Here I was hoping for a nice quiet off-season for the Pittsburgh Steelers…
Then again, I guess the off-season hasn’t truly started until Ryan Clark shoots his big mouth off about something. I’d really like to know how and when that assclown became the official spokesman for the Steelers’ players. Granted football players tend to have IQs somewhere north of a turnip and, as we saw during the lockout, aren’t really that particular about picking their leaders. Still, one would think there is at least one level-headed guy in that locker room who can step forward and talk to the media without being a divisive influence.
Let’s rewind back to Sunday. Ron Cook wrote a piece for the Post-Gazette that was highly critical of linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Cook used a bunch of words to point out what all of us fans already knew; since signing his big money contract extension in 2011, Woodley’s level of play has fallen off the map. What got people’s attention was a quote about Woodley attributed to an anonymous teammate. “He tells us he works out, but we didn’t see it. He wasn’t in shape. That has to be a reason why he was always hurt.”
Clark, who never met a microphone he wouldn’t talk into, immediately decried the comments as “cowardly.” Again, that’s not really shocking as pro athletes love to invoke this code of silence gimmick like they’re a team of Navy SEALS charged with conducting a raid on an al-Qaeda compound. I have no desire to see the Steelers turn into a back-stabbing circus like the Eagles or Cowboys but the feigned outrage whenever somebody criticizes a member of their own locker room is total bullshit.
The ironic part of Clark’s comments were after decrying a player for criticizing the brotherhood, he proceeded to criticize the brotherhood. Even more shockingly, what Clark said was actually pretty smart.
Clark went on to tell NFL.com that the Steelers clearly have a “a fracture” within their ranks. “That shows that this team that is normally close, you had the Joey Porters, the Alan Fanecas, just down the line, leader after leader, this team was close-knit. It shows there is a fracture in that. I think that is the most disappointing thing about that coming out.” said Clark. So by fracture he meant leadership void. We worried this might happened as the old guard retired and handed the team off to the young guys. Now for the first time there is concrete proof that something is amiss with the Black and Gold.
Hines Ward retired and the wide receiver corps became a group of me-first chest-thumping underachieving idiots. James Farrior retired and LaMarr Woodley went from one half of the best linebacking duo in Steelers history to overpaid and injury prone. Local radio host Stan Savran mentioned on his show this morning that he heard from team sources that Woodley got up to nearly 290 pounds last year. Some of that may be due to not being able to do cardio after suffering his hamstring injury. But as the anonymous Steelers points out, he’s constantly coming down with strains and pulls which are telltale signs of a guy being out of shape.
Going into the final week of the season, rumor had it that James Harrison was playing his final game in Pittsburgh. When the Steelers gave Woodley the contract extension, I’m sure they envisioned him being the guy the defense reloaded around as Deebo faded off into the sunset. In reality, Harrison has been the more effective player by far the past couple seasons. Despite the team being in the salary cap danger zone, I don’t see how the Steelers get rid of Harrison and not worry that a defense already struggling to generate turnovers and sacks gets even worse.
Run a lap, LaMarr.
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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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Yesterday, the Sporting News released their annual poll naming the NFL’s Dirtiest Player. For the second year in a row, Detroit Lions thug Ndamukong Suh took the title as voted on by a sampling of his peers. Somewhat surprisingly, an offensive lineman took the second spot. The ironically named Richie Incognito was recognized by enough of his fellow players to earn that dubious honor.
As usual, the Pittsburgh Steelers were well represented.
The Steelers had a lock on top spot for quite a few years. First, there was Hines Ward, who had a nice run of three of four years in a row. For the record, Hines was not a dirty player. Guys just resented the fact he played every snap and he played them hard. If you ever watch NFL wide receivers on iso-cam, 90% of them jog leisurely down the field on running plays. Hines looked to block or hit somebody, which made a lot of defensive players mad. As a result, he was frequently called dirty when all he did was play every snap.
