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.
Share and Enjoy
Here I was hoping for a nice quiet off-season for the Pittsburgh Steelers…
Then again, I guess the off-season hasn’t truly started until Ryan Clark shoots his big mouth off about something. I’d really like to know how and when that assclown became the official spokesman for the Steelers’ players. Granted football players tend to have IQs somewhere north of a turnip and, as we saw during the lockout, aren’t really that particular about picking their leaders. Still, one would think there is at least one level-headed guy in that locker room who can step forward and talk to the media without being a divisive influence.
Let’s rewind back to Sunday. Ron Cook wrote a piece for the Post-Gazette that was highly critical of linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Cook used a bunch of words to point out what all of us fans already knew; since signing his big money contract extension in 2011, Woodley’s level of play has fallen off the map. What got people’s attention was a quote about Woodley attributed to an anonymous teammate. “He tells us he works out, but we didn’t see it. He wasn’t in shape. That has to be a reason why he was always hurt.”
Clark, who never met a microphone he wouldn’t talk into, immediately decried the comments as “cowardly.” Again, that’s not really shocking as pro athletes love to invoke this code of silence gimmick like they’re a team of Navy SEALS charged with conducting a raid on an al-Qaeda compound. I have no desire to see the Steelers turn into a back-stabbing circus like the Eagles or Cowboys but the feigned outrage whenever somebody criticizes a member of their own locker room is total bullshit.
The ironic part of Clark’s comments were after decrying a player for criticizing the brotherhood, he proceeded to criticize the brotherhood. Even more shockingly, what Clark said was actually pretty smart.
Clark went on to tell NFL.com that the Steelers clearly have a “a fracture” within their ranks. “That shows that this team that is normally close, you had the Joey Porters, the Alan Fanecas, just down the line, leader after leader, this team was close-knit. It shows there is a fracture in that. I think that is the most disappointing thing about that coming out.” said Clark. So by fracture he meant leadership void. We worried this might happened as the old guard retired and handed the team off to the young guys. Now for the first time there is concrete proof that something is amiss with the Black and Gold.
Hines Ward retired and the wide receiver corps became a group of me-first chest-thumping underachieving idiots. James Farrior retired and LaMarr Woodley went from one half of the best linebacking duo in Steelers history to overpaid and injury prone. Local radio host Stan Savran mentioned on his show this morning that he heard from team sources that Woodley got up to nearly 290 pounds last year. Some of that may be due to not being able to do cardio after suffering his hamstring injury. But as the anonymous Steelers points out, he’s constantly coming down with strains and pulls which are telltale signs of a guy being out of shape.
Going into the final week of the season, rumor had it that James Harrison was playing his final game in Pittsburgh. When the Steelers gave Woodley the contract extension, I’m sure they envisioned him being the guy the defense reloaded around as Deebo faded off into the sunset. In reality, Harrison has been the more effective player by far the past couple seasons. Despite the team being in the salary cap danger zone, I don’t see how the Steelers get rid of Harrison and not worry that a defense already struggling to generate turnovers and sacks gets even worse.
Run a lap, LaMarr.
Share and Enjoy
Sometimes I really don’t understand football. I suppose I shouldn’t admit that here since for whatever reason people who read blogs automatically assume the writer know as much about football as Chuck Noll. Truthfully, the best any of us can do, from the guys who write for SI or ESPN all the way down to lowly bloggers, is offer our best guess. I sure would like to a fancy title like Senior NFL Insider, though.
Anyway, all week we’ve waited with baited breath for any scrap of information about Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Granted, Ben has a history of making Terminator-like comebacks just when things seem the bleakest so it’s not altogether crazy to hope he has one more in him. And we are playing the Baltimore Ravens in a pivotal game, a game where a loss not only puts a division title out of reach but makes it so the Steelers pretty much have to run the table to make the playoffs.
