Whodey!!!!!!!!!!! Hello Cincinnati!!!!
— James Harrison (@jharrison9292) April 19, 2013
And with two simple words, James Harrison successfully turned an entire fan base against him. A fan base that spent the better part of the past five years defending his every fine, cheap shot, and penalty. A fan base that bent over backwards justifying the team keeping him on the roster after smacking around his baby mama when other players were cut for lesser offenses. You can do a lot of things if you’re an All-Pro for the Pittsburgh Steelers but sign with a hated division rival and then tweet their obnoxious catchphrase and you’re dead to us.
Late Friday, Harrison agreed to a two year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. As of this morning, I’ve still not seen the contract details which probably means he’s playing for far less than the $4 million he would’ve received had he not stupidly refused the Steelers offer to keep him at a reduced rate. I suspect the second year is the big money year but at an option which probably never gets picked up. That way Harrison’s fragile ego can tell himself he’s making the same as last year while the Bengals get him cheap this season and can ditch him next year.
Deebo didn’t exactly have a multitude of suitors for his services. Since being cut back in early March, the only team to show even a modicum of interest was the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Cincy is both a logical fit and a confusing one. Logical in the sense the Bengals are a young team with a distinct lack of grit. Bringing in a fiery veteran like Harrison gives them some much needed leadership. Confusing in that Marvin Lewis prefers a 4-3 Tampa-2 style defense. Whatever value Harrison still has as a player lies in his ability as a pass rushing OLB. It’s not at all clear how he’ll adapt to a new scheme.
I’ve already used a bunch of bandwith analyzing how the loss of Deebo affects the Steelers. He’s clearly on the downside of his career but he even with the injuries he’s been the team’s most consistent playmaker the past couple seasons. Even if the team takes a linebacker in the first two rounds in this week’s draft, Jason Worilds will be the presumptive starter. Worilds finally came on last season starting in place of both Harrison and oft-injured fatass LaMarr Woodley although he’s a clear step down in terms of talent. Worilds is solid but he has yet to show he’s capable of being the disruptive game-changing force Harrison was.
One thing is for certain, I can’t wait until the Bengals travel to Heinz Field next season. After years and years of righteous outrage whenever a zebra tossed a flag on Harrison after he obliterated a quarterback, I’ll be amused to see Steeler Nation react when he turns his violent anti-social tendencies on Ben Roethlisberger.
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The New England Patriots aren’t satisfied with stealing AFC Championship games from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now they’re out to steal our players. After cutting ties with Wes Welker earlier this off-season, the Fighting Belicheats have been looking everywhere for weapons to add to Tom Brady‘s arsenal. Evidently they found one in wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
New England signed Manny to one year $2.5 million offer sheet yesterday afternoon. Since Sanders is a restricted free agent, the Steelers now have five days to match their offer or else Sanders becomes Patriots’ property in exchange for their third round pick in the upcoming draft. Since the Steelers have already tendered him $1.3 million, they actually only need to offer another $1.2 million to keep him. Early word from ESPN No-Nothing Ed Werder is the Steelers are expected to match.
At this point, it seems like the Steelers are in a lose-lose situation either way.
If they don’t match, Antonio Brown will be the last member of Young Money left standing. While breaking up that group of underachieving punks isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does leave the team’s wide receiving corps dangerously thin. Subtract Manny and our current depth chart looks like this: AB and Jerricho Cotchery starting with Plaxico Burress playing the slot. Sure Sanders had his problems last season but that’s the kind of line-up nightmares are made of. If we lose Sanders, the Steelers will have to use one of their first two picks in the upcoming draft on a wide out.
If they do match, well, they still need to take a wide receiver. But before they can sign any of this year’s draft picks, they’ll have some work to do to get under the salary cap. According to ProFootballTalk, the Steelers are currently a measly $2.5 million under the cap. Giving Sanders another million plus means they’ll need to clear another chunk of space in order to sign their picks.
$2.5 million under the cap. Seriously, I can’t get over that number. Where the bloody blue hell is all their money going? Don’t say Ben because the Patriots have Tom Brady and they’re still a whopping $10 million under the cap. We haven’t signed a single name free agent. We let Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace walk away. We cut James Harrison and re-worked a bunch of other high priced contracts. I could see if this was a team coming off a Super Bowl victory but the Steelers got Tebow’d out of the playoffs two years ago and went 8-8 last year. Why are they paying a bunch of mediocre shitbums all of this money?
