The Pittsburgh Steelers put together their finest performance of the past two seasons last Sunday night against the Carolina Panthers. It may have been a costly victory, however. Three defensive starters went down with injury, at least two of whom are expected to miss significant time. The question therefore becomes how the Steelers fill those holes.
In my game recap, I tossed in a line about not being so sure the back-ups are a steep downgrade from the starters. Generally speaking, I still believe that. Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier might be great some day but that day is definitely not here. With Shazier, you can forgive his lapses because being a rookie playing in Dick LeBeau‘s notoriously complex defense has to be like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded. Jones, on the other hand, is in his second season and despite seeing significant playing time last year, really hasn’t shown much of anything yet in terms of being an elite pass rusher.
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Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Lady Luck must have been one of the several thousand Black and Gold clad fans who invaded Bank of America Stadium last night to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers steamroll the Carolina Panthers 37-19. To say the Steelers got some breaks would be an understatement. Or, in the case of poor Ike Taylor, a statement you could take quite literally.
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And here we thought the heavy lifting was over…
When the 2014 NFL season officially begins this afternoon, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be well under the league mandated $133 million salary cap. In fact, they may even have enough money to go out and sign a couple free agents when free agency kicks off later today. The moves they made to get to this point, however, are quite noteworthy. One in a good way and one in the bad.
First, to the surprise of virtually nobody, All-Pro linebacker LaMarr Woodley was given his walking papers. When Jason Worilds signed his transition tag before the ink was dry, I theorized that he and the Steelers may have the basic framework of a long-term deal in place and were just waiting until the team got it’s salary cap ducks in a row. Regardless, despite Kevin Colbert‘s nonsensical smoke-blowing about keeping both linebackers, there was no way the Black and Gold were going to pay two OLB big money with first round pick Jarvis Jones also needing playing time. Woodley was odd-man out from the word go.
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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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The Oakland Raiders.
Forget the Baltimore Ravens. The Browns? Pffft, please. Once upon a time, there was no more hated rival for the Pittsburgh Steelers than the Oakland Raiders. In the 1970s, it was the marquee match-up.
The only other rivalry remotely in the same stratosphere was the Steelers and Cowboys. Ironically, a key part of the Cowboys success was owed to a Pittsburgh area high school legend, Tony Dorsett. Today, another local high school legend, Terrelle Pryor, is attempting to lead the Raiders back into relevance. Can lightning strike twice?
If it does, it will hardly be the first time the Steelers have been snakebit by the Raiders. With Halloween right around the corner, it’s somewhat appropriate we play this week in the Oakland Coliseum, which has been something of a traditional House of Horror for the Black and Gold. Granted the teams don’t face each other regularly but it’s still hard to believe the Steelers haven’t won there since way back in 1995.
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Yesterday could arguably be considered the worst day in Pittsburgh Steelers history. First, news came down that one of the members of the storied Steel Curtain, L.C. Greenwood, had passed away at 67. Shortly thereafter, the Black and Gold blew a golden opportunity to send the game to overtime, falling to the Minnesota Vikings 34-27. The Steelers are now 0-4 for the first time in 45 years, the year before Mr. Greenwood was drafted by a rookie head coach named Chuck Noll.
Mike Tomlin is no Chuck Noll.
In fact, the only way he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the Emperor is to point out it’s become apparent our current Emperor has no clothes. No answers, either, for a season that has tragically spiraled out of control. Every week brings some fresh hell to Steeler Nation. It’s amazing how this team constantly finds new ways to lose.
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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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I’ve been a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers for a very long time. I’m not going to claim I haven’t missed a game in 35 years or anything like that (I was a teenager once and the Steelers did start Bubby Brister). However, since I started following them in the late 80s, I can honestly count on one hand the number of times I’ve turned off a game before the clock hit zero. Well, much like the Steelers, now I have one for the thumb.
