In a little less than two hours, the NFL free agency period officially begins. If you believe the rumors, sometime shortly thereafter the Pittsburgh Steelers will lose at least two and more likely three starters. Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall are certainly gone. Wallace is reportedly taking his talent to South Beach for somewhere north of $10 million per season. By “talent,” I of course mean his one and only talent of running really fast in a straight line. Mendenhall won’t be overpaid nearly as much although word is he’s being viewed as the best running back available this off-season. Several teams have been tied to him with the Denver Broncos being the early favorites to enjoy his butterfingers and hip-hop stylings behind the line of scrimmage.
The third departure will certainly hurt more than the first two. The Steelers would like to bring CB Keenan Lewis back but in a thin market and with good young secondary talent at a premium, it’s likely they won’t be able to offer him what some other team does. The Steelers have other options at corner as I’ve already written although Lewis is the kind of guy good teams keep around. While I personally think Cortez Allen is too good not to start, it hurts to spend years drafting and developing a guy like Lewis only for him to go elsewhere while we’re stuck bringing back a mediocre retread like William Gay.
The Steelers have deviated from the Steeler Way and are paying for it now and likely in the immediate future. They used to have no qualms about jettisoning expensive veterans in favor of reloading with younger guys. For whatever reason, they held the current team together long past it’s expiration date and those big money veteran contracts have left the team in salary cap hell. While those with tons of money to spend are almost always teams that suck (Miami, Cleveland) or successful teams winning with a lot of guys in their first few years in the league who are still on their relatively cheap rookie contracts (Seattle, San Fransisco), it can’t be argued that the Steelers paid too much money to too many guys who were either past their prime or too injury prone to reach it.
With James Harrison‘s recent release and the earlier contract reworkings, the Steelers managed to get themselves around $10 million or so under the cap. They offered minimum tenders to four restricted free agents (meaning any team that signs them has to surrender a pick equal to the round they were picked in if the Steelers opt not to match) and re-signed G Ramon Foster to a three year/$6 million deal and ILB Larry Foote to a two year/$5 million deal which knocks that number down to around $2.5 million or so.
Manny Sanders, Steve McClendon, Isaac Redman, and Jonathan Dwyer all received $1.3 million tenders. Dwyer signed his right away which is unusual since players usually wait to see if a better offer is forthcoming. Dwyer clearly wanted to show the Steelers he was serious about wearing the Black and Gold and serious about being the team’s featured back next year. Sanders is probably safe under the minimum tender since he was a third round pick and it’s unlikely a team would want to surrender a premium pick for him. McClendon and Redzone aren’t sure things since they were undrafted and thus teams can sign them without losing a pick. If McClendon goes elsewhere, the Steelers nose tackle options will be limited to squeezing another year out of broken down Casey Hampton or rolling the dice with homicidal maniac Alameda Ta’amu.
The Steelers did manage to reel in one big free agent to off-set the loss of Wallace. “Big” as in literally large, not a big name unless you’ve just stepped out of Delorean that came from 2003. Plaxico Burress re-signed with the team that originally drafted him way back in 2000. He’s being brought back to give Ben Roethlisberger the tall wide receiver he’s wanted for several years now. Plax is old (35) and slow but he’s still 6’5 so he could be a decent red zone threat. Best of all, he’s dirt cheap.
Cheap is where the Steelers are right now. Yeah, winning the off-season is usually zero indication of actually winning when the 2013 season kicks off six months from now. However, the Steelers are an aging group with plenty of holes to fill. It would be nice to have a little money to spend instead of the traditional dumpster diving. Unfortunately, dumpster diving it is.
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As if the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t have enough issues to deal with…
The Steelers announced they have suspended running back Rashard Mendenhall for one game due to “conduct detrimental to the team.” Mendy was told last Sunday that he wasn’t going to be dressing for the game against the San Diego Chargers. When players don’t dress, they’re still expected to come to the game and stand on the sideline in official NFL team gear ™ so the television cameras can pan over to their glum faces when one of the announcers mentions their name. Evidently, Mendy took the news as a sign that he shouldn’t even bother showing up.
After last week’s anemic running performance, there were some calls for Mendenhall to regain his starting job. That’s not happening now or probably ever. If anything, this suspension is the symbolic death knell for Rashard’s career in the Black and Gold. All three of the team’s running backs will be free agents this off-season and it’s looking more and more like the Steelers will be cutting ties with their former first round pick.
