I went a good month between updates due to literally nothing happening with the Pittsburgh Steelers. All of a sudden a new story pops up almost every single day. With the other sports teams in this town down in the dumps, I’m not exactly complaining about the welcome distraction. The timing is kind of strange, though.
The big story making the rounds yesterday was franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger getting a head start on his yearly injury drama by undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Head coach/degenerate liar Mike Tomlin assured the press that the surgery was a minor procedure to clear out loose cartilage that was causing Big Ben discomfort during OTAs. Ben had the same operation on his left knee during the 2005 season and while he only missed one game that was eight years and about four hundred sacks ago.
Perhaps a better comparison would be James Harrison, who put off having the same surgery when he arrived at training camp last season only to go under the knife a week before the start of the season. He wound up sidelined until week four. By getting surgery out of the way early, Ben should be healed up in time to be behind center for his customary handful of snaps in the pre-season games. It still does nothing to assuage my concerns about his rapidly deteriorating body.
Roethlisberger’s bum knee is a remnant from the pounding he endured last season. There is no truth to the rumor that he got clubbed on the leg by Pittsburgh born rapper Wiz Khalifa as part of the escalating war between Pittsburgh’s beloved football team and its burgeoning rap scene.
That story was started when a second arrest was made in Saturday’s stabbing of offensive lineman Mike Adams. It turns out thug #2 was Quay Meanz, an aspiring rapper and budding protege of Wiz. In a strange bit of irony, Quay appears in the video for Wiz’s popular hit “Black and Yellow” which has sort of become the team’s unofficial theme song (or official theme song, if you go by Pepsi’s commercials). While Wiz’s spokesman declined comment, let’s be real here. In any other profession, a stabbing would be the end of your career. For a rapper, it only makes him that much more legitimate. If anything, this is probably seen as a positive career move for Meanz.
For Adams, though, not so much. He was released from the hospital although, much like Ben, he won’t be likely to practice until training camp rolls around in August. The Steelers will need both in tip top playing shape if they want to avoid another disastrous campaign.
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The NFL Playoffs will begin two weeks from now. The Pittsburgh Steelers will not be playing in them. Yes, the unthinkable has happened. With a miserable 13-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers are officially eliminated from post-season contention.
As they say, you reap what you sow.
I’m a Steeler fan. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t bleed Black and Gold. However, I can’t really get too worked up over the fact we aren’t going to the playoffs. When you lose four games to four of the worst teams in the league, you don’t really deserve to be in the playoffs.
I will be interested in hearing sports talk radio tomorrow to see how the Ben Roethlisberger fans spin this loss in a way which exonerates their man. For the second time in two weeks, Little Ben had the ball in his hands with a must-win game on the line. For the second time in two weeks, he made an idiotic decision which led to an interception. And for the second time in two weeks, that interception cost the Steelers the game.
Maybe he can blame Todd Haley for not calling enough no-huddle again.
There has been this absolutely ridiculous meme going around that says the Steelers defense isn’t really that good and that the team has to start leaning on the offense to win games. I call bullshit on that. When the story of the 2012 season is written, the record will show the Steelers finished with the #1 ranked defense. Yes, they don’t generate a ton of splash plays but they perform more than well enough for the team to win.
If only this team had an offense worth a damn.
Yesterday, the Steelers had splash plays. Three of them, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. The inept Pittsburgh offense generated a grand total of ZERO points off those turnovers. Meanwhile, Cincy had two interceptions of their own. The first was a pick-six off a terrible throw by Ben (their only TD of the game) and the second was a head-slappingly dumb decision by Ben with less than 30 seconds left in the game. That second pick resulted in the Bengals kicking the game-winning FG with only seconds left to spare.
Todd Haley was brought in to improve the Steelers offense. The offense has been nothing less than terrible this season with yesterday’s performance perhaps the worst of the season. Nothing was working. The running game was anemic with only a couple nice carries from Rashard Mendenhall keeping the day from being a total failure. The passing game never got on track. Mike “LarryFitz Money” Wallace caught one pass. ONE PASS.
When Heath Miller left the game with what preliminary reports is a torn ACL (ugh), the only consistently dependable facet of the offense left right along with him.
