Bryant McFadden was a career nickelback before finally cracking the starting line-up for the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. That off-season, he left for a big money free agent contract from the – who else? - Arizona Cardinals. McFadden quickly crashed back down to planet mediocrity as the Cardinals looked to unload him at the first opportunity. They got that chance when the Steelers swung a draft day deal to bring B-Mac back home.
Fast forward several years later. William Gay was a career nickelback before finally cracking the starting line-up. The Cardinals signed him to a pricey free agent deal which they immediately regretted when they saw him play. They also unloaded him at their earliest opportunity, cutting him shortly after the start of the off-season. And once again, the Steelers brought their wayward son back into the fold.
The only difference is when the B-Mac deal was announced, Steeler Nation was ecstatic. When news of Gay signing a 3 year $4.5 million deal was announced yesterday, it was met with a collective groan. I’m not sure why.
Gay’s replacement in the starting line-up, Kennan Lewis, is an unrestricted free agent. Rumor is the Steelers want to re-sign Lewis but aren’t going to break the bank to do so. Lewis played well last year, his first as a starter, even serving as the team’s most consistent shut down corner during the early part of the season. However, the team also has a youngster named Cortez Allen, who when given the chance to start forced something like five turnovers in two weeks. Allen doesn’t have the physical tools Lewis possesses but he’s the kind of smart athletic ballhawking corner the team hasn’t had in ages. Given the Steelers D is in desperate need of playmakers, they’d be insane not to afford Allen a shot at starting in 2013.
And therein lies Gay’s value. Steeler fans were upset that Gay’s signing signaled they were raising the white flag on re-signing Lewis. The way I see it, they’ll still try to sign Lewis to a reasonable deal, likely in the ballpark of what they gave to Gay. But if somebody else wants to pay him veteran starter money, see ya later Keenan. Allen can easily slide into the starting line-up with Gay playing the nickel, a position in which he’s both familiar and very solid. If Lewis returns, the secondary will remain some combination of Lewis, Allen and Ike Taylor, a trio who comprised the best pass D in the NFL last year, with Gay serving as injury insurance in place of inept stinkbombs like Curtis Brown or Josh Victorian.
Best of all, I get to dust off my all-time favorite nickname. After the aforementioned Super Bowl victory, the Steelers held a parade downtown attended by nearly 100,000 fans. At one point, Gay decided to treat the crowd to his tone deaf rap stylings for which I dubbed him Will.i.am Gay. I never thought I’d say this but after last year’s massive disappointment, I’d gladly listen to an entire album of Gay’s dope rhymes in exchange for another Lombardi Trophy.
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Do or die. Not much more needs be said about the importance of this Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. We can argue about how good this Pittsburgh Steelers team actually is but you’d be hard pressed to make a convincing case that this team shouldn’t at least make the playoffs. With a loss on Sunday, that disastrous scenario would indeed become reality.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs BENGALS OFFENSE
Andy Dalton hasn’t had great success against the Steelers. Part of that is Dick LeBeau owning young quarterbacks. Part is the Steelers just seem to have the Bengals’ number. Whatever freaky mojo the Black and Gold hold over the Ginger Rifle, it’ll be something if it continues through this weekend.
The Bengals come in with the 9th best offense in football by points scored per game, which is really the only stat that counts when it comes to winning. The Steelers statistically still hold the best defense in football but that is determined in terms of yardage. There are actually a half-dozen defenses who give up fewer points per game. Still, despite the onslaught of injuries to LeBeau’s crew, the Steelers have epitomized a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy.
For whatever reason, there’s a meme going around that the defense hasn’t been good this season. In terms of sacks and splash plays, that’s definitely true. However, they’ve kept the team in games which is really all you can ask of your defense, especially one ravaged by injury. If your team has a mediocre QB running an average offense, then you need a defense which creates turnovers and scores points. If the Steelers think they’re in the same league as teams like Green Bay or New England (who have average defenses), they should be perfectly fine with a defense that plays well enough to not lose the game. Which this defense certainly has.
The Bengals have some weapons. As I said before our first meeting, I think AJ Green might be the best receiver in football. He’s certainly in the top five. Ike Taylor absolutely shut him down last time. The secondary expects Cortez Allen back this weekend which should help immensely as even at 50%, he’s probably a whole helluva lot better than the two-headed suck monster known as Josh Victorian and Curtis Brown. One of those human traffic cones will be playing the nickel, though, so there will be plays for Dalton to make.
Let’s just hope for once the Steelers make a few more.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs BENGALS DEFENSE
Which brings us to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense. The D is giving up on average 21 points a game. Considering we have a $150 million quarterback, a crew of receivers led by one guy making $8 million per year and another who thinks he’s worth more than that, and a posse of running backs led by a former first round draft pick, three touchdowns per game should be the least of our worries. Yet this team has struggled mightily to score points all season. Even when Ben is playing and fully healthy.
At some point Steeler fans will step out of 1970 and start asking the offense to WIN games for us instead of expecting the defense to do it (as always). The amount of money invested and the level of (alleged) talent is certainly there. The time for excuses and finger-pointing are over. The time to produce is now.
The Bengals have a pretty decent defense themselves. They actually lead the entire NFL in total sacks. Despite also being ravaged by injury, the Steelers offensive line has done a fairly good job all season. Granted the dink-and-dunk offense helps. Last week against Dallas (who also boast a pretty good pass rush) was really the first time Ben was routinely running for his life. David DeCastro struggled in his first start although I’m sure the first rounder will improve as his reps increase.
DeCastro along with fellow rookie RT Kelvin Beachum have acquitted themselves admirably although they’re clearly not the run blockers Willie Colon and Mike Adams were. As a result, the Steelers running game has been non-existent for almost a month now. There’s flashes here and there but no consistent threat. Mike Tomlin hasn’t named a starter and the assumption is Jon Dwyer will keep starting. I do believe Rashard Mendenhall will dress (Ike Redman is always banged up), however, as this may be his last best chance to audition for a job here or elsewhere next season.