The duo of Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman definitely had a terrible showing against the Chargers. However, it’s ridiculous to say Mendenhall would’ve performed any better. As I noted in my game preview, the Chargers have a talented D-line who are very strong against the run. On top of which, the Steelers’ O-line was banged up with one of the team’s best run blockers, Willie Colon, hobbled by a season ending injury which necessitated moving Maurkice Pouncey to LG and inserting Doug Legursky at center after only a few possessions.
Legursky is a lousy run blocker. Pouncey is a Pro Bowler at center but he’s only average at guard. The Steelers were also playing with their third string RT, rookie Kelvin Beachum. Add it all up and the effective run blocking from the middle of the season is just no longer there. Word is the Steelers might finally bite the bullet and start this year’s first rounder, David DeCastro, at RG (with Ramon Foster moving over to the left) this Sunday.
Speaking of first rounders, this latest incident completes a rather spectacular fall for the former 23rd overall pick. As I’ve noted many times, GM Kevin Colbert holds on to his first rounders well past the point of sanity. To his credit, sometimes that works out as in the case of Lawrence Timmons, who was maddeningly average for most of his career only to finally start fulfilling his immense potential this year. However, in the case of Mendenhall, it’s looking like he’ll be the rare first rounder the team cuts ties with without ever getting a second contract.
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I don’t even know where to begin with last night’s debacle.
Might as well start with the positives I guess. The Pittsburgh Steelers pulled out a 16-13 win against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football after Lawrence Timmons intercepted Matt Cassel’s first pass in overtime. One play later, Stonecold Shaun Suisham booted a 23 yarder to end the misery. And that’s about all the good things I have to say about what happened last night.
Ben Roethlisberger left the game in the third quarter with what preliminary reports are saying is a “sprained” throwing shoulder. I’m so glad we brought in Todd Haley‘s boring dink and dunk offense to protect him from getting injured. That’s sarcasm by the way. Of course, Ben has been remarkably healthy all season so it totally makes sense he’d suffer a serious injury a week before the Steelers play the Baltimore Ravens.
Ben wasn’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard before the injury. If not for a circus catch by Mike Wallace in the end zone, Ben would’ve departed with two FGs to show for his efforts. All week, fans and talking heads alike were calling this game Boss Todd’s shot at revenge against the team that canned him last season. What we failed to take into account is that familiarity is a two way street. Teams practice against each other all week for months on end meaning the Chiefs defense probably has taken hundreds of snaps against Haley’s offense during his tenure there. The result, as Max Starks later told reporters, was that KC’s D recognized practically every play they called last night.
Let’s not make excuses for the offense, though. The tone was set early when they went three and out on their first two possessions and Willie Colon was flagged for “cussing.” Swearing is a crime? What the f#ck?
Any questions about Antonio Brown‘s worth to the team were answered as Manny Sanders repeatedly failed to step up in his absence. The running game was absolutely atrocious the entire game. Isaac Redman was pathetic, fumbling the ball to gift wrap a FG early then getting stoned on a crucial 4th and inches early in the second half. Jon Dwyer relieved him and only did slightly better, averaging 2.9 ypc to iRed’s sad 2.6 ypc. Dwyer had a couple decent runs and he was running into a 7 man box after Ben got hurt but it still was far from an acceptable performance.
Let’s talk about the post-Ben offense. For whatever reason, Steeler Nation seems to have turned on Charlie Batch, mocking him as a broke washed-up bum. Well, if you’re comfortable with Byron Leftwich after what we saw last night then I don’t know what say. The guy plays quarterback like he’s trying to win a stuffed giraffe for his girlfriend at Kenneywood.
Okay, this was Lefty’s first action in like three years. Back-ups are rusty enough since they only get a handful of snaps at practice. And when he gets a nice clean pocket and about five seconds to wind up, he does throw a pretty ball. At the same time, he looked even more immobile than the last time we saw him. Leave it to Mike Tomlin to sign the only immobile black quarterback in NFL history. Lefty took about four or five vicious shots in about a quarter and half of work. He’s never going to survive if he has to play a significant stretch. What’s more, his goofy throwing motion and lousy accuracy is all wrong for an offense that relies on timing and accuracy.
Gotta love that with Ben under center, Haley went deep twice all season, then Leftwich comes in and his first pass is a bomb to Wallace.
I haven’t yet mentioned the Steelers defense. On paper, it looks like they had a good game. In reality, Kansas City’s incompetence was the only thing which saved them from a horrible loss. While we’re on the subject of terrible games, Ziggy Hood played like absolute shit. The Chiefs ran Jamaal Charles (23 carries 100 yards) right at him time after time for big chunks of yardage. Only when Dick LeBeau started switching up Hood and Bret Keisel did the bleeding stop. How bad does Ziggy have to play before Ironhead Junior gets more than a handful of snaps?
