The Pittsburgh Steelers Need for a Big, Red Zone Receiver is a Myth

Jerricho Cotchery scored 10 red zone touchdowns in 2013.

The Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t efficient in the red zone during the 2013 season because they have small receivers.

This is a widely accepted ideal.

Widely accepted ideals aren’t widely accepted facts because they are not based on intensive research. They are based on simple logic that is gleaned from the most likely relationship between two facts. During the 2012 season, it was a widely accepted ideal that San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith got a large percentage of his sacks on stunt plays. Smith had 22 sacks in total, but only four came after he carried out a stunt and only two saw him get a clean run to the quarterback because of a stunt.

Just like with Smith’s sacks, the perception of what the Steelers do in the red zone is inaccurate.

On drives when they had at least one offensive snap that was officially listed on the opposition’s 20-yard line or closer to the opposition’s goal line, the Steelers had a 53.7 percent touchdown rate. The Steelers scored 29 touchdowns on 54 attempts. This isn’t a horrible percentage, it appears to be somewhere around league average, but it could definitely be improved upon.

Bringing in bigger receivers wouldn’t solve the problems the Steelers had last season.

Theoretically, bigger receivers should be more successful in the red zone because they should have more opportunities to catch the ball. In the red zone, there is less space to work in so receivers need to make more contested catches and the quarterback needs to be more accurate. In jump ball situations or on fade routes, bigger receivers should be more successful because of their size.

Like most things in football, size is overrated. Continue reading

Leon Hall: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict

He’s often overlooked, but Leon Hall’s career has reached incredible heights.

Joe Goodberry(@)¬†of SBNation’s CincyJungle and DraftBengals wrote
the introduction to this piece.

Since being drafted 18th overall in 2007, Cincinnati Bengals fans have enjoyed Leon Hall showing up every week, doing his job and doing so at a high level. Consistency, intelligent play and durability has made Hall into one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks and probably the most underrated.

Even in Cincinnati and among Bengals faithful, Hall has been overlooked and questioned. When he and Johnathan Joseph were one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL, Bengals fans weren’t sure who was better. Joseph had the athletic gifts, but Hall never missed a game and played at the same level each week. The debate had relevance because the team would eventually have that same discussion.

After the 2010 season, the Bengals front office had to decide who to build their defense around between the two corners. They ultimately let Joseph walk.

Hall was signed to an extension before the 2011 season and until this point, never missed a game for the Bengals. On November 13th, 2011 in Pittsburgh, he tore his Achilles and was placed on injured reserve the next day. Joseph went on to have his first Pro Bowl season and doubt crept into the minds of everyone. Did Cincinnati make the right choice in signing the corner that always stayed healthy and played sound football over the corner that offered every physical trait you look for, but often battled injuries and had more ups and downs?

In 2012, Hall was declared healthy in training camp and never looked back.

It was rare that his injury held him back, and as the season progressed, Bengals fans saw the same overlooked Leon Hall that they’ve relied on for six seasons. Hall was now covering the slot, outside, defending the run and came up with clutch plays in their two biggest games of 2012.

Hel may not be the Bengals best defensive player, because Geno Atkins is a man amongst boys, but Hall is their leader and the face of the defense. Getting to know him means getting to know Mike Zimmer and the Bengals’ defense. Continue reading

Pittsburgh Steelers Set Up For More Offensive Success in Todd Haley’s Second Year

LeVeon Bell is just one new addition for the Steelers’ offense in 2013.

For the first time in the whole game, the Denver Broncos didn’t run the ball on first down. Instead, Tim Tebow faked the ball to Willis McGahee before throwing a dart over the head of Ryan Mundy into the hands of Demaryius Thomas. Thomas sprinted away from Ike Taylor and into the endzone, the lowest point of the Steelers’ 2011 season was also the point at which their season came to a close.

Not only did that play bring down the curtain on the Steelers’ season, but it also would stand in history as the last play of Bruce Arians’ career as the team’s offensive coordinator. Arians, Hines Ward, James Farrior and William Gay would all be elsewhere soon after, but it was Arians’ loss that would cause ripple effects throughout the following season.

As soon as Arians was let go, star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made his displeasure known. Roethlisberger had grown very close to Arians, some might say too close, likely because he had always allowed him to play the game his way and not tried to force him into any particular scheme. In short, Arians let Roethlisberger be Roethlisberger.

For that reason, it was a surprise to many when the Steelers brought in Todd Haley to succeed Arians. Not only was Haley seen as a completely different coach to Arians, but he also brought a very fiery, passionate character to Pittsburgh that would potentially be destructive when juxtaposed next to Roethlisberger’s.

This was something that the national media zoned in on during the quieter parts of the off-season, as the duo not speaking initially was blown completely out of proportion. Even though the idea of a rift between the two before they even spoke was outlandish, a semblance of truth to the rumors appeared to surface during the regular season. Roethlisberger never looked comfortable in Haley’s scheme and his body language was significantly worse than it had been over the previous few seasons. Continue reading

Emmanuel Sanders Stays for One Last Shot at his Potential with Pittsburgh Steelers

Both Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown need big seasons in 2013

After taking as much of the five days afforded to them as they possibly could, the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to match the $2.5 million restricted free agent tender that Emmanuel Sanders signed with the New England Patriots this week. Sanders will remain with the Steelers and immediately returns to his starting spot on offense.

Sanders’ career with the Steelers so far has been full of inconsistency. At times he has flashed the talent to be a true game-changing receiver, but he has also dealt with inconsistencies on the field, repeated injuries and a family bereavement that have all hurt his development on the field.

During his three-year career so far, the former SMU prospect has totaled just 94 receptions for 1,290 yards and five touchdowns with five fumbles. However, statistics tell you little about Sanders’ potential.

As a rookie, Sanders finished with just 28 receptions for 376 yards and two touchdowns. However, for much of the year he was inactive as both he and Antonio Brown battled for the final active roster spot. Mike Tomlin used that competition to try and better both players, while both contributed sporadically in the regular season. As the regular season developed however, it became more clear that Sanders was becoming a more important part of the offense than Brown. Continue reading