As if the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t have enough issues to deal with…
The Steelers announced they have suspended running back Rashard Mendenhall for one game due to “conduct detrimental to the team.” Mendy was told last Sunday that he wasn’t going to be dressing for the game against the San Diego Chargers. When players don’t dress, they’re still expected to come to the game and stand on the sideline in official NFL team gear ™ so the television cameras can pan over to their glum faces when one of the announcers mentions their name. Evidently, Mendy took the news as a sign that he shouldn’t even bother showing up.
After last week’s anemic running performance, there were some calls for Mendenhall to regain his starting job. That’s not happening now or probably ever. If anything, this suspension is the symbolic death knell for Rashard’s career in the Black and Gold. All three of the team’s running backs will be free agents this off-season and it’s looking more and more like the Steelers will be cutting ties with their former first round pick.
The duo of Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman definitely had a terrible showing against the Chargers. However, it’s ridiculous to say Mendenhall would’ve performed any better. As I noted in my game preview, the Chargers have a talented D-line who are very strong against the run. On top of which, the Steelers’ O-line was banged up with one of the team’s best run blockers, Willie Colon, hobbled by a season ending injury which necessitated moving Maurkice Pouncey to LG and inserting Doug Legursky at center after only a few possessions.
Legursky is a lousy run blocker. Pouncey is a Pro Bowler at center but he’s only average at guard. The Steelers were also playing with their third string RT, rookie Kelvin Beachum. Add it all up and the effective run blocking from the middle of the season is just no longer there. Word is the Steelers might finally bite the bullet and start this year’s first rounder, David DeCastro, at RG (with Ramon Foster moving over to the left) this Sunday.
Speaking of first rounders, this latest incident completes a rather spectacular fall for the former 23rd overall pick. As I’ve noted many times, GM Kevin Colbert holds on to his first rounders well past the point of sanity. To his credit, sometimes that works out as in the case of Lawrence Timmons, who was maddeningly average for most of his career only to finally start fulfilling his immense potential this year. However, in the case of Mendenhall, it’s looking like he’ll be the rare first rounder the team cuts ties with without ever getting a second contract.
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Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference yesterday afternoon. As I’ve mentioned about a billion times, I tend to ignore what he says because when he’s not lying, he’s using a bunch of words to say nothing. Well, surprise of all surprises, he actually used the time productively yesterday. It looks like there’s a whole bunch of changes in store for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
First, we have the state of the offensive line. I already talked about this quite a bit yesterday but it appears I was in error. I thought for sure they’d re-arrange things however they could to avoid starting rookie RT Kelvin Beachum. Tomlin says Beachum will start against the Baltimore Ravens with Mike Adams nursing a high ankle sprain and Marcus Gilbert out for the year. Of course, the plan is subject to change since there are still a bunch of question marks regarding who’s healthy and who’s not.
Willie Colon is expected back at LG although they probably won’t be sure until an hour before game time. If Colon can’t play, my best guess (and I’ve been misfiring on my predictions more often than Bob Kudzma so take it for what it’s worth) is Doug Legursky would be first man off the bench. First round pick David DeCastro is cleared to return but I have to think if he was 100% healthy and ready to play, he’d be starting. That means we’re looking at either Starks-Colon-Pouncey-Foster-Beachum or Starks-Legursky-Pouncey-Foster-Beachum as your starting line. If there is another injury, DeCastro would probably be pressed into service at RG with Ramon Foster sliding out to tackle. I can’t imagine they’d play recently signed T Tony Moeki unless he was the last man standing.
The line will be blocking for starting running back Jonathan Dwyer. It only took Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley twelve weeks to realize this committee approach where each back gets 3-4 carries doesn’t work. The only time they’ve gotten good results from the running game is when they’ve started one back and stuck with him to the tune of 15-20 carries. Dwyer, who’s been the team’s most effective back, will start with Isaac Redman serving as the back-up. No word whether Rashard Mendenhall is planning a jihad on the coaching staff for busting him all the way down to third string.