Did LaMarr Woodley play yesterday? How about James Harrison? You didn’t hear either name at all. If KC had receivers who didn’t fall into the fetal position when faced with contact and stopped shooting themselves in the foot with stupid penalties, this game wouldn’t have been close. In fact, the key series of the game occurred early in the third when a 22 yard TD to Dwayne Bowe was wiped out on a ticky-tack holding penalty then the KC kicker missed the ensuing FG wide right.
Late in the quarter, the pitiful Steelers offense was going nowhere fast when pass interference and roughing the passer penalties let them drive for the game-tying FG. Even at the end of the game KC tried their damnedest to snatch defeat from the jaws of
victory mediocrity. Cassel hit Bowe for a nice gain but Bowe lost the ball when Ryan Clark concussed himself while dislodging the ball. Then TE Tony Moeki got flagged for offensive PI which took them out of FG range and left them with 4th and 15. Of course, Ike Taylor played it too loose and let them convert a 27 yard pass play.
The Chiefs came in having never led during regulation all season. They led for almost half the game. The Chiefs came in leading the league in turnovers. Until Cassel threw the pick to Timmons in OT (which was tipped by the Diesel, btw), they had zero giveaways. Yeah, they were a desperate team. Yeah, maybe this was a trap game. Injuries, Haley, their Super Bowl, yadda yadda…
No excuses. Any good feelings from last week’s game against the Giants are long gone. This was an abominable effort that would’ve resulted in a loss against any halfway competent team. And now an offense which has already been average at best needs to find a way to score points with their back-up QB. On top of all this, two of the next three games are against the Ravens. Suddenly this season isn’t looking so promising.
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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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Maybe they should skip hotels from now on.
Flying in the morning of the game proved a minor distraction for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who rose above travel issues, crooked referees, and mounting injuries to defeat the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants 24-20. One of the great things about NFL football is every season is like a summer blockbuster. Sixteen games don’t seem like a lot but it’s still long enough to pack a year’s worth of ups and downs into four months.
Not too long ago, we were wondering if this was going to be another lost year for the Black and Gold. The team was 2-3 with division rival Cincy, the Redskins and their Ultimate Weapon (TM) at QB and the defending champs looming on deck. Here we are on the other side of that slate riding a three game winning streak to up our record to 5-3 with the worst team in football up next on Monday Night.
And that’s not even the most amazing part. What’s even more remarkable is how the Steelers are getting it done.
Jonathan Dwyer had back-to-back 100 yard games but was sidelined by an sore calf. Nominal starter Rashard Mendenhall joined him on the pine for the third straight week. This left Isaac Redman next man up. All he did was rumble for 147 yards against a tough Giants defense.
Then there was the much-maligned return game. For the first time all season, long returns weren’t wiped out by yellow hankies (probably because Mike Tomlin has finally started benching the repeat offenders). Antonio Brown has been the Steelers punt returner for a couple years now, making the Pro Bowl last year thanks to his special teams play. Early in the game, AB left with a sprained ankle so Emmanuel Sanders took his place on punts. All he did was bust one 63 yards which didn’t lead to a score but flipped field position contributing greatly to the eventual game winning drive.
Antonio Brown is undoubtedly the Steelers top receiver. With him out, the offense barely missed a beat. Seeing his first significant playing time this year, Jerricho Cotchery made 4 catches, several on key third downs. Sanders only caught two balls but they were both huge receptions, one a beautiful catch in the back of the end zone for the Steelers’ first TD and the other a 16 yarder on third down to effectively ice the game with two minutes left.
The turning point of the game came early in the fourth quarter. Down 10, Mike Wallace took a short slant and outran the entire Big Blue D for a 51 TD. Other than the deep bomb against the Titans, it was Wallace’s first real game-changing play this year. The catch-and-run was, dare I say, Fitzgerald-esque.
After a three and out by the Giants, Sanders ripped off his 63 yarder to set the Steelers up at the NY 13. After going nowhere fast, they lined up for a short field goal. Rookie Drew Butler flipped the ball over his shoulder but Stonecold Shaun Suisham couldn’t elude an unblocked defender for the 1st down. The suddenly resurgent Steelers defense forced a three and out and the resulting great field position set up a sweet drive with some big catches from Heath and the Cotch Rocket that eventually culminated in iRed’s game-winning 1 yard TD.
People are going to say this is the latest example of Tomlin’s reckless decision-making but I liked the fake FG try. It showed faith in the defense. Given how they’ve played the past few weeks, there is no reason not to have faith in that unit.