Yesterday’s 34-24 loss to the San Diego Chargers was the worst kind of drubbing. It was one of those games where literally nothing went right and your team was never in the game. The Steelers pathetic offense didn’t cross mid-field until there were 30 seconds left in the first half. At the start of the 4th quarter, the Chargers had possessed the ball for roughly 30 of the first 45 minutes. This was as thorough an ass-whupping as the Steelers have had in a long time.
Except instead of coming at the hands of an elite franchise like Baltimore or New England, it was handed to them by a going nowhere 4-8 team about to fire their head coach at season’s end.
Unlike in those other embarrassments, Ben Roethlisberger was the least of the culprits in yesterday’s debacle. Ben actually looked pretty good coming off a three game layoff due to catastrophic injury. He moved around well, scrambled without fear and didn’t look rusty or limited at all. It’s only too bad the rest of the team decided to offer him less support than they offered Charlie Batch in Cleveland.
Young Money should change their name to Cash Droppahs. Once again, they dropped an obnoxious number of passes, several of which would’ve went for big gains in the first half when the game was still within reach. Mike Wallace put up a nice fantasy game with garbage time stats (7 catches 112 yards 2 TDS) but in reality he came up small when the catches counted. He was wide open on at least three occasions in the first half only for the ball to CLANG off his stone hands.
But perhaps the biggest goat was Antonio Brown. Ben made a nifty move to scramble away from danger and launched a perfect throw 30 or so yards down field which hit AB right in the chest before bouncing harmlessly to the turf. As if that drop wasn’t bad enough, AB later gift-wrapped 7 points to the Chargers when a bubble screen hit TE David Paulsen and bounced into the end zone. Brown tried to pick it up which was stupid because he was 5 yards deep and about to be swarmed. Being tackled in the end zone is the same as kicking the ball out of the end zone (a safety) so the result would’ve been the same except by trying to be a hero, he let the ball get away from him and 2 points became 7. What a maroon.
For awhile now Steeler fans (myself included) have sang the praises of the Steelers receiving corps. All receivers drop passes now and then but at what point do we start wondering if maybe we’ve overrated them a bit? Wallace is definitely an one trick ass clown with delusions of grandeur (LarryFitz money my ass…) but what’s going on with AB and Manny Sanders? And why do the Steelers bother signing guys like Plax and the Cotch Rocket if they aren’t going to play them?
Of course, I’ve long said the passing game needs a good running attack to complement it in order to be effective. The Steelers couldn’t run at all yesterday. Jonathan Dwyer finished with 8 carries (EIGHT!) for 32 yards. He narrowly led the team in rushing over Ben who ended up scrambling for 31 yards because he was constantly running for his life. The offensive line allowed only 2 sacks but Ben’s 5 scrambles were due to pressure and there were another half dozen times he got away long enough to throw the ball away. Willie Colon tried to tough it out but had to leave early on with Maurkice Pouncey shifting to LG and Doug Legursky coming in at center.
This will come as shocking news but Colon is injured and reports are he’s LOST FOR THE SEASON. Yes, I know that the guy who is always injured and never plays a full season yet got a big fat contract anyway being injured is totally unexpected but there you go. We’ll talk about where this leaves the O-line and running game going forward later.
All this misery and I haven’t even gotten to the defense yet. I don’t want to hear Steeler fans bitch about Ike Taylor ever EEEEVVVER again. The D loses Troy and still leads the league in pass defense. The D loses James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and still leads the league in total D. The D loses Ike and goes to complete shit.
The way Curtis Brown played yesterday almost defies description. It literally looked like they took a guy out of the stands an hour before game time and put him in the starting line-up. That’s how clueless Brown looked. This is the guy’s second full year with the Steelers and he didn’t appear to have any idea where he was supposed to be or who he was supposed to be covering. It got so bad that in the second half they actually inserted Josh Victorian, a guy fresh off the practice squad, as the nickel because Brown was such a liability.
When the Chargers scored early in the 4th to go up 34-10, I figured it might be good to take out Ben since the game was lost. Mike Tomlin kept him in, risking both injury and the season in a lost effort. Ben led a TD drive but instead of going for 2 (and possibly cutting the lead to two scores instead of three), he kicked the XP. Why? “I didn’t want to reveal my secret 2 point plays,” Tomlin later said in a lie so hilarious, only the rah rah cheerleader Pittsburgh media could swallow it.
