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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Last week, I wrote about growing discontent amongst the Pittsburgh Steelers. Naturally, I’ll begin this week writing about growing discontent amongst the Pittsburgh Steelers. What? You thought I’d do five hundred words on some college kid’s 40 time at the Combine?
When last we left this ridiculous controversy, an unnamed player called linebacker LaMarr Woodley a fatass. Regardless of his off-season workout regiment, there’s absolutely no denying Woodley has been an injury prone disappointment since signing his big money contract extension a couple seasons back. These unattributed comments riled up team leader/annoying loudmouth Ryan Clark, who was offended someone would break the code of locker room omerta. Shockingly, Clark did make one valid observation; that the team had a clear leadership vacuum in the wake of last season’s purge of veterans.
Since no controversy is complete until we hear from the wide receivers, not one but two Steelers wide outs chimed in on this issue. First there was Antonio Brown, wearing the swankiest pimp hat this side of the Godfather. He appeared on ESPN’s First Take but since I try to avoid ESPN and I especially try to avoid First Take, I only caught his comments when they were uploaded to their website. In between his various assaults on the English language, AB managed to reveal the Steelers had a “fractured” locker room with guys more worried about their stats and impending free agency than winning football games.
In other words, Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall were the bad guys. Shocking, I know. And convenient. Since both of those goofs are long gone, it very nicely puts all questions about a divided locker room to rest. At least until the team loses two in a row to bottom feeders they should’ve crushed.
Hines Ward, who is no longer a Steeler although for some reason the media runs to get his opinion on every move they make, went on the NFL Network to weigh in on this controversy. Hines reiterated Clark’s point about losing veteran leaders and talked about the team losing track of the Steeler Way. He also provided every headline writer their money quote by saying the backbiting was a sign the team was in “total disarray.” Impressive insight for a man who spent most of last season in Los Angeles preparing sweet and sour spare ribs for Guy Fieri and Rachel Ray.
Look, the Steelers definitely have a problem. When they cut Hines and James Farrior, yinzers called local sports talk shows worried about leadership and were dismissed by hosts who (rightfully) pointed out teams don’t have to like each other or be compromised of good guys to win. Now that the players themselves are pointing out the problems in the locker room, those same hosts are all over this topic. This is why I started this blog, the reporters and sports personalities in this town suck.
You don’t need a team full of choir boys or a team wide lovefest to win. However, the good guys need to outnumber the bad guys. The Steelers have had idiots on the team before but with Hines or the Bus leading the locker room and a hard-ass head coach in Bill Cowher, the Steeler Way prevailed. In recent years, the guys who were all about winning have faded away and a bunch of chest-thumping me-firsters have taken their place. And instead of the head coach reining them in, we have hear-no-evil see-no-evil Mike Tomlin. There is a systematic flaw within this team. Unfortunately, a flaw I don’t see being corrected any time soon.
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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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Sorry for being overly negative although it’s hard not to be since for the first time in a very long time, the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing an utterly meaningless football game. The last time the Steelers entered the last week of the season with absolutely nothing to play for was the final game of the Bill Cowher era. Actually, there was something to play for that weekend.
The Steelers had been eliminated from playoff contention the week prior but the Cincinnati Bengals needed a win to get in. When asked what would motivate his team to play with nothing on the line, Cowher famously said “Misery loves company.” And his team responded by sending their long-time coach out a winner (and dumping the Bungles from the playoff race) with a clutch TD by Santonio Holmes in overtime.
While this week’s opponent, the Cleveland Browns, aren’t playing for anything either, I have a hard time imagining Mike Tomlin motivating his players in a similar fashion. After all, Fraud Tomlin couldn’t get these guys to play hard when the playoffs were on the line, how’s he gonna get them fired up for a glorified exhibition game?