Going back to our early season worries, nothing concerned us more than the state of the Steelers D. They looked, to use a cliche, old, slow, and done. Since then, they’ve seemingly risen from the ashes. They still don’t generate enough Splash Plays, which is obviously a concern, although Ike Taylor did come down with an early INT to set up their first TD and they just missed two more picks and a late fumble recovery by James Harrison. Regardless of the sacks and turnovers, though, they just smother teams with a fast hard-hitting style that is getting better by the week.
The scoreboard gives the Giants 20 points but only 6 of those belong to the Steelers’ D. NY’s first score came after the refs basically did everything in their power to give them a TD. First, they called a horrible 40+ yard pass interference on Keenan Lewis when he barely touched the receiver. Then, after the Steelers made three great stops at the goal line, they called a ridiculous personal foul on Ryan Clark. The Ike Taylor Mystery Pass Interference was our frontrunner for Horrible Call of the Year but this game gave us TWO legit candidates for that title. The Clark hit was one, as he struck the receiver in the ribs with his shoulder pads a split second after the ball was thrown. Nothing illegal whatsoever.
Our other contender was an even more monumentally stupid call which put the Giants ahead before halftime. Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass and was hit as his arm was moving forward. The ball was clearly in his hand and the ball was clearly going forward, yet the corrupt zebras called it a fumble which was returned for a TD. At worst they should have called Tuck Rule since the ball was still in the cocked position when it came out. But instead they made a call so bad the Lingerie Football ref was probably sitting at home laughing.
Despite playing two opponents, the Giants and the refs, the Steelers D still managed to put together a tremendous defensive effort. They completely shut down the Giants in the second half, allowing only two measly field goals, one of which came after a Big Ben INT deep in his own end.
After the first month the season, we had a lot of questions. Questions about the offensive line. Questions about the defense. Questions about Todd Haley‘s offense. Here we are at the mid-point of the season and those questions don’t seem so pressing any more. The O-line is mauling people, protecting Ben while gashing people on the ground. The defense is shutting down good offenses for long stretches. And the Haley O is ruthlessly efficient with Ben hitting a bunch of different receivers and a new hero stepping up seemingly every drive. I don’t know where the season is going to end up but 5-3 and clicking in all three phases?
I’ll take it.
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Jonathan Dwyer went over 100 yards on Sunday in the Pittsburgh Steelers win over the Redskins, his second consecutive 100+ yard performance. By now, we’ve all heard the trivia. Dwyer is the first Steeler to post back-to-back 100 yard games since Fast Willie Parker did it in 2008. I guess the running game is only effective in election years.
And much like in an election year, coach Mike Tomlin has to make a choice between several worthy candidates.
The Post-Gazette has already endorsed their candidate: Jon Dwyer. They even jumped on the bandwagon comparing Dwyer to Jerome Bettis. I’m not one to toot my own horn but a long time ago on a site far far away, I made the exact same comparison the day he was drafted. But when even Steeler Nation has taken to calling Dwyer the Minibus, it’s a comparison that’s hard to ignore.
Meanwhile, the incumbent, Rashard Mendenhall, is waiting in the wings. I have to admit, I’m not a Mendenhall fan. He had two consecutive 1,000 yard seasons and came within 90 yards of making it three in a row last year but I’ve just never liked his running style. He’s always been the type of runner who’ll get stopped for minimal gains on his first five carries then break one for 20. His dancing at the line of scrimmage can lead to big plays but it makes him a liability in short yardage.
Next we have Isaac Redman. Redman is almost the polar opposite of Mendy. There is nothing subtle about iRed. He gets the ball and just bulls straight ahead. That makes him a pretty effective short yardage runner but it doesn’t lead to many big gains. Once he gets to the second level, there’s no elusiveness or shiftiness at all.
Then there are the two young guys. Chris Rainey has seen quite a few snaps this season but I don’t think offensive coordinator Todd Haley has totally figured out what to do with him yet. Every week it seems like they add a new wrinkle or trick play, such as the direct snap for a big run against the Skins. I think eventually he’ll settle in as a Darren Sproles type although I don’t expect he’ll ever be a every down back. Then we have Baron Batch, who they use as a Mewelde Moore type third down back, at least while Redman and/or Mendenhall are injured.
The choice basically comes down to Mendy vs Dwyer. Redman is a short yardage specialist. Rainey and Batch are situational guys. Only Mendy and Dwyer profile as starting running backs. Who do you choose?