When Hines started slowing down, and the NFL started getting worried about vicious hits because a lawsuit was coming, James Harrison became the new whipping boy. I’m not going to lie, Harrison definitely deserved his rep as a head-hunter. At the same time, the vast majority of his “illegal” hits came between the whistles in the context of a football play. Guys like Suh, who stomp downed opponents or hit them late are a different case entirely.
With Hines retired and James sidelined most of the year, I thought perhaps the Steelers would finally disappear from the list. Or, if they did show up, they would be represented by one of two prime candidates. Ryan Clark is every bit the vicious hitter that Deebo is. For whatever reason, he doesn’t receive the fines (or media scrutiny) but he definitely aims to annihilate rather than tackle. Then there’s Willie Colon, who’s an absolute maniac. When Giants DE Justin Tuck whined about the Steelers offensive line playing dirty a couple weeks back, I’m sure Colon was one of the guys he had in mind.
In the end, the Steelers were once again represented by two players. The Ginger Dictator‘s smear campaign has evidently been effective enough that Harrison came in 4th place despite only playing a handful of games. The other Steeler who was among those who garnered more than one vote was safety Ryan Mundy. Yes, Ryan Mundy. In a way, it’s not that surprising because he also looks to spear guys instead of tackling them. And he was recently fined a cool $21,000 for knocking Oakland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey out of the game.
I wonder if those two players came from Oakland?
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Okay, technically last week was the midpoint of the NFL season. Or was it the week before that? There are 17 weeks in a season which obviously doesn’t split neatly in half. I know, declaring the midpoint before week 10 doesn’t make a ton of sense but the Pittsburgh Steelers have now completed exactly half their schedule (8 games) so it does have some logic.
Besides, Sports Illustrated just released their mid-season awards. Who am I to argue with Peter King?
If you look over SI’s mid-season All-Pro team, you’ll notice that no Steelers were selected. Two Kansas City Chiefs were chosen, I repeat two players from the worst team in the NFL were chosen, but zero members of the Black and Gold. Go figure. Although the damned thing is, it’s hard to argue about it.
The cliche about football being a team game is sometimes overused. When it comes to the Steelers, it’s a pretty apt description. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely a few players who are having outstanding seasons. Overall, though, Mike Tomlin‘s beloved catchphrase “next man up” has never been in greater evidence than this year.
Look at the offense. Every game, Ben Roethlisberger has hit somewhere between 5-8 different receivers. Heath Miller is deadly in the red zone and on third down but Antonio Brown has made bigger plays. When AB went down, Jerricho Cotchery came in they didn’t miss a beat. And do I even need to recount the RB carousel? Rashard Mendenhall came back for one game and rushed for 100 yards, Jon Dwyer had the team’s first back-to-back 100 yard games since 2008 and last week iRed wore the Giants out with a bruising 140 yard performance which may have been the most impressive of all.
Defensively, who are the standouts? Both LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison have missed time with injury. Woodley has come on the past couple weeks but it’s not like he’s been taking over games. The team as a whole hasn’t gotten many sacks and they haven’t forced many turnovers. Ike Taylor has also played very well as of late although we can’t simply forget the first month of where he was getting beat like government mule.
If I had to pick one guy who should’ve been named an SI mid-season All-Pro, it’s Ryan Clark. The dude from San Diego is a very good player but Clark has been absolutely fantastic this season. When a team loses a future HOFer like Troy Polamalu, it’s a hole that they simply cannot fill. Clark hasn’t exactly been Troy but he’s been pretty damn close. I haven’t always been Clark’s biggest fan, and I still find his off-the-field personality off-putting, but there is denying he’s come into his own. In years past, losing Troy limited the D because it’s hard to find a safety equally capable of pressuring the QB, stuffing the run, and dropping back into coverage. Clark does all three and does them extremely well.
