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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Yes, it’s come to this. I’ve been pushed so far over the edge, I’ve resorted to quoting Chris Berman.
Anybody still wanna argue whether Ben Roethlisberger should be MVP? If so, last night’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens provided more convincing evidence than any stats-filled post ever could.
What if I told you the Steelers defense wouldn’t allow a single offensive touchdown? What if I said the Steelers running game would chew up over 150 yards on the ground? Going into Sunday night, I’m sure most members of Steeler Nation would’ve taken that scenario in a heartbeat. It sounds like a surefire recipe for success regardless of who’s behind center.
And yet, it wasn’t enough and the Black and Gold went down to defeat, 13-10.
I’ll spare my dear readers the usual long-winded blow-by-blow account of the game. It was nationally televised so I’m sure most of you saw for yourself anyway. Instead I’m going to skip directly to the root of the problem, quarterback Byron Leftwich. Thanks to a pass interference call on a deep bomb on the first play of the game, Lefty led the team 80 yards for a TD on their opening drive. From that point on, it was a whole bunch of nothin’.
Did Leftwich hurt himself on the 30 yard TD scramble? And if he did, THAT is the guy Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and the Steelers trust with leading the team in Ben’s absence? I’ve seen a lot of football in my life, I’ve seen strange injuries but tripping over your own feet and injuring your ribs and throwing shoulder is a new level of absurdity. I don’t know that Lefty was hurt. Tomlin and his cloak of lies and deception will never admit the truth in any case. All I know is what I could see.
And what I saw was a quarterback missing throws a kid at Alquippa High could make. Lefty finished 18-39 for 201 yards and a pick for a QB rating of 51.3. He definitely wasn’t helped by his receivers. Jerricho Cotchery dropped a couple big conversions and Mike Wallace, who proves week in and week out that if only his actual talent matched his opinion of himself, fumbled deep in their own zone and later failed to come down with a TD pass in the corner of the end zone. However, at the end of the day, your QB has to keep putting the ball in the right spot and hope the guys make plays. More often than not, Leftwich was slow to deliver the ball and inaccurate when he did.
The shame of the whole thing is Baltimore’s offense wasn’t much better. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice were held in check by a magnificent performance from Dick LeBeau‘s crew. We can argue about splash plays and whether a well-timed INT would be more valuable than holding one of the best backs in the league to 40 yards or holding an opposing QB under 175 yds passing. Setting up a bumbling offense with a short field would definitely be helpful but I don’t know how you can possibly find fault with a defense not allowing a single TD a week after the Ratbirds scored a franchise record 55 points.
As soon as Jacoby Jones returned that punt for Baltimore’s lone TD of the evening, I knew it would come back to haunt us. Even when Ben was in there, the Steelers have spent this season walking a thin line between victory and defeat. With Leftwich and the offense stalling, it had to be a top priority not to surrender any cheap points. The defense did their job, even after Wallace’s fumble set Flacco and company up inside the red zone. Jonathan Dwyer did his job, rumbling for 55 yards on only 12 carries and providing the team with an offensive spark in the second half. Leftwich and the passing game simply didn’t do theirs.
Every year, it seems like the division title comes down to a tie break between us and the Ratbirds. If it happens again this season, we won’t have far to look for a game we should have won yet didn’t. I think that’s the worst part of last night’s loss. If you start your back-up and get blown out, it’s almost like you just shrug your shoulders and think, “Whatever.” But starting your back-up, giving him an excellent running game and a defense which doesn’t surrender a TD and still losing? That’d hurt if it were against Jacksonville Jaguars never mind the Baltimore Ravens.
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Every hero needs a villain. Batman has the Joker. Steve Austin had Vince McMahon. Optimus Prime has Megatron.
And if you think I’m referring to Calvin Johnson and Richard Sherman, you really watch too much football.
The Pittsburgh Steelers represent everything good about the NFL. The most successful franchise with the most loyal fanbase. Their greatest nemesis is clearly the Baltimore Ravens, a gang of thugs and cowards who are detested by anybody outside their own filthy crime-ridden city.
Ratbird Week is usually a fun time for me because there’s normally a lot of trash talking from both sides. Most of the time, “rivalries” are more a thing that fans create than something the players actually embrace. Not so with the Steelers and Ravens. The players have made it very clear on many occasions that they really do hate each other.
