Bungals 26, Stillers 23 (OT) ���. Dec. 30th, 2001 ����Game #15
Stillers-Bengals Postgame Analysis and Grades
The Stillers slopped and slathered their way through perhaps their most sickening loss since the �99 loss to Cleveland, in a manner all too familiar and eerily similar to that shameful loss to the Browns. A cushy 2nd half lead; an offense that sat stagnant and played turtle; and a late screen pass that was intercepted, thus giving a beaten foe new life. Facing a hapless Cinci team that generously did everything possible to give this game away -- to include fumbled kickoffs, a holding penalty on a made FG, followed by a missed FG; a missed PAT, one other missed FG, several other critical penalties -- the Stillers nonetheless turned down the Cinci Holiday spirit and frittered and farted this game away in despicable fashion.. My truly best informant attended this game and had a great view from a club box, so, fortunately for you readers, you�re getting the most thorough report one can possibly get anywhere within the time constraints of getting this published by Sunday evening.
1. Kitna hits Scott on a deep post on the first series, setting an ominous tone that continued throughout the day.
2. Stew hits Plex on a skinny post for a 28-yard TD, giving the Stillers a 14-0 lead.
3. On a Steeler FG try, holder Josh Miller drops a good snap, and the Bengals pick up the loose ball and race 66 yards for a cheapie TD.
4. Fu dashes 37 yards on a throwback screen for a TD.
5. With about 4 minutes left in a 23-10 game, an attempted screen pass is read and sniffed by the entire Cinci defense, and INT�d.
6. Shaw appears to smother Cinci�s onsides KO, but in the ensuing pileup and scrum, a Bengal emerges with the ball.
7. On 1st & goal from the 18, Kitna lofts a sky-high pass to Farmer in the corner of the EZ for the tying TD.
8. Rackers misses the PAT, which forces an OT.
9. Bennett rumbles 36 yards on Cinci�s 2nd play from scrimmage in OT.
QB: Without question, Stewart had his poorest outing since way back in the ugly days of October. And I�m not necessarily referring to the INT�s. Of the 4 INTs, only 1 was a shabby play by Stewart; that on the short, 3-yard out to Ward on 3rd and 8. Not only did Stew go overboard in forcing this one to his favorite receiver, but it was a wasteful, shorty attempt that would have done absolutely nothing even if the ball had been caught. The other INTs were clearly not Stew�s fault. The first, on the long lob to Plex, was a blatant case of holding by Kaesviharn, who grabbed and held Plex�s arm like a vise, and then made the pick. The 3rd INT was the screen play, which was instantly sniffed by the entire Cinci defense the moment the ball was snapped. Perhaps Stew should have recognized this, and thrown the ball away or tried scrambling around left end, but with such a quick screen, there�s nary a moment to mull the possibilities. And, the 4th INT was a fruitless Hail Mary attempt. My beef with Stewart mostly revolves around his found-again penchant for throwing numerous balls into the dirt, a problem that he�d eradicated throughout the team�s surge these past 8 weeks. In fact, on the first series of the first half, Stewart threw 2 poor passes into the dirt, causing a 3-and-punt that spoiled good starting field position at the Cinci 35. He also seemed a bit wooden and tentative in the pocket, as evidenced by his completing nearly 5 quarters of play and not having a single rushing attempt. To his credit, Stewart did hang tough in the pocket despite a continual avalanche of pressure from the Cinci blitz packages. B-.
RB: With Bettis out again, Fu got all the work at RB. Fu had several good runs in which he showed strong 2nd effort and good toughness. Problem was, many of these runs were sandwiched around slow, whaleshit plays in which Fu was easily engulfed -- usually for losses -- by a gambling, run-blitzing Cinci defense. Fu chipped in well in the passing game, snaring 5 passes, and taking the throwback screen to the house with good cutting and relatively good speed. Frankly, this is a play that Bettis wouldn�t have scored on, given the identical circumstances. One of my beefs with Fu today was that he unquestionably had more difficulty with his footing than any other player on the field today. More importantly, my other beef was with his pass protection, as twice -- once in the 4Q and once in OT -- he whiffed miserably and failed to pick up the blitzer. Amos Zereoue, who, according to reports all week, was supposedly as healthy as a horse, dressed but only once got onto the field. B.