Ben Roethlisberger has began throwing and ESPN is saying there’s a “50-50 chance” he makes the superhero comeback this Sunday. Tomlin said he’s proceeding with Charlie Batch as the starter so I wouldn’t get my hopes up for a Big Ben miracle. I haven’t parsed out all the playoff scenarios but barring a massive collapse, the Ravens have firm control of the AFC North whether they win this week or not. I’d rather Ben avoid the beating Baltimore is sure to dish out and be ready for the final three game stretch run against three very beatable teams than rush him back for one game which potentially won’t matter anyway.
Batch will have one important weapon back this week in Antonio Brown. Brown is by far the team’s best receiver so having him back will be huge for whoever plays QB. Tomlin also decided to play some mind games with the receivers, listing Mike Wallace and Emannuel Sanders (who has played very well in AB’s absence) as co-starters opposite Brown. I don’t think Tomlin has the stones to actually start Sanders ahead of Wallace but for those who thought I’ve been too hard on Wallace, clearly the coaching staff isn’t happy with his play either. We can worry about repercussions after the season ends, I’ll just say the team’s treatment of Wallace and Mendy doesn’t exactly bode well for their future here in Pittsburgh.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers were defeated by the Cleveland Browns, 20-14. I can accept a loss. Every team suffers injuries and while it’s nice to say “the standard is the standard” and all that nonsense you can only lose so many key players before it eventually catches up to you. The fact is the Steelers went into the game starting their third string quarterback, without their top wide receiver (and missing two of their top four wide outs overall), starting a second string left guard (Willie Colon was scratched pre-game due to a swollen knee) and later pressed into playing their third string right tackle, not to mention fielding a defense missing two multiple time Pro Bowlers (Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley, who started but left after a handful of snaps).
When you’re missing that many guys, I can accept the fact anybody can beat them.
What I can’t accept is HOW the Steelers were beaten yesterday.
The Steelers put forth one of their most embarrassing performances in decades. They committed eight turnovers. EIGHT TURNOVERS. There is simply no excuse for that level of ineptitude.
People are going to point a finger at Charlie Batch. I’m not going to defend Chaz or claim he played well. At the same time, anybody who pins this loss entirely on him has absolutely no clue what they’re talking about. Yes, he missed a bunch of throws he should have made. Yes, he made some terrible decisions which led to two of his three interceptions. He could have and should have played better.
However, he is the Steelers third string QB. No team is going to have a starting caliber QB sitting on their bench as the third option. Batch’s performance was about what you could realistically expect from a back-up, to say nothing about what most teams have a third stringer.
What you don’t expect is for every one of your running backs to commit a turnover. To Mike Tomlin‘s credit, he immediately benched any back that fumbled. Unfortunately, he only had four backs on the roster so after turnover #4 he had to start the turnover-go-round all over again. And Rashard Mendenhall happily obliged.
Mendy gifted the Browns with two fumbles yesterday. He continues to start despite contributing in no positive way whatsoever. Isaac Redman relieved Jonathan Dwyer just long enough to deliver an early Christmas present of his own. When it appeared Dwyer would be the lone reliable back, he let the ball get away. Chris Rainey, yes, Chris Rainey became the Last Back Standing and even made a nice goal line run for the team’s lone offensive TD. He did fumble a few carries in but it went out of bounds which only delayed the inevitable since he would eventually fumble on the Steelers final possession to seal the crushing defeat.
In between all the fumbles, we had Batch’s three picks. As I said, only two were bad throws as the third was a short slant pattern which Mike Wallace batted around until it fell into a Browns player’s waiting arms. When you’re playing with a short roster, it’s incumbent on your star players to step up but Wallace was MIA yesterday. He was targeted 7 times, only managing one catch for 9 yards. Several of the misfires were miscommunication with Batch while at other times he appeared to simply give up on the play.
Heath Miller and Manny Sanders performed admirably and even Plaxico Burress contributed by drawing a pass interference which set up Rainey’s 1 yard TD run. There is absolutely no excuse for Wallace’s disappearing act.
As if the turnovers weren’t enough of a handicap, we had penalties. Oh did we have penalties. There were 19 penalties called altogether with 9 going against the Steelers. No word on whether yesterday’s ref made an appointment with Dr. James Andrews to check his rotator cuff. Perhaps the most costly flag occurred early in the third quarter when the Steelers converted a big second and long to Heeeeeaatth only for it to be wiped out thanks to a holding call on rookie RT Kelvin Beachum, who was playing in place of injured Mike Adams.
