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?
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I’ve been a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers for a very long time. I’m not going to claim I haven’t missed a game in 35 years or anything like that (I was a teenager once and the Steelers did start Bubby Brister). However, since I started following them in the late 80s, I can honestly count on one hand the number of times I’ve turned off a game before the clock hit zero. Well, much like the Steelers, now I have one for the thumb.
Yesterday’s 34-24 loss to the San Diego Chargers was the worst kind of drubbing. It was one of those games where literally nothing went right and your team was never in the game. The Steelers pathetic offense didn’t cross mid-field until there were 30 seconds left in the first half. At the start of the 4th quarter, the Chargers had possessed the ball for roughly 30 of the first 45 minutes. This was as thorough an ass-whupping as the Steelers have had in a long time.
Except instead of coming at the hands of an elite franchise like Baltimore or New England, it was handed to them by a going nowhere 4-8 team about to fire their head coach at season’s end.
Unlike in those other embarrassments, Ben Roethlisberger was the least of the culprits in yesterday’s debacle. Ben actually looked pretty good coming off a three game layoff due to catastrophic injury. He moved around well, scrambled without fear and didn’t look rusty or limited at all. It’s only too bad the rest of the team decided to offer him less support than they offered Charlie Batch in Cleveland.
Young Money should change their name to Cash Droppahs. Once again, they dropped an obnoxious number of passes, several of which would’ve went for big gains in the first half when the game was still within reach. Mike Wallace put up a nice fantasy game with garbage time stats (7 catches 112 yards 2 TDS) but in reality he came up small when the catches counted. He was wide open on at least three occasions in the first half only for the ball to CLANG off his stone hands.
But perhaps the biggest goat was Antonio Brown. Ben made a nifty move to scramble away from danger and launched a perfect throw 30 or so yards down field which hit AB right in the chest before bouncing harmlessly to the turf. As if that drop wasn’t bad enough, AB later gift-wrapped 7 points to the Chargers when a bubble screen hit TE David Paulsen and bounced into the end zone. Brown tried to pick it up which was stupid because he was 5 yards deep and about to be swarmed. Being tackled in the end zone is the same as kicking the ball out of the end zone (a safety) so the result would’ve been the same except by trying to be a hero, he let the ball get away from him and 2 points became 7. What a maroon.
For awhile now Steeler fans (myself included) have sang the praises of the Steelers receiving corps. All receivers drop passes now and then but at what point do we start wondering if maybe we’ve overrated them a bit? Wallace is definitely an one trick ass clown with delusions of grandeur (LarryFitz money my ass…) but what’s going on with AB and Manny Sanders? And why do the Steelers bother signing guys like Plax and the Cotch Rocket if they aren’t going to play them?
Of course, I’ve long said the passing game needs a good running attack to complement it in order to be effective. The Steelers couldn’t run at all yesterday. Jonathan Dwyer finished with 8 carries (EIGHT!) for 32 yards. He narrowly led the team in rushing over Ben who ended up scrambling for 31 yards because he was constantly running for his life. The offensive line allowed only 2 sacks but Ben’s 5 scrambles were due to pressure and there were another half dozen times he got away long enough to throw the ball away. Willie Colon tried to tough it out but had to leave early on with Maurkice Pouncey shifting to LG and Doug Legursky coming in at center.
This will come as shocking news but Colon is injured and reports are he’s LOST FOR THE SEASON. Yes, I know that the guy who is always injured and never plays a full season yet got a big fat contract anyway being injured is totally unexpected but there you go. We’ll talk about where this leaves the O-line and running game going forward later.
All this misery and I haven’t even gotten to the defense yet. I don’t want to hear Steeler fans bitch about Ike Taylor ever EEEEVVVER again. The D loses Troy and still leads the league in pass defense. The D loses James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and still leads the league in total D. The D loses Ike and goes to complete shit.
The way Curtis Brown played yesterday almost defies description. It literally looked like they took a guy out of the stands an hour before game time and put him in the starting line-up. That’s how clueless Brown looked. This is the guy’s second full year with the Steelers and he didn’t appear to have any idea where he was supposed to be or who he was supposed to be covering. It got so bad that in the second half they actually inserted Josh Victorian, a guy fresh off the practice squad, as the nickel because Brown was such a liability.
When the Chargers scored early in the 4th to go up 34-10, I figured it might be good to take out Ben since the game was lost. Mike Tomlin kept him in, risking both injury and the season in a lost effort. Ben led a TD drive but instead of going for 2 (and possibly cutting the lead to two scores instead of three), he kicked the XP. Why? “I didn’t want to reveal my secret 2 point plays,” Tomlin later said in a lie so hilarious, only the rah rah cheerleader Pittsburgh media could swallow it.