How bad has it gotten? Local talk shows are taking call after call from members of Steeler Nation who actually WANT the Steelers to lose so they improve their draft position. I can’t say that’s a bad idea. Never forget the 2007 draft where Darrelle Revis went with the 14th pick and while we took Lawrence Timmons one pick later. Timmons has finally realized his potential this season although I don’t think anybody would be crazy enough to argue they’d rather have him over Revis Island. So who knows, perhaps a loss on Sunday is the difference between drafting a shutdown corner or a chronically underachieving linebacker.
Good grief, we’re talking about draft position and hoping for losses. Yes, it has come to this.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs BROWNS OFFENSE
The Browns offense will finish the year near the bottom of the league in points per game and total yards. Rookie QB Brandon Weedon has shown flashes of being a competent signal caller but enters the game having thrown more INTs (17) than TDs (14). Of course, it’s not all Weedon’s fault. Other than fellow rookie RB Trent Richardson, who was on track for 1,000+ rushing and 400+ receiving yards before he got banged up, the Browns don’t have much in the way of offensive weapons. Whoever takes over in the front office will definitely be looking to upgrade the skill positions this off-season.
EDIT: And of course late news out of Cleveland is both Weedon and Richardson are nursing injuries and won’t be active on Sunday. Evidently the Browns want to ensure they’re in position to take the next Revis so they’re endeavoring to field the WORST TEAM EVER. Even back-up Colt McCoy is sitting out because his testicles haven’t descended or some such nonsense. Which means all you loyal season ticket holders will get to see the NFL debut of rookie QB Thad Lewis. THAD LEWIS! SMELL THE EXCITEMENT!
Which brings us to the Browns’ sole motivation this weekend, rescuing coach Pat Shurmur’s job. Shurmur’s only been in Cleveland two years (although Cleveland years are like dog years, one feels like seven) but with a new owner used to winning – he was a minority owner of the Steelers – Shurmur’s wretched 9-22 mark may do him in. Knowing the Browns, they’ll probably fire Shurmur only to hire another retread like Norv Turner although we’ll
worry laugh about that when the time comes. For now Shurmur is their coach and he may very well need a win this Sunday to have any hope of keeping his job.
For the Steelers, this may be the last hurrah for some familiar faces. Casey Hampton took a pay cut to come back one more year and although the team doesn’t really have a heir apparent waiting in the wings – unless you count that drunken imbecile Alameda Ta’amu – he may not be back next season. Then there’s James Harrison. Although our old pal Hennessy will be heartbroken to hear this, there is real talk that Harrison and his $9 million salary will not be back in 2013. I think that would be a mistake since Deebo has shown he can still play at a very high level when he’s reasonably healthy but remember this is the same team that cut Greg Lloyd and Joey Porter when they still had a little gas left in the tank.
It’s the Steeler Way.
Despite a season filled with injuries to key players and lacking in game-changing plays, the Steelers D will almost certainly finish the year ranked first overall for the third time in the past six years. Dick LeBeau has been telling his guys that he intends to come back next season so barring another Bruce Arians fiasco from Art II, our D should still be pretty good next season no matter who he has to coach.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs BROWNS DEFENSE
The only upside to having one more game left in the season is you only have one more game to watch the Steelers’ excruciatingly pitiful excuse for an offense. The defense certainly struggled the first month or so of the season but when the story of 2012 is written our inept offense is going to bear the brunt of the criticism for things going so horrible wrong. And deservedly so.
Todd Haley was brought in to take them to the next level. Instead, everything has gone backwards. Ben Roethlisberger regressed. The Young Money crew regressed. The running game regressed. I don’t know if Boss Todd will be back next year – my money, or rather the money inherited by the Deuce, says yes – but let’s hope things improve next year.
Contrasted with the last appearance in the Black and Gold of some veterans on D, this may be the last time we see some young players on offense in our colors.
Mike Wallace (EDIT: Wallace has a sore hammy and is sitting out. Wow, this really is a glorified exhibition game. Do you guys really expect me to watch this?) and Rashard Mendenhall are undoubtedly playing their last home games in Pittsburgh. Wallace simply wants too much money and while I think he’s a very skilled receiver, he’s not the kind of difference maker worth throwing a huge contract at to keep around. Mendy, well, I don’t think Tomlin likes him and as time has gone on the feeling has become mutual. I think he’s a perfect example of a guy who needs a change in scenery to get their career back on track.
