Bleeding Black and Gold: Atlanta (-2.5) at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m., Fox,
Bashing Bruce (again)
Now would be a good time to stake out our position on Bruce Arians and frame the criticism of his offensive scheme and playcalling that surely will be forthcoming this season: He is an offensive genius. He’s forgotten more about football than we’ll ever know. However, we know this: His style does not suit the AFC North (he’d be a hit in NFC West, though). It’s a mismatch that will only end in frustration. This doesn’t mean the Steelers can’t win the Super Bowl again with Arians at the reins, they’ve done it once and they certainly can do it again. But if they do it will be because of the offensive talent and not the offensive system. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.
In today's NFL, it takes 11
Pat Kirwan, one of the most astute pro football analysts working, has an enlightening and informative story here about the emergence and importance of the 11 personnel set (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) in the NFL. If you have any desire to understand the game from a more strategic point of view, reading Kirwan is imperative. He notes in the story that the Steelers would be an elite "11 personnel" team if they lined up:
QB Roethlisberger RB Mendenhall WRs Holmes/Ward/Wallace TE Miller
but are far removed from elite status with:
QB Dixon RB Mendenhall WRs Ward/Wallace/Randle-El TE Miller
Of course, that could change if Dixon plays to his preseason level (where he ranked fourth among NFL quarterbacks in passer rating) and/or if one of the rookie WRs emerges, although neither of those things seems very likely.
He's got legs
In any personnel set, Dixon gives the Steelers one game-planning advantage -- the fact that defenses must account for him as a runner. Whether that becomes an actual competitive advantage is yet to be seen, but the battle is likely to be fought on the right side of the Steelers' offense, where Dixon is most dangerous. So watch closely to see if Dixon is able to escape to his right and if he can't whether he can make any plays scrambling to his left.
The captain controversy
Almost totally overlooked and uncovered last week was the fact that James Harrison and Jeff Reed are no longer Steelers captains, along with Ben Roethlisberger (whose story was over-covered, of course). Remember, captains are chosen by team vote. We certainly understand why Roethlisberger and Reed would be voted out but we're not aware of any new personal issues with James Harrison (beyond his already existing but several years old personal issues with domestic violence) and that leaves us a tad perplexed.
Rex: The king of New York
In the 10th paragraph of a fawning profile of Rex Ryan in today’s New York Times, comes this assertion:
In the wary, standardized world of the NFL, the unrestrained
Ryan may be the best football coach this side of the Patriots’
Based on what? A 9-7 record, a loss in AFC Championship Game and a bunch of preseason bravado? Give us a break. Ryan is a defensive innovator and a supreme motivator and he has the POTENTIAL to be a great head coach in the NFL, but if you were ranking him right now, he wouldn’t crack the Top 10. (Editor's note: We'd also like to point out to reporter Nicholas Dawidoff and the NYT copy editing staff that "may" implies permission while "might" implies possibility, Ryan MIGHT be the best football coach...:-P)
If Thursday night's NFL action told us anything it's that defenses are ahead of offenses at this point of the season. That's good news for the Steelers in this game as they'll need a big effort from their D to scratch out a win. That formula starts with Aaron Smith returning to help limit Michael Turner, with secondary pass rushers Ziggy Hood and Lawrence Timmons taking advantage of the double teaming of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, and with Troy Polamalu making a couple of his signature big plays. We don't think Dennis Dixon has more than a couple touchdown drives in him, so the Steelers will need a short-field (or defensive) score, as well, to win ... Pittsburgh 21-17.