If you’re not trying to win, WHY WAS BEN PLAYING? I can believe you have some 2 point trick plays but, I dunno, you couldn’t just run a regular goal line play? The truth is Tomlin had given up on the game but he didn’t want to justify keeping Ben in and admit he wasn’t playing to win. I was on Twitter and a minor war broke out amongst Steeler fans as a #fireTomlin hash tag started making the rounds. I’m not saying Tomlin should be fired but I’m sick and tired of the Tomlin apologists acting like nothing that happens to this team is his fault. Losing to teams we shouldn’t lose to and putting out performances like this one or the one in Cleveland or a whole bunch back in 2009 are inexcusable. And that falls on the head coach.
The only good news to emerge from Sunday is the Bengals also lost (as did the Ravens but they’ve clinched the division with our loss). Which means the status quo holds over from last week. The Steelers must win out if they want to control their own destiny but one more loss, as long as it isn’t to the Bengals, will still probably get them in the playoffs. PLAYOFFS? (Insert Mora rant here).
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Guess what? Another key member of the Pittsburgh Steelers is hurt! Shocking!
Did they install ladders over the tunnel in Heinz Field? Did the entire team decide to engage in a mass mirror breaking exercise during training camp? I realize every team battles injuries but this season has been downright ridiculous.
The year starts with James Harrison on the bench where Troy Polamalu joins him almost right away. Harrison comes back and out goes LaMarr Woodley. Just to make things more interesting, Antonio Brown also gets hurt. Brown and Troy start feeling better, out goes Ben Roethlisberger. And that’s not even mentioning other notable guys who’ve missed time like Jonathan Dwyer, Jerricho Cotchery, Willie Colon, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams and on and on…
I’ll talk more about the Ben situation when we hear what happened at practice later this afternoon. Word is Ben is actually going to practice this week, not mill around the sidelines casually tossing soft lobs to Mike Tomlin‘s son like he did last week when the morons at ESPN excitedly proclaimed his “return to practice.” If Ben stands behind center and runs the offense at full speed while demonstrating he can heave the ball more than 5 yards down field without clutching his midsection like Richard Harrow just shot him in the gut, he’ll start.
If not, well, in Charlie Batch we trust. Suck it, haters.
One person the team will definitely be without is cornerback Ike Taylor. I think we all knew Ike was seriously hurt when CBS cut to a sideline shot of him being placed in a walking boot. Tomlin revealed he suffered a hairline fracture of his ankle, an injury should shelve him for 2-4 weeks. Steeler Nation has a real love/hate relationship with Face Me Ike (mostly hate) but there’s no doubt the team will miss him. Since starting the season in a Tebow-induced funk, Ike has returned to his status as the lead shut down corner on the league’s best pass defense. AJ Green, Victor Cruz and Torrey Smith all disappeared under his watch so to think his absence won’t be felt is foolish.
Cortez Allen will take his place in the starting line-up with Curtis Brown taking Allen’s slot as the nickel corner. As soon as Ike left, Joe Flacco couldn’t wait to test Allen. And he kept testing him all afternoon, targeting him a whopping 12 times before all was said and done. Of Flacco’s sad 188 yard output, 100 of those yards came at Allen’s expense. Allen did come on in the second half and the presence of Troy will certainly make any secondary better. Still, the Steelers aren’t going to play a mediocre quarterback every week so Allen either needs to step up his game or the team is going to struggle if Ike misses more than a couple weeks.
The Steelers are in a precarious position as it is. They’re holding tight to a Wild Card spot and the general mediocrity of the AFC means that a 9-7 record will probably slip in to at least one playoff slot. It’s looking like the pesky Bengals will be the Steelers biggest obstacle for that spot. The teams meet the final week and it’s very possible the winner will go on to the post-season. Sure the Bungles are the Bungles but I’d feel a lot better about that game with Ike covering AJ Green than Cortez Allen. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.
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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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Now it’s time to panic.
The Tennessee Titans defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-23 on Thursday Night Football. I repeat, the 1-3 Titans starting a 37 year old backup QB defeated the Steelers. Where do I begin?
I suppose I’ll start by saying this is a total team loss. Anybody pointing to one specific area as “the reason they lost” has no idea what they’re talking about. The defense, for all their struggles, only gave up one legit TD with the other being a gimme from the 1 yard line after a blocked punt. The offense, despite a 363 yard passing day from Ben Roethlisberger to move ahead of Terry Bradshaw as the team’s all-time yardage leader, made some plays but they also missed a lot of chances. And the special teams, well, the blocked punt was just the latest miscue in a season full of them. Maybe Mike Tomlin shouldn’t have ousted Al Everest so he could give his buddy the job.
