When Jerome Bettis retired after Super Bowl XL, he was immediately snapped up by NBC to be a featured analyst on their flagship Sunday Night Football franchise. The Peacock was so invested in the Bus, they even gave him a bit part in the underrated TV series Chuck in a bid for cross-promotion. Unfortunately, Bettis isn’t an arrogant, self-serving loudmouth like Shannon Sharpe, Keyshawn Johnson, or Rodney Harrison so he quickly found himself unemployed. Because no ex-athlete stays unemployed for long, ESPN recently announced that the Bus was coming aboard the Four Letter to make the occasional appearance on NFL Live and Sportscenter.
The only memorable moment during Bettis’s entire tenure at NBC was revealing that Bill Cowher had also intended to retire following the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ fifth Super Bowl victory. That comment raised a lot of ire amongst the Black and Gold, who like to keep their secrets in-house. Well, looks like the even more secretive Mike Tomlin regime has their very own Edward Snowden to deal with.
Retired quarterback Charlie Batch is working as an analyst on the Steelers’ radio pregame show. And like any good analyst, he decided to reveal state secrets. A couple days ago, Batch revealed that offensive coordinator Todd Haley wouldn’t allow Ben Roethlisberger to call audibles last season.
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Day Two of NFL Free Agency was even more wild than Day One. At some point the NFL really should consider televising these things since it makes for great theater. Just gather all the big name free agents in a room and have them pick the hat of the team they decided to sign with like high school kids making their college commitment. It’d be a lot more interesting than listening to talking heads on the NFL Network or spamming the F5 button while visiting Profootballtalk.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, Day Two saw them lose a pair of starters. To nobody’s chagrin, former first round pick Rashard Mendenhall signed elsewhere, joining head coach Bruce Arians in the deserts of Arizona. Looks like Arizona will continue to act as Pittsburgh West for discarded Steelers despite the departure of Ken Whisenhunt. I wonder if Rashard has a compass so he can be sure to face Mecca during his daily prayers to Allah? Also, it’s kinda ironic that the coach who brought the Flying Circus here to Pittsburgh made his first big free agent acquisition a running back.
The Steelers also cut overpaid fatass Willie Colon. Thus ends one of the most mind-boggling signings in team history. Colon was a 2006 fourth round draft pick out of Hofstra who unseated Max Starks for the starting RT job when Big Max found himself in the dog house following the team’s disappointing post-Super Bowl XL campaign. Colon served on a series of lines that surrendered an insane amount of sacks although he was the starting RT when they won Super Bowl XLIII. Colon was, at best, an average tackle playing a position so easy undrafted rookie Kelvin Beachum handled it fine when pressed into duty last season.
Despite being stunningly mediocre and missing the entire 2010 season due to an off-season injury, the Steelers saw fit to gift Colon a five year $29 million contract the following spring. He repaid their generosity by tearing his triceps in week 1 and sitting out the rest of the 2011 season. The Steelers moved Colon to guard last year and while he proved to be a pretty nasty run blocker he also served as a flag magnet. This time he lasted twelve whole games before blowing out his knee. By cutting Colon, the Steelers lop a whopping $5.5 million dollars off their cap.
Between Colon’s departure and reworking the contract of another lazy fatso, LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers finally have some room under the salary cap. They still have to keep a chunk open for the draft and to sign their RFAs but at least they can now afford to bring in a cheap veteran or two to help fill in some of their numerous holes.
One area they finally addressed is the back-up quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is a tough man but his sandlot style of play and advancing age make it nearly certain that he’ll miss a game or two every season. The past couple seasons the team put their faith in
China Doll Byron Leftwich who has the unfortunate habit of getting injured tying his shoes in pre-game warm-ups. It was absolutely imperative they sign a dependable back-up.
And they’ve finally done so by bringing hometown boy Bruce Gradkowski back to the ‘Burgh. Gradkowski, who grew up in Dormont and played for Seton-LaSalle, signed a three year deal which may finally signal the end for another local product, Charlie Batch. Gradkowski has bounced around the league, playing for five different teams in his seven year career. He’s fluctuated between starter and back-up, starting three games against the Steelers during that time. His most notable career start came against the Steelers as he was the quarterback who engineered the Raiders memorable upset of the defending Super Bowl champs during the Hangover season of 2009. Gradkowski is the ideal back-up, a durable dependable guy who can come in and win a game for you if need be.