Where that leaves the Steelers, however, is anybody’s guess. If Haley truly wants the Steelers to run the ball more often and effectively than his predecessor, the team probably needs to invest in a top flight back. Neither Jonathan Dwyer nor Isaac Redman have looked like they should be considered featured backs. Meanwhile, we once thought the Steelers receiving corps was an embarrassment of riches but subtracting Wallace and with Manny Sanders spectacular flame-out, we’re left with Antonio Brown and… Jerricho Cotchery?
The Steelers aren’t going to make any off-season decisions based on one game. Mendy can gallop for 250 yards or Wallace can catch 200 yards worth of passes and I’m sure it won’t affect what the team does with them this off-season. What we do know is tough decisions have to be made so we don’t find ourselves in this exact same situation next year. And what is certain is the team that takes the field next September will look quite a bit different than the one we see on Sunday.
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The NFL Playoffs will begin two weeks from now. The Pittsburgh Steelers will not be playing in them. Yes, the unthinkable has happened. With a miserable 13-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers are officially eliminated from post-season contention.
As they say, you reap what you sow.
I’m a Steeler fan. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t bleed Black and Gold. However, I can’t really get too worked up over the fact we aren’t going to the playoffs. When you lose four games to four of the worst teams in the league, you don’t really deserve to be in the playoffs.
I will be interested in hearing sports talk radio tomorrow to see how the Ben Roethlisberger fans spin this loss in a way which exonerates their man. For the second time in two weeks, Little Ben had the ball in his hands with a must-win game on the line. For the second time in two weeks, he made an idiotic decision which led to an interception. And for the second time in two weeks, that interception cost the Steelers the game.
Maybe he can blame Todd Haley for not calling enough no-huddle again.
There has been this absolutely ridiculous meme going around that says the Steelers defense isn’t really that good and that the team has to start leaning on the offense to win games. I call bullshit on that. When the story of the 2012 season is written, the record will show the Steelers finished with the #1 ranked defense. Yes, they don’t generate a ton of splash plays but they perform more than well enough for the team to win.
If only this team had an offense worth a damn.
Yesterday, the Steelers had splash plays. Three of them, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. The inept Pittsburgh offense generated a grand total of ZERO points off those turnovers. Meanwhile, Cincy had two interceptions of their own. The first was a pick-six off a terrible throw by Ben (their only TD of the game) and the second was a head-slappingly dumb decision by Ben with less than 30 seconds left in the game. That second pick resulted in the Bengals kicking the game-winning FG with only seconds left to spare.
Todd Haley was brought in to improve the Steelers offense. The offense has been nothing less than terrible this season with yesterday’s performance perhaps the worst of the season. Nothing was working. The running game was anemic with only a couple nice carries from Rashard Mendenhall keeping the day from being a total failure. The passing game never got on track. Mike “LarryFitz Money” Wallace caught one pass. ONE PASS.
When Heath Miller left the game with what preliminary reports is a torn ACL (ugh), the only consistently dependable facet of the offense left right along with him.
The Bengals came in leading the NFL in sacks. They added another four to that total as the guard tandem of David DeCastro and Ramon Foster were human traffic cones. It’d be unfair to totally blame the line, however, as when they did provide decent pass protection Ben would hold the ball for far too long. For the first time in years, Ben looked confused and gun shy, like he was playing his first game in a new offense, not running a system he’s practiced for almost 10 months now. I don’t know if he’s seriously hurt or if the Bengals’ defense is just that good but this was the worst game Ben has played in years.
