The Pittsburgh Steelers have managed to claw their way back into the AFC playoff discussion. As I mentioned in yesterday’s game recap, a large part of their resurgence is due to recent line-up changes. A few of those changes were coach Mike Tomlin demoting guys due to poor performance but most of them came about because of injuries. In nearly every instance where a starter has gone down, his replacement has come in and been an improvement.
Baseball has what is called a Lou Gehrig situation. Basically, Gehrig was a bench warmer until one fateful day when the starter was ill and couldn’t play. Gehrig took his place and performed so well he’d play every game thereafter for the next fourteen years. It’s a tremendous achievement but also a cautionary tale about how quickly and unexpectedly a player can find themselves replaced.
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There’s a sight rarer than Todd Haley’s
El Camino Comet, the Blood Moon, and a solar eclipse all rolled into one. Yes, the Cleveland Browns can say they are ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the standings. In a bit of scheduled irony, the Browns’ victim last Sunday is this week’s opponent for the Black and Gold. Let’s hope for a similar result because I really don’t think I could live with losing to a team that lost to Cleveland.
The Minnesota Vikings are not a particularly good team. Then again, neither are the Steelers since we’re both 0-3. Complicating matters is the game will be played at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Minny has been overseas since Tuesday while Mike Tomlin and crew decided to hop a red-eye last night in order to arrive in London on Friday morning (their time). Hopefully, this is one strategy which pays off.
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Tonight marks the first meeting of the season between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals. Tonight also marks the first time ex-Steeler James Harrison will face his former team. If you watched any of HBO’s Hard Knocks series, you know Harrison is an angry man. And one has to think a portion of that anger is directed towards the Black and Gold.
Whether it was time for Deebo to move on or not, Harrison played his entire career with a chip on his shoulder. It fueled him to become a multi-time Pro Bowler despite being an undersized linebacker undrafted out of Kent State. It has also fueled his penchant for being a vicious headhunting sociopath. After years spent defending Harrison’s repeated attempts to cripple and maim opponents, tonight we’ll get a chance to see how it feels when we are that opponent.
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Welcome back to Le’Veon Bell Week here at ToteStillers! When we last met, the Black and Gold’s rookie sensation had yet to play in an actual game due to a bothersome knee injury. An injury Bell exacerbated yesterday during practice when he fell into a pile and came up (after several minutes lying on the turf) limping. Only a few minutes earlier, co-starter Isaac Redman also left the field after getting KTFO by Larry Foote.
Meanwhile, running back isn’t the only position to get struck by the injury bug. Projected starting cornerback Cortez Allen had his knee scoped a couple weeks back. Willie Gay started in his place last Saturday and he wasted no time in showing why Allen is the expected starter by letting Victor Cruz blow right by him on an inside seam route for an easy TD.
So what’s the latest on the Pittsburgh Steelers injured players? Take it away, Coach T:
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This is getting ridiculous.
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost yet another cornerback yesterday when Curtis Brown was carted off the field after twisting his ankle defending a pass. I don’t know what ladder Brown walked under on his way to camp but this is his second setback already this camp. He just returned from a two day hiatus after pulling a hammy. Mike Tomlin had no details on the severity of this current injury and given his modus operandi, I don’t expect we’ll know exactly how bad it is until Brown either returns to the field or has season-ending surgery.
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So about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ new look secondary…
A couple days ago, I mentioned the alarming number of injuries which have already befallen the team’s cornerbacks. The most distressing of which was the “knee discomfort” (Mike Tomlin‘s words, not mine) that had sidelined presumptive starter Cortez Allen. Turns out the “discomfort” was a lot more serious than the kind you treat with a hot tub and some Ben Gay. Allen underwent “minor knee surgery” (again, Tomlin’s words) yesterday and is expected to miss the next couple weeks at the very least.
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I jinxed them.
On Monday, I remarked how fortunate the Pittsburgh Steelers have been on the injury front as we approach their first full week of training camp. For my insolence, the Football Gods have decided to smite down several members of the Black and Gold’s new look secondary. The injury situation has gotten serious enough for the team to make a roster move, signing CB Ryan Steed for insurance. Steed was an undrafted rookie who went to training camp with the Jets last season before spending the remainder of the year on the Saints’ practice squad. He has never appeared in an NFL game.