FB: Witman started, though Kreider, as has been the modus operandi, gradually filled in as the game wore on. Witt had 1 carry for 4 yards and a middle-dump pass for 12 yards. I�ll need to review the film in greater detail, but with the way Cinci continually got penetration on running plays, I suspect the FB blocking wasn�t entirely up to snuff. B
WR: This crew had a hellacious first half, but the, with the offense reduced to the Dink and Dump, the WRs were pretty quiet in the 2nd half. Burress served as the epitome of this. He torched the Bungals for 4 grabs, 92 yards, and 2 TDs in the first half. But aside from the blatant hold-and-INT, Plex -- similar to the first Raven meeting, where he was frozen out by his own offense in the 2nd half -- had 2 catches for a whopping 10 yards in the 2nd half. Plex�s 1st TD showed some impressive RAC work, as did a couple other of his grabs. Ward was a bit quiet, though he did have 3 grabs, including a good 30-yard catch and run. He did drop a high, but catchable, out pass late in the 2Q, and also dropped a short crosser. Shaw had 2 clutch 3rd down receptions. And Troy contributed 2 grabs, including a clutch 20-yarder in the 2Q. Troy also hustled and had a key block on Fu�s long TD. Perhaps the shoddiest things today was the sorry-assed stand-around that occurred on the Hail Mary pass, which was INTd while 3 Steeler receivers stood around nearby and gawked at the ball with all the amazement of a 5-year old watching a trapeze act. Additionally, Plex was once again flagged for a false start. He was flagged for this last week; he was flagged twice for this in a game back in October, and he�s been flagged for this on at least 3 other occasions this season, which is absolutely reprehensible for a WR in the NFL. B.
TE: Tuman was held catchless by that stingy Cinci defense. He was thrown 3 balls, but one was woefully thrown at his feet, and in OT he slipped on a crosser. Tuman was thrown a good pass early in the 4Q, but inexplicably did a Gildon-like "Olay" and held up as though he were afraid of getting flagged for reaching out too aggressively for a passed ball. The Stillers used an abundance of 2 TE sets, so Cushing saw a lot of work as well. B-.
OL: A spotty outing for this group. Wayne Candy set the tone on he very first series, getting thoroughly whipped by DE Justin Smith, which caused a sack. The run blocking was shabby at times. Oliver Ross continues to wallow around like a pig in a glopping pool of shit, moving laterally far too slow for what you need as a guard in the National Football League, and several times today getting literally knocked onto his ass. The pass protection also allowed far too much harassment and pressure on Stewart. I expect better from a veteran O-line that has had this much time to gel this season. C-.
DL: This gang had an ok day at times today. Smith was strong and active. But Dillon did nick the defense for a healthy 4.3 yards per rush. A good bit of the problem was the continual use of NT Casey Hampton in a "slanting" role, as opposed to playing straight-up. Obviously, Casey is merely doing what he�s told., but Cinci was able to simply guide & push Hampton in whatever direction he was slanting towards, and the resulting fissure was usually large enough to easily accommodate your typically hefty elementary school cook. B.
LB: Earl Holmes led the way with an exceptionally strong game. The Earl of Hit made 8 solos, and forced a fumble with a hard hit on Corey Dillon, and clogged many a running play. KenBell added 4 solos, including an impressive chase-down of Dillon near the sideline when it appeared Dillon was ready to turn the corner for a nice gain. Gildon had 5 solos, which included 2 sacks and 3 stops on pass-catchers. Bell�s hit on Kitna caused a pass to flop into the air a few yards, resulting in Gildon�s first INT of his 8-year career. Porter was flagged for offsides, and he and especially Gildon were both a bit too quiet in the run stuffing department. GilDong, in fact, was the unblocked player who flopped-and-flailed -- whiffing miserably -- on Bennett�s key 36-yard scamper in OT. Gildon also committed a foolish, blatantly obvious 5-yard facemask on his 2nd sack, but luckily the refs failed to see it. To his credit, Porter was used quite a bit in pass coverage, and even had pretty good coverage on Peter Warrick�s 13-yard curl in OT. B.
