Can Pittsburgh Break the Jeff Fisher Jinx? Steelers Record vs Jeff Fisher is Pretty Poor…

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has been around the NFL a long time.

When Jeff Fisher got his first head coaching job, the Tennessee Titans were the Houston Oilers, the St. Louis Rams played in Los Angeles alongside the Raiders, Art Model’s Cleveland Browns were still in Cleveland while professional football fans in Baltimore rooted for the CFL’s Stallions.

  • A lot has changed since late November 1994 when Bud Adams fired Jack Pardee and Kevin Gilbride and named Jeff Fisher as head coach of the Houston Oilers.

For the record, by that time the 1994 Steelers had already beaten the Houston Oilers twice. Once in a Monday night blowout where Cody Carlson completed 3 of 7 passes before getting knocked out of the game, and another where Rod Woodson and Gary Anderson did a redux of their forced-fumble, game overtime winning field goal from the 1989 Steelers Astrodome playoff win. So it wasn’t until wasn’t until the 1995 season that Jeff Fisher first faced the Pittsburgh Steelers.

For 16 years Jeff Fisher coached the Houston Oilers, Tennessee Oilers, and Tennessee Titans. That’s a long time to be an NFL coach, and one of the benefits of such a long coaching tenure is that it gives you a deep pool of data to draw conclusions from.

Jeff Fisher’s record in Houston and Tennessee was 141-115 for a winning percentage of .551, and included a heart breaking loss in Super Bowl XXXIV. He also coached against the Steeler 21 times, including the playoffs.

During those same 16 years the Pittsburgh Steelers amassed a 160-95-1 record for a winning percentage of .625. They also won Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII and appeared in Super Bowl XXX and Super Bowl XLV.

  • Despite Pittsburgh’s superior performance over those sixteen years, the Steelers record vs Jeff Fisher is only 9-12.

In other words, the Steelers had a .625 winning percentage against the rest of the NFL, but only managed a measly .428 vs. Jeff Fisher. Interpreted literally, the Steelers were almost 20% worse against Jeff Fisher than the rest of the NFL.

Why is the Pittsburgh Steelers record vs Jeff Fisher so poor?

What’s going on here?

First, let’€s give Jeff Fisher his due. He is a disciple of Buddy Ryan, than man whom Bud Adams brought in to run Buddy Ryan’s defense after Buddy Ryan left to coach the Arizona Cardinals. Ron Erhardt was the Steelers offensive coordinator then, and his troubles vs. Buddy Ryan’€s defenses dated back to their battles in the NFC East during the 1980’€s, when Buddy Ryan’s Eagles routinely gave Bill Parcell’€s Giants fits.

While Chan Gailey, Kevin Gilbride, Mike Mularkey, and Ken Whisenhunt made modifications, Ron Erhardt served as the Steelers offensive base during that time.

  • While that’s an important factor, Pittsburgh’s poor record vs. Jeff Fisher is probably better explained by a Tomlinism.

“Players play, coaches coach.”€ At the end of the day, the best scheme in the world won’€t matter if the players on the field fail to execute it. And during the majority of his tenure in Houston and Tennessee, Jeff Fisher had one player who executed to near perfection: Steve McNair.

As Steel Curtain Rising noted on the day Steve McNair died, McNair’s record against the Steelers was 11-5.

  • To put that into context, the Steelers record in seasons where McNair started against them was .594.

Without McNair, the Jeff Fisher hasn’€t done quite so well against the Steelers. He does however, have another tendency going his way in this Sunday’s match up. The Pittsburgh Steelers are 1-11-1 vs. the Cleveland, Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams on the road.

  • However, the Steelers lone road win against the Rams came during Mike Tomlin’s rookie season in 2007.

It says here that the Steelers match up vs. the Rams will come down to how well the Steelers offensive line can stand up against Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, and Chris Long to give Ben Roethlisberger time to throw and Le’Veon Bell room to run.

