Even Cinderella had to be home by midnight. The clock struck twelve yesterday for the Pittsburgh Steelers, falling to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-13 in quarterback Landry Jones first NFL start. Some of you might think this metaphor is directed at Jones who a week after playing nearly flawlessly committed three costly turnovers. It isn’t.
Nope, the coach that turned back into the pumpkin yesterday was the Steelers defense. Going into the year, nobody wondered how good they could be but rather if they could not be bad enough for the offense to overcome. Through the first six weeks they were a pleasant surprise, if not winning games then certainly being more of a help than a hindrance. Yesterday, that all went bye-bye.
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So much for best laid plans…
Going into this off-season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were projected to be catastrophic twenty some odd million over the cap. First, they got some great news when the new cap number came in $10 million higher than last season. They still had some work to do after linebacker Jason Worilds signed his one year transition offer but they were within striking distance. It looked like only one major cut would be needed to get within salary cap compliance by next Tuesday’s deadline.
Well, the Steelers are under the cap with five days to spare. More importantly, they didn’t have to cut a single significant player in order to achieve it.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers released their injury report on Tuesday and for once the news was optimistic. The news got even better yesterday with word All-Pro tight end Heath Miller has returned to full practice with signs pointing toward a possible return Sunday night against the Chicago Bears.
Meanwhile, rookie running back Le’Veon Bell continues to work through his Lisfranc injury with an expectation that he’ll “ramp up” his participation. While Bell has been limited at practice, it looks like he’s well on the way to returning to a regular activity providing everything goes smoothly this week.
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Lost among all the activity surrounding the 53 man roster was news that Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl tight end Heath Miller has been activated off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. Don’t get too excited over the prospect of shouting “HEEEEAATTTTH” after a clutch third down catch yet, though. Heath is still working his way back from the catastrophic knee injury he suffered in last year’s season finale. This is more or less a procedural move.
Under the NFL’s bizarre injury policies, players on the PUP can’t do anything but lay on the training table and stand around the sideline. For Miller to actually practice with the team, he needed to be placed on the active roster. Until he puts on the pads and starts throwing blocks and running routes, I wouldn’t expect to see him in the starting line-up anytime soon.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t played a single meaningful game this season and we’re already deeply concerned about their injury situation. To review, the Black and Gold have suffered a rash of injuries that has decimated depth to at secondary, running back, and tight end. The good news, that is if you believe the updates given out by incorrigible liar Mike Tomlin, is that many of those players will be back before long.
One who may not be is Heath Miller.
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There are thirty-two teams in the National Football League. According the Pittsburgh Steelers, there is but only one. At least, that’s the impression one sometimes gets from the moves they make. The Steelers have signed five free agents thus far, two played for them last year (Larry Foote and Plaxico Burress) and another two were longtime Steelers who played elsewhere in recent years (William Gay and the recently signed Matt Spaeth).
The only non-Steeler to be signed was back-up quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who happens to be a Pittsburgh native. And we laugh about the Cardinals being Steel City-centric…
Anyway, the return of Spaeth gives the Steelers a little insurance at the tight end position going into camp. Heath Miller tore his knee to hell in last season’s finale so it’s anybody’s guess if he’ll be ready by camp or what they can realistically expect out of him in 2013. Heath’s a man’s man and not a lazy fatass like LaMarr Woodley so I’m sure he’ll do everything he can to come back but when your rip every ligament in your knee that ends with CL, it’s best not to set exceptions too high.
Heath is that rare talent that excels at both catching passes and blocking. The Steelers have two tight ends currently on the roster who can conceivably pick up the slack catching the ball. Unfortunately, neither David Paulsen nor Leonard Pope is considered much of a blocker. Some website called Pro Football Focus, which tries to ruin football with a bunch of useless made-up stats like those sabrematrician dorks ruined baseball, claims their analysis “proves” Spaeth was the best blocking TE in football last season. As somebody who’s actually watched him play, that notion is laughable even though he is a certainly an upgrade over both our current TEs in the trenches.
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Sorry for being overly negative although it’s hard not to be since for the first time in a very long time, the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing an utterly meaningless football game. The last time the Steelers entered the last week of the season with absolutely nothing to play for was the final game of the Bill Cowher era. Actually, there was something to play for that weekend.
