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.
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And never brought to mind?
The more quickly the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns is forgotten the better. I have to confess, I lost interest in this game about ten minutes in and started flipping to Red Zone in order to watch games that actually mattered. Considering nearly 15,000 fans attended yesterday’s season finale at Heinz Field disguised as empty seats, I have to think I’m not alone in my crippling apathy.
Pittsburgh is a football town. I would be insane to deny it. At the same time, Pittsburgh also backs winners. Oh, we still support our Pirates or Penguins when they fail but not nearly with the same fervor or in the same numbers as we do teams that win. The Steelers first meaningless game in six years and 15,000 people opted to skip it. The Rooney family, and by that I mean bungling meddler Art II, better not take this town’s support for granted or we’ll be seeing a lot more Pitt size crowds in the near future.
As I said, I didn’t watch every minute of this titanic confrontation but I’ll give some thoughts on the bits and pieces I did see. The reason my will was broken early on had much to do with a mind-numbing first quarter which saw Todd Haley‘s stunningly inept offense piss around while rookie nobody Thad Lewis drove 70 yards on Dick LeBeau‘s top ranked defense. The Browns’ drive came to a screeching halt thanks to a Troy Polamalu interception.
Well, at least Troy made one play this season.
Speaking of finally making a play, Ziggy Hood finally made an impact himself. Unfortunately, it came in the form of taking out the knee of teammate Brett Keisel, who will undergo an MRI tomorrow due to fears he may have injured his MCL (which may or may not require surgery). On the plus side, with Diesel out, Mike Tomlin was forced to play Cam Heyward. Young guys on defense, what a crazy concept!
The defensive standouts, if you can call them that considering they were playing against a guy who has been cut from three different teams’ practice squads, were Lawrence Timmons and Cortez Allen. Timmons put the cherry on top of his break out season with two sacks and a fumble recovery. It only took 5 years but LT is finally playing like a mid first round draft pick. So I guess we should expect next year’s first to finally make an impact some time around 2018.
Meanwhile, Allen continues to make me look like a genius for tabbing him as a future starter – and a high-level one at that – in the secondary. Last week he caused three turnovers (2 INTs and forced fumble), this week he added another two FFs, one of which he recovered himself. Five turnovers in two weeks. That’s nearly more than the rest of the defense combined. Keenan Lewis played well this year but I don’t see how they can possibly limit Allen to a nickel role next year.
Lewis, by the way, is going to be a free agent at season’s end. The balky knee which limited him the past month acted up so if this was his last appearance in the Black and Gold it was a brief one. I imagine the team will try to keep him although they’d be foolish to overpay for a guy destined to be a #3 corner. Lewis’s probable exit will likely be part of a roster purge that made last year’s Veteran Armageddon look tame by comparison.
Casey Hampton was replaced for almost the entire second half by Steve McClendon. McClendon even got some good pressure on young Thaddeus begging the question why he sat on the bench for 16 weeks while all the old immobile guys stood around like their feet were stuck in mud. Even though the team doesn’t have a legit heir apparent at NT, it seems certain we’ll go into next year with McClendon and (provided he doesn’t kill anybody over the summer) Alameda Ta’amu.
The linebacking corps will also be undergoing a bit of an overhaul. Reports on NFL.com are that yesterday’s game was James Harrison‘s swan song in Pittsburgh. If so, Deebo made sure to get one final late hit cheap shot in for old time’s sake. Guess he’ll have to sit out his first regular season game as a Dolphin due to suspension. Ironically, that hit came on the very play where Thad Lewis threw his first (and only) career TD pass. While it looks like Jason Worilds will step in opposite the chronically injured LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers will have to use the draft or *gasp* free agency to find another ILB to pair with Timmons when they part ways with veteran Larry Foote.
Ben Roethlisberger – making sure to clutch his ribs in crippling agony after every throw so we knew the Big Drama Queen was TOUGH~! – played to the bitter end. Ben, who threw for only 134 yards but 3 TDs, managed to put together a couple nice drives in the fourth quarter, including his 23rd and final TD pass of the season to Plaxico Burress. Eight years, three Super Bowl championships and a prison stint later, the season ends with Big Ben to Plax for a TD. Fitting.
The only drawback to yesterday’s win (besides Keisel and Kelvin Beachum getting hurt. Since when did playing Right Tackle for the Steelers become the equivalent of wearing a red shirt on the USS Enterprise?) was the victory dropped the Steelers all the way to the 17th overall pick in the 2013 draft. That’s still plenty high to get a quality player, one who may be counted on to contribute a lot faster than rookies have in recent years. Whoever they take, this is going to be among the most important off-seasons in Steelers history.