Peter King also doles out mid-season awards, naming Falcons QB Matt Ryan his MVP. I’m pleased that King has avoided the trap most sportswriters fall into. MVP stands for most VALUABLE player. Not Best Offensive Player. It absolutely drives me nuts when I turn on the radio or momentarily glance at the Four Letter and see talking heads naming guys MVP because of their stats.
Don’t misunderstand, Ryan is having a great season. Matty Ice is 4th in the NFL in TDs and 9th in total yards. However, what’s most important is his team is undefeated. And he’s not some cog in the wheel of a well-oiled machine. The Falcons are winning in large part because of him. They’re only 19th in total defense. Even worse, their running game is ranked a miserable 25th. No, the Falcons owe their success to the play of Matt Ryan. And that’s what an MVP should be.
I think we can all agree what Ryan is to the Falcons, Big Ben is to the Steelers. His stats are a tick less impressive in nearly every category (2,200 yds vs 2,300 or 16 TDs vs 17) and the Black and Gold do have a better defense and running game so I can see why King went with Ryan. It’s still awfully hard not to include Ben in the MVP discussion, though. No QB, not even Ryan, is more efficient on third down. The Haley offense has had its ups and downs and there’s no arguing there would’ve been a lot more downs had Ben not pulled off some of those third and longs. If the Falcons fall back towards the pack (or the Pack) and the Steelers continue their upward momentum, I would hope Ben starts getting some serious consideration come the end of year.
In the meantime, let’s pick our own Steelers mid-season MVP. Since Ben is easily one of the most valuable players in the entire league and not just here in Pittsburgh, let’s leave him out of the discussion. Keeping in mind my earlier statement about the team nature of the Steelers’ success, it’s hard to point to one specific player from a statistical standpoint. My initial thought was to pick Ryan Clark and I still couldn’t argue with that choice. Although I’d like to point out a more unsung hero.
How about Max Starks?
Without a doubt one of the biggest surprises of the year has been the Steelers’ offensive line. All summer I wrote about the “new look” O-line which was supposed to feature first round pick David DeCastro at RG, converted tackle Willie Colon at LG and a new LT. Well, those plans quickly went poof when DeCastro got injured and nobody looked halfway competent at LT during the preseason. Max Starks, who was coming off a serious potentially career-ending injury (the second such injury in two seasons), was pressed into duty once again. And once again, he’s performing magnificently. To be fair, the entire O-line is doing great, especially Colon, who has turned into an absolute mauler on the inside. But old Max is playing the most difficult position on the line and doing so at a Pro Bowl level.
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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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As of this writing, the match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants is slated to kick-off in MetLife Stadium Sunday afternoon as scheduled. Not to get all soap boxy on yinz but that’s kind of insane. While MetLife has a generator, word is the surrounding area is still without public transportation. The New York/New Jersey area is only now beginning to dig their way out of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy. To play a football game amongst such chaos is nuts.
To further the craziness, word out of NY is many Giants players have been living at the Giant’s training complex because their homes have been amongst those without power. From our side, the Steelers’ team hotel is also powerless so the team has made the call to forgo flying in the night before and will instead fly in on Sunday morning, go directly to the stadium, play the game and head home. Craziness.
Okay, hopping off the box now. So what might we see when this game kicks off?
STEELERS DEFENSE vs GIANTS OFFENSE
In my piece about Eli Manning this morning, I called him Elite Eli. The joke is in reference to the always obnoxious NY media who asked Eli before last season if he considered himself an elite QB and he said yes. They snickered at the answer but the laughing stopped when he led the team to a second Super Bowl victory with a second epic last second comeback victory of the Patriots. Eli had his ups and downs his first few seasons in the league but he has definitely blossomed in to a truly elite QB.
For proof, you need not look any further than the focus of the Giants offense. Much like here in Pittsburgh, in Eli’s early years the offense relied on a strong running game and a conservative passing game. The past couple years, the running attack has dropped off considerably while the Giants put the game in Eli’s hands. And he’s responded. Last year was Manning’s third straight 4,000+ yard game (in fact, he was less than a 100 yards short of 5,000) season.