So before we put all the blame on Charlie Batch, let’s remember we also had a posse of backs who couldn’t hold on to the ball, a “star” receiver who didn’t bother showing up, and a beat up offensive line which kept putting an already sputtering offense into third and long situations.
Truth be told, if not for another heroic effort from the Steelers defense, this would’ve been a one-sided ass-whupping. When an offense commits eight turnovers, many of which came deep in their own zone, I don’t know that you can do much better than hold the opposition to two TDs and two FGs. For the record, Cleveland’s first TD drive started at the Pittsburgh 10 and the other began on our 31. One of their two FG drives began on our 44. Not to mention 7 of our 14 points were scored on a pick six by Lawrence Timmons (with an assist from Bret Keisel). I’m not sure how much more they could have done faced with that 50 pound lead weight called an offense weighing them down at every turn.
The defense has nothing to be ashamed of. The offense? I know they’re missing key players but there is no excusing what we saw yesterday. That was the kind of effort that gets players cut and coaches fired. It was a total humiliation at the hands of a team that was 2-8 going into the weekend.
Where do we go from here? Unless Ben magically heals between now and Sunday, there is no way this team is beating the Ravens. A loss next week drops them to 6-6 which mathematically doesn’t eliminate them from playoff contention but certainly means the division is lost. It also means they’d probably need to run the table to finish 10-6 and be in the mix for a Wild Card at season’s end. At this point, though, I think we need to worry less about January and worry more about next week. Because the way this team is playing, I’m not sure they can beat ANYBODY right now.
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Yes, it’s come to this. I’ve been pushed so far over the edge, I’ve resorted to quoting Chris Berman.
Anybody still wanna argue whether Ben Roethlisberger should be MVP? If so, last night’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens provided more convincing evidence than any stats-filled post ever could.
What if I told you the Steelers defense wouldn’t allow a single offensive touchdown? What if I said the Steelers running game would chew up over 150 yards on the ground? Going into Sunday night, I’m sure most members of Steeler Nation would’ve taken that scenario in a heartbeat. It sounds like a surefire recipe for success regardless of who’s behind center.
And yet, it wasn’t enough and the Black and Gold went down to defeat, 13-10.
I’ll spare my dear readers the usual long-winded blow-by-blow account of the game. It was nationally televised so I’m sure most of you saw for yourself anyway. Instead I’m going to skip directly to the root of the problem, quarterback Byron Leftwich. Thanks to a pass interference call on a deep bomb on the first play of the game, Lefty led the team 80 yards for a TD on their opening drive. From that point on, it was a whole bunch of nothin’.
Did Leftwich hurt himself on the 30 yard TD scramble? And if he did, THAT is the guy Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and the Steelers trust with leading the team in Ben’s absence? I’ve seen a lot of football in my life, I’ve seen strange injuries but tripping over your own feet and injuring your ribs and throwing shoulder is a new level of absurdity. I don’t know that Lefty was hurt. Tomlin and his cloak of lies and deception will never admit the truth in any case. All I know is what I could see.
And what I saw was a quarterback missing throws a kid at Alquippa High could make. Lefty finished 18-39 for 201 yards and a pick for a QB rating of 51.3. He definitely wasn’t helped by his receivers. Jerricho Cotchery dropped a couple big conversions and Mike Wallace, who proves week in and week out that if only his actual talent matched his opinion of himself, fumbled deep in their own zone and later failed to come down with a TD pass in the corner of the end zone. However, at the end of the day, your QB has to keep putting the ball in the right spot and hope the guys make plays. More often than not, Leftwich was slow to deliver the ball and inaccurate when he did.
The shame of the whole thing is Baltimore’s offense wasn’t much better. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice were held in check by a magnificent performance from Dick LeBeau‘s crew. We can argue about splash plays and whether a well-timed INT would be more valuable than holding one of the best backs in the league to 40 yards or holding an opposing QB under 175 yds passing. Setting up a bumbling offense with a short field would definitely be helpful but I don’t know how you can possibly find fault with a defense not allowing a single TD a week after the Ratbirds scored a franchise record 55 points.
