If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas…
The Pittsburgh Steelers laid a mighty whuppin’ on the Cincinnati Bengals, temporarily keeping their slim playoff hopes alive with a 30-20 victory on Sunday Night Football. The final score doesn’t accurately reflect how one-sided this game actually was. The Black and Gold roared out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and basically coasted the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Cincy never seemed to get on track, repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot with mistakes or ill-timed penalties. As Cris Collinsworth, a former Bungle, said after one of their players got flagged for taunting down while down 20 points, “Well, it’s the Bengals.”
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I made the mistake of tuning into the Monday Night Football countdown show last night. Usually I do my best to avoid Stabby McStabberson and the rest of the merry pranksters who populate the Four Letter. However, I happened to tune in just in time to hear them discuss the Pittsburgh Steelers season ending loss to the Miami Dolphins. As usual, they only bother discussing the Black and Gold when they have something negative to say.
Anyway, what surprised me was the focus of their discussion. I expected them to touch on Ben Roethlisberger‘s seething hatred of Todd Haley – which was evidently on full display in the locker room after the game – and they did mention it. However, what I didn’t expect was much of their discussion focusing on Pro Bowl safety and future Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu. The goofs on the panel placed a great deal of the blame for the defeat on Troy, even speculating this may be his final season in Pittsburgh.
Which at first seemed absurd but after thinking it over, is this the end of the line for Troy Polamalu?
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As the first half came to an end in yesterday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins, the Fins attempted an insane 52 yard field goal on the snow covered field into the notorious open end of the stadium. Predictably, the kick fell about ten yards short where Troy Polamalu caught it on the fly. Troy being Troy, he immediately took off running in an attempt to recreate Auburn-Alabama. After one of several laterals was miraculously caught by Ike Taylor, he decided not to tempt fate and fell on the ball rather than attempt a lateral of his own. It was one of the greatest meaningless plays I’ve ever seen.
Until the final play of the game.
After a failed fourth down conversion handed Miami a first down on the Steelers 9, the Dolphins milked the clock, ultimately settling for a field goal with a minute left. Three plays later, the Steelers were reduced to a desperate game of hook and lateral that ended when Antonio Brown some how broke free down the sideline and ran untouched for what looked to be a miraculous go-ahead touchdown. Unfortunately, AB’s pinky toe just nipped the sideline on his way to the end zone, thus preserving Miami’s 34-28 victory.
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I have no idea how this NFL season is going to end. What I do know is it’ll probably be in the least likely way possible.
In a year full of twists and turns, the latest came Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cleveland Browns 27-11 to officially move into contention for the AFC Playoffs. The graphic above showing the Black and Gold as the second AFC Wild Card team was valid for about three hours yesterday afternoon. That is, until Tennessee beat Oakland to move ahead of us by virtue of a head-to-head victory earlier in the season. Still, the fact the same team that started out 0-4 and got epically blown out by the Patriots a month back is even in the playoff race is utterly insane.
Welcome to the parity-driven, NFL!
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Here’s a happy story to take a break from all the talk about whether the Pittsburgh Steelers should – or would – trade Ben Roethlisberger. Yesterday was Veteran’s Day. I’m sure many of you knew that because you didn’t have to go to work or school and instead spent the day on your computer searching for porn and not commenting on my blog. Scanning my site stats, I receive a number of hits from overseas so unless there is secretively a sect of Steeler Nation in Saudi Arabia, I can only assume some of you servicemen (and women) log in here from time to time.
Let me join others in (belatedly) thanking you for your service.
One person who went all-out for our veterans yesterday was future Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu. When I say “Troy,” I’m sure one of two images spring to mind. First, him launching himself with reckless abandon over the line of scrimmage. And second, his signature flowing mane that’s since become immortalized in a series of Head N’ Shoulders commercials.
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I knew it was going to be bad. I never thought it was going to be this bad.
This is quickly turning into a historic season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Historic in all the wrong ways. The Black and Gold came within 23 minutes of setting an NFL record for longest time taken to force a single turnover. Their 0-4 start was their worst in 45 years. And yesterday, their defense gave up the most points in team history.
