Well, at least that makes things a lot simpler…
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost their second straight, fourth of the last five, with a soul-crushing 27-24 loss in overtime to the Dallas Cowboys. I feel kinda dumb even talking about the playoffs considering the way this team is playing, they’re just going to be one-and-done anyway but the loss does clarify things quite a bit. The margin for error is now officially zero. The Steelers must win their last two games against the Bengals and Browns. If they lose either game, they’re out.
Yesterday’s loss was yet another miserable performance aided and abetted by the Black and Gold’s annoying habit of shooting themselves in the foot. When it’s not turnovers, it’s penalties. When it’s not penalties, it’s stupid mistakes. Worse yet, every week brings us a new goat.
This week’s wearer of the horns is Antonio Brown. AB had what may have been the worst game by a wide receiver since the glory days of Limas Sweed. Steeler Nation has been brutal towards Mike Wallace, with good reason. However, they really need to start looking at the other members of Young Money, a group of arrogant little pricks who are fast revealing the fact their actual skills aren’t nearly as high as their opinions of themselves.
AB got paid this off-season, mostly because Wallace turned down a reasonable contract due to delusions of grandeur. Brown has definitely been the team’s best WR this season but that didn’t stop him from almost single-handedly costing us the game yesterday. With the Steelers up 7 and about 8 minutes left in the game, the defense forced a punt. AB reversed field and broke off a huge return which would’ve set the Steelers up at mid-field except he forgot one thing: how to secure the football. A Dallas player who wasn’t even in position to make a tackle reached out and grabbed Brown’s arm like one might stop a passerby at the supermarket to ask where they keep the peanut oil and that jarring impact knocked the ball loose.
A field goal at that point probably locks up the game. Instead, Dallas got the ball right back and scored the game-tying TD. But Brown wasn’t done. With less than two minutes left, the Steelers D again forced a punt. Dallas kicked from their own 20 so even with a good punt you’d expect the Steelers to get the ball somewhere around the 35-40 yard line leaving them in decent position to drive for a late game-winning FG. Instead, Brown, bonehead that he is, let the ball bounce and roll all the way to the 20 for a whopping 59 yard punt.
What was he doing? Did he not know what do? Or was that the doing of Amos Jones, Mike Tomlin’s handpicked – and stunningly inept – special teams coach?
Brown did end up leading the team with 8 catches, including a nice lunging TD which put the Steelers ahead for the first time all afternoon. Mike Wallace had a typical Mike Wallace game, only catching 4 of the 10 passes thrown his way (although to be fair only two of those were CLANGS) but one of the four was a deep bomb (pretty much the only route he’s good at running) that went for 60 yards. Manny Sanders came in for one play, caught a deep pass over the middle and shades of the Baltimore game, fumbled it away. The refs bailed him out by claiming he didn’t “complete the catch” but whatever, that’s the last we saw of him and it’s the last I hope to see of him until he LEARNS TO CATCH THE FREAKIN’ BALL.
And don’t give me any bullshit about “his shoulder is hurt so he can’t secure the football.” Dez Bryant played the entire game with a broken finger. He missed some catches because of the finger but he sure as hell didn’t fumble the ones he did make either. Sanders is putz, just like the rest of
Young Money Cash Droppahs. But make sure you get up and pose and thump your chest when you do make a catch, guys.
What I wouldn’t give to have Hines Ward back. I don’t even care if he can’t get open. At least Hines didn’t act like a big shot and then go out on the field and accomplish nothing.
Speaking of guys we want back, while Bruce Arians is in discussion for Coach of the Year (yes, really), we’re stuck with Todd Haley and his anemic offense. Ben Roethlisberger continues to be a big baby about it, complaining to reporters after the game that the team didn’t run enough no-huddle (where he gets to call plays). Of course, the team did run no-huddle once, in overtime, two plays into which Ben threw a terrible pass behind Wallace and was picked to basically end the game.
