Stillers-Lions Postgame Report (Aug. 25th, �01)
(First off, let me remind readers that I do not care about wins or losses in preseason.� What I care about is progress; cohesion; and a glimmer of each unit having some chance of success in the rigors of the NFL�s regular season.� These grades mostly apply to the 1st team and key 2nd-teamers.)�
The Stillers opened Heinz Field with a pretty thorough 20-7 whipping of the hapless, sad sack Detroit Lions.� The Lions, who are already a pretty sad team, were ravaged by injuries coming into this game, and, especially on offense, never gave the Stillers much to sweat about the entire game.��� The Stillers marched down the field and scored on their first possession, and then settled back into turtle mode by settling for a few FGs, before Maddox iced the game with a cheap TD to D. Brown.� The Stiller defense totally dominated the toothless Lions, with the only Lion score coming on a TD pass with 25 tics left in the game.�
QB:� Stewart obviously looked far better than he has all preseason.�� On the first drive, he looked sharp, in command, and fairly sure of himself in leading the offense on a methodical, 17-play, 96-yard march.�� The most impressive play was his completion to Breuner on 3rd & 5 on the Lion 27.�� A blitzing LB came up the gut untouched, but Stewart saw his hot read in Breuner, and Stew released an on-target pass to the TE just a millisecond before being pounded and driven into the dirt.�� Breuner gained 13 yards on the play to keep the drive alive, but more importantly Stewart showed a rare (for him) ability to pick up a hot read and stay in the pocket & deliver an on-target pass while under duress.�� Stew also hit clutch passes on a deep curl to Plex for 17, and a couple of shorty curls to Ward.�� Stew ended up going 7 for 7 on this drive, although it should be noted that 2 of those passes were screen plays; another was a swing pass to Amos; and another was a 2-yard dump to Breuner.�� After this drive, however, Stew fought some inconsistency.�� He scattered a few throws way off target, one horrifically off his back foot.� He completed a nice flag route to Troy, but because the pass was lollipopped and low, Troy had to make a diving effort just to catch the ball inches above the grass, thus negating any RAC yards.� Another 0-step hitch to Troy, which is about as easy and basic a pass that a QB can throw, was so low that Troy had to kneel down like a catcher to snare the ball, and was immediately pounced on.�� And in what I viewed as the worst throw of the day, Stewart finally went deep to Burress, but threw a hideous pass that had a maximum apex (in height) of about 9 feet, and was short, thus allowing the DB to easily bat the ball away.� TTFB -� Throw the F�ing Ball.�� Maddox came on in the 2nd quarter and played fairly well.�� His completion to Shaw on a deep slant was a beauty, hitting Shaw in stride so that Shaw could dash for big RAC yardage.� Maddox caught a lucky break on his TD pass.� The completion itself was nice, but Brown should have been easily blasted out of bounds by a safety who simply eased off and ran right by Brown, perhaps toward the unemployment office located on the South Side off Carson Street.� In all, though, Maddox looked a helluva lot better than the wretched performance of last week in Minn.�� And let me emphatically state this about Maddox --- he does have a candy arm, but unlike Stewart, he is willing, and able, to hit receivers downfield with better starch and loft on his passes.�� Graham played in mop-up in the 4th quarter, and did Ok.�� It was my belief before this game even began, that Graham is gone.�� Maddox�s play probably cemented that likelihood.�� A.
RB:� Bettis rumbled easily thru some massive holes in the porous Lion defense.�� Amos had a superb game, shining both in toting the ball as well as receiving.�� He showed a good blend of speed, cutting, and knifing off tacklers and thru small holes.� Fu chipped in with some solid running, though he did fumble on one 3rd down plunge (but we recovered).�� A.
FB:� Neither Kreider nor Witman dressed, so Cushing and company picked up the slack at FB.�� Inc.�
TE:� Breuner had 2 receptions in the opening drive, which is about a career high �- in a game -� for Breuner.� Breuner was flagged for a hold.� Sprague had 1 catch.�� Tuman, the �pass receiving TE�, had none.�� A.
