacksonville, Nov. 18:� Jags O-line gels; Coughlin follows the (3) WR lead established elsewhere, Taylor starts left and cuts back again and again and again; in what amounts to a repeat of game #4, the Stillers are defeated by an inferior opponent.�������������������������


Outlook: L, 5-5


At Tennessee, Nov. 25:� A savage beating in Music City.� The running game never gets untracked and the Titan twin Pro Bowl DE, Kearse and Carter, harass Stewart repeatedly with Rolle capitalizing.� The D-side plays tough but wears down late.�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������


Outlook: L, 5-6


Minnesota, Dec.2: �With Kordell in a Music City daze, Tommy Maddox gets his first start and functions effectively, if not brilliantly.The Stillers go back to basics and control the clock with a brutal inside running attack.� The Bus, well rested after getting just a few carries in Nashville, packs it about 40 times.� The Vikings score (3) TD in 18 minutes TOP but this isn�t nearly enough.


Outlook W, 6-6


New York Jets, Dec. 9:� Assuming Curtis Martin makes it through another season, the Jets are contenders.� C. Martin is exactly the kind of multi-dimensional back that creates match-up problems here.� Purportedly, the Jets intend to lead the league in rushing attempts this year and so they drafted LaMont Jordan to lighten Martin�s load.� Herman Edwards has toughened this team but with Jason Ferguson down for the year and an aging LB corps, the Jet D-side fails to deal with the Stillers grind-it-out attack.� The Stillers take a TKO at Heinz-World.


Outlook: W, 7-6


At Baltimore, Dec. 16:� The Ravens will need this game.� The Stillers O-side is overpowered in a foul weather encounter when their running game is, as usual, stuffed by the Poe-birds.� Lacking a quality RB, the Ravens can�t move it either but win the turnover battle and take a sleet-sodden 5-0 lead.� Late in the 4th, Stewart rolls away from pressure, eludes Lewis and Boulware to sprint 76 yards for the games only TD.� The Stillers botch the snap to blow the extra point but still win 6-5.��


Outlook:� W, 8-6


Detroit, Dec. 23:� The dome-bound Lions can�t get it done outdoors.� Their West Coast offense freezes solid and, when Detroit trys to muscle up with James �Little Man� Stewart packing it behind behemoth OL McDougle and Gibson, LB Porter, Holmes and Bell out-quick and strip down the Motor City�s last best hope.� The Stillers grind down the aging Lions Front 7 that fields (3) D-linemen on the wrong side of 30.� ���������������������


Outlook: W, 9-6


At Cincinnati, Dec. 30:� Foul weather grounds the Bengal 3-wide.� Stillers win convincingly as Bell and Porter combine for (23) tackles and (5) sacks.� Amoz gets his first 100- yard game; the Bus rolls for about 80 in the 1st half.� Coach Cowher points to a competitive improvement over the last (5) games to suggest that his team is, clearly, on the rise.

����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Outlook: W, 10-6.




Against the playoff group:�������� 3-3, 2-1 at home, 1-2 on the road.

Against the contenders:������������ 2-0, both at home.

Against the mediocre:�������������� 2-2, 0-1 @ home, 2-1 on the road.

Against the bottom feeders:������ 3-1, 1-1 at home, 2-0 on the road.

Home:������������������������������������ 5-3������������������������������������������

Away:������������������������������������� 5-3








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