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Bryant McFadden was a career nickelback before finally cracking the starting line-up for the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. That off-season, he left for a big money free agent contract from the – who else? - Arizona Cardinals. McFadden quickly crashed back down to planet mediocrity as the Cardinals looked to unload him at the first opportunity. They got that chance when the Steelers swung a draft day deal to bring B-Mac back home.
Fast forward several years later. William Gay was a career nickelback before finally cracking the starting line-up. The Cardinals signed him to a pricey free agent deal which they immediately regretted when they saw him play. They also unloaded him at their earliest opportunity, cutting him shortly after the start of the off-season. And once again, the Steelers brought their wayward son back into the fold.
The only difference is when the B-Mac deal was announced, Steeler Nation was ecstatic. When news of Gay signing a 3 year $4.5 million deal was announced yesterday, it was met with a collective groan. I’m not sure why.
Gay’s replacement in the starting line-up, Kennan Lewis, is an unrestricted free agent. Rumor is the Steelers want to re-sign Lewis but aren’t going to break the bank to do so. Lewis played well last year, his first as a starter, even serving as the team’s most consistent shut down corner during the early part of the season. However, the team also has a youngster named Cortez Allen, who when given the chance to start forced something like five turnovers in two weeks. Allen doesn’t have the physical tools Lewis possesses but he’s the kind of smart athletic ballhawking corner the team hasn’t had in ages. Given the Steelers D is in desperate need of playmakers, they’d be insane not to afford Allen a shot at starting in 2013.
And therein lies Gay’s value. Steeler fans were upset that Gay’s signing signaled they were raising the white flag on re-signing Lewis. The way I see it, they’ll still try to sign Lewis to a reasonable deal, likely in the ballpark of what they gave to Gay. But if somebody else wants to pay him veteran starter money, see ya later Keenan. Allen can easily slide into the starting line-up with Gay playing the nickel, a position in which he’s both familiar and very solid. If Lewis returns, the secondary will remain some combination of Lewis, Allen and Ike Taylor, a trio who comprised the best pass D in the NFL last year, with Gay serving as injury insurance in place of inept stinkbombs like Curtis Brown or Josh Victorian.
Best of all, I get to dust off my all-time favorite nickname. After the aforementioned Super Bowl victory, the Steelers held a parade downtown attended by nearly 100,000 fans. At one point, Gay decided to treat the crowd to his tone deaf rap stylings for which I dubbed him Will.i.am Gay. I never thought I’d say this but after last year’s massive disappointment, I’d gladly listen to an entire album of Gay’s dope rhymes in exchange for another Lombardi Trophy.
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Do or die. Not much more needs be said about the importance of this Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. We can argue about how good this Pittsburgh Steelers team actually is but you’d be hard pressed to make a convincing case that this team shouldn’t at least make the playoffs. With a loss on Sunday, that disastrous scenario would indeed become reality.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs BENGALS OFFENSE
Andy Dalton hasn’t had great success against the Steelers. Part of that is Dick LeBeau owning young quarterbacks. Part is the Steelers just seem to have the Bengals’ number. Whatever freaky mojo the Black and Gold hold over the Ginger Rifle, it’ll be something if it continues through this weekend.
The Bengals come in with the 9th best offense in football by points scored per game, which is really the only stat that counts when it comes to winning. The Steelers statistically still hold the best defense in football but that is determined in terms of yardage. There are actually a half-dozen defenses who give up fewer points per game. Still, despite the onslaught of injuries to LeBeau’s crew, the Steelers have epitomized a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy.
For whatever reason, there’s a meme going around that the defense hasn’t been good this season. In terms of sacks and splash plays, that’s definitely true. However, they’ve kept the team in games which is really all you can ask of your defense, especially one ravaged by injury. If your team has a mediocre QB running an average offense, then you need a defense which creates turnovers and scores points. If the Steelers think they’re in the same league as teams like Green Bay or New England (who have average defenses), they should be perfectly fine with a defense that plays well enough to not lose the game. Which this defense certainly has.
