One NFL agent has already been fired due to free agency incompetence. Another may soon join him.
Linebacker Elvis Dumervil was happily employed by the Denver Broncos, who were scheduled to pay him $12 million next season. After signing some name free agents (Wes Welker and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), the Broncos found themselves over the salary cap. Under NFL bylaws, after any new signing, a team has a window of 48 hours to get in compliance with the cap or they risk forfeiting a first or second round draft pick. Dumervil agreed to rework his contract to help Denver out but thanks some sort of fax machine shenanigans, the papers weren’t signed in time and the team was forced to release him.
Dumervil quickly became a hot commodity as no fewer than five teams were bidding for his services. The Pittsburgh Steelers were among his suitors as were the Baltimore Ravens. The Ratbirds ultimately won the Dumervil sweepstakes, signing him to a five year deal that will pay him $8.5 million this season although only $2.5 of it counts against the cap (the bulk of his first year salary comes in the form of a signing bonus). Why can’t supposed salary cap sooper-genius Omar Khan work out these kind of deals?
The addition of Dumervil is quite the coup for the Ravens, who have lost five defensive starters this off-season. At 29 years old, Dumervil is an accomplished pass rusher having posted 17, 9.5 and 11 sacks the past three years. Paired with Terrell Suggs, they should form one of the better OLB duos in the AFC.
When word broke of Dumervil signing with Baltimore, Steeler fans immediately went into sour grapes mode, pointing out Doom’s limited experience as a 3-4 OLB (he began his career as a 4-3 DE) and his so-so ability to stop the run. Anybody who doesn’t think Dumervil would’ve been a huge asset to the Steelers is completely insane. Had they signed him, he immediately would’ve been the team’s best pass rusher as he’s infinitely more talented than Jason Worilds and has grossly outperformed LaMarr Woodley the past few seasons. What’s more, at 29 years old, he’s got at least three or four more prime years left before age and injury start to catch up with him.
With Dumervil off the table, rumor has it the Steelers have turned their sights to former Colts DE Dwight Freeney. At this point, Freeney is nothing more than a poor man’s Dumervil. Sure he might come cheaper but in football as with smoked ham, you get what you pay for. Freeney is older (33), has a more worrisome injury history, and appears to be a horrible fit for our defense. Where Dumervil shifted from DE to OLB without missing a beat, Freeney moved to OLB last season and recorded a career-low 5 sacks. Freeney isn’t an upgrade over Dumervil, he’s not even an upgrade over the man he’s ostensibly replacing, James Harrison.
Ah, poor Deebo. The agent I mentioned who may soon find himself unemployed (if not naked in a gutter with dog bites and “BMF” tattood on his left butt cheek) is the assclown representing James Harrison. Harrison was scheduled to make $6.57 million this season but the Steelers asked him to take a 30% pay cut down to roughly $4.5 million. He balked thinking he could easily command his original salary on the open market. How sadly he was mistaken.
According to reports, the market for Harrison’s rapidly declining skills is tepid to say the least. In fact it’s so icy that Harrison’s agent has already started floating the idea that James would be open to returning to the Steelers, presumably for the salary he idiotically turned down in the first place. For their part, the Steelers have leaked word that they have no interest in bringing a grovelling Harrison back at any price. Ouch.
The thing is, yes, Harrison is in the twilight of his career. And yes, he was dumb for not agreeing to take the pay cut when it was offered. At the same time, Harrison was the team’s best pass rusher last season and until Woodley discovers the Stairmaster, would still be so heading into this one. Even with eroding skills, Harrison is a better option than either Jason Worilds or Dwight Freeney. Of course, there are still players left to be signed and the draft can change a lot of things so it’s not imperative the Steelers decide on the lesser of three evils. However, they better do something or risk falling even further behind their AFC North rivals.
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The Baltimore Ravens are Super Bowl Champions. Pardon me while I empty out my vomit bucket.
Okay, where were we? Oh, right. The unthinkable has happened. The Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII. If Steeler Nation thought that team of thugs and loudmouths were insufferable before, we’re never going to hear the end of it now.
To add insult to injury, Joe Flacco was named Super Bowl MVP. For those scoring at home, Tyler Palko’s back-up now has more SB MVPs than Ben Roethlisberger. Oh it was well deserved as Bert played the game of his life. I just hope everybody is prepared when Flacco is ranked equal to or above Ben on those “Best Quarterbacks in the NFL” lists we’re inundated with every season.