Unfortunately, a lot of the fun has been sucked out of this particular Ratbird Week. First, a lot of the guys who fueled the fire are gone. Hines Ward has retired while Ray Lewis is out for the season, possibly never to return. Meanwhile, the Steelers are dealing with injuries to almost half their starting line-up, led by this fella you may of heard of by the name of Ben Roethlisberger.
It’ll read Steelers versus Ravens on the marquee Sunday night and while the hate will still be real the teams taking the field may only be mere hollow echoes of what they once were.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs RAVENS OFFENSE
Joe Flacco. He’s lucky he plays for a relatively low profile team otherwise his name would be debated on the Four Letter every ten minutes like the names Mark Sanchez or Tony Romo. Flacco is in that nebulous second tier of quarterbacks who argue they’re elite and fans of their team think of as elite but don’t have the results to earn that designation. Win a Super Bowl, even get to one, and then you can start using the E-word.
Until then, you’re just another QB.
The dirty little secret is the Ratbirds seem to be hedging their bets on Bert, as well. He’s in the final year of his contract and over the off-season the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement on an extension because Flacco wanted elite QB money while Baltimore management argued he wasn’t quite at that level. Flacco is having a pretty typical season for him, a 60-40 TD/INT ratio (13 TDs against 7 INTs) and he’s on pace for about 3,500 yards (2,300 going into Sunday) which is right around his career high. They Ravens have tried everything from trading for name wide receivers to letting Bert grow a pornstache in hopes he can hit another level.
At this point, I think it’s safe to say he is what he is and nothing can change that.
It certainly would help any QB to have a weapon like Ray Rice in the backfield. As usual, Rice is a tremendous dual threat, leading the team in rushing while being Captain Checkdown’s third favorite target. Rice has averaged over 1,200 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving the past three years and is well on pace to make it four in a row. Needless to say, if the Steelers have any hope of winning Sunday, they have to find a way to contain this serial Stiller Killer.
Outside Rice, the Ravens offensive weapons aren’t nearly as scary as some of the other teams we’ve faced this season. Torrey Smith, who memorably caught the game winning touchdown in our last meeting, is their nominal #1 wide out. He’s pretty much a deep threat, though, averaging 17 yard per reception. A few years ago they spent big money to bring in Anquan Boldin but he’s been more or less a bust. The Ravens parted ways with another longtime irritant, TE Todd Heap, a couple seasons ago and it appears they’ve finally found another short yardage possession threat for Flacco to dump off to in TE Dennis Pitta.
The Steelers defense needs a helluva better performance this week if they don’t want embarrassed on national tv. After getting the run D straightened out, KC gashed them repeatedly until Dick LeBeau figured out Ziggy Hood was a liability and started moving him around. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison were MIA and that simply can’t happen two weeks in a row. There will be even more pressure on the inside backers to support the run D and take away the middle of the field for those short throws Flacco lives for.
Ryan Clark passed all his concussion tests and will play on Sunday. He’ll be easy to spot as he’s resorted to wearing that extra thick Great Gazoo helmet. Clark has been the team’s defensive MVP this year so hopefully he’s able to stay on the field this week. If the Steelers have any hope of pulling out a victory, they’ll need every healthy defensive player not only on the field but playing their best possible game.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs RAVENS DEFENSE
Maybe the Ravens should change their symbol back to the horseshoe a team from Baltimore wore once upon a time. They certainly have a lot of luck. The Ratbirds have beaten the Steelers twice since 2008 when Ben Roethlisberger started at QB. They’ve won three other times, however, when Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch have started in Ben’s place.
On Sunday, they’ll get their first taste of Byron Leftwich. I’m already on record about thinking Leftwich is a poor fit for the Todd Haley offense but I guess we’ll see. Boss Todd has said he’s tailoring things to better suit Lefty. In other words, he’s quick passing timing based offense needs to account for a guy with a longer wind-up than AJ Burnett.
Rashard Mendenhall is expected to make his return. I wasn’t too enthused about Mendy’s return but after iRed and Dwyer played miserably against the Chiefs, it certainly can’t hurt. If the Steelers have one chance offensively, it’ll be on the ground. The Ravens run D has been absolutely atrocious, even worse than our run D. They’re currently averaging 132 yards against per game. Yes, 132!
