Here come the injuries…
After a blissfully quiet start to training camp, the Pittsburgh Steelers have joined the NFL wide injury parade. In the aftermath of the team’s first preseason game on Saturday, ultra-secretive head coach Mike Tomlin revealed that tight end Matt Spaeth underwent surgery for his foot injury. Yesterday, wide receiver Plaxico Burress also went under the knife, undergoing surgery for the torn rotator cuff he suffered during practice.
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On the eve of their first preseason game, the Pittsburgh Steelers may have suffered their first significant loss of the year. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress was carted off the field yesterday after hitting the ground hard while trying to make a catch. He was later seen with his right arm in a sling. This morning, unnamed league sources are saying it’s feared he has a torn rotator cuff. While we’ve yet to get an official diagnosis, if the rumors are indeed true then it would appear Plax’s season is over before it had a chance to begin.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers rescued wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from the nefarious clutches of the New England Patriots by matching their offer sheet late Sunday night. By tendering Sanders an additional $1.2 million on top of the $1.3 they already offered, the Black and Gold avoid losing what is expected to be their #2 receiver to a hated conference rival. They also roll the dice in the sense that had they let Sanders go, they would’ve received the Patriots’ third round pick in this year’s draft. Manny will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and with his agent already making noise about wanting a decent chunk of change in order to sign a long term deal, it’s entirely possible the Steelers will lose him next winter and get next to nothing in return.
The Sanders Saga has been one of the more mystifying developments of this off-season. There has been an inordinate amount of discussion devoted to a player 90% of football fans have probably never heard of, most of it driven by muckraker Mike Florio over at ProFootballTalk. Florio is a noted Steeler hater so it’s not surprising he gleefully chronicles their every move looking for barbs to throw but over the past week he’s followed the Sanders Saga like it’s Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. While I get that the Patriots and Steelers are two of the most popular fanbases and popularity = clicks, no less than seven posts on a guy who’s caught a grand total of five touchdowns seems ludicrous.
By the way, I have a correction to make on my original Sanders post from a few days ago. The $2.5 million in cap room PFT listed the Steelers having left was as of the current date. It doesn’t take into account the $5 million in space they’ll get when Willie Colon‘s salary comes off the books on June 1st. So while giving another million to Sanders hurts their ability to add an Ahmad Bradshaw or linebacker depth, they should be in good shape to sign all their draft picks.
Of course the burning question is did the Steelers do right by retaining Sanders? I was torn a few days ago but the more I think about it, it was the right move to make. I’m amazed a whopping 57% of fair-weather yinzers voted in a P-G poll to let him go. I’m even more amazed by the people calling into talk radio bemoaning Kevin Colbert turning down a third round pick in exchange for him. Since when did third round picks turn into precious gold?
Do the names Willie Reid or Dallas Baker ring any bells? How about Limas Sweed? Sweed should be familiar if only because Sanders had a couple Sweed-like moments last season when he dropped a pass then feigned injury to cover for his blunder. However my point is, a third round pick (91st overall) is not exactly a can’t miss prospect. For comparison purposes, last year’s 91st pick was an OT who didn’t see the field last year. Two years ago, it was a linebacker who has started 13 games in two season and has yet to record a sack. With the 91st pick last year, the Steelers could’ve gotten a fine young receiver like the Colts’ TY Hilton (taken one pick later) or they could’ve gotten a guy like Carolina’s Joe Adams (taken nine picks later) who made one whole catch all season.
Point is, the NFL draft isn’t an exact science. The Steelers could’ve found a receiver every bit the equal of Sanders. They also could’ve wasted the pick on yet another shitbum. Furthermore, this team has a number of holes that need filled at OLB, ILB, CB, RB and WR. Subtract Sanders and you almost have to draft at least two wide receivers, burning a pick that might be better spent addressing another position. They might still take two young wide outs but at least now there is some flexibility.
Whether Sanders gets his act together and fulfills some of the potential we saw his rookie year when people forget he looked like the emerging star until Antonio Brown broke through during the post-season remains to be seen. At this point, it’s a gamble the Steelers had to take.