He’s also a yinzer which will probably lessen the blow should the Steelers finally decide to part ways with Batch. It’s no secret the Steelers have been trying to rid themselves of Chaz for a couple years now only for those plans to be undone by Leftwich’s brittleness and Dennis Dixon’s abject stupidity. With Gradkowski slotting nicely into a #2 role, the team can either draft a developmental QB or sign a young guy off another team’s practice squad. Although let’s hope all those high draft picks they’ve invested in their offensive line pay some dividends in the form of a nice healthy Big Ben.
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The Baltimore Ravens are Super Bowl Champions. Pardon me while I empty out my vomit bucket.
Okay, where were we? Oh, right. The unthinkable has happened. The Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII. If Steeler Nation thought that team of thugs and loudmouths were insufferable before, we’re never going to hear the end of it now.
To add insult to injury, Joe Flacco was named Super Bowl MVP. For those scoring at home, Tyler Palko’s back-up now has more SB MVPs than Ben Roethlisberger. Oh it was well deserved as Bert played the game of his life. I just hope everybody is prepared when Flacco is ranked equal to or above Ben on those “Best Quarterbacks in the NFL” lists we’re inundated with every season.
Then again, they are basically tied with one championship apiece. Technically, Ben has two but Antwaan Randle El accomplished more with one pass than Ben did during the rest of the Seattle game. And Flacco is only now reaching his prime while Ben’s skills are in decline.
Yesterday’s win capped off perhaps the luckiest run by any team in recent memory. Going into the final month of the season, the Ratbirds were in full free fall when Charlie Batch engineered a win for the ages. People forget that Baltimore backed into clinching their division as with decent quarterbacking and decent coaching, the Steelers could have overtaken them. Baltimore had an easy first round playoff game against the overmatched Colts then should have lost to the Broncos if not for a blown coverage that led to the game tying TD followed by yet another choke job by Pey-Pey in OT. Sure every championship run requires a little luck (Ben making The Tackle on Roman Harper) but the Ravens seemingly had a rabbit’s foot up their ass all through this post-season.
That luck held up through the final whistle of last night’s game. Flacco underthrows his receiver by three yards but Jacoby Jones is so wide open he has time to come back (I wonder if Mike Wallace ever thought about trying that?) for what will go down as a 55 yard TD bomb. The Niners fall asleep on the second half kick-off and gift Baltimore a 108 yard return TD. After a power outage which I’m sure Roger Goodell is already planning on fining James Harrison for, San Fran staged an epic comeback which fell short when Michael Crabtree got mugged on 4th and goal but the refs kept their hankies in their pockets.
Anyway, the Ravens are your 2012 NFL champions. I promised silver linings so here are two. First, since San Francisco lost, your Pittsburgh Steelers are still the only NFL franchise with six Lombardi Trophies. And second, last night was the final time we’ll ever have to see Ray Lewis in an NFL uniform. If karma is a really a thing that exists, hopefully one day we will see him in a bright orange jump suit as karmic justice for the murder he already got away with (and kudos to Phil Simms for having the balls to mention that during the telecast instead of just repeating the company line).
Final lining? Um, the Pittsburgh Pirates report to Spring Training in 10 days.
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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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Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference yesterday afternoon. As I’ve mentioned about a billion times, I tend to ignore what he says because when he’s not lying, he’s using a bunch of words to say nothing. Well, surprise of all surprises, he actually used the time productively yesterday. It looks like there’s a whole bunch of changes in store for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
First, we have the state of the offensive line. I already talked about this quite a bit yesterday but it appears I was in error. I thought for sure they’d re-arrange things however they could to avoid starting rookie RT Kelvin Beachum. Tomlin says Beachum will start against the Baltimore Ravens with Mike Adams nursing a high ankle sprain and Marcus Gilbert out for the year. Of course, the plan is subject to change since there are still a bunch of question marks regarding who’s healthy and who’s not.