The people who really have to come through are the
Young Money Cash Droppah crew. They talk a big game and like to preen and pose after every 5 yard catch (I’m looking at you, Antonio Brown) yet their play hasn’t backed up their posturing. The Steelers recent swoon which has seen them lose 4 out of their last 5 has been punctuated by mistake after mistake from this group of arrogant miscreants. Manny Sanders can’t hold on to the ball, Mike Wallace can’t catch it and AB may be the dumbest football player alive. I don’t know how we went from “best young receiving corps in football!” to “these guys need to get their shit together” but here we are.
Although, really, the latter can be said about the Steelers as a whole. If this team doesn’t at least make the playoffs with all the big contracts and big name players, well, something is certainly rotten on the Southside. This year has already been a bad soap opera, the accusations and recriminations if the unthinkable happens would no doubt increase tenfold.
Today is the final day of the Mayan calendar. I don’t know if they were Steeler fans but their prediction was remarkably accurate for a culture that existed two centuries before the first pig was skinned and fashioned into an oblong ball. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, the end is also nigh. Come Sunday, there is no tomorrow.
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I’ve been a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers for a very long time. I’m not going to claim I haven’t missed a game in 35 years or anything like that (I was a teenager once and the Steelers did start Bubby Brister). However, since I started following them in the late 80s, I can honestly count on one hand the number of times I’ve turned off a game before the clock hit zero. Well, much like the Steelers, now I have one for the thumb.
Yesterday’s 34-24 loss to the San Diego Chargers was the worst kind of drubbing. It was one of those games where literally nothing went right and your team was never in the game. The Steelers pathetic offense didn’t cross mid-field until there were 30 seconds left in the first half. At the start of the 4th quarter, the Chargers had possessed the ball for roughly 30 of the first 45 minutes. This was as thorough an ass-whupping as the Steelers have had in a long time.
Except instead of coming at the hands of an elite franchise like Baltimore or New England, it was handed to them by a going nowhere 4-8 team about to fire their head coach at season’s end.
Unlike in those other embarrassments, Ben Roethlisberger was the least of the culprits in yesterday’s debacle. Ben actually looked pretty good coming off a three game layoff due to catastrophic injury. He moved around well, scrambled without fear and didn’t look rusty or limited at all. It’s only too bad the rest of the team decided to offer him less support than they offered Charlie Batch in Cleveland.
Young Money should change their name to Cash Droppahs. Once again, they dropped an obnoxious number of passes, several of which would’ve went for big gains in the first half when the game was still within reach. Mike Wallace put up a nice fantasy game with garbage time stats (7 catches 112 yards 2 TDS) but in reality he came up small when the catches counted. He was wide open on at least three occasions in the first half only for the ball to CLANG off his stone hands.
But perhaps the biggest goat was Antonio Brown. Ben made a nifty move to scramble away from danger and launched a perfect throw 30 or so yards down field which hit AB right in the chest before bouncing harmlessly to the turf. As if that drop wasn’t bad enough, AB later gift-wrapped 7 points to the Chargers when a bubble screen hit TE David Paulsen and bounced into the end zone. Brown tried to pick it up which was stupid because he was 5 yards deep and about to be swarmed. Being tackled in the end zone is the same as kicking the ball out of the end zone (a safety) so the result would’ve been the same except by trying to be a hero, he let the ball get away from him and 2 points became 7. What a maroon.
For awhile now Steeler fans (myself included) have sang the praises of the Steelers receiving corps. All receivers drop passes now and then but at what point do we start wondering if maybe we’ve overrated them a bit? Wallace is definitely an one trick ass clown with delusions of grandeur (LarryFitz money my ass…) but what’s going on with AB and Manny Sanders? And why do the Steelers bother signing guys like Plax and the Cotch Rocket if they aren’t going to play them?
Of course, I’ve long said the passing game needs a good running attack to complement it in order to be effective. The Steelers couldn’t run at all yesterday. Jonathan Dwyer finished with 8 carries (EIGHT!) for 32 yards. He narrowly led the team in rushing over Ben who ended up scrambling for 31 yards because he was constantly running for his life. The offensive line allowed only 2 sacks but Ben’s 5 scrambles were due to pressure and there were another half dozen times he got away long enough to throw the ball away. Willie Colon tried to tough it out but had to leave early on with Maurkice Pouncey shifting to LG and Doug Legursky coming in at center.
This will come as shocking news but Colon is injured and reports are he’s LOST FOR THE SEASON. Yes, I know that the guy who is always injured and never plays a full season yet got a big fat contract anyway being injured is totally unexpected but there you go. We’ll talk about where this leaves the O-line and running game going forward later.
All this misery and I haven’t even gotten to the defense yet. I don’t want to hear Steeler fans bitch about Ike Taylor ever EEEEVVVER again. The D loses Troy and still leads the league in pass defense. The D loses James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and still leads the league in total D. The D loses Ike and goes to complete shit.
The way Curtis Brown played yesterday almost defies description. It literally looked like they took a guy out of the stands an hour before game time and put him in the starting line-up. That’s how clueless Brown looked. This is the guy’s second full year with the Steelers and he didn’t appear to have any idea where he was supposed to be or who he was supposed to be covering. It got so bad that in the second half they actually inserted Josh Victorian, a guy fresh off the practice squad, as the nickel because Brown was such a liability.
When the Chargers scored early in the 4th to go up 34-10, I figured it might be good to take out Ben since the game was lost. Mike Tomlin kept him in, risking both injury and the season in a lost effort. Ben led a TD drive but instead of going for 2 (and possibly cutting the lead to two scores instead of three), he kicked the XP. Why? “I didn’t want to reveal my secret 2 point plays,” Tomlin later said in a lie so hilarious, only the rah rah cheerleader Pittsburgh media could swallow it.