Which is fitting because this is the worst season he’s had in years. I like that Ben apologists (*cough* Mark Madden *cough*) point to the Steelers’ D and call it a “stats defense” but don’t apply the same standards to Ben. His final numbers will not look all that bad when the season is over but anybody watching objectively has to agree that Ben regressed this year. He hasn’t made the plays when they needed to be made. A $150 million quarterback has to make plays.
Yesterday’s game was kind of a microcosm of the Steelers season. Ben made a dumb mistake leading to a pick-six. The Steelers put together a nice drive down to the Bengals 15 but couldn’t finish it off. Then the special teams (coached by Mike Tomlin‘s buddy after Tomlin fired a perfectly capable special teams coach because he didn’t like him) botched a snap which led to Shaun Suisham shanking a 24 yard FG.
Over the next 2+ quarters, the defense came away with three turnovers and made stop after stop only to watch the bumbling offense do absolutely nothing. The first turnover, a nice INT by Cortez Allen (who, along with Keenan Lewis, played a very strong game) set the Steelers up on the Cincy 32. They couldn’t even get a FG out of that thanks to Ben taking yet another “I think I’ll hold the ball forever” sack. After a defensive struggle left the game tied with two minutes left, Marvin Lewis went for an insane 64 yard FG which naturally fell short. Starting at mid-field, Ben couldn’t manage the Tomczakian feat of leading the team into reasonable FG range (Suisham’s 53 yarder also fell short). When the D came up with one last stop, Ben put the finishing touches on this shit sandwich and the team’s season with a final ill-timed turnovers in a season full of them.
So much for Little Ben’s rep as “the best clutch QB in football.”
And so much for the Steelers season. This team is going to have a lot of work to do over the off-season. Unlike the “Super Bowl Hangover” year, there are no easy excuses for the swoon. Injuries certainly played a part. However, the team had plenty of talent on the field and yet still couldn’t win games they should have won never mind winning the games they had to win. In the end, the coaches from Mike “the Fraud” Tomlin and Todd “SooperGenius” Haley too often didn’t have this team ready to play and too often the players didn’t play up to the level we expected.
Steeler Nation has received a lump of coal in their stocking this year. I’ll be around to wrap up this fiasco of a season but I probably won’t post much until next week. In the meantime, I hope all my loyal readers have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Bah Humbug.
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Do or die. Not much more needs be said about the importance of this Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. We can argue about how good this Pittsburgh Steelers team actually is but you’d be hard pressed to make a convincing case that this team shouldn’t at least make the playoffs. With a loss on Sunday, that disastrous scenario would indeed become reality.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs BENGALS OFFENSE
Andy Dalton hasn’t had great success against the Steelers. Part of that is Dick LeBeau owning young quarterbacks. Part is the Steelers just seem to have the Bengals’ number. Whatever freaky mojo the Black and Gold hold over the Ginger Rifle, it’ll be something if it continues through this weekend.
The Bengals come in with the 9th best offense in football by points scored per game, which is really the only stat that counts when it comes to winning. The Steelers statistically still hold the best defense in football but that is determined in terms of yardage. There are actually a half-dozen defenses who give up fewer points per game. Still, despite the onslaught of injuries to LeBeau’s crew, the Steelers have epitomized a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy.
For whatever reason, there’s a meme going around that the defense hasn’t been good this season. In terms of sacks and splash plays, that’s definitely true. However, they’ve kept the team in games which is really all you can ask of your defense, especially one ravaged by injury. If your team has a mediocre QB running an average offense, then you need a defense which creates turnovers and scores points. If the Steelers think they’re in the same league as teams like Green Bay or New England (who have average defenses), they should be perfectly fine with a defense that plays well enough to not lose the game. Which this defense certainly has.
The Bengals have some weapons. As I said before our first meeting, I think AJ Green might be the best receiver in football. He’s certainly in the top five. Ike Taylor absolutely shut him down last time. The secondary expects Cortez Allen back this weekend which should help immensely as even at 50%, he’s probably a whole helluva lot better than the two-headed suck monster known as Josh Victorian and Curtis Brown. One of those human traffic cones will be playing the nickel, though, so there will be plays for Dalton to make.