Willie Colon is expected back at LG although they probably won’t be sure until an hour before game time. If Colon can’t play, my best guess (and I’ve been misfiring on my predictions more often than Bob Kudzma so take it for what it’s worth) is Doug Legursky would be first man off the bench. First round pick David DeCastro is cleared to return but I have to think if he was 100% healthy and ready to play, he’d be starting. That means we’re looking at either Starks-Colon-Pouncey-Foster-Beachum or Starks-Legursky-Pouncey-Foster-Beachum as your starting line. If there is another injury, DeCastro would probably be pressed into service at RG with Ramon Foster sliding out to tackle. I can’t imagine they’d play recently signed T Tony Moeki unless he was the last man standing.
The line will be blocking for starting running back Jonathan Dwyer. It only took Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley twelve weeks to realize this committee approach where each back gets 3-4 carries doesn’t work. The only time they’ve gotten good results from the running game is when they’ve started one back and stuck with him to the tune of 15-20 carries. Dwyer, who’s been the team’s most effective back, will start with Isaac Redman serving as the back-up. No word whether Rashard Mendenhall is planning a jihad on the coaching staff for busting him all the way down to third string.
Ben Roethlisberger has began throwing and ESPN is saying there’s a “50-50 chance” he makes the superhero comeback this Sunday. Tomlin said he’s proceeding with Charlie Batch as the starter so I wouldn’t get my hopes up for a Big Ben miracle. I haven’t parsed out all the playoff scenarios but barring a massive collapse, the Ravens have firm control of the AFC North whether they win this week or not. I’d rather Ben avoid the beating Baltimore is sure to dish out and be ready for the final three game stretch run against three very beatable teams than rush him back for one game which potentially won’t matter anyway.
Batch will have one important weapon back this week in Antonio Brown. Brown is by far the team’s best receiver so having him back will be huge for whoever plays QB. Tomlin also decided to play some mind games with the receivers, listing Mike Wallace and Emannuel Sanders (who has played very well in AB’s absence) as co-starters opposite Brown. I don’t think Tomlin has the stones to actually start Sanders ahead of Wallace but for those who thought I’ve been too hard on Wallace, clearly the coaching staff isn’t happy with his play either. We can worry about repercussions after the season ends, I’ll just say the team’s treatment of Wallace and Mendy doesn’t exactly bode well for their future here in Pittsburgh.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers were defeated by the Cleveland Browns, 20-14. I can accept a loss. Every team suffers injuries and while it’s nice to say “the standard is the standard” and all that nonsense you can only lose so many key players before it eventually catches up to you. The fact is the Steelers went into the game starting their third string quarterback, without their top wide receiver (and missing two of their top four wide outs overall), starting a second string left guard (Willie Colon was scratched pre-game due to a swollen knee) and later pressed into playing their third string right tackle, not to mention fielding a defense missing two multiple time Pro Bowlers (Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley, who started but left after a handful of snaps).
When you’re missing that many guys, I can accept the fact anybody can beat them.
What I can’t accept is HOW the Steelers were beaten yesterday.
The Steelers put forth one of their most embarrassing performances in decades. They committed eight turnovers. EIGHT TURNOVERS. There is simply no excuse for that level of ineptitude.
People are going to point a finger at Charlie Batch. I’m not going to defend Chaz or claim he played well. At the same time, anybody who pins this loss entirely on him has absolutely no clue what they’re talking about. Yes, he missed a bunch of throws he should have made. Yes, he made some terrible decisions which led to two of his three interceptions. He could have and should have played better.
However, he is the Steelers third string QB. No team is going to have a starting caliber QB sitting on their bench as the third option. Batch’s performance was about what you could realistically expect from a back-up, to say nothing about what most teams have a third stringer.
What you don’t expect is for every one of your running backs to commit a turnover. To Mike Tomlin‘s credit, he immediately benched any back that fumbled. Unfortunately, he only had four backs on the roster so after turnover #4 he had to start the turnover-go-round all over again. And Rashard Mendenhall happily obliged.
