Somewhere the spirit of Al Davis is clapping his hands and laughing.
For years and years the running joke in the NFL draft was if a player was fast, the Raiders would inevitably take him. With Darth Al’s passing, Oakland has taken a much more sensible approach to picking players. Of all the teams to step in and take over their obsession with speed, who expected it to be the Pittsburgh Steelers?
In my Steelers Draft preview, I didn’t mock out specific players but I did identify bolstering the defensive line and a Chris Rainey-type running back as areas of interest. I just didn’t expect them to go out and fill those needs in rounds two and three. Your second and third rounders are premium picks today’s NFL. I’m not too sure about the wisdom behind using one of those picks on a third string running back.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers signed their second big free agent, coming to terms on a two year deal with former San Diego Chargers nose tackle Cam Thomas. And when I say “big,” I mean that literally in the case of the 6’3 330 pound man affectionately nicknamed Baby ‘Zilla. The acquisition of Thomas gives some clue as to how the Steelers are planning to rebuild a defensive line that performed quite terribly last season. It’s hard to imagine these moves leading to a run D worse than the one that got gashed with alarming ease last year.
Thomas was a fourth round pick out of North Carolina back in 2010. He started ten games last season for San Diego before losing his job over what is rumored to be the coaches’ dissatisfaction with his effort level. From what I’ve read on Chargers blogs, Thomas was frustrating to watch because in some games he looked like a world beater while in others he barely bothered to show up. If the Steelers can properly motivate him – and while Mike Tomlin is about as inspiring as a shrieking parakeet, Dick LeBeau has traditionally inspired fierce loyalty in his men – they could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers have managed to claw their way back into the AFC playoff discussion. As I mentioned in yesterday’s game recap, a large part of their resurgence is due to recent line-up changes. A few of those changes were coach Mike Tomlin demoting guys due to poor performance but most of them came about because of injuries. In nearly every instance where a starter has gone down, his replacement has come in and been an improvement.
Baseball has what is called a Lou Gehrig situation. Basically, Gehrig was a bench warmer until one fateful day when the starter was ill and couldn’t play. Gehrig took his place and performed so well he’d play every game thereafter for the next fourteen years. It’s a tremendous achievement but also a cautionary tale about how quickly and unexpectedly a player can find themselves replaced.
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There was no Mike Tomlin press conference last week. Pity, considering how pissed Coach T appeared in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh Steelers loss to the Minnesota Vikings, I’m sure it would’ve been highly entertaining even if the questions are being furnished by the cheerleader local media. With the Penguins starting their season and the Pirates continuing to shock the baseball world, the media treated yesterday’s presser like a typical Pittsburgh sports fan: with stunning apathy.
While the sparsely attended affair wrapped in a tidy 15 minutes, there were still several juicy Tomlin nuggets worthy of note (and mockery). Read on!
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Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin promised changes after his team’s terrible loss to the Minnesota Vikings in London. As with anything spoken by Tomlin, I operated under the standard assumption if his mouth was moving, he was probably lying. Lo and behold a few days later the team made a trade for left tackle Levi Brown in an effort to bolster that position.
If you thought that was the end of the changes, boy were you wrong. Evidently all it takes is a historically disastrous start for Tomlin to finally mean business.
The offensive line won’t be the only line undergoing change when the Steelers take the field against the Jets. Cam Heyward has been elevated to starting defensive end ahead of fellow first round pick Ziggy Hood. Brett Keisel will continue to start on the opposite side with Steve McClendon manning the middle.
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I didn’t see this one coming…
And, no, I’m not talking about the Patriots cutting Tim Tebow. Can anybody believe we lost a playoff game to that guy?
The Pittsburgh Steelers were one of the first teams to cut down to 75 men. When it came time to set their final 53 man roster, though, they were one of the last. As I waited and waited on Saturday, I immediately grew suspicious. The longer it takes, the more likely it is the team is debating cutting somebody nobody thought would be cut.