Let’s just hope for once the Steelers make a few more.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs BENGALS DEFENSE
Which brings us to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense. The D is giving up on average 21 points a game. Considering we have a $150 million quarterback, a crew of receivers led by one guy making $8 million per year and another who thinks he’s worth more than that, and a posse of running backs led by a former first round draft pick, three touchdowns per game should be the least of our worries. Yet this team has struggled mightily to score points all season. Even when Ben is playing and fully healthy.
At some point Steeler fans will step out of 1970 and start asking the offense to WIN games for us instead of expecting the defense to do it (as always). The amount of money invested and the level of (alleged) talent is certainly there. The time for excuses and finger-pointing are over. The time to produce is now.
The Bengals have a pretty decent defense themselves. They actually lead the entire NFL in total sacks. Despite also being ravaged by injury, the Steelers offensive line has done a fairly good job all season. Granted the dink-and-dunk offense helps. Last week against Dallas (who also boast a pretty good pass rush) was really the first time Ben was routinely running for his life. David DeCastro struggled in his first start although I’m sure the first rounder will improve as his reps increase.
DeCastro along with fellow rookie RT Kelvin Beachum have acquitted themselves admirably although they’re clearly not the run blockers Willie Colon and Mike Adams were. As a result, the Steelers running game has been non-existent for almost a month now. There’s flashes here and there but no consistent threat. Mike Tomlin hasn’t named a starter and the assumption is Jon Dwyer will keep starting. I do believe Rashard Mendenhall will dress (Ike Redman is always banged up), however, as this may be his last best chance to audition for a job here or elsewhere next season.
The people who really have to come through are the
Young Money Cash Droppah crew. They talk a big game and like to preen and pose after every 5 yard catch (I’m looking at you, Antonio Brown) yet their play hasn’t backed up their posturing. The Steelers recent swoon which has seen them lose 4 out of their last 5 has been punctuated by mistake after mistake from this group of arrogant miscreants. Manny Sanders can’t hold on to the ball, Mike Wallace can’t catch it and AB may be the dumbest football player alive. I don’t know how we went from “best young receiving corps in football!” to “these guys need to get their shit together” but here we are.
Although, really, the latter can be said about the Steelers as a whole. If this team doesn’t at least make the playoffs with all the big contracts and big name players, well, something is certainly rotten on the Southside. This year has already been a bad soap opera, the accusations and recriminations if the unthinkable happens would no doubt increase tenfold.
Today is the final day of the Mayan calendar. I don’t know if they were Steeler fans but their prediction was remarkably accurate for a culture that existed two centuries before the first pig was skinned and fashioned into an oblong ball. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, the end is also nigh. Come Sunday, there is no tomorrow.
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As if the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t have enough issues to deal with…
The Steelers announced they have suspended running back Rashard Mendenhall for one game due to “conduct detrimental to the team.” Mendy was told last Sunday that he wasn’t going to be dressing for the game against the San Diego Chargers. When players don’t dress, they’re still expected to come to the game and stand on the sideline in official NFL team gear ™ so the television cameras can pan over to their glum faces when one of the announcers mentions their name. Evidently, Mendy took the news as a sign that he shouldn’t even bother showing up.
After last week’s anemic running performance, there were some calls for Mendenhall to regain his starting job. That’s not happening now or probably ever. If anything, this suspension is the symbolic death knell for Rashard’s career in the Black and Gold. All three of the team’s running backs will be free agents this off-season and it’s looking more and more like the Steelers will be cutting ties with their former first round pick.
The duo of Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman definitely had a terrible showing against the Chargers. However, it’s ridiculous to say Mendenhall would’ve performed any better. As I noted in my game preview, the Chargers have a talented D-line who are very strong against the run. On top of which, the Steelers’ O-line was banged up with one of the team’s best run blockers, Willie Colon, hobbled by a season ending injury which necessitated moving Maurkice Pouncey to LG and inserting Doug Legursky at center after only a few possessions.
