Sorry for being short but I actually had another of my trademark 1000 word monstrosities analyzing every potentiality playoff team in the queue when my computer decided to eat it. So you’ll have to settle for the Cliff’s Notes version of my opus.
The AFC is a trash heap. The playoff picture is both clear and an absolute mess. Clear in that the division leaders are all pretty well settled. We also know one Wild Card will come from the loser of the Kansas City-Denver battle for AFC South supremacy. One of those teams will finish with 11 or 12 wins, barring some sort of epic collapse.
Nobody else is even above .500. Two teams, the Jets and Dolphins, currently sit at 5-5. Behind them, there are six teams that are 4-6, including our Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, thanks to Da Bears downing the Ravens and the Browns being the Browns, all three of the also-rans in the AFC North are knotted up at 4 wins each. As I pretty much cautioned all season, the level of mediocrity is such that the Steelers had little trouble bringing themselves back into the pack.
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Some people think the Pittsburgh Steelers 0-4 start was the product of a poorly constructed roster, some lousy coaching, and injuries to key personnel. They would be wrong. The Steelers simply decided to postpone winning until after the Pirates season was over. They were polite enough to give them spotlight.
Good manners are the Steeler Way.
With the Bucs done for the year, the Black and Gold wasted no time getting off the schneid by defeating the New York Jets 19-6. The highlight of this game was Bill Cowher, the greatest coach in Steeler history, in the booth calling the game with the normally unlistenable duo of Nantz and Simms. Not only did CBS make sure to work in a plug for Cowher’s mid-life crisis, er, leather-clad rocker babe, the Chin’s near orgasmic joy with every field goal attempt made an otherwise dull game seem exciting.
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I had planned on posting the video of Antonio Cromartie struggling to remember all of his illegitimate children by way of introduction but then the fine folks at Benstonium had to go and make the above video. I have no idea if they read my blog but I already noted Mike Tomlin‘s overuse of “Obviously” in my semi-brilliant analysis of his weekly press conference. In any event, it’s nice t o know I wasn’t the only one who pays attention to those things – even if I did grossly underestimate how many times he repeated himself.
Go back to your Word of the Day Calendar, Mike!
In football news, the Pittsburgh Steelers face the New York Jets on Sunday. As if the Black and Gold’s quest for their first win of 2013 isn’t exciting enough, CBS is working a gimmick where their obnoxious studio commentators will be working games played by their former teams. That means the greatest head coach in Steelers history, Bill Cowher, will be on hand to point out how badly the team has fallen apart since his departure. Since the game will be in New York, no word on whether he plans on bringing his leather-clad punk rocker girlfriend.
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There was no Mike Tomlin press conference last week. Pity, considering how pissed Coach T appeared in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh Steelers loss to the Minnesota Vikings, I’m sure it would’ve been highly entertaining even if the questions are being furnished by the cheerleader local media. With the Penguins starting their season and the Pirates continuing to shock the baseball world, the media treated yesterday’s presser like a typical Pittsburgh sports fan: with stunning apathy.
While the sparsely attended affair wrapped in a tidy 15 minutes, there were still several juicy Tomlin nuggets worthy of note (and mockery). Read on!
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Yes, playoffs. I’m talkin’ about playoffs.
Blame Roger Goodell. The Ginger Dictator, in his ongoing quest to go down in history as the worst commissioner of any sport ever, floated the idea of expanding the NFL playoffs from 14 to 16 teams yesterday. Just what football fans need, more .500 teams in the playoffs! Of course, everybody knows the real reason he proposed this ludicrous idea is to deflect attention away from how badly he botched the Saints bounty case.
Hey, always remember the Pittsburgh Steelers were the only team to vote against the new CBA.
Ginger couldn’t have picked a worse year to bring up expanding the playoffs. If there were several 10 and 11 win teams in danger of missing the post-season, I could see a ground-swelling of support for the idea. But this year? With three weeks left in the season, three of four divisions in the AFC have already been clinched.