If you’re not trying to win, WHY WAS BEN PLAYING? I can believe you have some 2 point trick plays but, I dunno, you couldn’t just run a regular goal line play? The truth is Tomlin had given up on the game but he didn’t want to justify keeping Ben in and admit he wasn’t playing to win. I was on Twitter and a minor war broke out amongst Steeler fans as a #fireTomlin hash tag started making the rounds. I’m not saying Tomlin should be fired but I’m sick and tired of the Tomlin apologists acting like nothing that happens to this team is his fault. Losing to teams we shouldn’t lose to and putting out performances like this one or the one in Cleveland or a whole bunch back in 2009 are inexcusable. And that falls on the head coach.
The only good news to emerge from Sunday is the Bengals also lost (as did the Ravens but they’ve clinched the division with our loss). Which means the status quo holds over from last week. The Steelers must win out if they want to control their own destiny but one more loss, as long as it isn’t to the Bengals, will still probably get them in the playoffs. PLAYOFFS? (Insert Mora rant here).
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Guess what? Another key member of the Pittsburgh Steelers is hurt! Shocking!
Did they install ladders over the tunnel in Heinz Field? Did the entire team decide to engage in a mass mirror breaking exercise during training camp? I realize every team battles injuries but this season has been downright ridiculous.
The year starts with James Harrison on the bench where Troy Polamalu joins him almost right away. Harrison comes back and out goes LaMarr Woodley. Just to make things more interesting, Antonio Brown also gets hurt. Brown and Troy start feeling better, out goes Ben Roethlisberger. And that’s not even mentioning other notable guys who’ve missed time like Jonathan Dwyer, Jerricho Cotchery, Willie Colon, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams and on and on…
I’ll talk more about the Ben situation when we hear what happened at practice later this afternoon. Word is Ben is actually going to practice this week, not mill around the sidelines casually tossing soft lobs to Mike Tomlin‘s son like he did last week when the morons at ESPN excitedly proclaimed his “return to practice.” If Ben stands behind center and runs the offense at full speed while demonstrating he can heave the ball more than 5 yards down field without clutching his midsection like Richard Harrow just shot him in the gut, he’ll start.
If not, well, in Charlie Batch we trust. Suck it, haters.
One person the team will definitely be without is cornerback Ike Taylor. I think we all knew Ike was seriously hurt when CBS cut to a sideline shot of him being placed in a walking boot. Tomlin revealed he suffered a hairline fracture of his ankle, an injury should shelve him for 2-4 weeks. Steeler Nation has a real love/hate relationship with Face Me Ike (mostly hate) but there’s no doubt the team will miss him. Since starting the season in a Tebow-induced funk, Ike has returned to his status as the lead shut down corner on the league’s best pass defense. AJ Green, Victor Cruz and Torrey Smith all disappeared under his watch so to think his absence won’t be felt is foolish.
Cortez Allen will take his place in the starting line-up with Curtis Brown taking Allen’s slot as the nickel corner. As soon as Ike left, Joe Flacco couldn’t wait to test Allen. And he kept testing him all afternoon, targeting him a whopping 12 times before all was said and done. Of Flacco’s sad 188 yard output, 100 of those yards came at Allen’s expense. Allen did come on in the second half and the presence of Troy will certainly make any secondary better. Still, the Steelers aren’t going to play a mediocre quarterback every week so Allen either needs to step up his game or the team is going to struggle if Ike misses more than a couple weeks.
The Steelers are in a precarious position as it is. They’re holding tight to a Wild Card spot and the general mediocrity of the AFC means that a 9-7 record will probably slip in to at least one playoff slot. It’s looking like the pesky Bengals will be the Steelers biggest obstacle for that spot. The teams meet the final week and it’s very possible the winner will go on to the post-season. Sure the Bungles are the Bungles but I’d feel a lot better about that game with Ike covering AJ Green than Cortez Allen. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.
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Every hero needs a villain. Batman has the Joker. Steve Austin had Vince McMahon. Optimus Prime has Megatron.
And if you think I’m referring to Calvin Johnson and Richard Sherman, you really watch too much football.
The Pittsburgh Steelers represent everything good about the NFL. The most successful franchise with the most loyal fanbase. Their greatest nemesis is clearly the Baltimore Ravens, a gang of thugs and cowards who are detested by anybody outside their own filthy crime-ridden city.
Ratbird Week is usually a fun time for me because there’s normally a lot of trash talking from both sides. Most of the time, “rivalries” are more a thing that fans create than something the players actually embrace. Not so with the Steelers and Ravens. The players have made it very clear on many occasions that they really do hate each other.
Unfortunately, a lot of the fun has been sucked out of this particular Ratbird Week. First, a lot of the guys who fueled the fire are gone. Hines Ward has retired while Ray Lewis is out for the season, possibly never to return. Meanwhile, the Steelers are dealing with injuries to almost half their starting line-up, led by this fella you may of heard of by the name of Ben Roethlisberger.
It’ll read Steelers versus Ravens on the marquee Sunday night and while the hate will still be real the teams taking the field may only be mere hollow echoes of what they once were.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs RAVENS OFFENSE
Joe Flacco. He’s lucky he plays for a relatively low profile team otherwise his name would be debated on the Four Letter every ten minutes like the names Mark Sanchez or Tony Romo. Flacco is in that nebulous second tier of quarterbacks who argue they’re elite and fans of their team think of as elite but don’t have the results to earn that designation. Win a Super Bowl, even get to one, and then you can start using the E-word.
Until then, you’re just another QB.
The dirty little secret is the Ratbirds seem to be hedging their bets on Bert, as well. He’s in the final year of his contract and over the off-season the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement on an extension because Flacco wanted elite QB money while Baltimore management argued he wasn’t quite at that level. Flacco is having a pretty typical season for him, a 60-40 TD/INT ratio (13 TDs against 7 INTs) and he’s on pace for about 3,500 yards (2,300 going into Sunday) which is right around his career high. They Ravens have tried everything from trading for name wide receivers to letting Bert grow a pornstache in hopes he can hit another level.
At this point, I think it’s safe to say he is what he is and nothing can change that.