All that said, what I don’t understand is how anybody can seriously endorse the idea of Ben coming back on Sunday. Does nobody remember last year’s Monday night fiasco in San Francisco? Ben toughed it out that week and continued toughing it out until the team got bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if Ben took an extra week off to rest up. Maybe his foot was just too far gone and he was going to play at 50% no matter what. But at some point you have to put the big picture ahead of the right now.
Would I love to see #7 jog onto the field in Baltimore on Sunday afternoon? Absolutely. Would it be the smart thing for the team? Absolutely not.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs RATBIRDS OFFENSE
The last time these two teams met, Dick LeBeau‘s crew did a fantastic job keeping them off the scoreboard. It’d be foolish to expect the exact same level of dominance this time around. Unfortunately, that’s what we may need to have any realistic shot at winning.
With few exceptions, Joe Flacco has struggled mightily against the Steelers. LeBeau has basically figured out what the rest of the league is slowly catching on to; when you take away Ray Rice and put the game entirely on Flacco’s arm, you have a better than 50-50 shot at pulling out a win. I’m not going to rehash my critique of Flacco (you can read it in my previous Know Thy Enemy) except to say he is what he is. He’s not the worst QB in the league but he’s not the kind of singular talent that can take over a game through sheer talent either. Last week’s 29 yard catch and run by Rice which snatched victory from the jaws of defeat is the perfect encapsulation of the Ravens offense.
Troy Polamalu continues to practice normally as it looks like he’ll definitely be back Sunday. Troy hasn’t been his old self for a couple seasons now but playing the Ravens usually brings out the best in him. If there’s any Steeler who causes Flacco to wake up in a cold sweat, it’s Troy. Throughout the rivalry, Troy has frequently been the one who makes that one game-changing play which spelled the difference between a win and a loss.
It was exactly that kind of game changing play the defense needed to make last time and didn’t. Will they make it now that Troy’s back in the line-up? I like their chances a lot more.
Since the Football Gods can never give without taking away, LaMarr Woodley will be out with a re-aggravation of the leg injury which knocked him out earlier in the season. Jason Worilds has come on this season to where he’s actually the team leader in sacks (5). Other than a momentary flash of his old self, Woodley hasn’t done much of anything this year so playing Worilds is probably a good thing in the scheme of things. James Harrison is starting to look like his old self and the inside duo of Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons have been strong all season. I’m not sure the Steelers D can play better than they did in the first meeting but I definitely wouldn’t be shocked if they did.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs RATBIRDS DEFENSE
Where do I start? How about the good news? Assuming Charlie Batch starts as expected, at least he’ll have a full complement of weapons to toss his wounded ducks at. Antonio Brown has practiced all week and is going to start. Any questions about who the Steelers #1 wide out is have been answered in AB’s absence. Mike Tomlin decided to play some mind games this week by listing Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace as co-starters on the depth chart. For some reason, media types have been on radio all week trying to argue that Steeler fans are being too hard on Wallace for his lack of production. Boo hoo, cry me a river. I don’t care that he held out. What I do care about is that he strutted around like he was one of the best receivers in football and hasn’t played anywhere close to that.
Another Tomlin mandate is that the team will feature Jonathan Dwyer as the primary back with Isaac Redman backing him up. Again, the media has been reacting aghast that he’d demote Rashard Mendenhall to third string despite the fact he’s done absolutely nothing to merit playing time. Mendenhall isn’t a good back. He tip toes too much and doesn’t run aggressively to daylight. His only selling point is this mythical “breakaway speed” people keep mentioning yet I can count on one hand how many long TD runs he’s had during his entire career here. Dwyer has shown that when you give him 15-20 carries he’ll run hard, wear down a defense and give you respectable YPC.
The blocking for Dwyer may be a problem. The team’s most beastly run blocker, Willie Colon, hasn’t practice much this week and is looking doubtful. To the team’s credit, they’ve finally realized Doug Legursky sucks at guard but is perfectly capable at center (probably because you can get away with being a small quick center but not really at guard). So if Colon can’t go, they’ve taken the extreme option of moving Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey to guard and inserting the Big Legursky at his natural position. I haven’t seen Pouncey play guard but if David DeCastro isn’t ready to play (and this radical re-alignment suggest he’s an emergency option at best) this seems to be the best arrangement.
