And never brought to mind?
The more quickly the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns is forgotten the better. I have to confess, I lost interest in this game about ten minutes in and started flipping to Red Zone in order to watch games that actually mattered. Considering nearly 15,000 fans attended yesterday’s season finale at Heinz Field disguised as empty seats, I have to think I’m not alone in my crippling apathy.
Pittsburgh is a football town. I would be insane to deny it. At the same time, Pittsburgh also backs winners. Oh, we still support our Pirates or Penguins when they fail but not nearly with the same fervor or in the same numbers as we do teams that win. The Steelers first meaningless game in six years and 15,000 people opted to skip it. The Rooney family, and by that I mean bungling meddler Art II, better not take this town’s support for granted or we’ll be seeing a lot more Pitt size crowds in the near future.
As I said, I didn’t watch every minute of this titanic confrontation but I’ll give some thoughts on the bits and pieces I did see. The reason my will was broken early on had much to do with a mind-numbing first quarter which saw Todd Haley‘s stunningly inept offense piss around while rookie nobody Thad Lewis drove 70 yards on Dick LeBeau‘s top ranked defense. The Browns’ drive came to a screeching halt thanks to a Troy Polamalu interception.
Well, at least Troy made one play this season.
Speaking of finally making a play, Ziggy Hood finally made an impact himself. Unfortunately, it came in the form of taking out the knee of teammate Brett Keisel, who will undergo an MRI tomorrow due to fears he may have injured his MCL (which may or may not require surgery). On the plus side, with Diesel out, Mike Tomlin was forced to play Cam Heyward. Young guys on defense, what a crazy concept!
The defensive standouts, if you can call them that considering they were playing against a guy who has been cut from three different teams’ practice squads, were Lawrence Timmons and Cortez Allen. Timmons put the cherry on top of his break out season with two sacks and a fumble recovery. It only took 5 years but LT is finally playing like a mid first round draft pick. So I guess we should expect next year’s first to finally make an impact some time around 2018.
Meanwhile, Allen continues to make me look like a genius for tabbing him as a future starter – and a high-level one at that – in the secondary. Last week he caused three turnovers (2 INTs and forced fumble), this week he added another two FFs, one of which he recovered himself. Five turnovers in two weeks. That’s nearly more than the rest of the defense combined. Keenan Lewis played well this year but I don’t see how they can possibly limit Allen to a nickel role next year.
Lewis, by the way, is going to be a free agent at season’s end. The balky knee which limited him the past month acted up so if this was his last appearance in the Black and Gold it was a brief one. I imagine the team will try to keep him although they’d be foolish to overpay for a guy destined to be a #3 corner. Lewis’s probable exit will likely be part of a roster purge that made last year’s Veteran Armageddon look tame by comparison.
Casey Hampton was replaced for almost the entire second half by Steve McClendon. McClendon even got some good pressure on young Thaddeus begging the question why he sat on the bench for 16 weeks while all the old immobile guys stood around like their feet were stuck in mud. Even though the team doesn’t have a legit heir apparent at NT, it seems certain we’ll go into next year with McClendon and (provided he doesn’t kill anybody over the summer) Alameda Ta’amu.
The linebacking corps will also be undergoing a bit of an overhaul. Reports on NFL.com are that yesterday’s game was James Harrison‘s swan song in Pittsburgh. If so, Deebo made sure to get one final late hit cheap shot in for old time’s sake. Guess he’ll have to sit out his first regular season game as a Dolphin due to suspension. Ironically, that hit came on the very play where Thad Lewis threw his first (and only) career TD pass. While it looks like Jason Worilds will step in opposite the chronically injured LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers will have to use the draft or *gasp* free agency to find another ILB to pair with Timmons when they part ways with veteran Larry Foote.
Ben Roethlisberger – making sure to clutch his ribs in crippling agony after every throw so we knew the Big Drama Queen was TOUGH~! – played to the bitter end. Ben, who threw for only 134 yards but 3 TDs, managed to put together a couple nice drives in the fourth quarter, including his 23rd and final TD pass of the season to Plaxico Burress. Eight years, three Super Bowl championships and a prison stint later, the season ends with Big Ben to Plax for a TD. Fitting.