DB: Cinci apparently will always be a house of horrors for DeWayne Washington. DW got abused early, and then often, by every member of the Cinci receiving corps. Had tackle-eligible Jamain Stephens gone out for a pass, I�m not entirely sure if DW could have covered the tub o� lard. Although he had 13 solos, DW could have easily had 21, had he not meekly flailed and missed so many other tackling opportunities. What annoyed me throughout the day was DeWayne�s pitiful reluctance to make a play on the godamned ball, similar to the Cinci fiasco in �98. The late TD pass to Farmer hung in the air longer than most punts, yet Washington, who was actually in good position, never made an attempt to break up the pass. And there were a couple other plays where DW made no move on the ball whatsoever. And when DW wasn�t getting beaten deep or flailing at ballcarriers, he was giving up cushions large enough to conjure images of former Stiller CB Randy Fuller. Chad Scott, while not as sorry, also had a fairly shabby day. Not only was Chad giving up Deion Figures-sized cushions, but late in the 4th quarter, he was flagged for PI and then holding, both of which were correct, legitimate calls. The holding call was a thoroughly lazy, dumbasssed penalty by Chad on the critical 4th down pass break-up by Flowers that would have won the game were it not for Chad�s hold. Chad does deserve credit for coming from his side of the field to break up a deep post pattern to a receiver that had clearly beaten DW. Flowers gave good run support, and also had some nice blitz pressure. Logan batted a pass while flying in on a blitz. Overall, a secondary this deep and experienced should have never been abused and thrashed so badly. Totally unacceptable, and if it doesn�t pick back up, the team will be playing golf a lot sooner than February. D.
Spec teams: Yet another unmitigated disaster in a season full of special teams disasters. Leading the way was multi-million dollar punter/holder Josh Miller, who foolishly dropped a good snap on a routine FG attempt late in the 1st half, which Cinci picked up and ran 66 yards for a TD. Kris Brown barely made his one FG, but missed a PAT when he slipped a lil� on the shoddy Cinci field. Kris�s KOs were either poor squibbers, or low-liners that had no hang time whatsoever. After Cinci tied the game late in the game, Troy returned the KO to the Pit 47, but Myron Bell committed a foolish hold. Even on a Cinci punt late in the 1Q, a Steeler was foolishly close to the ball, which nearly resulted in a turnover (had the ball hit the man, Cinci recovers). And on the onsides kick, Shaw initially jumped and had the ball, but Ward inadvertently jarred the ball loose. Still, Shaw appeared to have fully covered the ball, but when no ref made an immediate ruling, the inevitable bottom-of-the-pile scrum ensued, and Cinci emerged with the ball. The lone spec team bright spots were the forced fumbles by Mike Jones and Clark Haggans on KO coverage. Seems like only a yesterday Jones was deactivated in favor of Justin Kurpeikis, who was deemed to valuable a special teams man for Jones to dress versus J-ville. D.
OC: After a nice first half in which the offense took chances downfield and past the 1st-down markers, Mike Mularkey returned to the days of the Kevin Gaypride Dink & Dump Offense with a piece-of-shit second half plan and playcalls that fully helped snatch defeat from victory. Before the half, of course, on a 3rd & 2 Mularkey called a disorganized, slow-as-shit QB keeper and shovel pass to Fu, which was engulfed by no less than 3 Bengals. The next play, the botched FG hold was returned for a TD. The 2nd half was rife was the kind of jackassed stupidity that Mularkey had been mostly avoiding the past 2 months, but reared its ugly head today, to include:
- Ultra-tight formations - Instead of spreading the Bengals out, especially with the way Burress had torched them in the 1st half, Mularkey went to a shitload of 2TE formations and ultra-tight, bunched up formations where the 7 front blockers (5 OLs and 2 TEs) were bunched up within a 17 foot front. LeBeu saw this, and instantly sold out to a run blitzing scheme where it was as easy as pie to shoot player between the guard/tackle and the tackle/TE, and engulf most running plays.