The Steelers had been eliminated from playoff contention the week prior but the Cincinnati Bengals needed a win to get in. When asked what would motivate his team to play with nothing on the line, Cowher famously said “Misery loves company.” And his team responded by sending their long-time coach out a winner (and dumping the Bungles from the playoff race) with a clutch TD by Santonio Holmes in overtime.
While this week’s opponent, the Cleveland Browns, aren’t playing for anything either, I have a hard time imagining Mike Tomlin motivating his players in a similar fashion. After all, Fraud Tomlin couldn’t get these guys to play hard when the playoffs were on the line, how’s he gonna get them fired up for a glorified exhibition game?
How bad has it gotten? Local talk shows are taking call after call from members of Steeler Nation who actually WANT the Steelers to lose so they improve their draft position. I can’t say that’s a bad idea. Never forget the 2007 draft where Darrelle Revis went with the 14th pick and while we took Lawrence Timmons one pick later. Timmons has finally realized his potential this season although I don’t think anybody would be crazy enough to argue they’d rather have him over Revis Island. So who knows, perhaps a loss on Sunday is the difference between drafting a shutdown corner or a chronically underachieving linebacker.
Good grief, we’re talking about draft position and hoping for losses. Yes, it has come to this.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs BROWNS OFFENSE
The Browns offense will finish the year near the bottom of the league in points per game and total yards. Rookie QB Brandon Weedon has shown flashes of being a competent signal caller but enters the game having thrown more INTs (17) than TDs (14). Of course, it’s not all Weedon’s fault. Other than fellow rookie RB Trent Richardson, who was on track for 1,000+ rushing and 400+ receiving yards before he got banged up, the Browns don’t have much in the way of offensive weapons. Whoever takes over in the front office will definitely be looking to upgrade the skill positions this off-season.
EDIT: And of course late news out of Cleveland is both Weedon and Richardson are nursing injuries and won’t be active on Sunday. Evidently the Browns want to ensure they’re in position to take the next Revis so they’re endeavoring to field the WORST TEAM EVER. Even back-up Colt McCoy is sitting out because his testicles haven’t descended or some such nonsense. Which means all you loyal season ticket holders will get to see the NFL debut of rookie QB Thad Lewis. THAD LEWIS! SMELL THE EXCITEMENT!
Which brings us to the Browns’ sole motivation this weekend, rescuing coach Pat Shurmur’s job. Shurmur’s only been in Cleveland two years (although Cleveland years are like dog years, one feels like seven) but with a new owner used to winning – he was a minority owner of the Steelers – Shurmur’s wretched 9-22 mark may do him in. Knowing the Browns, they’ll probably fire Shurmur only to hire another retread like Norv Turner although we’ll
worry laugh about that when the time comes. For now Shurmur is their coach and he may very well need a win this Sunday to have any hope of keeping his job.
For the Steelers, this may be the last hurrah for some familiar faces. Casey Hampton took a pay cut to come back one more year and although the team doesn’t really have a heir apparent waiting in the wings – unless you count that drunken imbecile Alameda Ta’amu – he may not be back next season. Then there’s James Harrison. Although our old pal Hennessy will be heartbroken to hear this, there is real talk that Harrison and his $9 million salary will not be back in 2013. I think that would be a mistake since Deebo has shown he can still play at a very high level when he’s reasonably healthy but remember this is the same team that cut Greg Lloyd and Joey Porter when they still had a little gas left in the tank.
It’s the Steeler Way.
Despite a season filled with injuries to key players and lacking in game-changing plays, the Steelers D will almost certainly finish the year ranked first overall for the third time in the past six years. Dick LeBeau has been telling his guys that he intends to come back next season so barring another Bruce Arians fiasco from Art II, our D should still be pretty good next season no matter who he has to coach.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs BROWNS DEFENSE
The only upside to having one more game left in the season is you only have one more game to watch the Steelers’ excruciatingly pitiful excuse for an offense. The defense certainly struggled the first month or so of the season but when the story of 2012 is written our inept offense is going to bear the brunt of the criticism for things going so horrible wrong. And deservedly so.