Along with the realization that Young Money isn’t worth ten cents on a dollar, it may be time we start re-evaluating the whole “Big Ben is the best clutch QB in football!” meme. Once again, Ben was handed the ball with the game on the line and once again he failed. Not once, but twice. Despite AB’s boner, the team completed a couple passes with time winding down in regulation to get near mid-field. Then Ben took two consecutive sacks to force a punt. One of the sacks was on David DeCastro, who blocked the wrong man because the coaching on this team also sucks. However, at some point Ben has to learn to get rid of the ball.
Yes, the scrambling TD to Heath Miller was one of the most awesome plays you’ll ever see. Yes, Ben is a great QB and definitely the team’s best offensive player. So what? For years we’ve argued that stats aren’t the be-all, end-all, it’s the Ws that count. Ben isn’t pulling out these close games anymore, he’s actually gift-wrapping them to the opponent. That has to stop.
There was a lot more wrong yesterday I don’t really feel like belaboring. Once again, the running game was a non-factor. I don’t like Rashard Mendenhall but Jonathan Dwyer isn’t looking like the answer. The defense wasn’t good, giving up a whopping 415 total yards, although they practically defined bend-but-don’t-break. One long Dallas drive ended in a FG, another ended on a fumble caused by James Harrison. They still don’t generate enough splash plays but only an insane Ben apologist like Mark Madden would seriously argue the defense cost us this game.
Nope, that dubious honor would fall to the $100 million quarterback and $50 million dollar wide receiver. Let’s hope they get their act together in time for this weekend’s pivotal match-up with Cincinnati. If they do, well, I’m sure another goat will emerge anyway. It’s just that kind of year.
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This Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Dallas Cowboys in a game brimming with playoff implications for both teams. A Steelers-Cowboys match-up really needs no added incentive. Steeler fans hate the Cowboys, Dallas fans detest Pittsburgh. Even though the two teams only play each other once in a blue moon, it doesn’t dissipate the level of animosity and anticipation between the fan bases.
The Cowboys have adopted the moniker of “America’s Team.” No two words inspire more bile to well up in the stomach of Steeler Nation. The fact Jerry Jones and his merry band of miscreants have adopted that as both marketing slogan and credo will never cease to anger us. Usually these rivalries mean more to fans than they do to the players but it seems that isn’t always the case.
Ben Roethlisberger gave an interview on Wednesday where he was asked about the “America’s Team” moniker. Ben suggested if the Cowboys represent American, perhaps the Steelers should be referred to as the “World’s Team.” Not the cleverest bit of trash talk although you have to admire that Ben’s heart is in the right place. Certainly no team has a larger or more passionate fan base be it in the US or around the world than do the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bragging right are all well and good but that’s a secondary concern come Sunday afternoon. As I said, both teams are in the thick of a playoff race. Both teams need a win to keep pace. A loss at this juncture could severely cripple their post-season plans. In fact, a loss could very well wind up knocking a team out of the picture altogether.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs COWBOYS OFFENSE
Tony Romo continues to be Tony Romo. What that means is you always have to take the good with the bad. The good is when he’s on, he can be a very competent passer with the kind of arm capable of making all the throws. The bad is he’s still prone to boneheaded mistakes. Romo has throw for 4,000 in every season he’s been healthy and started and he’s less than 100 yards away from eclipsing that total once again. Unfortunately, coming off a year where he posted a career best TD/INT ratio (31/10) he’s fallen back to old habits this year, nearly balancing his stat sheet with 20 TD against 16 INTs.
One bit of good news for Romo and company is that his best target, WR Dez Bryant, is adamant about playing this Sunday despite suffering a broken finger. Bryant is currently 10th in yardage and has caught 9 of Romo’s TDs so his presence would definitely be missed. How effective he’ll be catching balls with a broken finger remains to be seen. Mike Wallace can’t catch balls with two perfectly manicured hands so maybe having all your fingers operational isn’t that big a deal.
The Dallas packing attack remains strong with TE Jason Witten continuing to be one of the most dangerous pass catching targets in the game. He and Bryant are complemented by Miles Austin, whose 2012 campaign has been beset by injury. Perhaps to their detriment, the Cowboys don’t run as much as they should although Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray remain threats out of the backfield.
