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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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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Jonathan Dwyer went over 100 yards on Sunday in the Pittsburgh Steelers win over the Redskins, his second consecutive 100+ yard performance. By now, we’ve all heard the trivia. Dwyer is the first Steeler to post back-to-back 100 yard games since Fast Willie Parker did it in 2008. I guess the running game is only effective in election years.
And much like in an election year, coach Mike Tomlin has to make a choice between several worthy candidates.
The Post-Gazette has already endorsed their candidate: Jon Dwyer. They even jumped on the bandwagon comparing Dwyer to Jerome Bettis. I’m not one to toot my own horn but a long time ago on a site far far away, I made the exact same comparison the day he was drafted. But when even Steeler Nation has taken to calling Dwyer the Minibus, it’s a comparison that’s hard to ignore.
Meanwhile, the incumbent, Rashard Mendenhall, is waiting in the wings. I have to admit, I’m not a Mendenhall fan. He had two consecutive 1,000 yard seasons and came within 90 yards of making it three in a row last year but I’ve just never liked his running style. He’s always been the type of runner who’ll get stopped for minimal gains on his first five carries then break one for 20. His dancing at the line of scrimmage can lead to big plays but it makes him a liability in short yardage.
Next we have Isaac Redman. Redman is almost the polar opposite of Mendy. There is nothing subtle about iRed. He gets the ball and just bulls straight ahead. That makes him a pretty effective short yardage runner but it doesn’t lead to many big gains. Once he gets to the second level, there’s no elusiveness or shiftiness at all.
Then there are the two young guys. Chris Rainey has seen quite a few snaps this season but I don’t think offensive coordinator Todd Haley has totally figured out what to do with him yet. Every week it seems like they add a new wrinkle or trick play, such as the direct snap for a big run against the Skins. I think eventually he’ll settle in as a Darren Sproles type although I don’t expect he’ll ever be a every down back. Then we have Baron Batch, who they use as a Mewelde Moore type third down back, at least while Redman and/or Mendenhall are injured.
The choice basically comes down to Mendy vs Dwyer. Redman is a short yardage specialist. Rainey and Batch are situational guys. Only Mendy and Dwyer profile as starting running backs. Who do you choose?
Later today, Mike Tomlin will have his weekly festival of lies they laughably call a press conference. I’m sure the reporters will ask who he’s planning on starting and he’ll hem and haw and tell everybody nothing. Mendenhall has been battling some residual issues stemming from off-season ACL surgery while Dwyer left Sunday’s game with what Tomlin later called “calf stiffness.” So there’s an easy injury excuse depending on which direction the team wants to go.
Dwyer needs to start. Not because of running style. Not because of some outdated theory that starters can’t lose their job due to injury. They have to start Dwyer because he’s performed. The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately?” business and Dwyer has done everything asked of him and more. The Steelers parted ways with James Farrior and Hines Ward because other guys were doing a better job. Now it’s time to reward one.
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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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Yinz love regular features. From Know Thy Enemy (accept no cheap substitutes!) to Wallace Watch ’12, our fearless leader, Chris, loves regular features, too. With hockey season on permanent hiatus (Thanks Bettman…BOOOO!), he thought it would be cool to do our own version of the 3 Stars of the Game. Of course, we have to list three goats as well.
Chris then had the brilliant notion, “If I’m going to do a weekly segment named after the Steel City’s favorite swill beer, why not ask the guy named after booze to do it?”
We hope you play along at home. List your three stars and three goats in the comments and maybe we can get some Pittsburgh Steelers talk going up in this bitch.
3 Stars of the Week
Todd Haley seems to be taking the chains off one link at a time, allowing Ben to air the ball out almost 50 times against Oakland. Completing 36 of those passes kept Pittsburgh in the game, and he managed to be the only player on offense not trying to turn the ball over, managing 0 interceptions and 0 fumbles. Ben looked more like himself on Sunday by scrambling and extending broken-down plays, while also taking several un-flagged shots to the legs. He kept trucking and lobbed four TD passes before the nightmare was over. Hats-off to the man in charge of a relatively productive offensive performance.
I don’t think it is worth mentioning again but Heeeeeaaath may be the most underrated player in the NFL. Ben has stated publicly that he fears the thought of playing without #83 on the field, and showed why against Oakland. Miller tied Wallace with eight receptions on the day, and managed to pull two of those down within the goal line. The often overlooked side of Heath was also apparent, as his “addition of another lineman” blocking style cleared the way for Ben to mark up 384 yards in the air. Heath’s block-and-catch presence has helped cement the weak O-Line for years, and proved its worth again on Sunday.
Woodley was the only visible presence on the defense after Clark’s 1st play interception of Kimo von Oelhoffen’s old snuggle buddy. He set a benchmark by bringing down Palmer for his 50th career sack, only the 8th player in Black and Gold history to reach that milestone. Coming from a Steelers defense that missed more tackles than a communications major, Woodley added a much-needed wall behind the front-line. It was far from a stellar performance, but with Troy and Harrison sitting on the sideline it was critical that someone step up and lead the defensive effort.
