The Pittsburgh Steelers host the Miami Dolphins this Sunday at Heinz Field. Ordinarily, I’d begin this preview by trying to come up with some compelling reasons to get fired up for the game. In this case, hype really isn’t necessary. For the Steelers’ razor thin playoff hopes to live another week, they quite simply must win on Sunday.
Miami is currently one of the two remaining 6-6 teams in the AFC. I know I’ve been saying all along that the AFC’s second Wild Card might be 8-8 and I still believe that. With four games remaining, can anybody confidently predict ANY of the AFC teams in the hunt will run the table? Regardless whether that second Wild Card is 8-8 or 9-7, the last playoff spot is almost certainly going to come down to tiebreakers. Which is why the Steelers must beat the Dolphins – if they lose they can possibly make up the game in the standings but they will never be able to make up the tiebreaker.
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In a little less than two hours, the NFL free agency period officially begins. If you believe the rumors, sometime shortly thereafter the Pittsburgh Steelers will lose at least two and more likely three starters. Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall are certainly gone. Wallace is reportedly taking his talent to South Beach for somewhere north of $10 million per season. By “talent,” I of course mean his one and only talent of running really fast in a straight line. Mendenhall won’t be overpaid nearly as much although word is he’s being viewed as the best running back available this off-season. Several teams have been tied to him with the Denver Broncos being the early favorites to enjoy his butterfingers and hip-hop stylings behind the line of scrimmage.
The third departure will certainly hurt more than the first two. The Steelers would like to bring CB Keenan Lewis back but in a thin market and with good young secondary talent at a premium, it’s likely they won’t be able to offer him what some other team does. The Steelers have other options at corner as I’ve already written although Lewis is the kind of guy good teams keep around. While I personally think Cortez Allen is too good not to start, it hurts to spend years drafting and developing a guy like Lewis only for him to go elsewhere while we’re stuck bringing back a mediocre retread like William Gay.
The Steelers have deviated from the Steeler Way and are paying for it now and likely in the immediate future. They used to have no qualms about jettisoning expensive veterans in favor of reloading with younger guys. For whatever reason, they held the current team together long past it’s expiration date and those big money veteran contracts have left the team in salary cap hell. While those with tons of money to spend are almost always teams that suck (Miami, Cleveland) or successful teams winning with a lot of guys in their first few years in the league who are still on their relatively cheap rookie contracts (Seattle, San Fransisco), it can’t be argued that the Steelers paid too much money to too many guys who were either past their prime or too injury prone to reach it.
With James Harrison‘s recent release and the earlier contract reworkings, the Steelers managed to get themselves around $10 million or so under the cap. They offered minimum tenders to four restricted free agents (meaning any team that signs them has to surrender a pick equal to the round they were picked in if the Steelers opt not to match) and re-signed G Ramon Foster to a three year/$6 million deal and ILB Larry Foote to a two year/$5 million deal which knocks that number down to around $2.5 million or so.
Manny Sanders, Steve McClendon, Isaac Redman, and Jonathan Dwyer all received $1.3 million tenders. Dwyer signed his right away which is unusual since players usually wait to see if a better offer is forthcoming. Dwyer clearly wanted to show the Steelers he was serious about wearing the Black and Gold and serious about being the team’s featured back next year. Sanders is probably safe under the minimum tender since he was a third round pick and it’s unlikely a team would want to surrender a premium pick for him. McClendon and Redzone aren’t sure things since they were undrafted and thus teams can sign them without losing a pick. If McClendon goes elsewhere, the Steelers nose tackle options will be limited to squeezing another year out of broken down Casey Hampton or rolling the dice with homicidal maniac Alameda Ta’amu.
The Steelers did manage to reel in one big free agent to off-set the loss of Wallace. “Big” as in literally large, not a big name unless you’ve just stepped out of Delorean that came from 2003. Plaxico Burress re-signed with the team that originally drafted him way back in 2000. He’s being brought back to give Ben Roethlisberger the tall wide receiver he’s wanted for several years now. Plax is old (35) and slow but he’s still 6’5 so he could be a decent red zone threat. Best of all, he’s dirt cheap.
Cheap is where the Steelers are right now. Yeah, winning the off-season is usually zero indication of actually winning when the 2013 season kicks off six months from now. However, the Steelers are an aging group with plenty of holes to fill. It would be nice to have a little money to spend instead of the traditional dumpster diving. Unfortunately, dumpster diving it is.