It certainly would help any QB to have a weapon like Ray Rice in the backfield. As usual, Rice is a tremendous dual threat, leading the team in rushing while being Captain Checkdown’s third favorite target. Rice has averaged over 1,200 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving the past three years and is well on pace to make it four in a row. Needless to say, if the Steelers have any hope of winning Sunday, they have to find a way to contain this serial Stiller Killer.
Outside Rice, the Ravens offensive weapons aren’t nearly as scary as some of the other teams we’ve faced this season. Torrey Smith, who memorably caught the game winning touchdown in our last meeting, is their nominal #1 wide out. He’s pretty much a deep threat, though, averaging 17 yard per reception. A few years ago they spent big money to bring in Anquan Boldin but he’s been more or less a bust. The Ravens parted ways with another longtime irritant, TE Todd Heap, a couple seasons ago and it appears they’ve finally found another short yardage possession threat for Flacco to dump off to in TE Dennis Pitta.
The Steelers defense needs a helluva better performance this week if they don’t want embarrassed on national tv. After getting the run D straightened out, KC gashed them repeatedly until Dick LeBeau figured out Ziggy Hood was a liability and started moving him around. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison were MIA and that simply can’t happen two weeks in a row. There will be even more pressure on the inside backers to support the run D and take away the middle of the field for those short throws Flacco lives for.
Ryan Clark passed all his concussion tests and will play on Sunday. He’ll be easy to spot as he’s resorted to wearing that extra thick Great Gazoo helmet. Clark has been the team’s defensive MVP this year so hopefully he’s able to stay on the field this week. If the Steelers have any hope of pulling out a victory, they’ll need every healthy defensive player not only on the field but playing their best possible game.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs RAVENS DEFENSE
Maybe the Ravens should change their symbol back to the horseshoe a team from Baltimore wore once upon a time. They certainly have a lot of luck. The Ratbirds have beaten the Steelers twice since 2008 when Ben Roethlisberger started at QB. They’ve won three other times, however, when Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch have started in Ben’s place.
On Sunday, they’ll get their first taste of Byron Leftwich. I’m already on record about thinking Leftwich is a poor fit for the Todd Haley offense but I guess we’ll see. Boss Todd has said he’s tailoring things to better suit Lefty. In other words, he’s quick passing timing based offense needs to account for a guy with a longer wind-up than AJ Burnett.
Rashard Mendenhall is expected to make his return. I wasn’t too enthused about Mendy’s return but after iRed and Dwyer played miserably against the Chiefs, it certainly can’t hurt. If the Steelers have one chance offensively, it’ll be on the ground. The Ravens run D has been absolutely atrocious, even worse than our run D. They’re currently averaging 132 yards against per game. Yes, 132!
While the Steelers have battled injury, the Ravens have had more than their fair share as well. NT Haloti Ngata has been playing hurt and it shows. He’s not nearly as stout at the nose as usual. Lewis was useless in pass coverage although he did a good job against the run. And Terrell Suggs may have made an admirable return from off-season ACL surgery but he’s clearly not himself. Much like James Harrison has been a step behind all year, Suggs just can’t get his body to do what it’s accustomed to doing.
The Ravens have also been hit in the secondary with the loss of top corner Lardarius Webb. Much like their run D, their secondary has been giving up huge chunks of yardage all season. Safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed are strong but corners Cary Williams and Paul Kruger can be exploited. If Ben were healthy, I could foresee something of a shoot-out. Whether Leftwich can make some plays in the passing game remains to be seen. Antonio Brown hasn’t practiced this week although he’s been telling reporters he’s going to give it a shot this afternoon. Getting him back on the field would be a huge boon to whoever plays QB.
I know I make every game out to be a make or break week. In this case, the hyperbole is actually appropriate. As usual, the AFC North is coming down to Ravens and Steelers. And, as usual, the eventual champion may very well be decided by tie breaks. It’s going to be an uphill battle for sure but why not shock the world and demoralize the Ravens in the process by pulling out a game with our back-up QB on national TV?
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The phrase of the day is “trap game.” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that spoken on sports talk radio the past few days, I could probably afford season tickets to Heinz Field.
I’m not really sure Monday night’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs qualifies as a trap game. Granted, it does come on the eve of the Black and Gold’s first meeting with the hated Baltimore Ravens. And it does come on the heels of the team surging to a three game winning streak, topped by an impressive victory over the defending Super Bowl champions. Actually, maybe this is a trap game…
After losses to two of the most abysmal teams in the NFL, I’m sure the Steelers know better. There’s no way to justify losing to crap teams like the Titans and Raiders but there were mitigating circumstances. For whatever reason, the trip out to Oakland always messes up the Steelers while the Tennessee game came on a short week (Thursday) which has also proven to trip up the Black and Gold (see the Browns game a few years back).
Also, trap games usually occur when you’re playing a scrappy opponent. The Chiefs are circling the drain right now. They’re shuffling quarterbacks in and out. Romeo Crennel, who replaced Todd Haley as head coach last season, just recused himself as defensive coordinator. The team is in utter disarray. If anybody is motivated this week, it’s Boss Todd, who surely wants to make KC pay for making his life a living hell.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs CHIEFS OFFENSE
For whatever inexplicable reason, the Chiefs think they have something in Brady Quinn. Perhaps it has something do with Crennel being the same coach who made the mistake of drafting him in the first round when he was the head coach of the Browns. Whatever the logic, KC has all but given up on the Matt Cassel experiment. With the frail and effeminate Quinn nursing a concussion, Monday night may very well be Cassel’s final shot as a starter.
When Patriots GM Scott Pioli moved over to KC in 2009, he brought Cassel with him to be his QB. Cassel was coming off the season where he led the Patriots to 11 wins after Tom Brady was lost for the year. He got off to a rocky start, throwing 16 TDs and 16 INTs but rebounded in 2010 to toss 27 TDs against only 7 INTs. It’s been all downhill since then. Injuries marred his 2011 campaign and Haley’s insistence on starting former Pitt Panther Tyler Palko in place of Kyle Orton after Cassel was placed on season ending IR eventually led to his ouster.
