This is why I hate the preseason.
Nothing good ever happens. If the starting offense marches down the field and scores an easy touchdown, so what? Then the starters come out and you end up watching guys who are either about to be cut or are so far down the depth chart they only see the field in desperate situations. What’s worse is you actually pray for the starters to come out because as long as they’re playing, the only significant thing that can happen is somebody gets injured.
Guess what happened Sunday?
Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey broke his foot in yesterday’s preseason victory over the Packers at Heinz Field. It’s the second catastrophic injury for Pouncey in three years as his 2013 campaign ended after one quarter thanks to friendly fire from teammate David DeCastro. At least this time an opponent was responsible as Green Bay’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix rolled him up from behind on a run blitz.
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I wish that headline was a joke.
The words “disastrous start” don’t even begin to describe the first game of the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sure, every team has to battle through injuries to key personnel. However, I’d be hard pressed to recall any team losing not one, not two, but THREE starters in week one.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers have elected their team captains for the upcoming season. The four captains are Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Clark, Brett Keisel, and Maurkice Pouncey. Ben and Pouncer obviously represent the offense while Clark and Keis stand for the D. The Steelers usuallly have a special teams representative but for whatever reason it appears they won’t this season. Perhaps when they play less shitty they’ll be granted a seat at the big boy table.
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Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey was out partying over the weekend with his twin brother Mike. True to my father’s advice that “nothing good ever happens at a night club after 1 a.m.”, both twins were photographed wearing hats emblazoned with the words “Free Hernandez.”Predictably, this sent the football news starved Internet into a feeding frenzy when the pic was reposted by virtually every major sports blog.
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Sometimes I really don’t understand football. I suppose I shouldn’t admit that here since for whatever reason people who read blogs automatically assume the writer know as much about football as Chuck Noll. Truthfully, the best any of us can do, from the guys who write for SI or ESPN all the way down to lowly bloggers, is offer our best guess. I sure would like to a fancy title like Senior NFL Insider, though.
Anyway, all week we’ve waited with baited breath for any scrap of information about Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Granted, Ben has a history of making Terminator-like comebacks just when things seem the bleakest so it’s not altogether crazy to hope he has one more in him. And we are playing the Baltimore Ravens in a pivotal game, a game where a loss not only puts a division title out of reach but makes it so the Steelers pretty much have to run the table to make the playoffs.
All that said, what I don’t understand is how anybody can seriously endorse the idea of Ben coming back on Sunday. Does nobody remember last year’s Monday night fiasco in San Francisco? Ben toughed it out that week and continued toughing it out until the team got bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if Ben took an extra week off to rest up. Maybe his foot was just too far gone and he was going to play at 50% no matter what. But at some point you have to put the big picture ahead of the right now.
Would I love to see #7 jog onto the field in Baltimore on Sunday afternoon? Absolutely. Would it be the smart thing for the team? Absolutely not.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs RATBIRDS OFFENSE
The last time these two teams met, Dick LeBeau‘s crew did a fantastic job keeping them off the scoreboard. It’d be foolish to expect the exact same level of dominance this time around. Unfortunately, that’s what we may need to have any realistic shot at winning.
With few exceptions, Joe Flacco has struggled mightily against the Steelers. LeBeau has basically figured out what the rest of the league is slowly catching on to; when you take away Ray Rice and put the game entirely on Flacco’s arm, you have a better than 50-50 shot at pulling out a win. I’m not going to rehash my critique of Flacco (you can read it in my previous Know Thy Enemy) except to say he is what he is. He’s not the worst QB in the league but he’s not the kind of singular talent that can take over a game through sheer talent either. Last week’s 29 yard catch and run by Rice which snatched victory from the jaws of defeat is the perfect encapsulation of the Ravens offense.
Troy Polamalu continues to practice normally as it looks like he’ll definitely be back Sunday. Troy hasn’t been his old self for a couple seasons now but playing the Ravens usually brings out the best in him. If there’s any Steeler who causes Flacco to wake up in a cold sweat, it’s Troy. Throughout the rivalry, Troy has frequently been the one who makes that one game-changing play which spelled the difference between a win and a loss.
It was exactly that kind of game changing play the defense needed to make last time and didn’t. Will they make it now that Troy’s back in the line-up? I like their chances a lot more.