Then again, they are basically tied with one championship apiece. Technically, Ben has two but Antwaan Randle El accomplished more with one pass than Ben did during the rest of the Seattle game. And Flacco is only now reaching his prime while Ben’s skills are in decline.
Yesterday’s win capped off perhaps the luckiest run by any team in recent memory. Going into the final month of the season, the Ratbirds were in full free fall when Charlie Batch engineered a win for the ages. People forget that Baltimore backed into clinching their division as with decent quarterbacking and decent coaching, the Steelers could have overtaken them. Baltimore had an easy first round playoff game against the overmatched Colts then should have lost to the Broncos if not for a blown coverage that led to the game tying TD followed by yet another choke job by Pey-Pey in OT. Sure every championship run requires a little luck (Ben making The Tackle on Roman Harper) but the Ravens seemingly had a rabbit’s foot up their ass all through this post-season.
That luck held up through the final whistle of last night’s game. Flacco underthrows his receiver by three yards but Jacoby Jones is so wide open he has time to come back (I wonder if Mike Wallace ever thought about trying that?) for what will go down as a 55 yard TD bomb. The Niners fall asleep on the second half kick-off and gift Baltimore a 108 yard return TD. After a power outage which I’m sure Roger Goodell is already planning on fining James Harrison for, San Fran staged an epic comeback which fell short when Michael Crabtree got mugged on 4th and goal but the refs kept their hankies in their pockets.
Anyway, the Ravens are your 2012 NFL champions. I promised silver linings so here are two. First, since San Francisco lost, your Pittsburgh Steelers are still the only NFL franchise with six Lombardi Trophies. And second, last night was the final time we’ll ever have to see Ray Lewis in an NFL uniform. If karma is a really a thing that exists, hopefully one day we will see him in a bright orange jump suit as karmic justice for the murder he already got away with (and kudos to Phil Simms for having the balls to mention that during the telecast instead of just repeating the company line).
Final lining? Um, the Pittsburgh Pirates report to Spring Training in 10 days.
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Super Bowl XLVII has finally been set. And for fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, you couldn’t pick a worse match-up if you tried. Ordinarily we can find at least one team with which to align our rooting interests. When the Baltimore Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers for the championship in two weeks, the only satisfying outcome would be an asteroid annihilating the Superdome.
The Niners are probably the lesser of two evils. They’ve never done anything directly to the Steelers. They do, however, possess five Lombardi Trophies. Should they win, the Black and Gold would no longer sit alone atop the NFL hierarchy as the only franchise with six championships. And considering the Niners have a fairly young roster while the Steelers are old and in decline, they’d be a whole lot better bet to climb the “Stairway to Seven” before we do.
(As an side, isn’t it crazy that out of 47 Super Bowls, the Niners and Steelers have combined to appear in 13, over a full quarter of them, yet have never faced each other? Damn you, Tim McKyer!)
On the other side, we have the Baltimore Ravens. I don’t have to bother explaining why Steeler fans would rather have their pubic hair plucked out by a pair of rusty pliers than see the Ratbirds win the Super Bowl. It’s bad enough we’ll have to spend the next two weeks hearing what a great guy murdering thug Ray Lewis is, are we really ready for Joe Flacco to be considered an elite quarterback? Even worse, if he plays even remotely decent the pain will continue well into next season as talking heads immediately start ranking him ahead of Ben Roethlisberger despite 90% of his offense being checkdowns to tight ends and Ray Rice.
Can Steeler Nation live in a world where Tyler Palko‘s back-up is considered one of the NFL’s best?
The cherry on top of this shit sandwich is both teams are coached by a Harbaugh. The Niners’ Harbaugh si clearly the bigger asshole what with his childish theatrics after every minor setback although choosing between them is kinda like choosing between the best venereal disease. There are no winners here. We all lose.
Pray for the asteroid.
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Yes, playoffs. I’m talkin’ about playoffs.
Blame Roger Goodell. The Ginger Dictator, in his ongoing quest to go down in history as the worst commissioner of any sport ever, floated the idea of expanding the NFL playoffs from 14 to 16 teams yesterday. Just what football fans need, more .500 teams in the playoffs! Of course, everybody knows the real reason he proposed this ludicrous idea is to deflect attention away from how badly he botched the Saints bounty case.