Cassel has struggled this season, leading one of the league’s most anemic offenses (29th in points scored) and throwing a ton (11) of picks in the process. Chiefs fans had gotten so fed up that they cheered when Cassel was knocked out of a game a few weeks back, drawing scorn from one of their own players. I would’ve said something about it at the time but Pittsburgh is the city that cheered when Terry Bradshaw got knocked out so we don’t really have room to talk.
The bottom line is Cassel has struggled mightily this season. On paper, the Chiefs have the weapons to be a decent offense. WR Dwayne Bowe is a big time playmaker. Former Pitt standout Jon Baldwin is lazy but talented. And the Chiefs have one of the most dangerous weapons in the league in RB Jamaal Charles. Charles is among the league’s rushing leaders and is also a force out of the backfield.
If the Steelers can keep Charles under wraps, they should have a pretty evening. Early in the year, the D was getting gashed on the reg. They’ve tightened that up as of late so let’s hope the pattern continue. The secondary was also victimized by big plays but Ike Taylor has shaken off his early season malaise and returned to the shut down Ike of old. As long as they don’t Charles move the sticks on the ground or Bowe get loose for a big hitter in the secondary, I don’t see Cassel being able to make enough plays to hang in.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs CHIEFS DEFENSE
Ben Roethlisberger has already told reporters that Boss Todd is almost salivating at the opportunity to put the screws to his former team. Some NFL coaches play by a set of unwritten rules which dictate respect for the game and their opponent. Then there are the assholes like Todd Haley. I’m sure Mike Tomlin would rein Haley in if he looked to run up the score but then again Tomlin has no control over his players, why should he try to control his coaches?
The Chiefs have a couple decent linebackers in Tambla Hall and Justin Houston. They inexplicably cut a pretty good corner in Standford Routt so a secondary that was a nominal strength may not be any longer. They’re in the bottom third of the league against the run although they have forced a surprising number of turnovers (6 INTs and 12 fumbles).
If Big Ben and the offense can avoid shooting themselves in the foot, they should have a pretty good game. The revolving door at RB continues as Jonathan Dwyer returns with Rashard Mendenhall said to be another week away from reclaiming his starting job. Isaac Redman will start but unlike last week will probably have to share some carries with the Minibus.
Antonio Brown is probably going to sit out after suffering a dreaded high ankle sprain last Sunday. High ankles only heal with rest so I suspect we may not see him for a couple weeks. Luckily the Steelers are extremely deep at WR with Jerricho Cotchery, who could probably start for most teams, ready to slide in the slot. Manny Sanders, who’s quietly putting together a nice season, will start. For those who remember back, Sanders actually played a ton as a rookie while AB didn’t come on until the playoffs. Sanders has been set back by injuries but now is his time to shine in front of a national audience.
In fact, it’s time for the entire team to introduce themselves to the nation. After getting off to a slow start this season, the Steelers have quietly crept back into the playoff conversation. If the season were to end tomorrow, they would be one of the AFC’s two Wild Cards. For the Black and Gold to firmly establish themselves as Super Bowl contenders, they need to string together wins. A victory on Monday night and a four game win streak going into a showdown with Baltimore would be a nice place to start.
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It appears the demise of the Steelers defense was greatly exaggerated.
After Sunday’s utter domination of the New York Giants, Dick LeBeau‘s crew finds themselves the top ranked defense in the entire NFL. Not the Bears. Not the Texans. Not the Niners.
The Pittsburgh Steelers.
Does anybody else remember all the way back to one measly month ago? I know many of my readers don’t live in the Pittsburgh area so let me tell you what every other yinzer calling in to sports talk radio was saying. The defense stinks. They couldn’t stop a nose bleed. Dick LeBeau is old and the game has passed him by. Without Troy Polamalu, the defense doesn’t have enough talent to get the job done.
I admit it. I jumped aboard that bandwagon. After the Steelers blew a 23-16 lead against the wretched Titans, surrendering 10 points in the final five minutes, I started thinking maybe the only way this team can win is to run up the score on their opponents and hold on for dear life. In my defense, Ben Roethlisberger must have harbored similar feelings because Cris Collinsworth mentioned about six times that he said he wanted the offense to start closing out games instead of relying on the defense.
Ironically, it was that Sunday Night game against the Bengals where the D finally came to life. Whether Ben’s comments filtered back to them or not, they stepped up. After allowing a field goal on Cincy’s opening drive of the second half, the defense forced five straight punts to close out the game, four of which were three and outs. Granted the Bengals don’t have the greatest offense but Andy Dalton nearly out-dueled Peyton Manning this past weekend. And they do feature AJ Green, the best receiver in football, who much-maligned Ike Taylor held to one catch for 8 yards.
The next week, they did face a supposedly high powered offense. Robert Griffin III was being touted as the most fearsome offensive weapon in the league. The Redskins were coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Giants where they scored 23 points a week after dropping 38 on a solid Vikings unit. The Steelers stuffed RGIII like a three point buck and held Washington to a mere 12 points. Last Sunday, we faced the Giants and another high flying offense. If you subtract the bogus fumble recovery for a TD and the bogus personal foul on Ryan Clark that gave them 7 instead of settling for 3, the D held the G-Men to 9 points.
So dominating were the Steelers that Giants coach Tom Coughlin threw his quarterback under the bus after the game.
Can this last?
Blitzburgh is a thing of the past. Despite the overall #1 ranking, they’re only 22nd in sacks (14 total). This might be concerning except I’m starting to think the sack is the football equivalent of a save in baseball. A closer can come in with a 3 run lead, give up a two run home run and as long as he gets that third out, he’s credited with “saving” the game. Physically dragging the QB down is like a save, it’s a result that doesn’t speak to the action. Sure it would be nice to get sacks because they usually come with big losses but they’re not the be all and end all. The Steelers have been generating pressure on the QB. Forcing QBs to move around in the pocket, rushing throws, and generally disrupting their timing can all be done without registering a sack. And that’s what they’ve been doing.
