Sorry I’ve been MIA the past few days but with the Pittsburgh Steelers on a well-deserved bye, I figured I deserved a brief break myself. Besides, I’ve been busy packing for my Turkey Day trip. I’m headed down to Tampa to spend the holiday with my parents, who retired there a few years ago. Guess they didn’t get the memo that Arizona is considered Pittsburgh West.
I leave this evening and will be gone until next Tuesday. Know Thy Enemy will be up on Friday and I’ll make every effort to get a game recap up on Monday. My dad has DirectTV to watch the Black and Gold – what, did you expect him to watch the Bucs? – but I’m hoping to find a nice Stiller Bar to watch the game. If anybody reading knows of one, drop some knowledge down in the comments. In the meantime, unless the Steelers do something earth-shaking like sign Ray Rice to back-up Le’Veon Bell, updates will be sparse between now and next week.
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In the aftermath of Sunday’s epic curb-stomping of the Colts, I was looking over my feed for any stories concerning the Pittsburgh Steelers. One immediately jumped out at me. It was titled, “Steelers LBs Smash Weight Room After Big Victory” and I won’t lie, my first thought was “Uh oh, they demolished the training facility celebrating after the game?” Those kind of things leap to mind when you follow a team with a habit of launching into obnoxiously long choreographed dance routines after every halfway decent play.
No, the Steelers didn’t party by causing mass destruction to team facilities. The story was about James Harrison and Jason Worilds, who evidently came in bright and early Monday morning to get in a light workout by deadlifting 450 pound barbells. I’ve kind of scoffed at the idea of “veteran leadership” – to me, being able to play is much more important than being vocal in the locker room – but I’m coming around that one of the Steelers problems in recent years was the loss of so many established leaders.
I don’t know Jason Worilds but I do know nobody works as hard or has as much heart as Deebo. And I can’t help but think some of the linebackers recent uptick in play directly coincides with #92 being back in Black and Gold.
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Welcome to the first “Know Thy Enemy” of the 2014 NFL season. Accept no substitutes! In previous years – going all the way back to my days running Nice Pick, Cowher – I used these posts to write an obnoxiously long insanely detailed breakdown of the upcoming game. It was a chore for me to write and (I suspect) a chore for most of you to read through.
So this year, I’m going to change things up a bit. Instead of an intro and then analyzing their offense vs our defense then our offense vs their defense, I’m just going to write some general thoughts/observations/expectations about us and our opponent. Hopefully, I’ll still get all the pertinent info across, just in more tidy format. This way it’ll be more fun for me to write and much easier for you to slog through.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers first opponent of 2014: the Cleveland Browns.
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Steeler Nation has lost their Emperor.
Chuck Noll passed away last night at age 82. Coach Noll was head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers for 23 years, winning four Super Bowls over that span – a feat which remains unequaled by any other coach in NFL history. Inducted into the Hall of Fame back in 1993, he was one of the chief architects of one the greatest turnarounds in sports history, taking the Steelers from perennial losers to being the most dominant dynasty of the modern era. More than just a football coach, Chuck Noll was revered as a teacher. A cultured man – he once guest conduced the Pittsburgh Symphony – Coach Noll has been credited by scores of former players for shaping them both as football players and as men.
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Back in 2008, the Pittsburgh Steelers faced the toughest schedule in NFL history. Fans hoped they’d be able to keep their heads above water long enough to get into the playoffs. Instead, they successfully ran the gauntlet, finishing the season 12-4 and winning their sixth Super Bowl title. When reflecting back on 2008, the never-ending slate of tough competition actually helped the team adjust to playing at a high level on a weekly basis, or, as Mike Tomlin put it in one of his less silly catchphrases, “Steel sharpened steel.”
Maybe lightning will strike twice in 2013.
