Blog Entry

Coach Killers, Week 4: Big Ben needs body armor

Posted on: October 4, 2011 10:02 am
Edited on: October 4, 2011 4:35 pm
 
Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Steelers offensive line. Head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the offensive line three years ago, shortly after the team selected running back Rashard Mendenhall and wide receiver Limas Sweed with their first two picks in the 2008 draft, and his response was: there's more than one way to protect the quarterback -- with pass blockers or with a gaggle of phenomenal skill positions players.

To their credit, Pittsburgh has used high picks on o-linemen in recent drafts (center Maurkice Pouncey in '10 and tackle Marcus Gilbert this past April), but the fact remains that the unit is, to borrow a Tomlininsm, consistently "below the line" in terms of production. This is what happens when Jonathan Scott, the starting left tackle, generates absolutely zero interest on the free-agent market and ends up re-signing with the team for roughly $900,000.

In general, six figures is a nice little haul for a day's work. But Scott is one of the lowest paid left tackles in football who, by the way, is charged with protecting Pittsburgh's $100 million franchise quarterback. It gets worse: Scott was injured in Week 3 against the Colts and didn't play Sunday against the Texans. Which meant that Trai Essex, unemployed as recently as August and who admitted that he was afraid he had eaten himself out of the league, was the guy tasked with blocking Mario Williams.

It's a wonder Ben Roethlisberger made it out of Houston with just a sprained ankle. No one would've been surprised if the jaws of life were needed to un-embed him from the Reliant Stadium turf.

Week 4 Recap

To be fair, Pittsburgh's o-line has been victimized by injuries. In addition to Scott, who should be back in a week or two, right tackle Willie Colon was lost for the season after the Week 1 drubbing by the Ravens. It's the second time in as many seasons that Colon's has health kept him on the sidelines. Right guard Doug Legursky also missed the Texans game with an injury, and left guard Chris Kemoeatu has been battling knee issues through the offseason.

But, hey, it's football -- there isn't a completely healthy team in the NFL. It's just that the five guys charged with protecting Big Ben at the beginning of the season were considered an average unit at best. Now that they're down to backups at three of the five positions, it's more like a train wreck, one that usually meets in the backfield, on Big Ben, about 15 times a game. This could end badly.

Eagles defense. There were a lot of double-takes when Andy Reid announced that he had filled the defensive coordinator job with Juan Castillo. Not because of Castillo's awesome wig, but because he had been an offensive assistant in Philly since arriving in 1995. So it was something of a surprise when he replaced Sean McDermott in February.

Through four weeks, the Eagles' D looks, well, a lot like the Eagles' D we're used to seeing: soft, no-tackling units that lose the battle in the trenches and appear uninterested in stopping the run. This time, however, the problem is exacerbated by the all the offseason additions and the media running with Vince Young's throwaway "Dream Team" comment.

Two weeks ago, the Giants manhandled the Eagles and the 49ers (!) put on an encore performance Sunday. It's also worth pointing out that both games were at the Linc; if Philly can't win at home, not only will they be in danger of missing the playoffs, they might not be a .500 team.

Castillo isn't deserving of all the blame (for starters, we're guessing he doesn't teach his players how to miss tackles), and at least publicly, he has the support of head coach Andy Reid. When asked about the job Castillo's done through four weeks, Reid said "I think Juan's doing some good things. If you ask me the same question about myself or the other coaches and players, there's some good things we're all doing and there a lot of things we need to work on. So that's what we're doing. I'm telling you it's not one person, it's all of us pulling this thing together and doing our jobs a little bit better."

Reid's right. Which brings us to one play that might be worth taking out of the playbook forever: having running back Ronnie Brown throw a backward pass while getting tackled at the opponent's goal line.

"It was a designed play," Brown said. "I've just got to make a better decision with the ball. No matter if it's a pass or a run, I've just got to make a better decision. I was trying to out-think myself a little bit. It was a pass play and I was thinking, once the guy slipped off, just try to throw the ball away and give us another chance for fourth down - not take a loss where we can go for it on fourth down, if possible. I've just got to make a better decision with the ball."

Oh my.

Rob Ryan, Cowboys defensive coordinator. Perhaps in an effort to motivate his team, Ryan implied last week that Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson -- one of the best players in the league -- would be the No. 3 wideout in Dallas. "We work against better receivers with Miles Austin and Dez Bryant,” Ryan said, presumably while fighting back a "yeah, I'm BS-ing ya" grin.

Ryan also indicated that the Cowboys' defensive strategy wouldn't change for one player, and that they wouldn't double-cover Johnson. We give Ryan credit for keeping his word, because Dallas lined up cornerback Terence Newman -- all by himself -- across from Johnson on the game's most important play, a fourth-quarter, goal-line situation in which the Lions needed to score a touchdown. Predictbably, quarterback Matt Stafford threw a jump-ball to Johnson who out-leapt Newman for it. Game over.

It gets better: after the game, Lions coach Jim Scwhartz, made with the funny and he did it without cracking a smile.

"I'm glad the third best wide reciever on the Cowboys is on our team," he said.

Johnson, as usual, seemed unfazed by the off-field gum-flapping.

“I don’t pay attention really, I hear about it from other people,’’ he said. “It doesn’t phase me, I just go out there and do what I have to do.’’

(Which, incidentally, is also Tony Romo's philosophy, except you're never quite certain which Romo is going to show up.)

Mark Sanchez, Jets QB. If you need more proof for just how good Ben Roethlisberger is, re-watch the Jets-Ravens game. New York's offensive line, usually a pretty good group, had some injuries and Baltimore exploited the mismatches all night long, usually while knocking Sanchez silly in the process. The difference between that matchup and your typical Steelers game, is that Roethlisberger is not only accustomed to the weekly beatings, he seems to welcome them.