Since the Football Gods can never give without taking away, LaMarr Woodley will be out with a re-aggravation of the leg injury which knocked him out earlier in the season. Jason Worilds has come on this season to where he’s actually the team leader in sacks (5). Other than a momentary flash of his old self, Woodley hasn’t done much of anything this year so playing Worilds is probably a good thing in the scheme of things. James Harrison is starting to look like his old self and the inside duo of Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons have been strong all season. I’m not sure the Steelers D can play better than they did in the first meeting but I definitely wouldn’t be shocked if they did.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs RATBIRDS DEFENSE
Where do I start? How about the good news? Assuming Charlie Batch starts as expected, at least he’ll have a full complement of weapons to toss his wounded ducks at. Antonio Brown has practiced all week and is going to start. Any questions about who the Steelers #1 wide out is have been answered in AB’s absence. Mike Tomlin decided to play some mind games this week by listing Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace as co-starters on the depth chart. For some reason, media types have been on radio all week trying to argue that Steeler fans are being too hard on Wallace for his lack of production. Boo hoo, cry me a river. I don’t care that he held out. What I do care about is that he strutted around like he was one of the best receivers in football and hasn’t played anywhere close to that.
Another Tomlin mandate is that the team will feature Jonathan Dwyer as the primary back with Isaac Redman backing him up. Again, the media has been reacting aghast that he’d demote Rashard Mendenhall to third string despite the fact he’s done absolutely nothing to merit playing time. Mendenhall isn’t a good back. He tip toes too much and doesn’t run aggressively to daylight. His only selling point is this mythical “breakaway speed” people keep mentioning yet I can count on one hand how many long TD runs he’s had during his entire career here. Dwyer has shown that when you give him 15-20 carries he’ll run hard, wear down a defense and give you respectable YPC.
The blocking for Dwyer may be a problem. The team’s most beastly run blocker, Willie Colon, hasn’t practice much this week and is looking doubtful. To the team’s credit, they’ve finally realized Doug Legursky sucks at guard but is perfectly capable at center (probably because you can get away with being a small quick center but not really at guard). So if Colon can’t go, they’ve taken the extreme option of moving Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey to guard and inserting the Big Legursky at his natural position. I haven’t seen Pouncey play guard but if David DeCastro isn’t ready to play (and this radical re-alignment suggest he’s an emergency option at best) this seems to be the best arrangement.
Last game, the Steelers had nothing happening on the ground while Byron Leftwich missed wide open receivers left and right. On the flipside, the Ravens offense did a whole bunch of nothing with the their lone TD coming on a punt return. Let’s say the Steelers D slips a little this time and gives up two whole TDs. Can Charlie realistically put up 17-20 points on the Ratbirds? Off what we saw in Cleveland, the answer would be no. However, this is almost certainly the final start of Charlie Batch’s long career. He’s not going to go out without taking a couple swings. Let’s hope one or two connect.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Washington Redskins at Heinz Field on Sunday. Two storied franchises. The Redskins were founded back in 1932 although they didn’t move to DC until 1937. As we all know, the Steelers were started in 1933 after the Chief, Art Rooney, had a good day at the track (or so the legend goes).
And on Sunday we’ll get to see what the Chief saw waaaay back when the franchise was only in its second year. Except we get to see it in glorious high definition. Yes, the dreaded 1934 bumblebee throwbacks make their debut this weekend. Adjust your brightness levels with due diligence.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs REDSKINS OFFENSE
Robert Griffin III. What more can I say about him that hasn’t been said? He is truly the NFL’s ultimate weapon. He has more rushing yards than all the Steelers backs combined. And lest you think he’s a run first/pass second QB, his current passer rating is third behind only Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
Funny thing is, RGIII isn’t the only rookie making an impact on the Redskins. Running back Alfred Morris is currently third in the league in rushing. The sixth round pick has piled up over 600 yards and scored 5 TDs.
While that should add up to a potent offense, and indeed Washington is fifth in the NFL in total offense coming into this week’s game, some question marks have emerged. Griffin’s favorite target, TE Fred Davis, was lost for the season after tearing his ACL. The Skins signed former Colt Pierre Garcon to shore up their receiving corps but he’s been hurt and isn’t expected to play Sunday. That leaves former Niner Josh Morgan and old warhorse Santana Moss as the teams starting wide outs.
Of course mediocre receivers can start looking like world-beaters when a team has a dominating running game. The first order of business for the Steelers will be to contain both RGIII and Morris. I know, I know, easier said than done. The Steelers haven’t been very good against the run this season; last week Benjarvis Green-Ellis was gashing them until the Bengals inexplicably abandoned the run.
Stopping the run hinges on two things. First, the defensive line. Ziggy Hood and Casey Hampton have played poorly this season and the results have been big holes for backs to romp through. On the bright side, ILBs Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote have been standouts but if the D-line doesn’t hold their water, they’re stuck tackling guys 5-8 yards down the field.
