The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. There really isn’t much to add to that. It has already become one of the NFL’s most heated rivalries. While the departure of guys like Hines Ward and Ray Lewis has taken away some of the on-field animosity, the rivalry will continue to burn as long as these two teams continue to face each other in big games.
And make no mistake, this is a huge game. About a month ago, the joke going around was NBC probably wishes they could flex Ravens-Steelers out of the coveted Thanksgiving night prime time slot. Both were mired at the bottom of the standings and looked like a couple of teams going nowhere. Thanks to modest winning streaks and the mediocrity of the AFC, both Baltimore and Pittsburgh now find themselves in the thick of the Wild Card race.
As if Ravens-Steelers isn’t important enough. As if a showcase on Thanksgiving wasn’t important enough. Now we get to throw in major playoff implications. With seven teams basically tied for the second Wild Card, head-to-head victories and Conference Record are going to be the difference between a trip to the playoffs and an early off-season.
While I fully expect another close game, let’s just hope it doesn’t go to overtime. We all remember what happened last time the Steelers played an OT game on Thanksgiving.
Share and Enjoy
The Pittsburgh Steelers have managed to claw their way back into the AFC playoff discussion. As I mentioned in yesterday’s game recap, a large part of their resurgence is due to recent line-up changes. A few of those changes were coach Mike Tomlin demoting guys due to poor performance but most of them came about because of injuries. In nearly every instance where a starter has gone down, his replacement has come in and been an improvement.
Baseball has what is called a Lou Gehrig situation. Basically, Gehrig was a bench warmer until one fateful day when the starter was ill and couldn’t play. Gehrig took his place and performed so well he’d play every game thereafter for the next fourteen years. It’s a tremendous achievement but also a cautionary tale about how quickly and unexpectedly a player can find themselves replaced.
Share and Enjoy
“There’s a certain amount of misery with the position that we’re in. We’ll wear it. We don’t like it. We’ll wear it.” - Mike Tomlin
If the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was an article of clothing, it’d be a pair of bowling shoes. Stinky ugly bowling shoes. Coach T was gracious about crediting Cincy for playing well during his post-game cliche-fest. All I’ll say is that if the Bengals are the class of the AFC North, then our division has quickly become the Big East of the NFL.
In my game preview, I mentioned this being the year quarterback Andy Dalton needed to take his game to the next level. The Ginger Rifle responded by playing a hideous game. Overthrows, underthrows, missing wide open receivers, Dalton did his best to keep the Steelers in the game. Unfortunately, the Black and Gold were in an even more charitable mood.
Share and Enjoy
The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered several injuries in their 16-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Zoltan Mesko is not listed among the casualties. I’m sure he spent the better part of the evening icing down his foot, though. Poor Zoltan did more punting yesterday than he did all last season for the New England Patriots.
I can safely say the Black and Gold put on the worst display of offensive football I’ve seen in my thirty odd years of yinzer-hood. Worse than when they had a guy named Walter Abercrombie lining up in the backfield. Worse than when they were being quarterbacked by Bubby Brister. Worse than the glory days of Mark Malone.
Words cannot describe how inept the Steelers appeared on offense. When Ben Roethlisberger hit Jerricho Cotchery for the team’s lone touchdown with a minute and a half left in the game, I actually saw people on Twitter posting “Nice of the offense to finally show up.” That’s insane. The offense never showed up yesterday. NEVER.
Share and Enjoy
Finally, football has returned to Pittsburgh…
After an unusually long off-season following a disappointing 8-8 campaign, the Pittsburgh Steelers will take the field hoping a dubious mix of aging veterans and unproven youngsters will lead them back to the promised land. First up this Sunday is an appointment with the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field.
Share and Enjoy
The first round 2013 NFL Draft couldn’t have unfolded any better for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the last 48 hours or so before the draft, it became more and more certain that the 17th overall pick would come down to one of a handful of players. When the Black and Gold came on the clock, pretty much all of them were still there for the taking. That they wasted hardly any time handing their pick in to Roger Goodell (BOOOOOOO!) seemingly indicates the final decision wasn’t very hard at all.
Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones is your newest member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. According to post-draft comments by GM Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin, Jones was a player they identified early in the process as guy they would love to have. Jones had an extremely productive junior season, leading the nation in sacks (14.5) while playing against elite SEC competition. At 6’2 245 pounds, he projects as a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker who should push Jason Worilds next season and eventually replace him as heir apparent to James Harrison. What’s more, Jarvis is considered a high character guy who overcame a ton of adversity as you can read in this excerpt from a recent Sports Illustrated story. While he may be a nice guy off the field, it’s evident from his highlight film and Twitter handle that he enjoys getting after the quarterback with reckless intent.
Going into the off-season, Jones was widely viewed as one of the Draft’s top two pass rushing linebackers and a sure fire top ten pick. However, skipping the Combine and not performing well in his pre-draft workouts raised some red flags which led to his drop. The most notable of which was the glacially slow 4.9 40 time Jones posted at his pro day. While Tomlin and Colbert were all giggles over it, an edge rusher who posts a 40 time a shade less than many offensive and defensive linemen is worrisome. Granted game speed and track speed can be wholly different things and the list of “workout warriors” that wowed scouts at the Combine only to fizzle once they actually had to take the field longer is like a who’s who of greatest Draft Busts in NFL history but it is something to be aware of when he finally suits up for the Black and Gold.
Then there’s Jones medical history. He began his career at USC but transferred to Georgia when the Trojans’ team doctors refused to clear him due to spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal cord which can put an athlete at greater risk for career ending injury. I don’t know of any pro football players who have this condition but I do remember that WWE wrestler Edge was diagnosed with the condition and it immediately ended his career. Doctors advised him that one poorly executed fall could leave him paralyzed which speaks to the seriousness of the matter. I’m sure the Steelers medical staff did a thorough evaluation although I do find it slightly ironic they ditched one OLB with a history of back/neck issues (Deebo) for a rookie with an elevated risk of them.
At the end of the day, it was the right choice. Going by the reactions on twitter, Steeler Nation was generally pleased with the pick although there were a few hoping the team would address their offensive woes by taking an elite skill player like TE Tyler Eifert (who went to the Bengals, what an offense they’re going to have…) or one of the WRs. I can understand that argument but with Harrison gone and LaMarr Woodley trapped at the All-U-Can Eat Buffet, the Steelers had to find an elite pass rusher. Judging by the rest of the first round where only one QB, two WRs and zero RBs were taken, the league wide consensus seems to be that there is plenty of depth at the skill positions available in later rounds. The Steelers need somebody capable of making an impact. Let’s hope Jarvis Jones makes one on opposing quarterbacks for many years to come.
Share and Enjoy
One NFL agent has already been fired due to free agency incompetence. Another may soon join him.
Linebacker Elvis Dumervil was happily employed by the Denver Broncos, who were scheduled to pay him $12 million next season. After signing some name free agents (Wes Welker and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), the Broncos found themselves over the salary cap. Under NFL bylaws, after any new signing, a team has a window of 48 hours to get in compliance with the cap or they risk forfeiting a first or second round draft pick. Dumervil agreed to rework his contract to help Denver out but thanks some sort of fax machine shenanigans, the papers weren’t signed in time and the team was forced to release him.
Dumervil quickly became a hot commodity as no fewer than five teams were bidding for his services. The Pittsburgh Steelers were among his suitors as were the Baltimore Ravens. The Ratbirds ultimately won the Dumervil sweepstakes, signing him to a five year deal that will pay him $8.5 million this season although only $2.5 of it counts against the cap (the bulk of his first year salary comes in the form of a signing bonus). Why can’t supposed salary cap sooper-genius Omar Khan work out these kind of deals?
The addition of Dumervil is quite the coup for the Ravens, who have lost five defensive starters this off-season. At 29 years old, Dumervil is an accomplished pass rusher having posted 17, 9.5 and 11 sacks the past three years. Paired with Terrell Suggs, they should form one of the better OLB duos in the AFC.
When word broke of Dumervil signing with Baltimore, Steeler fans immediately went into sour grapes mode, pointing out Doom’s limited experience as a 3-4 OLB (he began his career as a 4-3 DE) and his so-so ability to stop the run. Anybody who doesn’t think Dumervil would’ve been a huge asset to the Steelers is completely insane. Had they signed him, he immediately would’ve been the team’s best pass rusher as he’s infinitely more talented than Jason Worilds and has grossly outperformed LaMarr Woodley the past few seasons. What’s more, at 29 years old, he’s got at least three or four more prime years left before age and injury start to catch up with him.
With Dumervil off the table, rumor has it the Steelers have turned their sights to former Colts DE Dwight Freeney. At this point, Freeney is nothing more than a poor man’s Dumervil. Sure he might come cheaper but in football as with smoked ham, you get what you pay for. Freeney is older (33), has a more worrisome injury history, and appears to be a horrible fit for our defense. Where Dumervil shifted from DE to OLB without missing a beat, Freeney moved to OLB last season and recorded a career-low 5 sacks. Freeney isn’t an upgrade over Dumervil, he’s not even an upgrade over the man he’s ostensibly replacing, James Harrison.
Ah, poor Deebo. The agent I mentioned who may soon find himself unemployed (if not naked in a gutter with dog bites and “BMF” tattood on his left butt cheek) is the assclown representing James Harrison. Harrison was scheduled to make $6.57 million this season but the Steelers asked him to take a 30% pay cut down to roughly $4.5 million. He balked thinking he could easily command his original salary on the open market. How sadly he was mistaken.
According to reports, the market for Harrison’s rapidly declining skills is tepid to say the least. In fact it’s so icy that Harrison’s agent has already started floating the idea that James would be open to returning to the Steelers, presumably for the salary he idiotically turned down in the first place. For their part, the Steelers have leaked word that they have no interest in bringing a grovelling Harrison back at any price. Ouch.
The thing is, yes, Harrison is in the twilight of his career. And yes, he was dumb for not agreeing to take the pay cut when it was offered. At the same time, Harrison was the team’s best pass rusher last season and until Woodley discovers the Stairmaster, would still be so heading into this one. Even with eroding skills, Harrison is a better option than either Jason Worilds or Dwight Freeney. Of course, there are still players left to be signed and the draft can change a lot of things so it’s not imperative the Steelers decide on the lesser of three evils. However, they better do something or risk falling even further behind their AFC North rivals.
Share and Enjoy
Day Two of NFL Free Agency was even more wild than Day One. At some point the NFL really should consider televising these things since it makes for great theater. Just gather all the big name free agents in a room and have them pick the hat of the team they decided to sign with like high school kids making their college commitment. It’d be a lot more interesting than listening to talking heads on the NFL Network or spamming the F5 button while visiting Profootballtalk.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, Day Two saw them lose a pair of starters. To nobody’s chagrin, former first round pick Rashard Mendenhall signed elsewhere, joining head coach Bruce Arians in the deserts of Arizona. Looks like Arizona will continue to act as Pittsburgh West for discarded Steelers despite the departure of Ken Whisenhunt. I wonder if Rashard has a compass so he can be sure to face Mecca during his daily prayers to Allah? Also, it’s kinda ironic that the coach who brought the Flying Circus here to Pittsburgh made his first big free agent acquisition a running back.
The Steelers also cut overpaid fatass Willie Colon. Thus ends one of the most mind-boggling signings in team history. Colon was a 2006 fourth round draft pick out of Hofstra who unseated Max Starks for the starting RT job when Big Max found himself in the dog house following the team’s disappointing post-Super Bowl XL campaign. Colon served on a series of lines that surrendered an insane amount of sacks although he was the starting RT when they won Super Bowl XLIII. Colon was, at best, an average tackle playing a position so easy undrafted rookie Kelvin Beachum handled it fine when pressed into duty last season.
Despite being stunningly mediocre and missing the entire 2010 season due to an off-season injury, the Steelers saw fit to gift Colon a five year $29 million contract the following spring. He repaid their generosity by tearing his triceps in week 1 and sitting out the rest of the 2011 season. The Steelers moved Colon to guard last year and while he proved to be a pretty nasty run blocker he also served as a flag magnet. This time he lasted twelve whole games before blowing out his knee. By cutting Colon, the Steelers lop a whopping $5.5 million dollars off their cap.
Between Colon’s departure and reworking the contract of another lazy fatso, LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers finally have some room under the salary cap. They still have to keep a chunk open for the draft and to sign their RFAs but at least they can now afford to bring in a cheap veteran or two to help fill in some of their numerous holes.
One area they finally addressed is the back-up quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is a tough man but his sandlot style of play and advancing age make it nearly certain that he’ll miss a game or two every season. The past couple seasons the team put their faith in
China Doll Byron Leftwich who has the unfortunate habit of getting injured tying his shoes in pre-game warm-ups. It was absolutely imperative they sign a dependable back-up.
And they’ve finally done so by bringing hometown boy Bruce Gradkowski back to the ‘Burgh. Gradkowski, who grew up in Dormont and played for Seton-LaSalle, signed a three year deal which may finally signal the end for another local product, Charlie Batch. Gradkowski has bounced around the league, playing for five different teams in his seven year career. He’s fluctuated between starter and back-up, starting three games against the Steelers during that time. His most notable career start came against the Steelers as he was the quarterback who engineered the Raiders memorable upset of the defending Super Bowl champs during the Hangover season of 2009. Gradkowski is the ideal back-up, a durable dependable guy who can come in and win a game for you if need be.
He’s also a yinzer which will probably lessen the blow should the Steelers finally decide to part ways with Batch. It’s no secret the Steelers have been trying to rid themselves of Chaz for a couple years now only for those plans to be undone by Leftwich’s brittleness and Dennis Dixon’s abject stupidity. With Gradkowski slotting nicely into a #2 role, the team can either draft a developmental QB or sign a young guy off another team’s practice squad. Although let’s hope all those high draft picks they’ve invested in their offensive line pay some dividends in the form of a nice healthy Big Ben.
Share and Enjoy
Let the Purge II begin!
The Pittsburgh Steelers released linebacker James Harrison on Saturday. The former Defensive Player of the Year was scheduled to make $6.5 million next season and the salary cap strapped Steelers didn’t feel he was worth it. Earlier in the off-season, Harrison’s agent told reporters he felt his client was the team’s best linebacker and didn’t think he should take a pay cut. Evidently they held firm to that belief because the Steelers tried to renegotiate his contract last week, negotiations that went nowhere fast before ending with Harrison’s release.
At 35 and coming off several injuries, ditching Harrison now fits with the Steelers traditional habit of getting rid of expensive veteran linebackers before they decline. Make no mistake, Harrison’s agent was right, he was the team’s best linebacker last season. He tied with Lawrence Timmons for the team lead in sacks (6.0) and forced fumbles (2.0). The Steelers D was great at limiting opponents yards and points last season but they struggled with so-called “splash plays” like turnovers and sacks. Cutting the team’s most effective outside linebacker certainly won’t help them in those areas next season.
Harrison will most likely be replaced by Jason Worilds. Pressed into the starting line-up for large stretches last season, Worilds finally flashed a bit of potential by notching a career high 5 sacks. The problem with Worilds is still he hasn’t shown the ability to be a game-changer like the Steelers traditionally expect from their OLBs. Releasing Harrison also puts additional pressure on fatass LaMarr Woodley to get his lazy behind in the gym so as to avoid absolutely sucking like he has since signing that big money contract extension a couple seasons back.
The departure of Harrison removes yet another piece from the core of a team that won two Super Bowls and appeared in three. Harrison was a dirty violent anti-social thug but he was our dirty violent anti-social thug. I wrote more posts about the NFL’s obvious bias against Harrison than anybody but only the most Black and Gold colored glasses wearing yinzer would argue that Harrison was a good guy. If he had beheaded Hines Ward like he beheaded Mohammad Massaquoi or annihilated Ben Roethlisberger like he annihilated Colt McCoy, Steeler Nation would consider him Public Enemy #1. Since he wore our jersey and he cheapshotted our enemies, we cheered for him.
Truth is, violence is what made Harrison’s career. We all know the story, Harrison was an undersized linebacker who went undrafted out of Kent State. He was cut several times before the fateful day when Joey Porter was ejected for fighting in pre-game warm ups. Harrison stepped in and his ferocious play opened eyes. Porter was cut and Deebo went on to become a multiple time All-Pro and 2008 Defensive Player of the Year. That season he had 16 sacks and 7 forced fumbles. But no play that season or in his career was bigger than what he did in that year’s Super Bowl.
Steeler Nation commonly refers to the Immaculate Reception as the greatest play in Steelers history. It can be argued Harrison’s 100 yard Pick-Six was actually more important. While the Reception was undoubtedly harbinger of the Steel Dynasty, the ’72 Steelers went on to lose the AFC Championship game the next week. Meanwhile, Harrison’s play is very likely the difference between the Steelers being tied with the Cowboys and 49ers with 5 Lombardi Trophies and being the only franchise that has won six championships.
The Cardinals were on the three yard line with 20 seconds left. Harrison not only denied them a TD, he scored a TD going the other way. If the Cards score, the second half is an entirely different game. If he gets tackled inside the red zone, time expires and the Steelers don’t score. That play was a legit 14 point swing and in a game that came down to the narrowest of margins, there’s no overstating it’s importance. James Harrison won us a Super Bowl.
So thanks, James. Best of luck in your future endeavors.
Share and Enjoy
Last week, I wrote about growing discontent amongst the Pittsburgh Steelers. Naturally, I’ll begin this week writing about growing discontent amongst the Pittsburgh Steelers. What? You thought I’d do five hundred words on some college kid’s 40 time at the Combine?
When last we left this ridiculous controversy, an unnamed player called linebacker LaMarr Woodley a fatass. Regardless of his off-season workout regiment, there’s absolutely no denying Woodley has been an injury prone disappointment since signing his big money contract extension a couple seasons back. These unattributed comments riled up team leader/annoying loudmouth Ryan Clark, who was offended someone would break the code of locker room omerta. Shockingly, Clark did make one valid observation; that the team had a clear leadership vacuum in the wake of last season’s purge of veterans.
Since no controversy is complete until we hear from the wide receivers, not one but two Steelers wide outs chimed in on this issue. First there was Antonio Brown, wearing the swankiest pimp hat this side of the Godfather. He appeared on ESPN’s First Take but since I try to avoid ESPN and I especially try to avoid First Take, I only caught his comments when they were uploaded to their website. In between his various assaults on the English language, AB managed to reveal the Steelers had a “fractured” locker room with guys more worried about their stats and impending free agency than winning football games.
In other words, Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall were the bad guys. Shocking, I know. And convenient. Since both of those goofs are long gone, it very nicely puts all questions about a divided locker room to rest. At least until the team loses two in a row to bottom feeders they should’ve crushed.
Hines Ward, who is no longer a Steeler although for some reason the media runs to get his opinion on every move they make, went on the NFL Network to weigh in on this controversy. Hines reiterated Clark’s point about losing veteran leaders and talked about the team losing track of the Steeler Way. He also provided every headline writer their money quote by saying the backbiting was a sign the team was in “total disarray.” Impressive insight for a man who spent most of last season in Los Angeles preparing sweet and sour spare ribs for Guy Fieri and Rachel Ray.
Look, the Steelers definitely have a problem. When they cut Hines and James Farrior, yinzers called local sports talk shows worried about leadership and were dismissed by hosts who (rightfully) pointed out teams don’t have to like each other or be compromised of good guys to win. Now that the players themselves are pointing out the problems in the locker room, those same hosts are all over this topic. This is why I started this blog, the reporters and sports personalities in this town suck.
You don’t need a team full of choir boys or a team wide lovefest to win. However, the good guys need to outnumber the bad guys. The Steelers have had idiots on the team before but with Hines or the Bus leading the locker room and a hard-ass head coach in Bill Cowher, the Steeler Way prevailed. In recent years, the guys who were all about winning have faded away and a bunch of chest-thumping me-firsters have taken their place. And instead of the head coach reining them in, we have hear-no-evil see-no-evil Mike Tomlin. There is a systematic flaw within this team. Unfortunately, a flaw I don’t see being corrected any time soon.