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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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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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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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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There are certain things you can count on every season. The Bengals will find some way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Cowboys will get talked about incessantly on the Four Letter only to accomplish a whole lot of nothin’ by year’s end. And the Raiders will lead the league in penalties.
Well, the Raiders have some work to do in they want to catch the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers are used to a sea of yellow when they look up into the stands, now they’re seeing a sea of yellow on ground level as well. A quarter of the way through the 2012 season and the Steelers are leading the NFL with 9.2 penalties per game. And they aren’t cheapies, either. Those penalties have cost Pittsburgh a whopping 346 yards.
That’s 15 yards more than they’ve rushed for the entire season.
Head coach Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference yesterday. In between the usual half truths and baldfaced lies, the local reporters actually sacked up and questioned him about all the flags. Of course, instead of asking why his team is so reckless and undisciplined, in typical Pittsburgh fashion they asked “Why are the refs making so many bad calls against us?” I wonder if their pom poms ever get caught in their laptops.
To his credit, Tomlin refused to lay the blame on others. “I’m less concerned about judgments and interpretations and so forth. I’m more concerned about playing in the manner that the flags stay in the pocket.” said the always eloquent coach. “It’s my job to get them fixed. We will work on that this week,” he added. Of course we’ve long since learned when Tomlin says he’s going to work on something, it means he’s not going to work on it at all.
Some of the penalties were absolutely bogus. Mike Wallace got called for illegal formation on a play where it didn’t look like he was lined up illegally at all. And the Ryan Mundy personal foul for helmet-to-helmet looked awfully like a nice clean shoulder hit. And going back a few weeks, I don’t think we’ll ever learn what the hell the Lingerie Football refs were calling on that Ike Taylor pass interference penalty.
So, yeah, some of the calls were absolutely ridiculous. A lot of them weren’t. Willie Colon evidently decided to dress as Chris Kemoeatu for Halloween and he’s getting a three week head start by impersonating his play on the field. Colon has been the most frequent offender, getting nabbed for eight times this season (three times on Sunday, plus another one which was declined). The starting corners, Ike and Keenan Lewis, have three pass interferences each.
What’s Tomlin going to do? Tell Colon not to hold? Teach Lewis and Ike how not to get beat like drums down the field? They are what they are. You can’t teach somebody not to suck.
What you can teach is proper tackling technique. One of the Eagles two TDs came on a drive aided by two personal fouls. As I said, the Mundy play looked iffy but when you spend your first four years in the league spearing people, you’re not getting the benefit of the doubt. Ryan Clark‘s hit was a clear PI and was rightly penalized. Clark is a habitual offender who not only refuses to apologize for his reckless play but actually told the media he doesn’t care if he gets fined or flagged, he’s going to play like he wants to play. Way to be a team player, Ryan.
That sort of stuff is what Tomlin should step in and curtail. When James Harrison was getting flagged every time looked menacingly at a QB, Tomlin sat him and told him to clean up his technique. Coach T needs to do that with everybody on defense so they stop giving teams these costly penalties. What’s more, he just needs to rein in the team overall. Penalties are going to happen but you can eliminate the stupid mental errors (like running out of bounds on kickoffs or false starts) by instilling discipline.
Players coach Mike Tomlin has been anything but a strict disciplinarian in his time here. As long as he prefers being liked over being respected, we’ll continue to see more laundry on the ground than after a tornado hits Chinatown. We can hope that it won’t eventually come back to bite the Steelers. Although I think we all know that it will.
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Every Tuesday, Mike Tomlin holds his weekly press conference. As I’ve stated many times in the past, I tend to ignore whatever “news” comes out of it. I don’t do this because I prefer to be an uneducated fan; on the contrary, writing a Pittsburgh Steelers blog makes it doubly important I stay informed. No, I ignore the Mike Tomlin presser because experience has shown you can’t believe what you hear.
In simpler terms, Tomlin tells a lot lies.
I don’t blame Tomlin for lying to the press. He’s one of those ultra-secretive coaches who believes information is power and if it’s good enough for Bill Belichick, it’s good enough for Tomlin. I just get aggravated when people fail to take what he says with a grain of salt. He regularly downplays injuries that are much more serious than he lets on (James Harrison’s broken orbital last season comes to mind) and hints at personnel moves that he has no intention of following (When Bryant McFadden struggled a couple seasons back, he said it was time to see what some of the youngsters could do. They never saw the field).
