Extra Points: Steelers vs Redskins Post Game Wrap
*Uniforms: I gotta be honest, this article will be a little less detailed than usual. While the buzz about the striped uniforms revolved around how ugly they were, it turns out that the real problem was how illegible the uniform numbers were Watching the game live I saw a number of nice plays that I had trouble figuring out who made.
*This RG3 Thing: I have been a fan of Griffin going back to when I first started watching him closely, about two years ago. I tuned into that game to check out Baylor's stacked receiving corps and left marveling at how accurate this QB was in the pocket. That brings me to what they are trying to do with him in Washington. There is a reason no team in the NFL has run the option for any length of time with success. In this league, you will indeed take big hits, and those hits will take their toll. Hits add up to shorten the career of quarterbacks and strip them of their accuracy and decision making through the course of a game. The Shannahan boys seem intent on running RG3 into harms way, throwing him the ball down field, and exposing him to hits as part of their weekly game plan. He's already been concussed once, and every hit he takes during the course of a game lessens what his best tool is, his passing arm and accuracy. I think RG3 can/will develop into an elite QB in this league if they just use him in a more conventional manner, like they did at Baylor. If they insist on highlighting his athleticism, I fear they will shorten his career. Griffin will be at his best when his coaches train him as a traditional pocket QB, and let him use his athletic tools to escape pressure to make a pass or take off down field on busted plays. Intentionally putting him in harms way numerous times a game is a recipe for disaster in my opinion. They need to think long term with this kid. RG3 is more Steve Young than Tim Tebow, his coaches just don't seem to realize that yet.
HC Tomlin - I liked decision to take the ball first as well as introducing the offense for this game. The talk in the media all week was RG3 verbal fellatio. The only Steelers talk seemed to revolve around "Steelers Issues" segments on ESPN highlighting the non-existent rift between Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger. The best way to get a rookie QB rattled is to force him to play from behind, and the Steelers did that. I support finally deactivating DVD as the ST's units were nearly flag free without him. The call to go for a TD on 4th and goal early in the game was also the right decision. This team needs to be aggressive and attack for 7 as opposed to settling for 3 whenever possible. I would also have gone for it on 4th and 2 from the Redskins 30 yard line. Attempting a 48 yard kick with an injured kicker in the rain doesn't sound as promising as letting Ben find a way to gain 2 yards. On the negative, we had more evidence of an undisciplined team this week as Antonio Brown showboated his way into the endzone on a punt return. This is not the second time that Brown has hotdogged it excessively on the field, and the fact he's still doing it shows proof that the coaching staff is not using his past behavior as a teaching point. Tomlin should have raised a stink over this a long time ago. Doing back flips into the endzone is dangerous and unnecessary. Running down the sidelines after a big catch wastes time and energy, is bad sportsmanship, and is unnecessary. This all goes back to discipline, something this team apparently lacks. Antonio Brown claimed he didn't know the taunting rule after the game, which also reflects poorly on the coaches (Grade: B-)
OC Haley - Again Haley highlighted the short passing game and mixed in effective runs up the gut. He got a little cute in the redzone at times; I still can't understand why they refuse to run the QB sneak in less-than-a-yard situations. It's "Big" Ben, remember? For all the hand wringing the media does over the Haley hire, he has been just what this offense needed for the most part. Given the young patchwork line and Ben entering his 30's, I'll gladly trade a few less deep shots down the field for fewer sacks and a healthier franchise QB. That said, the complete abandonment of the deep passing game is very troubling to me. Now that the run game is working, the play action deep ball on 1st down has to be there. Haley needs to mix it in a few times every game. This Redskins team is awful in the secondary, yet Haley schemed himself into posting 77 fewer passing yards against them than any offense has so far this season.
I'll gladly live with the efficient 'Dink & Dunk', just as long as you mix in a couple 'Chuck & Duck' calls a game. (Grade: B)
DC Lebeau- Old Man Lebeau mixed coverages and pressures to keep RG3 from settling in. It should be noted that he also benefited from a handful of drops by the Redskins receivers.
