Now that the bye week is over, its time for the Pittsburgh Steelers to turn their attention to this Sunday’s game against the shockingly competitive New York Jets. With no Mike Tomlin press conference last week and a CBA mandated four day break from practice during the bye, there was precious little info out of Steeler camp about those potential line-up changes Tomlin promised. And we all know Tomlin wouldn’t promise something without intending to follow through.
The most change looks to be coming to the team’s beleaguered offense line. It’s amazing to think after blowing two second round picks on Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams that the team is already resigned to tossing them in the garbage heap but that appears to be where things are headed. The bye may mean newly acquired LT Levi Brown isn’t completely up to speed in time for Sunday although we saw Fernando Velasco walk in off the street and start at center in a week’s time. Word is the Steelers are eager to throw Kelvin Beachum into the starting mix – he’s been sharing first team snaps at LT with Brown – which means he’ll start at LT if Brown isn’t ready or at RT if he is.
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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.
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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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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 2012 Revenge Tour continues this weekend against the New York Jets. Last week, it was a return date with the team that knocked them out of last year’s playoffs. On Sunday, they face the quarterback who engineered what is destined to go down as one of the most shocking losses in Black and Gold history. Let’s hope the second time’s a charm.
It’s a marquee match-up between two marquee franchises who will take the field minus some marquee names. Read on.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs JETS OFFENSE
The QB being referenced in my intro is of course Tim Tebow, who was traded from the Broncos to the Jets over the off-season. And while he’s listed as a QB, Tebow isn’t the Jets current QB. That dubious honor is still held by Mark Sanchez. Thus far in 2012, St. Timmy hasn’t done any actual quarterbacking, instead being used to run the ball out of the option and occasionally lining up at split end.
Sanchez enters his fourth NFL season at a critical point in his career. He led the Jets to the AFC Championship game his first two years before ultimately falling short against the Colts and Steelers. The team regressed last year, falling to 8-8 and missing the playoffs. Despite having his best year so far, statistically speaking, veteran receivers Derrick Mason, Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes pointed to his lousy work ethic and penchant for making drive killing mistakes as the reasons the offense struggled.
Jets management evidently disagreed with that assessment, ditching Mason and Plax (and probably would’ve cut ‘Tone as well except they signed him to a lucrative 5 year deal prior to the 2011 season) and giving Sanchez a contract extension. Instead, offensive coordinator Brian Shottenheimer was made the scapegoat for a disappointing season. The team brought in former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, whose experience at calling plays is limited to one year under Bill Parcells with the Dallas Cowboys.
After neither Sanchez or Tebow led a single TD drive during the preseason, the Jets exploded for 48 points last week against the Buffalo Bills. As it’s early in the season, it’s hard to say if the Jets offense is that good or the Bills’ D is just that bad. What we do know is the Jets featured a balanced attack with RB Shonn Greene rushing 27 times for 94 yards while Sanchez threw 27 times, completing 19 for 266. Rookie Stephen Hill, a big (6’4) quick kid out of Georgia Tech caught two of Sanchez’s three TDs.
The good news is it appears the Jets will be without one of Sanchez’s favorite targets, TE Dustin Keller. The bad news is it appears the Steelers will be without two former Defensive Players of the Year. As usual, Mike Tomlin was full of BS on Tuesday when he claimed both Troy Polamalu and James Harrison should be ready on Sunday. Neither practiced on Friday which pretty much guarantees neither will see the field this weekend.
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He may look like Private Pyle but he plays like the Terminator. And just like the T-1000, David DeCastro will be back. The only question is when. While the Pittsburgh Steelers continue to guard injury information like it’s nuclear launch codes, reports are that DeCastro’s knee injury may not be as bad as initially feared.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s bad. He’s undergoing surgery today and faces significant rehabilitation time. However, word is the team is not putting him on the Injured Reserve list, meaning they must think there’s an outside chance he’ll be ready to return before the end of the 2012 season. Once you’re placed on IR, your year is officially done. That’s why Rashard Mendenhall and Casey Hampton, two players coming off major off-season surgery who aren’t expected to be ready for the first portion of the season, aren’t on IR either.
Fans of the Steelers know this as a Woodson Situation. Rod Woodson tore his ACL in the opening game of the season back in 1995 but the team kept him on the active roster hoping he’d make it back. Rod would eventually become the first (and to my knowledge, only) player to return the same season in which he suffers a torn ACL when the Steelers dressed him for the Super Bowl. He had a pretty good game, too.
The Steelers tried to recreate the Woodson Situation a couple years ago when Aaron Smith tore his triceps tendon but vowed to return. Despite again making it all the way to the Super Bowl, Smith never recovered well enough for the coaches to put him back in. Although much of that was likely due to his replacement, Ziggy Hood, playing very well in his stead.
Obviously the drawback to keeping DeCastro off the IR is that the Steelers will basically be playing with one less sub on the bench. That wouldn’t be a huge deal since the 53rd man usually seldom sees the field anyway but the Steelers will actually be playing with three less players. As mentioned, Mendy and Big Snack are in various stages of recovery meaning that’s two more guys they’ll have to carry on the active roster who can’t play.