The Bengals have some weapons. As I said before our first meeting, I think AJ Green might be the best receiver in football. He’s certainly in the top five. Ike Taylor absolutely shut him down last time. The secondary expects Cortez Allen back this weekend which should help immensely as even at 50%, he’s probably a whole helluva lot better than the two-headed suck monster known as Josh Victorian and Curtis Brown. One of those human traffic cones will be playing the nickel, though, so there will be plays for Dalton to make.
Let’s just hope for once the Steelers make a few more.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs BENGALS DEFENSE
Which brings us to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense. The D is giving up on average 21 points a game. Considering we have a $150 million quarterback, a crew of receivers led by one guy making $8 million per year and another who thinks he’s worth more than that, and a posse of running backs led by a former first round draft pick, three touchdowns per game should be the least of our worries. Yet this team has struggled mightily to score points all season. Even when Ben is playing and fully healthy.
At some point Steeler fans will step out of 1970 and start asking the offense to WIN games for us instead of expecting the defense to do it (as always). The amount of money invested and the level of (alleged) talent is certainly there. The time for excuses and finger-pointing are over. The time to produce is now.
The Bengals have a pretty decent defense themselves. They actually lead the entire NFL in total sacks. Despite also being ravaged by injury, the Steelers offensive line has done a fairly good job all season. Granted the dink-and-dunk offense helps. Last week against Dallas (who also boast a pretty good pass rush) was really the first time Ben was routinely running for his life. David DeCastro struggled in his first start although I’m sure the first rounder will improve as his reps increase.
DeCastro along with fellow rookie RT Kelvin Beachum have acquitted themselves admirably although they’re clearly not the run blockers Willie Colon and Mike Adams were. As a result, the Steelers running game has been non-existent for almost a month now. There’s flashes here and there but no consistent threat. Mike Tomlin hasn’t named a starter and the assumption is Jon Dwyer will keep starting. I do believe Rashard Mendenhall will dress (Ike Redman is always banged up), however, as this may be his last best chance to audition for a job here or elsewhere next season.
The people who really have to come through are the
Young Money Cash Droppah crew. They talk a big game and like to preen and pose after every 5 yard catch (I’m looking at you, Antonio Brown) yet their play hasn’t backed up their posturing. The Steelers recent swoon which has seen them lose 4 out of their last 5 has been punctuated by mistake after mistake from this group of arrogant miscreants. Manny Sanders can’t hold on to the ball, Mike Wallace can’t catch it and AB may be the dumbest football player alive. I don’t know how we went from “best young receiving corps in football!” to “these guys need to get their shit together” but here we are.
Although, really, the latter can be said about the Steelers as a whole. If this team doesn’t at least make the playoffs with all the big contracts and big name players, well, something is certainly rotten on the Southside. This year has already been a bad soap opera, the accusations and recriminations if the unthinkable happens would no doubt increase tenfold.
Today is the final day of the Mayan calendar. I don’t know if they were Steeler fans but their prediction was remarkably accurate for a culture that existed two centuries before the first pig was skinned and fashioned into an oblong ball. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, the end is also nigh. Come Sunday, there is no tomorrow.
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This Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Dallas Cowboys in a game brimming with playoff implications for both teams. A Steelers-Cowboys match-up really needs no added incentive. Steeler fans hate the Cowboys, Dallas fans detest Pittsburgh. Even though the two teams only play each other once in a blue moon, it doesn’t dissipate the level of animosity and anticipation between the fan bases.
The Cowboys have adopted the moniker of “America’s Team.” No two words inspire more bile to well up in the stomach of Steeler Nation. The fact Jerry Jones and his merry band of miscreants have adopted that as both marketing slogan and credo will never cease to anger us. Usually these rivalries mean more to fans than they do to the players but it seems that isn’t always the case.
