Aug 302013
 

Pittsburgh-Steelers-Drew-Butler

Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers rested almost half their starters during the team’s final preseason game. Mike Tomlin made the mistake of announcing this beforehand and fans reacted accordingly. I’m sure he got a stern talking to because when you make it obvious that a game doesn’t matter, people don’t watch and more importantly they don’t show up to pay overpriced parking or buy watered down beer. So this year, Coach T kept his intentions to himself.

Not that anything different happened. Last night, the Steelers played their fourth and final preseason game. And last night, Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Ike Taylor, LaMarr Woodley, Brett Keisel, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and even backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski all didn’t dress.

It was Scrub-a-poloza in Carolina last night as the Black and Gold went 0-fer the preseason, falling to the Panthers 25-10. Thus concludes Pittsburgh’s first winless preseason since Bill Cowher’s final season back in 2006 and only their third in nearly 50 years. Again, the worst team ever, the 0-16 Detroit Lions, went undefeated that preseason so these games are hardly an accurate predictor of the season to come. Still, it doesn’t exactly instill one with a great deal of confidence coming off a miserable 8-8 campaign.

So, what’s Tomlin’s assessment of his team pulling a Detroit this preseason? Continue reading »

The James Harrison Mystery Continues

 Posted by at 4:17 am  Injury Report, James Harrison, Rashard Mendenhall  Comments Off on The James Harrison Mystery Continues
Oct 012012
 

The Pittsburgh Steelers play host to the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend. The Black and Gold’s anemic running game may get a boost when Rashard Mendenhall takes the field for the first time this season. Mendy tore his ACL in last season’s finale against the Browns and will be making his return to the starting line-up almost exactly ten months later. That’s not the greatest recovery of all-time but it’s still damn impressive.

Meanwhile, James Harrison ended 2011 alongside his teammates in Denver, yet hasn’t taken a single snap in 2012. And at the rate he’s going, I’m starting to wonder if he ever will.

Harrison participated in his first practice of the year last Tuesday. On Friday, the team held another practice. Harrison never made it. His knee experienced “a little bit of a setback” which evidently was so little that the team is now all but ruling him out of Sunday’s game against Philly.

What in the blue hell is going on with Deebo?

Mike Tomlin is an unapologetic liar so we can’t expect answers from him. Instead, we’re going to have to solve this mystery ourselves.¬† Let’s review what we know.

– Harrison played very well in 2011, easily the team’s most effective pass-rusher. The only games he missed were due to a broken orbital socket and an unjust one-game suspension.

– Over the off-season, Harrison had two back surgeries. The first was to take care of a problem which he played through during the season. The second was evidently to clean up something the first surgery missed.

– Harrison showed up for all the team’s off-season OTAs and, from all accounts, participated normally. Of course, OTAs often entail nothing more strenuous than guys in shorts running through plays at 1/4 speed.

– Training camp starts. Harrison was put on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list on day one and never came off. When asked what was up, we were told a never previously mentioned knee problem (?) was acting up (?). However, we were assured the PUP list was precautionary and, with rest, he’d be good to go by the season opener.

– With two weeks before the season opener, Harrison has “minor knee surgery,” what we’re informed was routine scoping, because the knee wasn’t responding to treatment. We’re told by all involved (Tomlin, Harrison, Harrison’s agent) that he still thinks he’s on track to play in the opener but, failing that, he’ll definitely be ready by week two.

– Week one, no Harrison, Week two? Knee is still acting up so we’ll wait and see what happens next week. Week three comes around and everybody is all, “We have the bye after this game so let’s give James this week off so he gets two solid weeks of rest and then is ready for Philly in week 5.” Well, here we are at week 5 and now it’s “wait ’til next week.”

Pirates fans are used to being told wait for something that never comes. Steeler fans, not so much.

Rumor around town is Harrison has received synvasic injections to try and get him back on the field. Synvasic, as those who have a loved one suffering from severe arthritis know, is something they shoot into arthritic knees when the joint has deteriorated to the point it’s basically bone on bone. If this story is true, Harrison’s knee is, pardon my french, pretty well f**ked.

Then again, there are holes in this theory. For one, we also know arthritis is a progressive disease which breaks people down little by little year by year. As mentioned, Harrison played tremendous last year. It doesn’t make sense that he’d go from All-Pro to 80 year old cripple over the course of ten months. If he’s battling an arthritic knee, we would’ve seen a more gradual decline.