If you’re not trying to win, WHY WAS BEN PLAYING? I can believe you have some 2 point trick plays but, I dunno, you couldn’t just run a regular goal line play? The truth is Tomlin had given up on the game but he didn’t want to justify keeping Ben in and admit he wasn’t playing to win. I was on Twitter and a minor war broke out amongst Steeler fans as a #fireTomlin hash tag started making the rounds. I’m not saying Tomlin should be fired but I’m sick and tired of the Tomlin apologists acting like nothing that happens to this team is his fault. Losing to teams we shouldn’t lose to and putting out performances like this one or the one in Cleveland or a whole bunch back in 2009 are inexcusable. And that falls on the head coach.
The only good news to emerge from Sunday is the Bengals also lost (as did the Ravens but they’ve clinched the division with our loss). Which means the status quo holds over from last week. The Steelers must win out if they want to control their own destiny but one more loss, as long as it isn’t to the Bengals, will still probably get them in the playoffs. PLAYOFFS? (Insert Mora rant here).
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Guess what? Another key member of the Pittsburgh Steelers is hurt! Shocking!
Did they install ladders over the tunnel in Heinz Field? Did the entire team decide to engage in a mass mirror breaking exercise during training camp? I realize every team battles injuries but this season has been downright ridiculous.
The year starts with James Harrison on the bench where Troy Polamalu joins him almost right away. Harrison comes back and out goes LaMarr Woodley. Just to make things more interesting, Antonio Brown also gets hurt. Brown and Troy start feeling better, out goes Ben Roethlisberger. And that’s not even mentioning other notable guys who’ve missed time like Jonathan Dwyer, Jerricho Cotchery, Willie Colon, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams and on and on…
I’ll talk more about the Ben situation when we hear what happened at practice later this afternoon. Word is Ben is actually going to practice this week, not mill around the sidelines casually tossing soft lobs to Mike Tomlin‘s son like he did last week when the morons at ESPN excitedly proclaimed his “return to practice.” If Ben stands behind center and runs the offense at full speed while demonstrating he can heave the ball more than 5 yards down field without clutching his midsection like Richard Harrow just shot him in the gut, he’ll start.
If not, well, in Charlie Batch we trust. Suck it, haters.
One person the team will definitely be without is cornerback Ike Taylor. I think we all knew Ike was seriously hurt when CBS cut to a sideline shot of him being placed in a walking boot. Tomlin revealed he suffered a hairline fracture of his ankle, an injury should shelve him for 2-4 weeks. Steeler Nation has a real love/hate relationship with Face Me Ike (mostly hate) but there’s no doubt the team will miss him. Since starting the season in a Tebow-induced funk, Ike has returned to his status as the lead shut down corner on the league’s best pass defense. AJ Green, Victor Cruz and Torrey Smith all disappeared under his watch so to think his absence won’t be felt is foolish.
Cortez Allen will take his place in the starting line-up with Curtis Brown taking Allen’s slot as the nickel corner. As soon as Ike left, Joe Flacco couldn’t wait to test Allen. And he kept testing him all afternoon, targeting him a whopping 12 times before all was said and done. Of Flacco’s sad 188 yard output, 100 of those yards came at Allen’s expense. Allen did come on in the second half and the presence of Troy will certainly make any secondary better. Still, the Steelers aren’t going to play a mediocre quarterback every week so Allen either needs to step up his game or the team is going to struggle if Ike misses more than a couple weeks.
The Steelers are in a precarious position as it is. They’re holding tight to a Wild Card spot and the general mediocrity of the AFC means that a 9-7 record will probably slip in to at least one playoff slot. It’s looking like the pesky Bengals will be the Steelers biggest obstacle for that spot. The teams meet the final week and it’s very possible the winner will go on to the post-season. Sure the Bungles are the Bungles but I’d feel a lot better about that game with Ike covering AJ Green than Cortez Allen. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.
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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?