Manning is on pace to surpass that mark yet again this year. What’s more, he’s doing it with a constantly rotating cast of receivers. He isn’t much like his brother Peyton except in one regard. They both have the knack of making any receiver look like a superstar. The 2007 Champion Giants featured Plaxico Burress and Amani Toome. The 2011 G-Men starred Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz. Manningham is gone but the passing game keeps on rolling with Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Domenik Hixon has more than replaced Manningham while Cowboys castoff TE Martellus Bennent has emerged as a red zone threat.
The Giants are a passing team. As such, they feature a duo of backs toting the rock. Ahmed Bradshaw is the nominal starter but he’s battled injury this season. Back-up Andre Brown has notched a 100 yard game in his absence. David Wilson is the change of pace back. All three are capable of catching balls out of the backfield, as is perhaps the best fullback in the league, former Pitt star Henry Hynoski.
The Steelers must must must control Eli Manning if they have any hopes of winning this game. The good news is Ryan Clark has practiced normally and would seem clear to play on Sunday after leaving the Washington game with a concussion. Clark has been a dominant force for a secondary that is statistically ranked first in the NFL. Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis have quietly strung together a couple strong games and it’ll be imperative they bring their A game to New Jersey.
The Giants boast perhaps the best O line in football. The passing game is so effective because Eli is seldom touched. LaMarr Woodley‘s hammy has been acting up and even if he plays, his effectiveness will be limited. No matter, the Steelers haven’t been getting the to QB much even with him and James Harrison finally on the field together anyway. The team doesn’t need to sack Eli or pick off his passes (although that would be nice) but they can’t let him set up a hammock and take a nap in the pocket either. If they can at least rush him a little, it would go a long way to disrupting their offense.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs GIANTS DEFENSE
This is a bad match-up for the Steelers. Our offensive line struggles against teams with good defensive lines and the Giants have perhaps the best D-line in football. Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka and Jason Pierre-Paul are arguably the most dangerous front four since the glory days of the Steel Curtain. Yes, they’re that good. They’re so good, I didn’t even mention a guy like Linval Joseph, who rotates at DT and has more sacks than anybody on the Steelers.
Our o-line has done fantastic work the past few weeks. Marcus Gilbert is likely out another week which I wouldn’t ordinarily care about because Mike Adams has done a fantastic job in his absence. I would rather have an experienced guy in there against that d-line but it’s not like Gilbert is a 10 year vet. The o-line, who are always a little fired up thanks to hotheads like Willie Colon and Maurkice Pouncey, have extra motivation this week after Justin Tuck told ESPN that they’ve only played well because they’ve gotten away with a ton of holding. Hey, as Jesse Ventura once wisely said, “it’s only cheating if you get caught.”
Ben Roethlisberger may be thanking the stars for the dink and dunk offense come game time. The best way to combat a hellacious pass rush is to get the ball out quick. Todd Haley’s offense is nothing if not quick. Mike Wallace has been chirping to the media about the lack of long bombs but those of us who remember Bruce Arians insanely dialing up deep ball after deep ball while Ben takes hit after hit prefer this method. Besides, the best defense is a ball control offense.
The Giants don’t have a great secondary. Some point to their 11 interceptions but when you play turnover machines like Michael Vick and Tony Romo (who’s gifted them 6 of the 11), the numbers will be skewed. There will be plays to be made against a secondary that’s in the bottom half of the league in yards given up.
Who will run the ball for the Steelers is a little murky. Jonathan Dwyer and Rashard Mendenhall have been limited at practice. I suspect the starter will be a game time decision. Either way, Mike Tomlin will likely deactivate one or the other and then blame their injury. Isaac Redman seems good to go so he’ll likely back-up whomever starts.