What the f*%k is this team doing?
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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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Super Bowl XLVII has finally been set. And for fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, you couldn’t pick a worse match-up if you tried. Ordinarily we can find at least one team with which to align our rooting interests. When the Baltimore Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers for the championship in two weeks, the only satisfying outcome would be an asteroid annihilating the Superdome.
The Niners are probably the lesser of two evils. They’ve never done anything directly to the Steelers. They do, however, possess five Lombardi Trophies. Should they win, the Black and Gold would no longer sit alone atop the NFL hierarchy as the only franchise with six championships. And considering the Niners have a fairly young roster while the Steelers are old and in decline, they’d be a whole lot better bet to climb the “Stairway to Seven” before we do.
(As an side, isn’t it crazy that out of 47 Super Bowls, the Niners and Steelers have combined to appear in 13, over a full quarter of them, yet have never faced each other? Damn you, Tim McKyer!)
On the other side, we have the Baltimore Ravens. I don’t have to bother explaining why Steeler fans would rather have their pubic hair plucked out by a pair of rusty pliers than see the Ratbirds win the Super Bowl. It’s bad enough we’ll have to spend the next two weeks hearing what a great guy murdering thug Ray Lewis is, are we really ready for Joe Flacco to be considered an elite quarterback? Even worse, if he plays even remotely decent the pain will continue well into next season as talking heads immediately start ranking him ahead of Ben Roethlisberger despite 90% of his offense being checkdowns to tight ends and Ray Rice.
Can Steeler Nation live in a world where Tyler Palko‘s back-up is considered one of the NFL’s best?
The cherry on top of this shit sandwich is both teams are coached by a Harbaugh. The Niners’ Harbaugh si clearly the bigger asshole what with his childish theatrics after every minor setback although choosing between them is kinda like choosing between the best venereal disease. There are no winners here. We all lose.
Pray for the asteroid.
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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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This Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Dallas Cowboys in a game brimming with playoff implications for both teams. A Steelers-Cowboys match-up really needs no added incentive. Steeler fans hate the Cowboys, Dallas fans detest Pittsburgh. Even though the two teams only play each other once in a blue moon, it doesn’t dissipate the level of animosity and anticipation between the fan bases.
The Cowboys have adopted the moniker of “America’s Team.” No two words inspire more bile to well up in the stomach of Steeler Nation. The fact Jerry Jones and his merry band of miscreants have adopted that as both marketing slogan and credo will never cease to anger us. Usually these rivalries mean more to fans than they do to the players but it seems that isn’t always the case.
Ben Roethlisberger gave an interview on Wednesday where he was asked about the “America’s Team” moniker. Ben suggested if the Cowboys represent American, perhaps the Steelers should be referred to as the “World’s Team.” Not the cleverest bit of trash talk although you have to admire that Ben’s heart is in the right place. Certainly no team has a larger or more passionate fan base be it in the US or around the world than do the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bragging right are all well and good but that’s a secondary concern come Sunday afternoon. As I said, both teams are in the thick of a playoff race. Both teams need a win to keep pace. A loss at this juncture could severely cripple their post-season plans. In fact, a loss could very well wind up knocking a team out of the picture altogether.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs COWBOYS OFFENSE
Tony Romo continues to be Tony Romo. What that means is you always have to take the good with the bad. The good is when he’s on, he can be a very competent passer with the kind of arm capable of making all the throws. The bad is he’s still prone to boneheaded mistakes. Romo has throw for 4,000 in every season he’s been healthy and started and he’s less than 100 yards away from eclipsing that total once again. Unfortunately, coming off a year where he posted a career best TD/INT ratio (31/10) he’s fallen back to old habits this year, nearly balancing his stat sheet with 20 TD against 16 INTs.
One bit of good news for Romo and company is that his best target, WR Dez Bryant, is adamant about playing this Sunday despite suffering a broken finger. Bryant is currently 10th in yardage and has caught 9 of Romo’s TDs so his presence would definitely be missed. How effective he’ll be catching balls with a broken finger remains to be seen. Mike Wallace can’t catch balls with two perfectly manicured hands so maybe having all your fingers operational isn’t that big a deal.