WR:� This greasy-fingered gang apparently was annoyed at all the bad press they�d been receiving, and responded with a pretty good effort.� Leading the way was Edwards, who had 1 tough drop in heavy traffic on a short slant, but otherwise snared every ball thrown to him, including a nice grab of a high curl pass and the diving grab on the flag route.� Plex and Shaw each had a grab.� Ward had 2, and on the 2nd, had a terrific RAC in which he eluded 1 man and then tried to vault over & through 2 defenders right at the goal line, and came up just inches short.�� Nevertheless, a very gritty, tough play by Ward.� Will Jackwell, desperately fighting for continued paychecks from the team that he�s fleeced for over 4 years now, had a decent game, except for a boneheaded false start penalty.� Troy also had a dumb personal foul penalty that bogged down a drive.� Brown snared the long lob-pass from Maddox and dashed to the EX for a TD.� A-.�
OL: �The line blocking was pretty good, especially early on when they opened up some nice holes for the ground game.� The passing blocking showed some leaks at times, including Marvel Smith, who gave up a pitiful sack when he allowed Porcher to easily beat him to the inside.� On a 3-step drop like that play, Smith simply cannot allow a DE to get to the QB to the inside.�� This was a case of poor positioning by Smith, in relation to where the QB is setting up.�� Memo to Russ Grimm �-� you can do better than this, Russ.�� I expect simple stuff like that to be done better by a 2nd-year player who has 10 career starts under his belt.�
DL:� The Lions gashed the defense a few times with some nice running yardage, but because the Lion offense shot itself in the foot so often, the Lions were never able to get a good, sustained drive.� The Lion rushing game is pretty soft and ineffective, as has been the past 2 preseason opponents, so it�s a little hard to get a good read on exactly how well the DL has played against the run.�� Hampton did make a couple of stuffs.�� Smith had a nice game, getting some good penetration and making some stops.� Clancy was pretty active and chipped in decently.� Rookie Rodney Bailey, who has impressed me since the Atlanta game, had some nice pressures today.�� B+.
LB:� Again, as with the DL, it�s hard to gauge how well the LBs did, due to the gross ineptitude of the Lions.� Bell and Holmes did a good job of stuffing the run.�� Haggans had a very good fill on an off-tackle running play, and met head-on with a hard-running Trejo on a hit that left Haggans woozy but also left Trejo on his butt.�� This is exactly the kind of �fill� that I want to see from an OLB on an off-tackle running play.� Fiala had a few stops.� Conspicuously absent was none other than Big Jason Gildon, the �Pro Bowl� LB.�� No less than 18 Stiller defenders recorded at least 1 tackle, but Big Jason did nothing the entire game and was thus credited with a big goose-egg under �tackles�.� B+.
DB:� Not to belabor the point, but as with the DL and LBs, it�s hard to gauge the DBs against an inept passing attack that was missing H. Moore and Crowell.� Batch and McMahon were never on the same page with their receivers.�� I will say that on nearly all plays involving the 1st and 2nd teamers, there was good, sound coverage on the intended receiver.�� Scott got hurt on the Lions� first possession, so Simmons came in for him.�� Mike Logan �- perhaps fired up with his homecoming to Pittsburgh -- had his strongest game thus far with the Stillers, hitting well and coming up for good tackling support.� B+.�
Spec teams:� Some good, some bad.�� Brown�s kickoffs were fairly good.�� His shortest went to about the 5, and he belted a couple past the goal line.� The downer was his missed chip-shot FG, as well as a �made� shorty FG that barely eked inside the upright.� Josh�s punting was solid.�� Troy had a strong, good punt return.� The coverage teams were mostly pretty good.� B.