The NFL released their official schedule last night and to say the schedule makers did the Black and Gold no favors is quite the understatement. I’m not going to look at the opponents and make any judgements on the team’s prospects. Trying to predict the outcome of games six months away from being played is sheer idiocy. Besides, any Steeler fan looking at the schedule and thinking, “Pffftt, we got x wins in the bag” didn’t pay attention last season.
What I mean when I say the schedule is brutal is the way it’s constructed. Four prime time night games are par for the course when you’re the most popular franchise in the NFL. However, scheduling the Super Bowl champion (barf) Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving Night is not. The Steelers have done terrible on Thursdays against lesser competition, playing a key division game on five days rest late in the season is a recipe for disaster.
Their bye week comes in week five. Not the worst but still earlier than you’d prefer for a team traditionally plagued by injuries. The biggest positive is the bye comes the week after the Steelers travel all the way to London to play Minnesota. Still, the team will certainly be racking up the frequent flier miles.
Then we have the second to last game of the year. A marquee match-up with the Green Bay Packers. On paper, it sounds pretty sweet. In reality, it’s a late December road game on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Talk about finding coal in your stocking.
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And never brought to mind?
The more quickly the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns is forgotten the better. I have to confess, I lost interest in this game about ten minutes in and started flipping to Red Zone in order to watch games that actually mattered. Considering nearly 15,000 fans attended yesterday’s season finale at Heinz Field disguised as empty seats, I have to think I’m not alone in my crippling apathy.
Pittsburgh is a football town. I would be insane to deny it. At the same time, Pittsburgh also backs winners. Oh, we still support our Pirates or Penguins when they fail but not nearly with the same fervor or in the same numbers as we do teams that win. The Steelers first meaningless game in six years and 15,000 people opted to skip it. The Rooney family, and by that I mean bungling meddler Art II, better not take this town’s support for granted or we’ll be seeing a lot more Pitt size crowds in the near future.
As I said, I didn’t watch every minute of this titanic confrontation but I’ll give some thoughts on the bits and pieces I did see. The reason my will was broken early on had much to do with a mind-numbing first quarter which saw Todd Haley‘s stunningly inept offense piss around while rookie nobody Thad Lewis drove 70 yards on Dick LeBeau‘s top ranked defense. The Browns’ drive came to a screeching halt thanks to a Troy Polamalu interception.
Well, at least Troy made one play this season.
Speaking of finally making a play, Ziggy Hood finally made an impact himself. Unfortunately, it came in the form of taking out the knee of teammate Brett Keisel, who will undergo an MRI tomorrow due to fears he may have injured his MCL (which may or may not require surgery). On the plus side, with Diesel out, Mike Tomlin was forced to play Cam Heyward. Young guys on defense, what a crazy concept!
The defensive standouts, if you can call them that considering they were playing against a guy who has been cut from three different teams’ practice squads, were Lawrence Timmons and Cortez Allen. Timmons put the cherry on top of his break out season with two sacks and a fumble recovery. It only took 5 years but LT is finally playing like a mid first round draft pick. So I guess we should expect next year’s first to finally make an impact some time around 2018.
Meanwhile, Allen continues to make me look like a genius for tabbing him as a future starter – and a high-level one at that – in the secondary. Last week he caused three turnovers (2 INTs and forced fumble), this week he added another two FFs, one of which he recovered himself. Five turnovers in two weeks. That’s nearly more than the rest of the defense combined. Keenan Lewis played well this year but I don’t see how they can possibly limit Allen to a nickel role next year.
Lewis, by the way, is going to be a free agent at season’s end. The balky knee which limited him the past month acted up so if this was his last appearance in the Black and Gold it was a brief one. I imagine the team will try to keep him although they’d be foolish to overpay for a guy destined to be a #3 corner. Lewis’s probable exit will likely be part of a roster purge that made last year’s Veteran Armageddon look tame by comparison.
Casey Hampton was replaced for almost the entire second half by Steve McClendon. McClendon even got some good pressure on young Thaddeus begging the question why he sat on the bench for 16 weeks while all the old immobile guys stood around like their feet were stuck in mud. Even though the team doesn’t have a legit heir apparent at NT, it seems certain we’ll go into next year with McClendon and (provided he doesn’t kill anybody over the summer) Alameda Ta’amu.