Legursky is a lousy run blocker. Pouncey is a Pro Bowler at center but he’s only average at guard. The Steelers were also playing with their third string RT, rookie Kelvin Beachum. Add it all up and the effective run blocking from the middle of the season is just no longer there. Word is the Steelers might finally bite the bullet and start this year’s first rounder, David DeCastro, at RG (with Ramon Foster moving over to the left) this Sunday.
Speaking of first rounders, this latest incident completes a rather spectacular fall for the former 23rd overall pick. As I’ve noted many times, GM Kevin Colbert holds on to his first rounders well past the point of sanity. To his credit, sometimes that works out as in the case of Lawrence Timmons, who was maddeningly average for most of his career only to finally start fulfilling his immense potential this year. However, in the case of Mendenhall, it’s looking like he’ll be the rare first rounder the team cuts ties with without ever getting a second contract.
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Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference yesterday afternoon. As I’ve mentioned about a billion times, I tend to ignore what he says because when he’s not lying, he’s using a bunch of words to say nothing. Well, surprise of all surprises, he actually used the time productively yesterday. It looks like there’s a whole bunch of changes in store for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
First, we have the state of the offensive line. I already talked about this quite a bit yesterday but it appears I was in error. I thought for sure they’d re-arrange things however they could to avoid starting rookie RT Kelvin Beachum. Tomlin says Beachum will start against the Baltimore Ravens with Mike Adams nursing a high ankle sprain and Marcus Gilbert out for the year. Of course, the plan is subject to change since there are still a bunch of question marks regarding who’s healthy and who’s not.
Willie Colon is expected back at LG although they probably won’t be sure until an hour before game time. If Colon can’t play, my best guess (and I’ve been misfiring on my predictions more often than Bob Kudzma so take it for what it’s worth) is Doug Legursky would be first man off the bench. First round pick David DeCastro is cleared to return but I have to think if he was 100% healthy and ready to play, he’d be starting. That means we’re looking at either Starks-Colon-Pouncey-Foster-Beachum or Starks-Legursky-Pouncey-Foster-Beachum as your starting line. If there is another injury, DeCastro would probably be pressed into service at RG with Ramon Foster sliding out to tackle. I can’t imagine they’d play recently signed T Tony Moeki unless he was the last man standing.
The line will be blocking for starting running back Jonathan Dwyer. It only took Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley twelve weeks to realize this committee approach where each back gets 3-4 carries doesn’t work. The only time they’ve gotten good results from the running game is when they’ve started one back and stuck with him to the tune of 15-20 carries. Dwyer, who’s been the team’s most effective back, will start with Isaac Redman serving as the back-up. No word whether Rashard Mendenhall is planning a jihad on the coaching staff for busting him all the way down to third string.
Ben Roethlisberger has began throwing and ESPN is saying there’s a “50-50 chance” he makes the superhero comeback this Sunday. Tomlin said he’s proceeding with Charlie Batch as the starter so I wouldn’t get my hopes up for a Big Ben miracle. I haven’t parsed out all the playoff scenarios but barring a massive collapse, the Ravens have firm control of the AFC North whether they win this week or not. I’d rather Ben avoid the beating Baltimore is sure to dish out and be ready for the final three game stretch run against three very beatable teams than rush him back for one game which potentially won’t matter anyway.
Batch will have one important weapon back this week in Antonio Brown. Brown is by far the team’s best receiver so having him back will be huge for whoever plays QB. Tomlin also decided to play some mind games with the receivers, listing Mike Wallace and Emannuel Sanders (who has played very well in AB’s absence) as co-starters opposite Brown. I don’t think Tomlin has the stones to actually start Sanders ahead of Wallace but for those who thought I’ve been too hard on Wallace, clearly the coaching staff isn’t happy with his play either. We can worry about repercussions after the season ends, I’ll just say the team’s treatment of Wallace and Mendy doesn’t exactly bode well for their future here in Pittsburgh.
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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.