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Welcome to 'First and Goal'. This week we'll take a closer look at the debacle at Heinz Field, a game that appeared to be over somewhere in the second quarter. We'll also take a sneak peek at next week's tilt against the first place Cardinals. As always, be sure to check out our Hero of the Week.
I think it is important to show how we as fans can be critical of our team without feeling like everyone should be fired and the whole season should be forfeited. Didn't everyone understand that we're a work in progress? Some people took this loss as an opportunity to tell me that my optimism was unfounded. I don't feel that way. The season is not lost. There were good things to come out of this game and it definitely humbled our team in a good way, showing that work still needs to be done. We're going to be alright as long as Carlos Hyde stays healthy.
Let's get to it!
Coaching, Coaching, Coaching
A lot of the grievances against the last regime came down to a stubborn series of behaviors in which we were incapable of adjusting a philosophy or scheme that was proving to be unsuccessful. The first game against the Vikings showed us that the new coaching staff is amendable to change. They fixed many of the problems of the past four years and tailored a more player-specific scheme. This was music to our ears.
This last game saw a trend in the opposite direction. I did feel it would be interesting to see what our coordinators do once people have film on them. What we saw was a little alarming. On both sides of the ball, poor scheme and execution was rampant. The troubling part was the lack of adaptability by both coordinators. I think any armchair head coach saw two things coming into this game… you must pay attention to Antonio Brown and you must attack the Steelers secondary. Neither happened and that is troubling.
The argument for staying with a certain plan of attack is to see what your team is made of. You have to see how the players respond to adversity and how the players respond against certain competition. You have to see what kind of team you actually have. Can our DB's run with anyone or not? Can we run on anyone or not? You have to see what you got. But you also have to be smart enough and adaptable enough to switch gears when it's obvious you should do so.
The Steelers were embarrassed last week in Foxborough. They had 10 days off until their home opener and came out with a totally different mindset. They came out to kill. Their defense definitely came out to kill. You could see it in the ferocity of their gang tackling. They were roving the field, taking low shots, knocking us clear out of bounds and even hitting us after we had gone out of bounds. Their defense early on set the tempo for the entire game. They came out to kill.
We played right into their hands by adopting a slow, plodding offensive style that exposed all of our players to more hits than they should have taken. What good is a 12 play drive when our players are getting creamed 12 times?? And we don't score? Just not smart. It's doubly dumb when you consider that we failed to attack their weakest unit until the game was already lost. We played into their strength and away from their weakness. This failure falls on the shoulders of Geep Chryst. It seemed that Geep was the only person in that stadium that didn't know it was going to be a shoot-out. He trotted out the Vikings game plan; Mike Tomlin took that game plan and shoved it right up you know what.
The defensive game plan wasn't any better. Mangini has heard of Antonio Brown, has he not? This was a failure that continued for far longer than it should have. The Steelers offense came out to kill, you could see it in their penchant for big plays. They are trying to knock out their opponents with every deep strike they take. I noted last week that it would be important for our defense to keep everything in front of them. We did not do that at all. Our safeties got beat more in this game than any game I can remember, except for maybe the Broncos. Even when we had good coverage on Brown he made plays. It was that kind of day.
Could we have done better in a different scheme? Doubt it, mainly because Big Ben was dealing against a non-existent pass rush. We looked a tad slow on the rush. It may be easy to say we suck at pass-rushing. It's more nuanced than that. I think the Steelers OL played a great game. The rushing totals weren't great but they got runs when they needed to, especially in the redzone. And they kept Ben clean.
Top to bottom, their team came to play. I guess that's what happens when you get embarrassed last week, follow that with the home opener and you play for a tough, defensive-minded coach. Tomlin struck all the right notes and told the press before the game that he was going to test us. We got out-coached and out-willed. Tough to win any game like that.
Pertinent Game Stats
Kaepernick 33-46 for 335 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs
Roethlisberger 21-27 for 369 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs
Kap rushes for 51 yards on 9 attempts
Hyde rushes for 47 yards on 13 attempts
DeAngelo Williams rushes for 77 yards on 20 attempts and 3 TDs
Torrey Smith 6 catches for 120 yards and 1 TD
Antonio Brown 9 catches for 195 yards and 1 TD
Darius Heyward-Bey 4 catches for 77 yards and 1 TD
Niners third downs 7/17 (41%)
Steelers third downs 6/10 (60%)
Niners Redzone efficiency 1/4 (25%)
Steelers Redzone efficiency 5/5 (100%)
Niners TOP: 36:59
Steelers TOP: 23:01 (scoring drives of 3:19, 2:20, 0:07, 2:42, 2:51, 2:00)
GAME REVIEW OFFENSE
As covered in the coaching section above, we used a flawed game plan. This plan was further exacerbated by poor blocking by the offensive line. When the scheme is wrong and the blocking is poor, you're going to have a bad time…
I honestly don't understand what Geep Chryst was thinking. I know Kap is not Tom Brady but the offense did not challenge their secondary much until their team started playing prevent defense. Also, the physicality of the Steelers made it a long day for everybody. This game reminded me of the Super Bowl against the Ravens in the first half. The opposing defense was aiming to kill and the offensive coordinator had no answers for it.