The Bengals came in leading the NFL in sacks. They added another four to that total as the guard tandem of David DeCastro and Ramon Foster were human traffic cones. It’d be unfair to totally blame the line, however, as when they did provide decent pass protection Ben would hold the ball for far too long. For the first time in years, Ben looked confused and gun shy, like he was playing his first game in a new offense, not running a system he’s practiced for almost 10 months now. I don’t know if he’s seriously hurt or if the Bengals’ defense is just that good but this was the worst game Ben has played in years.
Which is fitting because this is the worst season he’s had in years. I like that Ben apologists (*cough* Mark Madden *cough*) point to the Steelers’ D and call it a “stats defense” but don’t apply the same standards to Ben. His final numbers will not look all that bad when the season is over but anybody watching objectively has to agree that Ben regressed this year. He hasn’t made the plays when they needed to be made. A $150 million quarterback has to make plays.
Yesterday’s game was kind of a microcosm of the Steelers season. Ben made a dumb mistake leading to a pick-six. The Steelers put together a nice drive down to the Bengals 15 but couldn’t finish it off. Then the special teams (coached by Mike Tomlin‘s buddy after Tomlin fired a perfectly capable special teams coach because he didn’t like him) botched a snap which led to Shaun Suisham shanking a 24 yard FG.
Over the next 2+ quarters, the defense came away with three turnovers and made stop after stop only to watch the bumbling offense do absolutely nothing. The first turnover, a nice INT by Cortez Allen (who, along with Keenan Lewis, played a very strong game) set the Steelers up on the Cincy 32. They couldn’t even get a FG out of that thanks to Ben taking yet another “I think I’ll hold the ball forever” sack. After a defensive struggle left the game tied with two minutes left, Marvin Lewis went for an insane 64 yard FG which naturally fell short. Starting at mid-field, Ben couldn’t manage the Tomczakian feat of leading the team into reasonable FG range (Suisham’s 53 yarder also fell short). When the D came up with one last stop, Ben put the finishing touches on this shit sandwich and the team’s season with a final ill-timed turnovers in a season full of them.
So much for Little Ben’s rep as “the best clutch QB in football.”
And so much for the Steelers season. This team is going to have a lot of work to do over the off-season. Unlike the “Super Bowl Hangover” year, there are no easy excuses for the swoon. Injuries certainly played a part. However, the team had plenty of talent on the field and yet still couldn’t win games they should have won never mind winning the games they had to win. In the end, the coaches from Mike “the Fraud” Tomlin and Todd “SooperGenius” Haley too often didn’t have this team ready to play and too often the players didn’t play up to the level we expected.
Steeler Nation has received a lump of coal in their stocking this year. I’ll be around to wrap up this fiasco of a season but I probably won’t post much until next week. In the meantime, I hope all my loyal readers have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Bah Humbug.
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The ongoing soap opera that is the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers took yet another turn yesterday. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters that he apologized to Mike Tomlin, the Rooneys, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley for seemingly throwing Haley under the bus following the team’s disappointing loss to Dallas. “I came in (Monday), and I apologized to Todd, I apologized to Mike (Tomlin), and I apologized to Mr. (Dan) Rooney because I let my frustrations jump out after a game,” Ben told a group of reporters.
Why was Ben apologizing? I mean, sure, he came across as a whiner for bitching about play calling when his poor execution of said plays was the primary problem but it’s still strange he felt the need for mea culpas. Rashard Mendenhall didn’t apologize to anybody even though he was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team.” I suppose creating this semi-controversy on the heels of the most pivotal game of the season wasn’t the best example of leadership from our starting quarterback. At the same time, are Tomlin and Haley so thin-skinned that they can’t stem even the slightest bit of criticism?
What is even odder is he apologized to the Rooneys, specifically Dan Rooney. I’ve heard plenty of players apologize to the Rooney family although it’s almost always following an arrest or some sort legal entanglement. This is the first time I can recall a player apologizing to them for some sort of on-field controversy. It’s also some what interesting that he specifically mentioned Dan, who is reportedly stepping down from his Ambassodorship and coming back to take a more active role with the team. Where this leaves the team president, his meddlesome son Art II, remains to be seen.
As for his relationship with Haley, Ben went on to say of course they don’t always see eye-to-eye. “I‘m sure it‘s that way with every position player and their coach. That doesn‘t mean anything.” Which is exactly what I said yesterday.