I’m not gonna lie, Dallas’ passing game scares the heck out of me. Coming off an utter dismantling at the hands of Phillip Rivers (who really didn’t even play that well) and a crew of utter no-name receivers, this game has the potential to get real ugly real fast if the Steelers’ secondary doesn’t play a helluva lot better. To that end, the Steelers have already decided Curtis Brown, who was about as useful as tits on a giraffe against San Diego, will ride the pine in favor of Josh Victorian. Victorian, who spent the entire season on the practice squad, didn’t exactly shine in his brief stint last Sunday but I can safely say it’d be nearly impossible to play worse than Brown did.
LaMarr Woodley has been practicing and it appears the Steelers will have their oft-injured LB back for the game. Of course, the Football Gods have deemed it unfair for us to have both Woodley and James Harrison together for any length of time so look for one (or both) to leave after a handful of plays. On paper, it looks like the defense will be formidable with both Woodley and Troy Polamalu back after extended absences but I think we’ve seen enough of Troy to know he’s playing at half speed. Whether that’s good enough for him or Woodley or Harrison to force another big game-changing turnover remains to be seen.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs COWBOYS DEFENSE
Big Ben and company better bring their A-game or else last week’s anemic offensive effort is gonna look like an ArenaBall game by comparison. I don’t know what has gone wrong with Todd Haley‘s offense but something clearly has. Going back to the game against KC, the offense has been sputtering to a standstill even with Ben at quarterback.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is because nothing seems to work. The running game doesn’t move the chains. The passing game creates opening only for passes to CLANG harmlessly off the receivers’ hands. The short quick routes still end with Ben running for his life. And the end result is a team with a load of offensive talent on paper struggling to score points.
The offensive line will look different yet again with rookie first rounder David DeCastro finally getting a start at RG. Ramon Foster will slide over to the left while Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey remains in the middle. Whether this line-up will open up some holes for the running game is anybody’s guess. It will certainly help matters if Jonathan Dwyer and iRed can get something going on the ground.
The Cowboys boast perhaps the fiercest pass rush we’ve seen all year. OLBs Demarcus Ware (11 sacks) and Anthony Spencer (8.5) will eat Ben up if the team becomes one dimensional. Corners Brandon Carr and Maurice Claiborne aren’t the flashiest secondary even though they’ve combined to form the 8th best pass D in the league. Dallas has a very strong defense so when the plays present themselves, it’ll behoove the Steelers to not let those opportunities slip through their fingers.
The last time these two teams met during the regular season, a pick six by Deshea Townshend turned the tide of the game and perhaps of the season. The Steelers went on to win and then went on a roll which culminated with a heartstopping victory in Super Bowl XLIII. Will this game be a similar springboard? Or will it be just another stop on the path to diminished expectations?
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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.
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He may look like Private Pyle but he plays like the Terminator. And just like the T-1000, David DeCastro will be back. The only question is when. While the Pittsburgh Steelers continue to guard injury information like it’s nuclear launch codes, reports are that DeCastro’s knee injury may not be as bad as initially feared.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s bad. He’s undergoing surgery today and faces significant rehabilitation time. However, word is the team is not putting him on the Injured Reserve list, meaning they must think there’s an outside chance he’ll be ready to return before the end of the 2012 season. Once you’re placed on IR, your year is officially done. That’s why Rashard Mendenhall and Casey Hampton, two players coming off major off-season surgery who aren’t expected to be ready for the first portion of the season, aren’t on IR either.
Fans of the Steelers know this as a Woodson Situation. Rod Woodson tore his ACL in the opening game of the season back in 1995 but the team kept him on the active roster hoping he’d make it back. Rod would eventually become the first (and to my knowledge, only) player to return the same season in which he suffers a torn ACL when the Steelers dressed him for the Super Bowl. He had a pretty good game, too.
The Steelers tried to recreate the Woodson Situation a couple years ago when Aaron Smith tore his triceps tendon but vowed to return. Despite again making it all the way to the Super Bowl, Smith never recovered well enough for the coaches to put him back in. Although much of that was likely due to his replacement, Ziggy Hood, playing very well in his stead.