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Last week, I wrote about growing discontent amongst the Pittsburgh Steelers. Naturally, I’ll begin this week writing about growing discontent amongst the Pittsburgh Steelers. What? You thought I’d do five hundred words on some college kid’s 40 time at the Combine?
When last we left this ridiculous controversy, an unnamed player called linebacker LaMarr Woodley a fatass. Regardless of his off-season workout regiment, there’s absolutely no denying Woodley has been an injury prone disappointment since signing his big money contract extension a couple seasons back. These unattributed comments riled up team leader/annoying loudmouth Ryan Clark, who was offended someone would break the code of locker room omerta. Shockingly, Clark did make one valid observation; that the team had a clear leadership vacuum in the wake of last season’s purge of veterans.
Since no controversy is complete until we hear from the wide receivers, not one but two Steelers wide outs chimed in on this issue. First there was Antonio Brown, wearing the swankiest pimp hat this side of the Godfather. He appeared on ESPN’s First Take but since I try to avoid ESPN and I especially try to avoid First Take, I only caught his comments when they were uploaded to their website. In between his various assaults on the English language, AB managed to reveal the Steelers had a “fractured” locker room with guys more worried about their stats and impending free agency than winning football games.
In other words, Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall were the bad guys. Shocking, I know. And convenient. Since both of those goofs are long gone, it very nicely puts all questions about a divided locker room to rest. At least until the team loses two in a row to bottom feeders they should’ve crushed.
Hines Ward, who is no longer a Steeler although for some reason the media runs to get his opinion on every move they make, went on the NFL Network to weigh in on this controversy. Hines reiterated Clark’s point about losing veteran leaders and talked about the team losing track of the Steeler Way. He also provided every headline writer their money quote by saying the backbiting was a sign the team was in “total disarray.” Impressive insight for a man who spent most of last season in Los Angeles preparing sweet and sour spare ribs for Guy Fieri and Rachel Ray.
Look, the Steelers definitely have a problem. When they cut Hines and James Farrior, yinzers called local sports talk shows worried about leadership and were dismissed by hosts who (rightfully) pointed out teams don’t have to like each other or be compromised of good guys to win. Now that the players themselves are pointing out the problems in the locker room, those same hosts are all over this topic. This is why I started this blog, the reporters and sports personalities in this town suck.
You don’t need a team full of choir boys or a team wide lovefest to win. However, the good guys need to outnumber the bad guys. The Steelers have had idiots on the team before but with Hines or the Bus leading the locker room and a hard-ass head coach in Bill Cowher, the Steeler Way prevailed. In recent years, the guys who were all about winning have faded away and a bunch of chest-thumping me-firsters have taken their place. And instead of the head coach reining them in, we have hear-no-evil see-no-evil Mike Tomlin. There is a systematic flaw within this team. Unfortunately, a flaw I don’t see being corrected any time soon.
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And never brought to mind?
The more quickly the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns is forgotten the better. I have to confess, I lost interest in this game about ten minutes in and started flipping to Red Zone in order to watch games that actually mattered. Considering nearly 15,000 fans attended yesterday’s season finale at Heinz Field disguised as empty seats, I have to think I’m not alone in my crippling apathy.
Pittsburgh is a football town. I would be insane to deny it. At the same time, Pittsburgh also backs winners. Oh, we still support our Pirates or Penguins when they fail but not nearly with the same fervor or in the same numbers as we do teams that win. The Steelers first meaningless game in six years and 15,000 people opted to skip it. The Rooney family, and by that I mean bungling meddler Art II, better not take this town’s support for granted or we’ll be seeing a lot more Pitt size crowds in the near future.
As I said, I didn’t watch every minute of this titanic confrontation but I’ll give some thoughts on the bits and pieces I did see. The reason my will was broken early on had much to do with a mind-numbing first quarter which saw Todd Haley‘s stunningly inept offense piss around while rookie nobody Thad Lewis drove 70 yards on Dick LeBeau‘s top ranked defense. The Browns’ drive came to a screeching halt thanks to a Troy Polamalu interception.
Well, at least Troy made one play this season.