I repeat, no Steeler team in the franchise’s storied 80 year history has ever surrendered as many points as they did yesterday in their 55-31 loss to the New England Patriots.
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Over the off-season, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown made news when he told ESPN that last year’s team featured a fractured locker room. Hines Ward, who wasn’t even with the team, echoed that opinion. I have no doubt last year’s team wasn’t overflowing with happy shiny people. Losing does that to you.
Well, Ryan Clark and safety partner Troy Polamalu are here to tell you this year’s Steelers are different. This year’s training camp should’ve been held in Woodstock, New York rather than Latrobe, Pennsylvania because it has been nothing but one great big lovefest.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers have spent the past two off-seasons systematically pruning their roster of aging and oft-injured veterans. One player who fits both criteria is Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu. Unlike many of his longtime teammates, Troy is back this season for his 11th go-round in the Black and Gold. Whether or not it’s his last remains to be seen.
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Sometimes I really don’t understand football. I suppose I shouldn’t admit that here since for whatever reason people who read blogs automatically assume the writer know as much about football as Chuck Noll. Truthfully, the best any of us can do, from the guys who write for SI or ESPN all the way down to lowly bloggers, is offer our best guess. I sure would like to a fancy title like Senior NFL Insider, though.
Anyway, all week we’ve waited with baited breath for any scrap of information about Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Granted, Ben has a history of making Terminator-like comebacks just when things seem the bleakest so it’s not altogether crazy to hope he has one more in him. And we are playing the Baltimore Ravens in a pivotal game, a game where a loss not only puts a division title out of reach but makes it so the Steelers pretty much have to run the table to make the playoffs.
All that said, what I don’t understand is how anybody can seriously endorse the idea of Ben coming back on Sunday. Does nobody remember last year’s Monday night fiasco in San Francisco? Ben toughed it out that week and continued toughing it out until the team got bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if Ben took an extra week off to rest up. Maybe his foot was just too far gone and he was going to play at 50% no matter what. But at some point you have to put the big picture ahead of the right now.
Would I love to see #7 jog onto the field in Baltimore on Sunday afternoon? Absolutely. Would it be the smart thing for the team? Absolutely not.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs RATBIRDS OFFENSE
The last time these two teams met, Dick LeBeau‘s crew did a fantastic job keeping them off the scoreboard. It’d be foolish to expect the exact same level of dominance this time around. Unfortunately, that’s what we may need to have any realistic shot at winning.
With few exceptions, Joe Flacco has struggled mightily against the Steelers. LeBeau has basically figured out what the rest of the league is slowly catching on to; when you take away Ray Rice and put the game entirely on Flacco’s arm, you have a better than 50-50 shot at pulling out a win. I’m not going to rehash my critique of Flacco (you can read it in my previous Know Thy Enemy) except to say he is what he is. He’s not the worst QB in the league but he’s not the kind of singular talent that can take over a game through sheer talent either. Last week’s 29 yard catch and run by Rice which snatched victory from the jaws of defeat is the perfect encapsulation of the Ravens offense.
Troy Polamalu continues to practice normally as it looks like he’ll definitely be back Sunday. Troy hasn’t been his old self for a couple seasons now but playing the Ravens usually brings out the best in him. If there’s any Steeler who causes Flacco to wake up in a cold sweat, it’s Troy. Throughout the rivalry, Troy has frequently been the one who makes that one game-changing play which spelled the difference between a win and a loss.
It was exactly that kind of game changing play the defense needed to make last time and didn’t. Will they make it now that Troy’s back in the line-up? I like their chances a lot more.