Obviously the drawback to keeping DeCastro off the IR is that the Steelers will basically be playing with one less sub on the bench. That wouldn’t be a huge deal since the 53rd man usually seldom sees the field anyway but the Steelers will actually be playing with three less players. As mentioned, Mendy and Big Snack are in various stages of recovery meaning that’s two more guys they’ll have to carry on the active roster who can’t play.
With DeCastro out, Ramon Foster returns to the starting job at RG. With Foster back, the line basically returns to what we had at the end of last season, the only change being Willie Colon at LG in place of the Big Legursky. Left to right, are starters will be Max Starks, Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, and Marcus Gilbert. I’m not sure how I feel about this combo although Starks at LT rather than the inept Gilbert is comforting and anybody in place of Kemo at LG is an improvement.
Speaking of the 53 man roster, with the third preseason game in the books, teams had to cut their rosters down to 75 men as of Monday. No real notable names except LB Mortty Ivy, a Monroeville kid who made the team last season but was hurt this year and S Myron Rolle, the Rhodes Scholar from FSU who skipped a year to study abroad. Kicker Daniel Hrappmann was also among those let go as I try to resist the urge to yell I TOLDYA SO, I TOLDYA SO.
I hate preseason games but going on Twitter during them to watch people tweet that some third string linebacker is going to replace James Harrison because he got a sack in the fourth quarter against the a bunch of undrafted free agent OLmen does make them more tolerable. I enjoy laughing at dummies. Look, the guys who play in the second half are marginal NFLers and/or training camp fodder, nothing more. Hrappmann was never going to unseat Shaun Suisham, even though if anybody should have to earn their job it’s ‘ol Miss’em.
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Rule number one of the preseason is don’t get injured. Rule number two is don’t get injured. Rule #3 is see rule number one.
I hate the preseason. I’m sure I’ve made that abundantly clear since I mention it in every one of these damn recaps. But it bears repeating because literally nothing good comes from preseason games. Honestly, outside of a Super Bowl or a AFC Championship game, the only time I’m truly a nervous wreck watching Pittsburgh Steelers football is during the preseason. Injuries can happen at any time but they’re a hundred times more galling when they occur before the season actually starts.
Luckily, coaches have figured out what a deathtrap exhibition games are so they play their starters sparingly. Unless you’ve brought in an entirely new coaching staff or starting a rookie quarterback, starters usually only play a handful of series in the first two games. It’s the third game that’s the tricky one as that’s where coaches usually give the starters an entire half to work off the rust picked up during the off-season. If something bad is gonna happen, it usually happens in that third preseason game.
Guess what? Something bad happened.
Shortly into Saturday night’s game against the Buffalo Bills, Marcus Gilbert, who spends more time on the turf than a groundskeeper, got thrown to the ground as usual. In falling, he took out round draft pick David DeCastro, who was actually blocking his man. The cameras soon spotted DD on the turf clutching his leg in agony. A few minutes later he was loaded into the Cart of Shame and left to assess the damage. After the game, Mike Tomlin would only offer that his injury “was severe.” While the Steelers still haven’t released any specifics, word from ESPN’s Adam Schefter (toldya the national guys are way more wired in than the local media) is that DeCastro tore his MCL, dislocated his knee cap, and damaged his patella tendon.
It appears DeCastro avoided the dreaded Double Whammy of an ACL/MCL tear. Which is sort of like being happy you got herpes but didn’t knock up your girlfriend when your condom broke. Although make no mistake, avoiding the Double Whammy is indeed a big positive. Despite conflicting reports from NFL.com and no official MRI report from the Steelers, reporters seem fiarly sure DeCastro’s ACL is okay.
For whatever reason (I’m not a doctor), an ACL tear is the worst injury imaginable. An MCL injury, while also serious, seems to be less dire. In any case, DeCastro will likely need surgery and I’m fairly certain he’s not going to be back this season. Lineman sometimes gut through knee injuries so depending on the severity of the damage, I suppose it could be possible for him to return late in the year but I have no idea why the Steelers would want to rush him back. We’ll see when the team releases an official medical report but until we hear different, I’d just assume he’s lost.