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The New England Patriots aren’t satisfied with stealing AFC Championship games from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now they’re out to steal our players. After cutting ties with Wes Welker earlier this off-season, the Fighting Belicheats have been looking everywhere for weapons to add to Tom Brady‘s arsenal. Evidently they found one in wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
New England signed Manny to one year $2.5 million offer sheet yesterday afternoon. Since Sanders is a restricted free agent, the Steelers now have five days to match their offer or else Sanders becomes Patriots’ property in exchange for their third round pick in the upcoming draft. Since the Steelers have already tendered him $1.3 million, they actually only need to offer another $1.2 million to keep him. Early word from ESPN No-Nothing Ed Werder is the Steelers are expected to match.
At this point, it seems like the Steelers are in a lose-lose situation either way.
If they don’t match, Antonio Brown will be the last member of Young Money left standing. While breaking up that group of underachieving punks isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does leave the team’s wide receiving corps dangerously thin. Subtract Manny and our current depth chart looks like this: AB and Jerricho Cotchery starting with Plaxico Burress playing the slot. Sure Sanders had his problems last season but that’s the kind of line-up nightmares are made of. If we lose Sanders, the Steelers will have to use one of their first two picks in the upcoming draft on a wide out.
If they do match, well, they still need to take a wide receiver. But before they can sign any of this year’s draft picks, they’ll have some work to do to get under the salary cap. According to ProFootballTalk, the Steelers are currently a measly $2.5 million under the cap. Giving Sanders another million plus means they’ll need to clear another chunk of space in order to sign their picks.
$2.5 million under the cap. Seriously, I can’t get over that number. Where the bloody blue hell is all their money going? Don’t say Ben because the Patriots have Tom Brady and they’re still a whopping $10 million under the cap. We haven’t signed a single name free agent. We let Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace walk away. We cut James Harrison and re-worked a bunch of other high priced contracts. I could see if this was a team coming off a Super Bowl victory but the Steelers got Tebow’d out of the playoffs two years ago and went 8-8 last year. Why are they paying a bunch of mediocre shitbums all of this money?
What the f*%k is this team doing?
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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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And never brought to mind?
The more quickly the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns is forgotten the better. I have to confess, I lost interest in this game about ten minutes in and started flipping to Red Zone in order to watch games that actually mattered. Considering nearly 15,000 fans attended yesterday’s season finale at Heinz Field disguised as empty seats, I have to think I’m not alone in my crippling apathy.
Pittsburgh is a football town. I would be insane to deny it. At the same time, Pittsburgh also backs winners. Oh, we still support our Pirates or Penguins when they fail but not nearly with the same fervor or in the same numbers as we do teams that win. The Steelers first meaningless game in six years and 15,000 people opted to skip it. The Rooney family, and by that I mean bungling meddler Art II, better not take this town’s support for granted or we’ll be seeing a lot more Pitt size crowds in the near future.
As I said, I didn’t watch every minute of this titanic confrontation but I’ll give some thoughts on the bits and pieces I did see. The reason my will was broken early on had much to do with a mind-numbing first quarter which saw Todd Haley‘s stunningly inept offense piss around while rookie nobody Thad Lewis drove 70 yards on Dick LeBeau‘s top ranked defense. The Browns’ drive came to a screeching halt thanks to a Troy Polamalu interception.
Well, at least Troy made one play this season.
Speaking of finally making a play, Ziggy Hood finally made an impact himself. Unfortunately, it came in the form of taking out the knee of teammate Brett Keisel, who will undergo an MRI tomorrow due to fears he may have injured his MCL (which may or may not require surgery). On the plus side, with Diesel out, Mike Tomlin was forced to play Cam Heyward. Young guys on defense, what a crazy concept!
The defensive standouts, if you can call them that considering they were playing against a guy who has been cut from three different teams’ practice squads, were Lawrence Timmons and Cortez Allen. Timmons put the cherry on top of his break out season with two sacks and a fumble recovery. It only took 5 years but LT is finally playing like a mid first round draft pick. So I guess we should expect next year’s first to finally make an impact some time around 2018.