The only drawback to yesterday’s win (besides Keisel and Kelvin Beachum getting hurt. Since when did playing Right Tackle for the Steelers become the equivalent of wearing a red shirt on the USS Enterprise?) was the victory dropped the Steelers all the way to the 17th overall pick in the 2013 draft. That’s still plenty high to get a quality player, one who may be counted on to contribute a lot faster than rookies have in recent years. Whoever they take, this is going to be among the most important off-seasons in Steelers history.
Will Art II admit the Todd Haley experiment has been an utter failure? Or will Boss Todd be given another year to electrify us with his vast array of bubble screens and end arounds? Who will replace the aforementioned losses on defense? Likewise, what will the team do with Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace? Assuming both are gone, do they stick with what they got or introduce some fresh faces to the mix? Remember, every back except Chris Rainey is a free agent along with Manny Sanders. And for the love of pete, will they please fire special teams bungler Amos Jones? He’s so bad, the name “Bobby April” was actually trending locally when the team failed yet again to correctly defend a fake punt.
On a personal note, I want to thank my readers for allowing me to vent this season. It’s been a maddening year but being able to express my frustrations here certainly does my blood pressure a world of good. Even though you guys seldom comment, I appreciate all of you reading, from the old timers who’ve been with me since NPC to the newbies who stumbled upon this blog this season. I’ll still be updating whenever Steeler news dictates (and as I’ve said, we should be making a lot of moves this off-season) although not on a regular schedule. I hope you check in from time to time.
Thanks for reading. Hope you all enjoy a very happy New Year. And Let’s Go Steelers in 2013!
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The NFL Playoffs will begin two weeks from now. The Pittsburgh Steelers will not be playing in them. Yes, the unthinkable has happened. With a miserable 13-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers are officially eliminated from post-season contention.
As they say, you reap what you sow.
I’m a Steeler fan. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t bleed Black and Gold. However, I can’t really get too worked up over the fact we aren’t going to the playoffs. When you lose four games to four of the worst teams in the league, you don’t really deserve to be in the playoffs.
I will be interested in hearing sports talk radio tomorrow to see how the Ben Roethlisberger fans spin this loss in a way which exonerates their man. For the second time in two weeks, Little Ben had the ball in his hands with a must-win game on the line. For the second time in two weeks, he made an idiotic decision which led to an interception. And for the second time in two weeks, that interception cost the Steelers the game.
Maybe he can blame Todd Haley for not calling enough no-huddle again.
There has been this absolutely ridiculous meme going around that says the Steelers defense isn’t really that good and that the team has to start leaning on the offense to win games. I call bullshit on that. When the story of the 2012 season is written, the record will show the Steelers finished with the #1 ranked defense. Yes, they don’t generate a ton of splash plays but they perform more than well enough for the team to win.
If only this team had an offense worth a damn.
Yesterday, the Steelers had splash plays. Three of them, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. The inept Pittsburgh offense generated a grand total of ZERO points off those turnovers. Meanwhile, Cincy had two interceptions of their own. The first was a pick-six off a terrible throw by Ben (their only TD of the game) and the second was a head-slappingly dumb decision by Ben with less than 30 seconds left in the game. That second pick resulted in the Bengals kicking the game-winning FG with only seconds left to spare.
Todd Haley was brought in to improve the Steelers offense. The offense has been nothing less than terrible this season with yesterday’s performance perhaps the worst of the season. Nothing was working. The running game was anemic with only a couple nice carries from Rashard Mendenhall keeping the day from being a total failure. The passing game never got on track. Mike “LarryFitz Money” Wallace caught one pass. ONE PASS.
When Heath Miller left the game with what preliminary reports is a torn ACL (ugh), the only consistently dependable facet of the offense left right along with him.
The Bengals came in leading the NFL in sacks. They added another four to that total as the guard tandem of David DeCastro and Ramon Foster were human traffic cones. It’d be unfair to totally blame the line, however, as when they did provide decent pass protection Ben would hold the ball for far too long. For the first time in years, Ben looked confused and gun shy, like he was playing his first game in a new offense, not running a system he’s practiced for almost 10 months now. I don’t know if he’s seriously hurt or if the Bengals’ defense is just that good but this was the worst game Ben has played in years.