It still doesn’t change the fact this bizarre season keeps getting weirder. And it all started when the Steelers experienced a shocking loss to the Denver Broncos followed by the
retirement dismissal of Bruce Arians which led to the hiring of Todd Haley. Hopefully when we close out the year, it won’t be on the heels of another heartbreaking loss and more coordinator controversy.
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Well, at least that makes things a lot simpler…
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost their second straight, fourth of the last five, with a soul-crushing 27-24 loss in overtime to the Dallas Cowboys. I feel kinda dumb even talking about the playoffs considering the way this team is playing, they’re just going to be one-and-done anyway but the loss does clarify things quite a bit. The margin for error is now officially zero. The Steelers must win their last two games against the Bengals and Browns. If they lose either game, they’re out.
Yesterday’s loss was yet another miserable performance aided and abetted by the Black and Gold’s annoying habit of shooting themselves in the foot. When it’s not turnovers, it’s penalties. When it’s not penalties, it’s stupid mistakes. Worse yet, every week brings us a new goat.
This week’s wearer of the horns is Antonio Brown. AB had what may have been the worst game by a wide receiver since the glory days of Limas Sweed. Steeler Nation has been brutal towards Mike Wallace, with good reason. However, they really need to start looking at the other members of Young Money, a group of arrogant little pricks who are fast revealing the fact their actual skills aren’t nearly as high as their opinions of themselves.
AB got paid this off-season, mostly because Wallace turned down a reasonable contract due to delusions of grandeur. Brown has definitely been the team’s best WR this season but that didn’t stop him from almost single-handedly costing us the game yesterday. With the Steelers up 7 and about 8 minutes left in the game, the defense forced a punt. AB reversed field and broke off a huge return which would’ve set the Steelers up at mid-field except he forgot one thing: how to secure the football. A Dallas player who wasn’t even in position to make a tackle reached out and grabbed Brown’s arm like one might stop a passerby at the supermarket to ask where they keep the peanut oil and that jarring impact knocked the ball loose.
A field goal at that point probably locks up the game. Instead, Dallas got the ball right back and scored the game-tying TD. But Brown wasn’t done. With less than two minutes left, the Steelers D again forced a punt. Dallas kicked from their own 20 so even with a good punt you’d expect the Steelers to get the ball somewhere around the 35-40 yard line leaving them in decent position to drive for a late game-winning FG. Instead, Brown, bonehead that he is, let the ball bounce and roll all the way to the 20 for a whopping 59 yard punt.
What was he doing? Did he not know what do? Or was that the doing of Amos Jones, Mike Tomlin’s handpicked – and stunningly inept – special teams coach?
Brown did end up leading the team with 8 catches, including a nice lunging TD which put the Steelers ahead for the first time all afternoon. Mike Wallace had a typical Mike Wallace game, only catching 4 of the 10 passes thrown his way (although to be fair only two of those were CLANGS) but one of the four was a deep bomb (pretty much the only route he’s good at running) that went for 60 yards. Manny Sanders came in for one play, caught a deep pass over the middle and shades of the Baltimore game, fumbled it away. The refs bailed him out by claiming he didn’t “complete the catch” but whatever, that’s the last we saw of him and it’s the last I hope to see of him until he LEARNS TO CATCH THE FREAKIN’ BALL.
And don’t give me any bullshit about “his shoulder is hurt so he can’t secure the football.” Dez Bryant played the entire game with a broken finger. He missed some catches because of the finger but he sure as hell didn’t fumble the ones he did make either. Sanders is putz, just like the rest of
Young Money Cash Droppahs. But make sure you get up and pose and thump your chest when you do make a catch, guys.
What I wouldn’t give to have Hines Ward back. I don’t even care if he can’t get open. At least Hines didn’t act like a big shot and then go out on the field and accomplish nothing.
Speaking of guys we want back, while Bruce Arians is in discussion for Coach of the Year (yes, really), we’re stuck with Todd Haley and his anemic offense. Ben Roethlisberger continues to be a big baby about it, complaining to reporters after the game that the team didn’t run enough no-huddle (where he gets to call plays). Of course, the team did run no-huddle once, in overtime, two plays into which Ben threw a terrible pass behind Wallace and was picked to basically end the game.