Mendy gifted the Browns with two fumbles yesterday. He continues to start despite contributing in no positive way whatsoever. Isaac Redman relieved Jonathan Dwyer just long enough to deliver an early Christmas present of his own. When it appeared Dwyer would be the lone reliable back, he let the ball get away. Chris Rainey, yes, Chris Rainey became the Last Back Standing and even made a nice goal line run for the team’s lone offensive TD. He did fumble a few carries in but it went out of bounds which only delayed the inevitable since he would eventually fumble on the Steelers final possession to seal the crushing defeat.
In between all the fumbles, we had Batch’s three picks. As I said, only two were bad throws as the third was a short slant pattern which Mike Wallace batted around until it fell into a Browns player’s waiting arms. When you’re playing with a short roster, it’s incumbent on your star players to step up but Wallace was MIA yesterday. He was targeted 7 times, only managing one catch for 9 yards. Several of the misfires were miscommunication with Batch while at other times he appeared to simply give up on the play.
Heath Miller and Manny Sanders performed admirably and even Plaxico Burress contributed by drawing a pass interference which set up Rainey’s 1 yard TD run. There is absolutely no excuse for Wallace’s disappearing act.
As if the turnovers weren’t enough of a handicap, we had penalties. Oh did we have penalties. There were 19 penalties called altogether with 9 going against the Steelers. No word on whether yesterday’s ref made an appointment with Dr. James Andrews to check his rotator cuff. Perhaps the most costly flag occurred early in the third quarter when the Steelers converted a big second and long to Heeeeeaatth only for it to be wiped out thanks to a holding call on rookie RT Kelvin Beachum, who was playing in place of injured Mike Adams.
So before we put all the blame on Charlie Batch, let’s remember we also had a posse of backs who couldn’t hold on to the ball, a “star” receiver who didn’t bother showing up, and a beat up offensive line which kept putting an already sputtering offense into third and long situations.
Truth be told, if not for another heroic effort from the Steelers defense, this would’ve been a one-sided ass-whupping. When an offense commits eight turnovers, many of which came deep in their own zone, I don’t know that you can do much better than hold the opposition to two TDs and two FGs. For the record, Cleveland’s first TD drive started at the Pittsburgh 10 and the other began on our 31. One of their two FG drives began on our 44. Not to mention 7 of our 14 points were scored on a pick six by Lawrence Timmons (with an assist from Bret Keisel). I’m not sure how much more they could have done faced with that 50 pound lead weight called an offense weighing them down at every turn.
The defense has nothing to be ashamed of. The offense? I know they’re missing key players but there is no excusing what we saw yesterday. That was the kind of effort that gets players cut and coaches fired. It was a total humiliation at the hands of a team that was 2-8 going into the weekend.
Where do we go from here? Unless Ben magically heals between now and Sunday, there is no way this team is beating the Ravens. A loss next week drops them to 6-6 which mathematically doesn’t eliminate them from playoff contention but certainly means the division is lost. It also means they’d probably need to run the table to finish 10-6 and be in the mix for a Wild Card at season’s end. At this point, though, I think we need to worry less about January and worry more about next week. Because the way this team is playing, I’m not sure they can beat ANYBODY right now.
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Don’t look past the Cleveland Browns. When you stop laughing, I’ll try to explain. Yes, the Browns are 2-8. Yes, the Browns are in the midst of yet another miserable season in a long run of them. Yes, the Browns have already given Mike Holmgren the axe with former Pittsburgh Steelers minority owner Jimmy Haslam likely to make more changes after the season. I know all this doesn’t sound like a team ready to give the Steelers a fight on Sunday but despite everything the Browns aren’t ready to wave the white flag.