I think the secondary will be fine against the pass unless they start getting gashed so badly Dick LeBeau is forced to stack the box. Timmons will probably be used as a spy on RGII so it’ll also be important for him to maintain his gaps and not over-pursue as he tends to do because that’s how 10 yard scrambles turn into highlight reel 40 yard TDs.
Once upon a time, LeBeau ate young QBs for breakfast. RGIII has certainly never seen the kind of things the Steelers will throw at him on Sunday. But the Steelers haven’t exactly had to deal with a threat like RGIII, either.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs REDSKINS DEFENSE
On Sunday Night Football, Cris Collinsworth mentioned that Ben Roethlisberger told him he was tired of asking the defense to put games away. Big Ben later repeated as much to local reporters. I think he’s on to something.
Back in the Bill Cowher era, the Steelers never blew leads. Yeah, they had great defenses but that wasn’t the only reason they were the best closers in football. A lot of it had to do with Jerome Bettis. When you have a back that can grind it out at the end of games, it’s hard for the other team to win when their offense is sitting on the bench.
Last week, the Steelers showed a bit of that old magic. Jonathan Dwyer had the best game by a Steelers back in almost two full seasons. Incredibly, there has been some talk that he might not even be ACTIVE for this week’s game. Mike Tomlin doesn’t believe in benching guys due to injury so Rashard Mendenhall will start as soon as he’s healthy. Additionally, Mendy and Dwyer are viewed as similar backs while Ike Redman is viewed as a change-of-pace so if he’s healthy, they’d want him in the line-up. Which leaves Dwyer odd man out.
Luckily, the Steelers’ hand might not be forced this week as both Mendy and iRed are still working their way back from injury. Redman did practice so I can see him being activated in favor of that useless Baron Batch but I have a feeling the Steelers will be more than happy to have Rashard “rest” another week while they see if Dwyer can recreate his performance.
He’ll have some help with the return of center Maurkice Pouncey. At least, in theory he should be getting help. I’m on record as saying I don’t think Pouncey is as good as the media (or he) thinks he is. I mean, we rushed for 165 yards with the Big Legursky at center, right? And didn’t Legursky start at center for iRed’s big playoff game in Denver?
Ah, who cares. As soon as he stubs a toe, Pouncey will run crying to the sideline to ice down his vagina anyway.
In addition to a running game to keep RGIII on the bench, it would be nice if Mike Wallace decided to catch the ball this week. At the risk of repeating myself, when you let teams hang around, bad things happen. Last week the Steelers escaped with a close win but you can’t play that game forever. It would be nice if this vaunted group of wide outs actually made a couple big plays so we could put TOUCHDOWNS on the board before turning the ball over to Dwyer.
There should be ample opportunity to make plays. As good as Washington’s offense has been, their D has been equally wretched. They’re third from the bottom in total defense, surrendering nearly 30 points per game. They’re dead last against the pass, giving up a whopping 330 yards/game. If Young Money doesn’t show up against this defense, well, maybe it’s time for a name change.
Steelers. Redskins. Old school teams. New school offense. One team is going to leave with a much-needed win. Let’s hope it’s the team dressed like a Yinzer Hamburgular.
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They say losing reveals a lot more about your character than winning. If that old jockism is true, then the Pittsburgh Steelers have a big problem. As I sit back and reflect on an ignominious end to a wasted season, I can’t help but worry about the future of the team. Sports radio around town has already been bombarded by calls from irate members of Steeler Nation advising the organization to begin the reloading process by ridding themselves of the old broken down players who failed them this year.
I think that’d be a big mistake. Not because I think Hines Ward or James Farrior are going to find the Fountain of Youth during the off-season. I think it’s a mistake because I’m not sure if the next generation of Steelers are ready for primetime. In fact, if the game in Denver and its immediate aftermath tells us anything, it’s that we may need Farrior and Hines more than ever.
For those who haven’t heard, Maurkice Pouncey used his twitter feed to pimp some ear pollution by some goofy rapper friend of his following Sunday’s heartbreaker in Denver. When some of his followers wrote him that it was in poor taste to be promoting junk less than 12 hours after your team lost a playoff game, he responded with the always mature, “I’m rich play for the steelers and have a awesome life! u wish u had my life!!” After deleting the tweet and writing a half-hearted apology, he spent the rest of the day blocking fans who criticized him for being an asshole. Nice to see him block somebody for a change.
Now, I’m not advocating cutting Pouncer as he’s undeniably a very talented player. But when he played poorly at the start of the season, whispers around town were that he’s quickly gaining a reputation among the players for being a high maintenance cry-baby. He and Ben suffered their high ankle sprains at roughly the same time, yet Ben came back a week later while Pouncey spent the rest of the season picking splinters out of his ass. Doug Legursky played the Wild Card game despite badly separating his shoulder which shows you the kind of warrior he is. What has Pouncey shown besides a willingness to sit out pretty much every important game the Steelers have played the past two years?