With DeCastro out, Ramon Foster returns to the starting job at RG. With Foster back, the line basically returns to what we had at the end of last season, the only change being Willie Colon at LG in place of the Big Legursky. Left to right, are starters will be Max Starks, Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, and Marcus Gilbert. I’m not sure how I feel about this combo although Starks at LT rather than the inept Gilbert is comforting and anybody in place of Kemo at LG is an improvement.
Speaking of the 53 man roster, with the third preseason game in the books, teams had to cut their rosters down to 75 men as of Monday. No real notable names except LB Mortty Ivy, a Monroeville kid who made the team last season but was hurt this year and S Myron Rolle, the Rhodes Scholar from FSU who skipped a year to study abroad. Kicker Daniel Hrappmann was also among those let go as I try to resist the urge to yell I TOLDYA SO, I TOLDYA SO.
I hate preseason games but going on Twitter during them to watch people tweet that some third string linebacker is going to replace James Harrison because he got a sack in the fourth quarter against the a bunch of undrafted free agent OLmen does make them more tolerable. I enjoy laughing at dummies. Look, the guys who play in the second half are marginal NFLers and/or training camp fodder, nothing more. Hrappmann was never going to unseat Shaun Suisham, even though if anybody should have to earn their job it’s ‘ol Miss’em.
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Rule number one of the preseason is don’t get injured. Rule number two is don’t get injured. Rule #3 is see rule number one.
I hate the preseason. I’m sure I’ve made that abundantly clear since I mention it in every one of these damn recaps. But it bears repeating because literally nothing good comes from preseason games. Honestly, outside of a Super Bowl or a AFC Championship game, the only time I’m truly a nervous wreck watching Pittsburgh Steelers football is during the preseason. Injuries can happen at any time but they’re a hundred times more galling when they occur before the season actually starts.
Luckily, coaches have figured out what a deathtrap exhibition games are so they play their starters sparingly. Unless you’ve brought in an entirely new coaching staff or starting a rookie quarterback, starters usually only play a handful of series in the first two games. It’s the third game that’s the tricky one as that’s where coaches usually give the starters an entire half to work off the rust picked up during the off-season. If something bad is gonna happen, it usually happens in that third preseason game.
Guess what? Something bad happened.
Shortly into Saturday night’s game against the Buffalo Bills, Marcus Gilbert, who spends more time on the turf than a groundskeeper, got thrown to the ground as usual. In falling, he took out round draft pick David DeCastro, who was actually blocking his man. The cameras soon spotted DD on the turf clutching his leg in agony. A few minutes later he was loaded into the Cart of Shame and left to assess the damage. After the game, Mike Tomlin would only offer that his injury “was severe.” While the Steelers still haven’t released any specifics, word from ESPN’s Adam Schefter (toldya the national guys are way more wired in than the local media) is that DeCastro tore his MCL, dislocated his knee cap, and damaged his patella tendon.
It appears DeCastro avoided the dreaded Double Whammy of an ACL/MCL tear. Which is sort of like being happy you got herpes but didn’t knock up your girlfriend when your condom broke. Although make no mistake, avoiding the Double Whammy is indeed a big positive. Despite conflicting reports from NFL.com and no official MRI report from the Steelers, reporters seem fiarly sure DeCastro’s ACL is okay.
For whatever reason (I’m not a doctor), an ACL tear is the worst injury imaginable. An MCL injury, while also serious, seems to be less dire. In any case, DeCastro will likely need surgery and I’m fairly certain he’s not going to be back this season. Lineman sometimes gut through knee injuries so depending on the severity of the damage, I suppose it could be possible for him to return late in the year but I have no idea why the Steelers would want to rush him back. We’ll see when the team releases an official medical report but until we hear different, I’d just assume he’s lost.
As DeCastro departs, the Steelers welcomed back Max Starks on Saturday. Mad Max looked good at LT. He had a few hiccups early but once he found his groove he looked just like the Max of old. Pretty sad that this team invests pick after pick on OTs yet keep turning to that old warhorse to bail them out every season. The new new look O-line will be (left to right) Starks, Colon, Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert.
DeCastro wasn’t the only casualty on Saturday. DE Brett Keisel was also helped off the field in some pain. Thankfully, it appears he only suffered an ankle sprain and should be okay by the opener. Of course, we know the Steelers love to lie about these things so who knows. If he has the dreaded high ankle sprain, that’s the kind of injury which lingers all year.
The good news was second year man Cam Heyward played in Keisel’s stead and did well. Remember Ziggy Hood languished on the bench for a couple years before the light bulb came on so perhaps Cam is a quick learner. The Steelers D looked terrific against Buffalo, generating a ton of pressure on Buffalo QBs which lead to several turnovers. I’m still not sure about the secondary but if the line and linebackers can dominate scrimmage like they did on Saturday, that’ll really cover for a lot of shortcomings.
