Mar 262012
 

The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost yet another player in an off-season that’s proving a huge boon to our local U-Haul franchises. Starting cornerback William Gay has signed with – I hope you’re sitting down – the Arizona Cardinals. Shocking news, I know. Somewhere, Hines Ward has to be kicking a chair and wondering how was it that Pittsburgh West couldn’t find a place for him.

Ironically, this isn’t the first time Ken Whisenhunt has imported a starting corner from his former team. Following our victory in Superbowl XLIII, the Cards signed then starting CB Bryant McFadden to a big money free agent deal. B-Mac flamed out spectacularly and was eventually traded back to the Steelers the following season. McFadden started for a Steeler team that was once again Super Bowl bound but was injured this past pre-season and by the time he was healthy he had lost his starting job to, yes, William Gay.

Let’s hope Will.i.am fares better than his predecessor.

For the newbies who wonder why I’ve always spelled Gay’s first name with strategically placed periods, the video above should answer your question. When he made an idiot of himself by treating the crowd at our last Super Bowl victory parade to his impromptu musical stylings, I decided to dub him Will.i.am in tribute to his budding music career. The gig in Arizona better work out because I don’t think all the Auto-Tune in the world could salvage that singing voice. At least Kanye has some sick flow, yo.

Truth be told, though, I will miss Will.i.am. His is one of the better redemption stories of recent years. When B-Mac left, Gay was thrust into the starting line-up where he became far and away the most picked on corner in the NFL. After a season long demotion back to nickel, a position he’s always filled admirably, Will.i.am battled back to reclaim his starting job this season. The second time was the charm as he played very solid corner and was a big reason the Steelers finished the year with the league’s top ranked pass defense. Who can forget his Big Gay Interceptions against Cincy and Cleveland which effectively put those games away for us?

Scuttlebutt has it Arizona Pittsburgh West is going to use Gay as their nickelback behind second year player AJ Jefferson and rising star Patrick Peterson. If anybody should know how to use him, it’s former Steelers secondary coach and current Cards defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

Meanwhile, the Steelers will go into this season with a new look secondary. Keenan Lewis did a decent job playing the nickel and the former third round pick will be given every opportunity to claim the starting job opposite Ike Taylor. Lewis has talent but he’s been slightly injury prone over his short career and has a times looked lost in man coverage.  Cortez Allen had an impressive rookie season, becoming the rare newb who sees significant playing time in Dick LeBeau’s complicated defense. He has the size (6’1) you like in a corner and has a definite nose for the football but 2012 will still be only in his second year as a pro. Barring the Steelers drafting a corner early in this year’s draft, it appears Taylor, Lewis, and Allen will comprise the secondary.

From cutting Greg Lloyd and letting Barry Foster walk to releasing Joey Porter and ridding themselves of Santonio Holmes, the Steelers have never been afraid to turn over their roster. And more often than not, the players they bring in are as good or better than the ones they let go. Still, by my count the team has now lost, either to age, injury or free agency, five starters from last year’s squad. When’s the bleeding going to stop?

Steelers Introduce Haley, Cut Battle & B-Mac

 Posted by at 11:47 am  Roster Moves, Secondary, Todd Haley  Comments Off on Steelers Introduce Haley, Cut Battle & B-Mac
Feb 092012
 

The Pittsburgh Steelers officially introduced Todd Haley as their new offensive coordinator this afternoon. It was a brief fifteen minute affair where Haley said all the right things. He smartly emphasized his local connections and his father Dick’s ties to the Black and Gold, saying stuff like, “All of my early memories in life somehow revolved around the Steelers. The Steelers are a big part of who and what I am.” That goes a long way toward winning points with us Yinzers who always tend to cut local guys more slack. See Wannstadt, Dave or Cowher, Bill.

Speaking of Bill Cowher, one interesting bit to come out of Haley’s press conference was his admission that Cowher offered him a job as wide receivers coach back in 2004. He declined, choosing to join Bill Parcells in Dallas instead. Considering he broke into the NFL job working for the Jets when they were being run by Dick Haley, I have a feeling Toddy’s decision was motivated by the desire to establish he belonged in the NFL on his own merits, not because he was being handed jobs by his daddy’s current and former teams. In a weird bit of irony, Cowher hired an ex-Browns offensive coordinator as WR coach instead, a fella by the name of Bruce Arians.

While Haley was busy charming the local dirt sheet writers, the Steelers were already hard at work at trimming the roster in an effort to get under the salary cap. As I’ve written about before (see headlines up top), the Steelers are somewhere between $10-20 million over next year’s cap. They redid LaMarr Woodley‘s contract, which is one of their tricks to convert yearly salary (which all counts against the cap) to bonus money (which is spread out over the length of the contract). That probably bought them $5 million or so in space.

They also released Arnaz Battle and Bryant McFadden. Both are small fish and easy cuts, saving only around $4 million in total salary combined. Battle was signed to replace Antwaan Randle El as a special teams returner and veteran fourth wide receiver. When the Steelers hit the receiver jackpot in the 2010 draft, Battle saw his role shrink to nothing. He exits the Steelers having never caught a regular season pass.

