I was at yesterday's game, and I felt the loss as keenly as anyone could. After the touching beginning of the game where they introduced the local contingent of Freezer Bowl Bengals, I thought, "This might be the game where we turn it around." Clearly, not. That said, they say that you learn more about character in defeat than victory, and I've learned some very key things here:
1) Andy Dalton needs to own his mistakes. He really needed to come out at yesterday's press conference and say, "Y'know, I know I can't make throws like those two interceptions. Those were horrible, back-breaking mistakes when the game was still in the balance." The fumble was a fluke. It happens-- the interceptions -- those were horrible lapses in judgement that doomed the team. If he can't own those, he's not going to get past them. Worse, he's going to fail to inspire his teammates that he'll rise to the occasion when they really need him. I talked a few years back if Carson Palmer was a hothouse flower--- did he always perform poorly when he was being sacked and hit? Turns out, he wasn't...Andy Dalton, though, clearly is.
1a) I'm against radical reactions, but we would be insane not to think very hard about whether Andy is the answer. Maybe we play Greg McElroy in big games or something. I don't know how many of you saw the analysis from PFF last week, but against good pass defenses, Andy Dalton plays about as well as Geno Smith. That's not good. If he can't come up big (or at least average) against tough defenses....well, we're in trouble.
2) The offensive line is a key strength of this team, and we cannot score if they do not play well. Shoring up the Center and Guard position should be key off-season priorities if you're going to continue to go with Dalton. He cannot take pressure up the middle....and our weakest linemen...are up the middle. Kyle Cook was at least as bad as Dalton yesterday, at least from what I could tell given the streaming San Diego linemen coming straight up the middle. Zeitler was also not good yesterday -- watch the 1st pick. Z has clearly blown his assignment. That's either on him, Cook, or Dalton. (Either the line call was bad or Z failed to execute)
3) If we're going to keep Whitworth at LG, we need a LT who can run block. AC is a capable in pass-pro, but we cannot run in his direction. That means that a number of our key running plays are either runs to the right (behind Z and Andre), or to the right (behind Z and Andre, with Whit pulling). That's pretty easy to game plan for.
4) Our tight ends need to man up in the running game. They need to actually hit someone once in awhile. I can't count the number of blocks where Eifert or Gresham whiffed on a block that would have gained a run 2 or more yards. If we truly desire a dominant running game, those guys have got to hit.
5) Sure would be nice to have a true fullback. Every version of the West Coast has fullback-- in fact, he's a key outlet in that system. I think one of the few personnel mistakes the organization has made in the past few years is not keeping a fullback this year. Orson Charles was clearly not the answer. Again, the fullback needs to hit someone once in awhile. The only Fullback/TE we have that enjoys contact is Peko. That's not good.
6) Injuries caught up with the defense. Those cut-back runs don't happen with Geno in the middle. Leon is a great tackler outside, as is Terrance Newman. Basically, the Chargers said, "We're going to run away from your Linebackers and ends and make your corners and safeties tackle us on the corner." Iloka and Nelson showed up on a couple of plays, but I don't remember anyone else really "flashing." Adam Jones made 7 tackles, but I felt like many of them were 6 or 7 yards down the field. Dre...don't get me started on Dre. How he could only have 2 tackles when your opponent is committing to running outside is not good...and, of course, he gave up the one long completion Philip Rivers had.
6a) That said, the defense played more than well enough for us to win the game yesterday. They weren't dominant, but they limited a very explosive attack until the end. (I'm going to chalk up that late run to the fact that they were broken by the performance of the offense at that point.)
7) Rey haters, you need to get out of town. In a game where so many Bengals came up small, Rey showed the heart of a lion. Even though he was clearly not 100%, he led the team in tackles, energy, and passion, and kept making critical stops when we needed them.
8) Anyone want to Franchise Michael Johnson this year? He's a good player, but clearly benefits on playing on a defensive line with Carlos Dunlap and Geno. He made 1 tackle yesterday and has been outplayed this year by UFA pickup Wallace Gilberry.