Last game, the Steelers had nothing happening on the ground while Byron Leftwich missed wide open receivers left and right. On the flipside, the Ravens offense did a whole bunch of nothing with the their lone TD coming on a punt return. Let’s say the Steelers D slips a little this time and gives up two whole TDs. Can Charlie realistically put up 17-20 points on the Ratbirds? Off what we saw in Cleveland, the answer would be no. However, this is almost certainly the final start of Charlie Batch’s long career. He’s not going to go out without taking a couple swings. Let’s hope one or two connect.
Share and Enjoy
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.
Share and Enjoy
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.
Share and Enjoy
Yes, it’s come to this. I’ve been pushed so far over the edge, I’ve resorted to quoting Chris Berman.
Anybody still wanna argue whether Ben Roethlisberger should be MVP? If so, last night’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens provided more convincing evidence than any stats-filled post ever could.
What if I told you the Steelers defense wouldn’t allow a single offensive touchdown? What if I said the Steelers running game would chew up over 150 yards on the ground? Going into Sunday night, I’m sure most members of Steeler Nation would’ve taken that scenario in a heartbeat. It sounds like a surefire recipe for success regardless of who’s behind center.
And yet, it wasn’t enough and the Black and Gold went down to defeat, 13-10.
I’ll spare my dear readers the usual long-winded blow-by-blow account of the game. It was nationally televised so I’m sure most of you saw for yourself anyway. Instead I’m going to skip directly to the root of the problem, quarterback Byron Leftwich. Thanks to a pass interference call on a deep bomb on the first play of the game, Lefty led the team 80 yards for a TD on their opening drive. From that point on, it was a whole bunch of nothin’.
Did Leftwich hurt himself on the 30 yard TD scramble? And if he did, THAT is the guy Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and the Steelers trust with leading the team in Ben’s absence? I’ve seen a lot of football in my life, I’ve seen strange injuries but tripping over your own feet and injuring your ribs and throwing shoulder is a new level of absurdity. I don’t know that Lefty was hurt. Tomlin and his cloak of lies and deception will never admit the truth in any case. All I know is what I could see.
And what I saw was a quarterback missing throws a kid at Alquippa High could make. Lefty finished 18-39 for 201 yards and a pick for a QB rating of 51.3. He definitely wasn’t helped by his receivers. Jerricho Cotchery dropped a couple big conversions and Mike Wallace, who proves week in and week out that if only his actual talent matched his opinion of himself, fumbled deep in their own zone and later failed to come down with a TD pass in the corner of the end zone. However, at the end of the day, your QB has to keep putting the ball in the right spot and hope the guys make plays. More often than not, Leftwich was slow to deliver the ball and inaccurate when he did.
The shame of the whole thing is Baltimore’s offense wasn’t much better. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice were held in check by a magnificent performance from Dick LeBeau‘s crew. We can argue about splash plays and whether a well-timed INT would be more valuable than holding one of the best backs in the league to 40 yards or holding an opposing QB under 175 yds passing. Setting up a bumbling offense with a short field would definitely be helpful but I don’t know how you can possibly find fault with a defense not allowing a single TD a week after the Ratbirds scored a franchise record 55 points.
As soon as Jacoby Jones returned that punt for Baltimore’s lone TD of the evening, I knew it would come back to haunt us. Even when Ben was in there, the Steelers have spent this season walking a thin line between victory and defeat. With Leftwich and the offense stalling, it had to be a top priority not to surrender any cheap points. The defense did their job, even after Wallace’s fumble set Flacco and company up inside the red zone. Jonathan Dwyer did his job, rumbling for 55 yards on only 12 carries and providing the team with an offensive spark in the second half. Leftwich and the passing game simply didn’t do theirs.