Todd Haley was brought in to take them to the next level. Instead, everything has gone backwards. Ben Roethlisberger regressed. The Young Money crew regressed. The running game regressed. I don’t know if Boss Todd will be back next year – my money, or rather the money inherited by the Deuce, says yes – but let’s hope things improve next year.
Contrasted with the last appearance in the Black and Gold of some veterans on D, this may be the last time we see some young players on offense in our colors.
Mike Wallace (EDIT: Wallace has a sore hammy and is sitting out. Wow, this really is a glorified exhibition game. Do you guys really expect me to watch this?) and Rashard Mendenhall are undoubtedly playing their last home games in Pittsburgh. Wallace simply wants too much money and while I think he’s a very skilled receiver, he’s not the kind of difference maker worth throwing a huge contract at to keep around. Mendy, well, I don’t think Tomlin likes him and as time has gone on the feeling has become mutual. I think he’s a perfect example of a guy who needs a change in scenery to get their career back on track.
Where that leaves the Steelers, however, is anybody’s guess. If Haley truly wants the Steelers to run the ball more often and effectively than his predecessor, the team probably needs to invest in a top flight back. Neither Jonathan Dwyer nor Isaac Redman have looked like they should be considered featured backs. Meanwhile, we once thought the Steelers receiving corps was an embarrassment of riches but subtracting Wallace and with Manny Sanders spectacular flame-out, we’re left with Antonio Brown and… Jerricho Cotchery?
The Steelers aren’t going to make any off-season decisions based on one game. Mendy can gallop for 250 yards or Wallace can catch 200 yards worth of passes and I’m sure it won’t affect what the team does with them this off-season. What we do know is tough decisions have to be made so we don’t find ourselves in this exact same situation next year. And what is certain is the team that takes the field next September will look quite a bit different than the one we see on Sunday.
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Yinz love regular features. From Know Thy Enemy (accept no cheap substitutes!) to Wallace Watch ’12, our fearless leader, Chris, loves regular features, too. With hockey season on permanent hiatus (Thanks Bettman…BOOOO!), he thought it would be cool to do our own version of the 3 Stars of the Game. Of course, we have to list three goats as well.
Chris then had the brilliant notion, “If I’m going to do a weekly segment named after the Steel City’s favorite swill beer, why not ask the guy named after booze to do it?”
We hope you play along at home. List your three stars and three goats in the comments and maybe we can get some Pittsburgh Steelers talk going up in this bitch.
3 Stars of the Week
Todd Haley seems to be taking the chains off one link at a time, allowing Ben to air the ball out almost 50 times against Oakland. Completing 36 of those passes kept Pittsburgh in the game, and he managed to be the only player on offense not trying to turn the ball over, managing 0 interceptions and 0 fumbles. Ben looked more like himself on Sunday by scrambling and extending broken-down plays, while also taking several un-flagged shots to the legs. He kept trucking and lobbed four TD passes before the nightmare was over. Hats-off to the man in charge of a relatively productive offensive performance.
I don’t think it is worth mentioning again but Heeeeeaaath may be the most underrated player in the NFL. Ben has stated publicly that he fears the thought of playing without #83 on the field, and showed why against Oakland. Miller tied Wallace with eight receptions on the day, and managed to pull two of those down within the goal line. The often overlooked side of Heath was also apparent, as his “addition of another lineman” blocking style cleared the way for Ben to mark up 384 yards in the air. Heath’s block-and-catch presence has helped cement the weak O-Line for years, and proved its worth again on Sunday.
Woodley was the only visible presence on the defense after Clark’s 1st play interception of Kimo von Oelhoffen’s old snuggle buddy. He set a benchmark by bringing down Palmer for his 50th career sack, only the 8th player in Black and Gold history to reach that milestone. Coming from a Steelers defense that missed more tackles than a communications major, Woodley added a much-needed wall behind the front-line. It was far from a stellar performance, but with Troy and Harrison sitting on the sideline it was critical that someone step up and lead the defensive effort.