Meanwhile, Allen continues to make me look like a genius for tabbing him as a future starter – and a high-level one at that – in the secondary. Last week he caused three turnovers (2 INTs and forced fumble), this week he added another two FFs, one of which he recovered himself. Five turnovers in two weeks. That’s nearly more than the rest of the defense combined. Keenan Lewis played well this year but I don’t see how they can possibly limit Allen to a nickel role next year.
Lewis, by the way, is going to be a free agent at season’s end. The balky knee which limited him the past month acted up so if this was his last appearance in the Black and Gold it was a brief one. I imagine the team will try to keep him although they’d be foolish to overpay for a guy destined to be a #3 corner. Lewis’s probable exit will likely be part of a roster purge that made last year’s Veteran Armageddon look tame by comparison.
Casey Hampton was replaced for almost the entire second half by Steve McClendon. McClendon even got some good pressure on young Thaddeus begging the question why he sat on the bench for 16 weeks while all the old immobile guys stood around like their feet were stuck in mud. Even though the team doesn’t have a legit heir apparent at NT, it seems certain we’ll go into next year with McClendon and (provided he doesn’t kill anybody over the summer) Alameda Ta’amu.
The linebacking corps will also be undergoing a bit of an overhaul. Reports on NFL.com are that yesterday’s game was James Harrison‘s swan song in Pittsburgh. If so, Deebo made sure to get one final late hit cheap shot in for old time’s sake. Guess he’ll have to sit out his first regular season game as a Dolphin due to suspension. Ironically, that hit came on the very play where Thad Lewis threw his first (and only) career TD pass. While it looks like Jason Worilds will step in opposite the chronically injured LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers will have to use the draft or *gasp* free agency to find another ILB to pair with Timmons when they part ways with veteran Larry Foote.
Ben Roethlisberger – making sure to clutch his ribs in crippling agony after every throw so we knew the Big Drama Queen was TOUGH~! – played to the bitter end. Ben, who threw for only 134 yards but 3 TDs, managed to put together a couple nice drives in the fourth quarter, including his 23rd and final TD pass of the season to Plaxico Burress. Eight years, three Super Bowl championships and a prison stint later, the season ends with Big Ben to Plax for a TD. Fitting.
The only drawback to yesterday’s win (besides Keisel and Kelvin Beachum getting hurt. Since when did playing Right Tackle for the Steelers become the equivalent of wearing a red shirt on the USS Enterprise?) was the victory dropped the Steelers all the way to the 17th overall pick in the 2013 draft. That’s still plenty high to get a quality player, one who may be counted on to contribute a lot faster than rookies have in recent years. Whoever they take, this is going to be among the most important off-seasons in Steelers history.
Will Art II admit the Todd Haley experiment has been an utter failure? Or will Boss Todd be given another year to electrify us with his vast array of bubble screens and end arounds? Who will replace the aforementioned losses on defense? Likewise, what will the team do with Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace? Assuming both are gone, do they stick with what they got or introduce some fresh faces to the mix? Remember, every back except Chris Rainey is a free agent along with Manny Sanders. And for the love of pete, will they please fire special teams bungler Amos Jones? He’s so bad, the name “Bobby April” was actually trending locally when the team failed yet again to correctly defend a fake punt.
On a personal note, I want to thank my readers for allowing me to vent this season. It’s been a maddening year but being able to express my frustrations here certainly does my blood pressure a world of good. Even though you guys seldom comment, I appreciate all of you reading, from the old timers who’ve been with me since NPC to the newbies who stumbled upon this blog this season. I’ll still be updating whenever Steeler news dictates (and as I’ve said, we should be making a lot of moves this off-season) although not on a regular schedule. I hope you check in from time to time.
Thanks for reading. Hope you all enjoy a very happy New Year. And Let’s Go Steelers in 2013!
