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The Shadows That Lurk (Part 3 of a Pre-game Sup Bowl series)

January 27, 2009 by Still Mill

The Shadows that Lurk (Part 3 of a pre-game series)

This is part 3 of a pre-game series.   Part 1 (the initial key versus the Cards) can be read here, and Part 2 (a position by position breakdown of the Cards) can be read here.  


This segment will focus on the shortcomings of the Pittsburgh Stillers.  Yes, I realize, according to many a fan and the Pittsburgh media, this is an all-time great Steeler team, with no chinks in the armor, no weaknesses, no mediocrity, and no players that are short of sheer greatness.  The reality, of course, is something a bit less lofty.  There are, in fact, some weaknesses and some chinks, and we�ll take the time to assess them here. 

�Why even take the time to assess our weaknesses?� asks the typical, nonchalant fan.  As the noted Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz stated, "If you entrench yourself behind strong fortifications, you compel the enemy seek a solution elsewhere."  We can assume, therefore, that AZ Coach Ken Cheezenhunt will be compelled to not attack our strengths, but rather our weaknesses. 

Offensive weaknesses:

- Miscommo on the O-line:  This has hampered the line most of the regular season.  It was understandable early on, with new players being worked in, and then injuries removing Simmons and Smith from the starting lineup.  It seemed to get cleaned up toward season�s end, but then reared its ugly head again in the playoffs.  Simple stunts, overloads, and feigned blitzes have all created clumsy confusion on the O-line.  Typically, the miscue occurs when one player provides help where help isn�t needed at all, thereby leaving a free lane for an untouched rusher to bolt through hell asunder. 

- Stapleton, Colon, and Kemo.   Stapleton has regressed late in the season; The Colon has committed crucial boners in every game lately; and Kemo maintains his struggles in short-area scrapping.  Any and all of these 3 are liable to commit the untimlely boner that blows a potential big play all to hell. 

- McHugh�s blocking out of the FB position.  Blocking, most particularly out of the FB position, is all about pad level and leverage.  Lower man typically wins.  In McHugh�s case, he�s too tall (6-5�) and is hopelessly unable to ever get his pads lower than the man he�s blocking, unless, say, Jevon Kearse is standing upright like a giraffe.   There is a good, sound reason why your top prototype NFL fullbacks, such as Zo Neal and Dan Kreider, are guys that are 5-11� or 6-0�, max. 

- TEs blocking big, rugged DEs and LBs.   Our TEs have been whipped soundly in solo run blocking assignments by larger, brawnier DEs and LBs.  Less of this would be better. 

- Bland, vanilla playcalling.  This has bogged the Stillers down all year long.  Dry, dull plunges into the teeth of run-blitzing defenses, setting up 3rd & long and the inevitable 5-7 step drop with more curls than a beauty parlor.  Combine this was a lethargic, plodding tempo, and you have the recipe for giving AZ free license to take chances, go for the gusto, and seize momentum. 

Defensive weaknesses:

- Lack of speed at ILB.   Foote and Farrior represent the very slowest set of starting ILBs in the NFL.  Neither would be a sure thing to beat Kurt Warner in a footrace.  Both are abject liabilities in pass coverage against quick-footed RBs and TEs.  Timmons obviously brings speed to the table, but bear in mind that he�s not a starter. 


- Tub o� Lard in the middle.  Casey Hampton �clogs the middle�.  This is great, when the opposing team runs a lot of plunges up the gut.  If the offense decides to use a hurry-up offense and spreads the formation, Hampton very quickly becomes a wheezing, gasping, pooped-out lineman whose only �clogging� is accomplished by sitting on a commode and taking a crap during the halftime pep talk. 


- Lack of speed at FS.   Ryan Clark is always good for hitting the helpless receiver.  He spent various afternoons getting trucked by Lendale White and Brandon Jacobs, of course, but give him a shot at the helpless receiver and Clarkie will be licking his chops.  That aside, Clark�s speed and athleticism is abysmal, and any time he�s tasked to provide single coverage on a deep route -- such as the scorching he received in Nashville from Justin Gage on the 34-yard TD -- it�s a gross mismatch in favor of the offense.  Rest assured, Clark will be the #1 guy targeted by OC Todd Haley on deep routes this Sunday.


Spec Teams:


- Punting.  You never know what you�ll get from Berger, and a shank is always a very distinct possibility.  His duffed 5-iron last week was a complete joke.  


- KO/punt coverage.  Stiller playoff football means leaks in coverage sprout all over the field.  The long return by Leonhard last week gave Balt golden FP for 1 of their TDs, and was typical of Stiller playoff kick coverage. 



Finally, there are a couple of intriguing circumstances to this Super Bowl that are worth mulling over.  They relate to Super Bowl history, and in particular, the Stillers.


We are matched up here in 2009 against a 9-7 division-winning Cardinals team.  It�s a team that is making a story-book run, and it has garnered quite a bit of media attention in this regard.  I think it�s worth pointing out that a similar story happened 29 years ago when our Steelers played the then-Los Angeles Rams in Sup Bowl 14.


In Jan 1980, the Steelers were returning to the SB for the 4th time in 6 years, their second back-to-back appearance.  They were a 13-point, heavily favored powerhouse that nobody in their right mind even considered having a chance to lose the game.


They were playing the 9-7 division winning Los Angeles Rams, a team not many people expected to be playing in the Sup Bowl, just like the Cards in 2009.  Those �79 Rams didn�t play the Steelers in the regular season that year.  However, they did play the eventual Sup Bowl champion �78 Steelers in the previous regular season.  And that Ram team beat them, by a score of 10-7.  This was one of two regular season losses that year in a 14-2 season for the Steelers.  This fact was largely discounted going into the �79 Sup Bowl (Sup Bowl 14).


Much the same way that the �07 Cardinal team, under new head coach Whisenhunt, shut down the Steelers in a 21-14 regular season win last season.  And, just like the Rams of �79, the Cardinals did not play our Steelers in �08.  Yet, here they are, a 9-7 division winner that nobody expected to be there, playing for the Sup Bowl title.


Of course, history tells us the Steelers won on that famous Sunday in January of 1980.  But, it was a pucker game for us.  Bradshaw had to overcome 3 INTs, and we were losing 19-17 two minutes into the 4th quarter.  While Bradshaw won the MVP of that game, it was Larry Anderson returning a 140+ yards worth of kicks that made a huge impact, as well as 2 tremendous catches on long bombs by John Stallworth.  


Interestingly, there was a famous former Steelers coach on that Rams team that knew quite a bit about our team, by the name of Bud Carson.  He was the Rams DC then.  And his knowledge of the Stillers made quite a difference in that Super Bowl.  These �08 Cards have some coaches (Grimm, Cheezenhunt) and players (Tuman, Morey) that are fairly familiar with our team as well.  We should assume these fellows have a decent understanding of the Stillers� weaknesses, and a keen interest in exploiting those weaknesses rather than blindly flogging themselves against the Stillers� strengths. 


The moral of this recap is that this upcoming game is no gimme.  The Stillers have a better team.  They should win the game.  But reviewing the history and our weaknesses shows the Stillers are in for a tougher fight than the betting line indicates.


More analysis and keys will be added as we lead up to game day. 


(Still Mill and -- when it comes to the analysis of the Pittsburgh Stillers, no one else comes close�.)



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