Speaking of finally making a play, Ziggy Hood finally made an impact himself. Unfortunately, it came in the form of taking out the knee of teammate Brett Keisel, who will undergo an MRI tomorrow due to fears he may have injured his MCL (which may or may not require surgery). On the plus side, with Diesel out, Mike Tomlin was forced to play Cam Heyward. Young guys on defense, what a crazy concept!
The defensive standouts, if you can call them that considering they were playing against a guy who has been cut from three different teams’ practice squads, were Lawrence Timmons and Cortez Allen. Timmons put the cherry on top of his break out season with two sacks and a fumble recovery. It only took 5 years but LT is finally playing like a mid first round draft pick. So I guess we should expect next year’s first to finally make an impact some time around 2018.
Meanwhile, Allen continues to make me look like a genius for tabbing him as a future starter – and a high-level one at that – in the secondary. Last week he caused three turnovers (2 INTs and forced fumble), this week he added another two FFs, one of which he recovered himself. Five turnovers in two weeks. That’s nearly more than the rest of the defense combined. Keenan Lewis played well this year but I don’t see how they can possibly limit Allen to a nickel role next year.
Lewis, by the way, is going to be a free agent at season’s end. The balky knee which limited him the past month acted up so if this was his last appearance in the Black and Gold it was a brief one. I imagine the team will try to keep him although they’d be foolish to overpay for a guy destined to be a #3 corner. Lewis’s probable exit will likely be part of a roster purge that made last year’s Veteran Armageddon look tame by comparison.
Casey Hampton was replaced for almost the entire second half by Steve McClendon. McClendon even got some good pressure on young Thaddeus begging the question why he sat on the bench for 16 weeks while all the old immobile guys stood around like their feet were stuck in mud. Even though the team doesn’t have a legit heir apparent at NT, it seems certain we’ll go into next year with McClendon and (provided he doesn’t kill anybody over the summer) Alameda Ta’amu.
The linebacking corps will also be undergoing a bit of an overhaul. Reports on NFL.com are that yesterday’s game was James Harrison‘s swan song in Pittsburgh. If so, Deebo made sure to get one final late hit cheap shot in for old time’s sake. Guess he’ll have to sit out his first regular season game as a Dolphin due to suspension. Ironically, that hit came on the very play where Thad Lewis threw his first (and only) career TD pass. While it looks like Jason Worilds will step in opposite the chronically injured LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers will have to use the draft or *gasp* free agency to find another ILB to pair with Timmons when they part ways with veteran Larry Foote.
Ben Roethlisberger – making sure to clutch his ribs in crippling agony after every throw so we knew the Big Drama Queen was TOUGH~! – played to the bitter end. Ben, who threw for only 134 yards but 3 TDs, managed to put together a couple nice drives in the fourth quarter, including his 23rd and final TD pass of the season to Plaxico Burress. Eight years, three Super Bowl championships and a prison stint later, the season ends with Big Ben to Plax for a TD. Fitting.
The only drawback to yesterday’s win (besides Keisel and Kelvin Beachum getting hurt. Since when did playing Right Tackle for the Steelers become the equivalent of wearing a red shirt on the USS Enterprise?) was the victory dropped the Steelers all the way to the 17th overall pick in the 2013 draft. That’s still plenty high to get a quality player, one who may be counted on to contribute a lot faster than rookies have in recent years. Whoever they take, this is going to be among the most important off-seasons in Steelers history.
Will Art II admit the Todd Haley experiment has been an utter failure? Or will Boss Todd be given another year to electrify us with his vast array of bubble screens and end arounds? Who will replace the aforementioned losses on defense? Likewise, what will the team do with Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace? Assuming both are gone, do they stick with what they got or introduce some fresh faces to the mix? Remember, every back except Chris Rainey is a free agent along with Manny Sanders. And for the love of pete, will they please fire special teams bungler Amos Jones? He’s so bad, the name “Bobby April” was actually trending locally when the team failed yet again to correctly defend a fake punt.
On a personal note, I want to thank my readers for allowing me to vent this season. It’s been a maddening year but being able to express my frustrations here certainly does my blood pressure a world of good. Even though you guys seldom comment, I appreciate all of you reading, from the old timers who’ve been with me since NPC to the newbies who stumbled upon this blog this season. I’ll still be updating whenever Steeler news dictates (and as I’ve said, we should be making a lot of moves this off-season) although not on a regular schedule. I hope you check in from time to time.
