After finally getting to watch an entire game front to back (been working at various radio stations during the first three), the issues that face the 2006 Steelers are deep.
After dropping a 23-13 decision to the San Diego Chargers to fall to 1-3, a bold prediction in July by thejim at Sportsocracy.org seems almost optimistic.
The more obvious things: Ben Roethlisberger, the Savior Living, continues to have trouble throwing to a Steeler in the end zone whilst trying to set his mind straight after his horrific motorcycle accident. But watching the Steelers offensive line get whipped at Jacksonville (on what I was able to see) and in San Diego, Big Ben may not be much better by season's end. Ben has been acceptable at worst when he's had time to throw, but watching the San Diego game in particular, either Russ Grimm drank himself to death during the offseason, or major kudos go the way of Wade Phillips.
Defensively, who put it in the minds of the personnel that the way to attack a ball carrier is with body shots? Tailbacks, fullbacks, and all forms of receivers just seem to glide around these hits for added yardage, often the difference between a first down and a few yards short. The precious little football I've played taught me that if you don't get arms involved, you seriously reduce your chances of stopping your opponent sooner rather than later.
Maybe it's just me, but I'm not seeing the Steelers make many adjustments during halftime, either. Maybe some of you "veterans" can confirm or deny it?
Intangibly: No fire. It's very odd to see Coach Cowher passive on the sidelines when things aren't going well. I don't see many of the players with the "spark", either. Roethlisberger, Ward, and Parker included. Defensive End Brett Keisel is one of the few I see on the field giving it all play after play.
Fifty points in four games. That's on pace for an even 200 on the year. The worst scoring offense in the league last year (Cleveland) produced 232.
Do we blame Cowher for not keeping his banged-up starters in long enough during the preseason? Do we blame the players for not keeping themselves in the same form in the off-season, celebrating a Superbowl win that was by no means dominant (to the point where they're ebay-ing t-shirts that tell a different tale)?
It's not over. The Steelers still have the Browns twice and the Ravens twice (I'm not overly impressed with the Ravens, despite their unbeaten record), the battered Chiefs and the hapless Raiders. They have the Saints and the Bucs at home, neither are going to be cakewalks, but the Chargers are shaping up to be a contender again this year. If they can steal one from either Atlanta or Carolina on the road, there could still be a wild card in the future. Even the fans of teams who question the legitimacy of last year's Superbowl title know that Pittsburgh still has the weapons to be a dangerous team.
It's past time that they show it.
The Penguins got off to an encouraging start by scoring 4 goals on their first 11 shots against the Philadelphia Flyers and goaltender Shane Esche. They ended up with a total of 21 shots that game (to Philly's 40). Some contend that if they hadn't had to survive what amounted to an entire period's worth of penalties, the SOG statistic may have been more even. Could have happened, I suppose.
I submit the box score from the most recent game against the Red Wings. This team was supposedly far weaker with the retired Steve Yzerman, the departure of Brendan Shanahan to the Big Apple, and the Aging Enigma in goal (aka Dominik Hasek). The penalty differential (if you remove the off-setting fighting majors) was to the Penguins advantage. Four more minutes with the man-advantage.
I don't believe the Penguins managed a shot on goal during their power plays. They only had one SOG in the entire 2nd period. Detroit not only won the game 2-0, they also lead by a 2-1 advantage in shots on goal (26-13).
If the Penguins are to be significantly better, they have to take advantage of the pretty solid play they've been getting from netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who has stopped 64 of 66 shots through two games. Last year, the Penguins were 3rd worst in the NHL in SOG differential with -5.2 per game. The two teams with worse? The Washington Capitals (-5.3) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (-6.2). Neither of these teams were close to postseason action, either.
Look back to the season before ('03-'04), the Penguins were absolute worst in the differential with a mark of -8.4 (Washington next-worst with -7.8). The last time the Penguins were in the playoffs (after the '00-'01 season...yes, it's been that long), their differential was even. And they were the 6th seed.
I'm not sure what head coach Michel Therrien has to do to keep pressure on in the offensive zone, but he can't rest until he finds the answer. Once familiar patterns start to develop, regardless of personnel, the script will look the same.