Regarding the special teams, Stonecold Shaun Suisham is one guy who can leave Tennessee with his head held high. Nobody has been more critical of him than I so trust me when I say making every field goal up through a 52 yarder early in the 4th quarter is all anybody can ask of him. It would’ve been nice for him to hit the 54 yarder at the end but that’s hardly a kick you automatically expect ANY kicker to make.
Right here is one of the problems with the Steelers. I’m talking about field goals instead of touchdowns. Once again, the offense moved in fits and starts, sputtering around for large stretches and failing to put the game away by scoring TOUCHDOWNS instead of settling for field goals. Twice the Steelers got inside the 15 and twice they came away with 3 instead of 6. You let teams hang around, even bad teams like the Titans, and bad things happen.
The receiving star was Isaac Redman. Wait, WHAT? Yes, for all we talk about Young Money and the best receiving corps in the NFL, it was our running back that caught 4 passes for 105 yards. Our TE, Heath Miller, chipped in with 6 catches for 67 yards. Antonio Brown? A measly 20 yards. Manny Sanders? A whopping 43.
Then we have Mike Wallace. Wallace had 94 yards and a TD on two, count’em two, catches. He scored doing pretty much the only thing he knows how to do: run fast straight down the field. I don’t want to hear any more bullshit about how Wallace is “a complete receiver.” Complete receivers catch many balls on a variety of patterns. Wallace is the ultimate all or nothing guy.
Unlike last week when the receivers dropped a ton of passes, this week much of the blame rests with Ben. He makes some great throws, like the bomb to Wallace, but then he’ll turn around and miss plays he needs to make. Suisham’s 52 yarder only happened because Ben made a terrible throw when he had Sanders wide open down the seam. Earlier in the game, he had Heath in the end zone and threw it behind him. Then there was a costly pick as time was running out in the half which probably cost the Steelers at least a field goal.
Like it or not, Ben needs a running game. When they run, they win. When they don’t, they lose. And last night, they couldn’t run at all. Much was due to having no running backs. Rashard Mendenhall played a couple series before leaving the game with what habitual liar Tomlin described as “some sort of Achilles problem.” Then iRed, who wasn’t carrying the ball well but has emerged as a great screen guy, left the game after taking a helmet to the knee. With Jon Dwyer in the doghouse, Baron Batch did his best in relief, even scoring his first career TD, but he’s not a starting caliber running back.
The other problem with the running game was the offensive line. As if losing our top two RBs wasn’t enough, we also lost 2/5 of our line. I think Maurkice Pouncey is way overrated but there is one huge difference between him and Doug Legursky. They’re about the same in pass protection but Pouncey is a much better run blocker. Ditto with Marcus Gilbert, who was replaced by rookie Mike Adams. Adams is fine at pass pro, perhaps even better than Gilbert, but he doesn’t run block very well.
Now let’s talk about the defense. Specifically, Ike Taylor. The Steelers only had 4 flags thrown on them yesterday, two of them went against Ike for pass interference (he had a third which was declined). When he wasn’t getting flagged, he was letting receivers run past, through, and around him. The Titans’ first FG was set up by a penalty on Ike. Their game tying drive was prolonged by a third down penalty on Ike. Their game tying TD was scored on Ike. Hasselbeck threw for 290 yards (and would’ve thrown for about 50 more if his receivers could catch the ball), about 50% of which was on Ike alone.
In summation, Ike sucks. Instead of making pornographic rap songs, he needs to start figuring out why he sucked against Denver and why he’s sucked ever since.
Keenan Lewis…KEENAN LEWIS is now our best corner. And yes, people are going to point out he dropped a crucial interception late in the 4th that could’ve altered the game. How many of those has Ike dropped? At least Lewis is actually covering people and making plays. Cortez Allen, pressed into duty as a safety when Will Allen got hurt, did his best although messed up several times. Ryan Clark led the team in tackles as he continues to be our defensive MVP. Lawrence Timmons continued his strong play, coming up with a big interception on a play that was positively Polamalu-esque.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the D held strong for three quarters, holding Tennessee to only 9 points (as I said, the blocked punt TD shouldn’t be held against them) while the offense dicked around. Then they totally collapsed in the 4th. Why Tomlin made the insane decision to try a 54 FG instead of punting and playing for overtime, I don’t know. Dick LeBeau making the asinine call of asking James “Missed the first month of the season because of a bum knee” Harrison to drop back in pass coverage instead of, oh say, SUPER SPEEDY LAWRENCE TIMMONS was equally perplexing.