As DeCastro departs, the Steelers welcomed back Max Starks on Saturday. Mad Max looked good at LT. He had a few hiccups early but once he found his groove he looked just like the Max of old. Pretty sad that this team invests pick after pick on OTs yet keep turning to that old warhorse to bail them out every season. The new new look O-line will be (left to right) Starks, Colon, Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert.
DeCastro wasn’t the only casualty on Saturday. DE Brett Keisel was also helped off the field in some pain. Thankfully, it appears he only suffered an ankle sprain and should be okay by the opener. Of course, we know the Steelers love to lie about these things so who knows. If he has the dreaded high ankle sprain, that’s the kind of injury which lingers all year.
The good news was second year man Cam Heyward played in Keisel’s stead and did well. Remember Ziggy Hood languished on the bench for a couple years before the light bulb came on so perhaps Cam is a quick learner. The Steelers D looked terrific against Buffalo, generating a ton of pressure on Buffalo QBs which lead to several turnovers. I’m still not sure about the secondary but if the line and linebackers can dominate scrimmage like they did on Saturday, that’ll really cover for a lot of shortcomings.
Offensively, we got our first prolonged look at the Haley offense. Things started a little rough as the wide outs had a ton of drops which repeatedly stymied their drives. Manny Sanders, in particular, got open for a long gain but Sweed’d a perfect pass from Ben. The best action came late in the half with the Steelers backed up to their 1. Ben got them out of trouble by throwing a 30 yard bomb to Jonathan Dwyer…yes, Jon Dwyer. Isaac Redman finished up their previous drive with a tough 2 yard TD run so between iRed and Dwyer, the Steelers look to have a pretty impressive running back tandem. Early in the second half, Lefty came in after a pick by Troy and tossed another 40 yard bomb to AB.
Who says they have no deep game without Mike Wallace?
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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.
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Look, ma, the Pittsburgh Steelers can negotiate contracts after all!
While the Mike Wallace saga continues to drag on, the Steelers finally completed one successful negotiation. First round draft pick David DeCastro will officially sign with the Black and Gold on Thursday, the final member of the team’s 2012 draft class to reach an agreement. With a wage scale slotting system a part of the last CBA, there wasn’t much for the two sides to quibble about in regards to money. However, there was some hassle over whether his guaranteed contract would run three or four years. When the 25th pick (Dont’a Hightower) and the 23rd pick (Riley Rieff) recently completed their deals with only three years guaranteed, it became readily apparent DeCastro would get three and like it.
The contract, as per the CBA, calls for DeCastro to make $7.8 million over three years, most if not all of which I assume is guaranteed. The Steelers also hold options for a fourth and even a fifth year with some piddling workout and roster bonuses guaranteed in year four. If this kid is as good as advertised, and many draftniks were calling him the best offensive guard prospect in the past several years, he won’t have to worry about those options being picked up. Perhaps the best part of this deal getting done well in advance of training camp is now DeCastro will have the benefit of a full camp which he probably needs after missing almost all of mini-camp finishing up his classes at Stanford.
The Steelers have high hopes for DeCastro, already penciling him in as one of the starting guards for this upcoming season. After cutting useless Chris Kemoeatu, the pickins’ are slim with Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster currently the only players on the roster with starting experience at guard. The team is planning to experiment with moving Willie Colon to guard although who knows if that’s still in the cards. The team has equally high hopes for 2nd round pick Mike Adams but he’s said to be a little raw which is probably why they recently re-signed Max Starks. At this point, the only certainty on the O-line is that Maurkice Pouncey will be the starting center. Besides Pouncer, we’re pretty much assured DeCastro and 2nd year tackle Marcus Gilbert will start although their play and the play of others will determine who starts with them and whether they play the right or left sides.
While this level of uncertainty may sound a bit pessimistic, it actually is not. As anybody who has witnessed Ben Roethlisberger running for his life over the past several years can attest, almost any combination will be better than what we’ve had. And with DeCastro officially in the fold, perhaps we can even dare to hope for so much more.