Most impressively, his defense took away running lanes from Griffin and won on early downs which forced the rookie QB into some 3rd and long situations. They stiffened up in the redzone, and got off the field on 3rd downs. (Grade: B+)
QB - Mostly good, some was a little sloppy. Ben again had a chance to go for a kill shot several times, but failed to deliver. On the final drive before half, he wasted good field position and a chance to open up a 3 score lead. That drive was lost on a 3rd down pass to nobody that hit the official in the head. His final 3 drives of the game produced no points, but Todd Haley's play calls and Emmanuel Sanders drop have to share some of that blame. Overall Ben was very efficient posting 3 redzone TD passes, a 121 QB rating, and 222 passing yards. Roethlisberger generally got the ball out on time and was accurate on his passes in inclement weather. It was a winning performance. (Grade: B+)
RB - If you take away Dwyer's long run.... he still averaged 4.5 YPC. Dwyer shook off a lot of contact and again gained bunches of yards after initially being hit by defenders. Don't discount the fact that Dwyer has racked up back to back 100 yard games on the ground. That is something that Rashard Mendenhall has never done, and no back has accomplished it for the Steelers since Fast Willie Parker was still fast, over four years ago. If I hear anyone compare Jon Dwyer to Jerome Bettis again, I might scream. I can't wait for the day that a 220+ pound runner in Pittsburgh can play football without being compared to Bettis. The Tribune Review's plus-sized pundit, Mark Kaboly, went as far as to tweet that we should call Dwyer the "Short Bus" obviously an attempt at humor based on the fact that Dwyer has a learning disability. Real classy idea, fatty. At any rate, Baron Batch also chipped in with a 1st down grab and four short runs that went nowhere. Rainey dropped a would-be TD pass, but busted a direct snap for 19 yards off the right edge. Will Johnson added in a TD grab late in the 3rd for his first career score. (Grade: A)
WR - The Steelers highlighted the depth of their receiving options as the Big 4 (Miller, Wallace, Brown, and Sanders) each got into the act and made key plays. That said, four more drops by this crew including an easy drive extending pass on 3rd down the 4th qtr by Sanders continues to be a problem. Blocking by the WR's and TE's was largely above the line. (Grade: B-)
OL - On the early 34 yard run by Dwyer, excellent blocking on the right side by Adams and Foster opened a huge hole. Colon and Pouncey seal blocked some huge holes on the left side for Dwyer as well. Now that Colon has cut out the penalties, he has become a pretty darn good guard. Pouncey was impressive on the direct snap to Rainey. To be able to snap the ball, pull out and lead block is a tough task. Max Starks continues his impressive pass protection from the left side. I don't think the Max Starks reclamation project gets enough attention in this town. Starks has been taken for granted the past few years. He's like the old reliable car you never think about until it breaks down. A 5.2 YPC average and no sacks allowed earns a winning grade for this unit. (Grade: A)
DL - The D-line did a fairly good job maintaining their gaps and containing the Redskins rushing attack. Casey Hampton was flagged for jumping offsides. Keisel got some pressures and blew up a TE screen pass for a loss. Woods and Heyward rotated in a bit. Heyward racked up a few solo tackles in limited duty. I think we had a McClendon sighting or two, but he made no impact. (Grade: B-)
LB - For some reason the Skins kept trying to run at James Harrison, who responded by tossing their TE around and making tackles. Timmons forced a few hurries on blitzes up the gut, laid 3 or 4 hits on RG3, and stuffed a 3rd QTR run for a loss. Larry Foote was again active landing the Steelers lone sack. Woodley had a nice stuff at the line in the 4th followed by the Foote blitz which thwarted another Redskins drive. Overall a solid yet unspectacular effort. (Grade: B)
DB - Keenan Lewis continues to emerge from the shadows. He batted away a pass in the endzone early in the game, made a big tackle on a 3rd and goal QB keeper, nailed Josh Morgan to force another drop, and had a near interception while in coverage on a deep pass to the endzone. He was beat by Moss for a TD catch, but was generally outstanding each of the last two weeks. Ike Taylor did a good job on the RG3 throwback play where he got inside position and boxed Griffin out which drew the OPI call. Ike was flagged for hands to the face late in the game, but provided tight coverage on the Skins final 4th down pass attempt. Will Allen was beat in a coverage a few times, but at least kept the receivers in front of him. He also laid the wood on a number of receivers forcing drops or incompletions. Allen along with Lewis led the way with 3 passes defensed each. Ryan Clark played like a kamikaze before getting concussed by a foot to the head. Cortez Allen played fairly well in the nickel, and Ryan Mundy didn't screw anything up. (Grade: B)
ST - An improved effort by this unit starting with a blocked extra point by what I thought was Cam Heyward, but was credited to Evander Hood. There were multiple kick and punt returns in succession with no flags. DVD didn't dress as punishment for his mistakes. The Steelers expertly forced a 12 yard punt by 'Skins punter Rocca just before half. They also drew a penalty on Washington for having kick player run out of bounds. Obviously an excellent coaching move by the Amos Jones. Curtis Brown downed a Butler punt at the 1 yard line, but later gave back his good play by throwing an illegal block in the back that wiped out an Antonio Brown TD return. Antonio Brown hotdogged in reverse to the endzone drawing another 15 yard penalty. I've made my opinion known in this column about the receivers doing flips into the endzone and excessively celebrating big plays. Again, the HC needs to reel this in. Instead of the Steelers taking a commanding 4 score lead, they lost field position and ultimately gave the ball back to the Skins in Steelers territory. In total the Steelers have lost 161 total yards in returns due to 6 penalties over the past two games. That is unacceptable. (Grade: B)
Refs - I didn't notice you much, which is usually a good thing. (Grade: A)
Game Balls: Jon Dwyer is the obvious choice here, but some love needs to be thrown at Mike Adams and Keenan Lewis. Those two youngsters have stepped up their play over the last two weeks and started to emerge as rising starters on the team. Congrats to Jonathan Dwyer, Keenan Lewis, and Mike Adams for earning our SteelerFury Players of the Week.
Goat Balls: This award has been temporarily suspended, along with Deangelo Hall.
I've said all year that this Steelers team will be better at the end of the season than they were at the beginning. We are starting to see the O-line gel and the running game get on track. Ben is being protected, and the secondary is starting to round into form. Players like Keenan Lewis, Willie Colon, and Mike Adams are growing into their new starting roles with the team and things are starting to come into focus. The season likely boils down to what happens in the next 5 weeks. A road game against the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants followed by a Monday Night game against KC, a short week before another prime time game hosting Baltimore, a tougher than expected road game at Cleveland before heading into Baltimore round out this stretch. The Steelers need to pull 4 wins from this 5 game stretch to get into position for a serious playoff run. Let's see what they've got. I have a feeling Ben has a statement game against Eli Manning next Sunday.