Along with the realization that Young Money isn’t worth ten cents on a dollar, it may be time we start re-evaluating the whole “Big Ben is the best clutch QB in football!” meme. Once again, Ben was handed the ball with the game on the line and once again he failed. Not once, but twice. Despite AB’s boner, the team completed a couple passes with time winding down in regulation to get near mid-field. Then Ben took two consecutive sacks to force a punt. One of the sacks was on David DeCastro, who blocked the wrong man because the coaching on this team also sucks. However, at some point Ben has to learn to get rid of the ball.
Yes, the scrambling TD to Heath Miller was one of the most awesome plays you’ll ever see. Yes, Ben is a great QB and definitely the team’s best offensive player. So what? For years we’ve argued that stats aren’t the be-all, end-all, it’s the Ws that count. Ben isn’t pulling out these close games anymore, he’s actually gift-wrapping them to the opponent. That has to stop.
There was a lot more wrong yesterday I don’t really feel like belaboring. Once again, the running game was a non-factor. I don’t like Rashard Mendenhall but Jonathan Dwyer isn’t looking like the answer. The defense wasn’t good, giving up a whopping 415 total yards, although they practically defined bend-but-don’t-break. One long Dallas drive ended in a FG, another ended on a fumble caused by James Harrison. They still don’t generate enough splash plays but only an insane Ben apologist like Mark Madden would seriously argue the defense cost us this game.
Nope, that dubious honor would fall to the $100 million quarterback and $50 million dollar wide receiver. Let’s hope they get their act together in time for this weekend’s pivotal match-up with Cincinnati. If they do, well, I’m sure another goat will emerge anyway. It’s just that kind of year.
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I’ve been a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers for a very long time. I’m not going to claim I haven’t missed a game in 35 years or anything like that (I was a teenager once and the Steelers did start Bubby Brister). However, since I started following them in the late 80s, I can honestly count on one hand the number of times I’ve turned off a game before the clock hit zero. Well, much like the Steelers, now I have one for the thumb.
Yesterday’s 34-24 loss to the San Diego Chargers was the worst kind of drubbing. It was one of those games where literally nothing went right and your team was never in the game. The Steelers pathetic offense didn’t cross mid-field until there were 30 seconds left in the first half. At the start of the 4th quarter, the Chargers had possessed the ball for roughly 30 of the first 45 minutes. This was as thorough an ass-whupping as the Steelers have had in a long time.
Except instead of coming at the hands of an elite franchise like Baltimore or New England, it was handed to them by a going nowhere 4-8 team about to fire their head coach at season’s end.
Unlike in those other embarrassments, Ben Roethlisberger was the least of the culprits in yesterday’s debacle. Ben actually looked pretty good coming off a three game layoff due to catastrophic injury. He moved around well, scrambled without fear and didn’t look rusty or limited at all. It’s only too bad the rest of the team decided to offer him less support than they offered Charlie Batch in Cleveland.
Young Money should change their name to Cash Droppahs. Once again, they dropped an obnoxious number of passes, several of which would’ve went for big gains in the first half when the game was still within reach. Mike Wallace put up a nice fantasy game with garbage time stats (7 catches 112 yards 2 TDS) but in reality he came up small when the catches counted. He was wide open on at least three occasions in the first half only for the ball to CLANG off his stone hands.
But perhaps the biggest goat was Antonio Brown. Ben made a nifty move to scramble away from danger and launched a perfect throw 30 or so yards down field which hit AB right in the chest before bouncing harmlessly to the turf. As if that drop wasn’t bad enough, AB later gift-wrapped 7 points to the Chargers when a bubble screen hit TE David Paulsen and bounced into the end zone. Brown tried to pick it up which was stupid because he was 5 yards deep and about to be swarmed. Being tackled in the end zone is the same as kicking the ball out of the end zone (a safety) so the result would’ve been the same except by trying to be a hero, he let the ball get away from him and 2 points became 7. What a maroon.
For awhile now Steeler fans (myself included) have sang the praises of the Steelers receiving corps. All receivers drop passes now and then but at what point do we start wondering if maybe we’ve overrated them a bit? Wallace is definitely an one trick ass clown with delusions of grandeur (LarryFitz money my ass…) but what’s going on with AB and Manny Sanders? And why do the Steelers bother signing guys like Plax and the Cotch Rocket if they aren’t going to play them?