I’ve avoided dire predictions and grand statements thus far this season. Well, that time is done. The Steelers, with about 12 starters on the disabled list, get 10 days off before facing the Bengals. That has now become a MUST WIN game. I don’t care if it’s still early in the season, I don’t care that neither Cincy nor the Ratbirds are setting the world on fire, you can’t start 2-4 and expect to go anywhere. It’s time to sink or swim.
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There are certain things you can count on every season. The Bengals will find some way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Cowboys will get talked about incessantly on the Four Letter only to accomplish a whole lot of nothin’ by year’s end. And the Raiders will lead the league in penalties.
Well, the Raiders have some work to do in they want to catch the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers are used to a sea of yellow when they look up into the stands, now they’re seeing a sea of yellow on ground level as well. A quarter of the way through the 2012 season and the Steelers are leading the NFL with 9.2 penalties per game. And they aren’t cheapies, either. Those penalties have cost Pittsburgh a whopping 346 yards.
That’s 15 yards more than they’ve rushed for the entire season.
Head coach Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference yesterday. In between the usual half truths and baldfaced lies, the local reporters actually sacked up and questioned him about all the flags. Of course, instead of asking why his team is so reckless and undisciplined, in typical Pittsburgh fashion they asked “Why are the refs making so many bad calls against us?” I wonder if their pom poms ever get caught in their laptops.
To his credit, Tomlin refused to lay the blame on others. “I’m less concerned about judgments and interpretations and so forth. I’m more concerned about playing in the manner that the flags stay in the pocket.” said the always eloquent coach. “It’s my job to get them fixed. We will work on that this week,” he added. Of course we’ve long since learned when Tomlin says he’s going to work on something, it means he’s not going to work on it at all.
Some of the penalties were absolutely bogus. Mike Wallace got called for illegal formation on a play where it didn’t look like he was lined up illegally at all. And the Ryan Mundy personal foul for helmet-to-helmet looked awfully like a nice clean shoulder hit. And going back a few weeks, I don’t think we’ll ever learn what the hell the Lingerie Football refs were calling on that Ike Taylor pass interference penalty.
So, yeah, some of the calls were absolutely ridiculous. A lot of them weren’t. Willie Colon evidently decided to dress as Chris Kemoeatu for Halloween and he’s getting a three week head start by impersonating his play on the field. Colon has been the most frequent offender, getting nabbed for eight times this season (three times on Sunday, plus another one which was declined). The starting corners, Ike and Keenan Lewis, have three pass interferences each.
What’s Tomlin going to do? Tell Colon not to hold? Teach Lewis and Ike how not to get beat like drums down the field? They are what they are. You can’t teach somebody not to suck.
What you can teach is proper tackling technique. One of the Eagles two TDs came on a drive aided by two personal fouls. As I said, the Mundy play looked iffy but when you spend your first four years in the league spearing people, you’re not getting the benefit of the doubt. Ryan Clark‘s hit was a clear PI and was rightly penalized. Clark is a habitual offender who not only refuses to apologize for his reckless play but actually told the media he doesn’t care if he gets fined or flagged, he’s going to play like he wants to play. Way to be a team player, Ryan.
That sort of stuff is what Tomlin should step in and curtail. When James Harrison was getting flagged every time looked menacingly at a QB, Tomlin sat him and told him to clean up his technique. Coach T needs to do that with everybody on defense so they stop giving teams these costly penalties. What’s more, he just needs to rein in the team overall. Penalties are going to happen but you can eliminate the stupid mental errors (like running out of bounds on kickoffs or false starts) by instilling discipline.
Players coach Mike Tomlin has been anything but a strict disciplinarian in his time here. As long as he prefers being liked over being respected, we’ll continue to see more laundry on the ground than after a tornado hits Chinatown. We can hope that it won’t eventually come back to bite the Steelers. Although I think we all know that it will.
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Once upon a time, the prospect of playing the boys from the Mile High City was met with the same level of disdain Steeler Nation now reserves for the Ratbirds or Patriots. After last night’s game, I think it’s safe to say while the Denver Broncos may not be full-fledged members of the Circle of Hate, they’re definitely vying for a spot. For the second straight game dating back to last season’s Wild Card debacle, the Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in groan-worthy fashion, 31-19.
Where to start with this disaster.
How about new offensive coordinator Todd Haley? Some people view Twitter as a sign of the apocalypse (Follow me @totalsteelers) but I enjoy it because instead of waiting hours or even minutes to gauge reaction, you have it in seconds. It took roughly one quarter before the armchair offensive coordinators started calling for Haley’s head. His crime?
