The Stiller Defense and the Maginot Line
Special Commentary by PalmerSucks
November 17, 2010
Students of World War II history know well the tale of the Maginot Line, a series of concrete fortifications that France built along its border with Germany in the late 1930s. The idea was to create a wall that could stop any advancing enemy, based on lessons they�d learned in the last war. Upon completion, the French believed they had constructed an invincible defensive line, which it would have been � had they only been fighting World War I.
Instead the French faced the modern German army, who, in a space of days, defeated this �impenetrable� line by � get this � flying little gliders over it. The Maginot Line had been built to stop any ground attack; the Germans simply said, hey, no prob, we�ll just fly right over you. The mighty Maginot Line proved useless against a new, different style of warfare � one that featured air power.
So what does this have to do with the Stillers? I think you know if you watched the game Sunday Night.
Like the Maginot Line, the Stillers defense is equipped to stop any ground attack. And like the Maginot Line, its weakness is exposed through the air.
The Patriots simply said, hey, you�ve got that impenetrable ground defense, nobody runs on you guys? No prob, we won�t bother � we�ll just fly right over you. And so they did, throwing it up 43 times, mostly passes of the dink variety (what was that about cheesy little gliders again?).
I want you to think about that number again: 43. 43 passes is what teams who are behind and playing catch-up usually throw; not teams who have the LEAD the whole game. 43 passes and a few scattered runs � that�s how wide the Patsies detoured around the Stillers� Maginot Line defense.
Frankly, I�m surprised more teams don�t just chuck the run and pass all game against Pittsburgh. Fortunately for the Stillers, most teams in the establish-the-run NFL don�t roll that way.
Unfortunately, the teams that do � the Pats and Colts of the league � are usually the teams standing in the way of a Super Bowl appearance. And even the run-first teams sometimes pull it out against the Stillers when they�re behind and finally forced to pass � as witnessed by all the late-game breakdowns we�ve seen the last few years.
Sunday Night�s drubbing can mean two things now for the Stillers: a crash return to last year�s later-season flop, or a final facing-up to reality. Because make no mistake about it, if the Stillers don�t change some things, they�ll be flying back to 2009 as if they�d stepped into a time machine.
A whooping like the Steelers endured Sunday means looking at some cold, hard truths:
- The Stillers defense is overrated. Notice I didn�t say �the Stillers defense sucks�; I simply mean it�s not quite the beast it�s made out to be by the TV hypesters. The Steelers RUN defense is awesome, but as a pass unit it�s average. The Patriots looked at a defense featuring a lot of older, slower players, and took advantage by spreading it out and passing. Some schematic changes are needed � and fast.
- Dick LeBeau�s defense can�t handle Tom Brady: If it�s not obvious by now, it should be. Again, that�s a schematic issue, the solution which we�ll get to shortly. But it�s something the team has to face up to now.
- Cutting Jeff Reed is NOT the solution to all problems: Maybe it had to be done, but scapegoating is another thing altogether. Some big names need to be called out, starting with LeBeau, and going all the way up to Tomlin. Likewise, some big-name players need to be called out. When was the last time Woodley made a game-changing play? When was the last time Troy Pola did? Nobody should be held too �sacred� for criticism.
LeBeau ESPECIALLY needs to be called out because it�s not the first time this has happened. The Saints used the same screw-the-run-and-dink-it playbook a few weeks ago; the Patriots did it with Brady a few YEARS ago when the Pats didn�t run it AT ALL the entire second half. But once again here comes Dick with the same Maginot Line defense, applied regardless of opponent�s style. You�ve heard the old definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and expecting a different result; well then, Dick LeBeau must be a downright lunatic. Note to Dick: you win by stopping the run in the REGULAR SEASON; the playoffs are a different story. Time to can all this macho stop-the-run pride garbage, and get with the times.
- Speaking of insane, here�s Bruce Arians!: Note to Bruce � having your QB run around to buy time and get guys open is NOT considered an NFL game plan. Unlike the Patriots, who came in with an actual STRATEGY (see above) Bruce A. continued with what one writer here calls the �grab bag� offense. It�s time to stop pulling plays out of a hat; if Arians isn�t coming up with stuff designed around the other defense�s packages and personnel, then Tomlin needs to replace him with someone who does.