Of course, I’ve long said the passing game needs a good running attack to complement it in order to be effective. The Steelers couldn’t run at all yesterday. Jonathan Dwyer finished with 8 carries (EIGHT!) for 32 yards. He narrowly led the team in rushing over Ben who ended up scrambling for 31 yards because he was constantly running for his life. The offensive line allowed only 2 sacks but Ben’s 5 scrambles were due to pressure and there were another half dozen times he got away long enough to throw the ball away. Willie Colon tried to tough it out but had to leave early on with Maurkice Pouncey shifting to LG and Doug Legursky coming in at center.
This will come as shocking news but Colon is injured and reports are he’s LOST FOR THE SEASON. Yes, I know that the guy who is always injured and never plays a full season yet got a big fat contract anyway being injured is totally unexpected but there you go. We’ll talk about where this leaves the O-line and running game going forward later.
All this misery and I haven’t even gotten to the defense yet. I don’t want to hear Steeler fans bitch about Ike Taylor ever EEEEVVVER again. The D loses Troy and still leads the league in pass defense. The D loses James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and still leads the league in total D. The D loses Ike and goes to complete shit.
The way Curtis Brown played yesterday almost defies description. It literally looked like they took a guy out of the stands an hour before game time and put him in the starting line-up. That’s how clueless Brown looked. This is the guy’s second full year with the Steelers and he didn’t appear to have any idea where he was supposed to be or who he was supposed to be covering. It got so bad that in the second half they actually inserted Josh Victorian, a guy fresh off the practice squad, as the nickel because Brown was such a liability.
When the Chargers scored early in the 4th to go up 34-10, I figured it might be good to take out Ben since the game was lost. Mike Tomlin kept him in, risking both injury and the season in a lost effort. Ben led a TD drive but instead of going for 2 (and possibly cutting the lead to two scores instead of three), he kicked the XP. Why? “I didn’t want to reveal my secret 2 point plays,” Tomlin later said in a lie so hilarious, only the rah rah cheerleader Pittsburgh media could swallow it.
If you’re not trying to win, WHY WAS BEN PLAYING? I can believe you have some 2 point trick plays but, I dunno, you couldn’t just run a regular goal line play? The truth is Tomlin had given up on the game but he didn’t want to justify keeping Ben in and admit he wasn’t playing to win. I was on Twitter and a minor war broke out amongst Steeler fans as a #fireTomlin hash tag started making the rounds. I’m not saying Tomlin should be fired but I’m sick and tired of the Tomlin apologists acting like nothing that happens to this team is his fault. Losing to teams we shouldn’t lose to and putting out performances like this one or the one in Cleveland or a whole bunch back in 2009 are inexcusable. And that falls on the head coach.
The only good news to emerge from Sunday is the Bengals also lost (as did the Ravens but they’ve clinched the division with our loss). Which means the status quo holds over from last week. The Steelers must win out if they want to control their own destiny but one more loss, as long as it isn’t to the Bengals, will still probably get them in the playoffs. PLAYOFFS? (Insert Mora rant here).
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There’s an old saying that timing is everything. That’s especially true when it comes to the NFL. Two stories broke yesterday, both of which will have a direct bearing on this Sunday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers. As usual, only one of which benefits the good guys.
The positive news for the Steelers is that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has practiced without incident and is officially the starter this weekend. Charlie Batch did a
good legendary job in his absence but this team has a very small margin of error going forward. The win at Baltimore doesn’t mean they have to totally win out to make the playoffs although doing so keeps them in the driver’s seat. Realistically, they can still lose one of their last four games and still make the playoffs so long as that loss doesn’t come against Cincy the last week of the season.
The bad news is a story surfaced yesterday that Chargers coach Norv Turner and GM AJ Smith will both be fired at the end of the year. Norv has had nine lives as a head coach, handed a team on the verge of a Super Bowl and doing just barely enough to keep his job every year since. It appears this year’s miserable 4-8 effort is finally the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.
