Saturday, September 14, 2013

Steelers At Bengals; Ron Cammarata Commentary: "View From The Stands."

Steelers @ Bengals

Monday, September 16, 2013. 8:40 p.m. ET ESPN

Steelers Injury Report: C Maurkice Pouncey out with knee injury (torn ACL + MCL in right knee). Larry Foote has ruptured bicep. LaRod Stephens-Howling also has a torn ACL. CB Cortez Allen (ankle) did not practice yesterday. Heath Miller also ruled out as well as Le'Veon Bell.

Utility lineman Kelvin Beachum will be under center. Jonathan Dwyer was resigned last Wednesday as a result of injuries to Howling. Steelers also added enter/guard Fernando Velasco from the Titans.

The AFC North went 0-4 in week 1 as the Steelers are trying to avoid an 0-2 start since the 2002 season. The Steelers won 11 of their last 12 games in Cincinnati. In that game, Dwyer ran for 122 yards on 17 carries.

Sidebar: After week 1, no Steelers are listing as leaders in rushing and receiving yards of the top 32 listed this week. Let's hope that changes in the coming weeks.

USA Today, Fox Sports, Yardbarker,

View From The Stands
Section 110 Row CC Seat 9

The one NFL truism held above all others regarding a successful season is "how well your team is playing the last portion of the year." Obviously, one's favorite team can't go winless into the last third of the season...but just be around .500, get hot at the end of the year, and often that is a team to reckon with come the playoffs. In recent seasons, we have seen it repeatedly with playoff runs made by the Packers, Giants, Ravens, and yes our beloved Steelers on their way to the Super Bowl. So an early loss or two should not send Steelers Nation to the Clemente Bridge.

Unfortunately, in the Steelers present scenario, they are starting the 2013 campaign the way they ended the 2012 season. One would have to be living under a rock not to realize that this team is Ben-centric...and that is OK, considering he is our best offensive weapon. But the disturbing philosophical choice of abandoning the run game after a fumble or two, or because it is not clicking from the game's onset is shortsighted. Of course, we are told over and over that we could not run the ball. So subsequently we use the short passing game in place of a committed effort to establish a run in all four quarters.

In the season opener, the Steelers were down to the Titans by less than a touchdown going into the second half of an ugly performance, but took the approach that they were down by three touchdowns. As reported earlier in this blog, they attempted five carries in the second half...five, and fifteen for the whole game. The ratio of 69% pass to 31% run is astounding considering the coach-speak we heard in the off-season about how a balanced offensive approach is crucial to wins. Where was Felix Jones, a veteran RB that actually showed some pop in the pre-season? Yes...the offensive line is pitiful. But let's consider some of the contributing factors to the woeful run game:

  • When a team conducts the majority of their plays out of the shotgun formation, and is one dimensional, with a weak offensive line, it is like throwing raw meat to the lions for any NFL defense. The small % of running plays out of a shotgun are negligible, especially in the Steelers defenses simply pin it back and come from the corners. Any wonder that your quarterback is sacked often?
  • Out of the shotgun Ben seems to have "Peyton Envy." His tendency to hold onto the ball is magnified by an average corps of receivers, and their inability to shake open even in simple passing routes.
  • When they run the offense from under center, it is almost always with a single set back, and rarely in a two-back formation. We heard that Haley utilizes a fullback, but didn't see much of that in the opener or rarely last season. When he does use a motion back/TE (like David Johnson), they are often too slow to get to the point of attack, and way too predictable as they scrape to the hole. Perhaps, an old school "I" formation with a fullback lead could bring some life to an interior run game that is all but purged from the Steelers playbook.
  • At 31, Ben is not about to change his mechanics, yet he displays some of the worst footwork of all starting NFL QB's. His step progression can be timed on sundial, and his inability or disinterest in booting the football are painfully obvious as every handoff looks like we are running a stretch play even when it is an inside run.
  • Yet, with all of this criticism, they are a better offense when Ben is "under center" in play action mode. It hides a glaring weakness of the offensive line and at least adds some dimension of deception. The new zone blocking schemes are also a task that this offensive line is going to need time to master.
  • Simply put...our offensive line is not good enough or cohesive enough at this stage of their development to run shotgun a majority of plays.
  • In actuality, this is yesterday's news. This observation has been documented in past seasons, so it doesn't make a difference whether it is Haley's offense or the former Arians. Ben has claimed he prefers running the offense out of the shotgun and so often in empty set formation...unfortunately...the blocking skills of his offensive teammates just don't equate.
To Ben: in stealing a partial line from the "most interesting man in the world" beer commercial..."Stay upright my friend."

Ron Cammarata
Ron is an occasional contributor to The Pittsburgh Steelers Report