Which is fitting because this is the worst season he’s had in years. I like that Ben apologists (*cough* Mark Madden *cough*) point to the Steelers’ D and call it a “stats defense” but don’t apply the same standards to Ben. His final numbers will not look all that bad when the season is over but anybody watching objectively has to agree that Ben regressed this year. He hasn’t made the plays when they needed to be made. A $150 million quarterback has to make plays.
Yesterday’s game was kind of a microcosm of the Steelers season. Ben made a dumb mistake leading to a pick-six. The Steelers put together a nice drive down to the Bengals 15 but couldn’t finish it off. Then the special teams (coached by Mike Tomlin‘s buddy after Tomlin fired a perfectly capable special teams coach because he didn’t like him) botched a snap which led to Shaun Suisham shanking a 24 yard FG.
Over the next 2+ quarters, the defense came away with three turnovers and made stop after stop only to watch the bumbling offense do absolutely nothing. The first turnover, a nice INT by Cortez Allen (who, along with Keenan Lewis, played a very strong game) set the Steelers up on the Cincy 32. They couldn’t even get a FG out of that thanks to Ben taking yet another “I think I’ll hold the ball forever” sack. After a defensive struggle left the game tied with two minutes left, Marvin Lewis went for an insane 64 yard FG which naturally fell short. Starting at mid-field, Ben couldn’t manage the Tomczakian feat of leading the team into reasonable FG range (Suisham’s 53 yarder also fell short). When the D came up with one last stop, Ben put the finishing touches on this shit sandwich and the team’s season with a final ill-timed turnovers in a season full of them.
So much for Little Ben’s rep as “the best clutch QB in football.”
And so much for the Steelers season. This team is going to have a lot of work to do over the off-season. Unlike the “Super Bowl Hangover” year, there are no easy excuses for the swoon. Injuries certainly played a part. However, the team had plenty of talent on the field and yet still couldn’t win games they should have won never mind winning the games they had to win. In the end, the coaches from Mike “the Fraud” Tomlin and Todd “SooperGenius” Haley too often didn’t have this team ready to play and too often the players didn’t play up to the level we expected.
Steeler Nation has received a lump of coal in their stocking this year. I’ll be around to wrap up this fiasco of a season but I probably won’t post much until next week. In the meantime, I hope all my loyal readers have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Bah Humbug.
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The ongoing soap opera that is the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers took yet another turn yesterday. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters that he apologized to Mike Tomlin, the Rooneys, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley for seemingly throwing Haley under the bus following the team’s disappointing loss to Dallas. “I came in (Monday), and I apologized to Todd, I apologized to Mike (Tomlin), and I apologized to Mr. (Dan) Rooney because I let my frustrations jump out after a game,” Ben told a group of reporters.
Why was Ben apologizing? I mean, sure, he came across as a whiner for bitching about play calling when his poor execution of said plays was the primary problem but it’s still strange he felt the need for mea culpas. Rashard Mendenhall didn’t apologize to anybody even though he was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team.” I suppose creating this semi-controversy on the heels of the most pivotal game of the season wasn’t the best example of leadership from our starting quarterback. At the same time, are Tomlin and Haley so thin-skinned that they can’t stem even the slightest bit of criticism?
What is even odder is he apologized to the Rooneys, specifically Dan Rooney. I’ve heard plenty of players apologize to the Rooney family although it’s almost always following an arrest or some sort legal entanglement. This is the first time I can recall a player apologizing to them for some sort of on-field controversy. It’s also some what interesting that he specifically mentioned Dan, who is reportedly stepping down from his Ambassodorship and coming back to take a more active role with the team. Where this leaves the team president, his meddlesome son Art II, remains to be seen.
As for his relationship with Haley, Ben went on to say of course they don’t always see eye-to-eye. “I‘m sure it‘s that way with every position player and their coach. That doesn‘t mean anything.” Which is exactly what I said yesterday.
It still doesn’t change the fact this bizarre season keeps getting weirder. And it all started when the Steelers experienced a shocking loss to the Denver Broncos followed by the
retirement dismissal of Bruce Arians which led to the hiring of Todd Haley. Hopefully when we close out the year, it won’t be on the heels of another heartbreaking loss and more coordinator controversy.