Which is why yesterday brought a rare moment of honesty from Tomlin. Granted it was couched in typical Tomlinspeak – he follows the political model of never let three words suffice when grand eloquent sentences with opaque meanings can be used instead – but honest it was nonetheless.
Addressing the Steelers defensive performance on Sunday night, Tomlin said “The reality is that we didn’t play well enough post-snap. Forget about whether or not they huddle between plays, we’ve got full control over how we play once the ball is snapped and it wasn’t up to snuff in many instances.” He also cautioned fans against blaming the absence of Ryan Clark and James Harrison for the defensive inadequacies. “Obviously, those guys are capable of helping us. They’re quality veteran players. They know how to play and, specifically in Ryan’s case, not only his play but his communication and leadership. That remains to be seen and we’re not going to assume anything.” sayeth Coach T.
In other words, don’t expect the D to suddenly start dominating teams just because two guys come back.
The fact is, the normally stout Steelers defense has some serious question marks this season. A big part of the problem is they’re just plain old. Seven starters are over the age of 30. Contrast that with another long-time defensive juggernaut, the Ravens, who’ve so successfully infused fresh talent into their team that only Ed Reed and Ray Lewis remain as elder statesman.
The problem with old players isn’t just the natural decline which comes with age. Even when they are still capable of playing at a high level, their bodies inevitably start to break down. Last season, Harrison and Troy Polamalu were clearly the team’s defensive standouts. However, both have also battled a host of ailments the past couple years. Harrison had two back surgeries during the off-season, then came down with a knee issue when training camp started. Tomlin says he’s expected back this week but it’s clear he’s become alarmingly injury prone. Then we have Troy, who looked great the first half against the Broncos before fading away. Evidently he strained his calf which limited him as time went on. He’s also expected to play on Sunday.
Still, here we are one week into the season and both are already showing up on injury reports.
Meanwhile, where is the infusion of young talent? One thing that bugged me following the Broncos loss were Steeler fans on twitter repeating Warren Sapp’s “They’re old, slow and done” comment from last season. The D is old but the line-up they put on the field last Sunday against Denver sure wasn’t. Harrison was replaced by 23 year old Chris Carter and 24 year old Jason Worilds. Clark was replaced by 27 year old Ryan Mundy. Casey Hampton, who’s become a two down player anyway, split time fairly evenly with 26 year old Steve McClendon.
Worilds had a sack when Peyton Manning screwed up a protection call and gave him a free shot at the QB. The only legitimate sack they got was from veteran Larry Foote. Other than that, where was the pressure? LaMarr Woodley got a big contract a couple off-seasons ago but his sack totals have declined every year for the past three years. He only seems to generate pressure when Harrison is on the other side. Worilds has been a bust. Inside, we have Foote, who’s a stop-gap until the team finds a young ILB to groom in his place. Opposite him is Lawrence Timmons, who was supposed to be that ILB but has consistently underperformed since being drafted in the first round back in 2007. He’s supposedly this super-athlete on par with Troy but Troy would never let Peyton Manning OUTRUN HIM to the sticks.
Wait, you may say, Dick LeBeau‘s zone blitz depends on the D-linemen opening up gaps for the linebackers. Fair enough. McClendon isn’t stout at the point of attack. He gets pushed around in the run game which is why Big Snack usually plays the first two downs. He’s not a starter. And what’s up with Ziggy Hood? Was his name even called? Looking at the box score from Denver, he had 2 tackles, no assists. TWO TACKLES. Aaron Smith could make more plays on one leg.
Then we have the secondary. The Steelers have tried to find a second corner to pair with Ike Taylor for years. Of course, their search usually involves a mid-to-late round project they hope to coach up. The light bulb finally came on for Willie Gay last season but the team let him go to
Pittsburgh West Arizona. His replacement, Keenan Lewis, was an average at best nickel last year and so far has looked like another B-Mac with his generous 10 yard cushions. The team is high on second year man Cortez Allen but he didn’t exactly distinguish himself against the Broncos, either. Meanwhile, Mundy remains the teams go-to safety off the bench even though he gets beat like Justin Bieber at a biker rally every time he’s on the field.
The bottom line is the Steelers D is a big question mark. Veteran stars are facing an inevitable decline while the young guys don’t appear ready for prime time. Steeler Nation may need to face the fact that for the first time in a very long time, it may be the offense which needs to carry the team. Play to your strengths. And right now, the defense is anything but a strength.