Then we have Mike Tomlin‘s beloved “splash plays.” Again, the Steelers haven’t been doing well in that category. Their top ranked pass D is third from the bottom in interceptions. They have forced four fumbles which makes them about average but there is no denying the splash plays are few and far between. However, are splash plays truly an accurate measure of a good defense?
I’m not big on statistics because, as the saying goes, there are liars, damn liars, and statistics. When it comes to turnovers, stats are even more misleading. One of the great unspoken truths of the NFL is that turnovers are about 20% scheme and talent and 80% luck. When the Saints won the Super Bowl, they had the most opportunistic D in the NFL. The next year the same players ranked in the bottom third in turnovers and lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Patriots had the last ranked defense last season yet made it all the way to the Super Bowl because they got a lot of turnovers (playing teams like the Jets and Bills helps). This year they’re in the middle of the pack and as a result have had to do a lot of work to overcome a defense ranked 28th against the pass and 22nd in total yards allowed.
What I’m saying is turnovers are nice but they can’t be counted on over the long haul. You can’t say, “well, we give up 350 yards per game but lead the league in red zone INTs!” and think that can last. Eventually you’re not going to get that pick. Like a card counter in Vegas, you have to play the percentages. It’s far preferably to hold the other team to under 200 yards of offense than give up huge chunks on the hope the other team will turn the ball over before they score.
The personnel may be different but the philosophy is still the same. Disrupt the quarterback, stop the run, force the other team to become one dimensional. The Steelers are executing the Dick LeBeau game plan to a T. And the scary part is they’re doing it without the services of Troy Polamalu.
If they’re this good without him, what are they going to do when he comes back for a playoff run?
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As of this writing, the match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants is slated to kick-off in MetLife Stadium Sunday afternoon as scheduled. Not to get all soap boxy on yinz but that’s kind of insane. While MetLife has a generator, word is the surrounding area is still without public transportation. The New York/New Jersey area is only now beginning to dig their way out of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy. To play a football game amongst such chaos is nuts.
To further the craziness, word out of NY is many Giants players have been living at the Giant’s training complex because their homes have been amongst those without power. From our side, the Steelers’ team hotel is also powerless so the team has made the call to forgo flying in the night before and will instead fly in on Sunday morning, go directly to the stadium, play the game and head home. Craziness.
Okay, hopping off the box now. So what might we see when this game kicks off?
STEELERS DEFENSE vs GIANTS OFFENSE
In my piece about Eli Manning this morning, I called him Elite Eli. The joke is in reference to the always obnoxious NY media who asked Eli before last season if he considered himself an elite QB and he said yes. They snickered at the answer but the laughing stopped when he led the team to a second Super Bowl victory with a second epic last second comeback victory of the Patriots. Eli had his ups and downs his first few seasons in the league but he has definitely blossomed in to a truly elite QB.
For proof, you need not look any further than the focus of the Giants offense. Much like here in Pittsburgh, in Eli’s early years the offense relied on a strong running game and a conservative passing game. The past couple years, the running attack has dropped off considerably while the Giants put the game in Eli’s hands. And he’s responded. Last year was Manning’s third straight 4,000+ yard game (in fact, he was less than a 100 yards short of 5,000) season.
Manning is on pace to surpass that mark yet again this year. What’s more, he’s doing it with a constantly rotating cast of receivers. He isn’t much like his brother Peyton except in one regard. They both have the knack of making any receiver look like a superstar. The 2007 Champion Giants featured Plaxico Burress and Amani Toome. The 2011 G-Men starred Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz. Manningham is gone but the passing game keeps on rolling with Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Domenik Hixon has more than replaced Manningham while Cowboys castoff TE Martellus Bennent has emerged as a red zone threat.
The Giants are a passing team. As such, they feature a duo of backs toting the rock. Ahmed Bradshaw is the nominal starter but he’s battled injury this season. Back-up Andre Brown has notched a 100 yard game in his absence. David Wilson is the change of pace back. All three are capable of catching balls out of the backfield, as is perhaps the best fullback in the league, former Pitt star Henry Hynoski.
The Steelers must must must control Eli Manning if they have any hopes of winning this game. The good news is Ryan Clark has practiced normally and would seem clear to play on Sunday after leaving the Washington game with a concussion. Clark has been a dominant force for a secondary that is statistically ranked first in the NFL. Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis have quietly strung together a couple strong games and it’ll be imperative they bring their A game to New Jersey.
The Giants boast perhaps the best O line in football. The passing game is so effective because Eli is seldom touched. LaMarr Woodley‘s hammy has been acting up and even if he plays, his effectiveness will be limited. No matter, the Steelers haven’t been getting the to QB much even with him and James Harrison finally on the field together anyway. The team doesn’t need to sack Eli or pick off his passes (although that would be nice) but they can’t let him set up a hammock and take a nap in the pocket either. If they can at least rush him a little, it would go a long way to disrupting their offense.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs GIANTS DEFENSE
This is a bad match-up for the Steelers. Our offensive line struggles against teams with good defensive lines and the Giants have perhaps the best D-line in football. Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka and Jason Pierre-Paul are arguably the most dangerous front four since the glory days of the Steel Curtain. Yes, they’re that good. They’re so good, I didn’t even mention a guy like Linval Joseph, who rotates at DT and has more sacks than anybody on the Steelers.
Our o-line has done fantastic work the past few weeks. Marcus Gilbert is likely out another week which I wouldn’t ordinarily care about because Mike Adams has done a fantastic job in his absence. I would rather have an experienced guy in there against that d-line but it’s not like Gilbert is a 10 year vet. The o-line, who are always a little fired up thanks to hotheads like Willie Colon and Maurkice Pouncey, have extra motivation this week after Justin Tuck told ESPN that they’ve only played well because they’ve gotten away with a ton of holding. Hey, as Jesse Ventura once wisely said, “it’s only cheating if you get caught.”