- Whaleshit running plays - Nearly every time Fu took quick-hitters in a north-south direction, he was hitting a crease with good power and momentum, and gaining adequate, and even good, yardage. But in the 2nd half, Mularkey called a plethora of slow-developing, east-west Whaleshit-variety plays, which Cinci easily engulfed with loads of penetration and backside pursuit, and on nearly all of these plays, Fu either lost yardage or gained a very meager amount. The height of this hilarity was the puzzled queries from Bengal fans at the game, who badgered my friend with repeated queries of, "Why the flock do they keep running that Fu guy wide like that?"
- Screen pass overload. Most teams, especially division rivals and ones with multiple former Steeler coaches, are well familiar with the Stillers� overt infatuation with 3rd down screens. But that didn�t stop Mularkey from calling a screen to Fu in the 3Q on 3rd & 8 that was engulfed for -1, nor the nearly identical screen on 3rd & 11 in the 4th that was read like the Holy Bible by the entire Cinci defense. R. Wilson, who made the initial bat of the ball, read that play so quickly and astutely that you�d have sworn he was in the Stiller huddle prior to the snap. Sure, the throwback screen -- which has been run, at most, twice all season by the Stillers, sprung a big TD play by Fu, but the over-reliance on the vanilla screen against what was overall a porous pass defense was sickening.
- No reverses or end arounds - Believe it or not, for what surely must be the first time all season, the Stillers went an entire game with no reverses or end arounds. I�m not a big advocate of running hordes of these gimmick plays. However, there was no question that Cinci was selling out on their backside over-pursuit, and without question Cinci was ripe to be burned on an end around or reverse. But the genius Mualrkey refused to set up, and then run, even one of these kind of plays.
No doubt, Mularkey had orders -- be it implicit or explicit -- that clamped down the offense in the 2nd half. Still, this was a shameful display of what happens when an entire offense not only curls up into a ball in the 2nd half, but also reduces itself to the Dink and Dump. D.
DC: Lewis showed his true colors -- bright yellow -- in as sorry a defensive gameplan as I�ve seen since Super Bowl 30. The Vanilla Defense and the failure to pressure Kitna was not only sickening, but utterly asinine. Forcing his CBs to play way off the receiver -- even inside our own 5-yard line -- is as puzzling as it is stupid. Sure, there was some solid blitz work by Flowers and Logan, but the bigger guns like KenBell and Porter were muzzled quite a bit throughout the game. Mike Jones played a good bit of the 2nd half, forcing Bell to grab pine. In fact, on one key 3rd-and-3 in the 3Q, the TV cameras showed KenBell sitting on the bench. Imagine, taking your best pound-for-pound defender in terms of hitting, tackling, and sideline-to-sideline speed -- and sitting him on the bench on 3rd & 3. And there�s Porter -- the best pass-rushing OLB on this team -- covering ultra-quick WR Peter Warrick one-on-one in overtime. This defense has the deepest secondary in pro football, yet Lewis is pulling his best pass-rushing OLB away from pass-rush duties to cover a super-quick WR. Go figure. Here�s a Cinci offense that is so bereft of talent that they continually had to use Fat Jamain Stephens as a tackle-eligible/tight-end, yet Lewis is so dullardly that he lets Jon Kitna -- one of the most inept QBs in all of football -- stand unfettered in the pocket and pick apart his defense like the US Air Force riddling the Taliban. The Stillers have one of the most inept offenses in pro football pinned inside their own 1 during OT, yet allowed them to march, as easily as a skeleton drill, to our 13-yard line before they kick the game-winning FG. Perhaps the most egregious folly of Lewis was using Fat Casey Hampton, time and time again, to slant, rather than play the center straight up. Because this happened so frequently during the game, I cannot believe that this was some sort of mental boner by Hampton, because -- even though Lewis and his underlings aren�t very bright -- even a one-eyed Cyclops standing at the beer stand on the 6th level would have spotted this and rectified it immediately. Fat Casey Hampton was drafted #1 for one reason, and only one reason -- to take on opposing centers STRAIGHT ON and clog the middle. Once Casey began slanting, Cinci was only too polite to play along and ride Casey in that direction, because a man that big simply cannot stop and change directions once he gets going. The result was a plethora of large holes for the crafty, quick Dillon to dash through. For the life of me, I have no earthly idea what Lewis was thinking with these asinine slanting shenanigans, and because of the softness and ignorance of the local media, we�ll never know the answer. (Trust me, Tunch Ilkin hasn�t a clue about this slanting�) F.