Oh, wait… Maybe they are…
One thing the Browns are successful at is getting psyched for the Steelers. I’ll spare you the painful trip down memory lane, suffice to say, when the two teams meet you can almost throw out the records. Cleveland has treated their annual meetings with us like their own little Super Bowl and it’s almost like a rivalry game in college where it doesn’t matter how bad your team is on paper, the two teams always find a way to make things interesting. Throw in the fact Cleveland has been sneaky bad (as in, they lose but put forth highly competitive efforts) and the Steelers are injury ravaged and you have a recipe for anything to happen.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs BROWNS OFFENSE
On draft day, I sorta laughed at the selection of quarterback Brandon Weedon. In reality, Weedon has looked like a pretty solid signal caller despite being a rookie on a team with very few offensive weapons. I still think it was a silly pick because if you look across the NFL, a whole bunch of rookie QBs have done well this season, from Andrew Luck and RGIII to lesser publicized names like Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson and they’re all 5-6 years younger than Weedon so they’ll have more time to grow. Right now, however, I think given the chance to re-draft teams like the Eagles or Cardinals would take Weedon over the QBs they chose because he’s shown the kind of poise that suggests he could step right in and do a capable job of running an established offense.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t have an established offense in Cleveland. In fact, he doesn’t have much to work with at all. When a RB leads your team in receiving, that’s not good. Their nominal #1 WR is Greg Little but he drops as many passes as he catches. The rest of the receiving corps is a collection of has beens and never weres. Weedon’s numbers don’t look particularly impressive (11 TDs 12 INT 2,300 yds) until you factor in the collection of riff raff he has to catch his passes.
The lone bright shining light in this oasis of suck is fellow rookie RB Trent Richardson. Browns legend Jim Brown dissed Richardson prior to the draft which must’ve lit a fire under him as he’s accounted for 670 yards on the ground and another 280 through the air. Richardson has fast become a weapon in the Ray Rice mold. He’s easily Cleveland’s most dangerous offensive player and must be contained if the Steelers hope to dash any thoughts of an upset.
Dick LeBeau‘s crew is coming off unarguably their finest effort of the season. I feel Joe Flacco and company are grossly overrated but to hold any team without an offensive touchdown, let alone a team one year removed from the AFC Championship game while your own offense is actively sabotaging your efforts, is a damn impressive feat. Ziggy Hood rebounded from the KC debacle and the D-line were the quiet heroes in stifling Ray Rice. Ike Taylor has shook off the early season funk and teamed with Keenan Lewis, who improves by the week, form a very fine secondary. While LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison haven’t played up to previous levels, the inside tandem of Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons have picked up a lot of slack. Although Cleveland doesn’t have the talent Baltimore has, the team will need nearly the same effort because I don’t foresee our offense scoring a ton of points.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs BROWNS DEFENSE
Charlie Batch makes his first start of the season after Byron Leftwich flushed a very winnable game down the crapper last Sunday. I have faith in Chaz. Every time Steeler Nation counts him out, he comes off the bench to prove the haters wrong. Given Todd Haley’s short quick West Coast style offense, I think Batch is an even better fit than Lefty and as long as his guys get open, he’ll get them the ball.
Of course, it’d be nice if the Steelers can continue their strong running attack. Mike Tomlin hasn’t committed to a starter but I think at this point you have to go with Jonathan Dwyer. Rashard Mendenhall may have the breakaway speed but he was back to his tap-dancing tricks against Baltimore. Dwyer has been by far the team’s most consistent back and I think he’s earned the chance to be the featured starter (when healthy) for the rest of the year. The Browns rank near the bottom of the league in run D so whoever starts should produce.
The receivers also need to start producing. I know the catch in the corner of the end zone against the Ravens was a tough play but Mike Wallace needs to make it. I caught a little of the Tampa game on Red Zone last Sunday and was struck by how much of a difference Vincent Jackson makes to the Bucs offense. That’s what $10+ million a year receivers do. They make the catches nobody else can make and they make them with frequency. Wallace had a brilliant catch against KC but those sort of big plays have been far too few for a guy who thinks he’s the best WR in football.
Antonio Brown is back practicing so I expect he’ll be a game time decision. Jerricho Cotchery is definitely out so we’ll probably see the return of Plaxico Burress in the Black and Gold. He likely won’t play much, probably just in the red zone (assuming we ever get there), but he should be plenty motivated after signing a 1 year deal when nobody else wanted him. Plax doesn’t have the skills he once had but this team needs all the red zone threats they can get so if he’s even a fraction of his old self he can’t do anything but help.