It was clear early on that Sanchez doesn't like all the contact, as was evidenced by his chuck-and-duck approach to the passing game. By the way, when NBC color analyst Cris Collinsworth says -- in the second quarter -- that "Sanchez has had enough" that's a euphemism for "Your QB is uninterested in continuing because the Ravens are beating the crap out of him."

We get that -- Baltimore was teeing off on Sanchez. But that's not a guy who will lead you to a Super Bowl. It's also the latest evidence that Sanchez, at least at this stage of his career, isn't Captain Comeback. He needs the defense and the running game to build a lead, and then the Jets' short, efficient passing game can take care of the rest.

Which brings us to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who has faced criticism in the past for complicating what should be pretty simple: use the run to set up the pass. On Monday, head coach Rex Ryan didn't mince words.  "We've got to get a heck of a lot better here," he said. "We're a team that prides itself on running the football, being able to run and we haven't been successful so far."

As Grantland.com's Bill Barnwell observed on Twitter, "The Jets are really going to a run-happy offense before they play the Patriots? With that secondary? OK."

Whatever you do, DON'T kick to Devin Hester. Duh. (US PRESSWIRE)
Panthers special teams. Did we learn nothing from Mike Shanahan, or Tony Dungy or, more generally speaking, Tom Coughlin and Matt Dodge?

Evidently, not in Carolina, because the Panthers played well enough to beat the Bears in Chicago … if not for two bone-headed special teams miscues that involved kicking or punting the ball right to Hester. It doesn't take any talent to kick (hey, having Chicago start at the 40 is better than the alternative) or punt the ball out of bounds. Even Jimmy Clausen could do that (too much? Sorry Jimbo, force of habit). The thought, it seems, never occurred to Panthers special teams coach Brian Murphy.

Then again, it may not have been Murphy's call. First year head coach Ron Rivera defended the decision to kick to Hester (which is sorta like trying to defend the decision to put Terence Newman in single coverage opposite Calvin Johnson).

"I am [concerned about the coverage teams] to a degree. The bad thing about it is, again, on the punt return for a touchdown, we had guys in position to make tackles. And we didn't do it, unfortunately," Rivera said. "But we have to do it and we're going to find guys that are going to do it."

Or, you know, just kick it out of bounds.

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Comments

Since: Jul 21, 2008
Posted on: October 4, 2011 2:42 pm
 

Coach Killers, Week 4: Big Ben needs body armor

It is hard to be down on a team that has won 2 Superbowls in the last 5 years and appeared in another one.  However, I have been very surprised at the success under Tomlin and concerned about consistency.  It seems the Steelers play well every other year.  The last several years they have struggeld running the ball and stopping the run and this year is no different.  The Steelers win whenever they can throw about 25 times a game.  When those attempts go up, so do the sacks and turnovers.  The Steelers have drafted well in recent years on the offensive side of the ball but they need to utilize some early picks on defense. 

They can still have a successful season but may have to settle for a Wild Card berth.  However, they are starting to get some injuries at key positions.

I make no judgments on what teams will do until about week 10. With no offseason, teams right now are probably where they would normally be after preseason.  The Steelers have a relatively favorable schedule.  I would not give up hope yet.





Since: Nov 16, 2009
Posted on: October 4, 2011 2:39 pm
 

Coach Killers, Week 4: Big Ben needs body armor

Agreed. Steelers start to run the ball agianst Texans and pick up big yardage. Always thought you run it till they stop it. Not this offense. Went right back to the pass and sacks. DUUhhh! Maybe time for a change.



Since: Oct 22, 2007
Posted on: October 4, 2011 2:20 pm
 

Coach Killers, Week 4: Big Ben needs body armor

Carolina is 2 punt return touchdowns away from being 3-1.



The loser of the Super Bowl every year is 1 win away from being the Super Bowl Champion. So what? Tongue out



Since: Nov 28, 2006
Posted on: October 4, 2011 1:58 pm
 

Coach Killers, Week 4: Big Ben needs body armor

Carolina is 2 punt return touchdowns away from being 3-1.  Patrick Peterson returned one for Arizona in week 1 and Devin Hester in week 4.  Have Jason Baker kick out at the 40 or 30 if your ST is going to defend like that.  Sheesh.



Since: Apr 26, 2008
Posted on: October 4, 2011 1:54 pm
 

Coach Killers, Week 4: Big Ben needs body armor

i agree



Since: Jun 22, 2009
Posted on: October 4, 2011 12:49 pm
 

Coach Killers, Week 4: Big Ben needs body armor

This article neglects to mention the Rams porous O-line, their statuesque D-line, their crappy free agent OLB pickups in Brady Popinga and Ben Leber, their lack of a number 2, much less a number 1 receiver, Justin King's penchant for getting torched for a TD twice a game or so, Steven Jackson's rapidly declining skills, and their GM's inability to select bonafide NFL prospects in the draft.  Any one of those is a coach killer, but we are so lucky as to have all 7.  This is shaping up to be a very long, miserable fall and winter.



Since: Aug 22, 2006
Posted on: October 4, 2011 12:26 pm
 

Coach Killers, Week 4: Big Ben needs body armor

The one and only reason the Steelers have played bad is the same reason they lost the Super Bowl. Bruce Arians is the worst play caller in the history of the NFL. He has no feel for the game, and the other team knows what he is calling. He is so predicatable. He is a joke. He is ruining the carers of many Steelers. It is sad and hard to watch.


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