Good-bye, Coach Dad.
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has “resigned” his position with the team in the wake of end-of-season meetings with head coach Mike Tomlin. No replacement has been named but it’s almost a foregone conclusion his protege, linebackers coach Keith Butler, will be taking the reins next season. The Steelers have blocked Butler from interviewing for defensive coordinator positions in recent years with the idea he’ll be LeBeau’s heir apparent. Well, looks like it’s time to see what the student has learned from the master.
At least this time the Steelers didn’t laughingly call LeBeau’s exit a “retirement.”
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So this is what if feels like to have seen a UFO. Or Bigfoot. Or the Flyers win the Stanley Cup.
Here we are over twelve hours later and I still can’t believe what I saw yesterday afternoon actually happened. Is this real life? Is it just fantasy? I have no idea who those guys in bumblebee jerseys were but I’d like to see more of them.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, behind a record setting passing performance from Ben Roethlisberger, outgunned the Indianapolis Colts 51-34. The two teams combined for over a 1,000 yards of total offense. Big Ben became only the second QB in NFL history with 500 passing yards, 6 TD, 0 INT in a game. His 522 yards tied him with Boomer Esiason for fourth most in NFL history, thirty behind Norm Van Brocklin‘s record set back in 1951.
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Ron Burgundy with all the analysis you really need.
For the first quarter plus of last night’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans, things could not have been going worse for the Black and Gold. The Steelers offense got off to glacial start – punctuated by boos from the Heinz Field faithful mixing in with the raindrops from above. And our defense couldn’t get off the field, allowing Houston to drive for three straight scores on their first three possessions. By early in the second quarter, Arian Foster had already tallied nearly 100 yards rushing while our inept secondary and anemic pass rush was making Ryan Fitzpatrick look like Joe Montana.
Then come the thunder.
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Yo, blonde in the pink bikini, hit me up some time. I’m on twitter.
The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 17-9 then proceeded to add insult to injury by taking over their pool. Not that many in the crowd of 70,000 were offended considering a solid two thirds of them were Steeler fans anyway. There are a lot of terrible fan bases in the NFL but none scrape the bottom of the barrel quite as badly as Jacksonville. We’re five games into the season and other than week two at Baltimore, I don’t think the Black and Gold have played an actual road game yet.
Where to start with yesterday’s performance…
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As the first half came to an end in yesterday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins, the Fins attempted an insane 52 yard field goal on the snow covered field into the notorious open end of the stadium. Predictably, the kick fell about ten yards short where Troy Polamalu caught it on the fly. Troy being Troy, he immediately took off running in an attempt to recreate Auburn-Alabama. After one of several laterals was miraculously caught by Ike Taylor, he decided not to tempt fate and fell on the ball rather than attempt a lateral of his own. It was one of the greatest meaningless plays I’ve ever seen.
Until the final play of the game.
After a failed fourth down conversion handed Miami a first down on the Steelers 9, the Dolphins milked the clock, ultimately settling for a field goal with a minute left. Three plays later, the Steelers were reduced to a desperate game of hook and lateral that ended when Antonio Brown some how broke free down the sideline and ran untouched for what looked to be a miraculous go-ahead touchdown. Unfortunately, AB’s pinky toe just nipped the sideline on his way to the end zone, thus preserving Miami’s 34-28 victory.
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Does that answer your question?
The Pittsburgh Steelers romped to a 37-27 victory over the Detroit Lions yesterday at Heinz Field. The near miraculous nature of their win is underscored by the fact their defense pulled out of a tailspin that threatened to send the game in the same direction as the Patriots debacle. Detroit finished with 451 total yards of offense, nearly 300 of which came in the second quarter. Meanwhile, the other three quarters saw the Black and Gold play perhaps their finest football of the season.