As soon as Jacoby Jones returned that punt for Baltimore’s lone TD of the evening, I knew it would come back to haunt us. Even when Ben was in there, the Steelers have spent this season walking a thin line between victory and defeat. With Leftwich and the offense stalling, it had to be a top priority not to surrender any cheap points. The defense did their job, even after Wallace’s fumble set Flacco and company up inside the red zone. Jonathan Dwyer did his job, rumbling for 55 yards on only 12 carries and providing the team with an offensive spark in the second half. Leftwich and the passing game simply didn’t do theirs.
Every year, it seems like the division title comes down to a tie break between us and the Ratbirds. If it happens again this season, we won’t have far to look for a game we should have won yet didn’t. I think that’s the worst part of last night’s loss. If you start your back-up and get blown out, it’s almost like you just shrug your shoulders and think, “Whatever.” But starting your back-up, giving him an excellent running game and a defense which doesn’t surrender a TD and still losing? That’d hurt if it were against Jacksonville Jaguars never mind the Baltimore Ravens.
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Jonathan Dwyer went over 100 yards on Sunday in the Pittsburgh Steelers win over the Redskins, his second consecutive 100+ yard performance. By now, we’ve all heard the trivia. Dwyer is the first Steeler to post back-to-back 100 yard games since Fast Willie Parker did it in 2008. I guess the running game is only effective in election years.
And much like in an election year, coach Mike Tomlin has to make a choice between several worthy candidates.
The Post-Gazette has already endorsed their candidate: Jon Dwyer. They even jumped on the bandwagon comparing Dwyer to Jerome Bettis. I’m not one to toot my own horn but a long time ago on a site far far away, I made the exact same comparison the day he was drafted. But when even Steeler Nation has taken to calling Dwyer the Minibus, it’s a comparison that’s hard to ignore.
Meanwhile, the incumbent, Rashard Mendenhall, is waiting in the wings. I have to admit, I’m not a Mendenhall fan. He had two consecutive 1,000 yard seasons and came within 90 yards of making it three in a row last year but I’ve just never liked his running style. He’s always been the type of runner who’ll get stopped for minimal gains on his first five carries then break one for 20. His dancing at the line of scrimmage can lead to big plays but it makes him a liability in short yardage.
Next we have Isaac Redman. Redman is almost the polar opposite of Mendy. There is nothing subtle about iRed. He gets the ball and just bulls straight ahead. That makes him a pretty effective short yardage runner but it doesn’t lead to many big gains. Once he gets to the second level, there’s no elusiveness or shiftiness at all.
Then there are the two young guys. Chris Rainey has seen quite a few snaps this season but I don’t think offensive coordinator Todd Haley has totally figured out what to do with him yet. Every week it seems like they add a new wrinkle or trick play, such as the direct snap for a big run against the Skins. I think eventually he’ll settle in as a Darren Sproles type although I don’t expect he’ll ever be a every down back. Then we have Baron Batch, who they use as a Mewelde Moore type third down back, at least while Redman and/or Mendenhall are injured.
The choice basically comes down to Mendy vs Dwyer. Redman is a short yardage specialist. Rainey and Batch are situational guys. Only Mendy and Dwyer profile as starting running backs. Who do you choose?
Later today, Mike Tomlin will have his weekly festival of lies they laughably call a press conference. I’m sure the reporters will ask who he’s planning on starting and he’ll hem and haw and tell everybody nothing. Mendenhall has been battling some residual issues stemming from off-season ACL surgery while Dwyer left Sunday’s game with what Tomlin later called “calf stiffness.” So there’s an easy injury excuse depending on which direction the team wants to go.
Dwyer needs to start. Not because of running style. Not because of some outdated theory that starters can’t lose their job due to injury. They have to start Dwyer because he’s performed. The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately?” business and Dwyer has done everything asked of him and more. The Steelers parted ways with James Farrior and Hines Ward because other guys were doing a better job. Now it’s time to reward one.
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As the great Hannibal Smith once said: “I love when a plan comes together.”