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Perhaps the most shocking information to emerge in the wake of Sunday’s debacle against Cleveland is the fact that if the season were to end today, the Pittsburgh Steelers would still be in the playoffs. Despite losing two straight games in ugly fashion and being hampered by injuries and miscues, the Steelers are still holding on to the AFC’s second Wild Card spot. Of course, that’s only because they beat the Bengals in their lone match-up this season so if Cincy were to even the score a few weeks from now, the Bungles would leapfrog us by virtue of a superior conference record. While it’s hard to quibble with a playoff berth, I think our current ranking speaks more to the relative mediocrity of the AFC than the strength of the conference.
Later this afternoon, Mike Tomlin will conduct his weekly misinformation session where he answers a bunch of questions with empty platitudes while saying nothing of substance. An ESPN report saying Ben Roethlisberger may return this Sunday in time for a huge showdown with Baltimore Ravens will surely be addressed. I have a feeling we’re not going to like the answer but I’ll wait until tomorrow to address that.
While the sinking Steelers prepare for a head-on collision with the Iceberg Baltimore, they’ve already started re-arranging some of the deck chairs. First round pick RG David DeCastro has been activated off the injured reserve as it appears he’ll be making his first NFL start on Sunday. The offensive line wasn’t good against the Browns with Doug Legursky playing absolutely retched in place of Willie Colon. I never much liked Colon but the move to LG has been nothing short of a career changer as he’s an absolute beast at run blocking. His absence was a big factor in our pitiful run game in Cleveland.
If Colon is healthy, DeCastro will start at RG (where he was expected to play all season) while current RG Ramon Foster can slide over to tackle if RT Mike Adams can’t play due to the high ankle sprain which knocked him out of Sunday’s game. If Colon can’t play, I expect Foster to move to LG while DeCastro stays slotted on the right side. However, if Adams is hurt, I think they’d rather play Legursky at LG and go ahead with moving Foster to RT instead of playing rookie Kelvin Beachum. We know Marcus Gilbert won’t be in the mix because he’s been placed on IR, ending his season. To think, the Steelers braintrust actually went into this year thinking that scrub would be the team’s starting left tackle.
Thank goodness for Max Starks.
Perhaps learning from past mistakes, the Steelers will actually carry eight o-lineman this weekend instead of the usual seven. The team optioned WR David Gilreath back to the practice squad so they could activate T John Malecki. This is also a good sign for Antonio Brown. Unless they plan on using Chris Rainey or Heath Miller as a wide out, the Steelers need at least four active WRs which they wouldn’t have if AB were expected to miss another game with the bum ankle. Ditching Gilreath reunites the Young Money trio with Plaxico Burress assuming the veteran fourth receiver role previously held by the Jerricho Cotchery.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers were defeated by the Cleveland Browns, 20-14. I can accept a loss. Every team suffers injuries and while it’s nice to say “the standard is the standard” and all that nonsense you can only lose so many key players before it eventually catches up to you. The fact is the Steelers went into the game starting their third string quarterback, without their top wide receiver (and missing two of their top four wide outs overall), starting a second string left guard (Willie Colon was scratched pre-game due to a swollen knee) and later pressed into playing their third string right tackle, not to mention fielding a defense missing two multiple time Pro Bowlers (Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley, who started but left after a handful of snaps).
When you’re missing that many guys, I can accept the fact anybody can beat them.
What I can’t accept is HOW the Steelers were beaten yesterday.
The Steelers put forth one of their most embarrassing performances in decades. They committed eight turnovers. EIGHT TURNOVERS. There is simply no excuse for that level of ineptitude.
People are going to point a finger at Charlie Batch. I’m not going to defend Chaz or claim he played well. At the same time, anybody who pins this loss entirely on him has absolutely no clue what they’re talking about. Yes, he missed a bunch of throws he should have made. Yes, he made some terrible decisions which led to two of his three interceptions. He could have and should have played better.
However, he is the Steelers third string QB. No team is going to have a starting caliber QB sitting on their bench as the third option. Batch’s performance was about what you could realistically expect from a back-up, to say nothing about what most teams have a third stringer.
What you don’t expect is for every one of your running backs to commit a turnover. To Mike Tomlin‘s credit, he immediately benched any back that fumbled. Unfortunately, he only had four backs on the roster so after turnover #4 he had to start the turnover-go-round all over again. And Rashard Mendenhall happily obliged.