Jonathan Dwyer, come on down. Don’t forget to bring your playbook with you.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers have a long and storied tradition when it comes to dance. Hall of Famer Lynn Swann was able to contort his body to make those insanely athletic catches we see on the highlight films thanks to a childhood spent studying ballet. Recently, future Hall of Famer Hines Ward competed on “Dancing With The Stars” and came away with the MirrorBall Trophy despite no formal dance training whatsoever.
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Of course he does. He’s a football player in Pittsburgh. Was there ever any doubt?
In the least shocking development of the off-season, Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu got the legal equivalent of being sent to bed without supper – which, for him, would probably have been a harsher punishment than the one he actually received – after pleading guilty to four charges stemming from the drunken rampage he went on back in October. Ta’amu was originally charged with 15 separate offenses ranging from misdemeanors like resisting arrest and driving drunk to felonies such as fleeing the police and aggravated assault while driving. Miraculously, his lawyer plead all that down to four counts to which Ta’amu was sentenced to 18 months probation and four days in the Drunk Tank (basically a halfway house where DUI offenders are monitored).
Ever hear of the Chewbacca Defense? Well, it’s got nothing on the I’m a Steeler Defense.
Think I’m lying? Here is Ta’amu’s explanation for his behavior as told to the judge: “I was a rookie, I was scared. I was a Steeler. I was drunk driving.”
As soon as the yinzer judge heard the word “Steeler,” his Pavlovian response to cheer blindly while waving a Terrible Towel couldn’t be stopped. The fact he laughably claimed Ta’amu was being treated “the same as any other first time offender” is besides the point. I’m sure if you or I got hammered down in the South Side, sideswiped several parked cars before driving the wrong way down a one way street, then ran away from the po-po until several of them managed to wrestle us to the ground, we’d totally get a year and half probation.
But, hey, the Steelers need a nose tackle so we can’t be locking up Ta’amu now can we? Casey Hampton remains an unsigned free agent and it’s looking more and more like his NFL career is over. Which leaves Steve McClendon and Ta’amu as the only options at NT unless they find somebody in the draft. And it’s not like 6’4 350 pound humans grow on trees.
Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go…
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I don’t even know where to begin with last night’s debacle.
Might as well start with the positives I guess. The Pittsburgh Steelers pulled out a 16-13 win against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football after Lawrence Timmons intercepted Matt Cassel’s first pass in overtime. One play later, Stonecold Shaun Suisham booted a 23 yarder to end the misery. And that’s about all the good things I have to say about what happened last night.
Ben Roethlisberger left the game in the third quarter with what preliminary reports are saying is a “sprained” throwing shoulder. I’m so glad we brought in Todd Haley‘s boring dink and dunk offense to protect him from getting injured. That’s sarcasm by the way. Of course, Ben has been remarkably healthy all season so it totally makes sense he’d suffer a serious injury a week before the Steelers play the Baltimore Ravens.
Ben wasn’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard before the injury. If not for a circus catch by Mike Wallace in the end zone, Ben would’ve departed with two FGs to show for his efforts. All week, fans and talking heads alike were calling this game Boss Todd’s shot at revenge against the team that canned him last season. What we failed to take into account is that familiarity is a two way street. Teams practice against each other all week for months on end meaning the Chiefs defense probably has taken hundreds of snaps against Haley’s offense during his tenure there. The result, as Max Starks later told reporters, was that KC’s D recognized practically every play they called last night.
Let’s not make excuses for the offense, though. The tone was set early when they went three and out on their first two possessions and Willie Colon was flagged for “cussing.” Swearing is a crime? What the f#ck?
Any questions about Antonio Brown‘s worth to the team were answered as Manny Sanders repeatedly failed to step up in his absence. The running game was absolutely atrocious the entire game. Isaac Redman was pathetic, fumbling the ball to gift wrap a FG early then getting stoned on a crucial 4th and inches early in the second half. Jon Dwyer relieved him and only did slightly better, averaging 2.9 ypc to iRed’s sad 2.6 ypc. Dwyer had a couple decent runs and he was running into a 7 man box after Ben got hurt but it still was far from an acceptable performance.