Some of you may be thinking, why is that bad news? Doesn’t imminent firing mean the team stinks? Well, yeah, it does. And while being rid of Norvellus is good news for Chargers fans, it’s bad news for the Steelers because we’ve seen time and time again that teams tend to play their best when everybody counts them out. From all accounts, Norv is well-liked by his players so I can see them extra motivated this week to go out and score a big win for their beleaguered coach. We want to face teams demoralized and ready for winter vacation, not eager to send their man out a winner.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs CHARGERS OFFENSE
What happened to Philip Rivers? The third wheel in the celebrated QB Class of 2004 remains the only one not to have won a Super Bowl. While Ben and Eli have progressed to where they’re undoubtedly franchise QB, Rivers has regressed badly. At this point, Matt Schaub (third rounder) probably has a better chance of winning a Lombardi any time soon.
Last year, Rivers tossed 20 INTs to nearly off-set his 27 TDs. He’s on a similar track this season with a 18-15 split. He’s also fumbled a whopping 11 times although the team lost only 5 of those. Still, these numbers paint a picture of a QB under duress and given to being reckless with the football. I’ve liked Rivers ever since his heroic performance in the AFC Championship Game where he nearly ended the Patriots undefeated season playing with a torn ACL but something has definitely gone awry for him.
Part of it is the lack of talent around him. Years ago, the Chargers had a bunch of weapons on offense. Those weapons have slowly drained away to where TE Antonio Gates remains the last man standing. Star WR Vincent Jackson departed to Tampa while LaDainian Tomlinson succumbed to injury and age long before he became a Jet. Their replacements, Denario Alexander and Ryan Matthews simply aren’t the same caliber. Malcolm Floyd was fine as a #2 WR but that he’s their current #1 says a lot about the dearth of talent. When two of your top four receivers are running backs that’s not a good sign.
It’s good for the Steelers, though, as the banged up secondary will be without Ike Taylor for the first time in a long long time (135 games to be exact). Neither Ryan Clark nor Troy Polamalu have practiced all week so who knows what their status is in the Mao-esque Tomlin regime. Veterans usually are cut slack in regards to mid-week practice with Friday being the deadline for proving you’re ready for Sunday.
Hopefully they’ll both be okay since the young corners will need all the veteran leadership they can get. Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen will start with Curtis Brown playing the nickel. This was the line-up Kevin Colbert hoped for when he drafted all three in the middle rounds of recent drafts. I guess we’ll finally get a chance to see if they can play. Allen was picked on mercilessly against Baltimore, steadily getting better as the game went along. Hopefully that carries over to this week.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs CHARGERS DEFENSE
Ben picked a good week to return as San Diego seems to be okay against the run and lousy against the pass. They’re not abysmal in either category but neither area is an overwhelming strength. Actually, the Chargers are allowing less than 100 yards per game on the ground which is pretty good for any team. The sledding may be tough for Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, who proved to be a very effective 1-2 punch against Baltimore last week.
It won’t help that the team’s bulldozer in the middle, Willie Colon, continues to struggle with a balky knee. He’s had it drained twice this week (OUCH!) although holds out hope of playing. If Colon returns, Maurkice Pouncey will return to center. If not, the Steelers will probably go back to last week’s formula with Pouncer moving over to LG and Doug Legursky sliding in at center.
Meanwhile, Mike Adams continues to miss time with his foot/ankle issue meaning rookie Kelvin Beachum will probably start his second straight game. You probably noticed Heath Miller not getting many catches during the first half in Baltimore and that’s because the Steelers were worried about Beachum so they kept Heath in to block. They must’ve seen something they liked because in the second half Heath was out catching balls while they left Beachum all by himself one-on-one. Despite the patchwork line, Baltimore only had 2 sacks, both of which came because Charlie held on to the ball way way too long.
Ben should have a full complement of weapons with Antonio Brown working through the ankle injury and Emmanuel Sanders nursing bruised ribs. Mike Wallace also has a sore knee which still doesn’t explain why so many passes clang off his hands. Regardless, if Ben is anywhere near his usual self (and not the Shadow Ben we saw in San Fran last year), he should make some plays. San Diego has some decent pass rushers (23 as a team led by Shaun Phillips with 7) and have come down with 11 INTs but overall have struggled this season.