Every year, it seems like the division title comes down to a tie break between us and the Ratbirds. If it happens again this season, we won’t have far to look for a game we should have won yet didn’t. I think that’s the worst part of last night’s loss. If you start your back-up and get blown out, it’s almost like you just shrug your shoulders and think, “Whatever.” But starting your back-up, giving him an excellent running game and a defense which doesn’t surrender a TD and still losing? That’d hurt if it were against Jacksonville Jaguars never mind the Baltimore Ravens.
Share and Enjoy
Every hero needs a villain. Batman has the Joker. Steve Austin had Vince McMahon. Optimus Prime has Megatron.
And if you think I’m referring to Calvin Johnson and Richard Sherman, you really watch too much football.
The Pittsburgh Steelers represent everything good about the NFL. The most successful franchise with the most loyal fanbase. Their greatest nemesis is clearly the Baltimore Ravens, a gang of thugs and cowards who are detested by anybody outside their own filthy crime-ridden city.
Ratbird Week is usually a fun time for me because there’s normally a lot of trash talking from both sides. Most of the time, “rivalries” are more a thing that fans create than something the players actually embrace. Not so with the Steelers and Ravens. The players have made it very clear on many occasions that they really do hate each other.
Unfortunately, a lot of the fun has been sucked out of this particular Ratbird Week. First, a lot of the guys who fueled the fire are gone. Hines Ward has retired while Ray Lewis is out for the season, possibly never to return. Meanwhile, the Steelers are dealing with injuries to almost half their starting line-up, led by this fella you may of heard of by the name of Ben Roethlisberger.
It’ll read Steelers versus Ravens on the marquee Sunday night and while the hate will still be real the teams taking the field may only be mere hollow echoes of what they once were.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs RAVENS OFFENSE
Joe Flacco. He’s lucky he plays for a relatively low profile team otherwise his name would be debated on the Four Letter every ten minutes like the names Mark Sanchez or Tony Romo. Flacco is in that nebulous second tier of quarterbacks who argue they’re elite and fans of their team think of as elite but don’t have the results to earn that designation. Win a Super Bowl, even get to one, and then you can start using the E-word.
Until then, you’re just another QB.
The dirty little secret is the Ratbirds seem to be hedging their bets on Bert, as well. He’s in the final year of his contract and over the off-season the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement on an extension because Flacco wanted elite QB money while Baltimore management argued he wasn’t quite at that level. Flacco is having a pretty typical season for him, a 60-40 TD/INT ratio (13 TDs against 7 INTs) and he’s on pace for about 3,500 yards (2,300 going into Sunday) which is right around his career high. They Ravens have tried everything from trading for name wide receivers to letting Bert grow a pornstache in hopes he can hit another level.
At this point, I think it’s safe to say he is what he is and nothing can change that.
It certainly would help any QB to have a weapon like Ray Rice in the backfield. As usual, Rice is a tremendous dual threat, leading the team in rushing while being Captain Checkdown’s third favorite target. Rice has averaged over 1,200 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving the past three years and is well on pace to make it four in a row. Needless to say, if the Steelers have any hope of winning Sunday, they have to find a way to contain this serial Stiller Killer.
Outside Rice, the Ravens offensive weapons aren’t nearly as scary as some of the other teams we’ve faced this season. Torrey Smith, who memorably caught the game winning touchdown in our last meeting, is their nominal #1 wide out. He’s pretty much a deep threat, though, averaging 17 yard per reception. A few years ago they spent big money to bring in Anquan Boldin but he’s been more or less a bust. The Ravens parted ways with another longtime irritant, TE Todd Heap, a couple seasons ago and it appears they’ve finally found another short yardage possession threat for Flacco to dump off to in TE Dennis Pitta.