The linebacking corps will also be undergoing a bit of an overhaul. Reports on NFL.com are that yesterday’s game was James Harrison‘s swan song in Pittsburgh. If so, Deebo made sure to get one final late hit cheap shot in for old time’s sake. Guess he’ll have to sit out his first regular season game as a Dolphin due to suspension. Ironically, that hit came on the very play where Thad Lewis threw his first (and only) career TD pass. While it looks like Jason Worilds will step in opposite the chronically injured LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers will have to use the draft or *gasp* free agency to find another ILB to pair with Timmons when they part ways with veteran Larry Foote.
Ben Roethlisberger – making sure to clutch his ribs in crippling agony after every throw so we knew the Big Drama Queen was TOUGH~! – played to the bitter end. Ben, who threw for only 134 yards but 3 TDs, managed to put together a couple nice drives in the fourth quarter, including his 23rd and final TD pass of the season to Plaxico Burress. Eight years, three Super Bowl championships and a prison stint later, the season ends with Big Ben to Plax for a TD. Fitting.
The only drawback to yesterday’s win (besides Keisel and Kelvin Beachum getting hurt. Since when did playing Right Tackle for the Steelers become the equivalent of wearing a red shirt on the USS Enterprise?) was the victory dropped the Steelers all the way to the 17th overall pick in the 2013 draft. That’s still plenty high to get a quality player, one who may be counted on to contribute a lot faster than rookies have in recent years. Whoever they take, this is going to be among the most important off-seasons in Steelers history.
Will Art II admit the Todd Haley experiment has been an utter failure? Or will Boss Todd be given another year to electrify us with his vast array of bubble screens and end arounds? Who will replace the aforementioned losses on defense? Likewise, what will the team do with Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace? Assuming both are gone, do they stick with what they got or introduce some fresh faces to the mix? Remember, every back except Chris Rainey is a free agent along with Manny Sanders. And for the love of pete, will they please fire special teams bungler Amos Jones? He’s so bad, the name “Bobby April” was actually trending locally when the team failed yet again to correctly defend a fake punt.
On a personal note, I want to thank my readers for allowing me to vent this season. It’s been a maddening year but being able to express my frustrations here certainly does my blood pressure a world of good. Even though you guys seldom comment, I appreciate all of you reading, from the old timers who’ve been with me since NPC to the newbies who stumbled upon this blog this season. I’ll still be updating whenever Steeler news dictates (and as I’ve said, we should be making a lot of moves this off-season) although not on a regular schedule. I hope you check in from time to time.
Thanks for reading. Hope you all enjoy a very happy New Year. And Let’s Go Steelers in 2013!
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No, I’m not referring to this blog and my sad posting schedule as of late. I apologize for the irregular updates but it’s summer here in the ‘Burgh so between various outdoor activities and taking advantage of the Pittsburgh Pirates season tickets my family shares (before their inevitable collapse in mid-August), I haven’t found much time for blogging. Not that there’s much NFL news to write about anyway. This is the part of the off-season where unless your team has some serious run-ins with Johnny Law, there simply isn’t much of note going on.
I’ve seen where other Steelers blogs have gotten a week’s worth of posts out of Kordell Stewart‘s retirement. Think about that for a second. I love Slash but the entire sum of his Steeler career was two great seasons and two good ones. If going through that with a fine-tooth comb doesn’t reek of desperation, I don’t know what does.
Another story getting a lot of play on the Black and Gold blogosphere is the mysterious case of the Steelers banner thieves. For those who have no heard, a member of Steeler Nation residing in Washington, DC wrote to a local blog detailing the repeated disappearance of Steeler banners she hangs outside her house. This story would be funny enough had it ended there but she also included surveillance camera footage of hoodlums pilfering her banners. That’s what launched this story from funny tidbit to an internet sensation.