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Don’t look past the Cleveland Browns. When you stop laughing, I’ll try to explain. Yes, the Browns are 2-8. Yes, the Browns are in the midst of yet another miserable season in a long run of them. Yes, the Browns have already given Mike Holmgren the axe with former Pittsburgh Steelers minority owner Jimmy Haslam likely to make more changes after the season. I know all this doesn’t sound like a team ready to give the Steelers a fight on Sunday but despite everything the Browns aren’t ready to wave the white flag.
Oh, wait… Maybe they are…
One thing the Browns are successful at is getting psyched for the Steelers. I’ll spare you the painful trip down memory lane, suffice to say, when the two teams meet you can almost throw out the records. Cleveland has treated their annual meetings with us like their own little Super Bowl and it’s almost like a rivalry game in college where it doesn’t matter how bad your team is on paper, the two teams always find a way to make things interesting. Throw in the fact Cleveland has been sneaky bad (as in, they lose but put forth highly competitive efforts) and the Steelers are injury ravaged and you have a recipe for anything to happen.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs BROWNS OFFENSE
On draft day, I sorta laughed at the selection of quarterback Brandon Weedon. In reality, Weedon has looked like a pretty solid signal caller despite being a rookie on a team with very few offensive weapons. I still think it was a silly pick because if you look across the NFL, a whole bunch of rookie QBs have done well this season, from Andrew Luck and RGIII to lesser publicized names like Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson and they’re all 5-6 years younger than Weedon so they’ll have more time to grow. Right now, however, I think given the chance to re-draft teams like the Eagles or Cardinals would take Weedon over the QBs they chose because he’s shown the kind of poise that suggests he could step right in and do a capable job of running an established offense.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t have an established offense in Cleveland. In fact, he doesn’t have much to work with at all. When a RB leads your team in receiving, that’s not good. Their nominal #1 WR is Greg Little but he drops as many passes as he catches. The rest of the receiving corps is a collection of has beens and never weres. Weedon’s numbers don’t look particularly impressive (11 TDs 12 INT 2,300 yds) until you factor in the collection of riff raff he has to catch his passes.
The lone bright shining light in this oasis of suck is fellow rookie RB Trent Richardson. Browns legend Jim Brown dissed Richardson prior to the draft which must’ve lit a fire under him as he’s accounted for 670 yards on the ground and another 280 through the air. Richardson has fast become a weapon in the Ray Rice mold. He’s easily Cleveland’s most dangerous offensive player and must be contained if the Steelers hope to dash any thoughts of an upset.
Dick LeBeau‘s crew is coming off unarguably their finest effort of the season. I feel Joe Flacco and company are grossly overrated but to hold any team without an offensive touchdown, let alone a team one year removed from the AFC Championship game while your own offense is actively sabotaging your efforts, is a damn impressive feat. Ziggy Hood rebounded from the KC debacle and the D-line were the quiet heroes in stifling Ray Rice. Ike Taylor has shook off the early season funk and teamed with Keenan Lewis, who improves by the week, form a very fine secondary. While LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison haven’t played up to previous levels, the inside tandem of Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons have picked up a lot of slack. Although Cleveland doesn’t have the talent Baltimore has, the team will need nearly the same effort because I don’t foresee our offense scoring a ton of points.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs BROWNS DEFENSE
Charlie Batch makes his first start of the season after Byron Leftwich flushed a very winnable game down the crapper last Sunday. I have faith in Chaz. Every time Steeler Nation counts him out, he comes off the bench to prove the haters wrong. Given Todd Haley’s short quick West Coast style offense, I think Batch is an even better fit than Lefty and as long as his guys get open, he’ll get them the ball.
Of course, it’d be nice if the Steelers can continue their strong running attack. Mike Tomlin hasn’t committed to a starter but I think at this point you have to go with Jonathan Dwyer. Rashard Mendenhall may have the breakaway speed but he was back to his tap-dancing tricks against Baltimore. Dwyer has been by far the team’s most consistent back and I think he’s earned the chance to be the featured starter (when healthy) for the rest of the year. The Browns rank near the bottom of the league in run D so whoever starts should produce.