Hey, always remember the Pittsburgh Steelers were the only team to vote against the new CBA.
Ginger couldn’t have picked a worse year to bring up expanding the playoffs. If there were several 10 and 11 win teams in danger of missing the post-season, I could see a ground-swelling of support for the idea. But this year? With three weeks left in the season, three of four divisions in the AFC have already been clinched.
The only team who hasn’t clinched? Why, the Baltimore Ravens of course! Despite leading our divison, the Ratbirds are so worried about their prospects for a successful post-season that this past week they took the highly unusual step of firing their offensive coordinator. As I’ve said a million times and will keep repeating, Baltimore has this almost pathological need to blame their mediocre offense on everything except the real reason why it’s mediocre: quarterback Joe Flacco.
The firing of ex-OC Cam Cameron evidently was owed to the fact the team’s best player, Ray Rice, had zero touches in the 4th quarter of the Charlie Batch Game. Well, it’s easy to scapegoat Cameron since he’s been a failure everywhere he’s been but in this case that’s hardly his fault. If you watched the game, it was clear that Dick LeBeau was keying on Rice. Sure, great players routinely beat schemes and Rice did break free for a 30 yard TD earlier in the game but no sane team puts all their chips on one player. LeBeau was scheming to stop Rice and control everything short while daring Flacco to beat him deep. Flacco can’t pilot an offense which requires him to routinely throw more than 10 yards down the field. End of story.
With the Ravens stumbling towards the finishing line, it makes the Steelers pathetic showings against the dregs of the NFL all the more painful. We lost to two teams that will be drafting in the top 10 next year (Titans, Raiders) and another just outside it (Chargers). Win one of those games and we’re in the hunt for the division. Win two and we’re probably leading and controlling our own destiny.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention one other Steelers loss, that being to the Cleveland Browns. Sit down, you may need steady yourself when you hear this. All season I’ve been beating the Brandon Weedon drum, saying how he’s been shockingly competent and would get more notice as a fine first round QB draft pick (despite everybody, myself included, mocking the Browns for taking him so high on draft day) if he played anywhere but Cleveland. Well, lo and behold, now the Browns, THE BROWNS, have crept into the playoff picture.
It goes like this. First, the Browns must win out. Then, if the Steelers lose two of their last three (unless you’re a hardcore yinzer, I don’t think any of us would be shocked if they went 0-3 or 3-0 down the stretch), the Bengals lose two of their last three and the Jets lose one more game, the Browns will be the second Wild Card. THE BROWNS!
I don’t think anybody is ready for a world were the Cleveland Browns leapfrog both the Steelers and Bengals to become a playoff team. Unless the Mayans were right…
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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.
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Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference yesterday afternoon. As I’ve mentioned about a billion times, I tend to ignore what he says because when he’s not lying, he’s using a bunch of words to say nothing. Well, surprise of all surprises, he actually used the time productively yesterday. It looks like there’s a whole bunch of changes in store for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
First, we have the state of the offensive line. I already talked about this quite a bit yesterday but it appears I was in error. I thought for sure they’d re-arrange things however they could to avoid starting rookie RT Kelvin Beachum. Tomlin says Beachum will start against the Baltimore Ravens with Mike Adams nursing a high ankle sprain and Marcus Gilbert out for the year. Of course, the plan is subject to change since there are still a bunch of question marks regarding who’s healthy and who’s not.
Willie Colon is expected back at LG although they probably won’t be sure until an hour before game time. If Colon can’t play, my best guess (and I’ve been misfiring on my predictions more often than Bob Kudzma so take it for what it’s worth) is Doug Legursky would be first man off the bench. First round pick David DeCastro is cleared to return but I have to think if he was 100% healthy and ready to play, he’d be starting. That means we’re looking at either Starks-Colon-Pouncey-Foster-Beachum or Starks-Legursky-Pouncey-Foster-Beachum as your starting line. If there is another injury, DeCastro would probably be pressed into service at RG with Ramon Foster sliding out to tackle. I can’t imagine they’d play recently signed T Tony Moeki unless he was the last man standing.
