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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Once upon a time, the prospect of playing the boys from the Mile High City was met with the same level of disdain Steeler Nation now reserves for the Ratbirds or Patriots. After last night’s game, I think it’s safe to say while the Denver Broncos may not be full-fledged members of the Circle of Hate, they’re definitely vying for a spot. For the second straight game dating back to last season’s Wild Card debacle, the Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in groan-worthy fashion, 31-19.
Where to start with this disaster.
How about new offensive coordinator Todd Haley? Some people view Twitter as a sign of the apocalypse (Follow me @totalsteelers) but I enjoy it because instead of waiting hours or even minutes to gauge reaction, you have it in seconds. It took roughly one quarter before the armchair offensive coordinators started calling for Haley’s head. His crime?
He was running the ball too much!
Yes, the same group who called into Pittsburgh sports talk shows whining about Bruce Arians and his Flying Circus offense for the past three years were moaning because Haley gave them what they asked for. More importantly, he gave Art Rooney II exactly what he wanted, a return to Stiller Football. And how did Stiller Football fare? Isaac Redman gained 20 yards on 11 carries while Jon Dwyer, one of the game’s lone offensive stars, chipped in 43 yards on only 9 carries with one big 17 yard gain wiped out due to a dubious holding call on Mike Wallace.
On the bright side, we totally dominated time of possession!
Seeing this offense try to relive the glory days of Franco and the Bus was PAINFUL to watch. Several times we had first and 15s and Haley elected to run on two successive downs. Only Ben Roethlisberger completing some big third down throws kept the chains moving. This team has one of the deepest and most talented group of wide receivers in the NFL. They shouldn’t be running to set up the pass, they should be passing to set up the run.
FORGET YINZERBALL AND PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS.
Ben is going to catch some flak for his performance last night, as he should. When your rep is being the best clutch player in football, you don’t throw a pick-six down six with 3 minutes left. Ben certainly had a Jekyll/Hyde game, making some great throws where he literally threaded a needle but he also made several incredibly dangerous throws which could’ve easily gotten intercepted. He also missed several big plays such as botching a sure TD to Heath Miller (who was open all day) and never seeing Wallace left wide open on a crucial fourth quarter drive. While I think it’d be totally unfair to pin this loss on him, Ben needs to play a helluva lot better if this team is going to win.
Especially if the defense is going to play like they played last night. Last year, Warren Sapp derided them as old, slow and done. This season, it appears they’re young, eager and over their heads. Despite obnoxious Cris Collinsworth occasionally getting up off his knees to proclaim “Peyton Manning is doing this to the league’s #1 ranked defense!” this is not the league’s top ranked defense. That was last year’s team with James Harrison and Ryan Clark and a healthier Casey Hampton and William Gay opposite Ike Taylor. Last night’s defense had none of those things and the results showed.
Manning was only sacked twice and one of those, by Jason Worilds, was a clean shot thanks to Manning mixing up the protection call. Other than a first quarter sack by Larry Foote, who was one of the few bright spots on defense, they generated almost zero pressure. Surely the altitude played a part but it doesn’t excuse anything. The bottom line is the Steelers offense held the ball for a whopping 10 minutes (35 to 25) longer yet the “exhausted” Broncos D held them to 19 points while the “rested” Steelers D allowed Pey-Pey to march right down the field on them.
Foote forced an early fumble although it was more luck than skill as he got thrown into the back and happened to knock the ball loose. That was it as far as highlights go. The D-line got pushed around on passing plays and couldn’t stop the run when it counted. The linebackers effort can be summed up by watching Peyton OUTRUN supposedly super-athlete Lawrence Timmons to the sticks for a 7 yard gain. Then we have the secondary. Youngsters Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen did their best B-Mac impressions, allowing generous 5 yard cushions on every pass play. And then we have Demaryius Thomas, who once again abused Ike Taylor to the tune of 5 catches for 110 yards.
Perhaps no play summed up last night’s debacle like the third quarter turning point when Thomas took a little slant and ran away from like half the defense on his way to a 71 yard TD. Of course the scab refs missed a hold on Ryan Mundy on the play but it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
What would have mattered was the facemask on Ben they missed on the Steelers’ previous drive which ended with a Shaun Suisham field goal. The game was an absolute fiasco from an officiating standpoint, with the scab refs saving their worst for prime time and most of their incompetence going against the Steelers. The lone time we got a call, on yet another boneheaded Mike Tomlin challenge which came in after a play had been run, it would’ve been better if they hadn’t. Meanwhile, Wallace’s hold wiping out a big Dwyer run and a crucial pass interference on Lewis late in the 4th were the definition of ticky-tacky especially after not calling worse against the Broncos. Evidently they did read the Illegal Formations portion of the rule book on the can before the game because that was one thing they called on both teams at least a good half dozen times.
Let’s not blame the scab refs on this fiasco. The Steelers played a terrible game last night. If Ben had Superman’d up and pulled out a last-second victory, it only would’ve been a Band-Aid on a gaping chest wound. The Steelers clearly have some fundamental issues they need to address on both sides of the ball. And they need to start by figuring out what kind of offense they want to run. Because what we saw last night isn’t going to get it done, not against Peyton Manning, not against Tim Tebow, not against anybody.