Last week’s victory over Baltimore was the kind of game that can propel a team toward a big run deep into December. It doesn’t erase the horrible losses to Cleveland, Tennessee or Oakland but it does set alter the momentum of the Steelers’ season. Let’s hope they keep that ball rolling this week.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers FINALLY get some good news on the injury front.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the extent Ben Roethlisberger practiced later in the afternoon would determine whether there was a realistic shot at him returning against San Diego. Well, the tough sumbitch went out and practiced normally meaning he’s on track to return this Sunday. Head coach Mike Tomlin, normally as tight-lipped as the gestapo when it comes to injury updates, later told reporters “I saw him make the necessary throws.” Actually, he said more than that but as usual it was just Tomlin using a bunch of words to say what could be said in five. The bottom line is the concern over whether Ben had regained enough arm strength to run the offense seems moot.
Barring any late week set backs, the Steelers should have their starting quarterback back. In the meantime, ageless warrior Charlie Batch will keep sharp as the team’s primary back-up. Useless Byron Leftwich has been cleared to practice but between evaluating Ben and keeping Chaz ready just in case, there aren’t enough snaps to go around. Which is for the best since every rep Byron gets at practice is just wasted on a guy who’ll be hurt as soon as he bends over to tie his shoelaces anyway. Charlie Batch turns 38 today and he’s still one of the five or six best back-up QBs in the league.
Happy birthday, Chuck.
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Sometimes I really don’t understand football. I suppose I shouldn’t admit that here since for whatever reason people who read blogs automatically assume the writer know as much about football as Chuck Noll. Truthfully, the best any of us can do, from the guys who write for SI or ESPN all the way down to lowly bloggers, is offer our best guess. I sure would like to a fancy title like Senior NFL Insider, though.
Anyway, all week we’ve waited with baited breath for any scrap of information about Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Granted, Ben has a history of making Terminator-like comebacks just when things seem the bleakest so it’s not altogether crazy to hope he has one more in him. And we are playing the Baltimore Ravens in a pivotal game, a game where a loss not only puts a division title out of reach but makes it so the Steelers pretty much have to run the table to make the playoffs.
All that said, what I don’t understand is how anybody can seriously endorse the idea of Ben coming back on Sunday. Does nobody remember last year’s Monday night fiasco in San Francisco? Ben toughed it out that week and continued toughing it out until the team got bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if Ben took an extra week off to rest up. Maybe his foot was just too far gone and he was going to play at 50% no matter what. But at some point you have to put the big picture ahead of the right now.
Would I love to see #7 jog onto the field in Baltimore on Sunday afternoon? Absolutely. Would it be the smart thing for the team? Absolutely not.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs RATBIRDS OFFENSE
The last time these two teams met, Dick LeBeau‘s crew did a fantastic job keeping them off the scoreboard. It’d be foolish to expect the exact same level of dominance this time around. Unfortunately, that’s what we may need to have any realistic shot at winning.
With few exceptions, Joe Flacco has struggled mightily against the Steelers. LeBeau has basically figured out what the rest of the league is slowly catching on to; when you take away Ray Rice and put the game entirely on Flacco’s arm, you have a better than 50-50 shot at pulling out a win. I’m not going to rehash my critique of Flacco (you can read it in my previous Know Thy Enemy) except to say he is what he is. He’s not the worst QB in the league but he’s not the kind of singular talent that can take over a game through sheer talent either. Last week’s 29 yard catch and run by Rice which snatched victory from the jaws of defeat is the perfect encapsulation of the Ravens offense.
Troy Polamalu continues to practice normally as it looks like he’ll definitely be back Sunday. Troy hasn’t been his old self for a couple seasons now but playing the Ravens usually brings out the best in him. If there’s any Steeler who causes Flacco to wake up in a cold sweat, it’s Troy. Throughout the rivalry, Troy has frequently been the one who makes that one game-changing play which spelled the difference between a win and a loss.
It was exactly that kind of game changing play the defense needed to make last time and didn’t. Will they make it now that Troy’s back in the line-up? I like their chances a lot more.