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The 2012 season begins today for the Pittsburgh Steelers. This afternoon’s OTAs will be the first time most of the team has been on a field since we saw Tim Tebow smite them from the playoffs back in January. We’ll get our first look at the new look offense being installed by coordinator Todd Haley. We’ll get our first glimpse of the revamped offensive line. And we’ll get a chance to see what the secondary looks like now that Willie Gay has taken his talents to Pittsburgh West.
Well, we WOULD get to see these things if OTAs were open to the public. In reality, all we’ll actually learn is whatever minor nuggets of information the Steelers’ media puppets are fed by their “sources.” Normally I don’t pay OTAs much mind because I’m fairly confident that running Zip Buttonfly 501 Blues fifty times in May has zero bearing on being able to execute it in December. I’m sure teams like the Cleveland Browns work as hard during OTAs as any other team but it’s not gonna make much difference when you have Colt McCoy throwing to Mohammad Massawhatever.
I am interested in Steelers OTAs this year because 2012 is a season of change. Starting of course with Haley and his shiny new offense. I’ve already mentioned Ben Roethlisberger, among others, have been telling the media that tackling Haley’s new playbook has proven to be quite the challenge. Given Ben’s penchant for exaggeration, I’m sure some of that is just him being his usual Drama Queen. At the same time, I recognize Ben came into the league under Ken Whisenhunt who was replaced from within by his receivers coach, who basically kept the playbook as is. While Haley also worked under Whiz (in Arizona) so I expect some level of familiarity, he’s still an outsider coming in with an entirely new playbook.
The last time the Steelers went completely outside the organization to bring in a new offensive coordinator, they didn’t score an offensive touchdown their first three games of the season.
OL coach Sean Kugler also has a lot of work to do with our new look offensive line. Unfortunately, David DeCastro and Mike Adams won’t be able to attend OTAs because their schools are still in session. Oh, didn’t you hear? The NFL has a deal with the NCAA that says drafted players can’t report for NFL duty until their final semester has ended. I can sorta understand DeCastro sticking around school seeing as Stanford, while not as prestigious as my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon, is still one of the most renowned universities in the country. But the idea that they’re forcing Adams to stay at Ohio State to complete his degree in
bong hits whatever nonsense major they give football players in order to keep them academically eligible is downright laughable.
Kugler will still have plenty to keep him busy even without his two prize prospects in the mix. His most daunting task will be Willie Colon’s impending move from tackle to guard. I’ve recounted Colon’s story too many times but in brief, Mike Tomlin inexplicably fell in love with him back in 2007 and has held him in high regard despite being part of an offensive line that surrendered a smidge under 120 sacks during his two seasons at RT. In 2010, he tore his ACL during OTAs yet the Steelers still signed him to a five year $29 million deal during the off-season. He rewarded their faith by blowing out his tricep against the Ravens in week one of last season. Two mediocre healthy seasons and two seasons missed due to injury and the Steelers were STILL counting on this guy to be a big part of their O-line in 2012. It’s like they want Ben to die.
Anyway, it appears they’ve finally watched some game tapes from 2008-9 and noticed Colon allows more penetration than a sorority girl on spring break. His downfall as a tackle was always his poor footwork and below-average athleticism. Theoretically, those weaknesses would be less glaring at guard where you don’t have to be as quick nor worry about matching up in space. Of course, Colon has never played guard and is somewhat undersized for the position so it’s not a perfect fit. However, I have a feeling the Steelers want to get SOME value out of their investment so this is their last ditch effort to find some use for him. Barring catastrophe, DeCastro will start at one guard position which leaves a two, now three, way battle between Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster and Colon for the other starting spot.
Finally, a few off-season tidbits. For those hoping Shaun Suisham will have competition in camp, UFA Grant Ressel has already been cut. I noted in my rundown of undrafted free agents that I had no idea what the Steelers saw in him coming off a lousy 2011. They did sign another kicker, Danny Hrapmann from Southern Miss. Hrapmann’s college numbers were marginally better than Ressel’s, although he still hit only 23 of 34 attempts last year with his numbers from 40+ (slightly more than 60% career) and 50+ (0 for 3 although two were blocked, he hit 2 of 3 the year before) not particularly impressive.