The only team who hasn’t clinched? Why, the Baltimore Ravens of course! Despite leading our divison, the Ratbirds are so worried about their prospects for a successful post-season that this past week they took the highly unusual step of firing their offensive coordinator. As I’ve said a million times and will keep repeating, Baltimore has this almost pathological need to blame their mediocre offense on everything except the real reason why it’s mediocre: quarterback Joe Flacco.
The firing of ex-OC Cam Cameron evidently was owed to the fact the team’s best player, Ray Rice, had zero touches in the 4th quarter of the Charlie Batch Game. Well, it’s easy to scapegoat Cameron since he’s been a failure everywhere he’s been but in this case that’s hardly his fault. If you watched the game, it was clear that Dick LeBeau was keying on Rice. Sure, great players routinely beat schemes and Rice did break free for a 30 yard TD earlier in the game but no sane team puts all their chips on one player. LeBeau was scheming to stop Rice and control everything short while daring Flacco to beat him deep. Flacco can’t pilot an offense which requires him to routinely throw more than 10 yards down the field. End of story.
With the Ravens stumbling towards the finishing line, it makes the Steelers pathetic showings against the dregs of the NFL all the more painful. We lost to two teams that will be drafting in the top 10 next year (Titans, Raiders) and another just outside it (Chargers). Win one of those games and we’re in the hunt for the division. Win two and we’re probably leading and controlling our own destiny.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention one other Steelers loss, that being to the Cleveland Browns. Sit down, you may need steady yourself when you hear this. All season I’ve been beating the Brandon Weedon drum, saying how he’s been shockingly competent and would get more notice as a fine first round QB draft pick (despite everybody, myself included, mocking the Browns for taking him so high on draft day) if he played anywhere but Cleveland. Well, lo and behold, now the Browns, THE BROWNS, have crept into the playoff picture.
It goes like this. First, the Browns must win out. Then, if the Steelers lose two of their last three (unless you’re a hardcore yinzer, I don’t think any of us would be shocked if they went 0-3 or 3-0 down the stretch), the Bengals lose two of their last three and the Jets lose one more game, the Browns will be the second Wild Card. THE BROWNS!
I don’t think anybody is ready for a world were the Cleveland Browns leapfrog both the Steelers and Bengals to become a playoff team. Unless the Mayans were right…
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Last night’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns saw the return of the NFL’s regular referees and the official end of Zebra-Gate. Late Wednesday night, the NFL and the referees’ faux-union reached a reported 8-year agreement. This tentative agreement should keep the Zebras on the field for the foreseeable future, but based on the outrage caused by “THREE WEEKS AH’ CRAPPY OFISHEY-ATIN,” god only knows what else the media will turn from an interesting side story to the end of the NFL as we know it. Hot dog vendor strike? Unsafe working conditions for down-marker-holders? The creation of a kicker-punter-waterboy anti-defamation league (Chris is in trouble)?
Zebra-Gate was a horrible experience. Not the bad calls or the extra timeouts or SportsCenter actually receiving its highest rating ever due to the Packers-Seahawks debacle (more on that play later). The worst part was the fans, the media, and the overly exaggerated commentary on what was truly significant to the games. Sure, I hate the media and all, but allow me to offer my opinion on a few of the more outrageous lines of bullshit that were crafted to sell this as a potential NFL Armageddon.
The replacement referees HAVE OTHER JOBS!!!!
One of the most hilarious reasons for the scab’s unwarranted presence on the field is because they actually have jobs and weren’t in a secluded cult lair where they practice the art of flag throwing until the Ginger Dictator calls them into action. Nothing was more irritating than hearing “The guy is a BANKER in real life man, C’MON!.”
Let’s introduce you to the gun show himself, Ed Hoculi, or should we call him Edward G. Hoculi, J.D.
That’s right folks, the Mighty Hocules spends his time in a court room when he’s not being a “regular referee.” When he’s not bench pressing the legal system, he’s busy being a PARTNER at his law firm. The idiots that think the unionized referees operate on a teacher schedule and take the summer off are exactly that – idiots. Big Ed specializes in Product and Premises Liability, as well as Transportation Defense. This is legalese for helping that guy who fell off the curb at Wal-Mart get paid. I bet I never hear an announcer scream, “What a horrible call by the guy who sued a Sheetz for making their coffee too hot!”