He was running the ball too much!
Yes, the same group who called into Pittsburgh sports talk shows whining about Bruce Arians and his Flying Circus offense for the past three years were moaning because Haley gave them what they asked for. More importantly, he gave Art Rooney II exactly what he wanted, a return to Stiller Football. And how did Stiller Football fare? Isaac Redman gained 20 yards on 11 carries while Jon Dwyer, one of the game’s lone offensive stars, chipped in 43 yards on only 9 carries with one big 17 yard gain wiped out due to a dubious holding call on Mike Wallace.
On the bright side, we totally dominated time of possession!
Seeing this offense try to relive the glory days of Franco and the Bus was PAINFUL to watch. Several times we had first and 15s and Haley elected to run on two successive downs. Only Ben Roethlisberger completing some big third down throws kept the chains moving. This team has one of the deepest and most talented group of wide receivers in the NFL. They shouldn’t be running to set up the pass, they should be passing to set up the run.
FORGET YINZERBALL AND PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS.
Ben is going to catch some flak for his performance last night, as he should. When your rep is being the best clutch player in football, you don’t throw a pick-six down six with 3 minutes left. Ben certainly had a Jekyll/Hyde game, making some great throws where he literally threaded a needle but he also made several incredibly dangerous throws which could’ve easily gotten intercepted. He also missed several big plays such as botching a sure TD to Heath Miller (who was open all day) and never seeing Wallace left wide open on a crucial fourth quarter drive. While I think it’d be totally unfair to pin this loss on him, Ben needs to play a helluva lot better if this team is going to win.
Especially if the defense is going to play like they played last night. Last year, Warren Sapp derided them as old, slow and done. This season, it appears they’re young, eager and over their heads. Despite obnoxious Cris Collinsworth occasionally getting up off his knees to proclaim “Peyton Manning is doing this to the league’s #1 ranked defense!” this is not the league’s top ranked defense. That was last year’s team with James Harrison and Ryan Clark and a healthier Casey Hampton and William Gay opposite Ike Taylor. Last night’s defense had none of those things and the results showed.
Manning was only sacked twice and one of those, by Jason Worilds, was a clean shot thanks to Manning mixing up the protection call. Other than a first quarter sack by Larry Foote, who was one of the few bright spots on defense, they generated almost zero pressure. Surely the altitude played a part but it doesn’t excuse anything. The bottom line is the Steelers offense held the ball for a whopping 10 minutes (35 to 25) longer yet the “exhausted” Broncos D held them to 19 points while the “rested” Steelers D allowed Pey-Pey to march right down the field on them.
Foote forced an early fumble although it was more luck than skill as he got thrown into the back and happened to knock the ball loose. That was it as far as highlights go. The D-line got pushed around on passing plays and couldn’t stop the run when it counted. The linebackers effort can be summed up by watching Peyton OUTRUN supposedly super-athlete Lawrence Timmons to the sticks for a 7 yard gain. Then we have the secondary. Youngsters Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen did their best B-Mac impressions, allowing generous 5 yard cushions on every pass play. And then we have Demaryius Thomas, who once again abused Ike Taylor to the tune of 5 catches for 110 yards.
Perhaps no play summed up last night’s debacle like the third quarter turning point when Thomas took a little slant and ran away from like half the defense on his way to a 71 yard TD. Of course the scab refs missed a hold on Ryan Mundy on the play but it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
What would have mattered was the facemask on Ben they missed on the Steelers’ previous drive which ended with a Shaun Suisham field goal. The game was an absolute fiasco from an officiating standpoint, with the scab refs saving their worst for prime time and most of their incompetence going against the Steelers. The lone time we got a call, on yet another boneheaded Mike Tomlin challenge which came in after a play had been run, it would’ve been better if they hadn’t. Meanwhile, Wallace’s hold wiping out a big Dwyer run and a crucial pass interference on Lewis late in the 4th were the definition of ticky-tacky especially after not calling worse against the Broncos. Evidently they did read the Illegal Formations portion of the rule book on the can before the game because that was one thing they called on both teams at least a good half dozen times.
Let’s not blame the scab refs on this fiasco. The Steelers played a terrible game last night. If Ben had Superman’d up and pulled out a last-second victory, it only would’ve been a Band-Aid on a gaping chest wound. The Steelers clearly have some fundamental issues they need to address on both sides of the ball. And they need to start by figuring out what kind of offense they want to run. Because what we saw last night isn’t going to get it done, not against Peyton Manning, not against Tim Tebow, not against anybody.