And before anybody gets on me for being hard on Pouncey or dealing in rumor, I will remind everybody that I wrote about Ben Roethlisberger being disliked by his teammates YEARS before the national media finally caught wind of the story. I was vindicated then and I stand by this. Pouncey is a selfish dick who wants all the acclaim of playing for the Black and Gold without any of the success or sacrifices. And the worrisome part is I don’t think he’s alone.
During the off-season, Manny Sanders, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace dubbed themselves “Young Money.” It was a fun nickname for a group of receivers who promised to take the Steelers offense to new heights. You also know it was a self-promotional tool to raise their notoriety around the league. AB won Team MVP because he is by all accounts one of the hardest workers out there. Meanwhile, Manny had a great playoff game but was injured most of the year and didn’t do jack during the regular season. Then we have Wallace, who’ll be a restricted free agent, who completely disappeared down the stretch run. If you want to call yourself Young Money and want to be this hot young NFL superstar, first you need to make the plays when they count.
Anybody doubt Hines Ward would’ve caught that 50 yard bomb when his team needed it? Instead of clever nicknames or telling reporters you’re going catch 2,000 yards worth of passes in 2011, how about making one big catch in a big game? Once again, we have a guy who likes to run his mouth and act all cocky without actually backing it up ON THE FIELD. That’s not how it works.
A big story last week involved Jets players describing Santonio Holmes as “a cancer” and a quitter in the aftermath of their season-ending collapse. That is why I shed no tears when the Steelers stole a fifth round draft pick for him. Lost in the memory of his game-winning catch in Super Bowl XLIII is the fact for almost the entiretly of his tenure here, ‘Tone was a total dick. While everybody remembers the toe-tapper that won us our sixth Lombardi Trophy and brought ‘Tone the game MVP, I remember two other plays that tell you all you need to know about Santonio Holmes.
The first one occurred on Santonio’s 40 yard catch and run that set the Steelers up for a shot at the end zone. At the end of the play, Ben and the O-line were running down the field to kill the clock because they only had one time out remaining. While they were hustling to the line, Holmes was busy doing a Me Me Me dance to celebrate his catch. Ben was forced to burn that final time out. Considering the game-winning catch came with about 35 seconds left on the clock, had Ben been sacked on one of those subsequent plays, Holmes’ stupidity would have cost us the game. After the catch, he did that goofy LeBron-esque saltshaker move with the football which those enablers at the Four Letter replayed ad nauseum ever since. What they don’t tell you is using the ball as a prop is an unsportsmanlike conduct foul which should have cost the Steelers 15 yards on the subsequent kickoff. Once again, our MVP put his camera time and his personal glory ahead of the team.
Hines Ward has said he’d be willing to stay with the Steelers for a Bettis-like reduced contract. The feeling is the Steelers might not take him up on it because even for veteran minimum, they have no use for him. I disagree. Players like Hines and Farrior may not be the players they used to be but they’re locker room leaders. When they speak, players tend to listen. And it seems apparent to me the Steeler locker room needs all the leaders they can get right now.
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Ah, the good old days…
The NFL announced their Pro Bowl rosters yesterday afternoon. And if anybody needs proof these ain’t your daddy’s Pittsburgh Steelers, look no further. Granted being named to the team is a little like winning an Academy Award, reputation often trumps actual accomplishment and guys are often judged more on how much publicity their team receives than playing ability. Still, when several longtime mainstays fail to make the cut while a handful of new faces will be joining the NFL’s elite, it’s a sign the times, they are a-changin’.
The AFC’s defense was once pretty much a mash-up between the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. The Ratbirds are still well-represented with four defensive starters. I know, I know, it’s an absolute joke that Ray Lewis made the team when he’s spent the year alternating between the injury report and doing his best impersonation of the Invisible Man. His days of knifing through the line of scrimmage like he’s at a night club in Atlanta have long passed. His making the team is a Lifetime Achievement award on par with giving Robert DeNiro a best actor Oscar for Meet The Fockers 6.
Meanwhile, the vaunted Steeler defense has only one representative, Troy Polamalu. James Harrison is a first alternate (meaning he goes if somebody is injured) which is also ridiculous since Silverback has been absolutely dominant when healthy. Methinks the Ginger Dictator pulled a little hanging chad action to make sure his mortal enemy didn’t get named a starter. If Stabby McStabberson makes it even though he’s missed a good chunk of time with injury, I don’t see how Deebo doesn’t merit the same consideration.
