Blog Entry

Coach Killers, Week 15: Max meets Aldon

Posted on: December 20, 2011 10:58 am
Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat.

By Ryan Wilson

Max Starks - Steelers

To be fair to Max, the Steelers cut him during the summer, something about him being out of shape. And then, a month into the season, after it was abundantly clear that Jonathan Scott wasn't a capable NFL starting left tackle, Pittsburgh re-signed Starks, promptly inserted him into the lineup, and the offensive line immediately improved.

And given how well the Steelers had been playing in the two and a half months since Starks returned to the team, it's hard to quibble with one performance. But hey, that's what we do here.

Rookie Aldon Smith, a situational pass rusher at this stage of his career, treated Starks like a 350-pound rag doll Monday night. Any shortcomings along the offensive line are usually mitigated by Ben Roethlisberger's mobility in the pocket, but the Steelers quarterback was playing on bum ankle that so hobble him that we're pretty sure Tommy Maddox could've beat him in a foot race.

Aldon Smith puts on a clinic as he takes down Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger on 2.5 sacks Monday night, setting the 49ers' rookie record at 13 with two games left in the season.

Starks held his own in the first half, primarily because the close score meant that Pittsburgh's rushing attack was still part of the game plan. But after the 49ers went up 13-3 in the second half it was, as they say, on like Donkey Kong. To paraphrase Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football, if the game had gone on much longer, Smith would've earned a trip to Canton on that singular performance. (The only thing missing: the wind spring sack dance.)

A healthy Big Ben and a soft schedule over the final two weeks (Rams, at Browns) should mean more consistent play throughout the offense. Also not hurting: getting Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey back. He missed the 49ers game with a high-ankle sprain of his own.

Cary Williams, Jimmy Smith - Ravens

Heading into the season, the Ravens secondary -- particularly cornerback -- was thought to be a liability. Former practice-squad player Cary Williams has started 14 games this season and for the most part he's been solid. Against the Chargers, he spent the evening chasing after whichever target Philip Rivers just found wide open streaking across the field.

And you could argue Jimmy Smith's night was worse. Chargers head coach Norv Turner identified the rookie first-round pick as a target and Norv was true to his word. Rivers ended the night completing 74 percent of his throws for 270 yards and a touchdown. More than that: he wasn't touched all game. That's right, the team with more offensive line issues than the Steelers, and who were working on their third left tackle of the season, kept Rivers clean against one of the NFL's most ferocious pass rushes.

Put differently: Baltimore's shortcomings don't all fall to Williams and Smith. The front seven didn't do their job and if we really want to point fingers, Joe Flacco played like, well, crap. The lesson: don't take Tim Tebow's name in vain. Nothing good will come of it.

Stanford Routt, Rolando McClain, Raiders

Obviously, this honor should go to head coach Hue Jackson for his inexplicable decision to not triple and quadruple-team Calvin Johnson during the last drive of Sunday's game, one that proved to be the difference. (But this is 'Coach Killers.' Presumably, Jackson's into self-preservation even if his coaching decisions scream otherwise.) Instead, Jackson blamed execution not play-calling for Johnson getting open, even though one play call had linebacker Rolando McClain responsible for covering Johnson 40 yards down the field.

“Yeah, that’s called the Tampa-2," Jackson said. "That’s what the middle linebacker does — he runs right down the middle of the field. They made the play and we didn’t.”

We don't know much about football strategizing, but that seems like a recipe for losing.

Oakland likes to play a lot of man-to-man and cornerback Stanford Routt was burdened with covering Johnson for most of the game. He had a costly pass interference penalty that gave Detroit the ball at the Raiders six-yard line with 48 seconds to go. Wondering how that ended? Yep, a Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson touchdown pass in the back of the end zone. The goal post was the closet object in coverage on the play.

See how Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson led the Lions on a seven-play, 98-yard drive to defeat the Raiders in Oakland.

“It isn’t a scheme issue. The ball’s laying up in the air. You gotta go make that play. Their guy made it and we didn’t. So they won the game." Jackson said, according to Rapid Reporter Eric Gilmore.

Well, it is a scheme issue when the scheme doesn't have anyone in Johnson's vicinity.

Santonio Holmes - Jets

You have to wonder what goes through a player's mind when he makes the conscious decision to do something stupid. The Bills' Stevie Johnson had to know that as soon as he went to the ground during his "I shot myself in the leg" homage to Plaxico Burress touchdown dance in Week 12 that he was going to get a 15-yard excessive celebration penalty.

On Sunday, with the Jets trailing 28-9, Holmes finally held onto the ball long enough to get into the end zone (he already had a fumble and caused an interception by misplaying a Mark Sanchez pass).

Hand the ball to the official, head to the sidelines and try to figure out how get back in this game.

That should've been the thought that ran through Holmes' mind. Nope. Instead, he put the ball on the ground, stepped on it, and pretended to fly. Like an eagle. Um, yeah, using the ball as a prop? That's a 15-yard penalty.

Good news: Holmes scores. Bad news: he gets a stupid celebration penalty.

In the scheme of things it didn't matter; the Eagles blew the doors off the Jets and 15 yards here or there wasn't going to be the difference. But the penalty is symptomatic of something larger: Rex Ryan's inability to control his locker room. Holmes is a six-year veteran and a team captain. He's also one of New York's best players. But there's a chance he will be one of New York's best players sitting on the couch in January.

Ryan, for his part, nailed the role of the enabling parent.

“He apologized for that to me but I’ll say this about Santonio and every other player on this team: They have my 100 percent support and we’re in this thing together. … Are we perfect? No. None of us are perfect, but I'm just saying that you wish that thing never happened," Ryan said. "I don't think it will happen again, but again, I have his back, he has mine and this whole team is that way. We just have to come out and fight for each other, we know it was a mistake and we'll learn from it."