Thanks for reading. Hope you all enjoy a very happy New Year. And Let’s Go Steelers in 2013!
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Sorry for being overly negative although it’s hard not to be since for the first time in a very long time, the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing an utterly meaningless football game. The last time the Steelers entered the last week of the season with absolutely nothing to play for was the final game of the Bill Cowher era. Actually, there was something to play for that weekend.
The Steelers had been eliminated from playoff contention the week prior but the Cincinnati Bengals needed a win to get in. When asked what would motivate his team to play with nothing on the line, Cowher famously said “Misery loves company.” And his team responded by sending their long-time coach out a winner (and dumping the Bungles from the playoff race) with a clutch TD by Santonio Holmes in overtime.
While this week’s opponent, the Cleveland Browns, aren’t playing for anything either, I have a hard time imagining Mike Tomlin motivating his players in a similar fashion. After all, Fraud Tomlin couldn’t get these guys to play hard when the playoffs were on the line, how’s he gonna get them fired up for a glorified exhibition game?
How bad has it gotten? Local talk shows are taking call after call from members of Steeler Nation who actually WANT the Steelers to lose so they improve their draft position. I can’t say that’s a bad idea. Never forget the 2007 draft where Darrelle Revis went with the 14th pick and while we took Lawrence Timmons one pick later. Timmons has finally realized his potential this season although I don’t think anybody would be crazy enough to argue they’d rather have him over Revis Island. So who knows, perhaps a loss on Sunday is the difference between drafting a shutdown corner or a chronically underachieving linebacker.
Good grief, we’re talking about draft position and hoping for losses. Yes, it has come to this.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs BROWNS OFFENSE
The Browns offense will finish the year near the bottom of the league in points per game and total yards. Rookie QB Brandon Weedon has shown flashes of being a competent signal caller but enters the game having thrown more INTs (17) than TDs (14). Of course, it’s not all Weedon’s fault. Other than fellow rookie RB Trent Richardson, who was on track for 1,000+ rushing and 400+ receiving yards before he got banged up, the Browns don’t have much in the way of offensive weapons. Whoever takes over in the front office will definitely be looking to upgrade the skill positions this off-season.
EDIT: And of course late news out of Cleveland is both Weedon and Richardson are nursing injuries and won’t be active on Sunday. Evidently the Browns want to ensure they’re in position to take the next Revis so they’re endeavoring to field the WORST TEAM EVER. Even back-up Colt McCoy is sitting out because his testicles haven’t descended or some such nonsense. Which means all you loyal season ticket holders will get to see the NFL debut of rookie QB Thad Lewis. THAD LEWIS! SMELL THE EXCITEMENT!
Which brings us to the Browns’ sole motivation this weekend, rescuing coach Pat Shurmur’s job. Shurmur’s only been in Cleveland two years (although Cleveland years are like dog years, one feels like seven) but with a new owner used to winning – he was a minority owner of the Steelers – Shurmur’s wretched 9-22 mark may do him in. Knowing the Browns, they’ll probably fire Shurmur only to hire another retread like Norv Turner although we’ll
worry laugh about that when the time comes. For now Shurmur is their coach and he may very well need a win this Sunday to have any hope of keeping his job.
For the Steelers, this may be the last hurrah for some familiar faces. Casey Hampton took a pay cut to come back one more year and although the team doesn’t really have a heir apparent waiting in the wings – unless you count that drunken imbecile Alameda Ta’amu – he may not be back next season. Then there’s James Harrison. Although our old pal Hennessy will be heartbroken to hear this, there is real talk that Harrison and his $9 million salary will not be back in 2013. I think that would be a mistake since Deebo has shown he can still play at a very high level when he’s reasonably healthy but remember this is the same team that cut Greg Lloyd and Joey Porter when they still had a little gas left in the tank.
It’s the Steeler Way.
Despite a season filled with injuries to key players and lacking in game-changing plays, the Steelers D will almost certainly finish the year ranked first overall for the third time in the past six years. Dick LeBeau has been telling his guys that he intends to come back next season so barring another Bruce Arians fiasco from Art II, our D should still be pretty good next season no matter who he has to coach.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs BROWNS DEFENSE
The only upside to having one more game left in the season is you only have one more game to watch the Steelers’ excruciatingly pitiful excuse for an offense. The defense certainly struggled the first month or so of the season but when the story of 2012 is written our inept offense is going to bear the brunt of the criticism for things going so horrible wrong. And deservedly so.