I don’t know how many of my readers are from our nation’s capital but I have an aunt who’s lived there for several decades now. One thing you need to know about Washington, DC is it’s filled with perverts and crooks. Besides politicians, they also have a lot crime. My aunt has had more than her share of run-ins with purse snatchers and limp-dicked men in raincoats.
In addition to being home to more thugs and criminals than the Cincinnati Bengals, DC is also football mad. You wouldn’t know it from the way Steeler Nation famously took over FedEx Field a few years back but trust me, they are. Any slight improvement, any brief glimmer of competence from their beloved Redskins and the town goes into a full-on frenzy. So when you add a penchant for thievery to rampant homerism, it’s not surprising that poor Libby Kavoulakis (is that a Yinzer name or what?) fell victim to her Steeler Pride.
The best part of the story for me was that the thief actually called Libby and tried to arrange a meeting. I’ve heard of people kidnapping pets and a particularly vengeful ex of mine once tried to extort me over my prize comic collection but holding Steeler banners hostage is definitely a first. Even more incredibly, Libby went to a Whole Foods (of course) to try and negotiate her banners safe return. If we nominated people for Steeler Nation Fan of the Year, this lady would definitely be an early favorite.
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The mood in Pittsburgh is not good. How seriously do we take our Steelers football? The day after each of our two Super Bowl losses, a figurative dark cloud hangs over the city. I currently live in the ‘burbs but I was still going to CMU when
Neil O’Donnell threw we lost Super Bowl XXX. Taking a bus through town from my off-campus apartment, I had never seen more somber expressions in my life. It was positively funereal.
Now that we’ve had a few days to digest what has to be the most devastating non-Super Bowl loss in Black and Gold history, it’s time to focus on the off-season. Before closing the book on the 2011 campaign, though, here are a few quick tidbits that surfaced over the past couple days.
— Pittsburgh’s esteemed Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, made good on his bet with the mayor of Denver by Tebowing for the local news media. Everybody knows the Boy Wonder is a diehard fan so I’m not surprised he made a city-to-city bet on a Wild Card game. I am a bit surprised by the stakes. What if the Steelers had won? Would Denver’s mayor have to break his foot, then do body shots with a skanky coed?
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The good news is my computer finally seems to be up and running so I shouldn’t be MIA again this season. The bad news (well, it’s good for me) is I booked a last minute flight to Tampa so I could spend Turkey Day with my parents. Oh, I could stay here in Pittsburgh but between me and the couple thousand of you who read this blog faithfully every day, my aunt is a really lousy cook. A few Thanksgivings ago, she actually cooked the turkey with the giblets still inside.
Anyway, since I have to pack quickly so I can hurry up and wait (and wait and wait) in what promises to be an epic line at the airport, today’s update will have to be a quickie. Without further ado, here are ten Pittsburgh Steelers related-reasons I’m thankful this Thanksgiving.
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Hey Guys –
No, I haven’t been canned by yet another webmaster (not yet, anyway). Nor was I out in Las Vegas serving as my best friend’s groomsman only to wake up with Mike Tyson’s pet tiger in the bathroom and our buddy, the groom, gone without a trace. Hey, that sounds like it’d make a pretty good movie. What happened is my computer decided to have a thermonuclear meltdown on Sunday and I’ve spent the better part of the last 48 hours alternately swearing at whomever is nearby and getting absolutely no help from the same Indian dude who refuses to send Lou Holtz his brand new MasterCard.
Fear not, I believe I’ve gotten the problems straightened out. I just wanted to let everyone know I’m still out here in cyberspace and I will be posting again soon. Hopefully later today, our evil computer overlords willing.
Thanks for your patience and sorry for the delay. Hey, at least it happened during the Steelers bye week. What would all you out-of-staters do without my breathtaking blow-by-blow recaps? Why, you’d be forced to venture over to the Four Letter or some other “real” news site. The horrors!