Will Art II admit the Todd Haley experiment has been an utter failure? Or will Boss Todd be given another year to electrify us with his vast array of bubble screens and end arounds? Who will replace the aforementioned losses on defense? Likewise, what will the team do with Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace? Assuming both are gone, do they stick with what they got or introduce some fresh faces to the mix? Remember, every back except Chris Rainey is a free agent along with Manny Sanders. And for the love of pete, will they please fire special teams bungler Amos Jones? He’s so bad, the name “Bobby April” was actually trending locally when the team failed yet again to correctly defend a fake punt.
On a personal note, I want to thank my readers for allowing me to vent this season. It’s been a maddening year but being able to express my frustrations here certainly does my blood pressure a world of good. Even though you guys seldom comment, I appreciate all of you reading, from the old timers who’ve been with me since NPC to the newbies who stumbled upon this blog this season. I’ll still be updating whenever Steeler news dictates (and as I’ve said, we should be making a lot of moves this off-season) although not on a regular schedule. I hope you check in from time to time.
Thanks for reading. Hope you all enjoy a very happy New Year. And Let’s Go Steelers in 2013!
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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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Well, at least that makes things a lot simpler…
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost their second straight, fourth of the last five, with a soul-crushing 27-24 loss in overtime to the Dallas Cowboys. I feel kinda dumb even talking about the playoffs considering the way this team is playing, they’re just going to be one-and-done anyway but the loss does clarify things quite a bit. The margin for error is now officially zero. The Steelers must win their last two games against the Bengals and Browns. If they lose either game, they’re out.
Yesterday’s loss was yet another miserable performance aided and abetted by the Black and Gold’s annoying habit of shooting themselves in the foot. When it’s not turnovers, it’s penalties. When it’s not penalties, it’s stupid mistakes. Worse yet, every week brings us a new goat.
This week’s wearer of the horns is Antonio Brown. AB had what may have been the worst game by a wide receiver since the glory days of Limas Sweed. Steeler Nation has been brutal towards Mike Wallace, with good reason. However, they really need to start looking at the other members of Young Money, a group of arrogant little pricks who are fast revealing the fact their actual skills aren’t nearly as high as their opinions of themselves.
AB got paid this off-season, mostly because Wallace turned down a reasonable contract due to delusions of grandeur. Brown has definitely been the team’s best WR this season but that didn’t stop him from almost single-handedly costing us the game yesterday. With the Steelers up 7 and about 8 minutes left in the game, the defense forced a punt. AB reversed field and broke off a huge return which would’ve set the Steelers up at mid-field except he forgot one thing: how to secure the football. A Dallas player who wasn’t even in position to make a tackle reached out and grabbed Brown’s arm like one might stop a passerby at the supermarket to ask where they keep the peanut oil and that jarring impact knocked the ball loose.
A field goal at that point probably locks up the game. Instead, Dallas got the ball right back and scored the game-tying TD. But Brown wasn’t done. With less than two minutes left, the Steelers D again forced a punt. Dallas kicked from their own 20 so even with a good punt you’d expect the Steelers to get the ball somewhere around the 35-40 yard line leaving them in decent position to drive for a late game-winning FG. Instead, Brown, bonehead that he is, let the ball bounce and roll all the way to the 20 for a whopping 59 yard punt.
What was he doing? Did he not know what do? Or was that the doing of Amos Jones, Mike Tomlin’s handpicked – and stunningly inept – special teams coach?
Brown did end up leading the team with 8 catches, including a nice lunging TD which put the Steelers ahead for the first time all afternoon. Mike Wallace had a typical Mike Wallace game, only catching 4 of the 10 passes thrown his way (although to be fair only two of those were CLANGS) but one of the four was a deep bomb (pretty much the only route he’s good at running) that went for 60 yards. Manny Sanders came in for one play, caught a deep pass over the middle and shades of the Baltimore game, fumbled it away. The refs bailed him out by claiming he didn’t “complete the catch” but whatever, that’s the last we saw of him and it’s the last I hope to see of him until he LEARNS TO CATCH THE FREAKIN’ BALL.
And don’t give me any bullshit about “his shoulder is hurt so he can’t secure the football.” Dez Bryant played the entire game with a broken finger. He missed some catches because of the finger but he sure as hell didn’t fumble the ones he did make either. Sanders is putz, just like the rest of
Young Money Cash Droppahs. But make sure you get up and pose and thump your chest when you do make a catch, guys.
What I wouldn’t give to have Hines Ward back. I don’t even care if he can’t get open. At least Hines didn’t act like a big shot and then go out on the field and accomplish nothing.
Speaking of guys we want back, while Bruce Arians is in discussion for Coach of the Year (yes, really), we’re stuck with Todd Haley and his anemic offense. Ben Roethlisberger continues to be a big baby about it, complaining to reporters after the game that the team didn’t run enough no-huddle (where he gets to call plays). Of course, the team did run no-huddle once, in overtime, two plays into which Ben threw a terrible pass behind Wallace and was picked to basically end the game.