The Dallas packing attack remains strong with TE Jason Witten continuing to be one of the most dangerous pass catching targets in the game. He and Bryant are complemented by Miles Austin, whose 2012 campaign has been beset by injury. Perhaps to their detriment, the Cowboys don’t run as much as they should although Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray remain threats out of the backfield.
I’m not gonna lie, Dallas’ passing game scares the heck out of me. Coming off an utter dismantling at the hands of Phillip Rivers (who really didn’t even play that well) and a crew of utter no-name receivers, this game has the potential to get real ugly real fast if the Steelers’ secondary doesn’t play a helluva lot better. To that end, the Steelers have already decided Curtis Brown, who was about as useful as tits on a giraffe against San Diego, will ride the pine in favor of Josh Victorian. Victorian, who spent the entire season on the practice squad, didn’t exactly shine in his brief stint last Sunday but I can safely say it’d be nearly impossible to play worse than Brown did.
LaMarr Woodley has been practicing and it appears the Steelers will have their oft-injured LB back for the game. Of course, the Football Gods have deemed it unfair for us to have both Woodley and James Harrison together for any length of time so look for one (or both) to leave after a handful of plays. On paper, it looks like the defense will be formidable with both Woodley and Troy Polamalu back after extended absences but I think we’ve seen enough of Troy to know he’s playing at half speed. Whether that’s good enough for him or Woodley or Harrison to force another big game-changing turnover remains to be seen.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs COWBOYS DEFENSE
Big Ben and company better bring their A-game or else last week’s anemic offensive effort is gonna look like an ArenaBall game by comparison. I don’t know what has gone wrong with Todd Haley‘s offense but something clearly has. Going back to the game against KC, the offense has been sputtering to a standstill even with Ben at quarterback.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is because nothing seems to work. The running game doesn’t move the chains. The passing game creates opening only for passes to CLANG harmlessly off the receivers’ hands. The short quick routes still end with Ben running for his life. And the end result is a team with a load of offensive talent on paper struggling to score points.
The offensive line will look different yet again with rookie first rounder David DeCastro finally getting a start at RG. Ramon Foster will slide over to the left while Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey remains in the middle. Whether this line-up will open up some holes for the running game is anybody’s guess. It will certainly help matters if Jonathan Dwyer and iRed can get something going on the ground.
The Cowboys boast perhaps the fiercest pass rush we’ve seen all year. OLBs Demarcus Ware (11 sacks) and Anthony Spencer (8.5) will eat Ben up if the team becomes one dimensional. Corners Brandon Carr and Maurice Claiborne aren’t the flashiest secondary even though they’ve combined to form the 8th best pass D in the league. Dallas has a very strong defense so when the plays present themselves, it’ll behoove the Steelers to not let those opportunities slip through their fingers.
The last time these two teams met during the regular season, a pick six by Deshea Townshend turned the tide of the game and perhaps of the season. The Steelers went on to win and then went on a roll which culminated with a heartstopping victory in Super Bowl XLIII. Will this game be a similar springboard? Or will it be just another stop on the path to diminished expectations?
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Yes, playoffs. I’m talkin’ about playoffs.
Blame Roger Goodell. The Ginger Dictator, in his ongoing quest to go down in history as the worst commissioner of any sport ever, floated the idea of expanding the NFL playoffs from 14 to 16 teams yesterday. Just what football fans need, more .500 teams in the playoffs! Of course, everybody knows the real reason he proposed this ludicrous idea is to deflect attention away from how badly he botched the Saints bounty case.
Hey, always remember the Pittsburgh Steelers were the only team to vote against the new CBA.
Ginger couldn’t have picked a worse year to bring up expanding the playoffs. If there were several 10 and 11 win teams in danger of missing the post-season, I could see a ground-swelling of support for the idea. But this year? With three weeks left in the season, three of four divisions in the AFC have already been clinched.
