Earlier today, I recapped Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin‘s weekly press conference. I neglected to include the part where he cataloged the team’s “laundry list” of injuries. Almost all the injuries were described as minor or “limiting” – with the exception of WR Markus Wheaton who continues to be out – and since Tomlin is full of BS it’s not like he’d tell us if somebody was in danger of missing this Sunday’s game against Oakland anyway. He did reveal one interesting fact, however.
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons broke his hand during the game.
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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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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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I don’t even know where to begin with last night’s debacle.
Might as well start with the positives I guess. The Pittsburgh Steelers pulled out a 16-13 win against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football after Lawrence Timmons intercepted Matt Cassel’s first pass in overtime. One play later, Stonecold Shaun Suisham booted a 23 yarder to end the misery. And that’s about all the good things I have to say about what happened last night.
Ben Roethlisberger left the game in the third quarter with what preliminary reports are saying is a “sprained” throwing shoulder. I’m so glad we brought in Todd Haley‘s boring dink and dunk offense to protect him from getting injured. That’s sarcasm by the way. Of course, Ben has been remarkably healthy all season so it totally makes sense he’d suffer a serious injury a week before the Steelers play the Baltimore Ravens.
Ben wasn’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard before the injury. If not for a circus catch by Mike Wallace in the end zone, Ben would’ve departed with two FGs to show for his efforts. All week, fans and talking heads alike were calling this game Boss Todd’s shot at revenge against the team that canned him last season. What we failed to take into account is that familiarity is a two way street. Teams practice against each other all week for months on end meaning the Chiefs defense probably has taken hundreds of snaps against Haley’s offense during his tenure there. The result, as Max Starks later told reporters, was that KC’s D recognized practically every play they called last night.
Let’s not make excuses for the offense, though. The tone was set early when they went three and out on their first two possessions and Willie Colon was flagged for “cussing.” Swearing is a crime? What the f#ck?
Any questions about Antonio Brown‘s worth to the team were answered as Manny Sanders repeatedly failed to step up in his absence. The running game was absolutely atrocious the entire game. Isaac Redman was pathetic, fumbling the ball to gift wrap a FG early then getting stoned on a crucial 4th and inches early in the second half. Jon Dwyer relieved him and only did slightly better, averaging 2.9 ypc to iRed’s sad 2.6 ypc. Dwyer had a couple decent runs and he was running into a 7 man box after Ben got hurt but it still was far from an acceptable performance.
Let’s talk about the post-Ben offense. For whatever reason, Steeler Nation seems to have turned on Charlie Batch, mocking him as a broke washed-up bum. Well, if you’re comfortable with Byron Leftwich after what we saw last night then I don’t know what say. The guy plays quarterback like he’s trying to win a stuffed giraffe for his girlfriend at Kenneywood.
Okay, this was Lefty’s first action in like three years. Back-ups are rusty enough since they only get a handful of snaps at practice. And when he gets a nice clean pocket and about five seconds to wind up, he does throw a pretty ball. At the same time, he looked even more immobile than the last time we saw him. Leave it to Mike Tomlin to sign the only immobile black quarterback in NFL history. Lefty took about four or five vicious shots in about a quarter and half of work. He’s never going to survive if he has to play a significant stretch. What’s more, his goofy throwing motion and lousy accuracy is all wrong for an offense that relies on timing and accuracy.
Gotta love that with Ben under center, Haley went deep twice all season, then Leftwich comes in and his first pass is a bomb to Wallace.
I haven’t yet mentioned the Steelers defense. On paper, it looks like they had a good game. In reality, Kansas City’s incompetence was the only thing which saved them from a horrible loss. While we’re on the subject of terrible games, Ziggy Hood played like absolute shit. The Chiefs ran Jamaal Charles (23 carries 100 yards) right at him time after time for big chunks of yardage. Only when Dick LeBeau started switching up Hood and Bret Keisel did the bleeding stop. How bad does Ziggy have to play before Ironhead Junior gets more than a handful of snaps?
Did LaMarr Woodley play yesterday? How about James Harrison? You didn’t hear either name at all. If KC had receivers who didn’t fall into the fetal position when faced with contact and stopped shooting themselves in the foot with stupid penalties, this game wouldn’t have been close. In fact, the key series of the game occurred early in the third when a 22 yard TD to Dwayne Bowe was wiped out on a ticky-tack holding penalty then the KC kicker missed the ensuing FG wide right.