This game isn’t a make or break week for the Steelers. At the same time, this team really needs a signature win over a quality opponent. The past couple weeks we’ve seen an upswing in their play as they’ve done a good job against some capable opposition. But this week we face not only a playoff caliber team but a championship level club. A win this week will firmly establish the Steelers belong in that conversation as well.
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With less than four minutes left in yesterday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders, Mike Tomlin elected to go for it on 4th down. The ball was on our 30 yard line, failing to convert would’ve almost certainly handed the Raiders the go-ahead field goal while we burned our last two time outs so we could get the ball back with somewhere around two or two and half minutes left. And that’s the best case scenario. So why would Tomlin take such a risky gamble?
Coach T’s answer: “we hadn’t stopped anybody.” Oof.
This is what Stiller Football has become in 2012. The Steel Curtain is made of tissue paper. Blitzburgh has been replaced by Snoozeburgh (as in, quarterbacks can now take a nap in the pocket without fear of being disturbed). The “old, slow and done” guys are all gone so DO NOT blame this on age. High draft picks abound on this defense and not a damn one of them is any good.
Larry Foote and Ryan Clark are the only two guys who earned the right to leave Oakland with their heads held high. As much as I find his personality irritating, I have to admit Clark has established himself as the team’s third best defensive player after Harrison and Polamalu. For the second game in a row he made an early impact, intercepting Carson Palmer’s first pass of the afternoon to set up the Steelers first TD. Foote had 7 tackles and really stepped up in terms of run defense after Darren McFadden ran by half the team for a 64 yard TD.
The rest of the team? Ryan Mundy is an absolute embarrassment. Commentator Dan Fouts claimed the Steelers coaches considered Mundy “a fifth starter” in the secondary which, if true, means those coaches are absolute idiots. He can’t cover anybody and instead of tackling, all he does is run around trying to behead people. Mundy knocked Oakland WR Darrius Heyward-Bey out of the game on a scary helmet-to-helmet collision in the end zone which, while unintentional, should net him a hefty fine. I’m actually hoping the Ginger Dictator suspends him so I don’t see him on the field any more.
Mundy might be the highest profile stiff but he’s far from the only one. Lawrence Timmons made exactly one play all afternoon. That’s $55 million well spent. He was one of the guys along with Keenan Lewis who got wiped out on McFadden’s long TD run, by the way. Speaking of which, why is Lewis still starting? If the real refs ever come backs, he’ll get flagged on every play because unless he’s jumping on receivers’ back, they’re wide open. Not that fellow rookie Cortez Allen has been any great shakes either.
Of course, the secondary has long been a Steelers weakness. What covered for them was the fact they were good at pressuring the quarterback. Guess what? NOBODY IS PRESSURING THE QUARTERBACK. First rounders Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward barely show up on the stat sheet. Big Snack can’t move any more. How about our other highly paid LB, LaMarr Woodley? He had an early sack then disappeared the rest of the game. He should give half his pay to Deebo because it’s obvious at this point that Harrison made him by drawing all those double teams. Chris Carter and second rounder Jason Worilds are useless. The only way Worilds will ever sniff a quarterback is if Tom Brady sends him a pair of his used Uggs.
Get well soon, James and Troy. Our defense is absolute garbage without you.
The only reason the Steelers managed to hold on to a lead until the very end was the Raiders seemingly tried to prove they could play even less defense than we did. Take nothing away from Ben Roethlisberger, who was once again magnificent. Ben had one of the great passing performances in recent memory, completing 36/49 for 384 yards and 4 TDs. Todd Haley has finally realized he has to put the ball in the hands of his best players because the team came out throwing and kept on chucking all afternoon. They mixed in a running play here and there but, as usual, the running game was a complete waste of time.
