As I’ve mentioned before, I spent the Thanksgiving holiday with my family down in Florida. I tried keeping up with any important news concerning the Pittsburgh Steelers but between food hangovers and travel woes, some things fell through the cracks. Most notably, I missed the news that defensive end Brett Keisel suffered a torn tricep that will officially end his 2014 season.
Well, I didn’t exactly “miss it.” I just didn’t report it here. Watching the game at a Steeler bar, as soon as I saw the Diesel walking off holding his arm I figured he tore his bicep/tricep. Meanwhile, the Steelers waited until before game time to announce James Harrison would also be sitting out with a balky knee so that one’s on them.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers are hot right now. Their offense is on absolute fire but the oft-criticized defense has also come around in recent weeks. They’re not shutting people out like in days gone by although I’m not sure in today’s NFL such a thing is even possible. With all the current rules where basically scowling at a receiver results in a flag, I’m not sure it’s even possible to have a shut down unit anymore.
Good teams still play good D, it’s just a different kind of defense. They don’t give up the big plays, make the other guys work for the scores they do get, and above all generate splash plays by sacking the QB and forcing turnovers. Those are all areas the Steelers struggled mightily in for going on a two season now. They’re also areas the team has steadily improved in over the past few weeks. Perhaps not coincidentally, that improvement has coincided with the resurgence of one player in particular.
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Back in week two, the Baltimore Ravens humbled the Pittsburgh Steelers with a one-sided butt whuppin’. Last night, the Black and Gold got sweet sweet revenge thanks to yet another record-setting performance from Ben Roethlisberger. A rivalry once known for close games has now become a series of knockout punches. This time the Steelers were left standing at the end, owners of an epic 43-23 smackdown over their hated rivals.
Oddly enough, the first quarter seemed to imply doom for the hometown team. Ben was getting the bejeezus beat out of him, culminating in a late hit that left him checking if his jaw was still attached. There were actually two personal fouls called on that one play, which is just about the most Raven-y thing ever. Prior to that drive, though, the Steelers were stuck in neutral, going almost the entire first quarter without a single first down. Their first decent drive ended after Ben was sacked on three consecutive snaps and it really looked it was going to be a herculean struggle to get the ball in the end zone.
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In the aftermath of Sunday’s epic curb-stomping of the Colts, I was looking over my feed for any stories concerning the Pittsburgh Steelers. One immediately jumped out at me. It was titled, “Steelers LBs Smash Weight Room After Big Victory” and I won’t lie, my first thought was “Uh oh, they demolished the training facility celebrating after the game?” Those kind of things leap to mind when you follow a team with a habit of launching into obnoxiously long choreographed dance routines after every halfway decent play.
No, the Steelers didn’t party by causing mass destruction to team facilities. The story was about James Harrison and Jason Worilds, who evidently came in bright and early Monday morning to get in a light workout by deadlifting 450 pound barbells. I’ve kind of scoffed at the idea of “veteran leadership” – to me, being able to play is much more important than being vocal in the locker room – but I’m coming around that one of the Steelers problems in recent years was the loss of so many established leaders.
I don’t know Jason Worilds but I do know nobody works as hard or has as much heart as Deebo. And I can’t help but think some of the linebackers recent uptick in play directly coincides with #92 being back in Black and Gold.
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So anybody else hear that Derek Jeter is retiring?
Of course we’ve had nauseating tributes to Jeter crammed down our throats all season long. While I couldn’t care less about the Yankees or the glorification of their overrated players, Jeter’s story is notable in one regard. He’s walking away of his own free will. When it comes to professional sports, more often than not athletes have to be dragged away from the game kicking and screaming.
I’ve been alive for all six of the Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl victories but I’m too young to remember the majority of the Steel Dynasty years. What I do remember quite vividly is a KDKA interview with Terry Bradshaw, who told this story of waking up feeling like a million bucks and then asking a ranch hand to run twenty yards down to the fence and button hook back towards him as he threw a football. The part I particularly remember most vividly is Terry saying how as soon as he let the ball fly his balky elbow told him it was time to retire. A few guys leave voluntarily like Jeter but many – most – are forced to go.