The only team who hasn’t clinched? Why, the Baltimore Ravens of course! Despite leading our divison, the Ratbirds are so worried about their prospects for a successful post-season that this past week they took the highly unusual step of firing their offensive coordinator. As I’ve said a million times and will keep repeating, Baltimore has this almost pathological need to blame their mediocre offense on everything except the real reason why it’s mediocre: quarterback Joe Flacco.
The firing of ex-OC Cam Cameron evidently was owed to the fact the team’s best player, Ray Rice, had zero touches in the 4th quarter of the Charlie Batch Game. Well, it’s easy to scapegoat Cameron since he’s been a failure everywhere he’s been but in this case that’s hardly his fault. If you watched the game, it was clear that Dick LeBeau was keying on Rice. Sure, great players routinely beat schemes and Rice did break free for a 30 yard TD earlier in the game but no sane team puts all their chips on one player. LeBeau was scheming to stop Rice and control everything short while daring Flacco to beat him deep. Flacco can’t pilot an offense which requires him to routinely throw more than 10 yards down the field. End of story.
With the Ravens stumbling towards the finishing line, it makes the Steelers pathetic showings against the dregs of the NFL all the more painful. We lost to two teams that will be drafting in the top 10 next year (Titans, Raiders) and another just outside it (Chargers). Win one of those games and we’re in the hunt for the division. Win two and we’re probably leading and controlling our own destiny.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention one other Steelers loss, that being to the Cleveland Browns. Sit down, you may need steady yourself when you hear this. All season I’ve been beating the Brandon Weedon drum, saying how he’s been shockingly competent and would get more notice as a fine first round QB draft pick (despite everybody, myself included, mocking the Browns for taking him so high on draft day) if he played anywhere but Cleveland. Well, lo and behold, now the Browns, THE BROWNS, have crept into the playoff picture.
It goes like this. First, the Browns must win out. Then, if the Steelers lose two of their last three (unless you’re a hardcore yinzer, I don’t think any of us would be shocked if they went 0-3 or 3-0 down the stretch), the Bengals lose two of their last three and the Jets lose one more game, the Browns will be the second Wild Card. THE BROWNS!
I don’t think anybody is ready for a world were the Cleveland Browns leapfrog both the Steelers and Bengals to become a playoff team. Unless the Mayans were right…
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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 hero needs a villain. Batman has the Joker. Steve Austin had Vince McMahon. Optimus Prime has Megatron.
And if you think I’m referring to Calvin Johnson and Richard Sherman, you really watch too much football.
The Pittsburgh Steelers represent everything good about the NFL. The most successful franchise with the most loyal fanbase. Their greatest nemesis is clearly the Baltimore Ravens, a gang of thugs and cowards who are detested by anybody outside their own filthy crime-ridden city.
Ratbird Week is usually a fun time for me because there’s normally a lot of trash talking from both sides. Most of the time, “rivalries” are more a thing that fans create than something the players actually embrace. Not so with the Steelers and Ravens. The players have made it very clear on many occasions that they really do hate each other.
Unfortunately, a lot of the fun has been sucked out of this particular Ratbird Week. First, a lot of the guys who fueled the fire are gone. Hines Ward has retired while Ray Lewis is out for the season, possibly never to return. Meanwhile, the Steelers are dealing with injuries to almost half their starting line-up, led by this fella you may of heard of by the name of Ben Roethlisberger.
It’ll read Steelers versus Ravens on the marquee Sunday night and while the hate will still be real the teams taking the field may only be mere hollow echoes of what they once were.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs RAVENS OFFENSE
Joe Flacco. He’s lucky he plays for a relatively low profile team otherwise his name would be debated on the Four Letter every ten minutes like the names Mark Sanchez or Tony Romo. Flacco is in that nebulous second tier of quarterbacks who argue they’re elite and fans of their team think of as elite but don’t have the results to earn that designation. Win a Super Bowl, even get to one, and then you can start using the E-word.
Until then, you’re just another QB.
The dirty little secret is the Ratbirds seem to be hedging their bets on Bert, as well. He’s in the final year of his contract and over the off-season the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement on an extension because Flacco wanted elite QB money while Baltimore management argued he wasn’t quite at that level. Flacco is having a pretty typical season for him, a 60-40 TD/INT ratio (13 TDs against 7 INTs) and he’s on pace for about 3,500 yards (2,300 going into Sunday) which is right around his career high. They Ravens have tried everything from trading for name wide receivers to letting Bert grow a pornstache in hopes he can hit another level.