Looks like another long year with Miss’em Suisham.
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Ah, college graduation. That rite of passage when one chapter of your life closes and another begins. Of course, I graduated in my early twenties with about six figures worth of debt to my name. Something tells me Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t have to worry about repaying his student loans. And while he graduated this weekend some nine years after leaving Miami University (Ohio) for the NFL, it’s nice to see the big lug finally earn his degree. He even trotted out the sham wife (who, to be fair, has ditched the butch haircut and is looking much better these days. She still dresses like my grandma, though.) to
keep him away from post-graduation keggers share in his special day.
While Big Ben was off accepting his bachelor’s degree in education (EDUCATION? No wonder US academic standards continue to plummet), the Steeler were busy getting acquainted with their 2012 draft class. The new CBA makes contract negotiations fairly standard in terms of length and base salary, the only quibbling point left is over bonus money. NT Alameda Ta’amu was the first draft pick to sign, with good reason as the Steelers lavished their nose tackle-of-the-future with a generous deal worth about $2.5 million. To put that in perspective, fourth round pick Ta’amu received roughly the same deal second rounder LaMarr Woodley got back in 2007. RB Chris Rainey was the second player to sign although his contract details haven’t been announced.
Regardless of contract, all our draft picks, undrafted rookies, and non-roster invitees were in town this weekend for their first off-season mini-camp. Sadly not among them was Trick Shot Quarterback Alex Tanney, who I mentioned in my recap of undrafted free agents last week. Tanney decided to sign with the Bills when he found out we also invited former Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson to camp. Johnson, who holds the honor of being the first overall pick of the 2011 United Football League draft, bounced around between the UFL, NFL, and ArenaBall last year. Johnson is a big guy (6’5 240 pounds) with a big arm who also has pretty good mobility for a guy his size. And he’s African-American, like every other quarterback on our roster not named Ben Roethlisberger. I only felt compelled to point that out because like 10% of the QBs in the league are African-American yet the Steelers are going into camp with four on the roster (not to mention Dennis Dixon is still trying to find work). Mike Tomlin must think he’s Jesse Jackson or something.
Anyway, rookie orientation begins with the assigning of jerseys which is always an interesting proposition. The Steelers don’t retire numbers, another of their strange little quirks like refusing to alter their uniform design or field a squad of big-haired Polish girls waving pom-poms. Technically, they have retired one number, #70, worn by Hall of Fame defensive end Ernie Stautner from 1950-63. It was retired in 1969 which to you Steeler historians out there will pretty well explain why his was the last number to be “officially” taken out of circulation.
Vaunted rookie guard David DeCastro has drawn countless comparisons to former Steelers All-Pro Alan Faneca since the moment his name was called by the Ginger Dictator. DeCastro initially took #61 but after second thought (or perhaps some prodding from the Steelers’ PR staff) switched to Faneca’s #66. Maybe they’re both really big Penguins fans. Fellow rookie lineman Mike Adams took freshly retired Chris Hoke‘s #76. Ta’amu picked one of the more iconic numbers, choosing to wear the #95 most frequently associated with Greg Lloyd. Lloyd’s number was actually worn by Joey Porter early in his career but he got sick of being called “the next Greg Lloyd” so he changed it to #55. It’s pretty safe to say Ta’amu won’t have to worry about those comparisons as even if he blossoms into the anchor at the middle of the Steelers D, there’s not much confusing a mouthy linebacker built like a brick house with a fatass lineman charged with the dirty work up front.
Then we have perhaps one of the more ignorant things the Steelers have done in recent years. Rookie linebacker Sean Spence asked for and received #51. Granted James Farrior may not be a Hall of Famer or even one of the top ten linebackers in Steelers history (although that’s arguable) but he was key contributor to three Super Bowl bound teams not to mention a long-time defensive captain. They couldn’t wait ONE FREAKIN’ YEAR before peddling his number out to some midget who’ll probably be cut in a year or two?? Not to mention for those hoping Farrior might be brought back at a later date, I guess now it’s clear the Steelers have turned that page.