The receivers also need to start producing. I know the catch in the corner of the end zone against the Ravens was a tough play but Mike Wallace needs to make it. I caught a little of the Tampa game on Red Zone last Sunday and was struck by how much of a difference Vincent Jackson makes to the Bucs offense. That’s what $10+ million a year receivers do. They make the catches nobody else can make and they make them with frequency. Wallace had a brilliant catch against KC but those sort of big plays have been far too few for a guy who thinks he’s the best WR in football.
Antonio Brown is back practicing so I expect he’ll be a game time decision. Jerricho Cotchery is definitely out so we’ll probably see the return of Plaxico Burress in the Black and Gold. He likely won’t play much, probably just in the red zone (assuming we ever get there), but he should be plenty motivated after signing a 1 year deal when nobody else wanted him. Plax doesn’t have the skills he once had but this team needs all the red zone threats they can get so if he’s even a fraction of his old self he can’t do anything but help.
The Steelers are in a very precarious position. I’ve said all along that the losses to Tennessee and Oakland may come back to haunt them and unfortunately that is proving true. The Steelers can’t really afford to fall much farther back to the pack, especially with only a few very winnable games remaining on their schedule. Had they won the games they should of won earlier this year, we could afford a mid-season nose dive until Ben heals up. At this point, though, they really can’t.
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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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The phrase of the day is “trap game.” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that spoken on sports talk radio the past few days, I could probably afford season tickets to Heinz Field.
I’m not really sure Monday night’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs qualifies as a trap game. Granted, it does come on the eve of the Black and Gold’s first meeting with the hated Baltimore Ravens. And it does come on the heels of the team surging to a three game winning streak, topped by an impressive victory over the defending Super Bowl champions. Actually, maybe this is a trap game…
After losses to two of the most abysmal teams in the NFL, I’m sure the Steelers know better. There’s no way to justify losing to crap teams like the Titans and Raiders but there were mitigating circumstances. For whatever reason, the trip out to Oakland always messes up the Steelers while the Tennessee game came on a short week (Thursday) which has also proven to trip up the Black and Gold (see the Browns game a few years back).
Also, trap games usually occur when you’re playing a scrappy opponent. The Chiefs are circling the drain right now. They’re shuffling quarterbacks in and out. Romeo Crennel, who replaced Todd Haley as head coach last season, just recused himself as defensive coordinator. The team is in utter disarray. If anybody is motivated this week, it’s Boss Todd, who surely wants to make KC pay for making his life a living hell.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs CHIEFS OFFENSE
For whatever inexplicable reason, the Chiefs think they have something in Brady Quinn. Perhaps it has something do with Crennel being the same coach who made the mistake of drafting him in the first round when he was the head coach of the Browns. Whatever the logic, KC has all but given up on the Matt Cassel experiment. With the frail and effeminate Quinn nursing a concussion, Monday night may very well be Cassel’s final shot as a starter.
When Patriots GM Scott Pioli moved over to KC in 2009, he brought Cassel with him to be his QB. Cassel was coming off the season where he led the Patriots to 11 wins after Tom Brady was lost for the year. He got off to a rocky start, throwing 16 TDs and 16 INTs but rebounded in 2010 to toss 27 TDs against only 7 INTs. It’s been all downhill since then. Injuries marred his 2011 campaign and Haley’s insistence on starting former Pitt Panther Tyler Palko in place of Kyle Orton after Cassel was placed on season ending IR eventually led to his ouster.
Cassel has struggled this season, leading one of the league’s most anemic offenses (29th in points scored) and throwing a ton (11) of picks in the process. Chiefs fans had gotten so fed up that they cheered when Cassel was knocked out of a game a few weeks back, drawing scorn from one of their own players. I would’ve said something about it at the time but Pittsburgh is the city that cheered when Terry Bradshaw got knocked out so we don’t really have room to talk.
The bottom line is Cassel has struggled mightily this season. On paper, the Chiefs have the weapons to be a decent offense. WR Dwayne Bowe is a big time playmaker. Former Pitt standout Jon Baldwin is lazy but talented. And the Chiefs have one of the most dangerous weapons in the league in RB Jamaal Charles. Charles is among the league’s rushing leaders and is also a force out of the backfield.