3 Goats of the Week
Wallace, Brown and the Ball Control Circus:
No NFL coach has gone a full season without mouthing their version of “you can’t win games if you turn the ball over.” This is only true if the recovering team capitalizes on the generosity, which Oakland did twice. AB and Wallace tossed the ball around the field like the equipment manager filled them with helium. Oakland was viciously punching at the ball all afternoon, and our stellar receiving core seemed happy to act as their personal speed bags. Brown corralled his own fumble for a TD and Wallace saved his drop in the 3rd but the offense still let two of them go to the bad guys. The resulting scores surely didn’t help the Steelers’ cause.
I stay away from fretting about injuries changing the outcome of the game. Every team has sidelined players, men hobbling off the field, and a less-than 100% roster on both sides of the ball. That being said, PLEASE COME BACK TROY. The position of safety is meant to be an “if all else fails” position. In the last three games when “all else failed,” so did our safety. Darren McFadden was the potential undoing of this victory, and he owned it. When Ryan Mundy wasn’t busy trying to get fined for sloppy hits or letting a weak receiving core burn him, he was trotting around wondering what to do when McFadden finally broke through. Answer: Fall on the ground and let him score. Pathetic.
I chose to single out Redman only because he was the starter listed at our non-existent RB slot. Between Redman, Dwyer, Batch, and Rainey, the running game did less damage to Oakland than the San Andreas Fault. Redman put up 27 of their pathetic 54 total yards on the ground, so I guess in some parallel universe he is due credit for not running backwards or fumbling 5 times (Dwyer handled the fumbling honors). I hope Haley hasn’t been watching old tapes of Amos Zereoue to prepare for his dawning of the “New-Old Stillerz Football”.
This Week’s cure for your Six-Pack Hangover:
Much like an open bar at your ex’s remarriage, we should have known this would end up bad. What started off as a chance to drink free whiskey and rekindle an old rivalry quickly turned into seething hatred. Oh, and before you left, you made sure to make an ass out of yourself.
Unfortunately, the next scheduled chance to make up for that night on the town is two seasons away. At least we have a chance to lay low, use the upcoming bye week to rest our heads and headaches, and get ready for handling our swill a little better when we face yet another bi-annual pain in the ass, the Philadelphia Eagles.
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With less than four minutes left in yesterday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders, Mike Tomlin elected to go for it on 4th down. The ball was on our 30 yard line, failing to convert would’ve almost certainly handed the Raiders the go-ahead field goal while we burned our last two time outs so we could get the ball back with somewhere around two or two and half minutes left. And that’s the best case scenario. So why would Tomlin take such a risky gamble?
Coach T’s answer: “we hadn’t stopped anybody.” Oof.
This is what Stiller Football has become in 2012. The Steel Curtain is made of tissue paper. Blitzburgh has been replaced by Snoozeburgh (as in, quarterbacks can now take a nap in the pocket without fear of being disturbed). The “old, slow and done” guys are all gone so DO NOT blame this on age. High draft picks abound on this defense and not a damn one of them is any good.
Larry Foote and Ryan Clark are the only two guys who earned the right to leave Oakland with their heads held high. As much as I find his personality irritating, I have to admit Clark has established himself as the team’s third best defensive player after Harrison and Polamalu. For the second game in a row he made an early impact, intercepting Carson Palmer’s first pass of the afternoon to set up the Steelers first TD. Foote had 7 tackles and really stepped up in terms of run defense after Darren McFadden ran by half the team for a 64 yard TD.
The rest of the team? Ryan Mundy is an absolute embarrassment. Commentator Dan Fouts claimed the Steelers coaches considered Mundy “a fifth starter” in the secondary which, if true, means those coaches are absolute idiots. He can’t cover anybody and instead of tackling, all he does is run around trying to behead people. Mundy knocked Oakland WR Darrius Heyward-Bey out of the game on a scary helmet-to-helmet collision in the end zone which, while unintentional, should net him a hefty fine. I’m actually hoping the Ginger Dictator suspends him so I don’t see him on the field any more.