The Steelers defense needs a helluva better performance this week if they don’t want embarrassed on national tv. After getting the run D straightened out, KC gashed them repeatedly until Dick LeBeau figured out Ziggy Hood was a liability and started moving him around. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison were MIA and that simply can’t happen two weeks in a row. There will be even more pressure on the inside backers to support the run D and take away the middle of the field for those short throws Flacco lives for.
Ryan Clark passed all his concussion tests and will play on Sunday. He’ll be easy to spot as he’s resorted to wearing that extra thick Great Gazoo helmet. Clark has been the team’s defensive MVP this year so hopefully he’s able to stay on the field this week. If the Steelers have any hope of pulling out a victory, they’ll need every healthy defensive player not only on the field but playing their best possible game.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs RAVENS DEFENSE
Maybe the Ravens should change their symbol back to the horseshoe a team from Baltimore wore once upon a time. They certainly have a lot of luck. The Ratbirds have beaten the Steelers twice since 2008 when Ben Roethlisberger started at QB. They’ve won three other times, however, when Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch have started in Ben’s place.
On Sunday, they’ll get their first taste of Byron Leftwich. I’m already on record about thinking Leftwich is a poor fit for the Todd Haley offense but I guess we’ll see. Boss Todd has said he’s tailoring things to better suit Lefty. In other words, he’s quick passing timing based offense needs to account for a guy with a longer wind-up than AJ Burnett.
Rashard Mendenhall is expected to make his return. I wasn’t too enthused about Mendy’s return but after iRed and Dwyer played miserably against the Chiefs, it certainly can’t hurt. If the Steelers have one chance offensively, it’ll be on the ground. The Ravens run D has been absolutely atrocious, even worse than our run D. They’re currently averaging 132 yards against per game. Yes, 132!
While the Steelers have battled injury, the Ravens have had more than their fair share as well. NT Haloti Ngata has been playing hurt and it shows. He’s not nearly as stout at the nose as usual. Lewis was useless in pass coverage although he did a good job against the run. And Terrell Suggs may have made an admirable return from off-season ACL surgery but he’s clearly not himself. Much like James Harrison has been a step behind all year, Suggs just can’t get his body to do what it’s accustomed to doing.
The Ravens have also been hit in the secondary with the loss of top corner Lardarius Webb. Much like their run D, their secondary has been giving up huge chunks of yardage all season. Safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed are strong but corners Cary Williams and Paul Kruger can be exploited. If Ben were healthy, I could foresee something of a shoot-out. Whether Leftwich can make some plays in the passing game remains to be seen. Antonio Brown hasn’t practiced this week although he’s been telling reporters he’s going to give it a shot this afternoon. Getting him back on the field would be a huge boon to whoever plays QB.
I know I make every game out to be a make or break week. In this case, the hyperbole is actually appropriate. As usual, the AFC North is coming down to Ravens and Steelers. And, as usual, the eventual champion may very well be decided by tie breaks. It’s going to be an uphill battle for sure but why not shock the world and demoralize the Ravens in the process by pulling out a game with our back-up QB on national TV?
Share and Enjoy
I don’t even know where to begin with last night’s debacle.
Might as well start with the positives I guess. The Pittsburgh Steelers pulled out a 16-13 win against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football after Lawrence Timmons intercepted Matt Cassel’s first pass in overtime. One play later, Stonecold Shaun Suisham booted a 23 yarder to end the misery. And that’s about all the good things I have to say about what happened last night.
Ben Roethlisberger left the game in the third quarter with what preliminary reports are saying is a “sprained” throwing shoulder. I’m so glad we brought in Todd Haley‘s boring dink and dunk offense to protect him from getting injured. That’s sarcasm by the way. Of course, Ben has been remarkably healthy all season so it totally makes sense he’d suffer a serious injury a week before the Steelers play the Baltimore Ravens.