B-Mac’s story is a bit more complex. He was a fifth round Steeler draft pick back in 2005 and the coaches thought he’d break into the starting line-up before long. He spent the majority of his career as the nickelback, never quite being able to beat out ageless wonder Deshea Townshend for the starting job. In 2008, he finally took over halfway through the season and started every playoff game all the way through the Super Bowl. The Cardinals must have been impressed because during the off-season they signed him to a big money free agent contract.

He was a disaster with the Cardinals. Before the year was out, he had lost his starting position. Meanwhile, his replacement on the Steelers, Will.i.am Gay, was also struggling mightily. The Steeler swung a draft day trade with Arizona to bring B-Mac back for the 2010 season. He started opposite Ike Taylor and once again the team made it to the Super Bowl. This season, McFadden was the nominal starter but was injured in the pre-season. Gay played extremely well in his place while another former draft pick with high expectations, Kennan Lewis, finally showed something as the team’s nickelback. By the time he was healthy, B-Mac had fallen completely off the radar and wound up spending most of the year as a special teamer. He was actually really good in the role but he’s probably not quite at the point in his career where he’d accept being a role player.

By the way, for all the people down on Face Me Ike in the wake of his epically bad performance against the Broncos, note this. When B-Mac was down in the desert, Gay was the most picked on corner in the league. Last season, B-Mac was the most picked on. There’s a reason teams stay away from Ike, people.

Anyway, neither of these players are big names. Between them, the retirement of Chris Hoke, and the impending exit of Aaron Smith, the easy decisions are all but done. The Steelers are going to need to make more cuts to get under next year’s cap. Time for the tough decisions to be made.

Ike Taylor – NFL’s Best Cornerback?

 Posted by at 8:08 am  Face Me Ike, Secondary  Comments Off on Ike Taylor – NFL’s Best Cornerback?
Oct 112011
 

Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes… The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, the Pittsburgh Steelers having the best pass defense in the NFL…

Mass hysteria!

Before I left the Site We Shall Not Name, one of my final posts was something along the lines of “Should the Pittsburgh Steelers let LaMarr Woodley and Ike Taylor walk if it means signing Nnamdi Asomugha?” Reaction was mixed with some people cheating by saying keep Mister Woodley and sign Nnamdi, which was never really an option. Of course, everybody knew the Steelers would do what they always do; keep their own players rather than bring in outside help. It’s the Steeler Way.

And it looks pretty brilliant in hindsight.
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Know Thy Enemy: Indianapolis Colts

 Posted by at 6:01 am  Game Preview, Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall, Secondary  Comments Off on Know Thy Enemy: Indianapolis Colts
Sep 232011
 

Sorry NBC, no take backs.  At least not until week twelve.

The [intlink id=”20″ type=”category”]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] face off the Indianapolis Colts in this week’s edition of Sunday Night Football. Steeler Nation will be tuned in from coast to coast. Cris Collinsworth will be in the booth gleefully pointing out every mistake the Steelers make. Faith Hill will be there in her pleasingly tight dress, although sadly she’s chosen not to bring back the sexy hooker boots she wore three years ago.

The only person who won’t be there is Peyton Manning.

Obviously this match-up looked attractive back in June. It’s not like the Colts gave any indication their franchise player would miss the entire season. They signed him to a $69 million dollar contract in late July for crying out loud. Then again, unlike the Steelers and the $29 million they flushed down the crapper on [intlink id=”85″ type=”category”]Willie Colon[/intlink], the Colts were smart enough to insert a buy out clause that gets them off the hook if Manning never steps behind center again.

The point being this game was never the Steelers versus the Colts.  It was going to be Peyton Manning against Blitzburgh. Remove Pey-Pey from the equation and you have an Indianapolis team who are fast becoming the NFL version of the Cleveland Cavaliers sans LeBron.
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Know Thy Enemy: Seattle Seahawks

 Posted by at 5:25 am  Big Ben, Game Preview, Mike Tomlin, Offensive Line, Secondary  Comments Off on Know Thy Enemy: Seattle Seahawks
Sep 162011
 

The last two times the [intlink id=”20″ type=”category”]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] have gone to the Super Bowl, they failed to make the playoffs the following year.  I’m inclined to give Bill Cowher a pass for 2006 considering his franchise quarterback nearly died during the off-season and was a mere shadow of his former self during the regular season.  There is absolutely no excuse for what happened to [intlink id=”45″ type=”category”]Mike Tomlin[/intlink]’s squad in 2009, however.  The defending Super Bowl champions featured a nucleus near or in their prime while boasting a roster with no significant changes from the year before.

The most frustrating aspect of the 2009 season wasn’t that the team kept losing, it was who they lost to.  Every week we’d look at the schedule, see an opponent who record-wise and talent-wise didn’t nearly match up with the Steelers, then watch in horror as they’d go out on Sunday and seemingly find a way to lose.  The five game death spiral which tanked the season featured losses to two teams that would go 5-11 and one that would finish 4-12.

Which brings us to this week’s opponent, the Seattle Seahawks.  Yes, technically the Seahawks were a playoff team last year although it’s hard to take that credential seriously when you win your division with a record of 7-9.  They did acquit themselves well in the playoffs, highlighted by Marshawn Lynch going into BEAST MODE against the defending champion Saints.  Regardless, Seattle is clearly not in the Steelers’ league.  If the Black and Gold want to quiet all talk of a “Super Bowl Hangover,” they can start by winning a game they should win.
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