9) As fans, we stink. As said, our character has been revealed by this defeat and how we've handled it. Even while the game was still in doubt, the drunk and stupid in my section are yelling, "That's why you'll never win Marvin!! That's why you suck Dalton!!" You're free to voice your opinions, but if your goal in coming to the game is to actually SUPPORT the team, turning hostile at the first sign of adversity isn't really the mark of a fan. Dalton's 2nd interception crushed my spirit, but I was still pulling for the team-- we were still in the game at that point!! My 17 year old daughter was so disturbed by the idiot behavior that we moved seats to get away from it. (Note,if she wasn't there, I might have taken a more physical and confrontation tack!). You either support this franchise or get out. Period. I'm not saying you can't be critical, you can't be hurt, you can't say stupid things....but if the players didn't do their job well yesterday, neither did we. When the team really needed the home field advantage, where was it? Oh...it was either cursing the quarterback or heading for the exits. Our character as fans was showing yesterday, and we were worse than Dalton.
10) ...and what franchise do you want to be? For years in the 90s, we decried the instability with rotating coaches and quarterbacks. When things were bad, we said, "Why can't we be like the Steelers--even when Bill Cowher struggled, they stuck with him. Good organizations stay the course and don't over-react." Only bad things happen fast is an old saw that applies here. I think that's still true, but it's hard to tell from the lynch mob I've seen on this site. Take a break and think. Jay Gruden is a 3rd year NFL coach. He'll figure it out. He's called some brilliant games, and he's called some real duds. This was clearly a dud-- but it was a gameplan founded on our perceived strengths vs. their perceived weakness. We were going to run the ball, throw short passes, and go deep just enough to keep the safeties out of the box. Quick pressure and a lack of dominant run-blocking blew up that game plan....and what was his logical fallback? Deep passing? Play action? Misdirection? None of that stuff works when you're getting manhandled at the line of scrimmage. I'd love to hear our qualified panel of experts serve up some suggestion other than "Jay Gruden sucks!" Ok, Bill Walsh, what would you have done? How would that have worked when your C, RG, and RT can't block anyone?
11) Steelers should never ever troll this board after this type of defeat. We don't know what your character is...you've had too much success in the last 40 years to even understand the level of frustration we feel. You catch breaks we can't get. The officials hand you a Super Bowl win over the Seahawks. You blow out the knee of your most dangerous rivals' quarterback in a home playoff game...you've been good, but you've been lucky, too. (Unless you'd care to confess that the shot at Carson's leg was premeditated, which some of the post-game comments seemed to indicate....) If you're such an idiot to not get that, you should just stay quiet and let us suffer. Again, the low opinion we generally have of your fanbase is just confirmed when you show up and post the kind of garbage you did yesterday. Your day is coming. Ben will retire/go down with injuries, and then we'll find out how brilliant Mike Tomlin really is. (Hint -- He's not that smart.) The Steelers fans I know in person can never understand why I think that they're the exceptions (they're generally nice people) and that most Steeler fans are inbred idiots who don't realize their good fortune. I'll have to point them to some of yesterday's posts....
12) Let's stop with the Mike Brown is an idiot because he didn't draft Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson. Plenty of other franchises saw the limitations with those guys as well and passed on them. Hell, everyone passed on Tom Brady-- 4 times! You can always find guys and say, "See we didn't draft that future All-Pro in the third round like Franchise X did." Umm, if everyone knew he was a future All-Pro, he wouldn't have been drafted in the 3rd round. Frankly, Andy outplayed Kaepernick for large stretches this year. Generally speaking, the team has done a fantastic job of pulling in talent the last 5 years. There's really only been one high-round miss (Dre), and a lot of value in mid to late round picks. Net, the front office has done its job on the personnel front. They won 11 games this year despite losing their best corner, their best DL, their best coverage linebacker, their best in-the box safety, starting guard, and two other quality DLs. I wouldn't say they had an inordinate number of injuries to battle, but they had some key injuries and they clearly managed them as well as you could. That really speaks to coaching and depth.
13) Marvin is clearly not a big game coach. I'm not sure why, but it's clear that he loses his aggressive mentality just when we need it. Yesterday, the first half was clearly a battle of two teams who did not want to lose the game. (If we'd won, can you imagine the questions McCoy would be getting? Hey, you've got a top-5 in the league QB, and you threw the ball for 128 yards?). That said, he left the stupid challenges to the Chargers, so he's progressing.
14) Just keep your head down while the national media drubs us. They almost all picked us to win that game (some of them big), and our loss was just as embarrassing to them as it was to us. Of course they're going to bury us this week. That said, it'll be over shortly....there will be new goats (Peyton Manning? Drew Brees?) next week.
15) It could have been worse...we could have lost like the Chiefs.
Hang in there. That's what real fans do.