If the Steelers can keep Charles under wraps, they should have a pretty evening. Early in the year, the D was getting gashed on the reg. They’ve tightened that up as of late so let’s hope the pattern continue. The secondary was also victimized by big plays but Ike Taylor has shaken off his early season malaise and returned to the shut down Ike of old. As long as they don’t Charles move the sticks on the ground or Bowe get loose for a big hitter in the secondary, I don’t see Cassel being able to make enough plays to hang in.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs CHIEFS DEFENSE
Ben Roethlisberger has already told reporters that Boss Todd is almost salivating at the opportunity to put the screws to his former team. Some NFL coaches play by a set of unwritten rules which dictate respect for the game and their opponent. Then there are the assholes like Todd Haley. I’m sure Mike Tomlin would rein Haley in if he looked to run up the score but then again Tomlin has no control over his players, why should he try to control his coaches?
The Chiefs have a couple decent linebackers in Tambla Hall and Justin Houston. They inexplicably cut a pretty good corner in Standford Routt so a secondary that was a nominal strength may not be any longer. They’re in the bottom third of the league against the run although they have forced a surprising number of turnovers (6 INTs and 12 fumbles).
If Big Ben and the offense can avoid shooting themselves in the foot, they should have a pretty good game. The revolving door at RB continues as Jonathan Dwyer returns with Rashard Mendenhall said to be another week away from reclaiming his starting job. Isaac Redman will start but unlike last week will probably have to share some carries with the Minibus.
Antonio Brown is probably going to sit out after suffering a dreaded high ankle sprain last Sunday. High ankles only heal with rest so I suspect we may not see him for a couple weeks. Luckily the Steelers are extremely deep at WR with Jerricho Cotchery, who could probably start for most teams, ready to slide in the slot. Manny Sanders, who’s quietly putting together a nice season, will start. For those who remember back, Sanders actually played a ton as a rookie while AB didn’t come on until the playoffs. Sanders has been set back by injuries but now is his time to shine in front of a national audience.
In fact, it’s time for the entire team to introduce themselves to the nation. After getting off to a slow start this season, the Steelers have quietly crept back into the playoff conversation. If the season were to end tomorrow, they would be one of the AFC’s two Wild Cards. For the Black and Gold to firmly establish themselves as Super Bowl contenders, they need to string together wins. A victory on Monday night and a four game win streak going into a showdown with Baltimore would be a nice place to start.
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As the great Hannibal Smith once said: “I love when a plan comes together.”
Things seem to be coming together nicely for the Pittsburgh Steelers following their 27-12 whupping of the Washington Redskins. In the week leading up to the game, all I heard was worry. Can Todd Haley‘s dink and dunk offense score enough points? Can the Steelers’ shaky D hold up? How are they going to deal with the Ultimate Weapon, superstar rookie Robert Griffin III? In fact, ESPN even began floating the idea of RG3 for MVP.
Well, how about Big Ben for MVP?
After all, he only went 24/33 with 3 TDs and zero picks to continue his string of masterful performances. I understand that dink and dunk isn’t as exciting as a 75 yard bomb to Mike Wallace but I finally get what Haley is doing. This almost West Coast style offense has two key benefits. First, it gets the ball out of Ben’s hand faster, leading to him taking less sacks (he was sacked only once yesterday). And by relying on short passes instead of that one big strike, you possess the ball longer. The longer the offense stays on the field, the less you ask of your admittedly less than dominant defense.
The only caveat is if you’re going to dink and dunk, you have to finish drives. And to finish drives, you need a good running game.
Presto, change-o, the Steelers have found a running game thanks to the Minibus, Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer had his second consecutive 100 yard performance yesterday, the first Steeler back to accomplish that since Fast Willie Parker did it way back in 2008. I honestly don’t know how you take him out of the line-up.
In his post-game presser, Mike Tomlin was already in full liar mode talking about Dwyer experiencing “calf stiffness” late in the game. This will undoubtedly be his excuse for starting Rashard Bin Laden next week even though he hasn’t been much more than an average back for almost two years now.