Which brings us to James Harrison.
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If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas…
The Pittsburgh Steelers laid a mighty whuppin’ on the Cincinnati Bengals, temporarily keeping their slim playoff hopes alive with a 30-20 victory on Sunday Night Football. The final score doesn’t accurately reflect how one-sided this game actually was. The Black and Gold roared out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and basically coasted the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Cincy never seemed to get on track, repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot with mistakes or ill-timed penalties. As Cris Collinsworth, a former Bungle, said after one of their players got flagged for taunting down while down 20 points, “Well, it’s the Bengals.”
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Hard Knocks featuring the Cincinnati Bengals premiered on HBO on Tuesday night. For those cheapskates out there who don’t get HBO, Hard Knocks is their yearly reality series chronicling behind the scenes of an NFL training camp. At best, the program exposes the major underlying issues facing the featured team. At worst, it exposes players as obnoxious self-promoters or serial impregnators and management as clueless putzes.
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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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One NFL agent has already been fired due to free agency incompetence. Another may soon join him.
Linebacker Elvis Dumervil was happily employed by the Denver Broncos, who were scheduled to pay him $12 million next season. After signing some name free agents (Wes Welker and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), the Broncos found themselves over the salary cap. Under NFL bylaws, after any new signing, a team has a window of 48 hours to get in compliance with the cap or they risk forfeiting a first or second round draft pick. Dumervil agreed to rework his contract to help Denver out but thanks some sort of fax machine shenanigans, the papers weren’t signed in time and the team was forced to release him.
Dumervil quickly became a hot commodity as no fewer than five teams were bidding for his services. The Pittsburgh Steelers were among his suitors as were the Baltimore Ravens. The Ratbirds ultimately won the Dumervil sweepstakes, signing him to a five year deal that will pay him $8.5 million this season although only $2.5 of it counts against the cap (the bulk of his first year salary comes in the form of a signing bonus). Why can’t supposed salary cap sooper-genius Omar Khan work out these kind of deals?
The addition of Dumervil is quite the coup for the Ravens, who have lost five defensive starters this off-season. At 29 years old, Dumervil is an accomplished pass rusher having posted 17, 9.5 and 11 sacks the past three years. Paired with Terrell Suggs, they should form one of the better OLB duos in the AFC.
When word broke of Dumervil signing with Baltimore, Steeler fans immediately went into sour grapes mode, pointing out Doom’s limited experience as a 3-4 OLB (he began his career as a 4-3 DE) and his so-so ability to stop the run. Anybody who doesn’t think Dumervil would’ve been a huge asset to the Steelers is completely insane. Had they signed him, he immediately would’ve been the team’s best pass rusher as he’s infinitely more talented than Jason Worilds and has grossly outperformed LaMarr Woodley the past few seasons. What’s more, at 29 years old, he’s got at least three or four more prime years left before age and injury start to catch up with him.
With Dumervil off the table, rumor has it the Steelers have turned their sights to former Colts DE Dwight Freeney. At this point, Freeney is nothing more than a poor man’s Dumervil. Sure he might come cheaper but in football as with smoked ham, you get what you pay for. Freeney is older (33), has a more worrisome injury history, and appears to be a horrible fit for our defense. Where Dumervil shifted from DE to OLB without missing a beat, Freeney moved to OLB last season and recorded a career-low 5 sacks. Freeney isn’t an upgrade over Dumervil, he’s not even an upgrade over the man he’s ostensibly replacing, James Harrison.
Ah, poor Deebo. The agent I mentioned who may soon find himself unemployed (if not naked in a gutter with dog bites and “BMF” tattood on his left butt cheek) is the assclown representing James Harrison. Harrison was scheduled to make $6.57 million this season but the Steelers asked him to take a 30% pay cut down to roughly $4.5 million. He balked thinking he could easily command his original salary on the open market. How sadly he was mistaken.
According to reports, the market for Harrison’s rapidly declining skills is tepid to say the least. In fact it’s so icy that Harrison’s agent has already started floating the idea that James would be open to returning to the Steelers, presumably for the salary he idiotically turned down in the first place. For their part, the Steelers have leaked word that they have no interest in bringing a grovelling Harrison back at any price. Ouch.