Things seem to be coming together nicely for the Pittsburgh Steelers following their 27-12 whupping of the Washington Redskins. In the week leading up to the game, all I heard was worry. Can Todd Haley‘s dink and dunk offense score enough points? Can the Steelers’ shaky D hold up? How are they going to deal with the Ultimate Weapon, superstar rookie Robert Griffin III? In fact, ESPN even began floating the idea of RG3 for MVP.
Well, how about Big Ben for MVP?
After all, he only went 24/33 with 3 TDs and zero picks to continue his string of masterful performances. I understand that dink and dunk isn’t as exciting as a 75 yard bomb to Mike Wallace but I finally get what Haley is doing. This almost West Coast style offense has two key benefits. First, it gets the ball out of Ben’s hand faster, leading to him taking less sacks (he was sacked only once yesterday). And by relying on short passes instead of that one big strike, you possess the ball longer. The longer the offense stays on the field, the less you ask of your admittedly less than dominant defense.
The only caveat is if you’re going to dink and dunk, you have to finish drives. And to finish drives, you need a good running game.
Presto, change-o, the Steelers have found a running game thanks to the Minibus, Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer had his second consecutive 100 yard performance yesterday, the first Steeler back to accomplish that since Fast Willie Parker did it way back in 2008. I honestly don’t know how you take him out of the line-up.
In his post-game presser, Mike Tomlin was already in full liar mode talking about Dwyer experiencing “calf stiffness” late in the game. This will undoubtedly be his excuse for starting Rashard Bin Laden next week even though he hasn’t been much more than an average back for almost two years now.
We can worry about next week later, let’s revel in this victory a little more now. The Steelers offense was virtually unstoppable all afternoon, scoring on five of their first six possessions. Rookie Drew Butler could’ve pulled a Skippy and showed up two hours late and hung over because they didn’t really need him until the game was more than half over. The three and outs only started coming in the 4th when the Steelers were obviously trying to run out the clock and Washington loaded up the box to stop them.
Ben hit nine different receivers, with all three of his TDs going to separate targets. FB Will Johnson scored his first career TD on a short goal line catch while TE Leonard Pope made his first reception as a Steeler count for a TD. Heath Miller chipped in with yet another TD catch in what is fast becoming a break out season for him. Wallace shook off last week’s Sweeditis by snaring a team high 7 passes although I wouldn’t ask him to throw any more halfback options. The other members of Young Money combined for 7 catches, several for big third conversions.
Defensively, well, I’m not going to lie. A lot of their dominance was thanks to Washington shooting themselves in the foot. In my game preview, I sagely remarked that their receiving corps was pretty lackluster. They lived down to my expectations, dropping a ridiculous number of balls (official count was somewhere around 11). Rookie RB Alfred Morris ripped off some nice runs but the Skins couldn’t stick with the ground game because they fell too far behind too early. RG3 did everything he could but only Mr. Perfect can throw it and catch it himself.
It’s hard to fairly evaluate their defensive performance because Dick LeBeau was clearly worried about stopping RG3. Receivers got open because the linebackers were instructed not to drop back into coverage lest RG3 take off running. Then Ryan Clark left the game with a concussion. Will Allen and Ryan Mundy played well in relief of Ryan and Troy but they have their limits. Larry Foote and Keenan Lewis (who made his bid for Academy Award consideration with a faux interception…Manny Sanders and his “leg cramp” are still front-runners, though) continued their strong play while LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison did a pretty decent job of keeping RG3 contained in the pocket.
NFL math seldom holds up. A beating B and B beating C doesn’t automatically mean A will defeat C. Next Sunday, the Steelers face the defending champion Giants, who needed a herculean effort to pull out a last second victory over Washington last week. Our manhandling of the Skins doesn’t mean anything when the ball is kicked off in the Meadowlands.
But yesterday’s performance does make me feel a whole lot better about this team going forward. I like what they’re doing on offense. I like how the defense is shaping up. I also like the bumblebee throwback uniforms, which looked surprisingly cool. The stripey socks looked kinda Urkel-esque but the rugby style tops and tan pants were almost snazzy. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I wouldn’t mind seeing them again.
And I wouldn’t mind seeing a similar performance from the Steelers, too. In fact, give me seven or so team-wide efforts like this and I’ll see you in the playoffs.