Category Archives: 5 Smoldering Questions

5 Smoldering Questions on the 2017 Playoff Ruins

A132FC3E-BC23-42BC-BBE5-C4A2C17488A2.jpegPhoto via Steelers.com

By Hombre de Acero

If ever there was a week when circumstances would match the title of this column, it is this week. The Jacksonville Jaguars came into Heinz Field and embarrassed the Steelers to the tune of a 45-42, eliminating them from the playoffs and rendering their 2017 season a smoking ruin.

With that introduction, here are this week’s 5 Smoldering Questions on the Steelers 2017 Division Playoff loss.

1. A year ago the Steelers were without Cam Heyward, had Eli Rogers and DeMarcus Ayers as their number 2 and 3 receivers, played Ross Cockrell and William Gay as their number 2 and number 3 corners, yet made it to the AFC Championship. This year, save for Ryan Shazier, they were at full strength, with a 1st round bye, yet gave up 45 points to an offense that only managed 10 the week before, against the Buffalo Bills. 

What the hell happened?

2. Heads are already rolling on the South Side, with Todd Haley sent packing. Haley, in the tradition of Steelers offensive coordinators was a lightening rod for criticsm during his tenure and if social media is any guide, the vast majority of Steelers Nation is happy to see him go.

Yet, Haley was brought into save Ben from himself, and numbers don’t lie.

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Do you agree with the decision to part ways with Haley? Defend your choice.

3. Meanwhile, if Gerry Dulac’s reporting is correct, the entire defensive staff that oversaw and effort that tied the franchise record for most points given up in a playoff game will remain intact….

However, Mike Mularkey has been relieved of his duties in Tennessee which could make things interesting.

Assuming the new head coach doesn’t retain the assistants, and assuming Dick LeBeau would even listen to an offer—perhaps neither assumption is correct—but were he to become available, should the Steelers consider bringing back LeBeau in some sort of Assistant Head Coach Defense capacity?

4. It’s been reported on two occasions this season that the Steelers have prohibited Ben Roethlsiberger from making quarterback sneaks for fear of him being “Ear holed.” Do you agree or disagree?

5. You are Art Rooney II. Realistically, what do you say, or perhaps ask, Mike Tomlin in your year-end meeting?

That’s all for now. Depending on which stories develop, we may have another 5 Smoldering’s in the next week or so, if not we’ll certainly be back for free agency and the draft.

Until then, use your number 2 pencils, be sure to look at your neighbors paper, and by all means show your work.

I would like to express my thanks to Hombre for the great questions he comes up with for us, a task which he has to somehow fit into a very busy life with work, family, his own website, and travel. We will look forward to the next set of questions, whenever they hit my inbox : )

5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers: Divisional Round Edition

BA639515-8ED8-47B6-B863-059E31BA4F1F.jpegPhoto via Steelers.com

The long, long bye week is over. Things are getting real. And that’s just for us, the faithful of Steeler Nation. I can’t imagine how real they’re getting down at the Southside, at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. And just like the Steelers, we have to keep our noses to the grindstone and our eyes on the prize, which at the moment is the prize of winning the Divisional Round. So buckle down, folks, and answer these 5 Smoldering Questions. Remember, how much work you put into it determines what you get out of it : )

1. Leonard Fournette, he whose running total back in Week 5 shall Not Be Named, has been said to have hit the rookie wall. Does this encourage you at all? Why or why not?

2. The Steelers also have a couple of rookies who are pretty important—notably T.J. Watt and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Do you see any signs of flagging in them, and if they aren’t (and Fournette is) what do you think is the difference?

3. The Ben Roethlisberger who threw five interceptions in the previous match looked nothing like the Ben Roethlisberger we saw the remainder of the season. To what do you attribute the difference?

4. And related to the previous question, by Week 5 Jacksonville had the No. 1 rated defense by any number of metrics, including the DVOA of Football Outsiders. They still do. How confident are you that the previous result was as much about the failings of the Pittsburgh offense as it was about the awesomeness of the Jacksonville defense?

5. If you were able to watch last week’s game between the Bills and the Jaguars (I, alas, was not*) what was the difference between the way the Bills’ defense and the Pittsburgh defense handled Jacksonville? Is the Buffalo defense’s approach something you think the Steelers’ defense can, to some extent, reproduce? Or do you think it doesn’t matter?

Bonus: If you’re a total masochist head on over to Steelers.com and watch Tunch Ilkin’s “Chalk Talk” episode in which he draws up all five interceptions and the 80-yard touchdown run (or perhaps it was 90—my doctor wouldn’t allow me to check). Not recommended if you have a weak heart, but interesting nonetheless.