Another rumor is the “routine scope” procedure he had in pre-season was not a routine scope. This one I’m much more on board with. At this point, I’m definitely calling shenanigans on everything we’ve been told since the start of camp. I think it’s pretty obvious that the “routine scope” procedure he had in pre-season was much more than a routine scope. I’m not a doctor so I can’t tell you what sort of surgeries he might have undergone but I do know what arthroscopic surgery is. My beer swilling 250 pound uncle who hasn’t lifted a weight since he was a third string LB behind a fella named Bill Cowher at Carlynton High School had his knee scoped and was walking around normally in three weeks. Surely an elite athlete like Deebo would be fully recovered nearly two months later.

The bottom line is this: James Harrison isn’t playing this Sunday. And I highly doubt he’s playing next Sunday either. In fact, with Harrison due to make $9 million next season, I’m not entirely certain we’ll ever see #92 in the Black and Gold again. I hope I’m wrong because given the inability of LaMarr Woodley to regularly overcome double teams and the sad lack of pressure provided by Chris Carter and Jason Worilds, the D surely needs him. However, at this point I think we all need to take a step back, stop listening to the B.S. emanating from Steelers HQ, and just assume he’s not playing until we actually see him on the field. In the meantime, the linebacking corps will have to make due without him.

Let’s hope Ben scores a lot of points.

Know Thy Enemy: Denver Broncos

 Posted by at 7:36 am  Dick LeBeau, Game Preview, James Harrison  Comments Off on Know Thy Enemy: Denver Broncos
Sep 082012
 

Video courtesy of Benstonium

Welcome to the this year’s first installment of Know Thy Enemy. You may notice another Know Thy Enemy running on another Pittsburgh Steelers site, a site I started and a feature I began writing five years ago. Obviously those uncreative hacks can’t think up their own material so they’ve decided to coast along with my leftovers. Accept no cheap substitutes!

For the newbies, Know Thy Enemy is my weekly catch-all post where I preview the Steelers’ upcoming game. I analyze the team’s opponent, look at how they match up, and also give a final run down of key injuries for either side. So without further ado, let’s get to it!

The Denver Broncos handed the Steelers what was undoubtedly one of their most embarrassing playoff losses ever last season. Even defensive mastermind Dick LeBeau is still shaking his head over how last season ended. Ordinarily when a team engineers a magical playoff run which culminates in a franchise’s biggest win in nearly a decade, they spend the off-season building upon what got them there. John Elway, VP and de facto GM of Denver, went the other way. He tore it all down and decided to start over.

STEELERS DEFENSE vs BRONCOS OFFENSE

Of course Elway’s biggest move was jettisoning the man responsible for all his team’s magic, Tim Tebow. They were comfortable giving up on the Messiah because they were able to acquire a Football God. Peyton Manning, fresh off a season lost to serious neck surgery, was cut loose by the rebuilding Colts. Elway pounced and thus ended the Tebow Era in Denver.

The history of superstar QBs leaving their original team at the twilight of their career isn’t pretty. Joe Namath stumbled through a forgettable season with the Rams and Johnny U finished up with an unmemorable run with the Chargers. Joe Montana had slightly better results with the Chiefs (including a memorable overtime playoff win against Bill Cowher‘s Steelers, thanks to some inept punting from Mark Royals). Much like riding the Thunderbolt at Kennywood or making love to a woman, the second time is never as good as the first. Preseason reports were Manning looked every bit the Manning of old but experiencing the same level of success as he had with the Colts, where he won 12+ games in eight of his thirteen years, would definitely be a case of defying history.
Continue reading »

Musings On Steelers Second Pre-Season Game

 Posted by at 5:12 am  Injury Report, Offensive Line, Pittsburgh Pirates, Preseason, Secondary  Comments Off on Musings On Steelers Second Pre-Season Game
Aug 212012
 

Which evidently some 8.9 million of you watched. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The Pittsburgh Steelers are America’s Team and so many of you can’t watch pre-season games because you live in other states. Add in the general public’s curiosity about Pey-Pey’s heir apparent Andrew Luck and I sorta understand why the game did bonzo ratings.

But, c’mon, it’s still a pre-season game!

