Hello ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the third installment to the riveting series, “The Road to Arizona, Step by Step,” and all the wonders that it encompasses! Last week I took a gander at the steel city, and let the Pittsburgh Steelers know how they can get back on track to being the perennial AFC Powerhouse that they were in the last decade.
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)
After narrowly escaping their home opener with a win over the Cleveland Browns, the Pittsburgh Steelers went on the road for a date with their most beloved of rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. Ok…maybe they aren’t the most “beloved” of rivals, but we certainly love to watch when these two tough teams play each other! Unfortunately for us, but I’m sure to the delight of Ravens fans, this wasn’t one of
the more exciting contests. The Ravens had this one easily, and ended up blowing out their friends by the three rivers 26-6. But what of the rivalry? How could a game between the Steelers and Ravens not be close? Well the answer is simple my friends. Pittsburgh couldn’t stop the run.
Running the ball is very important to the game, which makes stopping it even more important. However, for the second consecutive week, the Steelers couldn’t accomplish that. After letting up over 180 yards and 2 TDs rushing to the Browns in week one, the black and gold had almost 160 yards put up against them on the ground when they traveled to M&T Bank Stadium. If the Steelers are going to make it to the playoffs, they have to fix their run defense. On this note, I think the words of the late Lou Saban would resonate well in the Pittsburgh locker room. “You can get it done, you can get it done, what’s more, you GOTTA get it done.” (via NFL films). And what better team for a porous run defense to play than the Carolina Panthers.
Previous Step: Stop the Run
Going into this game, the Panthers had been averaging a measly 87.5 rushing yards per game, and only had 62 yards the previous week against Detroit. Meanwhile, the Steelers have allowed an average of 170 yards per week on the ground. Needless to say, something had to give. Or so we thought…while Carolina was limited to just 42 yards on the ground, they only ran the ball 10 times. After crunching the numbers with some advanced calculations, that comes out to 4.2 yards a carry. To put that into perspective, if you scale that to the number of running plays that the Ravens ran the week before, 36, that equates to 151 yards rushing, just six yards fewer than what Baltimore rushed for last week. To add to that, the defensive line only managed 3 tackles combined the entire game. If your run defense is truly improving, your defensive lineman should be getting more than 3 combined tackles. Brett Keisel, the most experienced member of the d-line, didn’t even register a tackle, assisted or otherwise. Now here’s the catch, one carry, by Jonathan Stewart, went for 15 yards. If you remove that one run, that leaves the Panthers with 27 yards on 9 carries, which equates to just 3 yards a carry. Because there is such a small sample size, one run can make a huge difference when calculating the mean. If we wanted to get really into the math of the statistics, we could calculate whether or not that last carry is actually an outlier. And low and behold, it is! So with the data given we would have to say that the Steelers did in fact improve in run defense, but who’s to say that had they been run on more, they wouldn’t have let up more runs like that? Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula simply didn’t run the ball enough for us to say conclusively if the boys from Pittsburgh channeled their inner steel curtain or not.
Thursday’s matchup between the Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers was supposed to be a physical, low scoring affair, but
while the physicality may have been there, the term “low scoring” did not seem to register with Ben Roethlisberger and Co. After not scoring a touchdown for about 139 minutes of football, Big Ben hit Antonio Brown for a seven yard score at the 11:10 mark of the third quarter, the first of four touchdowns that the Steelers would score in the second half of their 39-17 manhandling of the Panthers. That coupled with 100+ yard performances from second year running back Le’Veon Bell and fourth year runner LeGarrette Blount added up to a fairly complete victory at Bank of America Stadium for the black and gold, but all is not well in other parts of the league, as “The Road to Arizona, Step by Step” examines its first NFC contender, the Green Bay Packers.