Ben wasn’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard before the injury. If not for a circus catch by Mike Wallace in the end zone, Ben would’ve departed with two FGs to show for his efforts. All week, fans and talking heads alike were calling this game Boss Todd’s shot at revenge against the team that canned him last season. What we failed to take into account is that familiarity is a two way street. Teams practice against each other all week for months on end meaning the Chiefs defense probably has taken hundreds of snaps against Haley’s offense during his tenure there. The result, as Max Starks later told reporters, was that KC’s D recognized practically every play they called last night.
Let’s not make excuses for the offense, though. The tone was set early when they went three and out on their first two possessions and Willie Colon was flagged for “cussing.” Swearing is a crime? What the f#ck?
Any questions about Antonio Brown‘s worth to the team were answered as Manny Sanders repeatedly failed to step up in his absence. The running game was absolutely atrocious the entire game. Isaac Redman was pathetic, fumbling the ball to gift wrap a FG early then getting stoned on a crucial 4th and inches early in the second half. Jon Dwyer relieved him and only did slightly better, averaging 2.9 ypc to iRed’s sad 2.6 ypc. Dwyer had a couple decent runs and he was running into a 7 man box after Ben got hurt but it still was far from an acceptable performance.
Let’s talk about the post-Ben offense. For whatever reason, Steeler Nation seems to have turned on Charlie Batch, mocking him as a broke washed-up bum. Well, if you’re comfortable with Byron Leftwich after what we saw last night then I don’t know what say. The guy plays quarterback like he’s trying to win a stuffed giraffe for his girlfriend at Kenneywood.
Okay, this was Lefty’s first action in like three years. Back-ups are rusty enough since they only get a handful of snaps at practice. And when he gets a nice clean pocket and about five seconds to wind up, he does throw a pretty ball. At the same time, he looked even more immobile than the last time we saw him. Leave it to Mike Tomlin to sign the only immobile black quarterback in NFL history. Lefty took about four or five vicious shots in about a quarter and half of work. He’s never going to survive if he has to play a significant stretch. What’s more, his goofy throwing motion and lousy accuracy is all wrong for an offense that relies on timing and accuracy.
Gotta love that with Ben under center, Haley went deep twice all season, then Leftwich comes in and his first pass is a bomb to Wallace.
I haven’t yet mentioned the Steelers defense. On paper, it looks like they had a good game. In reality, Kansas City’s incompetence was the only thing which saved them from a horrible loss. While we’re on the subject of terrible games, Ziggy Hood played like absolute shit. The Chiefs ran Jamaal Charles (23 carries 100 yards) right at him time after time for big chunks of yardage. Only when Dick LeBeau started switching up Hood and Bret Keisel did the bleeding stop. How bad does Ziggy have to play before Ironhead Junior gets more than a handful of snaps?
Did LaMarr Woodley play yesterday? How about James Harrison? You didn’t hear either name at all. If KC had receivers who didn’t fall into the fetal position when faced with contact and stopped shooting themselves in the foot with stupid penalties, this game wouldn’t have been close. In fact, the key series of the game occurred early in the third when a 22 yard TD to Dwayne Bowe was wiped out on a ticky-tack holding penalty then the KC kicker missed the ensuing FG wide right.
Late in the quarter, the pitiful Steelers offense was going nowhere fast when pass interference and roughing the passer penalties let them drive for the game-tying FG. Even at the end of the game KC tried their damnedest to snatch defeat from the jaws of
victory mediocrity. Cassel hit Bowe for a nice gain but Bowe lost the ball when Ryan Clark concussed himself while dislodging the ball. Then TE Tony Moeki got flagged for offensive PI which took them out of FG range and left them with 4th and 15. Of course, Ike Taylor played it too loose and let them convert a 27 yard pass play.
The Chiefs came in having never led during regulation all season. They led for almost half the game. The Chiefs came in leading the league in turnovers. Until Cassel threw the pick to Timmons in OT (which was tipped by the Diesel, btw), they had zero giveaways. Yeah, they were a desperate team. Yeah, maybe this was a trap game. Injuries, Haley, their Super Bowl, yadda yadda…
No excuses. Any good feelings from last week’s game against the Giants are long gone. This was an abominable effort that would’ve resulted in a loss against any halfway competent team. And now an offense which has already been average at best needs to find a way to score points with their back-up QB. On top of all this, two of the next three games are against the Ravens. Suddenly this season isn’t looking so promising.