Late in the quarter, the pitiful Steelers offense was going nowhere fast when pass interference and roughing the passer penalties let them drive for the game-tying FG. Even at the end of the game KC tried their damnedest to snatch defeat from the jaws of
victory mediocrity. Cassel hit Bowe for a nice gain but Bowe lost the ball when Ryan Clark concussed himself while dislodging the ball. Then TE Tony Moeki got flagged for offensive PI which took them out of FG range and left them with 4th and 15. Of course, Ike Taylor played it too loose and let them convert a 27 yard pass play.
The Chiefs came in having never led during regulation all season. They led for almost half the game. The Chiefs came in leading the league in turnovers. Until Cassel threw the pick to Timmons in OT (which was tipped by the Diesel, btw), they had zero giveaways. Yeah, they were a desperate team. Yeah, maybe this was a trap game. Injuries, Haley, their Super Bowl, yadda yadda…
No excuses. Any good feelings from last week’s game against the Giants are long gone. This was an abominable effort that would’ve resulted in a loss against any halfway competent team. And now an offense which has already been average at best needs to find a way to score points with their back-up QB. On top of all this, two of the next three games are against the Ravens. Suddenly this season isn’t looking so promising.
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Now it’s time to panic.
The Tennessee Titans defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-23 on Thursday Night Football. I repeat, the 1-3 Titans starting a 37 year old backup QB defeated the Steelers. Where do I begin?
I suppose I’ll start by saying this is a total team loss. Anybody pointing to one specific area as “the reason they lost” has no idea what they’re talking about. The defense, for all their struggles, only gave up one legit TD with the other being a gimme from the 1 yard line after a blocked punt. The offense, despite a 363 yard passing day from Ben Roethlisberger to move ahead of Terry Bradshaw as the team’s all-time yardage leader, made some plays but they also missed a lot of chances. And the special teams, well, the blocked punt was just the latest miscue in a season full of them. Maybe Mike Tomlin shouldn’t have ousted Al Everest so he could give his buddy the job.
Regarding the special teams, Stonecold Shaun Suisham is one guy who can leave Tennessee with his head held high. Nobody has been more critical of him than I so trust me when I say making every field goal up through a 52 yarder early in the 4th quarter is all anybody can ask of him. It would’ve been nice for him to hit the 54 yarder at the end but that’s hardly a kick you automatically expect ANY kicker to make.
Right here is one of the problems with the Steelers. I’m talking about field goals instead of touchdowns. Once again, the offense moved in fits and starts, sputtering around for large stretches and failing to put the game away by scoring TOUCHDOWNS instead of settling for field goals. Twice the Steelers got inside the 15 and twice they came away with 3 instead of 6. You let teams hang around, even bad teams like the Titans, and bad things happen.
The receiving star was Isaac Redman. Wait, WHAT? Yes, for all we talk about Young Money and the best receiving corps in the NFL, it was our running back that caught 4 passes for 105 yards. Our TE, Heath Miller, chipped in with 6 catches for 67 yards. Antonio Brown? A measly 20 yards. Manny Sanders? A whopping 43.
Then we have Mike Wallace. Wallace had 94 yards and a TD on two, count’em two, catches. He scored doing pretty much the only thing he knows how to do: run fast straight down the field. I don’t want to hear any more bullshit about how Wallace is “a complete receiver.” Complete receivers catch many balls on a variety of patterns. Wallace is the ultimate all or nothing guy.
Unlike last week when the receivers dropped a ton of passes, this week much of the blame rests with Ben. He makes some great throws, like the bomb to Wallace, but then he’ll turn around and miss plays he needs to make. Suisham’s 52 yarder only happened because Ben made a terrible throw when he had Sanders wide open down the seam. Earlier in the game, he had Heath in the end zone and threw it behind him. Then there was a costly pick as time was running out in the half which probably cost the Steelers at least a field goal.
Like it or not, Ben needs a running game. When they run, they win. When they don’t, they lose. And last night, they couldn’t run at all. Much was due to having no running backs. Rashard Mendenhall played a couple series before leaving the game with what habitual liar Tomlin described as “some sort of Achilles problem.” Then iRed, who wasn’t carrying the ball well but has emerged as a great screen guy, left the game after taking a helmet to the knee. With Jon Dwyer in the doghouse, Baron Batch did his best in relief, even scoring his first career TD, but he’s not a starting caliber running back.
The other problem with the running game was the offensive line. As if losing our top two RBs wasn’t enough, we also lost 2/5 of our line. I think Maurkice Pouncey is way overrated but there is one huge difference between him and Doug Legursky. They’re about the same in pass protection but Pouncey is a much better run blocker. Ditto with Marcus Gilbert, who was replaced by rookie Mike Adams. Adams is fine at pass pro, perhaps even better than Gilbert, but he doesn’t run block very well.