But Jeff Fisher is certainly one NFL coach who is no stranger to putting his players in position to succeed against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Steelers Report Card vs. the Rams

My 8th Grade World Stuides teacher Mr. Baker used to have what he called “Gimmies” meaning, I give you the assignment, you do it, and you get an ‘A.’ More often than giving ‘A’s’ Mr. Baker gave us “This was a gimme, and you blew it” brow beatings. The Steelers game the Rams amounted to the NFL’s equivalent of a “Gimmie” and the Steelers took full advantage. Here goes the Steelers Report Card for their Christmas Eve shut out of the Rams; as always no other report cards have been consulted.

Quarterback
Charlie Batch got his first start in well over a year, and did respectably. He evaded pressure, directed three touchdown drives, and hit 7 receivers. His interception was not “his fault,” but then he also had a couple of other near interceptions. While Batch was certainly “above the line” the Steelers 1-7 third down conversion rate brings his grade down. Grade: B

Running Backs
Rashard Mendenhall had a career game. Even if you take out his 52 yard run he still had a respectable 3.7 yard per carry average, and he was fabulous on his 35 yard catch and run. Isaac Redman ran hard on his 8 carries, and John Clay hit pay dirt on his first NFL carry. Grade: A

Wide Receivers
Mike Wallace gave a plesant reminder of why he’s one of the NFL’s most dangerous receivers. Hines Ward had four grabs as did Antiono Brown who also turned what looked to be a broken reverse/pass option play into a nice 8 yard run. Health Miller and David Johnson also got into the act. This group did well, but like Batch, they must bear some responsibility for the poor third down conversion rate. Grade: B

Offensive Line
Raise your hand if you held your breath when Doug Legursky got hurt. In spite of yet another line up change, the offensive line did well, with Jonathan Scott subbing for Marcus Gilbert, and Chris Kemoeatu returning to the starting line up without drawing attention to himself. Through it all, the pass protection remained solid and the run blocking crisp. Grade: A-

Defensive Line
Ziggy Hood had a nice stat sheet, but had difficulty in run support. Brett Kiesel had two defensed passes. Cameron Heyward got playing time on key downs. The unit did well, but their grade must nonetheless reflect Steve Jackson’s 100 yard rushing performance. Grade: B-

Linebackers
James Harrison was a beast, wreaking havoc in the backfield. Lawrence Timmons also made his presence known, while James Farrior and Larry Foote held up well on the inside. Jason Worilds, however was largely invisible during the game and his run support ability must improve. Still, Harrison and Timmons ability to make impact play save this unit from getting a minus attached to its letter. Grade: B

Secondary
St. Louis signal caller Kellen Clemens was 37.5% pass on the day. In addition to shutting down the Ram’s passing attack, Troy Polamalu, William Gay, registered tackles for losses, while also defending passes. Keenan Lewis also had a key pass defense. An excellent outing for the Steelers secondary. Grade: A

Special Teams
Shaun Suisham nailed a 49 yard field goal when the score was only 10-0, and did well on kickoffs. Justin Kapinos boomed the ball off for a 47 yard punting average, and Antonio Brown made good on his lone kick return by bringing the ball back 30 yards. The coverage units were solid. The Steelers didn’t need any fireworks from their special teams, but got quality play all around, including a fake punt which could have given St. Louis the momentum needed to make a game of it. Grade: B+

Coaching
This game went as scripted, and credit for that in large part goes to the coaches. The Steelers were playing without a number of key starters and injuries took their toll during the game, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the score board. St. Louis success at rushing the ball is the lone eye brow raiser here, but all in all Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff did a very good job. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero
Third round picks are supposed to develop into starters in today’s NFL. And the Steelers certainly had that in mind when they picked this young man. Unfortuantely, the said individual, despite multiple shots, has never been able to nail down a starting job. And maybe that’s for the best, because in his fighting to justify a roster spot year in and year out, this gentleman quietly enabled himself to bring another asset to the table – versatility.

Trai Essex will never be a stud offensive lineman in the NFL, but he’s grown into a player who can, has and does step into any of the five offensive line positions at a moment’s notice, and that versatility was on display yet again this past Sunday, and for that Trai Essex is the Unsung Hero for the Steelers victory over the St. Louis Rams.