Offensively, we got our first prolonged look at the Haley offense. Things started a little rough as the wide outs had a ton of drops which repeatedly stymied their drives. Manny Sanders, in particular, got open for a long gain but Sweed’d a perfect pass from Ben. The best action came late in the half with the Steelers backed up to their 1. Ben got them out of trouble by throwing a 30 yard bomb to Jonathan Dwyer…yes, Jon Dwyer. Isaac Redman finished up their previous drive with a tough 2 yard TD run so between iRed and Dwyer, the Steelers look to have a pretty impressive running back tandem. Early in the second half, Lefty came in after a pick by Troy and tossed another 40 yard bomb to AB.
Who says they have no deep game without Mike Wallace?
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Better late than never…
In an off-season which has seen a non-stop parade of starters leave town, the Pittsburgh Steelers have finally brought back one of their first stringers. Restricted free agent Ramon Foster signed his one year tender, ensuring he’ll be a Steeler in 2012. Foster was signed as an undrafted rookie back in 2009 and started four games that season. The next year, he took over for an injured and ineffective Trai Essex and has started at right guard in 22 of 32 regular season games since.
I admit reading “The Steelers signed a free agent!” or “The Steelers signed an offensive lineman!” only to discover they re-signed Foster is somewhat akin to conducting a hard target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in quest of your Easter Basket only to discover your parents hid it in the hamper and it’s filled with chipped ham. Foster is the kind of thoroughly mediocre lineman Kevin Colbert and company are inexplicably happy with charging to protect their $100 million franchise quarterback. If Doug Legursky also signs his tender, neither of our starting guards will have been one of the 255 best players in college football the year they graduated (ie: neither were drafted). It’s like building a beautiful mansion and then investing in two pieces of plywood and a chihuahua to defend it.
At the same time, the Steelers offensive line situation is dire. How dire? If you bring up the team’s depth chart on Steelers.com, the left guard position is completely blank. And, no, I don’t think that’s a really clever tribute to Chris Kemoeatu. Between no LGs and Max Starks, who tore his ACL so who knows if or when he’ll be ready to come back, still being listed as the starting LT, the Black and Gold are alarmingly thin on the O-line. Considering the team used something like ten different starting combinations over the course of last season, I’d like to see a minimum of five decent starters and two capable backups. With Foster’s return, at least the team’s current complement is up to four.
Foster was technically a restricted free agent but since he was undrafted and tendered a minimum contract, any team could’ve signed him for just the cost of $1.5 million. The fact he signed his tender well before the April 20th deadline for signing RFAs indicates he wasn’t exactly a hot commodity. Considering freakin’ Kemo inspired a bidding war, I’m not sure what that says about Foster. Then again, teams have shown a pronounced lack of interest in any restricted free agents this winter.
Yes, I have to once again mention Mike Wallace. If for no other reason than the fact his grizzled 60 Minutes namesake passed away at the grand old age of 93 and searches for the name Mike Wallace are probably going to spike today. No longer will the Flash be known as “The Other Mike Wallace,” at least not to those of us under the age 50. Perhaps it will also force that insufferable Chris Berman to come up with a new but equally unfunny nickname for our star receiver. Finally, I do want to note some second stringer at ProFootballTalk recently posted an item about interest in the younger, more lively Wallace having “dried up” wherein he makes the same points our buddy Hennessy already made two weeks ago.
Better late than never.
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Remember back during the lockout when Roger Goodell had this crazy idea for an 18 game season? Remember how the Ginger Dictator justified this little slice of insanity by saying, “The fans have told me they hate meaningless football games?” Remember when it was revealed that the scheme would essentially cut the preseason in half with the final two exhibitions becoming regular season contests? Remember how this idea was met with howls of protest from coaches who said, “I absolutely need four games to determine my rosters and prepare for the season?”
Tonight the Pittsburgh Steelers have their yearly preseason meeting with the Carolina Panthers. In this fourth and final preseason game, which is absolutely crucial remember, head coach Mike Tomlin has already announced Ben Roethlisberger, Ike Taylor, Jerricho Cotchery, Troy Polamalu, James Farrior, Casey Hampton, Maurkice Pouncey and Bryant McFadden won’t be playing. But, hey, you’ll get a full half of Charlie Batch! ALL CHAZZ, ALL THE TIME! IT’S LIKE HITTING THE LOTTO AND SCORING WITH ROONEY MARA IN THE SAME DAY!
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Best. Twitter. Avatar. Ever.
Sorry for being tardy with this update but since the Pittsburgh Steelers mauling of the Dream Team aka Philadelphia Eagles was nationally broadcast last night, I figured it better to do a more news-specific update than a recap of the game. Speaking of Twitter, twittering during preseason games makes them much more tolerable (and if you’re not following my twitter, well, my legs aren’t as nice as Kym’s but I know a lot more about football). Especially when you’re forced to listen to the unholy combination of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. Adding the greatest Steeler QB of all-time, Terry Bradshaw, to the mix did help a little if only because it’s amusing how discombobulated TB makes Aikman.
Oh and that horrifying NFL on Fox commercial featuring all the announcers in their underwear? Had to be Joe Buck’s idea.