Team: Green Bay Packers (1-2)
Remember the good old days in Green Bay when defense reigned supreme and took them all the way to a Super Bowl victory? Yeah, me neither. Since winning it all in 2010 with the best defense in all of football, the Packers have consistently been towards the bottom of the league in team defense, but Sunday’s contest at Ford Field saw a bit of a blast from the past for Green Bay fans. While the
Packers lost 7-19, defensive coordinator Dom Capers can definitely feel proud of his defense, because they only let up 10 of those 19. The other nine were defensive scores in the form of a Don Carey 40 yard fumble return, and a safety where reigning offensive rookie of the year out of Alabama Eddie Lacy was tackled in the end zone. However, seven points is not good enough for the post 2010 Packers, who have been towards the top of the league in offense while Aaron Rodgers has been at the helm. So what was the issue? Why could this offensive juggernaut not deliver? To put it simply, they couldn’t block.
Blocking is one of the most under appreciated arts in modern day football. Without the ability to block, a team’s entire offense falls apart, and that’s not just on the offensive line either. Tight ends, running backs, and yes, even receivers are expected to block to some degree, but none of them got the job done in week three for the Packers. The Detroit Lions defensive line absolutely dominated up front and stifled any attempt Green Bay made to set up a run game. As a team the Packers managed just 76 yards on 22 rushes, which is terrible, especially considering that the Lions were consistently rushing four players, and still finding success.
To cite one example, lets take a look at the saftey, which you can see a video of here.
The play was designed for Eddie Lacy to run to the right, not necessarily for a big gain, but to give the offense a bit of breathing room. For this play to work, there were two key blocks that needed to be made, the outside seal by the tight end, and the inside block by the pulling guard. Of course, neither of these blocks were made correctly. Let’s start with the poor job done by Packers TE Richard Rodgers. Rodgers’s job was to set the outside edge by blocking Lions defensive end Jason Jones, but it was Jones who set the edge by driving Rodgers about two yards into the end zone. This reduces the amount of room that Lacy has to work with in trying to find the hole, but unfortunately for Lacy and the Packers offense, the hole wasn’t even there. Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy is the man who brought down the former first round pick, and he came in unblocked because of another missed assignment. You see, Levy rushed through the hole that Lacy was supposed to run through, but the guard who was pulling, T.J. Lang, actually overran his assignment, and missed the block he was supposed to get on Levy. Those two failed blocks gave Lacy no room to
run, and thus resulted in a safety, but the blocking wasn’t much better in the passing game.
For most of the game, the Lions stuck to rushing four and playing two deep safeties to maximize coverage and prevent Aaron Rodgers from being able to find an open receiver. They essentially dared the Packers to run the ball on them, and even excelled at stopping that while in formations where running the ball would usually yield good yardage. However, when the Packers went to the passing game, it was Detroit’s front four of Ndamukong Suh, C.J. Mosley, Ziggy Ansah, and Jason Jones (with Nick Fairly rotating with Mosley), who kept them off-balance, rather than the maximum coverage they used. The Lions sacked Rodgers twice, and constantly had him off-balance, mostly without blitzing. The pressure held the Packers to just 226 yards of total offense and only one score, after their monstrous offensive performance against the New York Jets just one week before. Green Bay needs to score a lot to win. That has been a foregone conclusion for the past four years, but they aren’t going to score very many points with blocking like they had on Sunday in Detroit.
Next Step: Block! Block! Block!
Blocking is one of the least glorified skills, if not the least glorified skill in all of football, but if the Green Bay Packers want to get back on track to getting the NFC North crown, they’re going to have to fix their blocking. Whether it’s adjusting the blocking scheme or simply getting better play out of the blockers, something has to be done. The Packers have an extremely talented offense. Between Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Aaron Rodgers, and Eddie Lacy, the Pack should be putting up at least 25 points a game, but if they cannot figure out a way to protect the quarterback and open up running lanes, they can kiss the Lombardi trophy goodbye. But, if Green Bay can fix their blocking issues, then they will prove themselves as serious contenders to end up in Arizona and compete for the trophy named after their Hall of Fame former coach (all stats via NFL.com).
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