Saturday, October 29, 2011

Widdoes Preview of the Pats/Steelers Football Game

Bring it.
Sheesh, after reading the Hendrie's game preview I feel like I've been standing in line at the Cask 'n Flagon, getting heckled for not wearing black boots, a leather jacket and a head full of grease (covered up by a backwards Red Sox cap).  Rap sheet this, tabloid innuendo that, can we talk about football, please?

I mean, everyone knows the Pats haven't won a Super Bowl since being convicted of cheating...there just isn't much more to say about that. 

If our cousins were right about anything, it's that tomorrow at 4 p.m. arguably the two best teams in the AFC will match up at Henz field, and that is very exciting.  If recent history tells us anything, the Patriots have an 86% chance of winning -- they have won six of the last seven -- and it also tells us that the outcome will do practically nothing to influence the commonly shared goal of reaching, and winning, another Super Bowl. 

That's right, despite the hype and build up and undisputed rivalry amongst the RFH, both teams should find themselves in the playoffs regardless of what happens in Week 8, at which point they will either play each other again, or not.

That's the way it tends to go in the NFL: you can lose to the New Englands and New Orleanses and Baltimores of the world and still make the playoffs if you beat the Jacksonvilles and Arizonas.  What's more, you can even make it to the Super Bowl without having to beat the New Englands, as long as someone else does it for you. 

Now that we have sufficiently downplayed the importance of this game, let's look at what might happen.

The Bad Matchup

Perhaps the best, or at least most widely accepted, way for people to explain the Patriots' run of success against the Steelers is that they simply possess a favorable matchup.  The primary component here is the New England offense against what has been a relatively weak Steelers secondary.  The Pats have an extraordinarily efficient offensive attack that is headlined by Tom Brady and the passing game, but is not limited to this phase -- Mike Tomlin referred to their offense as "very multiple" over seven times in his press conference this week.  The Steelers' Cover-2 defensive scheme, that is designed to prevent the big play, allows for opponents to dink and dunk all the way down the field, and when talented offenses are afforded this ability, they tend to win. 

Last year's game illustrated "the matchup issue," with the Steelers unable to put pressure on the quarterback and the very multipleness showing through in the form of 350 yards from Brady and 87 yards (4.8/carry) from BenJarvis Green-Ellis...who happens to be Mike Wallace's cousin:
"We're brothers," said Wallace.
But the New England press release said you're cousins. Did they get it wrong?
"They got it wrong. We're brothers."
Are you playing with me?
"No. We're brothers." Pause. "From a different mother!"
And with that Wallace erupted into laughter.
What do you call him?
"Most times Ben. Some times 'The Law Firm.'"
How does "The Bad Matchup" figure to impact this game?  That should depend on what happens early.  One thing we know is that the Steelers' secondary has improved since last year.  Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark remain formidable as safeties, and Ike Taylor has been outstanding thus far, despite his typical lack of turnovers created. 

But the substitution of Willie Gay into the 2nd starting cornerback role (previously occupied by Bryant McFadden) and the maturation of former 3rd round pick and best friend of Mike Wallace (and therefore best friend of mine), Keenan Lewis, as well as the depth added by Ryan Mundy and Cortez Allen have made this unit much more dynamic than it has been in the past. 

As we all know, though, no secondary operates successfully without a pass rush to support it, especially not against premier offenses like New England.  The ever-evolving front seven (because remember, "the Steelers D is getting old"), provides even more optimism for the Black and Gold in this game and going forward.  Aaron Smith had an amazing career, but his time was clearly up, and thankfully Kevin Colbert knew this three years ago when he began rebuilding the D-Line on the sly.  Three years later, Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward are ready, willing and able to usher in a new era of beef on the ends.  Add to that the timely emergence of DT Steve McLendon in place of injured Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke (although Big Snack is healthy and will play this week), who Tomlin said "represented himself well" in his first start at Arizona last week, and the future looks bright, indeed.

With the D-line looking strong, the Pats will see a different linebacking corps than they, or even Steelers fans are used to, and even that may not be a bad thing.  James Harrison is still out, recovering from a broken orbital bone, as is James Farrior with a calf.  Other than forcing Lawrence Timmons outside (because Jason Worilds is still out), where he has yet to show the playmaking ability that he has from the inside, I actually believe that this scenario is a good thing for the Steelers, both tomorrow and for the long term.  Stevenson Slyvester will get his first start at inside linebacker.  This is a very good thing.  Chris Carter another young pass-rusher they are high on, will get some more opportunities.  And, of course, tomorrow is another day for Lamarr Woodley to get three or more sacks.

When asked about his reemergence as an unstoppable force, Tomlin astutely pointed out that "Lamarr been given more opportunities and taken advantage of them."  Why has he had those opportunities: "We have been ahead more after starting out as a two and two type team."  A two and two type team.  If we ever rename the RFH Collective, it shall be renamed, "A Two and Two Type Team."

If the Steelers can take an early lead or even protect the ball and stay close, I expect them to generate more pressure than they have in the past with this young and hungry group of linebackers.

A few more choice Tomlin quotes about the Pats offense:

"Tight end crew is, of course, outstanding."

"Love their stable of backs and how the utilize them." (Mentioned Ridley specifically)

The Bad Defense

Like Mike Tomlin, I'm not buying the idea that the Pats place as the 32nd best (in other words, worst) defense in terms of yards allowed says much about their ability to play defense.  In a game this closely matched, situational plays should be more important than gross yards allowed, and the Pats have plenty of playmakers capable of making a difference. 

The key here should be their ability to contain the Young Money Family.  Hines Ward is out and Sanders will start in his place, meaning that Wallace, Sanders and Brown will be charged with pressuring the Pats' secondary with the intent of opening up the run and clearing the middle of the field for Heath Miller to reclaim his throne as the best tight end in this matchup. 

The game should come down to Roethlisberger's ability to protect the ball.  Because with the superior weapons at his disposal and a Pats pass rush that has yet to produce much, the passing game, the threat of Mendenhall and Redman and subsequent play action opportunities will give them every chance to turn the tide. 

That's our word, we are sticking to it.  Unless there is a sick high school basketball documentary tonight, we'll check in around 7:30 tomorrow night.

I see you, Johnny.


Fasha said...

At the risk of not getting my share of gravy at Thanksgiving this year (in New England) the father of the Steeler pair of cousins weighs in with enormous respect for Patriot fans and players and hopes their cheater coach gets a little come-up-ance today.

Charlie Widdoes said...


Sumner Widdoes said...

Uppance done came.

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