Todd Haley was brought in to take them to the next level. Instead, everything has gone backwards. Ben Roethlisberger regressed. The Young Money crew regressed. The running game regressed. I don’t know if Boss Todd will be back next year – my money, or rather the money inherited by the Deuce, says yes – but let’s hope things improve next year.
Contrasted with the last appearance in the Black and Gold of some veterans on D, this may be the last time we see some young players on offense in our colors.
Mike Wallace (EDIT: Wallace has a sore hammy and is sitting out. Wow, this really is a glorified exhibition game. Do you guys really expect me to watch this?) and Rashard Mendenhall are undoubtedly playing their last home games in Pittsburgh. Wallace simply wants too much money and while I think he’s a very skilled receiver, he’s not the kind of difference maker worth throwing a huge contract at to keep around. Mendy, well, I don’t think Tomlin likes him and as time has gone on the feeling has become mutual. I think he’s a perfect example of a guy who needs a change in scenery to get their career back on track.
Where that leaves the Steelers, however, is anybody’s guess. If Haley truly wants the Steelers to run the ball more often and effectively than his predecessor, the team probably needs to invest in a top flight back. Neither Jonathan Dwyer nor Isaac Redman have looked like they should be considered featured backs. Meanwhile, we once thought the Steelers receiving corps was an embarrassment of riches but subtracting Wallace and with Manny Sanders spectacular flame-out, we’re left with Antonio Brown and… Jerricho Cotchery?
The Steelers aren’t going to make any off-season decisions based on one game. Mendy can gallop for 250 yards or Wallace can catch 200 yards worth of passes and I’m sure it won’t affect what the team does with them this off-season. What we do know is tough decisions have to be made so we don’t find ourselves in this exact same situation next year. And what is certain is the team that takes the field next September will look quite a bit different than the one we see on Sunday.
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I’ve been a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers for a very long time. I’m not going to claim I haven’t missed a game in 35 years or anything like that (I was a teenager once and the Steelers did start Bubby Brister). However, since I started following them in the late 80s, I can honestly count on one hand the number of times I’ve turned off a game before the clock hit zero. Well, much like the Steelers, now I have one for the thumb.
Yesterday’s 34-24 loss to the San Diego Chargers was the worst kind of drubbing. It was one of those games where literally nothing went right and your team was never in the game. The Steelers pathetic offense didn’t cross mid-field until there were 30 seconds left in the first half. At the start of the 4th quarter, the Chargers had possessed the ball for roughly 30 of the first 45 minutes. This was as thorough an ass-whupping as the Steelers have had in a long time.
Except instead of coming at the hands of an elite franchise like Baltimore or New England, it was handed to them by a going nowhere 4-8 team about to fire their head coach at season’s end.
Unlike in those other embarrassments, Ben Roethlisberger was the least of the culprits in yesterday’s debacle. Ben actually looked pretty good coming off a three game layoff due to catastrophic injury. He moved around well, scrambled without fear and didn’t look rusty or limited at all. It’s only too bad the rest of the team decided to offer him less support than they offered Charlie Batch in Cleveland.
Young Money should change their name to Cash Droppahs. Once again, they dropped an obnoxious number of passes, several of which would’ve went for big gains in the first half when the game was still within reach. Mike Wallace put up a nice fantasy game with garbage time stats (7 catches 112 yards 2 TDS) but in reality he came up small when the catches counted. He was wide open on at least three occasions in the first half only for the ball to CLANG off his stone hands.
But perhaps the biggest goat was Antonio Brown. Ben made a nifty move to scramble away from danger and launched a perfect throw 30 or so yards down field which hit AB right in the chest before bouncing harmlessly to the turf. As if that drop wasn’t bad enough, AB later gift-wrapped 7 points to the Chargers when a bubble screen hit TE David Paulsen and bounced into the end zone. Brown tried to pick it up which was stupid because he was 5 yards deep and about to be swarmed. Being tackled in the end zone is the same as kicking the ball out of the end zone (a safety) so the result would’ve been the same except by trying to be a hero, he let the ball get away from him and 2 points became 7. What a maroon.