Mundy might be the highest profile stiff but he’s far from the only one. Lawrence Timmons made exactly one play all afternoon. That’s $55 million well spent. He was one of the guys along with Keenan Lewis who got wiped out on McFadden’s long TD run, by the way. Speaking of which, why is Lewis still starting? If the real refs ever come backs, he’ll get flagged on every play because unless he’s jumping on receivers’ back, they’re wide open. Not that fellow rookie Cortez Allen has been any great shakes either.
Of course, the secondary has long been a Steelers weakness. What covered for them was the fact they were good at pressuring the quarterback. Guess what? NOBODY IS PRESSURING THE QUARTERBACK. First rounders Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward barely show up on the stat sheet. Big Snack can’t move any more. How about our other highly paid LB, LaMarr Woodley? He had an early sack then disappeared the rest of the game. He should give half his pay to Deebo because it’s obvious at this point that Harrison made him by drawing all those double teams. Chris Carter and second rounder Jason Worilds are useless. The only way Worilds will ever sniff a quarterback is if Tom Brady sends him a pair of his used Uggs.
Get well soon, James and Troy. Our defense is absolute garbage without you.
The only reason the Steelers managed to hold on to a lead until the very end was the Raiders seemingly tried to prove they could play even less defense than we did. Take nothing away from Ben Roethlisberger, who was once again magnificent. Ben had one of the great passing performances in recent memory, completing 36/49 for 384 yards and 4 TDs. Todd Haley has finally realized he has to put the ball in the hands of his best players because the team came out throwing and kept on chucking all afternoon. They mixed in a running play here and there but, as usual, the running game was a complete waste of time.
Heath Miller caught 8 passes, including two of Ben’s four touchdowns. Mike Wallace also caught 8 balls, piling up 123 yards and a touchdown. That TD, shown above, was a crazy play where Wallace did everything short of send up a signal flare to show he was wide open. Ben scrambled away from danger while the man covering Wallace cramped up and fell down, leading to him being about as wide open as you’ll ever see. Antonio Brown chipped in with 7 catches for 87 yards but had two fumbles, one of which he got back but the other was extremely costly.
Besides the putrid D, the Steelers biggest downfall on Sunday was all the mistakes. They dominated the first half but came away with only a three point lead because of penalties and turnovers. Besides McFadden’s long TD run, the Raiders other TD was set up by a Jon Dwyer fumble. The offense blew through time outs in the 1st quarter so they had none left when they were driving at the end of the half and had to settle for a FG. Brown’s second fumble set up the game-tying FG. Then we have special teams, where AB had two big kick returns (one for a TD) called back because of penalty. Meanwhile, Mike Goodson’s 51 yard punt return directly led to another of Oakland’s touchdowns.
Maybe Tomlin shouldn’t have forced Al Everest out so he could hire his buddy, eh?
Of course, Tomlin has much bigger worries on his plate. The Steelers are 1-2 and haven’t really played anybody decent yet. Scarier yet, the defense is an absolute mess and their only hope for salvation lies in a 32 year old guy with a bum back and knee and an All-Pro safety who plays like a kamikaze and has the career expectancy of one. The good news is we get a bye week where we can hopefully get some players back. The bad news is it’s a long season after that. A long season which will get even longer if some things don’t start to improve.
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Once upon a time, the prospect of playing the boys from the Mile High City was met with the same level of disdain Steeler Nation now reserves for the Ratbirds or Patriots. After last night’s game, I think it’s safe to say while the Denver Broncos may not be full-fledged members of the Circle of Hate, they’re definitely vying for a spot. For the second straight game dating back to last season’s Wild Card debacle, the Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in groan-worthy fashion, 31-19.
Where to start with this disaster.
How about new offensive coordinator Todd Haley? Some people view Twitter as a sign of the apocalypse (Follow me @totalsteelers) but I enjoy it because instead of waiting hours or even minutes to gauge reaction, you have it in seconds. It took roughly one quarter before the armchair offensive coordinators started calling for Haley’s head. His crime?
He was running the ball too much!
Yes, the same group who called into Pittsburgh sports talk shows whining about Bruce Arians and his Flying Circus offense for the past three years were moaning because Haley gave them what they asked for. More importantly, he gave Art Rooney II exactly what he wanted, a return to Stiller Football. And how did Stiller Football fare? Isaac Redman gained 20 yards on 11 carries while Jon Dwyer, one of the game’s lone offensive stars, chipped in 43 yards on only 9 carries with one big 17 yard gain wiped out due to a dubious holding call on Mike Wallace.