In two weeks, the Jets might have plenty of time to replay all the mistakes from the past season.

Marc Mariani - Titans

We were all set to blame Chris Johnson for the Titans' loss to the Colts, but pointing the finger at one of the league's worst running backs has become unoriginal 15 weeks into the season. And while Mariani had very little to do with Tennessee getting steamrolled by an 0-13 team, this play perfectly embodies the Titans' Sunday afternoon experience at Lucas Oil Stadium.

With the Colts leading 17-6, Mariani, Tennessee's return man, misplayed a kickoff in the end zone. No big deal -- it happens all the time … except that Mariani accidentally drop-kicked the ball out of bounds at about the six-inch line.

“I botched my responsibility,” Mariani said. “Their kicker (Pat McAfee) line-drived that one and I was trying to make a play, but it was all over the place and took an unbelievable bounce.”

The miscue proved to be harmless; the Titans gained a few first downs before eventually punting.

As for the real culprits Sunday, take your pick: Johnson (15 rushes, 55 yards); Matt Hasselbeck (a pick-six -- including the first interception by a Colts cornerback all season -- and another pick in the Colts end zone); Jared Cook (huge fumble in Indy territory); and the entire Titans defense for getting Donald Brown'd in the fourth quarter with Indy leading just 20-13. And perhaps more embarrassingly, giving Dan Orlovsky his first career victory. (Orolovsky had been 0-7 with the 2008 Lions and 0-2 with the Colts in 2011.)

Tennessee goes tackling-optional on Brown's 80-yard TD run.

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Since: Oct 29, 2006
Posted on: December 21, 2011 1:58 pm

Coach Killers, Week 15: Max meets Aldon

Not included on this list but should: Quan Cosby.
Two poor decisions to run kickoffs out of the endzone, as well as a muffed punt with 3 seconds left in the first half, costing Denver 3 points.  He wasn't the sole reason Denver lost, but he sure as hell didn't help.

Since: Aug 12, 2007
Posted on: December 20, 2011 10:09 pm

Coach Killers, Week 15: Max meets Aldon

I think the backup left guard, Trai Essex, had a bad game.  The 49ers played great, especially Larry Grant in his coverage of Heath Miller.  I think most of the passes weren't designed to be long developing, but the receivers just weren't open.  I would disagree with you about shutting down the run, Mendenhall was having some success, but the Steelers seem to prefer to put everything on Ben.  I personally was torn about playing him or not for that game, but after the first quarter I think if was obvious he was too injured to play well.  The first interception was a terrible decision, then the rest of the turnovers were directly due to his injury and inability to play with the correct mechanics.  I think if they played Batch when they were down either 3-0 or 6-0, played more conservatively and didn't turn the ball over again, they would have had a much better chance of winning. 

Since: Feb 22, 2008
Posted on: December 20, 2011 6:50 pm

Coach Killers, Week 15: Max meets Aldon

In the video, Max gave Ben 4 seconds before Smith got to Ben, which is pretty good.  On the other two, Smith stunted inside, which means the guard or center has to pick him up.

I noticed that too.  The first one Starks get beat, but he gave Ben enough time to make a quick throw.  And the other two were stunts.  That the Niners were able to abuse Ben is not a sign of any particularly poor effort by any one lineman.  Ben holds the ball a long tim anyway, and on a bum ankle he can't escape at all.  Much of the blame has to go onto the Pittsburgh coaches for continuing to call long-developing pass plays against an aggressive defense with the gimped QB.  Once the Niners shut down the run, there was nothing to keep them honest against those home run attempts the Steelers kept on going for.  In the end, that led to a few picks, 3 sacks, and a lot of hits on Roethlisberger.

Since: Sep 16, 2007
Posted on: December 20, 2011 6:45 pm

Coach Killers, Week 15: Max meets Aldon

Who's more of a tool... Santonio Holmes or the Head Coach that enables the nonsense? (maybe it's a tie)

Since: May 22, 2007
Posted on: December 20, 2011 6:29 pm

Coach Killers, Week 15: Max meets Aldon

When Santonio Holmes was with the Steelers, he was an idiot...the alleged marijuana incident. And now with the Jets, having a big contract sure hasn't done much to his head except make it bigger...So, his idiotic play aganst the Eagles is certinaly not unexpected.

Since: Jul 8, 2011
Posted on: December 20, 2011 5:05 pm

Coach Killers, Week 15: Max meets Aldon

santonio holmes is a classless he's right where he belongs with the rest of em

Since: Dec 13, 2011
Posted on: December 20, 2011 4:58 pm

Coach Killers, Week 15: Max meets Aldon

I agree, although it is worth agreeing that Smith is obviously a great pass rusher on the up and coming. Ben is notorious for taking extra time - a bad combination for any offensive lineman, even against mediocore pass rushers (the play the week before when Ben's ankle got crushed was painful to watch EVEN before he got hit - took waaaaaaay too long to throw the ball).

Since: Aug 12, 2007
Posted on: December 20, 2011 4:26 pm

Coach Killers, Week 15: Max meets Aldon

These writers never know who to blame for missed assignments.  In the video, Max gave Ben 4 seconds before Smith got to Ben, which is pretty good.  On the other two, Smith stunted inside, which means the guard or center has to pick him up.  On those three examples, Max played great on two, and good on one.  I noticed when I watched the game live that Smith gave Starks a rough time on two or three plays, but that is what great pass rushers do- you can't expect them to not get near the QB once out of 45 pass attempts.

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