*Although from what I hear I was spared…

5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers, Post-Browns Edition

C5D75550-BBF9-46E1-B804-4BA163A435BD.jpegPhoto via Steelers.com

Although I’m sure you are all busily engaged in planning your play-off watching menus and such, don’t forget that there is still work to be done before we even get to that point. [Cue Mike Ditka…] Part of that is answering these 5 Smoldering Questions:

1. The end-around is a staple of the Todd Haley playbook that many of us anticipate with great dread. Yet in the last few weeks we have seen the Steelers have some success with this, including a touchdown by Darrius Heyward-Bey, although said success  came at the expense of teams who have already cleaned out their lockers. To what do you attribute this success—better placement in the game plan, better execution, or just incompetence on the part of the opposing teams?

2. Last Sunday’s match against the woeful Browns was, as many have stated, their Super Bowl, as no team wishes to share in the infamy of the 2008 Lions. But the chances didn’t look good for the Browns. The average number of points the Browns’ offense have managed to muster during the season is 14.6.

And yet they had their best game of the season against the Steelers last Sunday, and even looked like they were going to pull out the upset, it not for Corey Coleman dropping a beautifully-placed pass. And yet, despite the large number of yards the Steelers gave up, and the 24 points, they also had six sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble recovered by the Steelers. Is that a reasonable tradeoff to you, or would you have preferred a more workman-like and less exciting game?

3. And speaking of the Browns, the owner has stated he is keeping Hue Jackson as head coach despite the fact he has won one game in the past two seasons—a new low for the beleaguered franchise. Do you think the owner is right to do so, and do you think it will pay dividends next season?

4. Which team would you most like to see of the possible teams the Steelers could play in the Divisional Round? Or you can answer which team you would least like to see, according to taste. Please explain in either case.

5. Last but definitely not least—Mike Munchak has been given permission by the Steelers to interview for more than one head coaching job—the first name out there is the Cardinals. Do you think that losing Munchak would be an unmitigated disaster should he be hired away, or do you think he has created a solid foundation that will continue in the coming year(s)? And does anybody have any suggestions for things that might keep him in Pittsburgh? Weekly deliveries of Primanti’s, free Incline rides for life, etc.? Because I’ll contribute…

5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers: Season Finale Edition

Photo via USAToday.com

The Steelers have an opportunity to sweep the AFC North for the first time since 2008. There is a possible fringe benefit to winning next Sunday’s game against the woeful Browns as well. But just as the Steelers can’t be scoreboard watching during that game, we need to focus on these Smoldering Questions. And given the news about James Harrison, they are pretty smolder-y…

1. My original first question was about James Harrison, but current updates have rendered it pointless. So here was my second question about Harrison:

Does it worry you unduly that Harrison has signed with New England? Do you think the Steelers made a major miscalculation?

2. In recent seasons (and even not-so-recent ones) we have seen the Steelers struggle to put away what appear to be far inferior opponents, even losing to them at a much higher-than-expected clip. So ‘fess up—did you a) view the Houston game as a so-called “trap” game, or b) did you expect the afternoon to unfold much as it did?

3. If your answer to the above was a) please explain what you think the Steelers did differently in this game to avoid the trap. If it was b), what gave you that confidence?

4. Let’s revisit the “catch rule” one more time, since Al Riveron appears determined to keep it in the news. Mike Tomlin has said the Competition Committee will revisit this during the off-season. If you were able to give him a suggestion for how it might be fixed to take to that meeting, what would it be?

5. And finally we get to look ahead to Sunday’s game. For the moment, put on Mike Tomlin’s puffy jacket and decide which, if any, starters you will sit for the game, or for some portion of it. Do you have any criteria other than the score to determine when you pull people? And will part of that criteria involve checking the Pats/Jets score? Remember that, unlike a preseason game, you can only dress 46 players.

5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 15

AP Photo

The questions are going to be even more smolder-y than usual, because Hombre de Acero has a crazy week and only sent me three questions, and I’m still mad. So here goes. How could anything else be the subject of this edition? Yes, I’m going there, and we will be examining various aspects of The Catch That Suddenly Wasn’t. Feel free to use this as a cathartic experience…

1. After reading a Post-Gazette article in which writer Ed Bouchette fanned the flames pretty thoroughly, I did some research on my own. More on that in a moment. In his article, Bouchette says he isn’t accusing NFL Senior VP for Officiating Alberto Riveron of bias toward the Patriots, exactly, but he does present some interesting facts. Here are the salient points:

In three games this season the Patriots benefitted by the review of a called touchdown on the field.

Two of these rulings overturned the touchdown called on the field. The one which was not overturned was a pass to Brandin Cooks:

New England’s Brandin Cooks caught a 25-yard touchdown pass with 23 seconds left to beat Houston 36-33 on Sept. 24. He caught the ball with both feet in the end zone but lost control as he hit the ground out of bounds. It was ruled a touchdown, and Riveron did not overturn it upon review.