3 Goats of the Week
Wallace, Brown and the Ball Control Circus:
No NFL coach has gone a full season without mouthing their version of “you can’t win games if you turn the ball over.” This is only true if the recovering team capitalizes on the generosity, which Oakland did twice. AB and Wallace tossed the ball around the field like the equipment manager filled them with helium. Oakland was viciously punching at the ball all afternoon, and our stellar receiving core seemed happy to act as their personal speed bags. Brown corralled his own fumble for a TD and Wallace saved his drop in the 3rd but the offense still let two of them go to the bad guys. The resulting scores surely didn’t help the Steelers’ cause.
I stay away from fretting about injuries changing the outcome of the game. Every team has sidelined players, men hobbling off the field, and a less-than 100% roster on both sides of the ball. That being said, PLEASE COME BACK TROY. The position of safety is meant to be an “if all else fails” position. In the last three games when “all else failed,” so did our safety. Darren McFadden was the potential undoing of this victory, and he owned it. When Ryan Mundy wasn’t busy trying to get fined for sloppy hits or letting a weak receiving core burn him, he was trotting around wondering what to do when McFadden finally broke through. Answer: Fall on the ground and let him score. Pathetic.
I chose to single out Redman only because he was the starter listed at our non-existent RB slot. Between Redman, Dwyer, Batch, and Rainey, the running game did less damage to Oakland than the San Andreas Fault. Redman put up 27 of their pathetic 54 total yards on the ground, so I guess in some parallel universe he is due credit for not running backwards or fumbling 5 times (Dwyer handled the fumbling honors). I hope Haley hasn’t been watching old tapes of Amos Zereoue to prepare for his dawning of the “New-Old Stillerz Football”.
This Week’s cure for your Six-Pack Hangover:
Much like an open bar at your ex’s remarriage, we should have known this would end up bad. What started off as a chance to drink free whiskey and rekindle an old rivalry quickly turned into seething hatred. Oh, and before you left, you made sure to make an ass out of yourself.
Unfortunately, the next scheduled chance to make up for that night on the town is two seasons away. At least we have a chance to lay low, use the upcoming bye week to rest our heads and headaches, and get ready for handling our swill a little better when we face yet another bi-annual pain in the ass, the Philadelphia Eagles.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers won their tenth straight home opener, soundly thrashing the New York Jets 27-10. As LaMarr Woodley promised, yesterday’s win ensured the Steelers would avoid starting the season an always disastrous 0-2. What’s more, the Ravens somehow managed to lose to the Eagles despite Vick and company committing four turnovers. This leaves all three of last year’s playoff teams from the AFC North knotted together at 1-1.
The first quarter of yesterday’s game was a carbon copy of almost every Steelers game you’ve seen the past three years. The offense drives looked unstoppable between the 20s only to stumble around the red zone and have to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. The defense started slow, giving up a long drive and early touchdown on their opponent’s first drive of the game. New year, same old Steelers.
Taken by itself, you would’ve thought we were in for a long afternoon based on that first quarter. Ben Roethlisberger led a nice 53 yard drive off the opening kickoff only for it to come to a screeching halt after Isaac Redman was thrown for a loss followed by a costly sack. Mark Sanchez responded by leading the Jets on a 8 play 95 yard drive where Ike Taylor had two brutal plays (a pass interference and getting caught flatfooted on Santonio Holmes‘ 14 yard TD) and Keenan Lewis got torched for a 45 gain. The Steelers retaliated with another 50 yard drive which fizzled out thanks to two ill-conceived run plays. The drive ended and second quarter began with another Shaun Suisham field goal.
At this point, something strange happened. Almost like a switch was flipped on the Steelers sideline. The final three quarters were about as complete a game as the Black and Gold have played in long time. To borrow a Tomlinism, they dominated in all three phases.
Some are crediting the defense’s change in fortune to Lawrence Timmons. On the Jets next drive, Sanchez scrambled away from damage and Timmons absolutely annihilated him. He was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit, which it was but only because that cowardly Sanchez tried to curl up in the fetal position when he saw LT about to lower the boom. Whatever the case, it was 15 yards well spent because Sanchez went 0 for his next 6 to close out the half and was totally discombobulated the rest of the game.
Although blaming the Jets’ surge of ineptitude on Sanchez getting whacked upside his head is selling the Steelers D way short. Many of his passes were right on target, only the tight coverage was too much for the receivers to deal with. Ike Taylor was awesome after his early struggles, shutting ‘Tone out the rest of the afternoon. Ryan Clark, who I’ve mentioned being overrated, made me eat my words by being a force all afternoon. He made a tremendous play in coverage to break up a deep pass to Stephen Hill and was laying guys out all over the field. His presence really does make a huge difference in their secondary.