Ike Taylor was NO WHERE NEAR SANTONIO ON THAT PASS INTERFERENCE!!!
Well, I can’t really argue with that one… It’s true. It’s damn true. Next…
That guy can’t REFEREE in the NFL, he WATCHES the NFL!!!!!!!!!!
Scab Brian Stropolo was pulled from a game because he is an avid fan of the New Orleans Saints. Apparently Roger Goodell and his crack staff overlooked Facebook pictures of Brian in SAINTS GEAR AT A TAILGATE!!!!!! The NFL, in their ever widening quest to “protect the shield,” decided this was a no-no because apparently they think no referee, scab or regular, watches the sport and has a favorite team. The NFL is the most popular sport in America but because one scab is a fan like the other 300 million people he is banned from officiating??
Being this Total Steelers, let’s keep things Pittsburgh oriented ‘round here. The “regular referee” who worked last night’s game, the guy who got a STANDING OVATION from those mutants in Baltimore, was none other than Washington, PA native Gene Steratore. He still lives there despite its lack of anything except a snobby college and a few good food joints. Gene co-owns and runs Steratore Sanitary Supply and anyone born and raised in Western PA who sells urinal cakes is obviously a Steelers Fan, myself included.
Except for the urinal cakes.
Despite this local bias, Gene has still reffed many a Steeler game and nobody cried wolf then.
The refs are back because the SEAHAWKS SHOULD HAVE LOST THAT GAME!!!!
Let’s be clear about one thing nobody has the balls to say; the ending to the Packers-Seahawks game on Monday Night was NOT the most egregious F*!# up of the Scab Era. The play is a lot closer than the empty suits on ESPN have so far been willing to admit. Any line judge who goes by the letter of the law would correctly rule that catch a simultaneous possession and TD for Seattle. He would also overlook the pass interference because he should know that offensive and defensive pass interference occur on every Hail Mary so it is NEVER called.
The officials definitely had a bad game. Seattle only got to attempt a Hail Mary in the first place because of several botched calls. But where the Packers got screwed wasn’t on the field, it was in the replay booth. And the man in the booth Monday Night wasn’t a scab at all. It was Phil Luckett, who Steeler Nation will forever remember as the ref who couldn’t hear Jerome Bettis say “Heads” in the Thanksgiving Coin Toss Fiasco against the Detroit Lions.
At any rate, I’m glad this is over. I’m going to worry about something more important. Something you’ll never hear covered 24-7 on the World Wide Leader. I’m going to worry about the NHL lock out.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers won their tenth straight home opener, soundly thrashing the New York Jets 27-10. As LaMarr Woodley promised, yesterday’s win ensured the Steelers would avoid starting the season an always disastrous 0-2. What’s more, the Ravens somehow managed to lose to the Eagles despite Vick and company committing four turnovers. This leaves all three of last year’s playoff teams from the AFC North knotted together at 1-1.
The first quarter of yesterday’s game was a carbon copy of almost every Steelers game you’ve seen the past three years. The offense drives looked unstoppable between the 20s only to stumble around the red zone and have to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. The defense started slow, giving up a long drive and early touchdown on their opponent’s first drive of the game. New year, same old Steelers.
Taken by itself, you would’ve thought we were in for a long afternoon based on that first quarter. Ben Roethlisberger led a nice 53 yard drive off the opening kickoff only for it to come to a screeching halt after Isaac Redman was thrown for a loss followed by a costly sack. Mark Sanchez responded by leading the Jets on a 8 play 95 yard drive where Ike Taylor had two brutal plays (a pass interference and getting caught flatfooted on Santonio Holmes‘ 14 yard TD) and Keenan Lewis got torched for a 45 gain. The Steelers retaliated with another 50 yard drive which fizzled out thanks to two ill-conceived run plays. The drive ended and second quarter began with another Shaun Suisham field goal.
At this point, something strange happened. Almost like a switch was flipped on the Steelers sideline. The final three quarters were about as complete a game as the Black and Gold have played in long time. To borrow a Tomlinism, they dominated in all three phases.