Along with the realization that Young Money isn’t worth ten cents on a dollar, it may be time we start re-evaluating the whole “Big Ben is the best clutch QB in football!” meme. Once again, Ben was handed the ball with the game on the line and once again he failed. Not once, but twice. Despite AB’s boner, the team completed a couple passes with time winding down in regulation to get near mid-field. Then Ben took two consecutive sacks to force a punt. One of the sacks was on David DeCastro, who blocked the wrong man because the coaching on this team also sucks. However, at some point Ben has to learn to get rid of the ball.
Yes, the scrambling TD to Heath Miller was one of the most awesome plays you’ll ever see. Yes, Ben is a great QB and definitely the team’s best offensive player. So what? For years we’ve argued that stats aren’t the be-all, end-all, it’s the Ws that count. Ben isn’t pulling out these close games anymore, he’s actually gift-wrapping them to the opponent. That has to stop.
There was a lot more wrong yesterday I don’t really feel like belaboring. Once again, the running game was a non-factor. I don’t like Rashard Mendenhall but Jonathan Dwyer isn’t looking like the answer. The defense wasn’t good, giving up a whopping 415 total yards, although they practically defined bend-but-don’t-break. One long Dallas drive ended in a FG, another ended on a fumble caused by James Harrison. They still don’t generate enough splash plays but only an insane Ben apologist like Mark Madden would seriously argue the defense cost us this game.
Nope, that dubious honor would fall to the $100 million quarterback and $50 million dollar wide receiver. Let’s hope they get their act together in time for this weekend’s pivotal match-up with Cincinnati. If they do, well, I’m sure another goat will emerge anyway. It’s just that kind of year.
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Yesterday, the Sporting News released their annual poll naming the NFL’s Dirtiest Player. For the second year in a row, Detroit Lions thug Ndamukong Suh took the title as voted on by a sampling of his peers. Somewhat surprisingly, an offensive lineman took the second spot. The ironically named Richie Incognito was recognized by enough of his fellow players to earn that dubious honor.
As usual, the Pittsburgh Steelers were well represented.
The Steelers had a lock on top spot for quite a few years. First, there was Hines Ward, who had a nice run of three of four years in a row. For the record, Hines was not a dirty player. Guys just resented the fact he played every snap and he played them hard. If you ever watch NFL wide receivers on iso-cam, 90% of them jog leisurely down the field on running plays. Hines looked to block or hit somebody, which made a lot of defensive players mad. As a result, he was frequently called dirty when all he did was play every snap.
When Hines started slowing down, and the NFL started getting worried about vicious hits because a lawsuit was coming, James Harrison became the new whipping boy. I’m not going to lie, Harrison definitely deserved his rep as a head-hunter. At the same time, the vast majority of his “illegal” hits came between the whistles in the context of a football play. Guys like Suh, who stomp downed opponents or hit them late are a different case entirely.
With Hines retired and James sidelined most of the year, I thought perhaps the Steelers would finally disappear from the list. Or, if they did show up, they would be represented by one of two prime candidates. Ryan Clark is every bit the vicious hitter that Deebo is. For whatever reason, he doesn’t receive the fines (or media scrutiny) but he definitely aims to annihilate rather than tackle. Then there’s Willie Colon, who’s an absolute maniac. When Giants DE Justin Tuck whined about the Steelers offensive line playing dirty a couple weeks back, I’m sure Colon was one of the guys he had in mind.
In the end, the Steelers were once again represented by two players. The Ginger Dictator‘s smear campaign has evidently been effective enough that Harrison came in 4th place despite only playing a handful of games. The other Steeler who was among those who garnered more than one vote was safety Ryan Mundy. Yes, Ryan Mundy. In a way, it’s not that surprising because he also looks to spear guys instead of tackling them. And he was recently fined a cool $21,000 for knocking Oakland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey out of the game.
I wonder if those two players came from Oakland?
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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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The Pittsburgh Steelers squeaked by the Philadelphia Eagles 16-14 thanks to a walk off field goal by Stonecold Shaun Suisham. The good news is the victory evens the Steelers record at 2-2. How crucial was this win? Only 15% of the teams who start the year 1-3 end up making the playoffs.
The bad news is the Steelers have yet more injuries to deal with, starting with All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu. Troy played a couple series then hobbled off to the sidelines never to be seen again. Last week, I faced the wrath of my buddy Hennessy for suggesting James Harrison‘s days may be numbered. I may have just picked the wrong Steeler. I love Troy but he’s quickly turning into another Bob Sanders.
And since Harrison is back and the Football Gods have mandated the Steelers cannot have both Deebo and LaMarr Woodley on the field at the same time lest they cause too much destruction to opposing quarterbacks, Woodley left the game early with what appears to be a re-occurrence of the hamstring problem which plagued him last season.