At this point, I think it’s safe to say he is what he is and nothing can change that.
It certainly would help any QB to have a weapon like Ray Rice in the backfield. As usual, Rice is a tremendous dual threat, leading the team in rushing while being Captain Checkdown’s third favorite target. Rice has averaged over 1,200 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving the past three years and is well on pace to make it four in a row. Needless to say, if the Steelers have any hope of winning Sunday, they have to find a way to contain this serial Stiller Killer.
Outside Rice, the Ravens offensive weapons aren’t nearly as scary as some of the other teams we’ve faced this season. Torrey Smith, who memorably caught the game winning touchdown in our last meeting, is their nominal #1 wide out. He’s pretty much a deep threat, though, averaging 17 yard per reception. A few years ago they spent big money to bring in Anquan Boldin but he’s been more or less a bust. The Ravens parted ways with another longtime irritant, TE Todd Heap, a couple seasons ago and it appears they’ve finally found another short yardage possession threat for Flacco to dump off to in TE Dennis Pitta.
The Steelers defense needs a helluva better performance this week if they don’t want embarrassed on national tv. After getting the run D straightened out, KC gashed them repeatedly until Dick LeBeau figured out Ziggy Hood was a liability and started moving him around. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison were MIA and that simply can’t happen two weeks in a row. There will be even more pressure on the inside backers to support the run D and take away the middle of the field for those short throws Flacco lives for.
Ryan Clark passed all his concussion tests and will play on Sunday. He’ll be easy to spot as he’s resorted to wearing that extra thick Great Gazoo helmet. Clark has been the team’s defensive MVP this year so hopefully he’s able to stay on the field this week. If the Steelers have any hope of pulling out a victory, they’ll need every healthy defensive player not only on the field but playing their best possible game.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs RAVENS DEFENSE
Maybe the Ravens should change their symbol back to the horseshoe a team from Baltimore wore once upon a time. They certainly have a lot of luck. The Ratbirds have beaten the Steelers twice since 2008 when Ben Roethlisberger started at QB. They’ve won three other times, however, when Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch have started in Ben’s place.
On Sunday, they’ll get their first taste of Byron Leftwich. I’m already on record about thinking Leftwich is a poor fit for the Todd Haley offense but I guess we’ll see. Boss Todd has said he’s tailoring things to better suit Lefty. In other words, he’s quick passing timing based offense needs to account for a guy with a longer wind-up than AJ Burnett.
Rashard Mendenhall is expected to make his return. I wasn’t too enthused about Mendy’s return but after iRed and Dwyer played miserably against the Chiefs, it certainly can’t hurt. If the Steelers have one chance offensively, it’ll be on the ground. The Ravens run D has been absolutely atrocious, even worse than our run D. They’re currently averaging 132 yards against per game. Yes, 132!
While the Steelers have battled injury, the Ravens have had more than their fair share as well. NT Haloti Ngata has been playing hurt and it shows. He’s not nearly as stout at the nose as usual. Lewis was useless in pass coverage although he did a good job against the run. And Terrell Suggs may have made an admirable return from off-season ACL surgery but he’s clearly not himself. Much like James Harrison has been a step behind all year, Suggs just can’t get his body to do what it’s accustomed to doing.
The Ravens have also been hit in the secondary with the loss of top corner Lardarius Webb. Much like their run D, their secondary has been giving up huge chunks of yardage all season. Safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed are strong but corners Cary Williams and Paul Kruger can be exploited. If Ben were healthy, I could foresee something of a shoot-out. Whether Leftwich can make some plays in the passing game remains to be seen. Antonio Brown hasn’t practiced this week although he’s been telling reporters he’s going to give it a shot this afternoon. Getting him back on the field would be a huge boon to whoever plays QB.
I know I make every game out to be a make or break week. In this case, the hyperbole is actually appropriate. As usual, the AFC North is coming down to Ravens and Steelers. And, as usual, the eventual champion may very well be decided by tie breaks. It’s going to be an uphill battle for sure but why not shock the world and demoralize the Ravens in the process by pulling out a game with our back-up QB on national TV?