Now let’s talk about the defense. Specifically, Ike Taylor. The Steelers only had 4 flags thrown on them yesterday, two of them went against Ike for pass interference (he had a third which was declined). When he wasn’t getting flagged, he was letting receivers run past, through, and around him. The Titans’ first FG was set up by a penalty on Ike. Their game tying drive was prolonged by a third down penalty on Ike. Their game tying TD was scored on Ike. Hasselbeck threw for 290 yards (and would’ve thrown for about 50 more if his receivers could catch the ball), about 50% of which was on Ike alone.
In summation, Ike sucks. Instead of making pornographic rap songs, he needs to start figuring out why he sucked against Denver and why he’s sucked ever since.
Keenan Lewis…KEENAN LEWIS is now our best corner. And yes, people are going to point out he dropped a crucial interception late in the 4th that could’ve altered the game. How many of those has Ike dropped? At least Lewis is actually covering people and making plays. Cortez Allen, pressed into duty as a safety when Will Allen got hurt, did his best although messed up several times. Ryan Clark led the team in tackles as he continues to be our defensive MVP. Lawrence Timmons continued his strong play, coming up with a big interception on a play that was positively Polamalu-esque.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the D held strong for three quarters, holding Tennessee to only 9 points (as I said, the blocked punt TD shouldn’t be held against them) while the offense dicked around. Then they totally collapsed in the 4th. Why Tomlin made the insane decision to try a 54 FG instead of punting and playing for overtime, I don’t know. Dick LeBeau making the asinine call of asking James “Missed the first month of the season because of a bum knee” Harrison to drop back in pass coverage instead of, oh say, SUPER SPEEDY LAWRENCE TIMMONS was equally perplexing.
I’ve avoided dire predictions and grand statements thus far this season. Well, that time is done. The Steelers, with about 12 starters on the disabled list, get 10 days off before facing the Bengals. That has now become a MUST WIN game. I don’t care if it’s still early in the season, I don’t care that neither Cincy nor the Ratbirds are setting the world on fire, you can’t start 2-4 and expect to go anywhere. It’s time to sink or swim.
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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.
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Every Tuesday, Mike Tomlin holds his weekly press conference. As I’ve stated many times in the past, I tend to ignore whatever “news” comes out of it. I don’t do this because I prefer to be an uneducated fan; on the contrary, writing a Pittsburgh Steelers blog makes it doubly important I stay informed. No, I ignore the Mike Tomlin presser because experience has shown you can’t believe what you hear.
In simpler terms, Tomlin tells a lot lies.
I don’t blame Tomlin for lying to the press. He’s one of those ultra-secretive coaches who believes information is power and if it’s good enough for Bill Belichick, it’s good enough for Tomlin. I just get aggravated when people fail to take what he says with a grain of salt. He regularly downplays injuries that are much more serious than he lets on (James Harrison’s broken orbital last season comes to mind) and hints at personnel moves that he has no intention of following (When Bryant McFadden struggled a couple seasons back, he said it was time to see what some of the youngsters could do. They never saw the field).
Which is why yesterday brought a rare moment of honesty from Tomlin. Granted it was couched in typical Tomlinspeak – he follows the political model of never let three words suffice when grand eloquent sentences with opaque meanings can be used instead – but honest it was nonetheless.
Addressing the Steelers defensive performance on Sunday night, Tomlin said “The reality is that we didn’t play well enough post-snap. Forget about whether or not they huddle between plays, we’ve got full control over how we play once the ball is snapped and it wasn’t up to snuff in many instances.” He also cautioned fans against blaming the absence of Ryan Clark and James Harrison for the defensive inadequacies. “Obviously, those guys are capable of helping us. They’re quality veteran players. They know how to play and, specifically in Ryan’s case, not only his play but his communication and leadership. That remains to be seen and we’re not going to assume anything.” sayeth Coach T.
In other words, don’t expect the D to suddenly start dominating teams just because two guys come back.
The fact is, the normally stout Steelers defense has some serious question marks this season. A big part of the problem is they’re just plain old. Seven starters are over the age of 30. Contrast that with another long-time defensive juggernaut, the Ravens, who’ve so successfully infused fresh talent into their team that only Ed Reed and Ray Lewis remain as elder statesman.