Ben Roethlisberger may be thanking the stars for the dink and dunk offense come game time. The best way to combat a hellacious pass rush is to get the ball out quick. Todd Haley’s offense is nothing if not quick. Mike Wallace has been chirping to the media about the lack of long bombs but those of us who remember Bruce Arians insanely dialing up deep ball after deep ball while Ben takes hit after hit prefer this method. Besides, the best defense is a ball control offense.
The Giants don’t have a great secondary. Some point to their 11 interceptions but when you play turnover machines like Michael Vick and Tony Romo (who’s gifted them 6 of the 11), the numbers will be skewed. There will be plays to be made against a secondary that’s in the bottom half of the league in yards given up.
Who will run the ball for the Steelers is a little murky. Jonathan Dwyer and Rashard Mendenhall have been limited at practice. I suspect the starter will be a game time decision. Either way, Mike Tomlin will likely deactivate one or the other and then blame their injury. Isaac Redman seems good to go so he’ll likely back-up whomever starts.
This game isn’t a make or break week for the Steelers. At the same time, this team really needs a signature win over a quality opponent. The past couple weeks we’ve seen an upswing in their play as they’ve done a good job against some capable opposition. But this week we face not only a playoff caliber team but a championship level club. A win this week will firmly establish the Steelers belong in that conversation as well.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Washington Redskins at Heinz Field on Sunday. Two storied franchises. The Redskins were founded back in 1932 although they didn’t move to DC until 1937. As we all know, the Steelers were started in 1933 after the Chief, Art Rooney, had a good day at the track (or so the legend goes).
And on Sunday we’ll get to see what the Chief saw waaaay back when the franchise was only in its second year. Except we get to see it in glorious high definition. Yes, the dreaded 1934 bumblebee throwbacks make their debut this weekend. Adjust your brightness levels with due diligence.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs REDSKINS OFFENSE
Robert Griffin III. What more can I say about him that hasn’t been said? He is truly the NFL’s ultimate weapon. He has more rushing yards than all the Steelers backs combined. And lest you think he’s a run first/pass second QB, his current passer rating is third behind only Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
Funny thing is, RGIII isn’t the only rookie making an impact on the Redskins. Running back Alfred Morris is currently third in the league in rushing. The sixth round pick has piled up over 600 yards and scored 5 TDs.
While that should add up to a potent offense, and indeed Washington is fifth in the NFL in total offense coming into this week’s game, some question marks have emerged. Griffin’s favorite target, TE Fred Davis, was lost for the season after tearing his ACL. The Skins signed former Colt Pierre Garcon to shore up their receiving corps but he’s been hurt and isn’t expected to play Sunday. That leaves former Niner Josh Morgan and old warhorse Santana Moss as the teams starting wide outs.
Of course mediocre receivers can start looking like world-beaters when a team has a dominating running game. The first order of business for the Steelers will be to contain both RGIII and Morris. I know, I know, easier said than done. The Steelers haven’t been very good against the run this season; last week Benjarvis Green-Ellis was gashing them until the Bengals inexplicably abandoned the run.
Stopping the run hinges on two things. First, the defensive line. Ziggy Hood and Casey Hampton have played poorly this season and the results have been big holes for backs to romp through. On the bright side, ILBs Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote have been standouts but if the D-line doesn’t hold their water, they’re stuck tackling guys 5-8 yards down the field.
I think the secondary will be fine against the pass unless they start getting gashed so badly Dick LeBeau is forced to stack the box. Timmons will probably be used as a spy on RGII so it’ll also be important for him to maintain his gaps and not over-pursue as he tends to do because that’s how 10 yard scrambles turn into highlight reel 40 yard TDs.
Once upon a time, LeBeau ate young QBs for breakfast. RGIII has certainly never seen the kind of things the Steelers will throw at him on Sunday. But the Steelers haven’t exactly had to deal with a threat like RGIII, either.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs REDSKINS DEFENSE
On Sunday Night Football, Cris Collinsworth mentioned that Ben Roethlisberger told him he was tired of asking the defense to put games away. Big Ben later repeated as much to local reporters. I think he’s on to something.
Back in the Bill Cowher era, the Steelers never blew leads. Yeah, they had great defenses but that wasn’t the only reason they were the best closers in football. A lot of it had to do with Jerome Bettis. When you have a back that can grind it out at the end of games, it’s hard for the other team to win when their offense is sitting on the bench.
Last week, the Steelers showed a bit of that old magic. Jonathan Dwyer had the best game by a Steelers back in almost two full seasons. Incredibly, there has been some talk that he might not even be ACTIVE for this week’s game. Mike Tomlin doesn’t believe in benching guys due to injury so Rashard Mendenhall will start as soon as he’s healthy. Additionally, Mendy and Dwyer are viewed as similar backs while Ike Redman is viewed as a change-of-pace so if he’s healthy, they’d want him in the line-up. Which leaves Dwyer odd man out.
Luckily, the Steelers’ hand might not be forced this week as both Mendy and iRed are still working their way back from injury. Redman did practice so I can see him being activated in favor of that useless Baron Batch but I have a feeling the Steelers will be more than happy to have Rashard “rest” another week while they see if Dwyer can recreate his performance.
He’ll have some help with the return of center Maurkice Pouncey. At least, in theory he should be getting help. I’m on record as saying I don’t think Pouncey is as good as the media (or he) thinks he is. I mean, we rushed for 165 yards with the Big Legursky at center, right? And didn’t Legursky start at center for iRed’s big playoff game in Denver?
Ah, who cares. As soon as he stubs a toe, Pouncey will run crying to the sideline to ice down his vagina anyway.
In addition to a running game to keep RGIII on the bench, it would be nice if Mike Wallace decided to catch the ball this week. At the risk of repeating myself, when you let teams hang around, bad things happen. Last week the Steelers escaped with a close win but you can’t play that game forever. It would be nice if this vaunted group of wide outs actually made a couple big plays so we could put TOUCHDOWNS on the board before turning the ball over to Dwyer.