Since the Football Gods can never give without taking away, LaMarr Woodley will be out with a re-aggravation of the leg injury which knocked him out earlier in the season. Jason Worilds has come on this season to where he’s actually the team leader in sacks (5). Other than a momentary flash of his old self, Woodley hasn’t done much of anything this year so playing Worilds is probably a good thing in the scheme of things. James Harrison is starting to look like his old self and the inside duo of Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons have been strong all season. I’m not sure the Steelers D can play better than they did in the first meeting but I definitely wouldn’t be shocked if they did.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs RATBIRDS DEFENSE
Where do I start? How about the good news? Assuming Charlie Batch starts as expected, at least he’ll have a full complement of weapons to toss his wounded ducks at. Antonio Brown has practiced all week and is going to start. Any questions about who the Steelers #1 wide out is have been answered in AB’s absence. Mike Tomlin decided to play some mind games this week by listing Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace as co-starters on the depth chart. For some reason, media types have been on radio all week trying to argue that Steeler fans are being too hard on Wallace for his lack of production. Boo hoo, cry me a river. I don’t care that he held out. What I do care about is that he strutted around like he was one of the best receivers in football and hasn’t played anywhere close to that.
Another Tomlin mandate is that the team will feature Jonathan Dwyer as the primary back with Isaac Redman backing him up. Again, the media has been reacting aghast that he’d demote Rashard Mendenhall to third string despite the fact he’s done absolutely nothing to merit playing time. Mendenhall isn’t a good back. He tip toes too much and doesn’t run aggressively to daylight. His only selling point is this mythical “breakaway speed” people keep mentioning yet I can count on one hand how many long TD runs he’s had during his entire career here. Dwyer has shown that when you give him 15-20 carries he’ll run hard, wear down a defense and give you respectable YPC.
The blocking for Dwyer may be a problem. The team’s most beastly run blocker, Willie Colon, hasn’t practice much this week and is looking doubtful. To the team’s credit, they’ve finally realized Doug Legursky sucks at guard but is perfectly capable at center (probably because you can get away with being a small quick center but not really at guard). So if Colon can’t go, they’ve taken the extreme option of moving Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey to guard and inserting the Big Legursky at his natural position. I haven’t seen Pouncey play guard but if David DeCastro isn’t ready to play (and this radical re-alignment suggest he’s an emergency option at best) this seems to be the best arrangement.
Last game, the Steelers had nothing happening on the ground while Byron Leftwich missed wide open receivers left and right. On the flipside, the Ravens offense did a whole bunch of nothing with the their lone TD coming on a punt return. Let’s say the Steelers D slips a little this time and gives up two whole TDs. Can Charlie realistically put up 17-20 points on the Ratbirds? Off what we saw in Cleveland, the answer would be no. However, this is almost certainly the final start of Charlie Batch’s long career. He’s not going to go out without taking a couple swings. Let’s hope one or two connect.
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Every team loses guys during the long arduous war we call an NFL season. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been hit harder than most. Since week one, they’ve had multiple Pro Bowlers sitting on the sideline pretty much every Sunday. Not trying to make excuses, just saying it is what it is.
The status of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for this weekend’s pivotal showdown with the Baltimore Ravens remains hazy. If you’ve tuned into ESPN any time over the past 24 hours, you probably caught their footage of Big Ben gingerly testing out his throwing arm. What that footage doesn’t explain is that all his work was completed before practice formally began. What they captured was likely nothing more than team trainers attempting to assess his progress. Charlie Batch took all the snaps during practice and barring some crazy last minute switcheroo will start on Sunday.
For the first time in ages, the Steelers got some good news on the injury front. Troy Polamalu participated in a full practice yesterday, the first time he’s done so since being sidelined with a calf injury. Troy did some light run-throughs last week so there were whispers his return was imminent. I don’t think anybody expected him to suddenly go full speed through a formal practice just a week later but that’s the reports coming out of Steelers camp. Barring any set backs, it looks like Troy will be back in the starting line-up.
Assuming this comeback doesn’t end after a handful of snaps like the last one, I’m not sure how much of a difference he’ll make. The Steelers D has played above and beyond the call of duty since Ben’s injury and they’ve still lost thanks to an absolutely pathetic offense. The only thing they haven’t done is force turnovers which is something Troy’s presence certainly helps with. I’m not sure even another INT or two would’ve helped with the 8 turnover fiasco in Cleveland but the first Baltimore game could’ve easily turned with a pick six or even a fumble recovery setting up a short field.
At this point, though, there’s not much point to analyzing who fits in where when healthy. With the amount of talent that has missed time this season, I’m happy to get anybody back.