Head Coach:� Cowher will, I�m sure, be as pleased as punch with this win. ��Hopefully he�s not doing cartwheels, as this Detroit team would have had trouble beating most Divison 1 teams on this day.�� The refusal to have Brown attempt a 54-yard FG -� instead sending in Josh to punt -- in the 2nd quarter was utterly ridiculous.� How will Brown ever gain confidence to boot the long FGs if Cowher, in a totally meaningless game in terms of win-loss, won�t let him attempt the FG ??�� Conversely, the turtling of the offense midway in the 2nd quarter deep in Detroit territory, just so Brown could attempt a long extra-point of-a-field goal (23 yards), was maddening and unjustifiable.� Just to clarify so that nobody misinterprets what I am saying --- yes, I want to get Kris Brown some work on LONG field goals, but, in the preseason, I would much rather get a look at what one of the worst offense�s in all of pro football can do inside the opponent�s 6-yard line on 4th-and-1, rather than having Brown kick a chip-shot 23-yard FG.� These 2 instances demonstrate perfect examples why a Cowher-coached team is so woefully unprepared once the regular season begins.� (Anyone recall the 1st-and-goal fiasco versus Balt. on opening day last year?)� C.
OC:� Malarkey still has yet to take the shackles off his 5-and-Dime Offense.�� Yes, the curl to Plex was a bit deeper than the 5-yard variety that we�re used to seeing.�� But opposing teams �- as they have the past 3 years -- are going to start sitting on all of these 10-12 yard curls.�� The horrific ending of the one promising drive in the 2nd quarter left me ready to toss a table through the window at Coach�s Bar and Grill in Kansas City.� 3rd down and 6 at the Detroit 12 yard line, and Malarkey calls for an inside handoff to Fu that netted 5.�� Here�s my problem with this playcall --- the Steelers are desperately looking for a backup QB.�� Maddox was in the game, and it made perfect sense to TEST Maddox under fire, to see if he could make the clutch throw on a 3rd down deep in enemy territory.� Simultaneously, there was a perfect chance to test the oft-ridiculed WR corps, to see if they could make a clutch grab for a 1st down or a TD.� Instead, Malarkey takes the chickensh�- route, and runs a plunge play that does nothing to develop Fu or develop the WR corps.� On another front, I like the fact that Amos is getting work, although I fear that, once the real games begin, Amos will be relegated to running screens on 3rd and 13.�� Speaking of which, while the screen plays did provide some good gainers, I hope that Malarkey doesn�t slip into the Gilbride-like fetish of running screen passes on virtually every 3rd and long.� Gaining nice yardage on 3rd-and-long screens against a softee Lion defense is one thing, but doing so against the far superior defenses of Balt. and Tenn. is another.� One other sour spot was the DoG penalty after the long reception and run by Shaw.� Perhaps this partially was the fault of the QB, but me thinks that Mularkey and company took too long to get the play into the huddle, and having seen this happen about 17 times the past couple of season, I�m frankly tired of seeing it occur.� C.
DC:�� The defense had its way with the hapless Lions.�� The one thing I am more and more pleased about is the overall cohesiveness and understanding that this defense seems to have.� In other words, there haven�t been too many blown coverages where a WR is streaking downfield without a defender within 20 yards.� This is a veteran defense that, except for Bell and Clancy/Hampton, is returning all its starters and darn near every key backup, so Lewis is doing what he should be doing to have this gang ready for the regular season.�� A-.
A nice win over a lousy team.�� On one hand, the offense showed some spark and some signs of life.�� On the other hand, the offense bogged down after the impressive opening drive and did little, except tacking on a couple FGs.� It would have been nice for the 1st team offense to jam home another TD.� This really is the last test for the starting teams, as next week the starters will all be wearing baseball caps by the end of the 1st quarter.� My one regret with today�s game is that the Lions gave such a meek, inept effort against us.�� I would have much preferred a sterner test...something more similar to what Jax will pose when we open the regular season on Sep. 9th
One final note:� Hat�s off to the Stiller gang at Coach�s Bar and Grill in Kansas City, whom I enjoyed watching today�s game with.�� Phil, Jeff, Jason, Jason�s wife (aka �Boss� he he), and all the others....I truly enjoyed it today.� Phil and Jeff -� hopefully I didn�t drive yunz guys nuts with my commentary and banter during the game!� J