- The field is a joke that�s just not funny. Reed blamed a piece of loose turf for his missed kick Sunday; you can bet his calling out of the field conditions had as much to do with his getting the boot as his blown attempts. Anyone want to argue with him about the turf, though? The fact is, the sloppy field is an embarrassment to a showcase NFL franchise � sort of like Le Cirque restaurant putting plastic silverware on its tables. That�s bad both for the team�s image and its play.
- The defense can�t be managed the same way without Aaron Smith: I�ve said before that Smith is the player that truly makes this defense go. Smith occupies space in a way that allows LeBeau to use players like Polamalu to rove around and gamble; without Smith, he can�t make the same moves.
- It�s a myth you have to have �balance� to win: The Saints did exactly what the Pats did, throwing 46 passes and running only 21 times vs. the Stillers. (Please note that, Mr. Rooney.) Therefore you must prepare sometimes to stop the PASS first � because the PASS is what wins championships in the modern NFL. Likewise, the obsession with running the ball is as antiquated as a World War I tank.
The good news is, the Stillers can go on to be a real contender � but ONLY IF they face up to facts like these.�
Losing to New England the way they did may turn out to be a blessing, because FINALLY the team may learn it�s got to stop playing the same brand of defense all the time. The Stillers should look at tape of Baltimore, the defense that treated Brady to his lowest rating of the season.
The Ravens put pressure on Brady � the Stillers must learn that the light rush and soft zone simply won�t cut it against him. Brady averaged a healthy 8.1 YPA against the Stillers � but how many times did he even throw it that far? Brady did what he usually does against Dick�s Maginot Line defense: quick drops and short passes, many of which found receivers so open, they could turn a 2-yard dump into a 10-yard �bomb.� There�s your high YPA.
The Patriots dictated to the Stillers by scheme: they turned an attacking crew into a bunch of guys REACTING to whatever they did. And by spreading the field and throwing, they extended the TIME each play took. So instead of the defense spending, say, three seconds to tackle a running back, they spent eight seconds rushing then chasing down a receiver � that�s a LOT more energy expended. By the fourth quarter your defense is just plain gassed.
So how do you counter a team that says �screw the run, we�re going to pass�? You go right along with them.
It seems simple, but you have to have the courage to make changes: you play pass-first teams by playing pass-first defense. A few ways to start:
- Always send someone at the QB, regardless of down and distance: Ignore the play fakes; assume the QB�s going to pass and GO AT HIM. The idea is to hit the QB, not let guys like Brady go entire games without needing their jerseys laundered. Brady run fakes? Hit him. Brady hands off? Hit him anyway. Rule number one: a QB who�s going to pass 40 times should be HURTING afterwards, win or lose.
- No more soft zones: No doubt the Pats saw the cushions the Stillers give their opponents and drooled. A little more press coverage wouldn�t hurt. A few more collisions WOULD � which is just the point. The Stillers like to rush three and drop into cushy zones, leaving opposing QBs all kinds of time � this hasn�t just failed against Brady, it�s nearly cost games against guys like Kerry Collins and Chad Henne.
- Play pass defense even on first downs: The Stillers have to find a way to work in quicker defenders � for example by using nickel or even dime packages on first and second downs. So WHAT if you invite the Patriots to run � that defeats THEIR whole purpose. The idea is to turn around the conversation: to say �hey, you say screw the run and want to pass? Fine. We�ll leave the run open and concentrate on killing your quarterback and receivers.� This I guarantee: the LAST thing the Pats want to do is run 12-play drives on the ground. Dictate to THEM for a change � make them audible to runs sometimes based on the looks you show pre-snap.
- Speed, speed, speed: Stiller tacklers always seemed to arrive late Sunday, especially the linebackers. Some LBs like Timmons are equipped for coverage, others like Woodley aren�t � try swapping in the faster Worilds on passing downs. You can�t always stop the quick-hit pass, but you CAN hit quickly after the catch. Punish both the QB and the receivers every chance you get � that means you need to get there FAST. Eventually Brady would adjust seeing Stiller defenders not backing up � meaning taking deeper drops for deeper throws � giving rushers more time to SMACK him.