Since the Football Gods can never give without taking away, LaMarr Woodley will be out with a re-aggravation of the leg injury which knocked him out earlier in the season. Jason Worilds has come on this season to where he’s actually the team leader in sacks (5). Other than a momentary flash of his old self, Woodley hasn’t done much of anything this year so playing Worilds is probably a good thing in the scheme of things. James Harrison is starting to look like his old self and the inside duo of Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons have been strong all season. I’m not sure the Steelers D can play better than they did in the first meeting but I definitely wouldn’t be shocked if they did.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs RATBIRDS DEFENSE
Where do I start? How about the good news? Assuming Charlie Batch starts as expected, at least he’ll have a full complement of weapons to toss his wounded ducks at. Antonio Brown has practiced all week and is going to start. Any questions about who the Steelers #1 wide out is have been answered in AB’s absence. Mike Tomlin decided to play some mind games this week by listing Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace as co-starters on the depth chart. For some reason, media types have been on radio all week trying to argue that Steeler fans are being too hard on Wallace for his lack of production. Boo hoo, cry me a river. I don’t care that he held out. What I do care about is that he strutted around like he was one of the best receivers in football and hasn’t played anywhere close to that.
Another Tomlin mandate is that the team will feature Jonathan Dwyer as the primary back with Isaac Redman backing him up. Again, the media has been reacting aghast that he’d demote Rashard Mendenhall to third string despite the fact he’s done absolutely nothing to merit playing time. Mendenhall isn’t a good back. He tip toes too much and doesn’t run aggressively to daylight. His only selling point is this mythical “breakaway speed” people keep mentioning yet I can count on one hand how many long TD runs he’s had during his entire career here. Dwyer has shown that when you give him 15-20 carries he’ll run hard, wear down a defense and give you respectable YPC.
The blocking for Dwyer may be a problem. The team’s most beastly run blocker, Willie Colon, hasn’t practice much this week and is looking doubtful. To the team’s credit, they’ve finally realized Doug Legursky sucks at guard but is perfectly capable at center (probably because you can get away with being a small quick center but not really at guard). So if Colon can’t go, they’ve taken the extreme option of moving Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey to guard and inserting the Big Legursky at his natural position. I haven’t seen Pouncey play guard but if David DeCastro isn’t ready to play (and this radical re-alignment suggest he’s an emergency option at best) this seems to be the best arrangement.
Last game, the Steelers had nothing happening on the ground while Byron Leftwich missed wide open receivers left and right. On the flipside, the Ravens offense did a whole bunch of nothing with the their lone TD coming on a punt return. Let’s say the Steelers D slips a little this time and gives up two whole TDs. Can Charlie realistically put up 17-20 points on the Ratbirds? Off what we saw in Cleveland, the answer would be no. However, this is almost certainly the final start of Charlie Batch’s long career. He’s not going to go out without taking a couple swings. Let’s hope one or two connect.
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Every team loses guys during the long arduous war we call an NFL season. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been hit harder than most. Since week one, they’ve had multiple Pro Bowlers sitting on the sideline pretty much every Sunday. Not trying to make excuses, just saying it is what it is.
The status of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for this weekend’s pivotal showdown with the Baltimore Ravens remains hazy. If you’ve tuned into ESPN any time over the past 24 hours, you probably caught their footage of Big Ben gingerly testing out his throwing arm. What that footage doesn’t explain is that all his work was completed before practice formally began. What they captured was likely nothing more than team trainers attempting to assess his progress. Charlie Batch took all the snaps during practice and barring some crazy last minute switcheroo will start on Sunday.
For the first time in ages, the Steelers got some good news on the injury front. Troy Polamalu participated in a full practice yesterday, the first time he’s done so since being sidelined with a calf injury. Troy did some light run-throughs last week so there were whispers his return was imminent. I don’t think anybody expected him to suddenly go full speed through a formal practice just a week later but that’s the reports coming out of Steelers camp. Barring any set backs, it looks like Troy will be back in the starting line-up.
Assuming this comeback doesn’t end after a handful of snaps like the last one, I’m not sure how much of a difference he’ll make. The Steelers D has played above and beyond the call of duty since Ben’s injury and they’ve still lost thanks to an absolutely pathetic offense. The only thing they haven’t done is force turnovers which is something Troy’s presence certainly helps with. I’m not sure even another INT or two would’ve helped with the 8 turnover fiasco in Cleveland but the first Baltimore game could’ve easily turned with a pick six or even a fumble recovery setting up a short field.
At this point, though, there’s not much point to analyzing who fits in where when healthy. With the amount of talent that has missed time this season, I’m happy to get anybody back.