Then we have LaMarr Woodley. In writing about the Steelers D last week, I repeatedly mentioned that Woodley just hasn’t been getting the job done when James Harrison hasn’t been in the line-up. Well, he definitely brought it yesterday. The stat sheet shows he only recorded one sack but he was all over Sanchez like a Twilight-obsessed teenage girl. His partner on the inside, Timmons, also had a very active game. With the D-line remaining stout at the point of attack, it really freed up the linebackers (and occasionally Clark or Ryan Mundy) to bring heat on Sanchez.
On the other side of the ball, Ben did what Ben does and it was magnificent. The Jets recorded three sacks but would have had about seven against any ordinary quarterback. Time after time they would crash in on Ben and time after time he’d break free of their clutches and make something out of nothing. It was an amazing performance.
Todd Haley took the shackles off a little more this week and the results were promising. I sort of see what Haley is trying to do and it’s really quite brilliant (if it works). I make no secret of the fact I endorse Bruce Arians’ more wide open style of offense although one of the major drawbacks was the team would often score very quickly, giving the D no time to rest and giving the other team too much time with the ball. Haley has every intention of using his talented corps of receivers but at the same time he’s keenly interested in dominating time of possession. The mix skewed too heavily towards ball control last week. This week, it was just right.
The Steelers first TD came on an 11 play 61 yard drive which featured 7 passes, two big ones going to Emmanuel Sanders and the capper going to Heath Miller. The second TD was a 37 yard bomb to Mike Wallace which demonstrated why he’s the best receiver we’ve had in thirty years. Ben underthrew the pass, as usual, but Wallace has finally realized he always does that and slammed on the breaks and came back for it while the DB ran right past him. Even then, Wallace had to make a terrific acrobatic catch along the sideline of the end zone to stay in bounds. The game sealing score came on an epic 14 play drive which consumed 10 minutes, the longest drive by the Steelers in over five years.
Time of possession + Big Play Potential = Offensive Excellence.
That final score was converted by Redzone, who bounced off four Jets en route to the end zone. He and Jon Dwyer split the carries evenly, 12 each, and while neither had an impressive day statistically speaking (28 yards for Dwyer, 25 for Redman) they both got stronger as the game went on. In the first half, the running game was totally ineffective. By the fourth quarter, however, they were bowling over would-be tacklers and coming within one broken tackle of busting one loose. Neither are great backs but as a tandem they get the job done.
And that’s the bottom line on yesterday’s victory. Were there things the Steelers still need to work on? Absolutely. Did they look about a billion times better than last week? Absolutely. But there’s still plenty of time left in the season to iron out the wrinkles. They got the job done yesterday. That’s good enough for now.
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Another day, another injury.
Yesterday I mentioned that Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro linebacker James Harrison remained on the PUP list due to ongoing soreness and swelling in his knee. No sooner did the rumor surface he may need arthroscopic surgery than we find out Deebo has indeed gone under the knife. The Steelers are hopeful Harrison will be healed up by the season opener on September 9th although who knows if those expectations are realistic. Last year was a down year for the normally dominant Steeler linebackers due to the fact Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were either out or playing hurt almost the entire season.
Can’t say I’m liking how this year is starting either.
With Harrison shelved, his place will be taken by Chris Carter. No, not the loudmouth ESPN analyst who misspells his first name, I’m referring to the CC who was a 2011 fifth round draft choice out of Fresno State. Carter is being pressed into duty ostensibly because former second rounder Jason Worilds is currently sidelined with a wrist injury. Worilds is on the PUP list but he was healthy last year when the Steelers chose to move ILB Lawrence Timmons outside when they knew they’d be starting the season without Woodley. Worilds would eventually start with the linebacking unit ravaged by injury but didn’t look particularly impressive.
They can’t move LT this season because without James Farrior, they need him to anchor the ILB corps. Which means it’s time for one of the 49 recent draft picks at linebacker to step up. Carter primarily played special teams last year although he did see a few snaps where he appeared way out of his league. However, that’s not uncommon for rookies playing in Dick LeBeau‘s complicated defense. Remember Silverback was cut three times because every time he’d come to camp he’d appear totally clueless as to what to do. Where Worilds is a big strong LB in the Woodley mold (6’2 260), Carter is much more of a Harrison clone. He’s smallish (6’1 248) but is quick off the snap and possesses great rushing speed.
I guess we’ll see if he can repeat Harrison’s feat of winning a job after being pressed into service due to a last minute situation with the team’s regular starter.
Speaking of rushing, the Black and Gold’s beleaguered running backs can now count starter Isaac Redman among their injured. Redzone has been battling a groin pull the likes of which you couldn’t possibly imagine but it’s recently worsened to where he hasn’t practiced the past two days. He tried to do one-on-one drills yesterday only to fall to the ground clutching his sore groin. At least, I hope that’s what he was doing. For those keeping score at home, the Steelers currently have exactly two healthy backs on the roster: Chris Rainey and our pal Hennessy’s hero, Baron Batch.
Let’s hope Redzone feels better very soon.