������������ Permit me now a little rant on the subject: I saw a Stiller DB slow up on the approach when Welker came���
������������ over the middle. Well SCREW THAT � on a night like Sunday, the way the game was going, the best��
������������ thing that could�ve happened would have been a total laying out. And if Der Fuhrer Goodell wants to fine��
������������ you, we�ll take up a little collection. By the way, where was Der Fuhrer to get all outraged over Ward�s��
������������ helmet shot? Funny, I haven�t heard a peep. Maybe the rules just don�t apply to some players.
As for the offense, well, let�s just say they get an �incomplete� after Sunday Night. I noticed Mill killed Roethlisberger for his performance; I strongly disagree. In fact I think Benji should get a medal after that one. How ANY quarterback could play behind that poor excuse for an o-line is beyond me. Plus, it�s hard to get an �A� when your receivers drop two sure TDs AND add to the insult by GIFTING the other guys a cheap pick-return TD.
Here�s a suggestion for the o-line: start the best five guys left on the roster. To me that�s Essex, Foster, Pouncey, Kemo and Flozell. I can�t rip the poor shmuck who played left tackle Sunday Night; he was simply out of his league. But Essex HAS played the position, and if I�m not mistaken, filled in for the Stillers before. I looked up Essex�s Northwestern bio, by the way, and found this:
General: Started final three years of career at left tackle� His primary job as a left tackle was protecting the quarterback�s blind side�
Maybe the Steelers put him at the wrong position to begin with? In any case, here�s a guy who�s a natural left-side o-lineman. Let him play his natural game.
Max Starks is probably the unsung hero of the Stillers; the fact you never heard much about him testified to the solid job he did at the o-line�s marquee position. He�s grossly underrated, and I cringed when I heard he�d been placed on IR. That leaves Essex as the next best option. Also, Foster MUST be given a shot to play guard. At all costs, leave Adams on the right side, unless things get REALLY desperate.
Speed up the WR line-up. Randle-El is a shadow of himself; I�d no more start him than I would Jerome Bettis at this point. I hated the release of Holmes (an absolutely assaholic move), but that�s water under the stadium now. The Stillers should move on with a WR group consisting of Wallace, Ward and Sanders � and activate Antonio Brown. Outside of Wallace, Stiller receivers aren�t getting much separation; the team will have to risk trading in some �veteran presence� for speed, even if it means less experience.
I promise you the Patriots and Tom Brady aren�t as good as they looked Sunday Night; they simply know how to handle the Stillers� Maginot Line Defense. A defense that matches up with them maybe worse than any other in the league. Change things, and you�ve got a shot in a potential re-match. Keep things the same, and say goodbye.
And one more thing: as much as the Patsies got to yuk it up, I�d be asking myself one question if I were them: what if we don�t get that flukey pick-six courtesy of Randle-El�s butterfingers? Take away that one play, and you have this fact: the Stillers still would�ve threatened to win on a night when they couldn�t have been sloppier, and the Patriots couldn�t have been crisper. Like the Saints game, the opponents �A� game still needed a key turnover play to win against the Stillers �D+� game. All the Stillers need to do against both these teams is to upgrade to a �B.� Keep this in mind before you all panic over this one.
The Stillers Will Go as Far as Their Offense Will Take Them
I�ve said it before, I�ll say it again: the 2010 Stillers will go as far as their OFFENSE will take them. As red-hot as Brady was, the score was only 10-3 at the half (which should�ve been 10-7 except for some drops). The Stillers defense may be overrated in some ways, but they do generally shine in the all-important points-allowed category. The defense shut out New England the entire second quarter; it was up to the offense to score enough points to keep the team alive. They failed. The Stiller offense must help the defense by GAMEPLANNING pass-first and assuming it�s going to have to score often and keep up in a shoot-out against the elite teams.
During the game, Brady was seen screaming at his teammates to fire them up � maybe next time, he�ll be doing it after getting knocked on his ass a few times. Even in victory he was his prima-donna spoiled crybaby self, lobbying the refs for a flag after Woodley�s love tap. (But what do you expect from a guy who will cry to the refs about something his own teammate did?).
I know I hate the Patriots. I�d like to hate them for something other than taking the Stillers to the �shed again. Here�s to the re-match � provided some much-needed changes are made.
(The views of PalmerSucks are necessarily those of Stillers.com � and should be.)