The Pittsburgh Steelers had a bye last week. I’m sure most of them put the time to good use, resting some nagging injuries, catching up with their families… Perhaps a few even indulged in their favorite hobbies. For safety Ryan Clark that means finding the nearest video camera and blabbering away.
Clark appeared on his home away from home, ESPN’s First Take, where he had a chance to catch up with his old buddy Skip Bayliss. Of course the first question they asked was about the Black and Gold’s wretched 0-4 start. Not surprisingly, Clark downplayed the team’s woes, maintaining the team would rebound to make the playoffs. Shockingly, Dallas-based Bayliss agreed with him.
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— nfluk.com (@nfl_uk) September 25, 2013
On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers meet the Minnesota Vikings in London, England in what has become the NFL’s annual version of an “international friendly.” Technically, the Vikings are the home team – the team’s owner agreed to sacrifice one of their eight home games as a combination veiled threat/silent protest over their decrepit stadium – but in reality the Steelers should enjoy the majority of crowd support.
Londoners are used to cheering for Big Ben, after all.
Besides, Steeler Nation extends not only from coast to coast but around the globe. If my google analytics are to be believed, my visitors span the globe from Mexico to China and from Norway to South Africa. Actually, if the Vikes wanted a home game, they probably should’ve played the game in Oslo. Despite the fact good seats are still available, the crowd should be a bunch of Terrible Towel waving hooligans.
Unless they’ve heard of Ryan Clark.
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To paraphrase Niemöller’s famous quote:
First the Steelers came for the pool table,
and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t play pool.
Then the Steelers came for the shuffleboard,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t seventy years old.
Then the Steelers came for the ping-pong paddles,
and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t play ping-pong.
Then the Steelers came for me,
and there were no games left to play.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers have elected their team captains for the upcoming season. The four captains are Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Clark, Brett Keisel, and Maurkice Pouncey. Ben and Pouncer obviously represent the offense while Clark and Keis stand for the D. The Steelers usuallly have a special teams representative but for whatever reason it appears they won’t this season. Perhaps when they play less shitty they’ll be granted a seat at the big boy table.
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Over the off-season, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown made news when he told ESPN that last year’s team featured a fractured locker room. Hines Ward, who wasn’t even with the team, echoed that opinion. I have no doubt last year’s team wasn’t overflowing with happy shiny people. Losing does that to you.
Well, Ryan Clark and safety partner Troy Polamalu are here to tell you this year’s Steelers are different. This year’s training camp should’ve been held in Woodstock, New York rather than Latrobe, Pennsylvania because it has been nothing but one great big lovefest.
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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.