Regardless, Harrison is really the only defensive starter one might argue got robbed out of making the team. LaMarr Woodley and Ryan Clark were both listed as second alternates although I honestly don’t think either has done enough this season to merit a Pro Bowl appearance. About a month ago, I would’ve said Ike Taylor is a shoo-in but he’s had a couple rough games as of late and doesn’t make enough splash plays to get noticed. Brett Keisel is having a helluva season but suffers from what I’ll call Aaron Smith Syndrome where Dick LeBeau’s defensive scheme which doesn’t allow for d-lineman to pile up sacks ends up working against him. Multiple time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton has basically become a two down player so his absence is completely justified.
“Wait,” I can hear you saying, “I thought you said five Steelers made the team?” Ah, yes, and that goes back to my original statement about the changing face of the Black and Gold. Three years ago, if I said five Steelers made the Pro Bowl, most of Steeler Nation would figure that meant four defensive guys and a running back. Here in the waning days of 2011, it should come as no surprise to hear four of the Steelers’ five Pro Bowlers line up on offense.
Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey earned their second Pro Bowl appearances after getting screwed in previous seasons. Big Ben was snubbed in 2009 when he threw for 4,000 yards and 26 TDs yet was only named first alternate while Pouncer made the team last year but only as a back-up when he clearly should have been the starter. Joining them for the first time will be 2/3 of the Young Money crew, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. Wallace is currently the second leading receiver in the AFC and has shot to the head of many people’s lists of best big-play threat in football. AB, who set a Steelers team record for most all-purpose yardage on Sunday, was named as a kick returner although I get the impression his selection took into account all facets of his game.
No running back. No Hines Ward. Just our quarterback and a couple of his receivers. What are we, the Patriots? While I’m happy for all our players named to the team, especially the young guys, I hope none of them get to actually play in the game because they’re resting up for the Super Bowl. Given the kind of men that they are, I have no doubt they’re wishing for the exact same thing.
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The NFL is weird. When schedules are announced over the summer, every fan looks at their team’s slate and begins to mentally check off wins and losses. Of course, it NEVER plays out as we expect. The baseball season lasts like six months, the hockey and basketball seasons last nearly as long. Football season is the shortest of the four major sports but so many twists and turns occur over sixteen games that it feels a lot longer.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers were scheduled to face the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football back in August, I’m sure most members of Steeler Nation had that penciled in as an easy W. The Niners were a miserable 6-10 last year and starting a new regime under college coaching wunderkind Jim Harbaugh. The lockout prevented them from bringing in a new quarterback so they were stuck with former first overall pick Alex Smith, who looked like an epic bust. Even if the trip out to the West Coast has historically been tough, this was still a game the Steelers should win.
Fast forward four months later. The Niners are one of the surprise teams of the year, having already clinched their first NFC West title in over a decade. Harbaugh is probably going to be coach of the year. Meanwhile, the Steelers are facing them at the worst possible time. Their superstar quarterback just suffered a horrific ankle injury while their superstar linebacker is suspended for one game. Mix in the fact both teams are in a playoff scramble for seeding position and you have a recipe for disaster.
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This Sunday it will be deja vu all over again when the [intlink id="20" type="category"]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] face off against the Arizona Cardinals. The Cards are still led by our ex-offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt, and boast a roster filled with refugees from the Black and Gold. Whiz must really admire his old franchise (and why shouldn’t he?) what with his almost comical fetish for adding ex-Steelers to his team. When the Steelers step inside the Big Toaster on Sunday, they’ll see no fewer than four ex-teammates across the sidelines with two more members of the roster having played their college ball at Pitt.
Pittsburgh and their slacker younger brother have faced each other twice since that fateful off-season of 2007 when [intlink id="49" type="category"]Bill Cowher[/intlink] left to exchange phony laughs with James Brown and pretend to understand the words coming out of Shannon Sharpe’s mush-mouth. Whiz, the obvious heir apparent (he even has his own mini-Chin!), was surprisingly eliminated early in the process, leading him to bolt for the head job in Arizona. After the media erroneously reported longtime offensive line coach Russ Grimm had won the job, the Steelers announced they were going with a relatively unknown defensive coordinator from Minnesota named [intlink id="45" type="category"]Mike Tomlin[/intlink]. That year, the two teams met during the regular season with the Cardinals scoring an emotional victory in a game their spurned head coach badly wanted to win.
Of course, the next time the two teams met, the Steelers would walk away with a victory in Super Bowl XLIII. He who laughs last, laughs best and all that.