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Better late than never…
In an off-season which has seen a non-stop parade of starters leave town, the Pittsburgh Steelers have finally brought back one of their first stringers. Restricted free agent Ramon Foster signed his one year tender, ensuring he’ll be a Steeler in 2012. Foster was signed as an undrafted rookie back in 2009 and started four games that season. The next year, he took over for an injured and ineffective Trai Essex and has started at right guard in 22 of 32 regular season games since.
I admit reading “The Steelers signed a free agent!” or “The Steelers signed an offensive lineman!” only to discover they re-signed Foster is somewhat akin to conducting a hard target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in quest of your Easter Basket only to discover your parents hid it in the hamper and it’s filled with chipped ham. Foster is the kind of thoroughly mediocre lineman Kevin Colbert and company are inexplicably happy with charging to protect their $100 million franchise quarterback. If Doug Legursky also signs his tender, neither of our starting guards will have been one of the 255 best players in college football the year they graduated (ie: neither were drafted). It’s like building a beautiful mansion and then investing in two pieces of plywood and a chihuahua to defend it.
At the same time, the Steelers offensive line situation is dire. How dire? If you bring up the team’s depth chart on Steelers.com, the left guard position is completely blank. And, no, I don’t think that’s a really clever tribute to Chris Kemoeatu. Between no LGs and Max Starks, who tore his ACL so who knows if or when he’ll be ready to come back, still being listed as the starting LT, the Black and Gold are alarmingly thin on the O-line. Considering the team used something like ten different starting combinations over the course of last season, I’d like to see a minimum of five decent starters and two capable backups. With Foster’s return, at least the team’s current complement is up to four.
Foster was technically a restricted free agent but since he was undrafted and tendered a minimum contract, any team could’ve signed him for just the cost of $1.5 million. The fact he signed his tender well before the April 20th deadline for signing RFAs indicates he wasn’t exactly a hot commodity. Considering freakin’ Kemo inspired a bidding war, I’m not sure what that says about Foster. Then again, teams have shown a pronounced lack of interest in any restricted free agents this winter.
Yes, I have to once again mention Mike Wallace. If for no other reason than the fact his grizzled 60 Minutes namesake passed away at the grand old age of 93 and searches for the name Mike Wallace are probably going to spike today. No longer will the Flash be known as “The Other Mike Wallace,” at least not to those of us under the age 50. Perhaps it will also force that insufferable Chris Berman to come up with a new but equally unfunny nickname for our star receiver. Finally, I do want to note some second stringer at ProFootballTalk recently posted an item about interest in the younger, more lively Wallace having “dried up” wherein he makes the same points our buddy Hennessy already made two weeks ago.
Better late than never.
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I got a bad feeling about this…
The [intlink id="20" type="category"]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] return to the Lone Star State for the first time since last season’s soul-crushing loss in Super Bowl XLV. However, rather than the team who reside at Jerry Jones’ tribute to his minuscule penis, their opponents are the Cowboys’ slacker younger brothers, the Houston Texans. I’m going to level with my dear readers. I’m very very worried about this game. Between the injuries to the offensive line and the shaky secondary, I can’t help feeling like we’re in the Millennium Falcon getting sucked toward the Death Star.
This week, we’re going to do something a bit different in Know Thy Enemy. The aptly named Pat Starr over at the State of the Texans blog kindly agreed to give us the lowdown on his team. After you’re done reading this, click on over to check out my answers to his questions. In the meantime, I’m going to stick to my regular format but insert Pat’s info when appropriate. So text is me, quote block’s are Pat.
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A couple weeks ago, I attended the Pitt Panthers’ “victory” over the vaunted Black Bears of Maine. Oh, I’m not an alumni but when you’ve spent your collegiate years getting hyped for the annual Nerd Bowl between my beloved alma mater, Carnegie Mellon, and their hated rivals from Case Western, you learn to take what you can get. Besides, I like to visit Heinz Field at least once a year and since Steelers tickets are impossible to get, Pitt games are a reasonable alternative. Hearing the fans in attendance shout “High Octane!” as Pitt and their brand new redneck carpetbagger head coach did everything in their power to lose to a Division I-AA school gave new meaning to “losing by winning.”
That is until Sunday.
Truth be told, I struggled writing my recap of the [intlink id="21" type="category"]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] decimation of the Seattle Seahawks this past weekend. Which is odd not only because it was a rousing victory, but, as my friends and family will tell gladly tell you with with eyes rolling, I’m never at a loss for words when it comes to talking Stillers. But listening to talk radio today where the topic du jour seemed to be Pitt’s impending defection to the ACC (Pittsburgh moved to the Atlantic coast? Clearly the conference commissioners did not attend CMU) rather than the Steelers game, I realized I was not alone. It’s almost as if Sunday’s game was being treated like a meaningless preseason exhibition rather than a legitimate NFL game.