Share and Enjoy
The phrase of the day is “trap game.” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that spoken on sports talk radio the past few days, I could probably afford season tickets to Heinz Field.
I’m not really sure Monday night’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs qualifies as a trap game. Granted, it does come on the eve of the Black and Gold’s first meeting with the hated Baltimore Ravens. And it does come on the heels of the team surging to a three game winning streak, topped by an impressive victory over the defending Super Bowl champions. Actually, maybe this is a trap game…
After losses to two of the most abysmal teams in the NFL, I’m sure the Steelers know better. There’s no way to justify losing to crap teams like the Titans and Raiders but there were mitigating circumstances. For whatever reason, the trip out to Oakland always messes up the Steelers while the Tennessee game came on a short week (Thursday) which has also proven to trip up the Black and Gold (see the Browns game a few years back).
Also, trap games usually occur when you’re playing a scrappy opponent. The Chiefs are circling the drain right now. They’re shuffling quarterbacks in and out. Romeo Crennel, who replaced Todd Haley as head coach last season, just recused himself as defensive coordinator. The team is in utter disarray. If anybody is motivated this week, it’s Boss Todd, who surely wants to make KC pay for making his life a living hell.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs CHIEFS OFFENSE
For whatever inexplicable reason, the Chiefs think they have something in Brady Quinn. Perhaps it has something do with Crennel being the same coach who made the mistake of drafting him in the first round when he was the head coach of the Browns. Whatever the logic, KC has all but given up on the Matt Cassel experiment. With the frail and effeminate Quinn nursing a concussion, Monday night may very well be Cassel’s final shot as a starter.
When Patriots GM Scott Pioli moved over to KC in 2009, he brought Cassel with him to be his QB. Cassel was coming off the season where he led the Patriots to 11 wins after Tom Brady was lost for the year. He got off to a rocky start, throwing 16 TDs and 16 INTs but rebounded in 2010 to toss 27 TDs against only 7 INTs. It’s been all downhill since then. Injuries marred his 2011 campaign and Haley’s insistence on starting former Pitt Panther Tyler Palko in place of Kyle Orton after Cassel was placed on season ending IR eventually led to his ouster.
Cassel has struggled this season, leading one of the league’s most anemic offenses (29th in points scored) and throwing a ton (11) of picks in the process. Chiefs fans had gotten so fed up that they cheered when Cassel was knocked out of a game a few weeks back, drawing scorn from one of their own players. I would’ve said something about it at the time but Pittsburgh is the city that cheered when Terry Bradshaw got knocked out so we don’t really have room to talk.
The bottom line is Cassel has struggled mightily this season. On paper, the Chiefs have the weapons to be a decent offense. WR Dwayne Bowe is a big time playmaker. Former Pitt standout Jon Baldwin is lazy but talented. And the Chiefs have one of the most dangerous weapons in the league in RB Jamaal Charles. Charles is among the league’s rushing leaders and is also a force out of the backfield.
If the Steelers can keep Charles under wraps, they should have a pretty evening. Early in the year, the D was getting gashed on the reg. They’ve tightened that up as of late so let’s hope the pattern continue. The secondary was also victimized by big plays but Ike Taylor has shaken off his early season malaise and returned to the shut down Ike of old. As long as they don’t Charles move the sticks on the ground or Bowe get loose for a big hitter in the secondary, I don’t see Cassel being able to make enough plays to hang in.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs CHIEFS DEFENSE
Ben Roethlisberger has already told reporters that Boss Todd is almost salivating at the opportunity to put the screws to his former team. Some NFL coaches play by a set of unwritten rules which dictate respect for the game and their opponent. Then there are the assholes like Todd Haley. I’m sure Mike Tomlin would rein Haley in if he looked to run up the score but then again Tomlin has no control over his players, why should he try to control his coaches?