Later today, Mike Tomlin will have his weekly festival of lies they laughably call a press conference. I’m sure the reporters will ask who he’s planning on starting and he’ll hem and haw and tell everybody nothing. Mendenhall has been battling some residual issues stemming from off-season ACL surgery while Dwyer left Sunday’s game with what Tomlin later called “calf stiffness.” So there’s an easy injury excuse depending on which direction the team wants to go.
Dwyer needs to start. Not because of running style. Not because of some outdated theory that starters can’t lose their job due to injury. They have to start Dwyer because he’s performed. The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately?” business and Dwyer has done everything asked of him and more. The Steelers parted ways with James Farrior and Hines Ward because other guys were doing a better job. Now it’s time to reward one.
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Now it’s time to panic.
The Tennessee Titans defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-23 on Thursday Night Football. I repeat, the 1-3 Titans starting a 37 year old backup QB defeated the Steelers. Where do I begin?
I suppose I’ll start by saying this is a total team loss. Anybody pointing to one specific area as “the reason they lost” has no idea what they’re talking about. The defense, for all their struggles, only gave up one legit TD with the other being a gimme from the 1 yard line after a blocked punt. The offense, despite a 363 yard passing day from Ben Roethlisberger to move ahead of Terry Bradshaw as the team’s all-time yardage leader, made some plays but they also missed a lot of chances. And the special teams, well, the blocked punt was just the latest miscue in a season full of them. Maybe Mike Tomlin shouldn’t have ousted Al Everest so he could give his buddy the job.
Regarding the special teams, Stonecold Shaun Suisham is one guy who can leave Tennessee with his head held high. Nobody has been more critical of him than I so trust me when I say making every field goal up through a 52 yarder early in the 4th quarter is all anybody can ask of him. It would’ve been nice for him to hit the 54 yarder at the end but that’s hardly a kick you automatically expect ANY kicker to make.
Right here is one of the problems with the Steelers. I’m talking about field goals instead of touchdowns. Once again, the offense moved in fits and starts, sputtering around for large stretches and failing to put the game away by scoring TOUCHDOWNS instead of settling for field goals. Twice the Steelers got inside the 15 and twice they came away with 3 instead of 6. You let teams hang around, even bad teams like the Titans, and bad things happen.
The receiving star was Isaac Redman. Wait, WHAT? Yes, for all we talk about Young Money and the best receiving corps in the NFL, it was our running back that caught 4 passes for 105 yards. Our TE, Heath Miller, chipped in with 6 catches for 67 yards. Antonio Brown? A measly 20 yards. Manny Sanders? A whopping 43.
Then we have Mike Wallace. Wallace had 94 yards and a TD on two, count’em two, catches. He scored doing pretty much the only thing he knows how to do: run fast straight down the field. I don’t want to hear any more bullshit about how Wallace is “a complete receiver.” Complete receivers catch many balls on a variety of patterns. Wallace is the ultimate all or nothing guy.
Unlike last week when the receivers dropped a ton of passes, this week much of the blame rests with Ben. He makes some great throws, like the bomb to Wallace, but then he’ll turn around and miss plays he needs to make. Suisham’s 52 yarder only happened because Ben made a terrible throw when he had Sanders wide open down the seam. Earlier in the game, he had Heath in the end zone and threw it behind him. Then there was a costly pick as time was running out in the half which probably cost the Steelers at least a field goal.
Like it or not, Ben needs a running game. When they run, they win. When they don’t, they lose. And last night, they couldn’t run at all. Much was due to having no running backs. Rashard Mendenhall played a couple series before leaving the game with what habitual liar Tomlin described as “some sort of Achilles problem.” Then iRed, who wasn’t carrying the ball well but has emerged as a great screen guy, left the game after taking a helmet to the knee. With Jon Dwyer in the doghouse, Baron Batch did his best in relief, even scoring his first career TD, but he’s not a starting caliber running back.
The other problem with the running game was the offensive line. As if losing our top two RBs wasn’t enough, we also lost 2/5 of our line. I think Maurkice Pouncey is way overrated but there is one huge difference between him and Doug Legursky. They’re about the same in pass protection but Pouncey is a much better run blocker. Ditto with Marcus Gilbert, who was replaced by rookie Mike Adams. Adams is fine at pass pro, perhaps even better than Gilbert, but he doesn’t run block very well.
Now let’s talk about the defense. Specifically, Ike Taylor. The Steelers only had 4 flags thrown on them yesterday, two of them went against Ike for pass interference (he had a third which was declined). When he wasn’t getting flagged, he was letting receivers run past, through, and around him. The Titans’ first FG was set up by a penalty on Ike. Their game tying drive was prolonged by a third down penalty on Ike. Their game tying TD was scored on Ike. Hasselbeck threw for 290 yards (and would’ve thrown for about 50 more if his receivers could catch the ball), about 50% of which was on Ike alone.