The Jesse James touchdown reversal is probably pretty fresh in your mind. The third touchdown was also reversed. It was to Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and here’s how nj.com describes it:

This was a huge moment in Sunday’s game. The Jets were down 24-14 with 8:24 left in the fourth quarter. So the touchdown would’ve cut New England’s lead to 24-21. Instead, the Patriots got the ball back, and the Jets couldn’t pull off the upset.

Though Riveron defended his call Monday, two former NFL head of officials — Fox Sports analysts Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino — disagreed with the overturn decision.

(Both felt it should have stood as called.) The final score was Patriots 24, Jets 17. (They did manage a field goal on their final series.)

It’s interesting to ponder that, had the two earlier calls been adjudicated differently, the Patriots might actually have been 8-5 when they travelled to Heinz Field. Or had Riveron been consistent, they might have been 9-4. In either case the outcome of last Sunday’s game would be much less momentous for the Steelers. How does this make you feel?

2. Back to that research I mentioned. There have been other touchdown catches reversed this season. Most of them have had what seems like a direct effect on who won the game. Here are all the reversed rulings I could find:

Austin Sefarian-Jenkens had another fourth-quarter touchdown catch reversed upon replay, in the November 26th game against the Panthers, and the Jets lost by a score of 35-27. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the Jets in the same division as the Patriots? Just checking.

In the waning seconds of their September 24th match versus the Falcons, the Lions thought they had won the game with a last-second touchdown pass to Golden Tate. But because Tate was ruled as having fumbled when the ball moved slightly as he went to the ground, and because there were only 8 seconds left on the clock, the mandatory 10-second runoff of the clock ended the game. The Lions lost, 30-26.

Also on September 24th, which was a busy day for Riveron, Sterling Shepard of the Giants had a touchdown pass reversed as the ball came slightly loose when he hit the ground. Earlier in the game, a catch by TE Zach Ertz of the Eagles was declared good despite him losing control of the ball when he hit the ground. The Giants lost, 27-24.

Zach Miller (Bears) dislocated his knee during what looked like an incredible touchdown catch that he somehow or other held onto as he collapsed onto the field. Riveron reversed it. Blandino disagreed. The Bears lost 20-12.

And finally, in a 31-24 loss to the Panthers, Vikings receiver Adam Thielen caught a touchdown. Quite conclusively, or so one would think. If one weren’t Senior VP of Officiating, at any rate.

Here’s how the Daily Norseman described the problem with the Thielen catch, which looked like a catch to pretty much everyone in the NFL-watching world:

This is the NFL. In order for it to be called a catch, you must catch it, get no fewer than four limbs and five internal organs in bounds, seal the ball in Lucite, get your cleats notarized, and recite the alphabet backwards.

So my question is, is the New York office unduly influencing the course of games, regardless of whether you believe there is a particular bias involved?

3. In looking at the above information, would you find it interesting to look very, very closely at Al Riveron’s financial picture?(Told you I was mad…)

Now to return to our regularly scheduled programming, and to Hombre de Acero:

4. The interesting thing about Jesse James’ non-touchdown is that there is no shortage of Steelers/Pittsburgh commentators who are saying, “Yeah it sucks but the ruling was correct” and no shortage of neutral observers saying, “This is INANE. THAT IS A TOUCHDOWN.” Based on your understanding of the rule, regardless of whether you agree with it or it, do you think it was correct?

5. Were the Steelers right to go for it at the end instead of kicking and playing in overtime?

And a bonus question for the holidays:

6. After the game, Jim Wexell’s instant reaction was, “I’m not sure the Steelers can overcome this.” However yesterday, he wrote a long column arguing that the game showed that the Patriots can be beaten. Which side do you come down on?

5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers: Week 14

A1FC1295-1AED-4025-9825-4AC2339004C3Photo via Steelers.com

By Hombre de Acero

Watching the Steelers win over the Baltimore Ravens was watching a legend in the making. The victory at Heinz Field clinched yet another AFC North title for Pittsburgh, but hold off on breaking out the celebratory kielbasa and Iron City Beer (yes, I’m serious about the latter one) as the New England Patriots are coming to town. But before we can see if the Steelers can corral the elephant in the room, this corner of Steelers Nation must first resolve these 5 Smoldering Questions on the Steelers.

1. While Pittsburgh prevailed against the Ravens, the Steelers defense looked like it sorely missed Ryan Shazier at several points. Yet, for as badly as they played overall, the Steelers defense stopped the Ravens cold on 3 of 4 fourth quarter possessions.

Do you think that Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler will be able to coax enough consistency out of this defense for the Steelers to be competitive against New England? Justify your answer.

2. Surprise, Surprise! The Patriots lost to Miami on Monday Night Football. Do you think this loss unmasks a vulnerability or do you fear that it will only serve to strengthen New England’s resolve?