Some are crediting the defense’s change in fortune to Lawrence Timmons. On the Jets next drive, Sanchez scrambled away from damage and Timmons absolutely annihilated him. He was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit, which it was but only because that cowardly Sanchez tried to curl up in the fetal position when he saw LT about to lower the boom. Whatever the case, it was 15 yards well spent because Sanchez went 0 for his next 6 to close out the half and was totally discombobulated the rest of the game.
Although blaming the Jets’ surge of ineptitude on Sanchez getting whacked upside his head is selling the Steelers D way short. Many of his passes were right on target, only the tight coverage was too much for the receivers to deal with. Ike Taylor was awesome after his early struggles, shutting ‘Tone out the rest of the afternoon. Ryan Clark, who I’ve mentioned being overrated, made me eat my words by being a force all afternoon. He made a tremendous play in coverage to break up a deep pass to Stephen Hill and was laying guys out all over the field. His presence really does make a huge difference in their secondary.
Then we have LaMarr Woodley. In writing about the Steelers D last week, I repeatedly mentioned that Woodley just hasn’t been getting the job done when James Harrison hasn’t been in the line-up. Well, he definitely brought it yesterday. The stat sheet shows he only recorded one sack but he was all over Sanchez like a Twilight-obsessed teenage girl. His partner on the inside, Timmons, also had a very active game. With the D-line remaining stout at the point of attack, it really freed up the linebackers (and occasionally Clark or Ryan Mundy) to bring heat on Sanchez.
On the other side of the ball, Ben did what Ben does and it was magnificent. The Jets recorded three sacks but would have had about seven against any ordinary quarterback. Time after time they would crash in on Ben and time after time he’d break free of their clutches and make something out of nothing. It was an amazing performance.
Todd Haley took the shackles off a little more this week and the results were promising. I sort of see what Haley is trying to do and it’s really quite brilliant (if it works). I make no secret of the fact I endorse Bruce Arians’ more wide open style of offense although one of the major drawbacks was the team would often score very quickly, giving the D no time to rest and giving the other team too much time with the ball. Haley has every intention of using his talented corps of receivers but at the same time he’s keenly interested in dominating time of possession. The mix skewed too heavily towards ball control last week. This week, it was just right.
The Steelers first TD came on an 11 play 61 yard drive which featured 7 passes, two big ones going to Emmanuel Sanders and the capper going to Heath Miller. The second TD was a 37 yard bomb to Mike Wallace which demonstrated why he’s the best receiver we’ve had in thirty years. Ben underthrew the pass, as usual, but Wallace has finally realized he always does that and slammed on the breaks and came back for it while the DB ran right past him. Even then, Wallace had to make a terrific acrobatic catch along the sideline of the end zone to stay in bounds. The game sealing score came on an epic 14 play drive which consumed 10 minutes, the longest drive by the Steelers in over five years.
Time of possession + Big Play Potential = Offensive Excellence.
That final score was converted by Redzone, who bounced off four Jets en route to the end zone. He and Jon Dwyer split the carries evenly, 12 each, and while neither had an impressive day statistically speaking (28 yards for Dwyer, 25 for Redman) they both got stronger as the game went on. In the first half, the running game was totally ineffective. By the fourth quarter, however, they were bowling over would-be tacklers and coming within one broken tackle of busting one loose. Neither are great backs but as a tandem they get the job done.
And that’s the bottom line on yesterday’s victory. Were there things the Steelers still need to work on? Absolutely. Did they look about a billion times better than last week? Absolutely. But there’s still plenty of time left in the season to iron out the wrinkles. They got the job done yesterday. That’s good enough for now.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers finally addressed one of their depth concerns by adding veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Not only does this signing add some much needed insurance to the receiving core, it gives me a chance to make up a brand new catchy nickname. Being a big time wrasslin’ fan, I could go for the obvious Y2J reference. But until he proves otherwise, I think I’ll stick with paying tribute to his nimble feet and blazing speed by calling him the Cotch Rocket.