In summation, Ike sucks. Instead of making pornographic rap songs, he needs to start figuring out why he sucked against Denver and why he’s sucked ever since.
Keenan Lewis…KEENAN LEWIS is now our best corner. And yes, people are going to point out he dropped a crucial interception late in the 4th that could’ve altered the game. How many of those has Ike dropped? At least Lewis is actually covering people and making plays. Cortez Allen, pressed into duty as a safety when Will Allen got hurt, did his best although messed up several times. Ryan Clark led the team in tackles as he continues to be our defensive MVP. Lawrence Timmons continued his strong play, coming up with a big interception on a play that was positively Polamalu-esque.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the D held strong for three quarters, holding Tennessee to only 9 points (as I said, the blocked punt TD shouldn’t be held against them) while the offense dicked around. Then they totally collapsed in the 4th. Why Tomlin made the insane decision to try a 54 FG instead of punting and playing for overtime, I don’t know. Dick LeBeau making the asinine call of asking James “Missed the first month of the season because of a bum knee” Harrison to drop back in pass coverage instead of, oh say, SUPER SPEEDY LAWRENCE TIMMONS was equally perplexing.
I’ve avoided dire predictions and grand statements thus far this season. Well, that time is done. The Steelers, with about 12 starters on the disabled list, get 10 days off before facing the Bengals. That has now become a MUST WIN game. I don’t care if it’s still early in the season, I don’t care that neither Cincy nor the Ratbirds are setting the world on fire, you can’t start 2-4 and expect to go anywhere. It’s time to sink or swim.
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Last night was the first Presidential Debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. If you’re a political junkie like me, you’re probably familiar with a website called the Huffington Post. What you may not know is what started as a political news outlet has morphed in to a pop culture website that now posts pictures of Miley Cyrus’s latest nipslip right alongside stories of how Romney is conspiring with Big Oil to blot out the sun in order to increase our dependency on fossil fuels.
They even have a sports section.
For some reason, their sports section on Tuesday featured a guest column penned by none other than Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. Guess he needed something to do while undergoing those electro-stim treatments on his surgically repaired ACL. Anyway, Mendy’s column, which can be read by clicking here, is a passive aggressive masterpiece. My girlfriend is already studying it in preparation for out next fight.
On the surface, Mendy writes about tolerance. Particularly tolerance of other viewpoints, utilizing among other things a ham-fisted analogy about judging a book by its cover. What he’s really writing about is the shitstorm he brought upon himself last year when he took people to task for celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden.
What’s amusing about the piece is he places the blame for people taking issue with his anti-American sentiments on narcissism. A great deal of his rant chides people for being too narcissistic. For only being about themselves. For not listening to others.
What’s even more amusing is in the course of railing against narcissism, Mendenhall uses the word “I” a total of 25 times.
In a 700 word essay, he says “I” (or a variation thereof) roughly 28% of the time. Pot. Meet Kettle. In the meantime, stick to your day job, Mendy.
Speaking of his day job, I may take issue with his plan to parlay his football glory into 72 virgins (or, as Antonio Cromartie calls them, “A quiet Saturday night.”) but I’m definitely happy to hear he’ll be back on Sunday when the Steelers host the Eagles. He along with Troy Polamalu and James Harrison practiced yesterday but of the three, I think Mendy is the surest lock to actually suit up. I’m hoping the rumors about Troy and Deebo are true but they’re so brittle, I fear a jarring drive over a pothole could send them back to the training room.
Plus the Steelers desperately need an Arabian Knight in shining armor to rescue their pitiful running game. Todd Haley, doing is damnedest to bring back 1956 Stiller Football at Art Rooney II‘s request, has succeeded in nothing but giving Ben Roethlisberger longer third downs to convert. The team is currently third from bottom in rushing, having accumulated a pathetic 195 yards through the first three games.
I like Isaac Redman but he’s just not an every down back. His straight ahead style is great for short yardage and nothing else. The coaches were so pissed at Jonathan Dwyer‘s performance in Oakland, they benched him in the second half in favor of Baron Batch. Batch had a couple nice runs but has zero track record. Chris Rainey is too small to play traditional running back.
If the Steelers have any hope of featuring a running game, they need Rashard. Even if he’s not 100% (and, truly, he won’t be), 75% of Mendy is probably better than what we have now. Plus if he’s busy on the field, he won’t have time to pen self-serving columns about himself. That’s what I call win-win for everybody.