Heath Miller caught 8 passes, including two of Ben’s four touchdowns. Mike Wallace also caught 8 balls, piling up 123 yards and a touchdown. That TD, shown above, was a crazy play where Wallace did everything short of send up a signal flare to show he was wide open. Ben scrambled away from danger while the man covering Wallace cramped up and fell down, leading to him being about as wide open as you’ll ever see. Antonio Brown chipped in with 7 catches for 87 yards but had two fumbles, one of which he got back but the other was extremely costly.
Besides the putrid D, the Steelers biggest downfall on Sunday was all the mistakes. They dominated the first half but came away with only a three point lead because of penalties and turnovers. Besides McFadden’s long TD run, the Raiders other TD was set up by a Jon Dwyer fumble. The offense blew through time outs in the 1st quarter so they had none left when they were driving at the end of the half and had to settle for a FG. Brown’s second fumble set up the game-tying FG. Then we have special teams, where AB had two big kick returns (one for a TD) called back because of penalty. Meanwhile, Mike Goodson’s 51 yard punt return directly led to another of Oakland’s touchdowns.
Maybe Tomlin shouldn’t have forced Al Everest out so he could hire his buddy, eh?
Of course, Tomlin has much bigger worries on his plate. The Steelers are 1-2 and haven’t really played anybody decent yet. Scarier yet, the defense is an absolute mess and their only hope for salvation lies in a 32 year old guy with a bum back and knee and an All-Pro safety who plays like a kamikaze and has the career expectancy of one. The good news is we get a bye week where we can hopefully get some players back. The bad news is it’s a long season after that. A long season which will get even longer if some things don’t start to improve.
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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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As I wrote this morning, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was given the decision as to whether safety Ryan Clark will play this Sunday in Denver. Well, he’s made his choice and Clark will be inactive when the Steelers take the field against the Broncos. I’m not really surprised by this choice since it’s the same one he made the last time we visited the Mile High City.
A fully healthy Clark accompanied the team to Denver in 2009 and did some running drills to test how his body would react. While the sickle cell trait which flared up after a game against Denver in 2007 didn’t seem affected, it’s best to err on the side of caution. The first time, Clark lost his spleen, gallbladder and thirty pounds while the Steelers lost him for the season. A second flare-up could potentially cost Clark his life.
Now we know why the Steelers were compelled to re-sign Anthony Madison. Madison is primarily a corner but has played some safety during his time in the Black and Gold. Ryan Mundy, who has played very well when called upon this season, will start in place of Clark with veteran Will Allen also there for insurance. Keenan Lewis, who has been the team’s primary nickelback this season, wasn’t mentioned as among the injured despite missing time against Cleveland. Tomlin did say rookie Cortez Allen is questionable after suffering a separated shoulder. Allen comes in when Dick LeBeau goes to his six DBs formation so Bryant McFadden might see increased playing time on Sunday.
The bad news is our top ranked secondary just took a pretty big hit with the loss of Clark, who is by all accounts having a Pro Bowl caliber season. The good news is we’re facing the Denver Broncos, who are almost exclusively a running team. Last week in a game the Broncos thought they had to win to make the playoffs, Tim Tebow completed a grand total of SIX passes. Even against a depleted Steelers defense, I’d be hard-pressed to envision him throwing more effectively against us.
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Maybe Mike Tomlin has a medical career in his future after all.
In his post-game press conference, the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach declined to speculate on the injury to running back Rashard Mendenhall. He simply opined, “When a guy goes down in open grass not touched by anyone, experience tells me that’s generally not good.” Well, the diagnosis turned out to be as bad as we feared with Mendy suffering a torn ACL requiring immediate surgery. The Steelers placed him on injured reserve, ending his 2011 season.
Longtime members of Steeler Nation will remember Rod Woodson became the first (and as far as I know, only) player to return from a torn ACL in the same season when the Black and Gold made it all the way to the Super Bowl in 1995. Typically, that injury requires a 6-8 month healing period and even then players often take a few years to get back to where they were before. If they ever get there at all.