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Reflections on the Steelers Win Over St. Louis

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a checkered history playing on Christmas Eve.

In 1994, they lost a seemingly meaningless game to a San Diego Chargers team that would inflict one of the worst playoff losses in franchise history just a few weeks later.

In 1995 the Steelers, playing basically their second team, went toe-to-toe vs. the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau and came within a dropped pass of winning.

The Steelers took care of business against the Rams in fine fashion. Be very clear on one point – shutting out another NFL team is not to be taken lightly.

Yes, the Rams have one of the worst offenses in the NFL. But the Steelers did what they were supposed to – dominate the scoreboard.

This group of Pittsburgh Steelers certainly has a couple of games and, specifically one drive, that they would like to have back. They’ve won ugly at times. But they’ve avoided dropping a game to a manifestly inferior team, which is the mark of a winner.

Steve Jackson of course did gain 100 yards, and I’ll point you to Neal Coolong’s analysis of that breakdown over at Behind the Steel Curtain.

But if the lapse in the run defense is nothing to ignore, nor is it worth tying yourself up in knots over – Steve Jackson is a phenomenal rusher who has had the misfortune to be trapped on some mediocre teams.

With an eye towards the playoffs, several postives stood out:

  • James Harrison makes this defense so much better

Yours truly is of course not the first to say this (the forementioned Neal Coolong did just that), but there is no denying it. Harrison was a force as aways, despite getting held, and his presence as much as anything else contributed to forcing St. Louis to lay eggs in its Christmas stockings.

  • Mike Wallace got back to doing what he does.

Earlier in the week Ed Bouchette had chronicled on PG Plus how this season had broken down neatly in two halves for Wallace, one spectacular, the other pedestrian.

Wallace was back to spectacular Saturday vs. St. Louis. He only had 4 catches, but one of those was for 46 yards, and it iced the game.

Doing it against the Rams is one thing and doing it against New England, Oakland, and Baltimore in the post season is another. But if Sunday was a sign of the way Wallace is trending, then the Steelers can go places in the playoffs

  • Rashard Mendenhall ran like a stud.

When Mendenhall is hot, he’s among the top 6 or 7 rushers in the league. When he’s not its difficult to distinguish him from the rest.

Mendenhall simply tore it up on Sunday, both as a rusher and as a receiver, notching gains of both 35 and 52 yards. It was one of Mendenhall’s career performances, and if Mendenhall is similarly motivated in the playoffs, the Steelers will have a shot at the mountain top.

  • Charlie Batch played well

Charlie Batch did a lot of good things against St. Louis. His only interception was not his fault. He managed the game well, and took advantage of the weapons at his disposal. On the negative side, and perhaps this is why the coaches stubbornly kept Ben in vs. San Francisco, the Steelers were woeful on third down.

  • Welcome to the NFL, John Clay

Clay, according to Neal Coolong, looked bad in practice, but tearing 10 yards through the middle of the defense to score a touchdown on your first NFL touch is a good way tos start….

  • Alert – Lawrence Timmons sighting

Lawrence Timmons played well, at least in the pass pressure game, leading the team for in tackles, making two tackles for losses and registering a sack and two more QB hits. Timmons is most certainly one of the players the Steelers need to see more from in the playoffs, adding more zing to the bounce back.

Of course, unless the Steelers can learn to play better on the road, a lesson they must learn very quickly, few will remember any of the stats and trends to come out of the St. Louis game, but you can’t ask for much more than 27-0 victory on Christmas Eve performance.

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Steelers Shut Out Rams 27-0

The Steelers closed out their home games with a resounding win over the St. Louis Rams. Like many, I had to watch the game while doing preparing for Christmas.

What else can we say, good game for the defnese, good game for Charlie Batch, good game for Mike Wallace, good game for Lawrence Timmons.

Steel Curtain Rising will be back in a few days with a complete analysis.

Until then, Merry Christmas everyone!

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