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Yinz love regular features. From Know Thy Enemy (accept no cheap substitutes!) to Wallace Watch ’12, our fearless leader, Chris, loves regular features, too. With hockey season on permanent hiatus (Thanks Bettman…BOOOO!), he thought it would be cool to do our own version of the 3 Stars of the Game. Of course, we have to list three goats as well.
Chris then had the brilliant notion, “If I’m going to do a weekly segment named after the Steel City’s favorite swill beer, why not ask the guy named after booze to do it?”
We hope you play along at home. List your three stars and three goats in the comments and maybe we can get some Pittsburgh Steelers talk going up in this bitch.
3 Stars of the Week
Todd Haley seems to be taking the chains off one link at a time, allowing Ben to air the ball out almost 50 times against Oakland. Completing 36 of those passes kept Pittsburgh in the game, and he managed to be the only player on offense not trying to turn the ball over, managing 0 interceptions and 0 fumbles. Ben looked more like himself on Sunday by scrambling and extending broken-down plays, while also taking several un-flagged shots to the legs. He kept trucking and lobbed four TD passes before the nightmare was over. Hats-off to the man in charge of a relatively productive offensive performance.
I don’t think it is worth mentioning again but Heeeeeaaath may be the most underrated player in the NFL. Ben has stated publicly that he fears the thought of playing without #83 on the field, and showed why against Oakland. Miller tied Wallace with eight receptions on the day, and managed to pull two of those down within the goal line. The often overlooked side of Heath was also apparent, as his “addition of another lineman” blocking style cleared the way for Ben to mark up 384 yards in the air. Heath’s block-and-catch presence has helped cement the weak O-Line for years, and proved its worth again on Sunday.
Woodley was the only visible presence on the defense after Clark’s 1st play interception of Kimo von Oelhoffen’s old snuggle buddy. He set a benchmark by bringing down Palmer for his 50th career sack, only the 8th player in Black and Gold history to reach that milestone. Coming from a Steelers defense that missed more tackles than a communications major, Woodley added a much-needed wall behind the front-line. It was far from a stellar performance, but with Troy and Harrison sitting on the sideline it was critical that someone step up and lead the defensive effort.
3 Goats of the Week
Wallace, Brown and the Ball Control Circus:
No NFL coach has gone a full season without mouthing their version of “you can’t win games if you turn the ball over.” This is only true if the recovering team capitalizes on the generosity, which Oakland did twice. AB and Wallace tossed the ball around the field like the equipment manager filled them with helium. Oakland was viciously punching at the ball all afternoon, and our stellar receiving core seemed happy to act as their personal speed bags. Brown corralled his own fumble for a TD and Wallace saved his drop in the 3rd but the offense still let two of them go to the bad guys. The resulting scores surely didn’t help the Steelers’ cause.
I stay away from fretting about injuries changing the outcome of the game. Every team has sidelined players, men hobbling off the field, and a less-than 100% roster on both sides of the ball. That being said, PLEASE COME BACK TROY. The position of safety is meant to be an “if all else fails” position. In the last three games when “all else failed,” so did our safety. Darren McFadden was the potential undoing of this victory, and he owned it. When Ryan Mundy wasn’t busy trying to get fined for sloppy hits or letting a weak receiving core burn him, he was trotting around wondering what to do when McFadden finally broke through. Answer: Fall on the ground and let him score. Pathetic.
I chose to single out Redman only because he was the starter listed at our non-existent RB slot. Between Redman, Dwyer, Batch, and Rainey, the running game did less damage to Oakland than the San Andreas Fault. Redman put up 27 of their pathetic 54 total yards on the ground, so I guess in some parallel universe he is due credit for not running backwards or fumbling 5 times (Dwyer handled the fumbling honors). I hope Haley hasn’t been watching old tapes of Amos Zereoue to prepare for his dawning of the “New-Old Stillerz Football”.
This Week’s cure for your Six-Pack Hangover:
Much like an open bar at your ex’s remarriage, we should have known this would end up bad. What started off as a chance to drink free whiskey and rekindle an old rivalry quickly turned into seething hatred. Oh, and before you left, you made sure to make an ass out of yourself.
Unfortunately, the next scheduled chance to make up for that night on the town is two seasons away. At least we have a chance to lay low, use the upcoming bye week to rest our heads and headaches, and get ready for handling our swill a little better when we face yet another bi-annual pain in the ass, the Philadelphia Eagles.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers face the Oakland Raiders this Sunday. The Raiders are 0-2. Some people believe the Raiders are the worst team in football. I say none of that matters.