3. After his first stint at returning kicks, Mike Tomlin indicated that Martavis Bryant would get more chances to do so. Against the Bengals, Bryant did it again and had a touchdown called back on a penalty.

Yet, against the Ravens, Bryant only narrowly avoided disaster. When asked about it, Mike Tomlin responded this way:

Do you think that our esteemed head coach is guilty of, as we would say in Spanish double discurso (speaking out of both sides of one mouth.)

4. Hombre asked me to include a question based on the idea of rituals. Players tend to be quite superstitious, but they have nothing on the fans. I mentioned several weeks ago the Steelers T-shirt I wore for the Titans game, and was advised not to wash it. Well, I didn’t wash it, but I didn’t remember to wear it for the next few games either. (Generally I watch the games in whatever I have on at the moment, which is usually church clothes…) You all might note that the only game the Steelers have won by a comfortable margin is the Titans game…

Hombre mentioned the following: 

The Steelers are 11-2 when he watches on tape delay (even if the delay is only via pausing the game for a handful of minutes). His concern is this:

“Although no one’s mentioned it, my guess is the locals will suggest we get together to watch the game, which would mean no tape delay!”

These sorts of decisions aren’t easy. I was quite concerned last Saturday because I needed to dust underneath the Steelers nutcracker which overlooks the computer screen where I watch, and I was afraid I wouldn’t get it back in the exact same position. 

What about you all? Do you have rituals that you believe, in your heart of hearts, can influence the course of a Steelers game, for good or ill?

5. Sometimes in the present it becomes too easy to forget the past. The Pittsburgh Steelers once actually owned Bill Belichick, albeit a long time ago. Recent, Steelers history against the Patriots has been fraught with nothing but frustration for Pittsburgh.

The Steelers have won 3 times against Belichick 2.0, have beaten Belichick-Brady twice with only one win coming in the Mike Tomlin era and the other coming when Ben Roethlisberger was a rookie.

The Steelers average margin of loss to the Patriots has been by 13.5 points, or just shy of two touchdowns (although that margin “improves” to 9.6 at Heinz Field).

What, if anything, makes you think that this time, things will finally be different?

There you go folks.

5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers: Week 14

Sobering. That’s the only way to describe the Steelers win over the Bengals in light of Ryan Shazier’s injury. Nonetheless, we will sally forth with our 5 Smoldering Questions on the Steelers.

1. Many are commenting on the brutality evident in Monday Night’s game and for good reason. When the announcing crew on ESPN Deportes brings up 1990 Eagles-Redskins “Body Bag” game you know things are bad. However, Shazier’s injury, by far the most serious injury of the night, came on a completely legal hit.

When that dawned on me, I wondered if it wouldn’t have been wise for defenders to heed Rod Woodson’s call for rugby style tackling. Do you think this could have made a difference?

2. The Steelers didn’t just lose Shazier, they also lost Tyler Matakevich, yet they reacted by re-signing Sean Spence, whose own injuries, ironically, contributed to the Steelers’ decision to draft Shazier.

In two years of play, Spence validated the faith the coaches showed in keeping him on IR for two years, yet he nonetheless was unemployed in early December.

Does that fact count as a yellow or even red flag for you?

3. JuJu Smith-Schuster was (rightly in my view) suspended for gloating over Vontaze Burfict, yet after the game Colin Cowherd had this callous comment:

https://twitter.com/ColinCowherd/status/937870744326778880

How do you react to such statements, and do you think that his employers should sanction him for such remarks?

4. Here at Going Deep we endeavor NOT to repeat questions as much as possible. Yet sometimes events take control. And such is the case with the Steelers’ corners Coty Sensabaugh and Cam Sutton.

After taking exception with Jon Ledyard’s comment that fans couldn’t wait until Cam Sutton pushed Artie Burns for playing time, yours truly made this observation:

One reader pointed out that the more realistic scenario would be Cam Sutton  pushing Coty Sensabaugh for playing time. Both scenarios breathe new life into the old cliché of “grasping at straws….

…Should a serious Super Bowl contender really entertain the thought of replacing that kind of experience with a raw rookie 12 games into the season? That’s one’s hard to get your head around.

So. I’ll take an order of crow, white meat (yes, deserve to sink my teeth into something dry) and then follow with a healthy portion of humble pie because that is exactly what Mike Tomlin did at half time.

How do you assess Cam Sutton’s play, and do you think he should start in place of Senasbaugh against the Ravens?

5. Sunday brings the Ravens to Heinz Field for yet another December show down with the AFC North title in the balance. Keeping in mind that the Steelers haven’t swept the Ravens since 2008, here a little statistic I’ll share to stir up the pot:

What does this tell us about James Harrison?

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