The problem with old players isn’t just the natural decline which comes with age. Even when they are still capable of playing at a high level, their bodies inevitably start to break down. Last season, Harrison and Troy Polamalu were clearly the team’s defensive standouts. However, both have also battled a host of ailments the past couple years. Harrison had two back surgeries during the off-season, then came down with a knee issue when training camp started. Tomlin says he’s expected back this week but it’s clear he’s become alarmingly injury prone. Then we have Troy, who looked great the first half against the Broncos before fading away. Evidently he strained his calf which limited him as time went on. He’s also expected to play on Sunday.
Still, here we are one week into the season and both are already showing up on injury reports.
Meanwhile, where is the infusion of young talent? One thing that bugged me following the Broncos loss were Steeler fans on twitter repeating Warren Sapp’s “They’re old, slow and done” comment from last season. The D is old but the line-up they put on the field last Sunday against Denver sure wasn’t. Harrison was replaced by 23 year old Chris Carter and 24 year old Jason Worilds. Clark was replaced by 27 year old Ryan Mundy. Casey Hampton, who’s become a two down player anyway, split time fairly evenly with 26 year old Steve McClendon.
Worilds had a sack when Peyton Manning screwed up a protection call and gave him a free shot at the QB. The only legitimate sack they got was from veteran Larry Foote. Other than that, where was the pressure? LaMarr Woodley got a big contract a couple off-seasons ago but his sack totals have declined every year for the past three years. He only seems to generate pressure when Harrison is on the other side. Worilds has been a bust. Inside, we have Foote, who’s a stop-gap until the team finds a young ILB to groom in his place. Opposite him is Lawrence Timmons, who was supposed to be that ILB but has consistently underperformed since being drafted in the first round back in 2007. He’s supposedly this super-athlete on par with Troy but Troy would never let Peyton Manning OUTRUN HIM to the sticks.
Wait, you may say, Dick LeBeau‘s zone blitz depends on the D-linemen opening up gaps for the linebackers. Fair enough. McClendon isn’t stout at the point of attack. He gets pushed around in the run game which is why Big Snack usually plays the first two downs. He’s not a starter. And what’s up with Ziggy Hood? Was his name even called? Looking at the box score from Denver, he had 2 tackles, no assists. TWO TACKLES. Aaron Smith could make more plays on one leg.
Then we have the secondary. The Steelers have tried to find a second corner to pair with Ike Taylor for years. Of course, their search usually involves a mid-to-late round project they hope to coach up. The light bulb finally came on for Willie Gay last season but the team let him go to
Pittsburgh West Arizona. His replacement, Keenan Lewis, was an average at best nickel last year and so far has looked like another B-Mac with his generous 10 yard cushions. The team is high on second year man Cortez Allen but he didn’t exactly distinguish himself against the Broncos, either. Meanwhile, Mundy remains the teams go-to safety off the bench even though he gets beat like Justin Bieber at a biker rally every time he’s on the field.
The bottom line is the Steelers D is a big question mark. Veteran stars are facing an inevitable decline while the young guys don’t appear ready for prime time. Steeler Nation may need to face the fact that for the first time in a very long time, it may be the offense which needs to carry the team. Play to your strengths. And right now, the defense is anything but a strength.
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I’ve written a lot this season about the decline of Pittsburgh Steelers all-time great Hines Ward. It was never my intent to turn this into a Hines Hater blog but the combination of his being one of the faces of the current era of Black and Gold greatness and the fact the national media was totally out of the loop in regards to his rapidly diminishing importance, I felt like I had to keep harping on it. Also, despite Hines’ insistence that the feels he’s “owed nothing” by the team, I have a feeling the eventual break-up is going to be a painful one. And Steeler Nation should be prepared for an ugly fall-out.
While I’ve been focusing on Hines, however, I’ve neglected the other side of the ball.
A couple things happened during Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs which really hit home to me that Hines may not be the only Steeler mainstay facing his last stand. First, the Chiefs offense had a fleeting moment of competence in the second quarter when Tyler Palko stared down a blitzing linebacker and converted a big third down. “Stared down” is a bit of an overstatement as James Farrior was sent up the middle on a fire blitz and while nothing but the faint scent of failure stood between him and Palko, the ball was delivered before James had crossed the line of scrimmage. Then, late in the game, with the Chiefs moving the ball on an exhausted Steeler defense, the cameras repeatedly cut to a shot of Casey Hampton sucking wind on the sideline.
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I think Ryan Clark accurately sums up my feelings on the matter…
However, since I refuse to be held to 140 characters or less, here are 1,259 more on the subject. In my recap of the Texans debacle, I mentioned Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro linebacker James Harrison missed time when a piece of helmet lining flew into his eye. I didn’t pull that story out my ass. I was only going by what the man tweeted himself: