The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Forbes recently polled fans in order to find the most disliked NFL players. For the third consecutive year, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger cracked the top five. I’m not going to belabor why Ben is on the list – at this point, the Milledgeville story has been beat to death and I don’t think anybody is going to change their opinion about what happened in that dingy stinky bathroom stall – except to say I truly think today’s Ben is not the same as “Bitches, Take My Shots” Ben.
For one, he settled down with a nice Pittsburgh Girl. He went back to Miami (Ohio) and completed his degree. Finally, he became a father. In fact, Ben and his wife Ashley recently announced they have second child on the way.
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“Suck for Luck” was a popular theme last season. While Andrew Luck is enjoying a pretty good rookie season, his accomplishments have thus far been eclipsed by the quarterback taken one spot after him. Robert Griffin III has won the exact same number of games as Luck yet he’s quickly become one of the most hyped players in the league. The Four Letter, always at the forefront of insanity, is already asking if he’s a viable MVP candidate.
As if there weren’t already enough reasons to avoid ESPN.
This Sunday, RGIII will be facing the Pittsburgh Steelers. We here in the Burgh know a little something about dual threat quarterbacks. We had arguably the best one ever. His name was Kordell Stewart.
Every couple years, the NFL finds a new “ultimate weapon” that will “redefine the QB position.” And usually they have a few great seasons, win some games while piling up the fantasy stats, then the league catches up to them and they plummet back to earth. And they never ever win the big one.
People like to argue over what constitutes a dual threat QB. Some people like to list old timers like Fran Tarkenton or even our own Terry Bradshaw (seriously, look up some of TB’s old rushing totals). That’s patently ridiculous as they were classic drop back QBs who used their feet as a last resort, not as a featured part of their offensive repertoire. Others point to guys like John Elway and Steve Young, who at some point led their respective teams in rushing and did manage to win Super Bowls. Again, that’s revisionist history. Both Elway and Young could run but it was never a part of their game plan. They were both prototypical passers who used their legs as a complement and safety valve.
Kordell Stewart was the first real hybrid threat. By hybrid I mean a QB whose offensive game plan was expressly tailored to utilize his running ability as much as his passing. For those too young to remember the Steelers of the mid 90s, Slash was the kind of weapon which gave D-coordinators absolute fits. There were games where it literally seemed like the other team had no idea how to stop him. Nobody had ever seen a guy do the things which Kordell did. The dude rushed for an 80 yard TD, caught a 71 yard TD and threw a 90 yard TD over a five year period.
And that’s why I’m an unapologetic Stewart fanboy and always will be.
Slash represented the first real attempt by the NFL to change the perception of what a QB can be. The standard thinking, which exists to this day, is a college offense won’t work in the pros. Way way back in the day, pro teams ran things like the wishbone or Wing-T and in the 90s there was a brief flirtation with the run and shoot. Still, no team runs the option (because the belief is your QB will eventually get killed) nor do they run the run and shoot’s less insane cousin, the pistol/spread (exclusively that is).
What invariably happens is the NFL takes a great athletic QBs and eventually tries to shoehorn them into a pro set offense. Slash had great success as a multi-faceted weapon but eventually Bill Cowher and the Steelers decided they could only win with a classic pocket passer so they tried to rein him in. And without the running dimension, Slash quickly became just an ordinary average NFL QB.
And this happens over and over every few years. When Michael Vick entered the league, he soon became the new ultimate weapon. His passing skills were never near as good as Stewart’s but the dual threat led him to some early success. Since getting out of the clink, the Eagles have made him more and more of a pocket passer and, just like Slash, his sudden plummet to mediocrity is due to the fact that’s not his strength.
Vince Young was supposed to be the next Vick, Slash 3.0 if you will. A combination of Jeff Fisher trying to rein him in almost from the start and his own stupidity when it came to reading defenses led to a totally unmemorable NFL career. Jeanette’s own Terrelle Pryor is currently languishing on the Raiders despite Carson Palmer clearly being on the downhill slide because I don’t think they know what to do with him. His passing skills were rudimentary by college standards. And as I said, teams aren’t willing to try something new like going to a full-time spread.
Which brings us to last season. In 2011, the Broncos made the playoffs with a hybrid QB because they ditched conventional thinking and played to his strengths. Tim Tebow led his team to the second round by basically running the option. Of course Elway couldn’t wait to go back to a pro set with Peyton Manning because the NFL doesn’t believe you can win any other way.
Which brings us back to RGIII. He’s putting up some monster numbers this season. His rushing yardage alone is more than all the Steelers running backs COMBINED. He’s also completing a whopping 70% of his passes. But the whispers are already starting. When he was concussed a few weeks back, the talking heads couldn’t wait to say “he needs to learn” which was code for “You can’t keep running, you’re a QB.”
Now maybe RGIII will have a career similar to a Randall Cunningham or Donavan McNabb, athletic QBs who successfully transitioned to pocket passers. More likely, he’s having a huge season because the Redskins are letting him be himself. They’re turning him loose and nobody knows what to do. But as soon as something happens, be it a bad season or a serious injury, NFLThink will kick in and they’ll try to make him into a regular QB. When that happens, he’ll be just another quarterback and everybody will wonder what happened to RGIII?
We’ll know here in Pittsburgh. Just ask Kordell Stewart.
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The Battle of Pennyslvania. It occurs every season but only once every four years does the game actually count. This Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles make the trip west to Heinz Field to face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that could be a tipping point for both teams.
I’m loathe to proclaim week five a “must win” scenario (especially when it’s only the Steelers’ fourth game) but I truly think this weekend will set the table for the rest of 2012. The Eagles are 3-1 but they’re pretty much the worst 3-1 team you’ll ever find. Appropriate for the city they represent, Philly has epitomized the term “winning ugly.” They could as easily be 0-4 as their three wins have come by four total points.
Meanwhile, I have no idea what to make of the Steelers. They whupped the Jets but that looks a lot less impressive in hindsight because the Jets absolutely suck. Meanwhile, they lost close games to the Broncos and Raiders where their defense played like garbage and their offense performed well until crunch time. Now that we’ve seen other teams in action, I can pretty confidently say we have yet to play a really top level team. Regardless of where you slot the Eagles, our schedule definitely gets a lot harder from here on out.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs EAGLES OFFENSE
Ah, Michael Vick. A story making the rounds the past couple days recounts how Mike Tomlin wanted to bring Vick to the Steelers after he finished serving time in the clink on his dog fighting charge. Of course Tomlin wanted him. They’re both Virginia guys and Tomlin won’t rest until he has an entire roster of black quarterbacks. Never mind the fact Vick is a dog-raping scumbag.
He also continues to be a vastly overrated quarterback. Vick reclaimed his position as starter several years back but in many ways he’s still the same guy he was with Atlanta. Which is to say, just a more hyped version of Kordell Stewart. Tremendous athlete, can make plays with his feet as well as his arm but suffers from questionable decision-making and not a dependable pocket-passing QB. Teams have been forcing him to remain in the pocket and when he does he’s a veritable turnover machine. In only 4 games, he’s thrown 6 picks and fumbled 5 times.
That’s the good news. The bad news is the Eagles have the kind of big play offense that can make up for his mistakes and make up for them fast. Desean Jackson is a home run threat on every play. Former Pitt Panther Shady McCoy is a Ray Rice-like weapon at RB who can break a long run at any time. Much like Darren Mcfadden did in our last game, either one of those guys can be stopped nine times out of ten but that tenth play ends up being a 50+ yard TD.
Which makes this a really bad match-up for the Steelers. Going back to last season, the Steelers D has exhibited the bad habit of giving up big plays at bad times through both the ground and air. Likewise, Vick is a turnover candidate for a D that hasn’t been able to force many turnovers. So something has to give. Let’s hope it’s not the D.
Getting Troy Polamalu and James Harrison back will definitely help. Dick LeBeau‘s defense is carefully constructed where the success of A often depends on B doing their job. With key pieces missing, things tend to fall apart. Troy is a disruptive influence who often forces turnovers just by the opposing QB never knowing where he’ll line up. Having Harrison and LaMarr Woodley on the field together for once should generate the kind of pressure that forces QBs into making mistakes. Both Troy and Deebo have practiced all week and barring a last minute setback (which is not out of the question), we should see the Steelers defense, the REAL Steelers D, back on the field for the first time in a long long time.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs EAGLES DEFENSE
Todd Haley‘s eight minute drives are great and all but when the other team can get the kickoff and answer with a TD of their own in three plays, it all goes for naught. I’m not sure Ben Roethlisberger can play any better than he has thus far. Some members of Steeler Nation are blaming him for not leading comebacks and, true, if your rep was made as a clutch money QB, you need to start pulling some games out. At the same time, Big Ben’s putting up some truly incredible numbers. Nearly 70% completion rate, 900 yards not even 1/4 through the season and 8 TDs against only 1 (extremely costly) interception.
The Steelers strength is their receivers. We all know this. Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace picked up right where they left off. Jerricho Cotchery and Manny Sanders don’t catch a ton of balls but make their chances count. Then we have Heath Miller. We’ve always known he’s perhaps the most well-rounded TE in the league and Boss Todd’s offense is finally showing the rest of the NFL what he can do.
As fantastic as the receivers are, you can’t throw all the time. You just can’t, especially if you want Ben to survive to week 10 without catastrophic injury. The running back by committee has been an abject failure with nobody accomplishing much of anything. Rashard Mendenhall will see his first action since tearing his ACL in the season finale against Cleveland. He’ll likely still split carries with iRed (on short yardage) and Rainey (on passing downs) although I figure his workload will depend on how things go. Adrian Peterson suffered a similar injury last year and has done fine as his team’s featured back so I don’t foresee Mendy being limited by anything other than game situation and his own performance.
The Eagles don’t play great defense but it’s an opportunistic group. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie already has three picks. Speedy defensive ends (the bane of the Steelers existence) Jason Babin and Trent Cole have combined for four sacks. Through the first four games, they’ve epitomized bend but don’t break. If the Steelers offense becomes too one-dimensional, that’ll play right into their hands. I’m not saying rely on the running game but it’s time they pulled their weight.
The first month of the season has been a lot of “What Ifs” for the Steelers. What if we had Troy in Oakland? What if we had Harrison and Clark in Denver? What if we had a halfway decent running game? As of Sunday, those what ifs go away. It’s time for the Steelers to establish what kind of team they’re going to be in 2012. And as the saying goes, there’s no time like the present.
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I hate NFL pre-season games. I understand why they’re necessary but I still loathe them. To me, they’re tedious, dull, and totally meaningless. I don’t know what’s worse, that they televise them like they’re actual games or that rabid football fans watch them and then buy that some undrafted third string linebacker who got a sack in the fourth quarter will actually see playing time during the regular season.
Teams would rather trot out a starting linebacker with one eye or starting quarterback with one leg *cough*Steelers*cough* than play the guys you see playing in the fourth quarter.
Last night, the Pittsburgh Steelers were edged by the Philadelphia Eagles on a last second field goal by some dude named Alex Henery. At least, that’s what Bob Pompeani told me because I turned the game off long before then. I did suffer through the first half and a few plays of the third quarter before flipping over to the Olympics to watch Usain Bolt blow everybody away in the 200 meters. Which reminds me, who thinks Kevin Colbert should give Usain a call? It doesn’t matter if he can catch the ball so long as he can run cheetah-fast in a straight line thereby “stretching the field.”
He probably wouldn’t want no damn $12 million a year to do it.
Anyhow, last night we got our first look at the Black and Gold’s new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, new offensive line, new backfield, new receiving corps, new secondary… Well, we we sorta got a look at them because coaches keep their game plans blander than Justin Bieber in a Disney movie because nobody in their right mind would waste valuable chunks of their playbook on a meaningless game. So while we saw all these guys on the field last night, we really can’t say with any certainty if they’re ready for some football (that counts). However, since I spent valuable Assassin’s Creed time watching this nonsense, here are a few totally random observations.
— I thought the offensive line was supposed to be good this year? It sure didn’t appear that way what with Ben Roethlisberger getting sacked twice on the opening drive and running for his life a couple other times. For the record, the starting unit was (left to right) Mike Adams, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert. The bookends looked shaky, with Adams surrendering one of the sacks while Foster surrendered the other. Both Adams and Gilbert were repeatedly pushed backwards or ran around by a speed rusher in what looked like a repeat of the same old O-line play we’ve seen the past few years.
DeCastro looked pretty solid, though. He pulled on a number of plays and got downfield to block on several others. Him and Pouncey opened up a couple big holes which is a nice sign going forward. Speaking of the running game:
— Chris Rainey. Rainey took over Antonio Brown’s return duties which isn’t surprising because that’s why we assume he was drafted. What was surprising is he’s also taken over Mewelde Moore’s role as the third down back, where his elusiveness and ability to catch balls out of the backfield were on full display. At one point he took a third and long draw and converted a first down in what was probably the first team’s best play of the game. Rainey will never be a three down back (he ended up with 1 yard on 4 carries despite that 14 yard gain) but if you’re looking for this year’s Wallace/AB surprise breakout offensive star, Rainey may be your man.
— The running back battle. Redzone Redman is going to be the starter, we already knew that. The first guy to relieve him, and thus the nominal back-up, appears to be Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer hasn’t done bupkiss during the regular season but he was the running star last night, ripping off 40 yards on only two carries. The Steelers gave rookie (technically, this is his second year but he blew out his knee before the season started) Baron Batch an extended look to mixed results (19 carries 41 yards, mostly against third and fourth string scrubs). He ran hard but straight ahead showing only mediocre speed and elusiveness. At 5’10 210, he’s not big enough to run like that which is why he got stoned on three tries from the goal line. Later on, he loosened up a bit and began making some cuts but I’m not sure he’s all the way back yet.
The good news is John Clay only got a handful of carries. That’s usually a tell-tale sign of a team wanting to hide a guy on the practice squad. Batch was also a draft pick and we know how Colbert likes to keep his picks around even when other guys are clearly better. I’m not giving up on Batch based on a single pre-season game coming off a major injury. But I am wondering if the team keeps Mendenhall around with the idea of activating him by mid-season, which back will be odd man out. Redman, Rainey and Dwyer look locked in, I don’t know if the roster has room for a fifth back.
— Speaking of injured players, Casey Hampton continues to work his way back from knee surgery so taking his place at NT was Steve McClendon. All McClendon did was record a sack on his first series as starter. Alameda Ta’amu is the future at nose but I liked what I saw of McClendon last season and it appears he’s picking right up where he left off.
— Poor Byron Leftwich. He should probably consider joining Mike Wallace on his couch until the pre-season is over because he’s snakebit in these games. No, he didn’t get hurt last night but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie tried to behead him while he was attempting a pass.
Lefty looked fine, not too mobile but still possessing a good strong arm. Charlie Batch didn’t get in the game which I honestly don’t know how to take. Jerrod Johnson played the entire second half and looked like the second coming of Dennis Dixon, ie; Ran away when he sensed trouble, terrible accuracy, occasional flashes of competence. There was literally zero difference between JJ and DD except that JJ has apparently learned more than three plays. If the unthinkable happened and we lost Ben and Lefty, I wouldn’t trust Johnson any more than I trusted Dixon.
Then again, as the Philly fanbase thought while holding their collective onion-tinged breath when Michael Vick hurt his hand attempting a pass, you lose your starting QB and the season is lost no matter who you have backing him up. Let’s hope the team affords our superstar QB a little better protection than we saw tonight. Otherwise, we’re in for another loooong year.
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For members of Steeler Nation living outside of Western Pennsylvania, tonight is your first opportunity to see your [intlink id=”19″ type=”category”]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] when they face off against the Philadelphia Eagles on Fox. Despite the Black and Gold coming off a glorious Super Bowl run, prepare yourself for almost non-stop praise for the Iggles. Philly, you see, is this year’s Greatest Team Ever Assembled. On paper.
Sure, they pulled off the biggest move in free agency by signing Nnamdi Asomugha. Then they traded Kevin Kolb to Arizona for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. TWO ALL-PRO CORNERBACKS! ON THE SAME TEAM! YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY LOSE WITH THAT 1-2 PUNCH!
Ask the Jets.