This offense has failed to be a quick-strike offense for many years now. Run-first offenses try to bludgeon but they don't try to cut your head off. This is the new NFL. The NFL of Brady, Rodgers, and Big Ben. Air it out and let your playmakers bring home the gold. The rules practically beg for it. Torrey Smith gets pass interference calls like it's his job. The methodical, plodding offense is at a disadvantage. Even when it's working, it only takes one mistake to mess it all up, as evidenced by the penalties and drops that stalled long drives.
Kap was on the run for most of the day and yet he made plays throughout the game, including a nice long touchdown to Torrey; I hope that becomes a staple for us. The numbers were good but not nearly as good as it could have been. Too many drops in this one. Not enough no-huddle. Poor scheme and poor execution.
We're not the same team without Hyde. He turns poor blocking into 5 yard gains. He turns good blocking into touchdowns. But his style is too physical. Maybe he can learn to get small over time but I'm not sure. Davis is ok but he's not Hyde. Hayne should not be running the ball right now.
Our offensive line got punched in the mouth by their front seven. Boone and Martin made some pretty awful blocks. Pears got worked on the outside a few times. Kap was under siege all day and did well to avoid many sacks. I understand that long strikes require blocking for more than 2 seconds and that the offensive line hasn't proved that they're capable of that. Losing Anthony Davis really hurt us. Baalke could have made a trade, but he didn't. Now we have this.
Our skill position players were running targets for their defensive backfield. I can remember thinking, "Does #41 really hate Vernon Davis that much?" He's killing Davis… And a special side-note here. I think NFL defenses are smelling blood on Davis. They know he's not going to deliver the blow. They're coming at him like I've never seen before.
I think not having Bruce Ellington hurt us some. The drops were crucial and came at bad times. Our entire offense got out-muscled by their defense.
Game Review Defense
The Steelers offense came to play. Tomlin said we weren't tested and he was right. Multiple drives had big plays attached to them. The Steelers smelled blood in the water and they showed no hesitation. I'm not sure what scheme would have worked but it's obvious ours didn't and yet we didn't do anything to slow down their air attack. Poor scheme and poor execution.
The run defense is the only part of the defense that showed up. The yardage numbers were respectable. And yet, when it mattered the most, the Steelers were able to break off big runs, especially in the redzone. The defensive line got handled when it came to pass rushing. The Steelers offensive line had a good day in pass protection and I think we have to tip the cap there. Aldon Smith isn't playing for us anytime soon so this is what we have.
The LB core didn't seem to set the tone like last week. Our entire defense was catching blows, we weren't delivering the blow. Most of the tackles were made by our DB's. Bowman had 0 tackles and 4 assists. Most of it wasn't his fault. The Steelers were playing the long game and playing it very well.
Our pass coverage units got shredded. Their receivers got separation on CB's when needed and burned our safeties outright. Big Ben also had several well placed passes. They have had remarkable continuity on offense. Same QB, same offensive coordinator for several years with the same stud WR. Some of those passes were perfect and there is no defense for the perfect pass. I have not re-watched the game so I cannot tell you if we rolled coverage towards Brown or not. It just seemed like he was burning 1-on-1 coverage way too often. Heyward-Bey ran by Bethea like he was just standing there. Reid always seemed a step too slow. Where was Tartt?
Pinion is doing a great job on kickoffs. Punts? Not so much. Maybe we needed a new kicker and not a new punter? Our coverage units were not as good this week. As a whole, the team looked lethargic compared to the Steelers. Early kickoff time and all that, I'm not one for excuses.
We lost a challenge, had to burn a timeout in order to avoid a delay of game and also got a delay of game after a timeout. This all reeked of last year. It's not a smooth ride out of the Harbaugh years. We're going to have to keep fighting. Kap played well, our run D played ok and Torrey Smith had a good game. 1-1, and still ahead of the Seachickens. Hope prevails.
Mini-Preview of Next Week
We travel to Arizona to play the first place Cardinals. Carson Palmer is 15-2 in his last 17 starts. The defense and special teams are playing well. The rushing offense is playing good enough. This will be a stern test for us and a win is doubtful. However, with the proper scheme and better execution, we can put ourselves in a position to compete for the victory.
The keys to victory rely on two things. We have to be more aggressive on offense and not let the Arizona defense dictate the game. We also must do a good job of corralling the Arizona WR's. Fitzgerald, Brown and Floyd are all capable of beating us deep. Look for Bowman to have a bounce-back game. Hopefully Pinion does better and Hyde plays the whole game. Prediction… Niners 24- Cardinals 31.
Heroes of the Week
This week was sponsored by the dynamic duo, #7 throwing to #84. It happened more than we wanted it to. There was no stopping it. Gotta respect the ballers who show up on Sundays.