Ben Roethlisberger gave an interview on Wednesday where he was asked about the “America’s Team” moniker. Ben suggested if the Cowboys represent American, perhaps the Steelers should be referred to as the “World’s Team.” Not the cleverest bit of trash talk although you have to admire that Ben’s heart is in the right place. Certainly no team has a larger or more passionate fan base be it in the US or around the world than do the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bragging right are all well and good but that’s a secondary concern come Sunday afternoon. As I said, both teams are in the thick of a playoff race. Both teams need a win to keep pace. A loss at this juncture could severely cripple their post-season plans. In fact, a loss could very well wind up knocking a team out of the picture altogether.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs COWBOYS OFFENSE
Tony Romo continues to be Tony Romo. What that means is you always have to take the good with the bad. The good is when he’s on, he can be a very competent passer with the kind of arm capable of making all the throws. The bad is he’s still prone to boneheaded mistakes. Romo has throw for 4,000 in every season he’s been healthy and started and he’s less than 100 yards away from eclipsing that total once again. Unfortunately, coming off a year where he posted a career best TD/INT ratio (31/10) he’s fallen back to old habits this year, nearly balancing his stat sheet with 20 TD against 16 INTs.
One bit of good news for Romo and company is that his best target, WR Dez Bryant, is adamant about playing this Sunday despite suffering a broken finger. Bryant is currently 10th in yardage and has caught 9 of Romo’s TDs so his presence would definitely be missed. How effective he’ll be catching balls with a broken finger remains to be seen. Mike Wallace can’t catch balls with two perfectly manicured hands so maybe having all your fingers operational isn’t that big a deal.
The Dallas packing attack remains strong with TE Jason Witten continuing to be one of the most dangerous pass catching targets in the game. He and Bryant are complemented by Miles Austin, whose 2012 campaign has been beset by injury. Perhaps to their detriment, the Cowboys don’t run as much as they should although Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray remain threats out of the backfield.
I’m not gonna lie, Dallas’ passing game scares the heck out of me. Coming off an utter dismantling at the hands of Phillip Rivers (who really didn’t even play that well) and a crew of utter no-name receivers, this game has the potential to get real ugly real fast if the Steelers’ secondary doesn’t play a helluva lot better. To that end, the Steelers have already decided Curtis Brown, who was about as useful as tits on a giraffe against San Diego, will ride the pine in favor of Josh Victorian. Victorian, who spent the entire season on the practice squad, didn’t exactly shine in his brief stint last Sunday but I can safely say it’d be nearly impossible to play worse than Brown did.
LaMarr Woodley has been practicing and it appears the Steelers will have their oft-injured LB back for the game. Of course, the Football Gods have deemed it unfair for us to have both Woodley and James Harrison together for any length of time so look for one (or both) to leave after a handful of plays. On paper, it looks like the defense will be formidable with both Woodley and Troy Polamalu back after extended absences but I think we’ve seen enough of Troy to know he’s playing at half speed. Whether that’s good enough for him or Woodley or Harrison to force another big game-changing turnover remains to be seen.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs COWBOYS DEFENSE
Big Ben and company better bring their A-game or else last week’s anemic offensive effort is gonna look like an ArenaBall game by comparison. I don’t know what has gone wrong with Todd Haley‘s offense but something clearly has. Going back to the game against KC, the offense has been sputtering to a standstill even with Ben at quarterback.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is because nothing seems to work. The running game doesn’t move the chains. The passing game creates opening only for passes to CLANG harmlessly off the receivers’ hands. The short quick routes still end with Ben running for his life. And the end result is a team with a load of offensive talent on paper struggling to score points.
The offensive line will look different yet again with rookie first rounder David DeCastro finally getting a start at RG. Ramon Foster will slide over to the left while Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey remains in the middle. Whether this line-up will open up some holes for the running game is anybody’s guess. It will certainly help matters if Jonathan Dwyer and iRed can get something going on the ground.
The Cowboys boast perhaps the fiercest pass rush we’ve seen all year. OLBs Demarcus Ware (11 sacks) and Anthony Spencer (8.5) will eat Ben up if the team becomes one dimensional. Corners Brandon Carr and Maurice Claiborne aren’t the flashiest secondary even though they’ve combined to form the 8th best pass D in the league. Dallas has a very strong defense so when the plays present themselves, it’ll behoove the Steelers to not let those opportunities slip through their fingers.
The last time these two teams met during the regular season, a pick six by Deshea Townshend turned the tide of the game and perhaps of the season. The Steelers went on to win and then went on a roll which culminated with a heartstopping victory in Super Bowl XLIII. Will this game be a similar springboard? Or will it be just another stop on the path to diminished expectations?