Let’s talk about the post-Ben offense. For whatever reason, Steeler Nation seems to have turned on Charlie Batch, mocking him as a broke washed-up bum. Well, if you’re comfortable with Byron Leftwich after what we saw last night then I don’t know what say. The guy plays quarterback like he’s trying to win a stuffed giraffe for his girlfriend at Kenneywood.
Okay, this was Lefty’s first action in like three years. Back-ups are rusty enough since they only get a handful of snaps at practice. And when he gets a nice clean pocket and about five seconds to wind up, he does throw a pretty ball. At the same time, he looked even more immobile than the last time we saw him. Leave it to Mike Tomlin to sign the only immobile black quarterback in NFL history. Lefty took about four or five vicious shots in about a quarter and half of work. He’s never going to survive if he has to play a significant stretch. What’s more, his goofy throwing motion and lousy accuracy is all wrong for an offense that relies on timing and accuracy.
Gotta love that with Ben under center, Haley went deep twice all season, then Leftwich comes in and his first pass is a bomb to Wallace.
I haven’t yet mentioned the Steelers defense. On paper, it looks like they had a good game. In reality, Kansas City’s incompetence was the only thing which saved them from a horrible loss. While we’re on the subject of terrible games, Ziggy Hood played like absolute shit. The Chiefs ran Jamaal Charles (23 carries 100 yards) right at him time after time for big chunks of yardage. Only when Dick LeBeau started switching up Hood and Bret Keisel did the bleeding stop. How bad does Ziggy have to play before Ironhead Junior gets more than a handful of snaps?
Did LaMarr Woodley play yesterday? How about James Harrison? You didn’t hear either name at all. If KC had receivers who didn’t fall into the fetal position when faced with contact and stopped shooting themselves in the foot with stupid penalties, this game wouldn’t have been close. In fact, the key series of the game occurred early in the third when a 22 yard TD to Dwayne Bowe was wiped out on a ticky-tack holding penalty then the KC kicker missed the ensuing FG wide right.
Late in the quarter, the pitiful Steelers offense was going nowhere fast when pass interference and roughing the passer penalties let them drive for the game-tying FG. Even at the end of the game KC tried their damnedest to snatch defeat from the jaws of
victory mediocrity. Cassel hit Bowe for a nice gain but Bowe lost the ball when Ryan Clark concussed himself while dislodging the ball. Then TE Tony Moeki got flagged for offensive PI which took them out of FG range and left them with 4th and 15. Of course, Ike Taylor played it too loose and let them convert a 27 yard pass play.
The Chiefs came in having never led during regulation all season. They led for almost half the game. The Chiefs came in leading the league in turnovers. Until Cassel threw the pick to Timmons in OT (which was tipped by the Diesel, btw), they had zero giveaways. Yeah, they were a desperate team. Yeah, maybe this was a trap game. Injuries, Haley, their Super Bowl, yadda yadda…
No excuses. Any good feelings from last week’s game against the Giants are long gone. This was an abominable effort that would’ve resulted in a loss against any halfway competent team. And now an offense which has already been average at best needs to find a way to score points with their back-up QB. On top of all this, two of the next three games are against the Ravens. Suddenly this season isn’t looking so promising.
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It appears the demise of the Steelers defense was greatly exaggerated.
After Sunday’s utter domination of the New York Giants, Dick LeBeau‘s crew finds themselves the top ranked defense in the entire NFL. Not the Bears. Not the Texans. Not the Niners.
The Pittsburgh Steelers.
Does anybody else remember all the way back to one measly month ago? I know many of my readers don’t live in the Pittsburgh area so let me tell you what every other yinzer calling in to sports talk radio was saying. The defense stinks. They couldn’t stop a nose bleed. Dick LeBeau is old and the game has passed him by. Without Troy Polamalu, the defense doesn’t have enough talent to get the job done.