All season, the Steelers offense has played remarkably better when they’ve gone no-huddle. All season, the Steelers have refused go to the no-huddle until they’ve fallen a score or two behind. Head coach Mike Tomlin called it “a gimmick.” Todd Haley hates it because he’s not the one calling plays.
For the first time this year, the Steelers started the game going no-huddle. Naturally, they would score touchdowns on their first two possessions. With Ben Roethlisberger calling the plays, the Lions had no answers. Well, they did manage to force a three and out on our third drive.
Maybe if Ben studied his playbook a little more, we’d score on EVERY SINGLE POSSESSION.
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I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – I love Steeler Nation. There’s nothing like wearing a Super Bowl XL Champions t-shirt in Calgary, Canada or Albuquerque, New Mexico and having some complete random stranger walk up to you and say, “Go Stillers!” While I love the Pittsburgh Steelers fanbase, there’s a segment that drives me friggin’ crazy. If you want an example of who I’m talking about, just tune into Pittsburgh sports talk radio and you won’t have to listen for very long.
There’s an old football cliche that the most popular guy in town is the back-up quarterback. That was certainly true here at least until Terry Bradshaw started collecting rings. Since then, we’ve been relatively QB controversy free. Charlie Batch is certainly a more beloved figure locally than Ben Roethlisberger but only the most insane yinzer would’ve suggested starting Batch over (a healthy) Roethlisberger.
When it comes to the Steel City, the cliche should be amended to say, “the most popular guy in town in the previous offensive/defensive coordinator.”
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“There’s a certain amount of misery with the position that we’re in. We’ll wear it. We don’t like it. We’ll wear it.” - Mike Tomlin
If the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was an article of clothing, it’d be a pair of bowling shoes. Stinky ugly bowling shoes. Coach T was gracious about crediting Cincy for playing well during his post-game cliche-fest. All I’ll say is that if the Bengals are the class of the AFC North, then our division has quickly become the Big East of the NFL.
In my game preview, I mentioned this being the year quarterback Andy Dalton needed to take his game to the next level. The Ginger Rifle responded by playing a hideous game. Overthrows, underthrows, missing wide open receivers, Dalton did his best to keep the Steelers in the game. Unfortunately, the Black and Gold were in an even more charitable mood.
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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?
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Now, that’s more like it…
The Pittsburgh Steelers had their finest showing of the season last night, humbling the Cincinnati Bengals before a national audience on Sunday Night Football. While the final score of 24-17 doesn’t exactly speak to a one-sided whuppin’, scores can be misleading. This was clearly the Black and Gold’s most complete game on both sides of the ball.
Even more encouraging, instead of the usual pattern of starting strong only to falter at the end, this week the Steelers flipped the script. They came out of the gate flat and proceeded to spot the energetic young Bengals a big lead only to close the gap in the final minutes before halftime then totally dominating the second half.
Let’s start with that first half. If Mike Wallace is trying to convince the Steelers not to Franchise him after the season, he’s doing a great job. Wallace dropped at least four easily catchable balls, several of which would’ve went for big gains. He did wind up leading the team with 8 catches (for only 52 yards) but if you’re going to thump your chest and call yourself one of the league’s elite, you need to start making big plays. Nobody is playing $9 million for a decoy/possession receiver.
As bad as Wallace was, the worst misfire goes to Baron Batch. Early in the 2nd, Todd Haley dialed up a little trickeration with a lateral to Antonio Brown leading to a pass to a wide open Batch. There literally wasn’t a Bengal within 15 yards of Batch. Brown’s pass wasn’t much more than a punt and yet he let it go right through his arms. Somewhere, Limas Sweed is laughing at Baron Batch.
To add insult to injury, two plays later Ben Roethlisberger tried to force a throw between three defenders to Heath Miller in the end zone and ended up getting picked. It was the first of two costly miscues from Ben. On the Steelers next drive, rookie Mike Adams got pushed back into him and he would up fumbling the ball. Gifted field position inside the Steelers 10, the Bengals got out to a commanding 14-3 lead shortly before half.