The Chiefs have a couple decent linebackers in Tambla Hall and Justin Houston. They inexplicably cut a pretty good corner in Standford Routt so a secondary that was a nominal strength may not be any longer. They’re in the bottom third of the league against the run although they have forced a surprising number of turnovers (6 INTs and 12 fumbles).
If Big Ben and the offense can avoid shooting themselves in the foot, they should have a pretty good game. The revolving door at RB continues as Jonathan Dwyer returns with Rashard Mendenhall said to be another week away from reclaiming his starting job. Isaac Redman will start but unlike last week will probably have to share some carries with the Minibus.
Antonio Brown is probably going to sit out after suffering a dreaded high ankle sprain last Sunday. High ankles only heal with rest so I suspect we may not see him for a couple weeks. Luckily the Steelers are extremely deep at WR with Jerricho Cotchery, who could probably start for most teams, ready to slide in the slot. Manny Sanders, who’s quietly putting together a nice season, will start. For those who remember back, Sanders actually played a ton as a rookie while AB didn’t come on until the playoffs. Sanders has been set back by injuries but now is his time to shine in front of a national audience.
In fact, it’s time for the entire team to introduce themselves to the nation. After getting off to a slow start this season, the Steelers have quietly crept back into the playoff conversation. If the season were to end tomorrow, they would be one of the AFC’s two Wild Cards. For the Black and Gold to firmly establish themselves as Super Bowl contenders, they need to string together wins. A victory on Monday night and a four game win streak going into a showdown with Baltimore would be a nice place to start.
Share and Enjoy
Yesterday, the Sporting News released their annual poll naming the NFL’s Dirtiest Player. For the second year in a row, Detroit Lions thug Ndamukong Suh took the title as voted on by a sampling of his peers. Somewhat surprisingly, an offensive lineman took the second spot. The ironically named Richie Incognito was recognized by enough of his fellow players to earn that dubious honor.
As usual, the Pittsburgh Steelers were well represented.
The Steelers had a lock on top spot for quite a few years. First, there was Hines Ward, who had a nice run of three of four years in a row. For the record, Hines was not a dirty player. Guys just resented the fact he played every snap and he played them hard. If you ever watch NFL wide receivers on iso-cam, 90% of them jog leisurely down the field on running plays. Hines looked to block or hit somebody, which made a lot of defensive players mad. As a result, he was frequently called dirty when all he did was play every snap.
When Hines started slowing down, and the NFL started getting worried about vicious hits because a lawsuit was coming, James Harrison became the new whipping boy. I’m not going to lie, Harrison definitely deserved his rep as a head-hunter. At the same time, the vast majority of his “illegal” hits came between the whistles in the context of a football play. Guys like Suh, who stomp downed opponents or hit them late are a different case entirely.
With Hines retired and James sidelined most of the year, I thought perhaps the Steelers would finally disappear from the list. Or, if they did show up, they would be represented by one of two prime candidates. Ryan Clark is every bit the vicious hitter that Deebo is. For whatever reason, he doesn’t receive the fines (or media scrutiny) but he definitely aims to annihilate rather than tackle. Then there’s Willie Colon, who’s an absolute maniac. When Giants DE Justin Tuck whined about the Steelers offensive line playing dirty a couple weeks back, I’m sure Colon was one of the guys he had in mind.
In the end, the Steelers were once again represented by two players. The Ginger Dictator‘s smear campaign has evidently been effective enough that Harrison came in 4th place despite only playing a handful of games. The other Steeler who was among those who garnered more than one vote was safety Ryan Mundy. Yes, Ryan Mundy. In a way, it’s not that surprising because he also looks to spear guys instead of tackling them. And he was recently fined a cool $21,000 for knocking Oakland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey out of the game.
I wonder if those two players came from Oakland?