On the bright side, we totally dominated time of possession!
Seeing this offense try to relive the glory days of Franco and the Bus was PAINFUL to watch. Several times we had first and 15s and Haley elected to run on two successive downs. Only Ben Roethlisberger completing some big third down throws kept the chains moving. This team has one of the deepest and most talented group of wide receivers in the NFL. They shouldn’t be running to set up the pass, they should be passing to set up the run.
FORGET YINZERBALL AND PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS.
Ben is going to catch some flak for his performance last night, as he should. When your rep is being the best clutch player in football, you don’t throw a pick-six down six with 3 minutes left. Ben certainly had a Jekyll/Hyde game, making some great throws where he literally threaded a needle but he also made several incredibly dangerous throws which could’ve easily gotten intercepted. He also missed several big plays such as botching a sure TD to Heath Miller (who was open all day) and never seeing Wallace left wide open on a crucial fourth quarter drive. While I think it’d be totally unfair to pin this loss on him, Ben needs to play a helluva lot better if this team is going to win.
Especially if the defense is going to play like they played last night. Last year, Warren Sapp derided them as old, slow and done. This season, it appears they’re young, eager and over their heads. Despite obnoxious Cris Collinsworth occasionally getting up off his knees to proclaim “Peyton Manning is doing this to the league’s #1 ranked defense!” this is not the league’s top ranked defense. That was last year’s team with James Harrison and Ryan Clark and a healthier Casey Hampton and William Gay opposite Ike Taylor. Last night’s defense had none of those things and the results showed.
Manning was only sacked twice and one of those, by Jason Worilds, was a clean shot thanks to Manning mixing up the protection call. Other than a first quarter sack by Larry Foote, who was one of the few bright spots on defense, they generated almost zero pressure. Surely the altitude played a part but it doesn’t excuse anything. The bottom line is the Steelers offense held the ball for a whopping 10 minutes (35 to 25) longer yet the “exhausted” Broncos D held them to 19 points while the “rested” Steelers D allowed Pey-Pey to march right down the field on them.
Foote forced an early fumble although it was more luck than skill as he got thrown into the back and happened to knock the ball loose. That was it as far as highlights go. The D-line got pushed around on passing plays and couldn’t stop the run when it counted. The linebackers effort can be summed up by watching Peyton OUTRUN supposedly super-athlete Lawrence Timmons to the sticks for a 7 yard gain. Then we have the secondary. Youngsters Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen did their best B-Mac impressions, allowing generous 5 yard cushions on every pass play. And then we have Demaryius Thomas, who once again abused Ike Taylor to the tune of 5 catches for 110 yards.
Perhaps no play summed up last night’s debacle like the third quarter turning point when Thomas took a little slant and ran away from like half the defense on his way to a 71 yard TD. Of course the scab refs missed a hold on Ryan Mundy on the play but it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
What would have mattered was the facemask on Ben they missed on the Steelers’ previous drive which ended with a Shaun Suisham field goal. The game was an absolute fiasco from an officiating standpoint, with the scab refs saving their worst for prime time and most of their incompetence going against the Steelers. The lone time we got a call, on yet another boneheaded Mike Tomlin challenge which came in after a play had been run, it would’ve been better if they hadn’t. Meanwhile, Wallace’s hold wiping out a big Dwyer run and a crucial pass interference on Lewis late in the 4th were the definition of ticky-tacky especially after not calling worse against the Broncos. Evidently they did read the Illegal Formations portion of the rule book on the can before the game because that was one thing they called on both teams at least a good half dozen times.
Let’s not blame the scab refs on this fiasco. The Steelers played a terrible game last night. If Ben had Superman’d up and pulled out a last-second victory, it only would’ve been a Band-Aid on a gaping chest wound. The Steelers clearly have some fundamental issues they need to address on both sides of the ball. And they need to start by figuring out what kind of offense they want to run. Because what we saw last night isn’t going to get it done, not against Peyton Manning, not against Tim Tebow, not against anybody.