I admit it. I jumped aboard that bandwagon. After the Steelers blew a 23-16 lead against the wretched Titans, surrendering 10 points in the final five minutes, I started thinking maybe the only way this team can win is to run up the score on their opponents and hold on for dear life. In my defense, Ben Roethlisberger must have harbored similar feelings because Cris Collinsworth mentioned about six times that he said he wanted the offense to start closing out games instead of relying on the defense.
Ironically, it was that Sunday Night game against the Bengals where the D finally came to life. Whether Ben’s comments filtered back to them or not, they stepped up. After allowing a field goal on Cincy’s opening drive of the second half, the defense forced five straight punts to close out the game, four of which were three and outs. Granted the Bengals don’t have the greatest offense but Andy Dalton nearly out-dueled Peyton Manning this past weekend. And they do feature AJ Green, the best receiver in football, who much-maligned Ike Taylor held to one catch for 8 yards.
The next week, they did face a supposedly high powered offense. Robert Griffin III was being touted as the most fearsome offensive weapon in the league. The Redskins were coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Giants where they scored 23 points a week after dropping 38 on a solid Vikings unit. The Steelers stuffed RGIII like a three point buck and held Washington to a mere 12 points. Last Sunday, we faced the Giants and another high flying offense. If you subtract the bogus fumble recovery for a TD and the bogus personal foul on Ryan Clark that gave them 7 instead of settling for 3, the D held the G-Men to 9 points.
So dominating were the Steelers that Giants coach Tom Coughlin threw his quarterback under the bus after the game.
Can this last?
Blitzburgh is a thing of the past. Despite the overall #1 ranking, they’re only 22nd in sacks (14 total). This might be concerning except I’m starting to think the sack is the football equivalent of a save in baseball. A closer can come in with a 3 run lead, give up a two run home run and as long as he gets that third out, he’s credited with “saving” the game. Physically dragging the QB down is like a save, it’s a result that doesn’t speak to the action. Sure it would be nice to get sacks because they usually come with big losses but they’re not the be all and end all. The Steelers have been generating pressure on the QB. Forcing QBs to move around in the pocket, rushing throws, and generally disrupting their timing can all be done without registering a sack. And that’s what they’ve been doing.
Then we have Mike Tomlin‘s beloved “splash plays.” Again, the Steelers haven’t been doing well in that category. Their top ranked pass D is third from the bottom in interceptions. They have forced four fumbles which makes them about average but there is no denying the splash plays are few and far between. However, are splash plays truly an accurate measure of a good defense?
I’m not big on statistics because, as the saying goes, there are liars, damn liars, and statistics. When it comes to turnovers, stats are even more misleading. One of the great unspoken truths of the NFL is that turnovers are about 20% scheme and talent and 80% luck. When the Saints won the Super Bowl, they had the most opportunistic D in the NFL. The next year the same players ranked in the bottom third in turnovers and lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Patriots had the last ranked defense last season yet made it all the way to the Super Bowl because they got a lot of turnovers (playing teams like the Jets and Bills helps). This year they’re in the middle of the pack and as a result have had to do a lot of work to overcome a defense ranked 28th against the pass and 22nd in total yards allowed.
What I’m saying is turnovers are nice but they can’t be counted on over the long haul. You can’t say, “well, we give up 350 yards per game but lead the league in red zone INTs!” and think that can last. Eventually you’re not going to get that pick. Like a card counter in Vegas, you have to play the percentages. It’s far preferably to hold the other team to under 200 yards of offense than give up huge chunks on the hope the other team will turn the ball over before they score.
The personnel may be different but the philosophy is still the same. Disrupt the quarterback, stop the run, force the other team to become one dimensional. The Steelers are executing the Dick LeBeau game plan to a T. And the scary part is they’re doing it without the services of Troy Polamalu.
If they’re this good without him, what are they going to do when he comes back for a playoff run?