Mendy gifted the Browns with two fumbles yesterday. He continues to start despite contributing in no positive way whatsoever. Isaac Redman relieved Jonathan Dwyer just long enough to deliver an early Christmas present of his own. When it appeared Dwyer would be the lone reliable back, he let the ball get away. Chris Rainey, yes, Chris Rainey became the Last Back Standing and even made a nice goal line run for the team’s lone offensive TD. He did fumble a few carries in but it went out of bounds which only delayed the inevitable since he would eventually fumble on the Steelers final possession to seal the crushing defeat.
In between all the fumbles, we had Batch’s three picks. As I said, only two were bad throws as the third was a short slant pattern which Mike Wallace batted around until it fell into a Browns player’s waiting arms. When you’re playing with a short roster, it’s incumbent on your star players to step up but Wallace was MIA yesterday. He was targeted 7 times, only managing one catch for 9 yards. Several of the misfires were miscommunication with Batch while at other times he appeared to simply give up on the play.
Heath Miller and Manny Sanders performed admirably and even Plaxico Burress contributed by drawing a pass interference which set up Rainey’s 1 yard TD run. There is absolutely no excuse for Wallace’s disappearing act.
As if the turnovers weren’t enough of a handicap, we had penalties. Oh did we have penalties. There were 19 penalties called altogether with 9 going against the Steelers. No word on whether yesterday’s ref made an appointment with Dr. James Andrews to check his rotator cuff. Perhaps the most costly flag occurred early in the third quarter when the Steelers converted a big second and long to Heeeeeaatth only for it to be wiped out thanks to a holding call on rookie RT Kelvin Beachum, who was playing in place of injured Mike Adams.
So before we put all the blame on Charlie Batch, let’s remember we also had a posse of backs who couldn’t hold on to the ball, a “star” receiver who didn’t bother showing up, and a beat up offensive line which kept putting an already sputtering offense into third and long situations.
Truth be told, if not for another heroic effort from the Steelers defense, this would’ve been a one-sided ass-whupping. When an offense commits eight turnovers, many of which came deep in their own zone, I don’t know that you can do much better than hold the opposition to two TDs and two FGs. For the record, Cleveland’s first TD drive started at the Pittsburgh 10 and the other began on our 31. One of their two FG drives began on our 44. Not to mention 7 of our 14 points were scored on a pick six by Lawrence Timmons (with an assist from Bret Keisel). I’m not sure how much more they could have done faced with that 50 pound lead weight called an offense weighing them down at every turn.
The defense has nothing to be ashamed of. The offense? I know they’re missing key players but there is no excusing what we saw yesterday. That was the kind of effort that gets players cut and coaches fired. It was a total humiliation at the hands of a team that was 2-8 going into the weekend.
Where do we go from here? Unless Ben magically heals between now and Sunday, there is no way this team is beating the Ravens. A loss next week drops them to 6-6 which mathematically doesn’t eliminate them from playoff contention but certainly means the division is lost. It also means they’d probably need to run the table to finish 10-6 and be in the mix for a Wild Card at season’s end. At this point, though, I think we need to worry less about January and worry more about next week. Because the way this team is playing, I’m not sure they can beat ANYBODY right now.
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Don’t look past the Cleveland Browns. When you stop laughing, I’ll try to explain. Yes, the Browns are 2-8. Yes, the Browns are in the midst of yet another miserable season in a long run of them. Yes, the Browns have already given Mike Holmgren the axe with former Pittsburgh Steelers minority owner Jimmy Haslam likely to make more changes after the season. I know all this doesn’t sound like a team ready to give the Steelers a fight on Sunday but despite everything the Browns aren’t ready to wave the white flag.