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NFL analyst Warren Sapp recently derided the Pittsburgh Steelers saying they were “old, slow, and it’s over.” I wonder if he’ll take the drumstick out of his mouth long enough to retract that statement in the wake of the[intlink id="21" type="category"] Steelers[/intlink] 24-0 drubbing of the Seattle Seahawks. Much like last week, the final score doesn’t accurately reflect the one-sidedness of the actual game. The old slow Steelers dominated in every facet, amassing 421 yards to the Pigeons meager 164 while tossing their first complete game shut out since 2008. Sadly, that’s one more than the Pirates have had this year.
[intlink id="52" type="category"]James Harrison[/intlink], who was nearly invisible last week, played like a man possessed. [intlink id="57" type="category"]Troy Polamalu[/intlink], whom Sapp mocked for whiffing on a tackle of Ed Dickson, led the team with 8 tackles including one sack while also defensing one pass which should have gone for a Pick Six. To give you an idea of how thorough a whupping Dick LeBeau’s men laid on Seattle, the Seahawks didn’t venture into Steeler territory until well into the fourth quarter. Not that the Steelers didn’t display areas where they could still improve. Bryant McFadden did not play, leaving [intlink id="96" type="category"]Will.i.am Gay[/intlink] to offer comfy 5 yard cushions to our guests. It also afforded Keenan Lewis his first extended look against actual NFL competition. Both failed to distinguish themselves, playing loose coverage which would spell disaster against a more capable quarterback.
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Hope everybody had a nice Labor Day weekend. Sorry for not updating the past couple days but as the proud grandson of a steelworker, I honor my forefathers by doing nothing more strenuous than throwing brats on the grill, cracking open a PBR and watching fireworks over Labor Day holiday.
While in absentia, the Pittsburgh Steelers finalized the roster which will lead them to legendary glory here in 2011 (and hopefully well in to 2012). The biggest surprise cut was second year cornerback [intlink id="96" type="category"]Crezdon Butler.[/intlink] Butler played quite a bit during the preseason, struggling at times but also showing flashes of ability. The team is thin enough at corner that it’s surprising they’d just give up on a youngster so soon. It’s slightly reminiscent of last year when Joe Burnett played similarly well yet still failed to make the team. Then again, Burnett was a final round cut by the New York Giants this season so I guess [intlink id="23" type="category"]Kevin Colbert[/intlink] knows what he’s doing.
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Remember back during the lockout when [intlink id="8" type="category"]Roger Goodell[/intlink] had this crazy idea for an 18 game season? Remember how the Ginger Dictator justified this little slice of insanity by saying, “The fans have told me they hate meaningless football games?” Remember when it was revealed that the scheme would essentially cut the preseason in half with the final two exhibitions becoming regular season contests? Remember how this idea was met with howls of protest from coaches who said, “I absolutely need four games to determine my rosters and prepare for the season?”
Tonight the [intlink id="19" type="category"]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] have their yearly preseason meeting with the Carolina Panthers. In this fourth and final preseason game, which is absolutely crucial remember, head coach [intlink id="45" type="category"]Mike Tomlin[/intlink] has already announced Ben Roethlisberger, Ike Taylor, Jerricho Cotchery, Troy Polamalu, James Farrior, Casey Hampton, Maurkice Pouncey and Bryant McFadden won’t be playing. But, hey, you’ll get a full half of [intlink id="99" type="category"]Charlie Batch[/intlink]! ALL CHAZZ, ALL THE TIME! IT’S LIKE HITTING THE LOTTO AND SCORING WITH ROONEY MARA IN THE SAME DAY!
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Best. Twitter. Avatar. Ever.
Sorry for being tardy with this update but since the [intlink id="19" type="category"]Pittsburgh Steelers [/intlink]mauling of the Dream Team aka Philadelphia Eagles was nationally broadcast last night, I figured it better to do a more news-specific update than a recap of the game. Speaking of Twitter, twittering during preseason games makes them much more tolerable (and if you’re not following my twitter, well, my legs aren’t as nice as Kym’s but I know a lot more about football). Especially when you’re forced to listen to the unholy combination of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. Adding the greatest Steeler QB of all-time, Terry Bradshaw, to the mix did help a little if only because it’s amusing how discombobulated TB makes Aikman.
Oh and that horrifying NFL on Fox commercial featuring all the announcers in their underwear? Had to be Joe Buck’s idea.
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For members of Steeler Nation living outside of Western Pennsylvania, tonight is your first opportunity to see your [intlink id="19" type="category"]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] when they face off against the Philadelphia Eagles on Fox. Despite the Black and Gold coming off a glorious Super Bowl run, prepare yourself for almost non-stop praise for the Iggles. Philly, you see, is this year’s Greatest Team Ever Assembled. On paper.
Sure, they pulled off the biggest move in free agency by signing Nnamdi Asomugha. Then they traded Kevin Kolb to Arizona for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. TWO ALL-PRO CORNERBACKS! ON THE SAME TEAM! YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY LOSE WITH THAT 1-2 PUNCH!
Ask the Jets.