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Once upon a time, the prospect of playing the boys from the Mile High City was met with the same level of disdain Steeler Nation now reserves for the Ratbirds or Patriots. After last night’s game, I think it’s safe to say while the Denver Broncos may not be full-fledged members of the Circle of Hate, they’re definitely vying for a spot. For the second straight game dating back to last season’s Wild Card debacle, the Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in groan-worthy fashion, 31-19.
Where to start with this disaster.
How about new offensive coordinator Todd Haley? Some people view Twitter as a sign of the apocalypse (Follow me @totalsteelers) but I enjoy it because instead of waiting hours or even minutes to gauge reaction, you have it in seconds. It took roughly one quarter before the armchair offensive coordinators started calling for Haley’s head. His crime?
He was running the ball too much!
Yes, the same group who called into Pittsburgh sports talk shows whining about Bruce Arians and his Flying Circus offense for the past three years were moaning because Haley gave them what they asked for. More importantly, he gave Art Rooney II exactly what he wanted, a return to Stiller Football. And how did Stiller Football fare? Isaac Redman gained 20 yards on 11 carries while Jon Dwyer, one of the game’s lone offensive stars, chipped in 43 yards on only 9 carries with one big 17 yard gain wiped out due to a dubious holding call on Mike Wallace.
On the bright side, we totally dominated time of possession!
Seeing this offense try to relive the glory days of Franco and the Bus was PAINFUL to watch. Several times we had first and 15s and Haley elected to run on two successive downs. Only Ben Roethlisberger completing some big third down throws kept the chains moving. This team has one of the deepest and most talented group of wide receivers in the NFL. They shouldn’t be running to set up the pass, they should be passing to set up the run.
FORGET YINZERBALL AND PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS.
Ben is going to catch some flak for his performance last night, as he should. When your rep is being the best clutch player in football, you don’t throw a pick-six down six with 3 minutes left. Ben certainly had a Jekyll/Hyde game, making some great throws where he literally threaded a needle but he also made several incredibly dangerous throws which could’ve easily gotten intercepted. He also missed several big plays such as botching a sure TD to Heath Miller (who was open all day) and never seeing Wallace left wide open on a crucial fourth quarter drive. While I think it’d be totally unfair to pin this loss on him, Ben needs to play a helluva lot better if this team is going to win.
Especially if the defense is going to play like they played last night. Last year, Warren Sapp derided them as old, slow and done. This season, it appears they’re young, eager and over their heads. Despite obnoxious Cris Collinsworth occasionally getting up off his knees to proclaim “Peyton Manning is doing this to the league’s #1 ranked defense!” this is not the league’s top ranked defense. That was last year’s team with James Harrison and Ryan Clark and a healthier Casey Hampton and William Gay opposite Ike Taylor. Last night’s defense had none of those things and the results showed.
Manning was only sacked twice and one of those, by Jason Worilds, was a clean shot thanks to Manning mixing up the protection call. Other than a first quarter sack by Larry Foote, who was one of the few bright spots on defense, they generated almost zero pressure. Surely the altitude played a part but it doesn’t excuse anything. The bottom line is the Steelers offense held the ball for a whopping 10 minutes (35 to 25) longer yet the “exhausted” Broncos D held them to 19 points while the “rested” Steelers D allowed Pey-Pey to march right down the field on them.
Foote forced an early fumble although it was more luck than skill as he got thrown into the back and happened to knock the ball loose. That was it as far as highlights go. The D-line got pushed around on passing plays and couldn’t stop the run when it counted. The linebackers effort can be summed up by watching Peyton OUTRUN supposedly super-athlete Lawrence Timmons to the sticks for a 7 yard gain. Then we have the secondary. Youngsters Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen did their best B-Mac impressions, allowing generous 5 yard cushions on every pass play. And then we have Demaryius Thomas, who once again abused Ike Taylor to the tune of 5 catches for 110 yards.
Perhaps no play summed up last night’s debacle like the third quarter turning point when Thomas took a little slant and ran away from like half the defense on his way to a 71 yard TD. Of course the scab refs missed a hold on Ryan Mundy on the play but it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
What would have mattered was the facemask on Ben they missed on the Steelers’ previous drive which ended with a Shaun Suisham field goal. The game was an absolute fiasco from an officiating standpoint, with the scab refs saving their worst for prime time and most of their incompetence going against the Steelers. The lone time we got a call, on yet another boneheaded Mike Tomlin challenge which came in after a play had been run, it would’ve been better if they hadn’t. Meanwhile, Wallace’s hold wiping out a big Dwyer run and a crucial pass interference on Lewis late in the 4th were the definition of ticky-tacky especially after not calling worse against the Broncos. Evidently they did read the Illegal Formations portion of the rule book on the can before the game because that was one thing they called on both teams at least a good half dozen times.