Oh, wait… Maybe they are…
One thing the Browns are successful at is getting psyched for the Steelers. I’ll spare you the painful trip down memory lane, suffice to say, when the two teams meet you can almost throw out the records. Cleveland has treated their annual meetings with us like their own little Super Bowl and it’s almost like a rivalry game in college where it doesn’t matter how bad your team is on paper, the two teams always find a way to make things interesting. Throw in the fact Cleveland has been sneaky bad (as in, they lose but put forth highly competitive efforts) and the Steelers are injury ravaged and you have a recipe for anything to happen.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs BROWNS OFFENSE
On draft day, I sorta laughed at the selection of quarterback Brandon Weedon. In reality, Weedon has looked like a pretty solid signal caller despite being a rookie on a team with very few offensive weapons. I still think it was a silly pick because if you look across the NFL, a whole bunch of rookie QBs have done well this season, from Andrew Luck and RGIII to lesser publicized names like Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson and they’re all 5-6 years younger than Weedon so they’ll have more time to grow. Right now, however, I think given the chance to re-draft teams like the Eagles or Cardinals would take Weedon over the QBs they chose because he’s shown the kind of poise that suggests he could step right in and do a capable job of running an established offense.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t have an established offense in Cleveland. In fact, he doesn’t have much to work with at all. When a RB leads your team in receiving, that’s not good. Their nominal #1 WR is Greg Little but he drops as many passes as he catches. The rest of the receiving corps is a collection of has beens and never weres. Weedon’s numbers don’t look particularly impressive (11 TDs 12 INT 2,300 yds) until you factor in the collection of riff raff he has to catch his passes.
The lone bright shining light in this oasis of suck is fellow rookie RB Trent Richardson. Browns legend Jim Brown dissed Richardson prior to the draft which must’ve lit a fire under him as he’s accounted for 670 yards on the ground and another 280 through the air. Richardson has fast become a weapon in the Ray Rice mold. He’s easily Cleveland’s most dangerous offensive player and must be contained if the Steelers hope to dash any thoughts of an upset.
Dick LeBeau‘s crew is coming off unarguably their finest effort of the season. I feel Joe Flacco and company are grossly overrated but to hold any team without an offensive touchdown, let alone a team one year removed from the AFC Championship game while your own offense is actively sabotaging your efforts, is a damn impressive feat. Ziggy Hood rebounded from the KC debacle and the D-line were the quiet heroes in stifling Ray Rice. Ike Taylor has shook off the early season funk and teamed with Keenan Lewis, who improves by the week, form a very fine secondary. While LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison haven’t played up to previous levels, the inside tandem of Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons have picked up a lot of slack. Although Cleveland doesn’t have the talent Baltimore has, the team will need nearly the same effort because I don’t foresee our offense scoring a ton of points.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs BROWNS DEFENSE
Charlie Batch makes his first start of the season after Byron Leftwich flushed a very winnable game down the crapper last Sunday. I have faith in Chaz. Every time Steeler Nation counts him out, he comes off the bench to prove the haters wrong. Given Todd Haley’s short quick West Coast style offense, I think Batch is an even better fit than Lefty and as long as his guys get open, he’ll get them the ball.
Of course, it’d be nice if the Steelers can continue their strong running attack. Mike Tomlin hasn’t committed to a starter but I think at this point you have to go with Jonathan Dwyer. Rashard Mendenhall may have the breakaway speed but he was back to his tap-dancing tricks against Baltimore. Dwyer has been by far the team’s most consistent back and I think he’s earned the chance to be the featured starter (when healthy) for the rest of the year. The Browns rank near the bottom of the league in run D so whoever starts should produce.
The receivers also need to start producing. I know the catch in the corner of the end zone against the Ravens was a tough play but Mike Wallace needs to make it. I caught a little of the Tampa game on Red Zone last Sunday and was struck by how much of a difference Vincent Jackson makes to the Bucs offense. That’s what $10+ million a year receivers do. They make the catches nobody else can make and they make them with frequency. Wallace had a brilliant catch against KC but those sort of big plays have been far too few for a guy who thinks he’s the best WR in football.
Antonio Brown is back practicing so I expect he’ll be a game time decision. Jerricho Cotchery is definitely out so we’ll probably see the return of Plaxico Burress in the Black and Gold. He likely won’t play much, probably just in the red zone (assuming we ever get there), but he should be plenty motivated after signing a 1 year deal when nobody else wanted him. Plax doesn’t have the skills he once had but this team needs all the red zone threats they can get so if he’s even a fraction of his old self he can’t do anything but help.