The Steelers are in a very precarious position. I’ve said all along that the losses to Tennessee and Oakland may come back to haunt them and unfortunately that is proving true. The Steelers can’t really afford to fall much farther back to the pack, especially with only a few very winnable games remaining on their schedule. Had they won the games they should of won earlier this year, we could afford a mid-season nose dive until Ben heals up. At this point, though, they really can’t.
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Today in “Least Surprising News Ever…”
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich busted his ribs in Sunday night’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Gee, you don’t say? I wonder what gave it away. Was it the obnoxious NBC commentators zooming in on his pained expression after every play? Or was it the way he kept missing wide open receivers on throws even Tino Sunseri could make?
The only person at Heinz Field who didn’t realize Lefty was hurt was Mike Tomlin.
Leftwich will almost certainly join Ben Roethlisberger on the sideline as the team once again turns to Charlie Batch in this weekend’s match-up against the feisty Cleveland Browns. If Tomlin had turned to Batch at halftime on Sunday, we probably would be talking about the Black and Gold’s rousing victory. I’m on record as saying Chaz should have been starting all along. He’s a steady competent signal caller which is really all you want in a back-up.
Plus he won’t get hurt the first time he’s asked to scramble away from pressure.
The Leftwich debacle is the latest incident on the growing ledger against the idea of Tomlin as some brilliant coach. Who thought he was a legitimate back-up quarterback? Since being cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Leftwich has been plagued by a constant parade of injuries to the point he probably shouldn’t even be in the league. It’s pretty embarrassing when a supposed Super Bowl contender puts their faith in a guy who severely injures himself tripping over his own feet.
What’s even more embarrassing is Tomlin’s refusal to pull him when he was obviously hurt and ineffective. Tomlin continues to be one of the worst in-game managers in the league. What’s more, his parade of lies and deceptions are starting to finally catch up to him. I’ve been pointing out what a habitual liar he was going back to when I wrote for NPC but when a clueless rah-rah cheerleader like Bob Smizik realizes your press conferences are full of B.S. you’ve really been exposed.
Anyway, with Lefty down and out and Ben still on the mend, the Steeler need to bring in a back-up back-up quarterback. Jason La Canfora at NFL.com is reporting the team invited former OSU and Patriots back-up Brian Hoyer and former Eagle Mike Kafka to work out tomorrow and will sign one of them. What, Tomlin couldn’t find another injury prone African American QB to bring in? David Garrard is right there!
In other depressing news, Jerricho Cotchery also appears to have suffered a serious rib injury from that hit that laid him out toward the end of Sunday’s game. That by itself is bad news as the Cotch Rocket is a pretty damn good receiver who would be one of the top three for most teams. But what makes the news utterly miserable are reports the Steelers are looking to bring in another receiver to take his place.
Ordinarily, losing Cotchery wouldn’t necessitate adding another wide out because the team could just play David Gilreath. However, with Gilreath already active, bringing in another wide out means that Antonio Brown isn’t coming back anytime soon. Yes, that simple seemingly innocuous looking ankle roll two weeks ago probably is going to sideline AB this weekend and perhaps even longer. He might have a broken foot for all we know although getting truthful injury updates from Tomlin is harder than getting secrets out of the CIA.
Maybe the P-G needs to hire a really attractive brunette beat reporter to write a biography…
Our old friend Plaxico Burress is coming to town for a physical and work out tomorrow. If he hasn’t gotten fat and lazy when nobody wanted him over the off-season, all indicators are the Steelers will sign him. I like Plax, I advocated bringing him back a couple season ago when he was first sprung from the clink. At this point, I’m not sure what he can bring to the table. With the Jets, he wasn’t much of a open field threat, having lost much of his speed and quickness. He still has the size so he’ll be a good red zone threat and Todd Haley‘s West Coast style offense is probably the ideal situation for him so it wouldn’t be the worst signing. It’s still not going not be enough if AB misses significant time, though.