For awhile now Steeler fans (myself included) have sang the praises of the Steelers receiving corps. All receivers drop passes now and then but at what point do we start wondering if maybe we’ve overrated them a bit? Wallace is definitely an one trick ass clown with delusions of grandeur (LarryFitz money my ass…) but what’s going on with AB and Manny Sanders? And why do the Steelers bother signing guys like Plax and the Cotch Rocket if they aren’t going to play them?
Of course, I’ve long said the passing game needs a good running attack to complement it in order to be effective. The Steelers couldn’t run at all yesterday. Jonathan Dwyer finished with 8 carries (EIGHT!) for 32 yards. He narrowly led the team in rushing over Ben who ended up scrambling for 31 yards because he was constantly running for his life. The offensive line allowed only 2 sacks but Ben’s 5 scrambles were due to pressure and there were another half dozen times he got away long enough to throw the ball away. Willie Colon tried to tough it out but had to leave early on with Maurkice Pouncey shifting to LG and Doug Legursky coming in at center.
This will come as shocking news but Colon is injured and reports are he’s LOST FOR THE SEASON. Yes, I know that the guy who is always injured and never plays a full season yet got a big fat contract anyway being injured is totally unexpected but there you go. We’ll talk about where this leaves the O-line and running game going forward later.
All this misery and I haven’t even gotten to the defense yet. I don’t want to hear Steeler fans bitch about Ike Taylor ever EEEEVVVER again. The D loses Troy and still leads the league in pass defense. The D loses James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and still leads the league in total D. The D loses Ike and goes to complete shit.
The way Curtis Brown played yesterday almost defies description. It literally looked like they took a guy out of the stands an hour before game time and put him in the starting line-up. That’s how clueless Brown looked. This is the guy’s second full year with the Steelers and he didn’t appear to have any idea where he was supposed to be or who he was supposed to be covering. It got so bad that in the second half they actually inserted Josh Victorian, a guy fresh off the practice squad, as the nickel because Brown was such a liability.
When the Chargers scored early in the 4th to go up 34-10, I figured it might be good to take out Ben since the game was lost. Mike Tomlin kept him in, risking both injury and the season in a lost effort. Ben led a TD drive but instead of going for 2 (and possibly cutting the lead to two scores instead of three), he kicked the XP. Why? “I didn’t want to reveal my secret 2 point plays,” Tomlin later said in a lie so hilarious, only the rah rah cheerleader Pittsburgh media could swallow it.
If you’re not trying to win, WHY WAS BEN PLAYING? I can believe you have some 2 point trick plays but, I dunno, you couldn’t just run a regular goal line play? The truth is Tomlin had given up on the game but he didn’t want to justify keeping Ben in and admit he wasn’t playing to win. I was on Twitter and a minor war broke out amongst Steeler fans as a #fireTomlin hash tag started making the rounds. I’m not saying Tomlin should be fired but I’m sick and tired of the Tomlin apologists acting like nothing that happens to this team is his fault. Losing to teams we shouldn’t lose to and putting out performances like this one or the one in Cleveland or a whole bunch back in 2009 are inexcusable. And that falls on the head coach.
The only good news to emerge from Sunday is the Bengals also lost (as did the Ravens but they’ve clinched the division with our loss). Which means the status quo holds over from last week. The Steelers must win out if they want to control their own destiny but one more loss, as long as it isn’t to the Bengals, will still probably get them in the playoffs. PLAYOFFS? (Insert Mora rant here).
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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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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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Maybe they should skip hotels from now on.
Flying in the morning of the game proved a minor distraction for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who rose above travel issues, crooked referees, and mounting injuries to defeat the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants 24-20. One of the great things about NFL football is every season is like a summer blockbuster. Sixteen games don’t seem like a lot but it’s still long enough to pack a year’s worth of ups and downs into four months.
Not too long ago, we were wondering if this was going to be another lost year for the Black and Gold. The team was 2-3 with division rival Cincy, the Redskins and their Ultimate Weapon (TM) at QB and the defending champs looming on deck. Here we are on the other side of that slate riding a three game winning streak to up our record to 5-3 with the worst team in football up next on Monday Night.
And that’s not even the most amazing part. What’s even more remarkable is how the Steelers are getting it done.