The Force is strong with Oakland.
And by “strong” I don’t mean the pimp hand with which Richard Seymour is able to cheap shot our superstar quarterback. And by “Force,” I’m not talking about the energy field which surrounds all living things and binds the world together. No, I’m refering to whatever evil Dark Side mojo the Raiders seem to hold over our beloved Steelers.
On paper, this game should be a cakewalk for the Black and Gold. However, diehard members of Steeler Nation know better. Forget about records, forget about who’s playing for who or who’s healthy and who’s injured, none of it matters. The Raiders always seem to give the Steelers all that they can handle.
In 2006, the defending champion Steelers traveled out to Oakland only to come home with loss, thanks primarily to Ben Roethlisberger tossing a pick that was returned 100 yards for a TD. That Raiders team only won two freakin’ games that season. In 2009, the Steelers were once again defending champions and once again suffered a shocking defeat. This time they were beaten by an Oakland team which would finish with five wins. In 2010, we finally whupped them good although Seymour laid his own whuppin’ on Big Ben.
The bottom line is nothing good ever comes from playing the Raiders. Nothing.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs RAIDERS OFFENSE
Ah, sweet irony. Our old friend Carson Palmer refused to report to the Bengals and eventually forced his way out of Cincinnati because he was sick of losing. Naturally, the Bengals made the playoffs last year while the Raiders finished third in the AFC West at 8-8. Now he has to contend with a solid Chargers squad and Peyton Manning out in Denver.
Palmer still has the big arm, unfortunately he doesn’t have very good targets to throw at. One of late owner Al Davis’s last controversial moves was drafting WR Darrius Heyward-Bey with the 7th overall pick in 2009, passing over Michael Crabtree, Percy Harvin and, eventually, Mike Wallace. Heyward-Bey came within 25 yards of posting his first 1,000 yard season last year but has generally been regarded as a disappointment. If you keep a lid on Heyward-Bey, there is steep drop-off when you go to Denarius Moore and journeyman Derek Hagan.
The Raiders best offensive weapon is of course running back Darren McFadden. Run DMC is actually more of an all-purpose back in the Ray Rice mold (and we know how Rice tortures the Steelers). Injuries limited McFadden to only seven games last season but in 2010 he had his break out, rushing for 1,100 yards and catching another 500 yards worth of passes. If the Steelers have any trouble with the Raiders offense, it’ll be because they can’t handle McFadden.
The Steelers D will once again be without James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. I already discussed the Harrison situation in great detail, I have no idea the severity of Troy’s injury although Tomlin is assuring everybody it’s a minor calf sprain. Yeah, right.
The good news is the defense played quite well without them last week. LaMarr Woodley stepped up in the pass rushing department while Ryan Clark did a great Polamalu imitation in the secondary. The key this week will be the inside backers, Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote, who’ll be charged with keeping tabs on McFadden. If they have a good game, the Steelers should be able to keep Palmer in check. If not, well…
STEELERS OFFENSE vs RAIDERS DEFENSE
Mike Tomlin said in his weekly lie-fest, er, press conference that he’s been disappointed with the Steelers running game. If they don’t get it going this week, they’re never going to. Last week, the Reggie Bush of the wretched Dolphins dropped 172 yards on them. Rashard Mendenhall is once again sitting out so this may be the last best chance for iRed and Jonathan Dwyer to prove they can be counted on to tote the rock.
Of course, while the Raiders run D is horrid, their pass D is merely awful. Nobody has put up a big number against them but they haven’t exactly been shutting anybody down either. They have one sack in each of their first two games and have yet to intercept a pass. They’ll probably do a little better at rushing Big Ben this week because, well, everybody does but a secondary filled with has-beens and never-weres would seem to be easy pickins for a Steelers team disgustingly deep at wide receiver.
The Raiders have some players who, in theory, should provide some problems for opposing offenses. Their defensive tackle tandem of Tommy Kelly and old friend Richard Seymour are a solid if aging duo. MLB Rolando McClain is a game time decision coming off a concussion last week. He hasn’t done much this year but he has a definite pedigree as a pass rusher. And safety Tyvon Branch has been an active if unspectacular player throughout his NFL career.
The Raiders have been in both their games well into the second half so don’t expect an early blowout. However, if Todd Haley turns Big Ben loose early and often, he could succeed in dragging Oakland into a track meet their ill-equipped to handle. Last week the Steelers D was able to stifle an offense lacking in playmakers and led by a below-average quarterback. This week, they face a stiffer test on both fronts. With that in mind, the best course of action may be to simply try to get out to a lead and challenge them to catch-up.