While the Steelers have battled injury, the Ravens have had more than their fair share as well. NT Haloti Ngata has been playing hurt and it shows. He’s not nearly as stout at the nose as usual. Lewis was useless in pass coverage although he did a good job against the run. And Terrell Suggs may have made an admirable return from off-season ACL surgery but he’s clearly not himself. Much like James Harrison has been a step behind all year, Suggs just can’t get his body to do what it’s accustomed to doing.
The Ravens have also been hit in the secondary with the loss of top corner Lardarius Webb. Much like their run D, their secondary has been giving up huge chunks of yardage all season. Safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed are strong but corners Cary Williams and Paul Kruger can be exploited. If Ben were healthy, I could foresee something of a shoot-out. Whether Leftwich can make some plays in the passing game remains to be seen. Antonio Brown hasn’t practiced this week although he’s been telling reporters he’s going to give it a shot this afternoon. Getting him back on the field would be a huge boon to whoever plays QB.
I know I make every game out to be a make or break week. In this case, the hyperbole is actually appropriate. As usual, the AFC North is coming down to Ravens and Steelers. And, as usual, the eventual champion may very well be decided by tie breaks. It’s going to be an uphill battle for sure but why not shock the world and demoralize the Ravens in the process by pulling out a game with our back-up QB on national TV?
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Day Two of every Steeler fan’s nightmare brought some answers and several more questions.
The Pittsburgh Steelers still haven’t released a definitive diagnoses of Ben Roethlisberger‘s injury. All coach Mike Tomlin would confirm in yesterday’s press conference was that Byron Leftwich is starting Sunday night against the Ravens. When asked if the injury would sideline Ben for multiple weeks, Tomlin ignored the question with his typical measure of arrogance and platitudes: “I live in the present. He is out this week.”
Ben also spoke to the media and was a bit more forthcoming. Yesterday, I made a quick mention of “bruised ribs” which he suffered in addition to the shoulder separation. I only did that because Tomlin barely acknowledged them himself in his initial discussion of Roethlisberger’s injury. Now it appears the rib injury may be the most serious obstacle to his returning to the field.
Those “bruised ribs” was actually a dislocation of the first rib according to Big Ben. The danger there is if the rib were to fully separate and poke inward, it could puncture his aorta. Yep, that dreaded aorta puncture again. When asked about it, Tomlin appeared befuddled, trying to argue that the dislocated rib was simply an extension of the SC separation I discussed yesterday.
Let me break something down for Mike Tomlin: SC stands for sternoclavical meaning sternum (your breast bone) and clavical (collarbone). Your rib is located, surprisingly enough, in your rib cage. I’m not a doctor but it seems pretty self evident those are two clear and distinct injuries.
Ben told reporters he couldn’t play until the rib thing was healed up, as he seems far more concerned with that than the shoulder separation. As anybody who ever bruised a rib (me!) can attest, those hurt like a motherf*cker. Every movement, even laying down or breathing causes pain. While Ben has a Terminator-like pain threshold, I imagine even he would have trouble playing through something like that.
In the meantime, we can turn our attention to the dawn of the Leftwich era. There has been heated debate on sports radio the past couple days as to whether Lefty is the best choice to start on Sunday. As we saw during his brief disastrous stint Monday, there is question over whether he can effectively run the Todd Haley offense. Even though Charlie Batch is a thousand years old, he may be the better fit.
Leftwich no doubt has better physical tools than Charlie. He also has a longer wind up than AJ Burnett. Boss Todd’s offense relies on quick accurate throws, the words quick and accurate not being things Lefty is known for. In a standard offense, yes, you want a quarterback with a strong arm who can make every throw. In Haley’s dink and dunk, not so much. Yeah, maybe Batch can’t throw the ball more than 10 yards but he is a much better field general than Leftwich and doesn’t make as many mistakes.
I guess we’ll see on Sunday night.
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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is hurt. He’s hurt bad. And he’s hurt one week before the Black and Gold face the most crucial part of their schedule. Football sucks.
Mike Tomlin was his usual evasive self during yesterday afternoon’s press conference. He did drop a great line which is sure to join his catalog of oft-repeated Tomlinisms: “We just focus on the healthy guys. We’re not looking to make excuses. Excuses are the tools of the incompetent.”