Even without Woodley and Troy, the Steelers turned in by far their finest defensive effort of the season. I’d prefer to have them both but forced to make a choice, I’d definitely trade Woodley for Harrison every single time. For whatever reason, the D plays much better when Deebo is there. They generated more pressure on Vick than in the first three games combined. And their run defense improved vastly, holding Shady McCoy to only 53 tough yards.
If you didn’t see the game, allow me to repeat some of Joe Buck’s first half play-by-play. “Timmons, Timmons, Timmons, Timmons, Timmons…” Lawrence Timmons was in absolute beast mode. He led the team in tackles, dropped into coverage, recovered a fumble, forced a fumble, and chased Michael Vick like a dog chasing a bone (sorry, I had to). It’s these rare moments of brilliance where you look at him and think, “Why can’t he do this all the time?” When he’s on like he was yesterday, he’s basically the linebacker version of Troy Polamalu.
The Steelers held the high-powered Eagles offense to only 250 total yards, 80 of which came on a grinding third quarter TD drive which took two fourth down conversions and eight minutes off the clock. It would’ve been nice for the Steelers to get off the the field on one of those fourths, and I’m sure human troll Mark Madden will go on about how they suck because they couldn’t (Timmons shot the gap on the first one but Shady made a nice move and then escaped Keenan Lewis’s decidedly Deion Sanders-esque tackling attempt), but if you’re going to let the other team score, at least make them earn it. It’s big play/quick scores which kill you.
Other than that drive, the Eagles did a whole bunch of nothing. They had two other scoring opportunities although neither one was earned. Early in the game, Philly had first and goal from the Steelers 3 which ended with Ryan Clark, the Steelers Defensive MVP thus far in 2012, forcing a Vick fumble which LT recovered in the end zone. That drive went 49 yards but 31 of them were on a bogus pass interference call on Ike Taylor. The second drive, which did end in a touchdown, covered 80 yards although this time they were gifted 30 yards in penalties thanks to two personal fouls, only one of which was legit.
Which brings me to the referees. Man, I’m begging some intrepid fan to track down their Facebook pages to see if they have pics wearing Iggles gear or chowing down on diarrhea inducing cheesesteaks or something. The zebras called this game like they bet the mortgage on Philly. It was unbearable. At one point, even Steeler haters Buck and Aikman noted there was a flag on every play. EVERY PLAY. The Steelers finished the game with 9 penalties for 106 yards.
A HUNDRED AND SIX YARDS IN PENALTIES?!?!?!
Bring back the Lingerie Football refs.
Worse of all, the atrocious calls did not go both ways. This is not Pittsburgh Paranoia talking, either. I seldom blame the refs because I think yinzers get too worked up over every perceived slight but yesterday was truly an exception. Mike Wallace was getting molested like an altar boy on practically every play yet not a single flag was thrown. Meanwhile, ten yellow hankies went flying when a Steeler so much as breathed heavy.
Not that I am excusing Wallace for only catching two passes. Yes, he was getting grabbed, held, shoved, and sodomized on every play. So what? Elite receivers find a way to get open. One of the things I don’t like about Wallace is he doesn’t work. He doesn’t get dirty. Wallace runs his pattern and if he gets bumped he just throws up his hands and begs for a flag. The Steelers are paying you $3 million to catch footballs, not whine to zebras.
Nor am I excusing the offense for their poor play. Ben Roethlisberger was decidedly off yesterday. His numbers aren’t horrible and he made some clutch plays, particularly a 20 yarder to Antonio Brown (who does the dirty work to get open and works hard on every single play) on the game winning drive, but he also missed a lot of throws. He overshot Heath Miller, who was wide open for a TD, on a drive early in the 4th that would’ve effectively put the game away. Ben’s receivers also did him no favors, what with Wallace not getting open and both he and Manny Sanders dropping passes they ordinarily catch. Then there was some plain bad luck such as when Jerricho Cotchery caught a short slant at the 5 with time running out in the half but tripped and fell two yards shy of the end zone.
The offensive star was undoubtedly Rashard Mendenhall. It’s pretty clear the Steelers piss-poor running game the first few weeks was because of inept backs and not lack of running lanes. Mendy only had 81 yards but he averaged an excellent 5.8 YPC. He showed the burst through the hole and cutback ability which makes him the big play threat the other guys simply aren’t. Todd Haley smartly used iRed in short yardage, the one thing he’s good at, but Mendenhall was clearly the featured back with none of the other clowns even getting off the bench. The final drive to set up Suisham’s game winner was a thing of beauty, with Mendy and Redman alternating carries and chewing up both yards and time.
Despite having to overcome two opponents, one in green, one in black and white, the Steelers managed to pull out what was almost a must-win. It wasn’t pretty but they got the job done. With a short turnaround to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football, that’s really all that matters.