The Steelers are in a very precarious position. I’ve said all along that the losses to Tennessee and Oakland may come back to haunt them and unfortunately that is proving true. The Steelers can’t really afford to fall much farther back to the pack, especially with only a few very winnable games remaining on their schedule. Had they won the games they should of won earlier this year, we could afford a mid-season nose dive until Ben heals up. At this point, though, they really can’t.
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Today in “Least Surprising News Ever…”
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich busted his ribs in Sunday night’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Gee, you don’t say? I wonder what gave it away. Was it the obnoxious NBC commentators zooming in on his pained expression after every play? Or was it the way he kept missing wide open receivers on throws even Tino Sunseri could make?
The only person at Heinz Field who didn’t realize Lefty was hurt was Mike Tomlin.
Leftwich will almost certainly join Ben Roethlisberger on the sideline as the team once again turns to Charlie Batch in this weekend’s match-up against the feisty Cleveland Browns. If Tomlin had turned to Batch at halftime on Sunday, we probably would be talking about the Black and Gold’s rousing victory. I’m on record as saying Chaz should have been starting all along. He’s a steady competent signal caller which is really all you want in a back-up.
Plus he won’t get hurt the first time he’s asked to scramble away from pressure.
The Leftwich debacle is the latest incident on the growing ledger against the idea of Tomlin as some brilliant coach. Who thought he was a legitimate back-up quarterback? Since being cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Leftwich has been plagued by a constant parade of injuries to the point he probably shouldn’t even be in the league. It’s pretty embarrassing when a supposed Super Bowl contender puts their faith in a guy who severely injures himself tripping over his own feet.
What’s even more embarrassing is Tomlin’s refusal to pull him when he was obviously hurt and ineffective. Tomlin continues to be one of the worst in-game managers in the league. What’s more, his parade of lies and deceptions are starting to finally catch up to him. I’ve been pointing out what a habitual liar he was going back to when I wrote for NPC but when a clueless rah-rah cheerleader like Bob Smizik realizes your press conferences are full of B.S. you’ve really been exposed.
Anyway, with Lefty down and out and Ben still on the mend, the Steeler need to bring in a back-up back-up quarterback. Jason La Canfora at NFL.com is reporting the team invited former OSU and Patriots back-up Brian Hoyer and former Eagle Mike Kafka to work out tomorrow and will sign one of them. What, Tomlin couldn’t find another injury prone African American QB to bring in? David Garrard is right there!
In other depressing news, Jerricho Cotchery also appears to have suffered a serious rib injury from that hit that laid him out toward the end of Sunday’s game. That by itself is bad news as the Cotch Rocket is a pretty damn good receiver who would be one of the top three for most teams. But what makes the news utterly miserable are reports the Steelers are looking to bring in another receiver to take his place.
Ordinarily, losing Cotchery wouldn’t necessitate adding another wide out because the team could just play David Gilreath. However, with Gilreath already active, bringing in another wide out means that Antonio Brown isn’t coming back anytime soon. Yes, that simple seemingly innocuous looking ankle roll two weeks ago probably is going to sideline AB this weekend and perhaps even longer. He might have a broken foot for all we know although getting truthful injury updates from Tomlin is harder than getting secrets out of the CIA.
Maybe the P-G needs to hire a really attractive brunette beat reporter to write a biography…
Our old friend Plaxico Burress is coming to town for a physical and work out tomorrow. If he hasn’t gotten fat and lazy when nobody wanted him over the off-season, all indicators are the Steelers will sign him. I like Plax, I advocated bringing him back a couple season ago when he was first sprung from the clink. At this point, I’m not sure what he can bring to the table. With the Jets, he wasn’t much of a open field threat, having lost much of his speed and quickness. He still has the size so he’ll be a good red zone threat and Todd Haley‘s West Coast style offense is probably the ideal situation for him so it wouldn’t be the worst signing. It’s still not going not be enough if AB misses significant time, though.