The line will be blocking for starting running back Jonathan Dwyer. It only took Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley twelve weeks to realize this committee approach where each back gets 3-4 carries doesn’t work. The only time they’ve gotten good results from the running game is when they’ve started one back and stuck with him to the tune of 15-20 carries. Dwyer, who’s been the team’s most effective back, will start with Isaac Redman serving as the back-up. No word whether Rashard Mendenhall is planning a jihad on the coaching staff for busting him all the way down to third string.
Ben Roethlisberger has began throwing and ESPN is saying there’s a “50-50 chance” he makes the superhero comeback this Sunday. Tomlin said he’s proceeding with Charlie Batch as the starter so I wouldn’t get my hopes up for a Big Ben miracle. I haven’t parsed out all the playoff scenarios but barring a massive collapse, the Ravens have firm control of the AFC North whether they win this week or not. I’d rather Ben avoid the beating Baltimore is sure to dish out and be ready for the final three game stretch run against three very beatable teams than rush him back for one game which potentially won’t matter anyway.
Batch will have one important weapon back this week in Antonio Brown. Brown is by far the team’s best receiver so having him back will be huge for whoever plays QB. Tomlin also decided to play some mind games with the receivers, listing Mike Wallace and Emannuel Sanders (who has played very well in AB’s absence) as co-starters opposite Brown. I don’t think Tomlin has the stones to actually start Sanders ahead of Wallace but for those who thought I’ve been too hard on Wallace, clearly the coaching staff isn’t happy with his play either. We can worry about repercussions after the season ends, I’ll just say the team’s treatment of Wallace and Mendy doesn’t exactly bode well for their future here in Pittsburgh.
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Perhaps the most shocking information to emerge in the wake of Sunday’s debacle against Cleveland is the fact that if the season were to end today, the Pittsburgh Steelers would still be in the playoffs. Despite losing two straight games in ugly fashion and being hampered by injuries and miscues, the Steelers are still holding on to the AFC’s second Wild Card spot. Of course, that’s only because they beat the Bengals in their lone match-up this season so if Cincy were to even the score a few weeks from now, the Bungles would leapfrog us by virtue of a superior conference record. While it’s hard to quibble with a playoff berth, I think our current ranking speaks more to the relative mediocrity of the AFC than the strength of the conference.
Later this afternoon, Mike Tomlin will conduct his weekly misinformation session where he answers a bunch of questions with empty platitudes while saying nothing of substance. An ESPN report saying Ben Roethlisberger may return this Sunday in time for a huge showdown with Baltimore Ravens will surely be addressed. I have a feeling we’re not going to like the answer but I’ll wait until tomorrow to address that.
While the sinking Steelers prepare for a head-on collision with the Iceberg Baltimore, they’ve already started re-arranging some of the deck chairs. First round pick RG David DeCastro has been activated off the injured reserve as it appears he’ll be making his first NFL start on Sunday. The offensive line wasn’t good against the Browns with Doug Legursky playing absolutely retched in place of Willie Colon. I never much liked Colon but the move to LG has been nothing short of a career changer as he’s an absolute beast at run blocking. His absence was a big factor in our pitiful run game in Cleveland.
If Colon is healthy, DeCastro will start at RG (where he was expected to play all season) while current RG Ramon Foster can slide over to tackle if RT Mike Adams can’t play due to the high ankle sprain which knocked him out of Sunday’s game. If Colon can’t play, I expect Foster to move to LG while DeCastro stays slotted on the right side. However, if Adams is hurt, I think they’d rather play Legursky at LG and go ahead with moving Foster to RT instead of playing rookie Kelvin Beachum. We know Marcus Gilbert won’t be in the mix because he’s been placed on IR, ending his season. To think, the Steelers braintrust actually went into this year thinking that scrub would be the team’s starting left tackle.
Thank goodness for Max Starks.
Perhaps learning from past mistakes, the Steelers will actually carry eight o-lineman this weekend instead of the usual seven. The team optioned WR David Gilreath back to the practice squad so they could activate T John Malecki. This is also a good sign for Antonio Brown. Unless they plan on using Chris Rainey or Heath Miller as a wide out, the Steelers need at least four active WRs which they wouldn’t have if AB were expected to miss another game with the bum ankle. Ditching Gilreath reunites the Young Money trio with Plaxico Burress assuming the veteran fourth receiver role previously held by the Jerricho Cotchery.