That’s when the game started to turn. And it turned by the Steelers RUNNING THE BALL. Now Big Ben groupies like Mark Madden aren’t ever going to admit this but once again it’s become crystal clear this offense does 200x better when they run the ball effectively. Jonathan Dwyer, who spent the past couple weeks in Mike Tomlin‘s existential doghouse, had the game of his lie beginning in the second quarter when he ripped off runs of 11, 4, 4, and 21 yards.
Dwyer was aided by some nice run blocking from an offensive line which did a fantastic job all night. I’ve been extremely hard on Willie Colon but he’s proving to be a fairly significant upgrade over Kemo at LG. Although he still struggles occasionally in pass protection, he’s an absolute animal at run blocking. The goofs on NBC kept insisting Adams needed help even when their replays clearly showed the double team on Max Starks‘ side. I thought Adams acquitted himself well as it seemed to me the Steelers schemed to double Geno Smith rather than “help” any specific lineman. Despite all the gnashing of teeth over Pouncey and Gilbert, the line only surrendered three sacks while providing enough protection for Ben to get off 37 passes and the backs to romp for a season high 167 yards.
After Stonecold Shaun Suisham booted a 47 yarder to cut Cincy’s lead to 14-6, it was the defense’s turn to step up. On the Bengals first TD drive, they ran right at the Ziggy Hood and LaMarr Woodley like 5 plays in a row and couldn’t be stopped. Here they tried throwing in that direction and the Woodman batted a ball into his own arms for a key interception. Five plays later, Ben hit Heath Miller for a 9 yard TD.
Then we had our first comical situation of the game when Tomlin indulged his 2 point conversion fetish we discovered years ago in Jacksonville. Ben asked for time but the refs, who lost track of time outs (yeah, these guys are SO MUCH better than the scabs), refused to grant it. So Ben ran the play anyway, successfully hitting Heath to tie the game. When Ben walked off the field, a very pissed looking Tomlin met him, evidently thinking his QB ignored his orders to call time.
After Woodley’s interception, the game was all Steelers. Cincy got a FG in their first drive after halftime but their final five possessions resulted in five punts. What’s more, four of those five were 3 and outs. In my preview, I lauded AJ Green as the NFL’s best receiver. The much-maligned Ike Taylor held him to one catch for 8 yards. Okay, Ike had help as Dick LeBeau devised a high-lo defense where a safety would bracket Green but give credit where credit is due. Ike played a great game. The entire secondary played a great game.
And they caught a few breaks. As mentioned, Cincy ran right at the Steelers over and over on their first TD drive. Then Cincy’s center got hurt. The new guy was smaller and weaker and couldn’t handle Casey Hampton at all. Once Big Snack got on track, their running game collapsed.
Meanwhile, the Steelers running game was on fire. Dwyer would finish with 122 yards. Chris Rainey, who is proving to be another of Kevin Colbert’s late round steals, added the go-ahead touchdown off a draw play. Rainey also had several really good run backs which were called back on flags. The Steelers were flagged on EVERY SINGLE return yesterday. Or at least it seemed that way. Al Everest must have been a major asshole for Tomlin to fire him three weeks before the season started. I don’t know he did to get canned (offer Mrs. Tomlin a mustache ride?) but they better start looking for a new coordinator the minute the season ends because the current guy sucks.
But last night’s game certainly did not. In fact, it was the kind of performance that makes me feel a whole lot better about the Black and Gold’s prospects going forward. Meanwhile, the Ratbirds got humiliated by the Texans to drop to 5-2. Elsewhere, the Patriots struggled against a Jets team we thoroughly beat back in week 2. I guess what I’m saying is, nobody in the AFC is head and shoulders above the rest (except maybe the Texans). This looks like the kind of year where you get into the post-season and anything can happen. Yesterday’s victory ensured the Steelers remain in the post-season conversation for at least a little while longer.