We can worry about next week later, let’s revel in this victory a little more now. The Steelers offense was virtually unstoppable all afternoon, scoring on five of their first six possessions. Rookie Drew Butler could’ve pulled a Skippy and showed up two hours late and hung over because they didn’t really need him until the game was more than half over. The three and outs only started coming in the 4th when the Steelers were obviously trying to run out the clock and Washington loaded up the box to stop them.
Ben hit nine different receivers, with all three of his TDs going to separate targets. FB Will Johnson scored his first career TD on a short goal line catch while TE Leonard Pope made his first reception as a Steeler count for a TD. Heath Miller chipped in with yet another TD catch in what is fast becoming a break out season for him. Wallace shook off last week’s Sweeditis by snaring a team high 7 passes although I wouldn’t ask him to throw any more halfback options. The other members of Young Money combined for 7 catches, several for big third conversions.
Defensively, well, I’m not going to lie. A lot of their dominance was thanks to Washington shooting themselves in the foot. In my game preview, I sagely remarked that their receiving corps was pretty lackluster. They lived down to my expectations, dropping a ridiculous number of balls (official count was somewhere around 11). Rookie RB Alfred Morris ripped off some nice runs but the Skins couldn’t stick with the ground game because they fell too far behind too early. RG3 did everything he could but only Mr. Perfect can throw it and catch it himself.
It’s hard to fairly evaluate their defensive performance because Dick LeBeau was clearly worried about stopping RG3. Receivers got open because the linebackers were instructed not to drop back into coverage lest RG3 take off running. Then Ryan Clark left the game with a concussion. Will Allen and Ryan Mundy played well in relief of Ryan and Troy but they have their limits. Larry Foote and Keenan Lewis (who made his bid for Academy Award consideration with a faux interception…Manny Sanders and his “leg cramp” are still front-runners, though) continued their strong play while LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison did a pretty decent job of keeping RG3 contained in the pocket.
NFL math seldom holds up. A beating B and B beating C doesn’t automatically mean A will defeat C. Next Sunday, the Steelers face the defending champion Giants, who needed a herculean effort to pull out a last second victory over Washington last week. Our manhandling of the Skins doesn’t mean anything when the ball is kicked off in the Meadowlands.
But yesterday’s performance does make me feel a whole lot better about this team going forward. I like what they’re doing on offense. I like how the defense is shaping up. I also like the bumblebee throwback uniforms, which looked surprisingly cool. The stripey socks looked kinda Urkel-esque but the rugby style tops and tan pants were almost snazzy. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I wouldn’t mind seeing them again.
And I wouldn’t mind seeing a similar performance from the Steelers, too. In fact, give me seven or so team-wide efforts like this and I’ll see you in the playoffs.
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Now, that’s more like it…
The Pittsburgh Steelers had their finest showing of the season last night, humbling the Cincinnati Bengals before a national audience on Sunday Night Football. While the final score of 24-17 doesn’t exactly speak to a one-sided whuppin’, scores can be misleading. This was clearly the Black and Gold’s most complete game on both sides of the ball.
Even more encouraging, instead of the usual pattern of starting strong only to falter at the end, this week the Steelers flipped the script. They came out of the gate flat and proceeded to spot the energetic young Bengals a big lead only to close the gap in the final minutes before halftime then totally dominating the second half.
Let’s start with that first half. If Mike Wallace is trying to convince the Steelers not to Franchise him after the season, he’s doing a great job. Wallace dropped at least four easily catchable balls, several of which would’ve went for big gains. He did wind up leading the team with 8 catches (for only 52 yards) but if you’re going to thump your chest and call yourself one of the league’s elite, you need to start making big plays. Nobody is playing $9 million for a decoy/possession receiver.
As bad as Wallace was, the worst misfire goes to Baron Batch. Early in the 2nd, Todd Haley dialed up a little trickeration with a lateral to Antonio Brown leading to a pass to a wide open Batch. There literally wasn’t a Bengal within 15 yards of Batch. Brown’s pass wasn’t much more than a punt and yet he let it go right through his arms. Somewhere, Limas Sweed is laughing at Baron Batch.