Let’s not blame the scab refs on this fiasco. The Steelers played a terrible game last night. If Ben had Superman’d up and pulled out a last-second victory, it only would’ve been a Band-Aid on a gaping chest wound. The Steelers clearly have some fundamental issues they need to address on both sides of the ball. And they need to start by figuring out what kind of offense they want to run. Because what we saw last night isn’t going to get it done, not against Peyton Manning, not against Tim Tebow, not against anybody.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost yet another player in an off-season that’s proving a huge boon to our local U-Haul franchises. Starting cornerback William Gay has signed with – I hope you’re sitting down – the Arizona Cardinals. Shocking news, I know. Somewhere, Hines Ward has to be kicking a chair and wondering how was it that Pittsburgh West couldn’t find a place for him.
Ironically, this isn’t the first time Ken Whisenhunt has imported a starting corner from his former team. Following our victory in Superbowl XLIII, the Cards signed then starting CB Bryant McFadden to a big money free agent deal. B-Mac flamed out spectacularly and was eventually traded back to the Steelers the following season. McFadden started for a Steeler team that was once again Super Bowl bound but was injured this past pre-season and by the time he was healthy he had lost his starting job to, yes, William Gay.
Let’s hope Will.i.am fares better than his predecessor.
For the newbies who wonder why I’ve always spelled Gay’s first name with strategically placed periods, the video above should answer your question. When he made an idiot of himself by treating the crowd at our last Super Bowl victory parade to his impromptu musical stylings, I decided to dub him Will.i.am in tribute to his budding music career. The gig in Arizona better work out because I don’t think all the Auto-Tune in the world could salvage that singing voice. At least Kanye has some sick flow, yo.
Truth be told, though, I will miss Will.i.am. His is one of the better redemption stories of recent years. When B-Mac left, Gay was thrust into the starting line-up where he became far and away the most picked on corner in the NFL. After a season long demotion back to nickel, a position he’s always filled admirably, Will.i.am battled back to reclaim his starting job this season. The second time was the charm as he played very solid corner and was a big reason the Steelers finished the year with the league’s top ranked pass defense. Who can forget his Big Gay Interceptions against Cincy and Cleveland which effectively put those games away for us?
Scuttlebutt has it
Arizona Pittsburgh West is going to use Gay as their nickelback behind second year player AJ Jefferson and rising star Patrick Peterson. If anybody should know how to use him, it’s former Steelers secondary coach and current Cards defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
Meanwhile, the Steelers will go into this season with a new look secondary. Keenan Lewis did a decent job playing the nickel and the former third round pick will be given every opportunity to claim the starting job opposite Ike Taylor. Lewis has talent but he’s been slightly injury prone over his short career and has a times looked lost in man coverage. Cortez Allen had an impressive rookie season, becoming the rare newb who sees significant playing time in Dick LeBeau’s complicated defense. He has the size (6’1) you like in a corner and has a definite nose for the football but 2012 will still be only in his second year as a pro. Barring the Steelers drafting a corner early in this year’s draft, it appears Taylor, Lewis, and Allen will comprise the secondary.
From cutting Greg Lloyd and letting Barry Foster walk to releasing Joey Porter and ridding themselves of Santonio Holmes, the Steelers have never been afraid to turn over their roster. And more often than not, the players they bring in are as good or better than the ones they let go. Still, by my count the team has now lost, either to age, injury or free agency, five starters from last year’s squad. When’s the bleeding going to stop?
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Best. Twitter. Avatar. Ever.
Sorry for being tardy with this update but since the Pittsburgh Steelers mauling of the Dream Team aka Philadelphia Eagles was nationally broadcast last night, I figured it better to do a more news-specific update than a recap of the game. Speaking of Twitter, twittering during preseason games makes them much more tolerable (and if you’re not following my twitter, well, my legs aren’t as nice as Kym’s but I know a lot more about football). Especially when you’re forced to listen to the unholy combination of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. Adding the greatest Steeler QB of all-time, Terry Bradshaw, to the mix did help a little if only because it’s amusing how discombobulated TB makes Aikman.
Oh and that horrifying NFL on Fox commercial featuring all the announcers in their underwear? Had to be Joe Buck’s idea.