The thing is, yes, Harrison is in the twilight of his career. And yes, he was dumb for not agreeing to take the pay cut when it was offered. At the same time, Harrison was the team’s best pass rusher last season and until Woodley discovers the Stairmaster, would still be so heading into this one. Even with eroding skills, Harrison is a better option than either Jason Worilds or Dwight Freeney. Of course, there are still players left to be signed and the draft can change a lot of things so it’s not imperative the Steelers decide on the lesser of three evils. However, they better do something or risk falling even further behind their AFC North rivals.
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Let the Purge II begin!
The Pittsburgh Steelers released linebacker James Harrison on Saturday. The former Defensive Player of the Year was scheduled to make $6.5 million next season and the salary cap strapped Steelers didn’t feel he was worth it. Earlier in the off-season, Harrison’s agent told reporters he felt his client was the team’s best linebacker and didn’t think he should take a pay cut. Evidently they held firm to that belief because the Steelers tried to renegotiate his contract last week, negotiations that went nowhere fast before ending with Harrison’s release.
At 35 and coming off several injuries, ditching Harrison now fits with the Steelers traditional habit of getting rid of expensive veteran linebackers before they decline. Make no mistake, Harrison’s agent was right, he was the team’s best linebacker last season. He tied with Lawrence Timmons for the team lead in sacks (6.0) and forced fumbles (2.0). The Steelers D was great at limiting opponents yards and points last season but they struggled with so-called “splash plays” like turnovers and sacks. Cutting the team’s most effective outside linebacker certainly won’t help them in those areas next season.
Harrison will most likely be replaced by Jason Worilds. Pressed into the starting line-up for large stretches last season, Worilds finally flashed a bit of potential by notching a career high 5 sacks. The problem with Worilds is still he hasn’t shown the ability to be a game-changer like the Steelers traditionally expect from their OLBs. Releasing Harrison also puts additional pressure on fatass LaMarr Woodley to get his lazy behind in the gym so as to avoid absolutely sucking like he has since signing that big money contract extension a couple seasons back.
The departure of Harrison removes yet another piece from the core of a team that won two Super Bowls and appeared in three. Harrison was a dirty violent anti-social thug but he was our dirty violent anti-social thug. I wrote more posts about the NFL’s obvious bias against Harrison than anybody but only the most Black and Gold colored glasses wearing yinzer would argue that Harrison was a good guy. If he had beheaded Hines Ward like he beheaded Mohammad Massaquoi or annihilated Ben Roethlisberger like he annihilated Colt McCoy, Steeler Nation would consider him Public Enemy #1. Since he wore our jersey and he cheapshotted our enemies, we cheered for him.
Truth is, violence is what made Harrison’s career. We all know the story, Harrison was an undersized linebacker who went undrafted out of Kent State. He was cut several times before the fateful day when Joey Porter was ejected for fighting in pre-game warm ups. Harrison stepped in and his ferocious play opened eyes. Porter was cut and Deebo went on to become a multiple time All-Pro and 2008 Defensive Player of the Year. That season he had 16 sacks and 7 forced fumbles. But no play that season or in his career was bigger than what he did in that year’s Super Bowl.
Steeler Nation commonly refers to the Immaculate Reception as the greatest play in Steelers history. It can be argued Harrison’s 100 yard Pick-Six was actually more important. While the Reception was undoubtedly harbinger of the Steel Dynasty, the ’72 Steelers went on to lose the AFC Championship game the next week. Meanwhile, Harrison’s play is very likely the difference between the Steelers being tied with the Cowboys and 49ers with 5 Lombardi Trophies and being the only franchise that has won six championships.
The Cardinals were on the three yard line with 20 seconds left. Harrison not only denied them a TD, he scored a TD going the other way. If the Cards score, the second half is an entirely different game. If he gets tackled inside the red zone, time expires and the Steelers don’t score. That play was a legit 14 point swing and in a game that came down to the narrowest of margins, there’s no overstating it’s importance. James Harrison won us a Super Bowl.
So thanks, James. Best of luck in your future endeavors.