There should be ample opportunity to make plays. As good as Washington’s offense has been, their D has been equally wretched. They’re third from the bottom in total defense, surrendering nearly 30 points per game. They’re dead last against the pass, giving up a whopping 330 yards/game. If Young Money doesn’t show up against this defense, well, maybe it’s time for a name change.
Steelers. Redskins. Old school teams. New school offense. One team is going to leave with a much-needed win. Let’s hope it’s the team dressed like a Yinzer Hamburgular.
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Now, that’s more like it…
The Pittsburgh Steelers had their finest showing of the season last night, humbling the Cincinnati Bengals before a national audience on Sunday Night Football. While the final score of 24-17 doesn’t exactly speak to a one-sided whuppin’, scores can be misleading. This was clearly the Black and Gold’s most complete game on both sides of the ball.
Even more encouraging, instead of the usual pattern of starting strong only to falter at the end, this week the Steelers flipped the script. They came out of the gate flat and proceeded to spot the energetic young Bengals a big lead only to close the gap in the final minutes before halftime then totally dominating the second half.
Let’s start with that first half. If Mike Wallace is trying to convince the Steelers not to Franchise him after the season, he’s doing a great job. Wallace dropped at least four easily catchable balls, several of which would’ve went for big gains. He did wind up leading the team with 8 catches (for only 52 yards) but if you’re going to thump your chest and call yourself one of the league’s elite, you need to start making big plays. Nobody is playing $9 million for a decoy/possession receiver.
As bad as Wallace was, the worst misfire goes to Baron Batch. Early in the 2nd, Todd Haley dialed up a little trickeration with a lateral to Antonio Brown leading to a pass to a wide open Batch. There literally wasn’t a Bengal within 15 yards of Batch. Brown’s pass wasn’t much more than a punt and yet he let it go right through his arms. Somewhere, Limas Sweed is laughing at Baron Batch.
To add insult to injury, two plays later Ben Roethlisberger tried to force a throw between three defenders to Heath Miller in the end zone and ended up getting picked. It was the first of two costly miscues from Ben. On the Steelers next drive, rookie Mike Adams got pushed back into him and he would up fumbling the ball. Gifted field position inside the Steelers 10, the Bengals got out to a commanding 14-3 lead shortly before half.
That’s when the game started to turn. And it turned by the Steelers RUNNING THE BALL. Now Big Ben groupies like Mark Madden aren’t ever going to admit this but once again it’s become crystal clear this offense does 200x better when they run the ball effectively. Jonathan Dwyer, who spent the past couple weeks in Mike Tomlin‘s existential doghouse, had the game of his lie beginning in the second quarter when he ripped off runs of 11, 4, 4, and 21 yards.
Dwyer was aided by some nice run blocking from an offensive line which did a fantastic job all night. I’ve been extremely hard on Willie Colon but he’s proving to be a fairly significant upgrade over Kemo at LG. Although he still struggles occasionally in pass protection, he’s an absolute animal at run blocking. The goofs on NBC kept insisting Adams needed help even when their replays clearly showed the double team on Max Starks‘ side. I thought Adams acquitted himself well as it seemed to me the Steelers schemed to double Geno Smith rather than “help” any specific lineman. Despite all the gnashing of teeth over Pouncey and Gilbert, the line only surrendered three sacks while providing enough protection for Ben to get off 37 passes and the backs to romp for a season high 167 yards.
After Stonecold Shaun Suisham booted a 47 yarder to cut Cincy’s lead to 14-6, it was the defense’s turn to step up. On the Bengals first TD drive, they ran right at the Ziggy Hood and LaMarr Woodley like 5 plays in a row and couldn’t be stopped. Here they tried throwing in that direction and the Woodman batted a ball into his own arms for a key interception. Five plays later, Ben hit Heath Miller for a 9 yard TD.
Then we had our first comical situation of the game when Tomlin indulged his 2 point conversion fetish we discovered years ago in Jacksonville. Ben asked for time but the refs, who lost track of time outs (yeah, these guys are SO MUCH better than the scabs), refused to grant it. So Ben ran the play anyway, successfully hitting Heath to tie the game. When Ben walked off the field, a very pissed looking Tomlin met him, evidently thinking his QB ignored his orders to call time.
After Woodley’s interception, the game was all Steelers. Cincy got a FG in their first drive after halftime but their final five possessions resulted in five punts. What’s more, four of those five were 3 and outs. In my preview, I lauded AJ Green as the NFL’s best receiver. The much-maligned Ike Taylor held him to one catch for 8 yards. Okay, Ike had help as Dick LeBeau devised a high-lo defense where a safety would bracket Green but give credit where credit is due. Ike played a great game. The entire secondary played a great game.
And they caught a few breaks. As mentioned, Cincy ran right at the Steelers over and over on their first TD drive. Then Cincy’s center got hurt. The new guy was smaller and weaker and couldn’t handle Casey Hampton at all. Once Big Snack got on track, their running game collapsed.
Meanwhile, the Steelers running game was on fire. Dwyer would finish with 122 yards. Chris Rainey, who is proving to be another of Kevin Colbert’s late round steals, added the go-ahead touchdown off a draw play. Rainey also had several really good run backs which were called back on flags. The Steelers were flagged on EVERY SINGLE return yesterday. Or at least it seemed that way. Al Everest must have been a major asshole for Tomlin to fire him three weeks before the season started. I don’t know he did to get canned (offer Mrs. Tomlin a mustache ride?) but they better start looking for a new coordinator the minute the season ends because the current guy sucks.
But last night’s game certainly did not. In fact, it was the kind of performance that makes me feel a whole lot better about the Black and Gold’s prospects going forward. Meanwhile, the Ratbirds got humiliated by the Texans to drop to 5-2. Elsewhere, the Patriots struggled against a Jets team we thoroughly beat back in week 2. I guess what I’m saying is, nobody in the AFC is head and shoulders above the rest (except maybe the Texans). This looks like the kind of year where you get into the post-season and anything can happen. Yesterday’s victory ensured the Steelers remain in the post-season conversation for at least a little while longer.