Anyway, sorry for this update coming out a little late. Our pal Hennessy was supposed to present us with his take on Sunday’s meaningless action but he’s MIA so I figured I’ll jump in with what I saw. Which I have to admit wasn’t very much. To be honest, I only caught the second and part of the third quarters on Sunday because I was completely engrossed in the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ epic six hour 19 inning victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Screw you, Jerry Meals!

I did turn on the Steelers game in time to see Ike Taylor come down with a sweet interception. Clearly, they weren’t lying when they said Andrew Luck threw a really nice ball. If Ike was able to catch it, it must’ve been a perfect pass. A short time later, Cortez Allen came down with a ricochet INT which is a good sign for a D that didn’t force many turnovers last season.

The Steelers seem locked into Keenan Lewis being the starting corner opposite Ike while Allen plays the nickel role. I guess they figure Lewis’ size suits him better as a starter or something. He was pretty mediocre in the nickel role last year so it must be the Dilbert principal. In any case, I expect Allen will be in the starting line-up before year’s end because that kid has a really good nose for the ball.

The offensive line continued to look somewhat shaky. There are no doubt going to be some growing pains with David DeCastro and Mike Adams. They both do a great job run blocking but tend to get a little confused on passing plays. I can see where the rumor that DeCastro was struggling in camp came from as there were a few plays on Sunday where he clearly got confused. He physically seems fine, though, which is why I think he’ll start sooner than Adams.

Adams played a lot on Sunday as I think the team has figured out that he is indeed a bit raw. He still doesn’t look at all quick enough to handle outside speed rushers coming off the edge. That’s why I’m 99.9% certain at this point that Max Starks will be at LT on opening day. Adams isn’t ready, Gilbert started at LT Sunday but I don’t think they see him as a natural there, and Essex and Foster for damn sure aren’t starting unless Ben pisses off Mike Tomlin.

Speaking of Ben, he got to run a bit more of the Todd Haley offense this week. The Steelers went with a no-huddle for awhile which is a good sign because Ben always does well when the tempo is sped up. Chris Rainey got walloped early in the game but shook it off and came back to have a productive evening. It’s good to see he’s not as fragile as his slight frame suggested he might be. Antonio Brown had another big play catch-and-run TD which isn’t supposed to happen without Mike Wallace out there to “stretch the field.”

In the meantime, the Steelers also continue to stress their running game. Rookie FB Will Johnson made a couple nice blocks and both Heath Miller and Leonard Pope (who wasn’t supposed to be a blocking TE) brought their hard hats as well. Jon Dwyer continues to be the surprise of camp, looking fast, strong and explosive. If he can get and stay healthy, we may have a RB controversy because he’s looked tremendous in the two pre-season games.

The D wasn’t quite as lucky on the injury front. Yet another LB was lost when Stevenson Sylvester tore his MCL meaning he’ll be out about a month. Sly was the team’s top back-up at ILB so without him there’s a major depth issue with only starters Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote really capable of playing major minutes at the position. On a positive note, I liked what I saw from James Harrison‘s replacement, Chris Carter. Carter is smallish (he looked smaller than several of the team’s safeties) but really quick off the snap and he’s always around the ball. I’d certainly rather have the Deebo/Woodley combo at OLB but Carter might be okay for a week or two. He certainly seems to offer a bit more than Jason Worilds, who didn’t really show much of anything when given a shot last season.

Finally, Charlie Batch got some significant playing time. Watching him sprint away from defenders on some sort of designed roll-out play made me think Haley had to goofing on him. Chaz can still wing the ball down the field but he runs about as well as my grandpa. Still, I think it’s going to be him and Lefty as the back-ups when the season rolls around. Jerrod Johnson definitely has talented but is far too raw to be trusted as a back-up.

 

Harrison Has Surgery, Redman Goes Down

 Posted by at 5:12 am  Injury Report, James Harrison, Redzone Redman  Comments Off on Harrison Has Surgery, Redman Goes Down
Aug 162012
 

Another day, another injury.

Yesterday I mentioned that Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro linebacker James Harrison remained on the PUP list due to ongoing soreness and swelling in his knee. No sooner did the rumor surface he may need arthroscopic surgery than we find out Deebo has indeed gone under the knife. The Steelers are hopeful Harrison will be healed up by the season opener on September 9th although who knows if those expectations are realistic. Last year was a down year for the normally dominant Steeler linebackers due to the fact Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were either out or playing hurt almost the entire season.