To add insult to injury, two plays later Ben Roethlisberger tried to force a throw between three defenders to Heath Miller in the end zone and ended up getting picked. It was the first of two costly miscues from Ben. On the Steelers next drive, rookie Mike Adams got pushed back into him and he would up fumbling the ball. Gifted field position inside the Steelers 10, the Bengals got out to a commanding 14-3 lead shortly before half.
That’s when the game started to turn. And it turned by the Steelers RUNNING THE BALL. Now Big Ben groupies like Mark Madden aren’t ever going to admit this but once again it’s become crystal clear this offense does 200x better when they run the ball effectively. Jonathan Dwyer, who spent the past couple weeks in Mike Tomlin‘s existential doghouse, had the game of his lie beginning in the second quarter when he ripped off runs of 11, 4, 4, and 21 yards.
Dwyer was aided by some nice run blocking from an offensive line which did a fantastic job all night. I’ve been extremely hard on Willie Colon but he’s proving to be a fairly significant upgrade over Kemo at LG. Although he still struggles occasionally in pass protection, he’s an absolute animal at run blocking. The goofs on NBC kept insisting Adams needed help even when their replays clearly showed the double team on Max Starks‘ side. I thought Adams acquitted himself well as it seemed to me the Steelers schemed to double Geno Smith rather than “help” any specific lineman. Despite all the gnashing of teeth over Pouncey and Gilbert, the line only surrendered three sacks while providing enough protection for Ben to get off 37 passes and the backs to romp for a season high 167 yards.
After Stonecold Shaun Suisham booted a 47 yarder to cut Cincy’s lead to 14-6, it was the defense’s turn to step up. On the Bengals first TD drive, they ran right at the Ziggy Hood and LaMarr Woodley like 5 plays in a row and couldn’t be stopped. Here they tried throwing in that direction and the Woodman batted a ball into his own arms for a key interception. Five plays later, Ben hit Heath Miller for a 9 yard TD.
Then we had our first comical situation of the game when Tomlin indulged his 2 point conversion fetish we discovered years ago in Jacksonville. Ben asked for time but the refs, who lost track of time outs (yeah, these guys are SO MUCH better than the scabs), refused to grant it. So Ben ran the play anyway, successfully hitting Heath to tie the game. When Ben walked off the field, a very pissed looking Tomlin met him, evidently thinking his QB ignored his orders to call time.
After Woodley’s interception, the game was all Steelers. Cincy got a FG in their first drive after halftime but their final five possessions resulted in five punts. What’s more, four of those five were 3 and outs. In my preview, I lauded AJ Green as the NFL’s best receiver. The much-maligned Ike Taylor held him to one catch for 8 yards. Okay, Ike had help as Dick LeBeau devised a high-lo defense where a safety would bracket Green but give credit where credit is due. Ike played a great game. The entire secondary played a great game.
And they caught a few breaks. As mentioned, Cincy ran right at the Steelers over and over on their first TD drive. Then Cincy’s center got hurt. The new guy was smaller and weaker and couldn’t handle Casey Hampton at all. Once Big Snack got on track, their running game collapsed.
Meanwhile, the Steelers running game was on fire. Dwyer would finish with 122 yards. Chris Rainey, who is proving to be another of Kevin Colbert’s late round steals, added the go-ahead touchdown off a draw play. Rainey also had several really good run backs which were called back on flags. The Steelers were flagged on EVERY SINGLE return yesterday. Or at least it seemed that way. Al Everest must have been a major asshole for Tomlin to fire him three weeks before the season started. I don’t know he did to get canned (offer Mrs. Tomlin a mustache ride?) but they better start looking for a new coordinator the minute the season ends because the current guy sucks.
But last night’s game certainly did not. In fact, it was the kind of performance that makes me feel a whole lot better about the Black and Gold’s prospects going forward. Meanwhile, the Ratbirds got humiliated by the Texans to drop to 5-2. Elsewhere, the Patriots struggled against a Jets team we thoroughly beat back in week 2. I guess what I’m saying is, nobody in the AFC is head and shoulders above the rest (except maybe the Texans). This looks like the kind of year where you get into the post-season and anything can happen. Yesterday’s victory ensured the Steelers remain in the post-season conversation for at least a little while longer.