HC: Today�s fiasco shows you exactly why a Bill Cowher coached team will not win it all. Here they are, in what was essentially a "freebie" game, because even a loss doesn�t do them irreparable harm in their quest for home field advantage. But sure as shit, the team got a comfy 14-0 lead, and then resorted to the kind of Bill Ball that has repeatedly lost playoff games for the Black & Gold. There was Marty Jr. -- Billy Cowher -- walking along the sidelines with his cheeks pried together so tightly that you could hear them squeaking all the way up in the 3rd level of Paul Brown Stadium. Instead of playing to win, the entire team bogged down in the 2nd half and went of its way to play Billy Ball -- playing not to lose. If this kind of Billy Ball loss weren�t so typical and predictable, it might actually be funny. Two weeks ago, the Stillers won the Baltimore game when, on 3rd & 7 from their own 10, Stewart connected with Shaw on a deep skinny post and Shaw ran it in for a 90-yard TD. Today, facing a far inferior defense, the best the Stillers could do on 3rd down, was run a feeble-assed shovel pass on 3rd & 2; or throw a 3-yard out to Ward on 3rd & 8; or throw a screen to Fu on 3rd & 8; or throw another screen to Fu on 3rd & 11. And even the defense was soft and flaccid in their feeble Mamby Pamby defensive scheme that we thankfully hadn�t seen since the opening day embarrassment down in J-ville. With a freebie game like this one, why in gawd�s name would you go back to the imbecilicly soft Mamby Pamby Defense ?? And the special teams fiascoes --- every week, an abortion occurs on Cowher�s special teams. Only when it blows up in his face in the playoffs -- which it most assuredly will -- will Cowher have the sense and guts to do something about it. F.
Synopsis: Denver ended up beating Oakland, so the Stillers have backed into home field advantage despite this deplorable loss. The staff will have a decision to make -- do they play nearly all of the starters for most of the Clev. game, in order to "regain the momentum"? Or do they give the starters, say, 2-3 series and then clear off the bench to avoid the injury bugaboo? Because we have a bye week anyway, I�m not altogether big on the "momentum" thing. Say we play our starters for at least 52 minutes and whip a mediocre Cleveland team 37-3 in the finale --- what momentum does that really provide when we�ll have 13 days off prior to our 1st playoff game? I�d probably lean toward giving the starters no more than 4-5 series, and then pulling most of them while clearing off the bench. Some might say that "there�s a lesson that was learned today", but I disagree. Sure, there was a lesson to be learned today. Problem is, the man who needs to learn that lesson is none other than the most stubborn, myopic man in the NFL -- Marty Jr., a.k.a. Billy Cowher. Billy Ball is Billy Ball, and I see no indication whatsoever that Cowher will actually grow gonads in time for the playoffs. I thought the team had learned its lesson from the Baltimore loss, but today�s Billy Ball shows a clear regression and concrete evidence that any "lessons learned" were merely cosmetic, temporary quick-fixes, not long-term fixes that will carry a team through the rigors of a 3-game playoff.
Note: Due to some travel this week, plus the New Year�s holiday, expect a day or 2 delay in the GilDong Report.