Can’t say I’m liking how this year is starting either.

With Harrison shelved, his place will be taken by Chris Carter. No, not the loudmouth ESPN analyst who misspells his first name, I’m referring to the CC who was a 2011 fifth round draft choice out of Fresno State. Carter is being pressed into duty ostensibly because former second rounder Jason Worilds is currently sidelined with a wrist injury. Worilds is on the PUP list but he was healthy last year when the Steelers chose to move ILB Lawrence Timmons outside when they knew they’d be starting the season without Woodley.¬†Worilds would eventually start with the linebacking unit ravaged by injury but didn’t look particularly impressive.

They can’t move LT this season because without James Farrior, they need him to anchor the ILB corps. Which means it’s time for one of the 49 recent draft picks at linebacker to step up. Carter primarily played special teams last year although he did see a few snaps where he appeared way out of his league. However, that’s not uncommon for rookies playing in Dick LeBeau‘s complicated defense. Remember Silverback was cut three times because every time he’d come to camp he’d appear totally clueless as to what to do. Where Worilds is a big strong LB in the Woodley mold (6’2 260), Carter is much more of a Harrison clone. He’s smallish (6’1 248) but is quick off the snap and possesses great rushing speed.

I guess we’ll see if he can repeat Harrison’s feat of winning a job after being pressed into service due to a last minute situation with the team’s regular starter.

Speaking of rushing, the Black and Gold’s beleaguered running backs can now count starter Isaac Redman among their injured. Redzone has been battling a groin pull the likes of which you couldn’t possibly imagine but it’s recently worsened to where he hasn’t practiced the past two days. He tried to do one-on-one drills yesterday only to fall to the ground clutching his sore groin. At least, I hope that’s what he was doing. For those keeping score at home, the Steelers currently have exactly two healthy backs on the roster: Chris Rainey and our pal Hennessy’s hero, Baron Batch.

Let’s hope Redzone feels better very soon.

 

Steelers Injury Situation Getting Ridiculous

 Posted by at 6:28 am  Injury Report, James Harrison, Offensive Line, Roster Moves  Comments Off on Steelers Injury Situation Getting Ridiculous
Aug 152012
 

It’s only August 15 and I’ve used the “Injury Report” tag three times already. NOT a good sign.

The Pittsburgh Steelers began training camp with a veritable Pro Bowl team on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. On the positive side of the ledger, LT Max Starks has been cleared to officially rejoin the active roster. Not a moment too soon, either, as rookie Mike Adams sprained is MCL in the pre-season opener and will be sidelined for the next couple weeks. Marcus Gilbert can now return to RT, where he’s far less likely to get Ben Roethlisberger killed, while Mad Max once again rides to the Steelers’ rescue on the left side.

As Max returns, it appears James Harrison‘s stay on the PUP list will be longer than initially thought. Harrison hasn’t practiced since the team arrived in Latrobe and now word from his agent is he may need to get his knee scoped before the season begins. That’s not a major operation, players get scoped during the season all the time and usually only miss 3-4 weeks. What is troubling is that Silverback’s game is predicated largely on speed so who knows how effective he’ll be playing on a bad wheel.

In lesser news, the Steelers shuffled their roster after losing both RB John Clay and FB David Johnson to season-ending leg injuries. Both players were cut (that’s cold) yesterday although DJ is expected to be re-signed and placed on IR so the Steelers can supervise his rehab. The Steelers signed RB Jason Ford, who was waived by the Texans a couple weeks back, to carry the ball during the second half of Sunday’s pre-season game against the Colts before being cut in two weeks.

Meanwhile, with only one FB left on the roster (undrafted rookie Will Johnson), the Steelers signed journeyman Justin Peelle to provide some depth. Peelle has played for five different teams during his ten year NFL career, mostly as a tight end but also playing some fullback. He spent 2011 with the 49ers where he served as a FB/TE hybrid similar to how Bruce Arians’ used DJ. Peelle is supposedly a pretty good receiver out of the backfield but the Steelers have a two great receiving TEs and a great third down receiving back (Chris Rainey) so I would guess whoever does a better job lead blocking will win the job.