Beyond that, Tomlin didn’t offer much more than we knew last night. Ben suffered a a sprained sternoclavicular (SC) joint, which is a fancy way of saying he hurt his shoulder. Although make no mistake, a SC injury is a lot more complicated than a simple shoulder injury. Last night, Ben’s agent would only describe the diagnoses as “unusual” and a SC sprain would fall under that category.
What makes an SC sprain unusual is it can be extremely dangerous, depending on the severity of separation. Rams receiver Danny Amendola had a SC sprain earlier this season and the separation was such that doctors later said his condition could have potentially been life threatening. How? Put your hand on your breast bone and trace up and towards the right (or left) toward your neck until you feel your collar bone. Now imagine of that becomes separated and starts poking back in towards throat. If the separation is severe enough, the bone could actually puncture your wind pipe or even your aorta (artery in your neck).
Of course, we still haven’t heard exactly how serious Ben’s injury was. Tomlin is calling him “questionable” but we all know Tomlin would rather climb a mountain to tell a lie than sit in a chair and tell the truth. There are several different degrees of separation, the simplest heals in 7-10 days while the worst would knock him out for the rest of the season. As if this potentially life-threatening SC deal wasn’t bad enough, Ben also bruised his ribs when he fell so even if the shoulder sprain is the mildest form he may still need a few weeks off to heal up.
The bottom line is I don’t see Ben starting Sunday night against the Ravens. I also don’t see him starting the week after against the Browns because even if he’s cleared, I can see the Steelers thinking/hoping they can get by the Browns with Byron Leftwich while Ben rests up. That’s best case scenario, though. Amendola had a pretty significant SC sprain and ended up missing a month of action. Then again, Bret Favre also had an SC sprain and only missed one week. So really at this point there’s a pretty wide range of possible outcomes.
Let’s hope for the best.
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Emmanuel Sanders selling that injury like Ricky Steamboat selling a Ric Flair leg drop.
— Max Bretos (@mbretosESPN) October 22, 2012
There were quite a few comical moments in Sunday night’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals. We had Ben Roethlisberger trying to call a time out before a curiously early attempt at a two point conversion only to be denied by the clueless refs. Big Ben ran the play anyway, making the conversion but pissing off Mike Tomlin who glared at him from the sidelines thinking he ignored coaches’ call for time.
Then we had LaMarr Woodley making arguably the best catch of the night on his GINGERception of Andy Dalton. I’d like to say it was a great play by the much-maligned Steelers D but it was actually pure luck. Upon replay, you see Dalton actually lost the ball on a pump fake. The duck clanged off the back of a Cincy lineman’s head before falling into Woodman’s waiting arms.
On second thought, that was the best catch of the night.
But the Academy Award for craziness goes to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Early in the 4th quarter, Ben got shaken up after running for his life on a busted play. If the zebras had called an injury time out, by rule Ben would’ve had to go to the sideline for a big third down play (or the Steelers would’ve had to burn a time out). So what happened?
Manny Sanders went down like Bambi’s mother. He started clutching his leg and writhing in pain like the Nature Boy (WOOOOOO!) had just put him in the figure-four leglock. Trainers helped him hop off the field while Ben stood around collecting his marbles. It should be noted the leg he hopped off on was the opposite leg he was grabbing as he fell to the ground. Bobby DeNiro wouldn’t make that kind of mistake, son.
Meanwhile, noted Steelers hater Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels turned into stand-up comedians. Granted, it was the most obvious flop since the NBA Finals but they could still barely contain their mirth. Evidently, Sanders’ dive set the interwebs on fire as everyone from Huffington Post to some baseball player named Evan Longoria commented on it.
Collinsworth joked that Sanders might be “getting a letter from the league offices.” It’s true that a few weeks ago they sent out a memo chiding teams for faking injuries. And we know how the Ginger Dictator loves to pick on the Steelers. However, I think any fine would be pretty meaningless. The game is over. The time out was saved. It’s not like Goodell can go back and change any of that. Plus, I’m sure Ben and/or his teammates would be happy to “help out” if Manny were to accrue a fine.
In the meantime, I applaud him for the heads up play. He may not be the Steelers best receiver but he sure is the cleverest.