Jonathan Dwyer had back-to-back 100 yard games but was sidelined by an sore calf. Nominal starter Rashard Mendenhall joined him on the pine for the third straight week. This left Isaac Redman next man up. All he did was rumble for 147 yards against a tough Giants defense.
Then there was the much-maligned return game. For the first time all season, long returns weren’t wiped out by yellow hankies (probably because Mike Tomlin has finally started benching the repeat offenders). Antonio Brown has been the Steelers punt returner for a couple years now, making the Pro Bowl last year thanks to his special teams play. Early in the game, AB left with a sprained ankle so Emmanuel Sanders took his place on punts. All he did was bust one 63 yards which didn’t lead to a score but flipped field position contributing greatly to the eventual game winning drive.
Antonio Brown is undoubtedly the Steelers top receiver. With him out, the offense barely missed a beat. Seeing his first significant playing time this year, Jerricho Cotchery made 4 catches, several on key third downs. Sanders only caught two balls but they were both huge receptions, one a beautiful catch in the back of the end zone for the Steelers’ first TD and the other a 16 yarder on third down to effectively ice the game with two minutes left.
The turning point of the game came early in the fourth quarter. Down 10, Mike Wallace took a short slant and outran the entire Big Blue D for a 51 TD. Other than the deep bomb against the Titans, it was Wallace’s first real game-changing play this year. The catch-and-run was, dare I say, Fitzgerald-esque.
After a three and out by the Giants, Sanders ripped off his 63 yarder to set the Steelers up at the NY 13. After going nowhere fast, they lined up for a short field goal. Rookie Drew Butler flipped the ball over his shoulder but Stonecold Shaun Suisham couldn’t elude an unblocked defender for the 1st down. The suddenly resurgent Steelers defense forced a three and out and the resulting great field position set up a sweet drive with some big catches from Heath and the Cotch Rocket that eventually culminated in iRed’s game-winning 1 yard TD.
People are going to say this is the latest example of Tomlin’s reckless decision-making but I liked the fake FG try. It showed faith in the defense. Given how they’ve played the past few weeks, there is no reason not to have faith in that unit.
Going back to our early season worries, nothing concerned us more than the state of the Steelers D. They looked, to use a cliche, old, slow, and done. Since then, they’ve seemingly risen from the ashes. They still don’t generate enough Splash Plays, which is obviously a concern, although Ike Taylor did come down with an early INT to set up their first TD and they just missed two more picks and a late fumble recovery by James Harrison. Regardless of the sacks and turnovers, though, they just smother teams with a fast hard-hitting style that is getting better by the week.
The scoreboard gives the Giants 20 points but only 6 of those belong to the Steelers’ D. NY’s first score came after the refs basically did everything in their power to give them a TD. First, they called a horrible 40+ yard pass interference on Keenan Lewis when he barely touched the receiver. Then, after the Steelers made three great stops at the goal line, they called a ridiculous personal foul on Ryan Clark. The Ike Taylor Mystery Pass Interference was our frontrunner for Horrible Call of the Year but this game gave us TWO legit candidates for that title. The Clark hit was one, as he struck the receiver in the ribs with his shoulder pads a split second after the ball was thrown. Nothing illegal whatsoever.
Our other contender was an even more monumentally stupid call which put the Giants ahead before halftime. Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass and was hit as his arm was moving forward. The ball was clearly in his hand and the ball was clearly going forward, yet the corrupt zebras called it a fumble which was returned for a TD. At worst they should have called Tuck Rule since the ball was still in the cocked position when it came out. But instead they made a call so bad the Lingerie Football ref was probably sitting at home laughing.
Despite playing two opponents, the Giants and the refs, the Steelers D still managed to put together a tremendous defensive effort. They completely shut down the Giants in the second half, allowing only two measly field goals, one of which came after a Big Ben INT deep in his own end.
After the first month the season, we had a lot of questions. Questions about the offensive line. Questions about the defense. Questions about Todd Haley‘s offense. Here we are at the mid-point of the season and those questions don’t seem so pressing any more. The O-line is mauling people, protecting Ben while gashing people on the ground. The defense is shutting down good offenses for long stretches. And the Haley O is ruthlessly efficient with Ben hitting a bunch of different receivers and a new hero stepping up seemingly every drive. I don’t know where the season is going to end up but 5-3 and clicking in all three phases?
I’ll take it.
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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.